It’s up and running now, though will just be homing study visit write-ups for a little while yet. This EYV blog is all done now bar a bit of housekeeping to get it ready for assessment in November. Thank you everyone for reading, commenting, sharing, helping… it’s really appreciated. Please feel free to click across to my new Context and Narrative blog and follow. Who knows what might happen there over the next 12 months or so? I’m pretty sure I don’t…
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].
This is a condensed blog post for assessment. Please refer to the original posts for more information if needed.
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, p5-6), 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 Schaffeld). 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.
A video of the original book is below. I had also submitted some prints and some objects (emulsion lifts in acrylic) as I was unsure which direction to develop for assessment.
My tutor was very positive about the work, stressing that all it really needed was consolidation from its current foundation across three form. She provided me with a raft of references to help me with providing a visual context for the work and stronger presentation. She suggested exploring the work with other outdated technology, which led me to some terrific explorations of scanning the image backs and inserting the scans onto a Nokia 3310. Engaging and productive as these were, they helped me to see that what mattered for assessment was an improved book and a single acrylic block.
The video and photographs below show some of the explorations I made. Please note that the video works best with sound on.
The final improvement came when I took the book back to Lacock Abbey and discussed it with OCA peer Holly Woodward who provided a fresh perspective on sequencing and the best images to start and finish with. I punched new holes in pages, lifted glue dots where needed, resequenced and the new book went together like it was meant to be. Finally I understood what my tutor meant when she talked of how work can be resolved enough for assessment without necessarily being creatively “finished”. I would also dispute Barthes’ comments:
“The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the windowpane and the landscape, ….” (2000, p6) and “Polaroid? Fun, but disappointing, except when a great photographer is involved.” (2000, p9). I’ve found separating these Polaroids to be exactly the opposite.
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.
Note – this was written after I followed up my tutor’s feedback comments and hence covers two iterations of the work.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Both images below are from my Foundation blog http://www.kateastonoca.wordpress.com