Exercise – Conversation

Record a real conversation with a friend. (It’s up to you whether you ask permission or not!)

Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation.

Then listen to the recording and make note of the discrepancies. Perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunications etc.

Reflect upon the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?

For this exercise, I recorded a conversation with my friend Pam in the pub. It was mainly about the failure of her computer. Windows had had an update and it had started to cause her computer to freeze. I stated that there had already been several complaints about the update and that she wasn’t the only one. She had contacted a friend, David, who had checked the computer and found that the processor could not cope with the new updated version of windows, it was apparently running at one hundred percent the whole time. She had decided to buy a new computer and had asked advice from some people who knew about computers and had decided to buy a Hewlett Packard laptop as he did not want a desktop computer. She said that she had spent all morning trying to talk to Microsoft about the update but had been unable to get through to anyone.

Here is a transcript of the conversation:


Yeah, a few people have complained about that update crashing, crashing their computers.


Apparently it’s more than my computer can… I mean it works but it keeps freezing so I got David to have a look at it, he said they’ve never used to do that.. erm and he said well your CPU is running at ninety-nine percent most of the time, it can’t cope. So, erm, I mean I’ve had it several years, so er, I asked various people who know about computers and they both came up with the same recommendation: an HP Pavilion fifteen.


Yea, that’s a laptop is it?


Yea, I didn’t want.. I didn’t want to sit in the other room with a tower. So I went out but Dave was going to go up and get it. Dave (indiscernible). So I took it out and started putting bits together. And that was fine, it was doing what it wanted then it suddenly said (pause) ‘Windows Hello, would you like to do’…. and it won’t, you need a pin number… so I spent ages on the…. I spent ages trying to get through to Microsoft this morning. But erm, then it said, it said ‘Next’. Nothing else happened. It wouldn’t read. But I needed to get hold of Microsoft this morning and you cannot get a sensible… First of all they don’t recognise your password, you can’t sign in, reset your password. Fill in this gap so that we know you’re not a robot. No that’s not right, do another one, that goes on for half an hour. And then um I eventually got signed in and I wanted some support. (inaudible) (laughs). It didn’t answer any of the questions I wanted to know.

A few errors from my memory of the conversation. She said that the CPU was running at ninety nine percent, whereas I had assumed one hundred percent. I had also assumed that she was trying to talk to Microsoft by telephone but from the conversation she was actually trying to contact them on the computer.

One of the problems with recalling a conversation like this is that it is easy to make assumptions and replace the precise memory with what you thought that the person would have said in that situation. It is also possible to make serious errors in memory, something that can be a real problem in court.

A few years ago a friend of mine, Mark, was mugged in Florida. He both told the police and seriously believed that the man that had mugged him was black. When the felon was caught with his wallet, he was amazed to find that he had actually been white. His assumption of a black faced villain had overwritten his actual memory of the event.

When re-enacting an event, the version of the event is often simplified. Memory is imprecise and often needs other triggers to recall forgotten details. Reconstructing that event can never be accurate.

If I were to film a reconstruction of our conversation, I would not include all the errors of speech, the repeats, the long pauses, the ums and errs. To do so would be annoying to the listener, and would slow down the narrative.

I admit that I’m not really sure how this relates to constructed still photography. A photograph is only an instant, a freeze-frame of an event. It will always be over-simplified by that fact. Consequently, it may be necessary to place things together that may not actually have been simultaneous in order to tell the story. For example in my own assignment five, the letter telling of the death of the soldier would have arrived first, and any of his effects which had been recovered would probably arrive much later, if at all. Placing them together in the same shot as if they had arrived together would not have been realistic, but it tells the story better than putting them in two separate frames as it links the two items.

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