Reading following A5 tutor feedback

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.

 

 

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Assignment 1 Square Mile

This is a condensed blog post for assessment. Please refer to the original posts for more information if needed. Spoiler: final version very different to original submission.

This assignment was something of a problem child. I had already made and reworked a version of this assignment for my Foundations course so was hesitant about what I could bring to another iteration. I remembered that many photographers remake the same work over and over for years, so decided to persevere.

I chose to photograph my 8 year old daughter in her square mile. Apart from school, I am wherever she is, her mile is my mile. I reviewed the practitioners recommended in both the Foundation and EYV courses as well as those I had encountered independently. The ones that influenced me the most were Penny Watson, Charlie Murrell, Mimi Mollica, Sian Davey and Evgenia Arbugaeva. I was interested in images that showed the character of the children, and that showed a balance or a tension between the child and their surroundings.

My tutor generously commented that I had made “a good start with lots of potential for development”.

She went on to explain which images worked and why, and suggesting other images from my contacts that might work. It was great feedback, which makes me sad that I have done so little with it (see below). I did follow up on all the reading suggestions. including Girls! Girls! Girls! Ed Catherine Grant and Lori Waxman. This blew me away. It was clearly written and gave me a broad perspective on photography and arts about female adolesence, by women.

I decided to make an Alice-themed reshoot. My model, now nine, thought not.  The photographs we made together didn’t work, the magic wasn’t there. I discussed the problems with my tutor, she agreed with my suggestion that I make a refreshed edit from my archive and accept that my daughter has moved on.

So I made a refreshed edit…. but this didn’t feel like it fixed the problem. This assignment still stuck out compared to the others, and I wanted to present a more cohesive body of work. I scrapped the new edit, went out and photographed something that had been on my mind – the couple of dozen blue ribbons for Charlie Gard that had appeared in the town centre earlier this summer. Charlie Gard was a terminally ill baby whose parents were seeking permission from the courts to take him to the US for experimental treatment. I was intrigued by the impact that a London family had on my Wiltshire home town, via the tendrils of social media. As the campaign reached and passed its tragic end, the ribbons too began to enter a new phase of their existence – still there, but worn, dirty, ripped, fallen – now acting as a memorial to Charlie rather than as a call for support. I sought feedback on the OCA critique board and made the decision to submit this work without my tutor’s input (she had already commented on the first pass at this assignment). Influences were Kim Kirkpatrick and Gianluca Cosci, from the second part of the course.

I am happier that this set works better with the other assignments than my first pass did. It references the very public and tragic story of Charlie Gard rather than the thankfully healthy, happy and private story of my daughter, and is restricted to a tight physical area of Wiltshire, even though the referenced event was in London.

Assignment 2 – Collecting Heads

This is a condensed blog post for assessment. Please refer to the original posts for more information if needed.

I wanted to rediscover some of the joy and freedom of the Foundations course. My A1 feedback encouraged me to explore a feminist perspective with A2. I chose to collect “heads” via photobooth portraits. The subjects were women and girls holding fake smile props, as I wanted to explore the way that we’re asked to smile, often by strangers, and to do so within a context that actively discourages smiles ie passport photographs.

There was no problem finding willing participants, everyone was familiar with the scenario. I used the same booth for all but one of the models. Participants were asked to wear a black, grey or white top and to hold the smile prop, they could do whatever they wanted except smile. I used a photobooth for a number of reasons. I wanted consistency, I wanted that idea of official documentation, but I also wanted the feel of privacy and freedom, the absence of the “photographer”.  Photobooths were the selfie-machines of my childhood; for some of the children shown here it was their first, spell-binding time inside one. I surrendered technical control to a camera that could not have its settings changed, but which also removed me from the photographic process meaning that all the participants had the same interaction process. The children had completely autonomous control of how they appeared in the images once their parent was on the other side of the curtain. It also meant that theoretically all images had identical framing, light and background.

I presented the work in a small black album that I’d had custom printed. The album itself was reworked but you can see a video of the original here, password smileplease

 

My tutor feedback was very positive, commending my critical thinking, my playfulness and my “engaging with, and questioning Western cultures attitudes towards gender“. She was also positive about my ideas for developing the work further. Reading suggestions included Dawn Woolley’s 2D work,  Angela McRobbie’s The Aftermath of Feminism (reviewed elsewhere on this blog), and Anne Burns’ eye-opening blog on selfies. I followed her clear suggestions for improving the work (removing the information cards and the handwritten inserts). I changed the edit from one of women and girls to one of just girls. This was striking – not only did it change the reading of the album, but it gave a completely different meaning to the remaining images of the women. Although I had my rework in the form of the album, I followed a hunch and tested presenting these images within dolls house frames on a miniature wall-paper. I discussed the result with my tutor and agreed with her view that this next step has much potential and is best saved for my next course.  I had also played with cutting the prints into oval miniatures, and following reading Elizabeth Grosz, I am planning to make some work with Mobius loops. This has also been parked for future use on Context and Narrative. For this assessment, I am submitting just the reworked album. Below is a video (for those who don’t have access to the album), and shots of possible future development ideas. Password is smileplease

Thoughts for future development (not part of this submission):

There’s a lot more to do here and I look forward to doing it. I remain amazed by the difference in reading between the two sets. It was interesting to make work where I had no direct control over the camera and where the models were out of my sight behind a curtain.

 

Assignment 3 The Decisive Moment

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.

Elinorcarucci.com. (2017). mother. [online] Available at: http://elinorcarucci.com/mother.php [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Cartier-Bresson, H. (2014) Henri Cartier-Bresson: The decisive moment. Germany: Steidl Verlag.

Elina Brotherus. (2017). Annonciation. [online] Available at: http://www.elinabrotherus.com/photography/#/annonciation/ [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017]

Elliott, P. and Schnabel, J. (2008) Tracey Emin: 20 years. Edited by Patrick Elliot. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland.

Hall, S., 2014. This means this this means that. London: Laurence King.

Nigel J Haworth. (2017). Counting Seeds. [online] Available at: http://www.nigeljhaworth.com/counting-seeds.html [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Tarynsimon.com. (2017). Contraband. [online] Available at: http://www.tarynsimon.com/works/contraband/#1 [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Tate. (2017). ‘Post-Partum Document. Analysed Markings And Diary Perspective Schema (Experimentum Mentis III: Weaning from the Dyad)’, Mary Kelly, 1975 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kelly-post-partum-document-analysed-markings-and-diary-perspective-schema-experimentum-t03925 [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Assignment 4 – Languages of light

This is a condensed blog post for assessment. Please refer to the original posts for more information if needed.

“The light emanating from a red phone box in the evening was once a symbol of refuge, a beacon and a place of connection to the world.” (Heathcote, 2016).

The phone box light is part of its identity. For many of us the boxes are landmarks in our personal landscapes as well as our environments. They act as mini-landscapes, often colonised by mosses, insects, plants. They’ve seen us join Europe and now witness our departure, they survived the de-nationalisation of British Telecom and the massive proliferation of mobile phones, yet they live on, albeit in dwindling number.

Nick Turpin was my over-arching influence; I was entranced by his candid, bus-lit passenger portraits  (BBC London Radio, 2017). I loved the glow of people behind the windows, and the way the glass was often fogged by condensation and/or rain drops. I wanted to try to capture those same qualities, but without the people. I wanted to show the experience of being inside and outside a red phone box at night in the same way that Turpin captures that night bus reality, both inside and out. Here are my original images.

 

My tutor was very positive about the work. She felt that my photograph first research later approach, combined with my use of peer feedback via my blog and the OCA discussion worked well for me. She extracted more from the work – referring me to Barthes Punctum and Proust’s Involuntary Memory, both of which I have read into a little. She recommended visiting Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate and Deutsche Borse at The Photographers’ Gallery, both of which I subsequently visited. We discussed Catherine Yass and Stephen Gill, and how if I wished I could follow a similar approach by returning my prints to phone boxes.

Actual rework has been minimal. I chose to remove one image – 6199 – as I wasn’t as happy with the focus and alignment. One of the phone boxes has now been removed by BT, I wondered about removing those images from the set. I do quite like the idea of pinning a photo where the box used to be..

 

In reflection, an assignment that I was quite nervous about turned out very well. I am pleased with this work. It feels delicate, understated, original and effective, and it starts conversations.  It took me out of my comfort zone – it felt odd to be dealing with fixed structures in the landscape and a whole new set of environmental constraints, plus photographing only at night and finding and interviewing phone box experts. I learned to have confidence in my creative hunches, and I now think that maybe the Landscape L2 course isn’t entirely out of my reach.

References and external links

Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings – Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, UK. (2017). Special collections. [online] Available at: http://www.avoncroft.org.uk/collections/special-collections/ [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Discuss.oca-student.com. (2017). OCA Discuss. [online] Available at: https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/experiments-towards-the-beauty-of-artificial-light/4205/63 [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Heathcote, E. (2016). British by design: the red phone box. The Financial Times. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/e3d4de62-3f6b-11e6-9f2c-36b487ebd80a [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

Turpin, N. (2016). On the night bus. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Hoxton Mini Press.

Turpin, N. (2017). Through A Glass Darkly | NICK TURPIN. [online] Nickturpin.com. Available at: http://nickturpin.com/winter-bus [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017]

YouTube. (2017). Nick Turpin BBC Radio London 2016. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/7Kwwz7BbXbw [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

 

 

Assignment 5 self assessment

Note – this was written after I followed up my tutor’s feedback comments and hence covers two iterations of the work.

a5 self assessment

I spent a lot of time on A5 and I believe doing so has paid dividends. I am very grateful to my tutor who helped me to find direction and focus when it looked like extending too far beyond the “Photography is simple” brief. Paradoxically, this was achieved by exploring yet more areas which guided me back to what mattered for this submission.

Technical and Visual Skills

I started out with working with Polaroids, with no clear subject in mind other than simply to explore. Over the weeks and months I continued to work with Polaroids, deconstructing and tampering with them, but I also added in macro work with my DSLR to record temporary moments of colour change, floating emulsions in water, mounting work in acrylic, and scanning and displaying images on other obsolete technology (a Nokia 3310 as part of the rework). Always in my mind was the need to make something that was visually appealing, that was interesting. This set used different skills to those in A4 – using a Polaroid camera and exploring a range of manual and digital processes that were new to me.

 

Quality of outcome

I explored a range of outcomes and settled on a book and an acrylic block containing a translucent emulsion of the Fox Talbot window. I was also very happy with my other outcomes – digital macro shots, scans of Polaroid fronts and backs and then these scans transferred onto a phone, but took on board my tutor’s comment about not taking too many formats forward to assessment. Everything else remains open for further development of course.

 

Demonstration of creativity

I was thrilled with my work here. I wanted to explore the Polaroid format extensively, and felt I did so, credibly. Tutor feedback led to me exploring it further still, something which at first, I didn’t think I had in me. I am thrilled that what started out as a disappointing attempt to die-cut a Polaroid has turned into a credible and interesting piece of work that to some small degree pays tribute to William Fox Talbot. Credit and thanks are due to Clive on the OCA discussion board who spotted the potential in what I considered to be a bit of a damp squib. This led to a subject – Lacock Abbey windows – and the creativity ballooned from then on.

Context

There was plenty of context available on the various Polaroid manipulations and manipulators out there, although I did not find any work that included embossing. Equally, there’s a raft of work and writing about Fox Talbot. My first submission, as my tutor commented, was very strong on theoretical context but rather less so on visual context. Following up her suggestions helped to fire my creativity and continue to work with a surer footing in terms of where my work sits within the contemporary canon.

Thoughts on assignment 1 rework

It’s been quiet on the blog of late. I’ve been reworking assignments 2-5 and writing summary posts for assessment. They are still tucked up in Drafts at the moment. I also need to write reflective posts on Assignment 5, Part 5 and the entire course, and all of this is coinciding with the school summer holiday.

Assignments 2 through 5 were straightforward to rework. I agreed with my tutor’s comments and it is simply a case of implementing them. Assignment 1 was harder. It was the square mile one, featuring my daughter in her square mile, which because she was 8, was my square mile too. Except a year on, she has more of an opinion in how and where she’s photographed, and what she wears when I’m photographing her. Bang went my tutor’s suggestion of an Alice themed wardrobe. Bang went pretty much everything really. We gave the rework a go, and it didn’t work. No magic, just a scowling child. I discussed this with my tutor who suggested simply refreshing the edit from my archive. The archive isn’t that good though. I know that this is the “calibration” assignment, the one that doesn’t count, but the more I looked at it the more I felt that as it was it didn’t really say much about my approach to work, my willingness to rework to make it better, and how I like to work and what I like to photograph. I started to think about completely redoing the work with a different subject.

The first idea was photographing tins of peaches in different shops in the square mile. We’ll never know how well that would work (well we might I suppose if I ever have to do Square mile again). Then I looked again at the blue ribbons tied on street furniture in Devizes, for Charlie Gard. They met my preference for photographing multiple instances of the same thing, the same but different. They showed how a social media campaign can manifest itself physical in a small town many miles from the issue that it highlights.  They represent transience – the ribbons won’t be there for good – and show how the symbolism has changed from a sign of awareness and hope to a memorial. The ribbons, shiny and new not so long ago are being ripped, tampered with, worn and dirty. Yet they are still there, as much a part of my daily landscape as the shops, the streetlights, the bollards, the phone boxes and the post boxes.  They reminded me of the pregnancy tests that I photographed for A3 with the pale blue lines denoting life. They reminded me of the miscarriages that I documented on my Foundation course – and the Foundling hospital brass tokens set into the pavement near by, making loss tangible.

So I went into town last Friday evening, on an evening that had that stormy light, with my 50mm prime lens and a fresh battery. I walked around the car parks, the roads, the pedestrian alleys, and I photographed all the ribbons I saw. There are too many to include in their entirety but the contact sheets are below. I photographed close in and far out. I wondered about context versus detail. I put a selection onto the OCA critique board and considered the responses that people were kind enough to post.

Here’s my first draft set. This set will be edited slightly before submission, but not by much.

A1 rework-7586A1 rework-7596A1 rework-7613A1 rework-7632A1 rework-7647A1 rework-7678A1 rework-7684A1 rework-7665

A1 blue ribbon-1A1 blue ribbon-2A1 blue ribbon-3A1 blue ribbon-4A1 blue ribbon-5A1 blue ribbon-6A1 blue ribbon-7A1 blue ribbon-8