This is a condensed blog post for assessment. Please refer to the original posts for more information if needed.
The pregnancy test – a truly metaphorical decisive moment. The first tangible proof of pregnancy that most of us see, an object that’s well-recognised but rarely seen outside the bathroom. A test, a trigger, a wait, a result. For many of us the used positive test is kept, whatever the outcome of the pregnancy. Like a Polaroid, this physical record of the moment is initiated by a chemical trigger, changes and degrades over time but remains treasured. Here are eight tests from four women, from the last fifteen years. Sadly, not all the pregnancies went successfully to term.
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?
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 existed, 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.
Looking at Bull (2010, p14-15), I see that indexicality is the idea of a photograph as showing reality; looking at Hall (2014, p30 I learn that an indexical sign has a direct physical relationship to its subject. So we have the photographs, which are indexically linked to the tests that they show, and the tests themselves that are how they are because of how they reacted to a woman’s urine. Indexicality in action.
My research 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.
My tutor’s feedback was very positive, her main suggestion was that the work could be improved by better composition and lighting, by cleaning my sensor and by having a larger selection to choose from. I agreed entirely. She also suggested removing the text. I have reshot some images (this wasn’t possible for all the tests). I wanted a more engaging presentation, and decided to present the work in a pregnancy test box, with an unused tests. The idea being that the viewer can experience the decisive moments as s/he handles the photographs. This required a non-standard crop due to the size of pregnancy test boxes.
Here is a video of the final presentation.
Here are the final images which were printed by Loxley as 5x7s and then trimmed to size to fit the box.
I’m very happy with this work, it is both universal and a little bit secret. There is plenty of scope for continuing it further and I look forward to doing so.
Links and references
Bull, S., 2010. Photography. Abingdon: Routledge.
Calle, S. and Auster, P. (2007) Sophie Calle: Double game. London: Violette Editions.
I am happy with this feedback and the clear steers provided for developing and improving the work. Feedback was in the form of a Skype tutorial followed by written notes. This format works well for me. Thank you Moira.
I never tend to dwell much on the positive feedback. I am happy that I delivered “a solid response to the brief” and was “creative and thought about the decisive moment in a broad and engaged way.” I was happy that my tutor recognised the difficulty in seeking out people who were prepared to let me share some of their most private, personal and precious possessions with a far wider audience, and that my accompanying text was “well-written” and highlit the layers of meaning in the work.
Some of the images work better than others. Some suffered from the angle that I worked at, others had distracting shadows. The original work has not come back yet, however the most successful ones are shown below. In addition some suffered from distracting sensor marks, which I had not entirely fixed in post. So my actions from this are to look into copy stands and lighting before reshooting where needed, to get my sensor cleaned (this is happening at the moment) and to reshoot with better lighting and positioning. I don’t have a tripod with a horizontal arm, and I think this would help quite a lot. The digital test needs to be framed such that the text doesn’t show. I need to go in close. Moira suggested that I reshoot extensively to get enough images of high enough quality. If I can find another person to share their tests with me that would give me a set of 9 tests, making a grid. A less attractive alternative is to reduce the number of tests to 6 or 7 (the brief calls for 6-8 images but I understand this is a guide rather than an absolute stipulation).
Copy stands consist of a base, a stand for the camera and two lights which can be LED or tungsten on the ones I have looked at. I think an alternative could be to find suitable bulbs for my two Anglepoises and get a tripod with a horizontal arm. This is an example copy stand from http://www.speedgraphic.co.uk .
A very obvious thing that I missed from my writing was indexicality and how it applies to my work. Looking at Bull (2010, p14-15), I see that indexicality is the idea of a photograph as showing reality; looking at Hall (2014, p13) I learn that an indexical sign has a direct physical relationship to its subject. So we have the photographs, which are indexically linked to the tests that they show, and the tests themselves that are how they are because of how they reacted to a pregnant woman’s urine. It makes me think again of that scene in the film Juno, when Juno says that the first test looked more like a divide sign rather than a plus. Pregnancy tests are all about symbols and signs and I am still kicking myself for missing something quite so obvious.
My tutor also talked about a comment by Stefan on the blog post, where he talked about sensing the “aura of the subject matter”. Moira told me about Walter Benjamin’s work on the aura, which I have learnt a little more about. Benjamin regarded pieces of art as having an “aura” – it’s what I would consider the essence of a piece, for him it was related to the authenticity of the art. His view was that once a piece of art is reproduced, the proliferation of copies reduces the aura, and hence the power and authenticity of the work. It was interesting that Stefan could still feel the authenticity of the work, despite viewing a universally available digital copy of the original tests.
I will add more of my workings out to my blog to ensure that it can better speak for me at assessment.
It was very helpful to discuss my ideas for A4 and A5 and Moira has provided useful references for each idea. Looking through these I think I will actually go with a different idea for A4. I will however write about these references separately under the respective assignments.
Update 5/9. I chose to rephotograph two of the tests that had been highlighted as needing attention. I also edited my selection down slightly to make a more consistent edit. I took out the digital test image and another that was off in colour tone. I went in search of further tests to photograph and secured another three which I photographed. I also wanted to think hard about how to present this work for assessment. In my head, some of the images would work very well at a large scale, but I wanted to explore a more tactile presentation. I was curious about presenting the tests in a pregnancy test box. Long story short, the test boxes are not a good size to match standard print sizes, so I played around with the best crop and print size to enable me to guillotine the prints down to a suitable size, and that’s how I decided to present. I removed the text as per my tutor’s suggestion, also I didn’t think it added to the smaller presentation format. If I had time to do more work I would learn about setting canvas sizes on Photoshop so that I could make bordered prints of the correct size, that would look better. Next time…
Bull, S., 2010. Photography. Abingdon: Routledge.
Hall, S., 2014. This means this this means that. London: Laurence King.
Elliott, P. and Schnabel, J. (2008) Tracey Emin: 20 years. Edited by Patrick Elliot. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland.
Bright, S. (2011) Art photography now. 2nd edn. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.
Calle, S. and Auster, P. (2007) Sophie Calle: Double game. London: Violette Editions.
The pregnancy test – a decisive moment if ever there was one. A test, a trigger, a wait, a result. For many of us the used positive test is kept, whatever the outcome of the pregnancy; and like a Polaroid photograph this physical record of the moment changes and degrades over time but remains treasured. Here are eight tests from four women, from the last fifteen years.
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.
My intention is to photograph used and saved pregnancy tests from people who are happy for me to do so. The tests are all from authentic “decisive moments” – moments when each test was the sole focus of someone’s attention, and their world and life changed at that moment when they saw the result. Each test is to make one decisive moment, one image. I have been asked where the stimulus for the work originated. It was very unexciting – I had not come up with anything satisfying, so considered what the decisive moments have been in my own life. Seeing positive results on two pregnancy tests were right up there at the top. I no longer have those tests, I reluctantly threw them away a couple of years back, but I was pretty sure that other women kept their tests and thought it might be worth a try.
The work needs to be done respectfully as these tests are other people’s cherished memories. It needs to be done with dignity, care and compassion as some of these tests are from pregnancies that did not subsequently go to term. I want the work to be as authentic as possible, so there will be no dusting or wiping or fluff-picking from any of the tests.
I want the work to be done differently, with minimal context. I didn’t want the classic Instagram shot, and I did not want to include people (neither adults nor children), nor to make any suggestion as to how the pregnancy was received or how it proceeded. Having looked at the work of Elina Brotherus and Nigel Haworth I also knew that much as I admired their respective choices of self portraiture on a large staged scale, and beautifully designed and constructed still lifes; that they weren’t the routes for me. They’re not really suitable ways for me to show other people’s tests. So how to photograph the tests differently without them looking like another set of #bfp social media posts? How to remove the context but still make images with plenty to say?
I decided to concentrate on the moment and the physical test itself, rather than the journey to that moment, or the outcome. I wanted to show a simple documentation of the moment, as it was visible on the test, after an amount of time that varied from several months to about 14 years. There’s a similarity here between pregnancy tests and instant print photos such as polaroid – both are triggered (either by light or urine), and both require a period of time to develop before the result is clearly visible. Both then change over time – degraded by light, biology, chemistry, dust, time. Both are quite likely to be kept for sentimental reasons, tucked into an album or a memory box. Inevitably, each test will change over time. I thought that recognising this passage of time and the changes in the test therein would add something to the work. Finally, I decided to concentrate on the physical and visible characteristics of the test itself, particularly those parts of it that change over time.
I needed to take my research off at a tangent compared to the original research into work involving pregnancy tests. With my knowledge that I would be photographing the tests as tests on a plain background (the same piece of card was used wherever I shot), I considered the work of two photographers who have inspired me in the past – Taryn Simon and Moyra Davey. Taryn’s work Contraband is a collection of images shot on location at JFK Airport in 2010, all the images are of items that were seized or detained from incoming passengers or post. There’s a very forensic quality to her work, nothing distracts the eye from the object itself. She used a steel tabletop in some work, which I was very tempted to do too but realised that this would be impractical as some tests had to be photographed at other homes than mine.
I was starting to think about macro shots of parts of the test, and remembered Moyra’s series Copperheads. She photographed 100 1 cent coins, with a macro lens, showing the variety of wear and degradation to the depiction of Lincoln’s face on each one. Some of the faces looks almost like landscapes, with the wear and changes to the profile of the profile on each one. 100 theoretically identical coins all look very different presented as images in a 10×10 grid. This got me excited about working with more close-up images of the tests. Would they all be different, or would they all look the same? How might they differ? Would they still look different if I cropped down to just the test results? I liked the idea of paying such close attention to an object that is widely recognised and yet still rarely seen outside of specific contexts. There’s something slightly different and gloriously gross about photographing something that has been weed on, it reminded me of Mary Kelly’s Post Partum Document, which included her son’s used nappy liners. I find myself wondering if a used pregnancy test sustains life itself once it’s indicated the presence or absence of new life – does it get colonised by bacteria? How many? How long? What would it look like under a microscope?
The other work that I wanted to view was Larry Sultan’s and Mike Mandel’s book Evidence, which I read about in Source Journal Issue 88. They used “found” images of experiments, decontextualized them, and recontextualised them. The result has a pervading sense of both seriousness and complete oddness. The book is currently out of print but will be reprinted in spring next year, I have ordered a copy. I have looked at some images on line. They are all in black and white, I suppose because the original images were all in black and white. It made me wonder if taking my images into black and white would remove another layer of context (after all, the “Clearblue” brand is built around its blue lines). I think it probably would, but possibly at the cost of removing the layer of “grossness” – aspects of a test such as tidemarks appear neutralised and benign rather than technicolour “euurgh” once converted to mono.
Returning to my work, I want the images to concentrate on:
FORM – the shape of any windows, of edges, of lines and bleed
COLOUR/CONTRAST – stripes, lines, background, tidemarks, chromatographic fading and bleed
MARKS – speckling, age spots, crystals
EXTERNAL textural additions – such as dust, fluff, hairs, fibres
Overall, my interpretation of the Decisive Moment is that at some point in the past, someone was waiting for each test to show the result, it was the sole focus of their attention, a tangible indicator of new life. Further to this, these tests are, and represent, decisive moments that have been kept for months and years, indicating that they represent a significant decisive moment. Keeping the tests makes them susceptible to the “ravages of time” and we can also see signs of aging, of chemical and biological change, and of the environments where the tests were kept – almost a trail of domestic DNA possibly over different homes, towns or even countries. Bearing in mind the exercises around long exposure in Part 3, I thought this was interesting as it adds the evidence of time passing from the intervening months and years since the test was done.
My assignment 3 The Decisive Moment is on used pregnancy tests. Research for this assignment is proving bumpy. In a way I am encouraged that there is relatively little out there excepting the stacks of social media and vernacular photography. What I have found, by Elina Brotherus and Nigel Haworth is inspiring and engaging, even if there is not as much as I expected to find. My research field has broadened slightly beyond photography. Writing it up has proved hard too, organising this post by practitioner felt stilted and as if I was missing connections. I think my own personal experience with a negative test shortly before miscarrying my first pregnancy is not making this research any easier. After asking for advice on which approach to take I am rewriting this around themes.
Stating the obvious, perhaps, but one’s attitude to a pregnancy test and one’s depictions of it will depend on the circumstances in which it’s being taken and the desired outcome. Outside of the normal woman doing the test or the woman or man viewing it, the test might be being viewed by a third party with no investment in the result, or it could be a staged photograph. The most detailed work I found was two series made within fertility treatment (Elina Brotherus and Nigel Haworth), both actually heart-breaking to view. Tracey Emin provided a perspective that will be familiar to many who’ve wondered where their period is, even if the odds of a pregnancy are extremely unlikely. Jonathan de Villiers provides more of a glossy, commissioned take on the pregnancy test, and Sophie Calle provides the spectator perspective – interesting and I think along the lines of what I would like to present. Advertisements for pregnancy tests vary between the informative to the sentimentally loaded. St Mary’s Church in Auckland, New Zealand courted vast controversy with its billboard of the Virgin Mary holding a pregnancy test (original image by the agency TBWA/. This image takes a traditional Christian concept and makes it relevant to today. Images and writing about pregnancy tests are defined by the context. Is it an advert? Coursework? A magazine article? A Facebook or Instagram post? A live pregnancy test on You-tube (something I never want to see again…) For my work I want to remove the context, the normal paradigms around tests, and focus solely on the result windows, what we see there and how they change over time (this will be covered in more detail in a separate blog post).
I think there’s a parallel between pregnancy tests and instant cameras – both involve waiting for a chemical process to complete before viewing the result, and both produce a physical visible result that will be changed and degraded by time (more on this in a later post on how I want to make my images).
In addition to the practitioners mentioned below I also looked at the work of Elinor Carucci, particularly her detailed series Mother. I did not find any images featuring tests however.
Photographic work around themes of infertility
The two substantial photographic series that I found both concentrate on the role of pregnancy and ovulation predictor tests within infertility treatment. Elina Brotherus’ and Nigel Haworth’s series are both inspired by paintings – Elina’s by the tradition of the Italian Annonciation, in which Mary’s pregnancy is announced by an angel. Of course there is no angel, and the test becomes the physical embodiment of whether or not the “angel” has visited. Her series is vast, taken over five years of treatment, the tableaux are vast with the heartache evident in each image. Sometimes there is nothing else. Most images are set indoors, and you can see that it’s a heartache very close to home, a pain that’s not necessarily known or understood outside those four walls. Equally, these images stretch the idea that home is a place for comfort, for happiness – the wretchedness of her grief is so evident. The inclusion of the remote release gives me an uncomfortably privileged position of viewing her sadness in her own home. The test included in many images is a physical indicator for so many of us – not just of pregnant/not pregnant, but of success/failure, relief/sadness, perhaps both states simultaneously. In most of the images featuring a test, the test is an important part of the image but not the subject in its own right. A test might be discarded, next to a mobile, or simply waiting. Annunciation 21, a sub series of five images is relentless in showing different aspects of grief with the fourth image just showing the test and the fifth the finality of menstrual bleeding. Annunciation 24 shows Elina with a plaster over her belly, in front of a wall with tape on it, and it made me consider the strain of fertility treatment on both the individual and home. Annunciation 9, captioned “..she would go to Anne-Sophie’s school” shows how much hope and thought is invested into each cycle.
The tests are shown whole and lidded in the context of being done and then viewed by the camera in real time.
Nigel Haworth’s work was featured in the OCA Foundation in Photography course notes and I was also guided to his work following a post on the OCA forum. I emailed him requesting permission to include a thumbnail and asking for a link for further information on his Counting Seeds work. I was thrilled to receive both permission and a copy of his commentary on the work.
Ovulation and pregnancy tests play a large role in this work. Like Elina’s work, there are no punches pulled and I gained some idea of the raft of paperwork and medication involved in fertility treatment. The triptych of the embryo, pre-implantation, was hard viewing. When I miscarried I had seen nothing of the embryo that I was carrying. When an assisted embryo fails to implant or is miscarried, you have actually seen the picture of the embryo, and that, combined with the enormity of the process, must make an already awful time even worse.
There was a very lyrical and delicate feel to the work. I thought there was a strong domestic bass line, with OPKs dangling from a kitchen utensil rack amongst utensils, decaying fruit, and implied changes to diet. Origami cranes gave a sense of time flying away as well as their poignant Japanese meaning of hopes and wishes. Two images in particular conveyed the whole rhythm of the process – Metronome and Documentation. The musical inference is clear, with the constant rhythmic cycle from bar to bar, section to section, the paper score and the relentless metronome counting away the time. The tests become the white keys on the piano, part of the music themselves.
Nigel was inspired by the still-life genre, and the work of Jo Whaley, Laura Letinsky, Marian Drew and Joachim Froese. He wanted the work to be “used as self expression, to convey a feeling, mood or idea…” rather than the tradition of classical still life paintings. Like Elina, his work is made in a domestic setting. I was impressed by how he used the tests – they go from literal representations of themselves through to metaphors for aging, for time passing in rhythms, almost as paperclips or pens. I like this idea of a non-standard view of a pregnancy test (we are all familiar with the little windows, the rest is really just a way to do, see, share and handle the result without dripping wee on your hand). None of the tests are shown with the caps on, there’s something very straightforward about that and it doesn’t shy away from the essential nature of these tests which is to sample urine, yet the images remain inviting to the eye. The way the tests become part of the domestic routine during fertility treatment is nicely shown too – a participant in my work told me that she found her positive pregnancy test in a magnetic pot of pens stuck to the fridge door, and absent-mindedly threw it out. You get to the point when they stop looking unusual.
Tracey Emin: 20 Years
Feeling Pregnant II 1999-2002
This work was suggested to me by OCA student Lottie, and couldn’t be more of a contrast. It comprises stream of consciousness writing by Tracey as she considers whether she might be pregnant. There’s that constant lurch between panic and trying to be normal, and the flights of imagination before seeing the result. In her sleepless night alphabetically-bulleted list of things to do, actually doing the test comes in at item J. I quite liked this because it shows how the test is sometimes something of a small-part player compared to the build-up that we can inadvertently create in our minds, regardless of the preferred test result.
“I go to the chemist and buy a pregnancy test and hide it in the kitchen – On the promise that I’ll give the whole situation 24 hours – I spend the day doing what I have to do – with the utmost efficiency – In a very calculated responsible way. But every 10 minutes or so I say to myself – Chill out Trace you can’t be pregnant…
…The sun’s pelting down and I am Happy
In this imagined moment of time –
I look at the pregnancy test – it’s negative
Of course it’s negative
Of course I’m not pregnant – I am relieved-
Relieved to know I’m just a 36 year old
woman with a Fucking
Good Imagination.” (Elliott and Schnabel, 2008)
This was a commission for L’Uomo Vogue by Jonathan de Villiers, and shows a young couple in a bathroom. It’s part of a set of called Waiting and you can see it on page 138 of Susan Bright’s Art Photography Now Revised and Expanded Edition (Thames & Hudson 2011). There are Snoopy and Buzz Lightyear figurines on the toilet cistern, and the girl is wearing just an oversized pink jumper as she holds a still-wrapped test and reads the instructions. The boy looks very young, very unsure and slightly overdressed. I think you can tell it’s not an advert for ClearBlue because the models look so unsure. It makes me think though because it’s not the stereotyped pregnancy test image that you would expect to see in newsstand magazines.
Vernacular photography on social media.
If you search on #bfp (big fat positive, there is also #bfn big fat negative) you will find a raft of phone photos of pregnancy test results. These often include a hand, a smiling face, or there may be a labelled set of tests taken on consecutive days showing how the result has become stronger over time. Some images show how a pregnancy was announced to family or friends, including one of pregnancy test coated in rhinestones. There’s a website that allows viewers to vote on whether uploaded images of tests show a positive or negative result. You-tube and Facebook reveal live pregnancy testing, prank tests available for purchase (altered Clear Blue tests that will always return a positive result), and pregnant women selling freshly made positive tests (no questions asked). I can’t help feeling there’s a whole other assignment there. Interestingly, there are a lot of negative test images up there too, not as many as the positives but still more than I expected. I think the sheer bulk of the internet gives a sense of anonymity.
The third party pregnancy test
I was having a had time finding credible research, and in frustration thought “I’m sure Sophie Calle must have done something”. Well she did, although not directly. One on-line search and one skim through Double Game later, I found that on Sunday March 1st at 10:45, after pilfering a chocolate from a hotel guest’s drawer, she found a used pregnancy test in the bathroom bin.
“In the wastebasket I find a pregnancy test which I am unable to decipher”.
And that’s it, the pregnancy test, of which we don’t know the result, is simply added to the litany of things that we know/don’t know about the woman with the thick wool sweaters and the man who may or may not look like a convict who stayed in that room that weekend. Much as I doubt I could ever work that way, I really like the idea of a pregnancy test stripped from its context. In this case everything has been stripped, even the result.
13/12 Adding in one film that was posted by Holly Woodward on the OCA L1 Facebook group. The film is titled 160 characters and was made by Victoria Mapplebeck in 2015. This film creates a visual backdrop to love affair documented in text messages, found on an old Nokia in a kitchen drawer. At the risk of a massive spoiler, it features a pregnancy test, with the development of the result digitally added.
And finally, just because I like it, the test scene from Juno, where she goes back to the grocery store because the plus on the first test looked more like a division sign. How right she was..
Links and references
Bright, S. (2011) Art photography now. 2nd edn. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.
Bull, S., 2010. Photography. Abingdon: Routledge.
Calle, S. and Auster, P. (2007) Sophie Calle: Double game. London: Violette Editions.
One of the things I learned early on in the Foundations course was that I have to start thinking about assignments well ahead of time, to put the brief on my mental back burner and wait for a (hopefully) rich stew of ideas to present itself.
This assignment is on “The Decisive Moment” and after a discussion with my tutor as part of A2 feedback I am exploring my first choice, which is photographing used pregnancy tests. I don’t think there are many more decisive moments than waiting for something to happen in that little window then the experience of clocking the result, whatever it turns out to be.
Below is the post that I made on my Facebook page as a first step to finding participants. If anyone reading is interested in taking part please contact me via my OCA email if you are part of the OCA, my student id is kate513940.
“As one assignment is finished I need to start planning the next and am once again asking for people who are happy to participate. A slightly off-kilter request coming up.
The theme is “The Decisive Moment” and my first choice is to photograph used pregnancy tests. I think that a pregnancy test, positive or negative, is a truly decisive moment, whatever the result, and a tangible indication of an often emotionally-charged moment. I know that many women choose to keep their tests (no judgement here, I reluctantly threw mine out when Blythe was 5 and part of me wonders why). Photographs will be simply of the tests on a plain background (probably a steel table-top). There will be no identifying information, no baby pictures, no bootees – just a collection of decisive moments with anonymity maintained throughout. The final work will be submitted to my tutor as prints and images displayed on my public-domain blog ( www.kateastoneyv.wordpress.com ). I need between five and seven more people who would be happy to trust me with their tests for a few days and I will return them discreetly. If anyone further afield is willing to participate I will cover postage here and back or can collect and return if in easy reach.
I need 5 to 7 collaborators, and will of course provide a high res jpg of each submitted image. Needless to say, it doesn’t have to be a whole set of all tests ever taken, it doesn’t matter for this work if the result is faded or no longer visible, it doesn’t matter if it’s one test or many, it doesn’t matter whether the result is positive or negative, or marked/damaged in any way. This is about that sequence of micro-moments – deciding to test, testing, waiting, knowing. It’s not so much about any confirmed pregnancy or what happened next, just that moment of testing. Shooting would be in late November/early December.
My tutor is very excited about this work and I hope that I’ll be able to put it together as I see it in my head. Thank you very much for reading, please feel free to message me here if you’d like to know more or might want to be involved.”