I chose to photograph used pregnancy tests. I think that a pregnancy test is a metaphorical decisive moment – although not recording the actual moment of conception, it is the first tangible proof of pregnancy that most of us see. It’s an object that I think is well recognised by most adults yet is rarely seen outside of media or one’s own bathroom. Like a Polaroid picture, it’s a chemical process, initiated by a trigger, that produces in a physical result on paper. This result can be kept, and will degrade and change over time.
I requested participants on social media, my blog and the OCA discussion board but got best results from more direct approaches. It’s an unusual request to make and there is an euuurgh factor to asking, which made asking awkward even with people who know me, and my work, well. Four women generously gave me permission to photograph eight tests. Some tests were photographed at my home, some were photographed on “house visits” as they were too valuable to leave the house. Two were posted to me. It was logistically challenging and I had the constant (unfounded given my obsessive care) fear of losing tests or confusing tests. Not all the pregnancies went to term so some of the tests were very special indeed, and all are irreplaceable.
I wanted to show both the result of the test at that moment, and how the test has changed over time. I wanted to find an engaging format without the use of people, context or whole-test shots. I used a piece of card for the background and shot with a tripod, narrow aperture and long exposures. I didn’t use flash as some of the tests were very old and had not seen much light. I photographed them with a macro lens. I did no cleaning/wiping/lint-picking on any of the tests, this wasn’t about producing perfect images of pristine tests but embracing the object and the test process as much as the test result; and recognising that even when old, yellowed and speckled with crystals and lint these tests constitute not just decisive moments but also very precious mementoes.
Having taken the photographs I did some minimal work in Lightroom, limited to profile correction, straightening, removing the worst of the sensor marks, cropping where needed, plus some minimal level adjusting. I put a couple of images up for peer review on the OCA Critiques board and was mindful of some feedback about not over-glossing the work. My home printer is not up to the job of making larger prints, so I tried a local lab and wasn’t happy there either. I then tried printing via Loxley Labs as they offered better control of sizing, finish and borders. I was much happier with these prints.
The decisive moment shown in these images is the moment when the results area of each test was the sole focus of someone’s attention, a visible indicator of new life that developed as the test was watched. Each test is a decisive moment that has been kept for weeks, months, years. It’s a decisive moment constructed from a chemical reaction that now bears physical and chemical traces of the intervening time, taking in different homes and places. It’s intriguing to wonder if this indicator of life could sustain life itself. It stops being sterile at the point of opening, could bacteria colonise it once used? I consider this, looking at the different markings and colours on some of the older tests. It would be interesting to look at tests under a microscope and see what was there. I’m wondering how much more magnification I could get if I used extension tubes with my 100mm macro lens, or if I hired a more powerful macro lens.
I’ve thought about whether this work is “decisive moment enough”. It’s more conceptual than “street”, and I could photograph the same test 5 minutes later and get near enough the same image. Tests don’t move, so capturing motion is not a consideration here, and there is only one visible element to each image. However, each is a decisive moment, which changed someone’s life from when the test was unwrapped to when the woman viewed the result. Henri Cartier Bresson described photography as “the simultaneous recognition… of the significance of an event as well as the precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression”. I think these images do show the “significance of the event”, each test becomes a talisman, a proof that the pregnancy is there, and in some sad cases, remembrance that the pregnancy was there, however briefly. Long after the child is born, or the miscarriage memories soften slightly, we retain this tangible memento of the moment when we knew. In keeping them, they age, and we get this perspective of the decisive moment and how it has changed. I was keen to show the physical form of the test too, but to focus on the parts that show the result – the “precise organisation” of the forms that express the result, if you will. I also wanted to show the moment differently to how it’s normally seen – not as an Instagram snap or in a constructed advertisement image.
My research is blogged separately, however the two major strands were Elina Brotheras’ Annunciation series and Nigel Haworth’s Counting Seeds. Both include physical tests, but in a different way to how I chose to photograph them. Presentation was influenced by Taryn Simon’s Contraband and Mary Kelly’s Post Partum Document.
I am quietly happy with this work, it documents a very private moment, and looks at “the thing” of keeping pregnancy tests, and how they change over time. I would like to have made the background more consistent – it was inconsistent because of the requirement to photograph in different places at different times. I think I could have got the framing more consistent too and minimised cropping. For future development I think it would be interesting to include more tests and also to consider a much closer view – is there life on these tests? I am also going to clean the sensor on my camera as the tiny aperture showed up all the dirt. I would like to try printing these much larger, I think they could work as larger prints as it would show more of the detail. I have submitted them as 6×9 prints with a border.
For pregnancy test research see Assignment 3 research – pregnancy tests
For research on presentation and my plans see
For my initial thoughts see Assignment 3 – initial planning
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Cartier-Bresson, H. (2014) Henri Cartier-Bresson: The decisive moment. Germany: Steidl Verlag.