The Shape of Light exhibition – visit to Tate Modern 9/8/18
Looking at the photograms was a priority for me, as it’s something I have been experimenting with recently.
This one by Laszlo Moholy – Nagy is silver gelatin print on postcard, and I find the shapes, textures and 3D effect mesmerising. It seems to me that objects were placed on the paper at different times in the process.
This Rayograph by Man Ray differs from Nagy in its surrealist tendencies. Rather than obsessing with shape and form, his work transformed everyday objects into something less recognisable. This is definitely something that I’d like to pursue, but then, how would it fit into my style of narrative photography?
Finally, the work I was most drawn to was that of Barbara Kasten’s cyanotypes. Unfortunately this photograph does not do it justice, the glare on the pictures does not allow me to show the true extent of their ‘blueness’. This is a process that in the future I would definitely like to explore.
Another couple of screenings I’ve watched during weeks 9-10:
- Guest lecture by Katrin Joost. This was not especially relevant to my current practice, but interesting nevertheless and after this module I may watch it again.
- “Looking to See” – BBC Imagine programme on Tacita Dean
Dean works primarily with art, film and photography. She has three simultaneous exhibitions showing in London, each one with a different theme : portraiture, still life and landscape.
She is a collector of various things, she has a large collection of four – leaved clovers for example. She explained that for her, it’s not about the objects themselves, but in the act of looking.
Preferring analog over digital, Dean uses film as a medium for portraiture. As with the Welby Ings lecture last week, she explains how there is a recurrence of certain themes throughout her work (a foot / boot being prime examples).
There are autobiographical elements in her work, and I see few connections between her work and what I aspire to produce. The one comment that did strike a bell with me was that she doesn’t know where her work is going until she gets there.
Welby Ings – Guest Lecture
After watching the recording of this lecture, I wrote up my notes. Firstly, a clear record of the distinction between methods and methodology:
Secondly, methods and methodology used by Welby in “Munted”, and how some of these relate to my own work:
4th August 2018
The last day on holiday included a visit to the Jersey WW2 war tunnels. Built by the Germans as a military hospital (using the slave labour of prisoners), it is now a museum.
The detailed factual history set out there was incredibly moving. And, of course I paid particular attention to how memorabilia was displayed – what was attention grabbing and what was easily missed.
Large scale head shot photographs of Jersey evacuees on a plain wall was eye catching and held the attention of visitors for some minutes, whilst their gaze (including mine) travelled over each face. The characters in my current project are represented as small images – but seeing this I now wonder whether I should have made more of them as individuals in order to accentuate their story. I will have to see if I have enough time to change my plan to accommodate this.
A street plan of the area was projected onto the floor, and needed to be walked across to reach the other side of the room. Again, this was an effective ploy, immediately requiring visitors to place themselves in a different place and time. In the future this is an idea I could employ – I have a projector and could easily include this idea in a future exhibition.
Less effective, I thought, were these cases which were laid out on a table. All the lids were closed. There was no explanation as to what they were, so initially I believed them to be historic boxes of some kind. It wasn’t until I spotted a child opening one of them that I realised they could be opened at all! Inside, were items belonging to Jersey residents dating back to WW2. As an idea, this has potential – and one I could certainly use in the future with my vintage cameras – but the lack of signifier here meant that it was easily missed.
1st August 2018
Day 4 of a week away in Jersey – and I’m trying to keep the momentum going for my project as well as giving myself some space from it. Good rest and sleep is helping my thought processes, and while I’m away from screens I am starting to make notes on my Oral Presentation.
Naturally I have taken a lot of photos already here. Not the usual type of holiday snaps, as I am constantly looking for imagery that I can place alongside my current work. As such a lot of it is stimulus based it’s not easy to access relevant material here, although the ideas are flowing and I have to hope that I have time to get them into place once I am home.
As one of the stimuli is roses I have plenty of photographic opportunities, discernment is a necessary preoccupation though, so that unnecessary repetition is avoided.
Having said that, there is going to be repetition in my work, as there is in some family albums. Martha Langford describes the organisation and presentation of photographs in the chapter “Photographs” 1916-1945. Sisters (p182-190). She notes the repetition of at least two images throughout the album, and how they are placed as a reminder, a motif, a theme – rather than chronologically. A constant flash back to a happy day, where people do not age, but memories linger. She describes the effect of this process as ‘to dismantle the workings of time’ (p190).
Having read this I now think of one of the photos in the ‘Terry’ series a little differently; even though it has been the basis of my project from the outset:
This image appears three times within the set of albums, two of them slightly larger reprints. There is an irony that I only discovered its duplication after I had chosen it as a source of stimuli. Also telling, that I had intuitively picked up on the importance of this picture. What is it that Terry is doing? What is the symbolism of those roses?
Within my dummy book, I will most likely if not directly, indirectly repeat some images to maintain the idea of motif – images of roses are likely to link to others.
Langford also discusses how different images work alongside each other in the album – not by character, date, or location; but by the use of the gaze to make associations between adjacent photographs (p187). She is referring to the gaze of the viewer, as they look casually from one image to another. It may be body shape, direction of a head – whatever it is, she describes how the ordering of the sisters’ photographs is not a hap-hazard approach, despite there being a lack of chronological order.
Reading this I realise more than ever how important it will be for my images to be placed in the correct order – even though the orders are likely to be different for my book, exhibition and portfolio. I’ll need to pay close attention to the semantics of my images and think about signifiers within them.
Visit to the Durrell Jersey Zoo, 31st July 2018
I had mixed feelings about this visit, but the emphasis on conservation and education here was inspiring and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. For the purposes of this blog, however, I wish to concentrate on the Gerald Durrell exhibition there. Gerald Durrell spent much of his early years in Corfu, and wrote several books including ‘My Family and other Animals’. Through his writing, he had enough of an income to found the Jersey zoo in 1959, with the aim of saving species from extinction. His charitable trust was renamed as The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust after his death, as an honour to his contribution to conservation.
The exhibition is held in a fairly small room, with display cabinets containing memorabilia, as well as posters and information on the walls. I spent time looking at the displays and photographing them, as I collected ideas for inclusion within my current work. Playing with false memory and narrative within my project, any opportunity to experience interesting memorabilia is a bonus. In this instance, it was not only the items on display, but how they were displayed which was of interest to me.
The order did seem random within each case, even though there was some semblance of chronological order between cases. Included here (top right) is Gerald’s mother’s hand written recipe book, his own doodles; stamps, toy car, passport, and sheet from a diary. On the right side of the middle row is a photo of the vistor’s book, which I attempted to doctor by making an entry from Terry. This was a poor attempt as it was a spur of the moment decision and I couldn’t decide what to write. I may do this another time though in a different visitor’s book!
The apparent randomness of articles within each case was at the same time distracting and mesmerising, if such a thing can be possible. Again, I realise just how important the presentation of my work, particularly with its narrative dialogue, is.
26th July 2018
It’s been a week of webinar activities!
1. I listened to Finnish abstract art photographer Laura Nissinen’s guest lecture on Tuesday. Perhaps one of the pertinent quotes that has stayed with me was “Write about your own work. If you don’t, others will”. Paradoxically, I need to be able to explain parts of my work for it to be understood; yet too much information leaves nothing for the imagination – and imagination is an integral part of the current narrational element of my work.
I was drawn to Laura’s experimental work and found her evolving processes inspiring (for example when her photography work was ruined by water damage she used this to her advantage to make ‘aleatory variable (water damage)’ 2014. She has also printed on different papers, and developed photographs in her own urine.
Another artist that Laura referenced was Kira Leskinen, who works with a flatbed scanner.
I am drawn to her abstract 3D type image ‘Kiutu’ (above). Is looks like torn paper, a vortex – but it is its rose-like composition that fascinates me the most; and I start thinking on how this was made.
This is my first (and rather poor) attempt of scanning on an open A4 scanner at home. Very basic but definitely something I will do more of later.
Laura names her work practically so that it can be understood, adding that abstract photography communicates in a different way. Hence I shall call my image above Scanograph study #1.
2. I took part in a webinar for potential students, as a current student. The preparation for this made me reflect on my Falmouth MA Photography experience; and it was good to have the opportunity to share my positive experience.
3. The weekly webinar this morning. It was great to talk with a couple of students that I hadn’t ‘met’ before and discuss the plans for ur workshops. More can be found about the plans for my workshop here
In addition to the above, I have also been trying to catch up on some reading: Flusser, Langford, Barthes and my latest addition Understanding Photo Books by Jorg Colberg.
15th July 2018
More reading by Annette Kuhn has kept me occupied – this time an article about memory texts. (See reference page.)
On page six, she states that “Family albums may be regarded as souvenirs”, as well as using words like ‘evidence’ and ‘counter memories’. Individual photos are likely to be interpreted differently to whole albums, and certainly by the context in which they’re viewed. “Memory work undercuts assumptions about the transparency or the authenticity of what is remembered, taking it not as ‘truth’ but as evidence of a particular sort: material for interpretation, to be interrogated, mined, for its meanings and its possibilities.”
My current work, as it takes on its multiple forms (book, exhibition, workshop, portfolio) allows for multiple interpretations. Rather ambitiously, I’m aiming for an element of confusion – will the viewer know what is truth and what is fiction? The truth in one context may be fiction in another – depending on the location / juxtaposition of images. If I use an image of a friend of mine by a canal, it tells the truth, we both know that it actually happened. But as soon as I put it side by side by the man in my appropriated album the contextualisation is compromised. Independently these photographs are both ‘evidence’, but viewed together, on the same page, their displacement creates a falsehood, an imaginary ‘counter memory’.
12th July 2018
As my preparations are getting underway for my portfolio and exhibition, I’m considering how to address the ethical questions that I keep asking myself. Although the main character in my manufactured family album is anonymous, consideration also needs to be given to any family members or friends of his that might see this work.
Gillian Rose, in Chapter 6 of ‘Doing Family Photography: the domestic, the public, and the politics of sentiment’ thinks that “audiences should take moral responsibility for what they see” (p86). She makes this comment after discussing ‘compassion fatigue’ (which may occur following an overload of distressing images published in the aftermath of a disaster, for example); arguing that it’s the concern of the individual that determines how they should react, rather than blaming the mass media for circulation of these images.
This is an interesting point, and not one that I’m entirely comfortable with. Yes, we can choose how to behave after looking, just as we may choose not to look at all. However nothing can prepare audiences for the accidental viewing – on a poster, on a social media site, in a gallery space. And it can’t be assumed that the accidental audience will be adequately prepared to take moral responsibility for what they have stumbled across.
This is the predicament that faces me as I prepare for my public exhibition. Gillian Rose goes on to say in Chapter 8 that ‘family photographs are powerful objects in the articulation of family relations’ (p107). So does it matter that my work fabricates, invents, elaborates on those relationships?
Annette Kuhn, (Remembrance in ‘Family Snaps’, p22) says that “Family photography may affect to show our past, but what we do with them – how we use them – is really about today, not yesterday. These traces of our former lives are pressed into service in a never -ending process of making, remaking, making sense of, our selves – now.”
Stephen Perkins (The Family Album: an Inquiry), makes a similar point through his identification of three interweaving themes that run through the family album – Home, Family, and Return. ‘Return’ referring to how we use the family album: “always coming back to re-construct these sequences of photos” (p.143).
In essence that is what my current work is doing – it is reconstructing, redesigning, re-imagining the past. In so doing I will seek ethical methods to do what I can to preserve the integrity of the original ‘found’ album that is the source of, and inspiration for my work.
9th July 2018
A little belatedly I am writing about some of reading I did last week, in particular Suspended conversations by Martha Langford.
I’ll start this entry with a few relevant quotes, and then discuss them more critically with relation to my own practice.
‘The album introduced “vanishing of truth…omission…a wealth of information and possibilities for memories and nostalgia…’ (Beloff, in Langford p92).
‘Pictures of a type may form complementary and adjacent groups, or they may be spread throughout the album as recurrent motifs.’ (p145)
‘An album offers a succession of distinct and physically separated impressions…The order and spacing of elements has been determined by the compiler; each photograph has been placed to advantage’. (p 150)
‘Looking back to front, browsing, and skipping are encouraged by the fragmentary, yet continuous, nature of the album. The spectator feels free to pursue the themes or stories as she finds them.’ (p150)
The album that I am constructing will hold found, true photographs of ‘Terry’, staged (therefore untrue) portrait photographs, as well as other images (such as roses) which pick out and develop motifs from the original ‘Terry’ series. I do not know who Terry was. As Langford notes, there are omissions in my appropriated albums. (When was he born? What type of personality did he have? Was he happy? What was his favourite colour? Who did he visit Versailles with? What was his real name?)
The two recurring motifs that I’m currently exploring are roses, and a white shirt, both of which are present several times in the original photos. (More of this to follow shortly).
When my work is exhibited in its 3D online space, viewers will be able to visit the images in any order they choose, so it’s important that I find ways to maintain interest, as each photograph will need to be able to stand on its own merit. As a portfolio, the running order will be dictated, and therefore by implication more consideration given to the positioning of each image.
8th July 2018
The original Cathedral at Coventry was bombed during the blitz of WW2. Its shell remains. During the 1950s a new Cathedral was built, just feet away from the ruins.
On Friday 6th July I attended a choral concert (left) at Coventry cathedral. It was performed with the audience encircled by the choirs.
We sat facing the front of the Cathedral, and through its etched glass windows of prophets and angels the evening sun lit the ruins of the bombed Cathedral opposite. From time to time youngsters came and sat on the steps of the old building, thereby facing the audience. The doors were open – it was a sweltering evening – and it seemed as if they, as onlookers, became part of the performance.
The choir – the orators – wrapped the audience with their interweaving polyphony, and passed their melodies around the room; with the audience like quiet pages of the book from which the narrative sprang. The old Cathedral with its evening visitors interlocked the past with the present. It was impossible not to imagine the music being sung for centuries. Each audience member present brought different reference points, life experiences and memory banks with them; and therefore went home with unique experiences and memories.
As I sat listening to the music, and contemplating its complexities; I began to think of clear parallels with my current photographic work. Within the confines of the family album the past and present mingle, with different interpretations for every participant; each bringing their own memories, thoughts, and emotions.
As with the unification of the two Cathedrals and their audiences, brought together through performance; I hope that viewers will see my constructed family album as an object which embodies past and present, with a unique perspective for every character who gazes in, or upon it.
I very much enjoyed this weeks’ presentations, mainly because of the incorporation of other media, and stimulating presentation methods (such as the computer voice, music videos, and seemless edits) – my attention was grabbed throughout them all. It helped me to realise just how many ways there are to make a presentation interesting; and time permitting I may watch them again before I start to put my own together this module.
The reference again to Batchen in ‘Outwit’ prompted me to read ‘Camera Lucida’ – it is now in my reading pile; and hearing that Sally Mann’s fingerprints became part of her finished image allowed me more freedom during this week’s practical task – using garden flowers produced small seeds and other debris, which I kept in the images for authenticity.
In ‘Smuggle’, the way that human intentions are brought into the photographic world by means of ‘glitches’ in Games was mesmerising, and the practice of being the cuckoo in the nest (a la Trish Morrissey, for example) was taken to a different level with Brunet (2015) smuggling himself to Game as a virtual war photographer. I wondered how Jenny Odell had managed to create a virtual year’s worth of travel trip using Google Street View and other platforms. But perhaps most of all I enjoyed the “Wildernessdowntown.com” video made using the song by Arcade Fire. In this multi media interactive experience, the viewer / participant types in the postcode of where they grew up, and street images from the area are incorporated into the video; thereby making each participant’s experience unique (unless they were neighbours!). However, I did try this myself and found it to be too clunky for my MacBook Air – with so many simultaneous windows opening it was difficult to understand their coordination.
‘Force’ (forcing the photographic apparatus to create the unpredictable and the informative) allowed me to give myself permission to try something new to me without fear of poor results; as experimentation was the name of the game. It was good to see David Hockney again and I noticed that one student responded to the reference to ‘Pearl blossom highway’ (2012) with his own challenge this week. The ‘Day to Night’ series by Stephen Wilkes (2015) was beautiful in its rich colour. Any reference to music interests me (as a music teacher); I learnt about the new technology used in Radiohead’s ‘House of Cards’ video (2007).
Admittedly, by the time I watched the fourth presentation Turn Away my note taking was rather poor – I wrote ‘Bladerunner 1982 – Ridley Scott ‘- without any explanation so will have to go back and watch that again. However, I did note the reference to Flusser – and surprisingly I have that book already, and referenced it in the last module. I also enjoyed the reference to fishing for images rather than hunting for them; being reminiscent of the hunter / farmer reading we did in the second module.
Trip to London
This week I visited the Photographer’s Gallery; and saw a play about the life of artist Mark Rothko. ‘Red’ was being staged at the Wyndham Theatre. I’d like to see a transcript of the play, and read the Rothko soliloquies.
There were two exhibitions I saw at the Photographer’s Gallery – Alex Prager: Silver Lake Drive; and Tish Murtha: Works 1976 – 1991.
Resonant to my current project was Prager’s work as recently I have started staging ‘false’ family photographs. Her attention to character detail (facial expression and the way she captured their ‘doing-ness’) was remarkable. Walking up to these large scale works allows the viewer to notice the female gaze in a way I’ve not seen before in art work. Alongside her staged photographs were mixed media installations – with video accompanied by music. Unfortunately the sound system in the Gallery didn’t allow for clarity in the spoken word, so I missed a lot of character detail. In ‘La Grande Sortie’ (2016) an ageing ballerina appeared to dance herself to death, accompanied by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – in which the young maiden does exactly that during a ritual.
Whilst at the Gallery I purchased ‘Camera Lucida’; a ‘Loose Associations’ book about the two exhibitions; and also a Cafe Royal Book (Plight of the Trolley 1990). This series of small weekly books is a cross between a book and a zine and therefore interesting due to last week’s task to produce a zine.
The book arrived, but frustratingly I’ve not had many opportunities to look at it, as I was busy collaborating to make a zine! I watched and read the weeks’ presentations throughout the week, whilst I got on with the practical task.
However, I did manage to catch up on one of the Guest Lecture recordings, from Victoria Forrest. Victoria is an art and photography graphic design specialist. It made interesting viewing as she described the five basic principles which should be applied when making work that will be published:
- Decide who your audience is…gallery, friend, press etc
- Choose a format they enjoy, eg pdf, book, pamphlet, postcards, poster etc
- Use the edit to tell your story – find a way to tell the narrative
- Design to enhance your message. It’s not all about the aesthetics, but about the communication
- Document and promote your work
Of these points, I found numbers three and four the most helpful and relevant to my own work. Victoria emphasised the difference between objective and subjective viewing – and that whilst the photographer might have very clear ideas of the narrative they’re trying to tell, this might not be apparent within the photos themselves. She works with the photographer, together they find a way for the viewer to see the intention.
Also she explained a little about singer sewing – a relatively easy yet elegant way to bind small publications. I’d like to know more about this. Regarding the book cover, a point that should be obvious but I suspect sometimes missed, is that the design should be constructed around the concept within the photos.
It was good to hear that Victoria considers that simple layouts can enhance the content – the design and content are what make the object interesting. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a combination of formats within one production, such as single image to a page, two or more images, thumb nails too.
Victoria takes great care to find the right typography for the work; considering context as well as historical constructs – an example she used was using a font that had been popular in the 1980s to enhance the book.
This week I used the One Stop Search at Falmouth Library to do more independent reading.
The discussion about how photography functions as a memory tool within family albums (van Dijck Digital Photography: Communication, identity, memory, 2008), is highly appropriate for my intended line of research, which is currently to appropriate discarded family albums and reinvent the history and memories within them.
I’m currently reading the reading list article by Mark Godfrey (Photography Found and Lost: On Tacita Dean’s Floh )
Also I have ordered a book – Suspended Conversations: The Afterlife of Memory in Photogaphic Albumsby Martha Langford.
Following on from this week’s presentations, I used Falmouth’s OneStop to download an article by Mark Fisher as I wished to know more about his thoughts on hauntology.