Assessment result and comments

So to close this down, I am thrilled to write that I passed EYV with 68% and received some very helpful comments to help me improve my work. Feedback attached here – 513940 K Aston PH4EYV marksheet .  I probably ought to write a reflection, and will, but not right now.


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.



Assessment self- evaluation

EYV was a significant challenge to me after FiP. I finished FiP feeling confident, inspired and capable. The exercises in the first two parts of EYV seemed to assume rather less experience and the result was that I felt completely wrong-footed and produced some remarkably unremarkable work. I still think that I produced rather better work for the FIP exercises than for EYV exercises, on the whole. Much as I would love to blame the course it’s more likely to be a reflection of me not being creative enough and not being brave enough to explore and exploit the exercise briefs to the same degree as I routinely did for the assignments. I really did struggle with motivation and believe I was rescued by a tutor who spotted my potential and who encouraged me to take risks with the assignments and to broaden my reading.

A1, although ok, didn’t feel right to me and felt less so as the course progressed. I could see a clear difference between it, and the following assignments in terms of creativity, competence, fulfilling the brief and successful rework. Rephotographing wasn’t possible due to a recalcitrant 9 year old. A refreshed edit (my tutor’s suggestion) didn’t improve things much, so I redid the entire assignment with a different subject that I felt to be a tighter fit to the brief and more consistent with the other work that I’m presenting.

A2 was a lot of fun. I enjoyed working with photobooth machines. My tutor’s suggestions for research and follow up reading blew me away and have genuinely changed the direction of my work. I followed a rework suggestion and we both agreed that doing so had spawned a whole new idea to develop in C&N.

A3 almost didn’t happen, I was very nervous about suggesting working with used pregnancy tests but Moira was enthusiastic and encouraged me to try it. That was a valuable lesson. There are still learning opportunities for me here in terms of technical consistency within a typology-type series, but the most fun was to be had considering the best way to present this work for assessment.

A4 also nearly didn’t happen. The ideas on my agreed shortlist just weren’t working, and I remember emailing Moira a couple of test shots of lit phone boxes at night. She encouraged me to continue. This work was far more static than I was used to, as well as much darker, wetter, colder, later and slower to shoot. It’s a fairly “straight” piece of work for me (along with the reworked A1) and I am proud of it, not least because at least two of the boxes that I photographed have since been removed by BT. It was my only assignment that needed no rework.

A5 also happened by accident but at least I was getting better at spotting the signs of serendipity. Following comments by my tutor I was playing with Polaroids and photobooth portraits. Following an idea from A2 I was trying to die-cut a Polaroid with limited success as the development fluid got squidged everywhere. Clive White on the forum spotted the potential, my tutor agreed and I started work. This work has significant potential for development (scans, jpgs of the blue developer before it turns white, images on older technology such as Nokia 3310s). For assessment however I chose to fine-tune the book – made entirely from Polaroid film, including the box and the protective slide. I included the emulsion lift of the Fox Talbot window as it allows anyone to look through that historic window.

Two courses in, my preference is to work with the familiar and the forgotten. I have a strong interest in exploring my feelings about gender, a continuing curiosity for altered physical formats, using the 2d within images and using my photographs as the start of my creative process rather than the end. I shall continue working with analogue formats such as Polaroid and Photobooth as well as improving my digital skills. I hope to start printing my own work. I am grateful to my tutor for her perception and her persistence in encouraging me to go further, even when I honestly thought I had nowhere left to go. I have also realised the value of rework, the comforting knowledge that the better and the best are still to come.

End of part reflections – Part 5

This part of the course finally felt like coming home. I took my time and feel as if I have made some work with real potential, work that is helping me to explore what I want to make and how I want to make it. This work has been strongly supported by my previous Foundation course and it was very satisfying to plunder my FiP archive for this part.

I found exercise 5.2 very engaging and learned a great deal from the various iterations that we went through together. The help on the OCA discussion board was invaluable, as it guided me to what needed to be done in Photoshop without giving step by step instructions.

The assignment was all-consuming for some time. It was a true journey, I kept my options open and enjoyed exploring the various creative routes that opened up to me. My tutor was exceptionally helpful in guiding me back to focus when the work was threatening to get out of hand. I also had invaluable help from the OCA discussion board, the students who generously comment here and on Instagram and Facebook, and in real life via study visits, study groups and ad hoc meet ups over coffee and exhibitions. Thank you all.

After much discussion and thought, I have decided to remain on the Photography degree pathway. After C&N however I will be taking a third L1 course that has a wider or different focus. I am wondering about book design, visual skills, or one of the theoretical modules such as Understanding Visual Culture or the Western Art one. I am desperate for context, the knowledge that I can both draw on to make work and use to place my work in the contemporary canon. I’m still not sure if staying on Photography is the best decision for me in the long term, but it is the best decision for me right now and after that it’s up to me to make it work.

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.

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).

References and bibliography

Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage Books.
Benjamin, W. and Underwood, J. (2008). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Berg, S. and Gronert, S. (2011). Through the looking brain. 1st ed. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.
Cotton, C. (2015). Photography is magic. New York: Aperture.
The Impossible Project, Kelnreiter, M (2012) . 101 ways to do something impossible. Germany: The Impossible Project.