Assignment 5 rework

It kept on growing. Then I had a conversation with my tutor, and it got smaller, back down to one concept with a supporting cast of thousands. Then I met Holly Woodward, who’s studying Identity and Place (blog here) at Lacock and she diagnosed the problem in about three lines and half a cup of coffee. Now, the book is tighter, more logical and just feels like it’s right. It needs a fine black cord through the holes as my ribbon is too wide.

What did I change? I took the front cover off, along with the transparency inside it (it wasn’t as good as the other transparency). I removed one of the negatives from its home on watercolour paper. Again, it wasn’t as good as the other one, which remains in place. I took the film’s protective cover and made that the cover (“It’s the title! There’s your title!” as Holly said.)  I reordered, so there’s a rhythm to the pages now and a logic to each double page spread. To me, there’s a feeling of balance between the backs and the fronts, each is as important as the other. The transparent Mylar sheet, painstakingly lifted from an embossed Polaroid and generally ignored from that point on as it kept being flicked over in favour of whatever was visible through it, became the first page after the front cover. It’s in between two plain black back pages so now has to be looked at. I punched a couple of extra holes to allow pages to be flipped over and re-ordered. That last lovely transparent image can be turned in its own right, and viewed either from the front with a silver background or from the back with a cream paper background.

So next up is a condensed blog post for assessment. In the meantime, here’s a rough video of the book, minus its ribbon.


A5 scanning Polaroids

One of my tutor’s suggestions for reworking A5 was to look at alternate camera technologies such as scanners and old digital cameras. As my old digital camera seems to have been thrown out, I investigated scanning on our basic HP inkjet.

It’s definitely a promising approach in that it gives me something in between the sheer physicality of the Polaroid and the modernity of the macro shots taken with my DSLR . Unlike the Polaroid, it’s digital so I can use it in other ways. I’m thinking more about a photobook, with a modern photo on one half of the spread and a scan on the other, probably offset, possibly with the two images both relating to the same original Polaroid. I could attach an actual Polaroid inside the front or back covers, using either Velcro dots or transparent cd wallets, to allow the photographs to be removed and handled.

On the scanned Polaroids I like the inverted images – it ties in with Fox Talbot’s invention of the negative. More to follow…

Assignment 5 Tutor feedback

Posting as is for the moment, will return with more perspective in a few days. Click link below to view.


A few days turned into a few weeks. It’s slightly frustrating that this work is so close to being there, but not quite. The feedback was positive, possibly more positive than the written report suggests as my tutor has sesnsibly focused on how to improve the work after identifying the strong points on the skype call. I am hopeful that the shortcomings are not the difference between pass/fail but between pass/better. The two main issues are the need to consolidate from the current three approaches down to one (or else find a way to present mixed methods in a “consolidated and cohesive” way as per Kurt Tong “The Queen, Chairman and I”); and to add more information on the visual context for the work. Fixing these two issues should result in work that is more refined and competent, a bit slicker.

My tutor provided some very useful recommendations. I’m confident that I can provide a suitable visual context. Consolidating the work is providing some challenge. I find myself wondering what it is about Kurt Tong’s work that makes it “consolidated and cohesive” given the wide range of presentation media. I wonder if a group of disparate approaches can be regarded as a group by virtue of their differentness. The easiest decision to make is to abandon, for the moment, the digital jpgs of the polaroid backs, showing the blue developer before it dried white. These somehow feel a bit too “technical”, a bit too “current”. So by discarding those I can think more clearly about the characteristics of the work.

The acrylic blocks provide some pause for thought too. The brief specifies a set of ten images. I think 10 images mounted in acrylic blocks would be a bit unwieldy, and I’m not sure the concept would hold strong over all ten. Yet I feel very strongly about the block with the emulsion lift of the Fox Talbot window, and the way the window can be held in the hand and looked through, that the viewer can see their world through the FT window. We talked briefly about layering the images, to make something like Noemie Gordon’s works (ADD REFERENCE), but I think this would be a bit clunky on my smaller scale.

Moira suggested that I consider what other artists would be involved at a show featuring my work. This has given me much to think about and allows me to start building a visual context for the work. So there’s a method there – refine the work, and identify the context, then the two should help each other.

Part of the issue, hinted at by Moira, is that I haven’t fully understood the work myself yet. There is still more meaning to be “unpacked” and I’m not really seeing it. It feels as if I’ve locked myself out of my own work, and I’m fumbling around the smooth outside trying to find a way in.

Exploring this further, I started out by simply deconstructing Polaroids, physically, and then manually processing the results into a book and two acrylic elements. As time goes on, I can see that I’ve moved from deconstructing Polaroids to deconstructing photography and examining some of the formats used in its history. Moira mentioned “shifts in technology – perhaps the early (or defunct early digital technology) could come into play”. This turned out to be a rich seam to mine. I started out by scanning the Polaroid backs and found that the results actually felt finished, something I hadn’t expected to feel without including the actual Polaroid itself. This got me thinking about how to present any scans, there are prints of course but I was curious about using “defunct.. technology”. I looked into digital photo frames, digital photo keyrings and am currently charging a Nokia 3310 mobile phone to see if I can download jpgs onto it and display them on its screen with the nice Polaroid aspect ratio. I am also interested in using MS Paint for processing the scans, as it too has had a recent brush (sorry) with obsolescence. I’m intrigued by the idea of “translating” my polaroids through physical and digital manipulation from the early days of Fox Talbot through scanning, basic digital processing, and the introduction of camera phones, which now take most vernacular photographs. Travelling from print to digital. Interestingly, the original Nokia 3310s predated the camera phone by some years. This re-launch does include a camera and a colour screen so I am interested to see if I can use it to present “alien” jpgs. The work has broadened from being about Polaroids to being about photography, technology, obsolescence and nostalgia.


Of course the elephant in the room is whether it’s at all realistic to present work for assessment on a device that may well need charging, even the month long standby on the Nokia may not be enough for the long wait between submission and actual assessment. However, I can’t let practicality stand in the way of creativity so let’s explore and see. I suspect that in the real world, requiring power would not be that much of a barrier to showing the work so I don’t think it’s entirely unrealistic. At the very least it can be blogged. Perhaps a video would work.  I need to explore digital keychains too, they might be a better solution in terms of power.

I’m still unsure about what I’ll actually be submitting. I need to try out more approaches and see what works. My gut feeling is that the Window acrylic block will still be there, so perhaps two complementary formats rather than the current mix of three.

Notes for Skype call

I liked the scans. I like the idea of using old technology.

I thought I might do a blurb book with prints of the scans and the polaroids stuck in with glue or Velcro. But that feels a bit normal. The scans somehow feel finished.

Then I thought of putting scans on a digital keyring (mini electronic photo frame) but they seem to be massively unreliable. One reviewer of a digital keyring said that buyers would be better off just putting their photos onto their phone, and that made me think of old phones, especially the Nokia 3310 that’s been relaunched onto a 2.5G network that’s nearing obsolescence. I bought a phone and worked out how to get scanned polaroids onto it. I love that it shows the arc from print and chemicals to digital in one picture on one screen, that it shows obsolete polaroids and chemicals on an obsolete digital phone.

I inverted the colours to explore the idea of the negative (Sietsema). There is still more to do – consistently scan the images to the same size, investigate jpg quality options. Somehow the negatives feel more FT ish and I like how the layers show on the altered/cleaned ones. Interested in using MS Paint on some of the backs. I like the idea of having them on a phone, either submitting the phone or a video of the photos being viewed.

Visual contextualisation – Justine Vargas (conveying information without using a traditional portrait. Paul Sietsema (inversions, negatives). Noemie Goudal (acrylic blocks, layered images). Joseph Kosuth (different ways of looking at chairs). Floris Neususs at Lacock Abbey. Adam Fuss (less information = more meaning). Idris Khan but need to look more. Stephanie D’huppert’s series on backs. Mat Collishaw FT VR exhibition.

In terms of consolidation – not there yet. I’m definitely taking out the jpgs of the backs of the images. I think I will take out the non-window acrylic block. So I wonder about submitting the window block, the video of the phone, and the original book of the polaroids.

I need to continue to reduce the number of circles that I’m going around in. What images do I want to use? Negatives of fronts and backs, positive backs, processed backs? Just fronts, just backs or both? I only need 10 in total. Do I actually need to include the original “book”? If I don’t, I’ll need to sort prints.

These are not the final versions of the scans, they are rough crops. Samples rather than a final selection. The different resolutions need to be addressed, the final images will all be the same size.


A5 – post Skype and pre written feedback initial thoughts

I need to do more on this work, neither me nor my tutor is exactly sure what that “more” is.

I think the content is ok, I don’t think I need to shoot more Polaroids.

My tutor suggested the following:

  • several practitioners to research (this was very helpful in freeing up my creativity once again)
  • looking at “time” as an aspect of the work and investigating making lower-res digital copies of the polaroids (backs I think) using either a scanner or an early digital camera. She observed that this would develop the idea of photographing Fox Talbot’s home with a camera that’s out of modern production. Thinking about it, I have the macro jpgs to represent the current technology.
  • thinking about a “perfect bound” book rather than my current loosely associated pages
  • She said that the fronts of the polaroids (ie the normal side) were rather less important to her on viewing than the altered backs. This allows me to explore other forms of presentation where the front is harder to access.
  • She liked the acrylic blocks and the way that one of them allowed the objects inside to move slightly. One option is to explore making use of more blocks.
  • More contextualisation. Her suggestions will help here, particularly the VR artist Mat Collishaw’s installation of a FT exhibition.
  • She kindly offered more feedback in the summer before I start putting everything together for assessment.

So where next? I have updated my post on the OCA forum. I will do a test scan and see if I can source a very basic digital camera. I need to decide how important the actual physical polaroid is to me in the presentation of this work. Am I happy to dispense with them and present for example scans, using the two acrylic objects to show the physical traces, in their almost museum context of being preserved in “glass”? I am wondering about a photobook, on thick paper, with one side printed with an image and the opposite side holding a polaroid that’s secured to the paper in some way (either removably or not). There’s the potential to match polaroids with the macro shot of the same back.

I need to pull the work together a bit more. I don’t necessarily want it to feel “resolved” but I do want it to feel unified.

Self assessment

I’m still a bit stunned that A5 is finished. It seems to have been here for ages, we’d got used to each other’s company. It’s over, but I’m not finished.

What went well?

I feel as if my technical skills are improving, though this has not necessarily been the project to showcase them. Exercise 5.2 was a watershed moment, and I am happy with the jpgs of the Polaroid backs. I’m even reasonably happy with the picture side of the polaroids, they worked well in black and white and carry the mood of early photography. I’m happy with the work creatively too. I tried absolutely everything that occurred to me, some ideas worked, some didn’t, but I feel as if I explored it from the inside out, and extensively (not completely, there is always more). It feels like my work too.

What didn’t go so well?

Decisions! Well the easy ones were fine. This is going to sound like an ungrateful complaint but sometimes it felt like I could barely keep up with my ideas, which is probably a good thing as it took me to some interesting creative spaces, but I do wonder which bit of my brain is in charge sometimes. I’m aware of a lack of polish on the physical work too. One of the acrylic blocks didn’t clean up too well after I decided against the emulsion lift on it… I should have bought a spare. I could have done with more polaroids too, as I used quite a few testing out techniques and making test books. Contact sheets caught me out, I should have photographed them as I went.

What would I do differently?

Everything identified above. I want to continue developing this work, the next step is photographing emulsion lifts in water to show motion, both sides, and the light through the image.

review against assessment criteria

A5 submission

Photography is Simple is about curiosity, following up all those I wonders and what ifs. It’s about the origins of photography in the UK, via Fox Talbot, Lacock Abbey, and experimentation. It’s about the technical simplicity of the Polaroid.  It’s about inside-out and back-to-front, about the bits that we ignore – the backs, the guts, the negatives. It’s about exploring a single object and multiple possibilities, like Masterchef and coriander. It’s about tampering with prints and memories. It’s about windows – seeing from the inside out and the outside in; like how Barthes talked about how we don’t see the photograph, but only what it’s of (2000, p6), like how we see through/into a photo rather than looking at the object itself.  It’s about looking through the same windows as Fox Talbot, working with the same light, and the photographic window on the world that he gave us all. It’s about frames – both for windows and for images, and that Polaroid frame on every print. It’s about my creative journey – taking ideas from FiP, tending them and testing them. It’s about taking inspiration from the Revelations study visit two years ago and putting it, via Polaroid – onto watercolour paper bought at the Wolfgang Tillmans study visit,  or magnetic acrylic blocks as helpfully identified by an OCA Fine Arts student (Stefan). It’s about trusting that Walter Benjamin was right when he said “In artwork, subject matter is a ballast, jettisoned during contemplation” (Benjamin, 1979 p66-67 cited Campion in (Berg and Gronert, 2011)), and still wondering about aura. It’s about risk, each Polaroid is a one-off,  if the emulsion sticks or processing sucks, there’s no way of just running off another one. It’s about my friend Clare, who said there’s no point altering something that isn’t precious, that doesn’t carry a risk. It’s about chemicals, it’s about instability, it’s about change, it’s about time and it’s about me, my creative foundations and my creative future.

The book has been submitted for tutor critique, however you can see a 30 second video here:

In addition to the physical work, I have some jpgs of the backs of the Polaroids immediately after manipulation. With my tutor’s agreement, I am including eight of them here to seek guidance on the better set to develop for assessment. Please click to view a larger image.

Finally, the course notes requires me to direct my tutor to exercise 5.2. I chose to respond to Moyra Davey’s Copperhead and you can see the third iteration of the work here. Please note there will be a 4th iteration added, with sharper images of the coins, however this is how it is at the moment.

Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage Books.

Berg, S. and Gronert, S. (2011). Through the looking brain. 1st ed. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

A5 Research

eyv a5 vennOne of the areas that has changed the most for me during EYV has been research. I’ve learned to be braver about just starting the work, rather than researching extensively before even picking up the camera. Part of my learning is redefining exactly what research is. It’s not necessarily a search engine inquisition of the internet looking for similar work. It can be exploring tutor suggestions, or just starting the work and figuring out the influences later. I did wonder if I had done any research at all for this work, then remembered the hours spent reading, wondering, and trying things out. Research can be about your influences, but it can also be about testing out gossamer thin threads of logic between things that you think are relevant. Even if I choose not to follow up every artist who’s worked with Polaroid, every Fox Talbot image, every use of a die-cutting machine, I still need the ability and knowledge to place my work in the canon of work that is out there now. I came to the decision that my work is in large a tribute to Fox Talbot but through a vernacular lens – the architecture of his ancient home, captured with a camera typical of the 1970s, processed through a manual system used for die-cutting and embossing that is used as much as a diversion today as watercolours were for Fox Talbot’s family and friends.

Photographing modern day Lacock is by no means unusual and it’s a location that appears in the blogs of several local OCA students, including my own. What I hadn’t seen elsewhere though, was the location photographed with a simpler camera, or a focus on windows, which with their associated frames seem to me to be a very photographic concept and construct. One of the photographs that Fox Talbot is most famous for is the one he made of a window in the south corridor of Lacock Abbey.

Fox Talbot deserves more attention. He is essentially Chapter 1 in most books about the history of photography and it is easy to take him, and his work, for granted. Living just down the road from Lacock Abbey I am also guilty of viewing the ancestral home of British photography as a convenient excursion when the child needs wearing out. Photographing his home with a basic camera gave me some idea of how exciting it must have been for him. Part of this was down to the Polaroid too – for sure, thousands if not millions of photographs are taken at Lacock Abbey every year, but how many of these photographers get to hold their prints in hand, at Lacock, as William and I did? To stand in front of a photographed window, holding its likeness? I do somehow feel as if I understand him, and his legacy, better, as a result of the reading and visiting that I did. I spent some time looking at the Bodlean Library Fox Talbot before photographing, and that helped me to determine what I wanted my Polaroids to “be of”.

Similarly, die-cutting and embossing are very popular techniques with card-making crafters, but I hadn’t seen the techniques applied to photographs, and particularly not to Polaroids, where they allow the exploration of the print, and its integral mini dark-room – as an object. Finally – Polaroid emulsion lifts – again a well-used technique in the field of Polaroid manipulation, but I wanted to explore the link between this fragile, elastic translucent image and the window that it represented. Could I get a Polaroid of a window to actually be see through? Could I mount it in a transparent medium?

I did a fair bit of exploration. I think my key research was looking at the work of Fox Talbot on the Bodleian website, the Fox Talbot Photography Museum and in visits to the Abbey, repeatedly taking Polaroids in colour, in black and white, of everything, of the windows, with people and without people. I talked to the volunteers, taped over the flash on my Polaroid, talked to them again, and kept going. I looked at calotypes, I tried making some ( with the slightly discouraging result that the best ones were of my pants). I drew encouragement from everyone who looked at my Polaroids and said they looked like old photographs (rather than modern photographs of something old).

I read OCA DIC student Stephanie d’Hupert’s critical essay on images as objects. Her work embraces the print, the physical, the old, the cherished, the broken and the repaired. You can see the assignment that bewitched me here –  Her essay can be read here – I also followed fellow EYV student Alan’s exploration with a found suitcase full of found images the suitcase.  Again, he was inspired to explore both fronts and backs of the prints, despite being completely unfamiliar with both the context and content of this case of prints. Finally, I looked at Anna Goodchild’s experiments with Polaroid print., where she manipulated them in her work about prisons. You can see some of her trial prints on the OCA discussion board here Despite us both working with Polaroid 600 prints and manipulating them, the results are very different.

I collected all the Polaroids that I was happy to sacrifice and tried out techniques on them, varying the film type, the colour, the age of the print, the shape, the pressure….

I discovered the heartbreaking story of the Polaroid collection – around 1200 images by esteemed artists that were auctioned following the conviction of Tom Petters with large-scale fraud. He had “rescued” Polaroid from an earlier bankruptcy but then used it as a front company for a £2.4billion Ponzi style fraud. He was jailed in 2010 for 50 years, Polaroid went bankrupt again, and the creditors moved in. Artists had often donated work to Polaroid in exchange for film, on the understanding that the works would be maintained as a collection but sadly this was not honoured and the works were sold, despite many believing that the works were not actually the collection’s to sell. You can read a summary here and there’s a detailed set of blog posts on A.D. Coleman’s blog here.

The physical side of the work took some research. The embossing work was all hands-on experimentation. I found various tutorials online on emulsion lifts and accordion spine books, but was still inexplicably nervous about trying out the spine (it was  still untried as I drafted this blog post, some seven days before the work was due to be with my tutor). Recommendations and suggestions were made on the OCA forum, which I followed up. I bought a discounted book on different things to do with Polaroid prints, which punched way above its not insignificant weight and got me thinking that experimenting with Polaroids really is nothing new. Somehow, that was comforting. Much of what I wanted to do didn’t seem to come up in my research, from embossing a Polaroid to using the film carton to make a book outer. It’s unlikely that I’m the first person doing these things, but it does seem to be the case that I’m the first person documenting the work on the searchable internet.

Other influences are still formative. My tutor has spoken twice to me about Walter Benjamin’s writings on the aura. This is the idea that mass production of a work somehow destroys its essence, its one-ness, it’s specialness. Perhaps Benjamin didn’t think this was a bad thing. I’m still undecided, if mass production destroyed the emotive wrench of an image then surely there would be no reason for charities, for campaign groups, for press to use photographers? I do however agree with his comment about how subject matter, in art, can be a ballast that you discard “during contemplation” (Benjamin, 1979 p66-67 cited Campion in (Berg and Gronert, 2011)). I wanted the use of Fox Talbot’s windows to be a simple jumping-off point for my work, something that provided a relevant and cohesive theme that viewers can use to access the work, then make their own explorations, circling back to the familiar if needed. Then there’s Barthes’ Camera Lucida, and his comments that you can’t deconstruct a photograph. “The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the windowpane and the landscape, and why not: Good and Evil, desire and its object: dualities we can conceive but not perceive….”  (2000, p6).  Clearly you can separate the leaves of a Polaroid, separating out to the negative, the emulsion, the transparent mylar and the strips that form the borders. Separating them does destroy the unit, but I think the component parts take on their own meanings even when separated. Similarly, I would disagree with him on his view of Polaroids. “Polaroid? Fun, but disappointing, except when a great photographer is involved.” (2000, p9).

Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage Books.

Berg, S. and Gronert, S. (2011). Through the looking brain. 1st ed. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.