Anna Fox is a British photographer and a professor of photography at UCA, Farnham. She recently gave a talk on zoom to the OCA students. She has published several books including My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words (Fox, 1999). This is a small book that uses text to explain pictures – or pictures to illustrate text. They both have equal value. The text consists of words, aggressive, angry, violent, spoken by her father about the women in their family, more specifically her mother and the images are very quiet, simple images of the contents of the cupboards in the house. Sometime the two fit together – such as the words ‘She’s bloody rattling again’ set against a cupboard of glasses, other times less so. In a recent talk given by Fox to the OCA students she said that she collected the words surreptitiously, under the table – but simply went around the house taking the pictures. She did not attempt to illustrate the words but matched them together when they were all collected. She described the book as not simply about her mother and father but about the effect of couples living together in a patriarchal society and noted that whenever it is shown other people come out with similar stories about their families.
In another book Work Stations (Fox, 1988) Fox took a series of photographs of people in offices in London which are presented along with a line of text that she gathered from magazines and newspapers. She used the same technique in Basingstoke 1985-68 (Fox, s.d.), where the apparently banal images of Basingstoke life are matched with a series of texts culled from local papers. In both of these works sometimes the text matches the image (although with a slightly sideways match) in other the text seems to almost contradict the information in the photograph. In the same talk she said that she simply collected the texts but did not try and illustrate them – as, for her, that did not work. Fox is clear that image and texts when used in a piece of work should be seen as both parts of the work, not simply an image + a caption. She used the work of Sophie Calle to illustrate this – where the words are crucial to the understanding and are often shown as more important (or at least more dominant) than the pictures. In another work Cockroach Diary (Fox, 2000) she made two separate books, one the diary – a copy of the diary she made which told the story of what was happening in a group of ‘dysfunctional’ people living together, and one a book of images of cockroaches – often scarcely visible (as they move so fast) and presented them together. In an exhibition of the work the pictures were shown on the walls, and the diary shown under them so you could read it all.
In all of these works the text is important. Equal not subordinate. It needs careful thought from the very beginning of the project, it may actually precede the images and inspire them. It is not added as an afterthought, that will not work.
In the lengthy and fascinating talk, she made several important points which I have attempted to summarise:
- Women in photography have not often been represented enough which she and a group of other people are trying to balance in Fast Forward, which holds conferences, acts as a research project and has an online journal (Fast Forward: Women in Photography, s.d.) .
- Women are not good at networking – possibly because focused on struggle to get seen and not enough energy left, men are better at this
- She is inspired by fiction – fills the mind with ideas, which then become embedded and inform your work
- Photography resembles reality – but it’s not real. Time and memory are important Are these things captured, recorded or posed in time?
- Does it matter if the photo is ‘real’ or fictional – no but it does matter that you are honest about it if asked. Some authors embed found images in their work to make the story appear more real. Other photographers construct images from the ground up to tell a fictional story that may be more real than an actual image ever could be (Crewdson, Wells, possibly Capa).
- All your work has a degree of fiction because you choose what to include and what to crop out – the story says as much about you as anything else.
- She said the photographs that inspire her are the ones that surprise her.
- You have to make yourself a good enough photographer to make the story the right way for the subjects – gives the people a voice. You need to know why you take them and use them – context is everything.
More of her work can be seen on her website: https://annafox.co.uk/
Fast Forward: Women in Photography (s.d.) At: https://fastforward.photography/ (Accessed 08/06/2020).
Fox (s.d.) Basingstoke 1985 – 86 – Anna Fox. At: https://annafox.co.uk/photography/basingstoke-1985-86/ (Accessed 08/06/2020).
Fox, A. (1988) Work Stations: office life in London. London: Camerawork.
Fox, A. (1999) My Mother’s Cupboards and my Father’s Words: a short story in words and pictures. London: Shoreditch Biennale.
Fox, A. (2000) Cockroach diary 1996-1999. London: Shorditch Biennale.