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 – https://stephaniedhlearninglog5.wordpress.com/category/assignment-2/assignment-2-si-tu-veux-que-je-taime/.  Her essay can be read here –  https://stephaniedhlearninglog5.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/assignment-3-critical-essay/ 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.

http://foxtalbot.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

 

Playing to the Gallery – book

Playing to the Gallery is by Grayson Perry and published by Penguin, 2014. It will be familiar to anyone who has watched his Reith lectures, available on You-tube via the BBC Radio 4 channel, but still worth the read. The subtitle is “Helping contemporary art in its struggle to be understood”, I think this shortsells the work somewhat.

I like it because it’s a very grounded view of art and artists. My favourite chapter is “I Found Myself in the Art World”. Here he considers the value of a formal arts education, which reassured me that I was doing the right thing by engaging in formal learning. He talks about Robert Prisig (of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and his view of ideas as small furry creatures emerging from the undergrowth, and how you have to be nice to them. This resonated with my view of ideas as tender new shoots which you look after, cultivate, but never judge. I am also curious to read Alain de Botton’s book How Proust Can Change Your Life” after reading Perry’s paraphrasing of how it’s better to see your location with your hero’s eyes than your hero’s location with your eyes. For someone who is strongly inspired and influenced by other artists, that made a lot of sense.

It is very practical and realistic small book, well illustrated and very accessibly written. He moves effortlessly from making sense of art in galleries and museums to the brutal realities of making your own work, of needing to balance the courage to develop work and put it out there with the need to tend and nurture one’s creative centre. He considers how the most apparently “ridiculous” ideas can be the same ideas that a career is built around for years. He talks about what to do after you finish your course, how to get started. He talks about failure, success, and dealing with both. He talks about art, sculpture, photography, tapestry… it’s accessible no matter what your creative discipline may be..

Like Austin Kleon’s Steal like an Artist, this book is invaluable for getting going and keeping going, especially on the days when things aren’t going so well.

References

Grayson Perry Reith Lectures on You-tube – https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=grayson+perry+reith+lectures

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal like an artist. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Workman Publishing.

Making cyanotypes

These were made in the back garden with sunography kits. You put objects on the paper/fabric, cover with glass or plastic to hold everything down, then leave them to expose. It takes 10-15 minutes in bright sun, the weather turned cloudy when we did ours and the orange one ended up having close to an hour. Once exposed, you rinse the prints under running water for at least a couple of minutes and dry them on kitchen roll/paper towel, swapping for a dry towel after 15 minutes. There is no fixer required.

We found that although you can expose on both sides, the image from one side will show through slightly to the other side.

Fox Talbot and Anna Atkinson were early pioneers of photograms. They tended to be of horticultural specimens rather than underwear, however Fox Talbot made several using lace.

I am exploring this because I want to make a calotype of the Fox Talbot window by deconstructing a polaroid image and using the emulsion as a negative on Sunography paper.

The Photographers Gallery – Deutsche Borse, Roger Mayne, Evgenia Arbugaeve

This was my afternoon after visiting the Wolfgang Tillmans show at the Tate Modern.

I normally blog exhibitions separately, but it was interesting how the work here interacted so I’m putting them all in a single post. All images are mobile photos included for reference.

I know that photography is inevitably about the past, but there seemed to be a very heavy emphasis on the past in the current set of exhibitions. There’s more black and white than colour, a distinct emphasis on the actual past. In the basement, Evgenia Arbugaeva’s series “Amani”, set in a disused Malaria Research station. This series is in colour, but slightly desaturated and with a vintage feel. I was first introduced to Evgenia’s work with her series Tiksi, also in the TPG basement gallery but a while back. I love the detail of her narratives, her use of colour, and the gentle way that her images invite you into her stories.

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You can see the whole series on her website here – http://evgeniaarbugaeva.com/stories/—amani/Amani_01/

Level 2 was devoted was Roger Mayne – mainly his 1950s black and white prints of children playing but also the very effective 5 screen slideshow “Britain at Leisure” which was commissioned for the Milan Trienniale in 1964. This one is in colour. I don’t quite understand why it resonated so much with me, given that all these photographs were taken well before I was born. There was a definite feeling of Steichen’s Family of Man about the slideshow. Another aspect of the photographs that delighted me was the strong composition of so much of the work. Very strong use of diagonal lines that rendered the portraits of children more than simple portraits but instead gave them a strong sense of place within a larger whole. On the image below this effect is compounded by the use of a streetlamp to divide the frame.

The top two floors were given to the 2017 Deutsch Borse prize. I don’t know if it’s a reflection of a year’s further study, but I found this year’s work more engaging than last year’s.  Sophie Calle has been nominated for her work “My All” which is a collection of 54 postcards, one from each major work that she’s made. I have been intrigued by her work since my Foundations tutor suggested that I read her book “Double Game”. I couldn’t use some of her methods, but the work remains compelling. Unlike much conceptual work, her work provokes as much of an emotional response in me as an intellectual one. In this exhibition we see a set of the postcards, and some work that combines poetry, multimedia and photography as she considers the deaths of her mother, her cat and her father (“in that order”). She addresses that thing about what do you do with a phone contact for someone who is dead. Delete it? Leave it there and risk calling it by accident, or having your phone mistakenly match the photo with someone else. I bought the set of cards. Funnily, it worked out at less per card than making cards of my own work…

Next up was a set of vast black and white landscapes from Dutch photographer Awoiska van der Molen. These were delicate and had gorgeous use of tone with the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. I liked how one included tiny road signs at the bottom of the huge image, giving an idea of scale.

Dana Lixenberg presented a set of (mainly) portraits, again in black and white. These were of residents in the Imperial Courts housing project in LA, taken over twenty two years. These pictures were exuberant, uncompromising and empathetic. Apologies for the reflection.

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Finally, a joint project by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. This “playfully draws on the visual iconography of a road trip from Switzerland to Mongolia, constructing experiences drawn equally from memory and imagination”. I struggled a bit to find a way in this work. There were five av presentations running simultaneously, presenting still shots and film. Mainly in black and white but with occasional colour (I saw one colour image).  It was a bit like watching five different sets of holiday movies/slideshows at the same time, but without your relatives helping you out with context. I enjoyed the man dancing on a pier, and the colour still of a motel bed.

Mark Power 26 different endings (and a photobooth)

Exhibition – Mark Power 26 Different Endings,  at the Hoxton Hotel Shoreditch.

This exhibition was a fortuitous coincidence. I had been researching the locations of analogue photo booths in central London as I wanted to make some strips of photos to try out an idea born from A2 and A5. This location came up, and when I emailed them to ask if they still had the booth (they did) it transpired they also had an exhibition of work by Magnum Photographer Mark Power that was opening the day before I was due to visit.

I first came across Mark’s work in my first ever visit as an OCA student. The scheduled visit that I was booked onto was cancelled, so I took a train to Bristol to see the Magnum exhibition Open for Business about workplaces and workers in Britain. Mark Power made work in the Bombardier train factory, at Nissan and at Camira Fabrics. I like the work for its intimacy and especially its portrayal of workers’ feet. The work must have made a big impression as he was one of two photographers (out of nine) whose work I wrote about. Blog post here.

This work is a series of landscapes, taken in the places that are just off the edges of the A-Z. They are colourful, empty places, full of evidence of people but no actual people. Some of the compositions even reminded me of A-Z pages, with clear colours and lines. Presented as large framed prints, on both sides of a narrow corridor. I liked the concept of this very much, not least as I live in a small town that’s in the bottom right hand corner of an OS map so I ended up with the 3 adjoining maps in order to plan cycle routes in each direction. I always wondered about the edges of maps – who decides where the edges are? Did there used to be nothing at the edges and the towns have expanded beyond the edges? Is there a parallel between the edge of the map and the edge of the frame? You can see more details on this work, including the images, on Mark’s site here.

I would have loved to have had more time to devote to this exhibition, as it was I had to make my photobooth images and squeeze in a coffee before heading to the Tate Modern for 10:45. For anyone in the area I can recommend this exhibition and the coffee. The photobooth is interesting too, 4 poses for £3 albeit overexposed and a bit contrasty.