Busy as I have been writing a new unit for the OCA, planning the logistics of a winter commission, mountaineering and breaking a toe, I had completely forgotten about the results of the photography show I entered back in June. A panel of experts that included Gerry Badger and Simon Roberts awarded Best in Show in the Foto8 Summershow 2012 to the above photograph by Titus Simoens.
Phil Coombes, Picture Editor of BBC Online and also a member of the judging panel explained why Simoens’ image stuck with him:
“The photographer has managed to capture the vulnerability and the contrast between what is going on in the frame and what is happening outside of it.”
We don’t really know what’s happening outside the frame but the cropped torso and leg of whoever is sitting on the top bunk gives a hint of something that we tend to forget when we look at photographs: that there is more happening outside the frame. The thing is, in the case of this winning photograph, we don’t really know what’s happening inside the frame either.
It is that ambiguity, that enigmatic, almost cryptic quality of Titus Simoens’ photograph that gives it enormous conceptual strength.
No, we don’t know what on earth is going on in the image. The photographer invites us to speculate about what is happening in the photograph and what he may have intended to tell us. We know that photographs are polysemic, that they can be read in many ways because their meaning is inherently undetermined. After all, they are only tiny fragments taken out of the rich continuum of events of life.
The fragment that titus Simoens isolated for me – because this is my own reading of the image, disturbs me, although not in a in-your-face, graphic way. The waxy edges of the bunk bed frame and the chipped handrail paint speak of many hands having clambered to the top bunk, of many legs hanging down, purposeless, clad in shiny standard-issue black leather boots like the ones on the top-right corner. The pale blue bed covers, tightly fitted, denote a certain sense of imposed order and discipline. It all speaks of institutional accommodation.
Then there is the teddy duck, looking as sad as the child on the left, whose body language he mirrors. He seems resigned to having a..what? a meaningless life, a regimented life? I’m talking about the duck. Or the child. I’m speculating anyway…
I told you this photograph disturbed me.
159 images were selected for 2012 edition of the Foto8 Summershow. The slide show on the Foto8 website proves how difficult it must have been for the panel of judges to make a decision on the Best in Show. This year’s selected entries, on display until 18th August, show a bewildering variety of visual and conceptual styles, all of them tucked under the umbrella of documentary.
And just in case you wonder, I’m not in the slightest disappointed about not being the Best in Show. In a true Olympic spirit, the most important thing is not to win, but to take part.