When my tutor said that my A5 was nearly there but not quite, I was slightly dispirited. I didn’t think that there was anywhere else for me to go with my work, however trusting my tutor’s feedback I set about the comprehensive list of practitioners that she had provided. Long story short, I’m not sure that any of them provided a magic key to finishing the work, but they did get my creative brain working again and I cracked on. This post is retrospective because on checking the site for assessment I realised that I hadn’t written them up.
Problem: my work was in too many formats and needed consolidating.
Kurt Tong was suggested as an example of successful use of mixed methods for his work “The Queen, The Chairman and I”. This was one of the study visits that I didn’t make this year, and looking at the website, I wish I had. The work is vast, it’s like walking into someone’s life, looking both backwards and forwards in time. There must be hundreds of items in there, I think mostly found and family archived prints but also artefacts, letters, announcement cards. Without having seen the exhibition it’s hard to judge how he gained success in such a large and broad presentation, however I think the authenticity and the clear timeline must have helped. The work is set out almost in chapters. I love the idea of viewing the work during a tea ceremony.
Problem: a lack of visual context
“Who is working with the craft of the medium?” “Imagine you are curating a show, and your project is central to it, which other artists will be involved?” (tutor feedback)
The most useful source here was the website for the V&A Cameraless Photography exhibition. It included short videos and transcripts from Floriss Neususs (who made a photogram of the window at Lacock Abbey), Pierre Cordier (he makes photograms but works like a painter or a printmaker), Gary Fabian Miller (works with light on photographic paper), Susan Derges (photograms at night, under water, uses water as we use air, but shows its movements) and Adam Fuss who makes photograms with a spiritual element. Obviously, my work is not camera-free but the focus on the photographic object is common to both camera and camera-free work, and I found the work very inspiring for this reason. I found myself agreeing with Adam Fuss who said “Photograms have less information and more intimacy and feeling than a normal photograph”. My polaroids are essential about destruction, and carry more poignancy as they are deconstructed.
Tutor feedback was that time was important here, and she suggested looking at the work of Idris Khan. I had seen some of his work before, of London landmarks, but it was very interesting to see more of his work. He works with multiple mediums and on quite a large scale, and he puts multiple instances into a single work for example his image that condenses every page of the Koran onto a single page.
Thomas Demand’s work “Dailies” reminded me of Kurt Tong’s exquisite “In case it rains in heaven” because both are photographs of constructs that were destroyed after the photographs were made, so the photographs are all that we have to remember the objects by. This feels as if it aligns to my Polaroids, except that I have unmade the photogaphs to show traces of the object.
Reading about Joachim Schmidt made my brain fizz. He works mainly with found images or images from Flickr. He’s published a series of books “Other People’s Photographs”, categorised from “Airline Meals” to “You are Here”. This reminded me of Taryn Simon’s categorisation in Contraband. I think that as a trained librarian I’m always going to have a bit of a thing for forensically classified work. I’m not even going to think about the copyright implications because to be honest, I don’t want to, but see below.
You can’t ignore the copyright implications when considering Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine however. As far as I can tell, if you’re going to appropriate (art-speak for using someone else’s work), it needs to either be public domain and you’re honest about it, or you need to be completely brazen, take images from Flickr or Instagram, and have the time and cash to go through the legal process until a judge agrees with you. Artistic intent plays a huge part in this, and intent seems to come under environmental context in that you can’t immediately tell what it is when looking at two identical images, by two different practitioners. Intent is invisible, to all intents and purposes. Is the image transformed (cf Penelope Umbrico‘s collection of sunsets)? Is the whole point that the image isn’t transformed, but that our understanding transforms when we think of the work being made by someone else (cf Sherrie’s appropriation of Walker Evans)? Can you transform an image by adding your own caption (cf Prince and Instagram)? Do you consider that copyright doesn’t apply because the image is not original (cf Schmidt)? As soon as you start engaging in debates about these, and other questions, you’re not really talking about the work any more, and I think that loses the point of making the work in the first place. Which is such a shame because there is so much that we can learn by working with other peoples work, from social media images to advertising icons.
I have Sultan and Mandel’s Evidence book on order and am hoping to write more fully on it once it arrives. My tutor said that my Polaroid work was creating new meaning from something existing (Fox Talbot’s window), and I would like to learn more about this.
Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature was the first photography book. It’s interesting that it was sold in separate parts (like so many hobby journals) and the purchaser would have had the component parts bound to their wishes. I would like to learn more about this.
Finally, Mat Collishaw’s Thresholds VR exhibition, which recreates the first exhibition of Fox Talbot’s work. Fortuitously, this is now at Lacock Abbey for a few weeks and I am looking forward to seeing it.
Looking back at this blog post, I’m making a mental note to return to the practitioners listed here over time and see how my understanding improves. It still feels as if I’m scrambling in the dark trying to make sense of my own work, never mind anyone else’s.