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Photographs Objects Histories. On the Materiality of Images. Edited by Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart

This book of chapters explores the photograph as a material object. Having read it all too briefly it’s back on my FMP reading list as I consider how original vintage photographs are transformed when I include them in my work; particularly how the digitalisation processing of vintage analogue photographs alters them.

At the core of the writings, the book considers the photograph not only as a 2D image, but a 3D object. Below are my notes describing the initial contextual connections I have found to my own work.

“Three important features of the photograph are central to many debates about the complexity of photographs: the materiality of the photographic object, the concept of the original photograph and the origin of photographic meaning.  It is therefore appropriate to consider a photograph as a multilayered laminated object in which meaning is derived from a symbiotic relationship between materiality , content and context. From this foundation it is possible to investigate how these aspects of the photograph are altered during the digitalisation process.” (Sassoon p.199)

The words ‘materiality, content and context’ are central to the work I have been doing; with the material features and content obvious, particularly when the album was dissected. Context has been more problematic as I tried and failed to uncover historical facts encapsulated within the photographs; known to the album owners but a mystery to me, today’s viewer.

“In choosing , sequencing, organising and captioning the photographs for the album, the person responsible transforms the meaning of selected images into an intensely individualistic expression. At the moment of creation, the photo album is a personal artefact, a record of people and events that are rich with biography and personal memory….clearly marked by the traces of their owners and their practices.’ (Wilumson, p66)

Researching using genealogy websites I’ve searched for records but have only been able to fictionalise personal memories. Where the archives have not provided answers I have created stories to imagine what  could  have been there. Where there are missing photographs text has provided me with clues. Some photographs have been cut, others removed violently from the page, leaving tears and holes.

“The physical condition of the object, the dirt and damage, is evidence of its other lives”. (Sassoon, p200)

These ‘other lives’ remain a mystery, I do not know why certain photos were selected for removal and why others were protected, only to then be disposed of, wholesale, as the album found its way to an online auction.  Paradoxically the images that were so violently removed were most likely kept safe, as a memory, whilst those kept In the album were forever lost.

Whilst trying to find out more about certain images in the album, I used a magnifying lupe hoping to find more clues. It was an aid in identifying characters that appeared more than once:

“using a Lupe to magnify detail in an original photograph…physically draws the viewer into the core materiality of the object…while almost touching the object’s surface.” (Sassoon, p215)

‘Photographs exist in time and space… “They are made, used, kept, and stored for specific reasons which do not necessarily coincide…they can be transported, relocated, dispersed or damaged, torn and cropped because viewing implies one or several physical interactions” (Porto 2001:38 in Edwards and Hart, p3-4)’

The middle section of my Work in Progress takes a closer look at the album itself, the paper, the way light and shade casts shadows through the tears in the pages. These new images bring a new quality to the work, at the same time staying true to its original materiality. The only post production editing to these images involved the manipulation of curves, levels and contrast.

“While present in photographic objects and vintage prints…physical qualities…are hard to replicate and often lost completely in copies using modern photographic materials.” (Sassoon p.200). It is my hope that in photographing the pages in such detail I have in some way preserved old meanings and references within them, even though invisible two the eye.

…digitising suspends old meanings and creates new ones in new collections…(Sassoon p202)

Full references can be found on the References page of this blog.

Guest lecture: Francesca Genovese

Francesca has ben the director of Francesca Maffeo Gallery in Leigh-On-Sea for around two years. Originally working in Further and Higher Education she now works with emerging and established artists. Points I noted from her talk:

Approaching a gallery:

  • Establish and work at relationships
  • There is a lot of ground work that is done prior to any contract being signed
  • Francesca will look at potential clients’ exhibitions, social media and other presence before arranging meetings
  • If you wish to approach a gallery it’s fine to email. Francesca will look at emails in detail probably monthly.  The email must be personal to the gallery. know the gallery, why you chose it, and why you think your work will fit there
  • In your email include an artist’s statement and a pdf. You can include a website link, but a pdf can be printed off and come back to at a later date if necessary

Funding an art practice:

  • Work!
  • Grants/awards
  • There is likely to be commercial /editorial overlapping with any fine art practice

Editions and pricing

  • Set editions can’t be changed if they are already selling
  • If the work is by a new artist it’s a long process to find the right selling price. Their work will be looked at alongside others. Prices can’t be reduced
  • Small editions will be reflected in the price
  • It’s Ok to seek advice to make the price work
  • Francesca might sell work for anything between £1000 and £9000
  • There is a place online for prints /open editions. However this is not advisable if you want to work in a gallery
  • If you are an established artist, editions work well
  • Initially focus on projects and then editionalise

Gallery information

  • There are responsibilities for both parties in the contract. The artist should keep the gallery director informed of their practice, publications, exhibitions etc. Francesca likes to be involved as much as possible
  • Exhibitions are different every time. The same printing labs are not always used. She has recommendations.
  • Exhibitions can be scheduled for the future, and can sometimes be agreed even when they still need an edit
  • Post exhibition, Francesca saves the work in large scale photo boxes. In this way the work always has a place, viewers can still ask to view it
  • Photobooks are increasingly used; sometimes as an object in its own right, sometimes as a support to the exhibition
  • Diary – like work suits photobooks
  • Don’t use the photobook as a portfolio or catologue
  • It should always be about the work, the project, not about making money. Thus should not be a question to ask the director. The rest takes care of itself

Artists mentioned in the presentation, for further research at a later date:

Spencer Murphy, Laura Pannack, Sophie Harris Taylor.

Philip Toledano and Taryn Simon

Over the last few weeks I have looked at the work of two more practitioners, under the recommendations of my tutor. Here, I will summarise what fascinated me in the work of Philip Toledano and Taryn Simon.  Full references are given on the reference page of this blog.

Philip Toledano.

It was suggested that I look at his work “When I was six”. I approached Toledano’s website via the home page and decided to have a look around it first, wanting to see his videos (as it’s a form I have used very loosely but wish to use more).  His work “Make Phil Great Again” was unexpectedly amusing, and seeing him interviewing a stranger called ‘Cindy Sherman’, asking her to recount how great he is, was funny.

Looking at “When I was six” after this, was a bit of a reality check – although Toledano mixes reality with imagination in this work, the subject matter is very real and poignant.

After the death of his parents, Toledano discovered boxes which he describes as ‘museums’ full of things his sister had ‘touched’ before her sudden death at the age of nine.  He photographed the box, items in the box,  beautifully yet simply laid out.  There is a photograph of a school dress, protective tissue paper just about seen – with the shadow of the window upon it. A mix of light and shade. A worn down pencil with his sister’s name on it, again in partial light and shade. An old photograph. A lock of hair. A lace fan…all shot with the same background, interspersed with images that he has made, representing, in his words, imagined landscapes – a place where he, a six year old boy, could be saved.

By suggesting that I look at this work, my tutor saw potential resemblances to my work as the book dummy I made mixes reality with fiction – old found photographs with my imaginations of what might have been once there, in the torn pages.

Making Phil Great again can be seen:

Here:

When I was six can be seen:

Here:

Taryn Simon

I found the home page on Simon’s site of ‘a Living Man Declared Dead’ difficult to read, with so much text that I found myself wanting to skim it so I could discover what it was about. This body of work is huge, comprising eighteen chapters, each one having three segments. On the left, a kind of family tree in photographs, the middle section is narrative based to include details, and the third section are footnote images, providing clarification and evidence. Empty spaces represent people who could not be photographed. It is these empty spaces with which my work most closely connects.  Photographing the empty spaces in my found album, I have been drawn into looking at them more closely and as well as imagining what might once have been there, I have examined in detail the surface of the page itself, sometimes being captivated by the beauty of the damaged object.

A Living Man Declared Dead can be seen here:

Here:

 

The genealogy research transcripts

On my Work for current project page, I have uploaded the transcript between myself and a friend, an amateur genealogist, historian and researcher Sarah Spink.  The conversations took place in September and October this year after I asked her to help me find out more about the people in the album. I stopped the genealogy research eventually as it was becoming immensely time consuming at the expense of my own practical work. It’s definitely something I am considering continuing with and developing in the future –  presently my output is partly fact and partly fiction; if I am able to discover more about characters in appropriated albums the balance could shift.

Through this process we narrowed down who Fred and Doris (Dolly) were, and confirmed when and where they were married. We were unable to find out what Macintosh House was, and in the time we had, who John Coles was, and who the three RAF men were. One we knew to be called Wood. I bought an RAF shirt and used it as a background in some of my still life images. From an online auction I purchased genuine RAF jacket buttons, but the piece de resistance was a genuine RAF Victory Medal, assigned to WS Wood. I don’t know if they are the same person. It enriches the narrative to imagine that they are; with more time I like to hope that I could have found out one way or the other. The small piece of ribbon included is also a genuine and would have been issued with the medal. I could find no reference to an RAF station called Goole, but on reflection this could be where the house in the photograph was taken.

We could only speculate on the identity of some of the characters. There are a couple of photographs which I believe to be Fred. I also believe that Fred was part of a friendship group of young men, with the earliest pictures recorded here being in the early 1920s.

Having discovered a name on the reverse of one image (by shining a torch through the back of the page), it’s been possible to ascertain who I believe was the owner of the album. Jimmy was a popular and well travelled young man, both at home and in Europe. It’s possible that his wife was called Elsie, and that John Coles was either their child or one of their close friends’.

The photographs in the album were not in strict chronological order, and although Sarah and I accounted for this, it wasn’t until I started taking it apart and cutting it up a few days ago that I saw connections for the first time, which led to some re-evaluations in my thinking. For example, there is a photo of Jimmy and his wife sitting on the steps of a caravan in 1927, which I thought could possibly be a honeymoon picture due to their closeness and the date being a couple of years before the birth of John Coles. There is also an empty page with the writing ‘Caravan’. As the photo has been removed I believe it was a treasured memory for someone in the family.  After cutting the album up and rearranging the photos I discovered another of the same caravan steps, taken at the same time, but appearing to be in a mirror image, with the same woman and a female friend. So, unlikely to be a honeymoon.

When our conversations first started, Sarah questioned whether Fred and Doris’ wedding actually was in the summer, due to their guests’ attire. Her comment, ‘big coats for July’ has become the working title of my project. We know that the wedding did take place in the summer time, perhaps it was unseasonably cold.

I have printed our conversations and included them in my book dummy, as the initial research around the album informed the way I worked, and what I chose to include.

Guest lecture: Amy Simmons

Amy has a BAHons on Fashion Promotion and Imaging. She has worked as an art buyer, art producer, and an integrated producer.

Due to technical problems I downloaded the transcript from her talk and read through it rather than watch the recording. For quick reference here is a list of appropriate terms she mentioned.

Comping – taking the best bits from several photos and mixing them together to make one good one.

Scamps – mock ups

Legals – all legal aspects

Re-touching – adding or taking away something from the image that didn’t exist

Treatment – a document that the photographer creates which presents your approach.

Usage –  the industry standard is usually one territory (eg one country), two media (eg Instagram and facebook), and length of time (eg one year).

PPMS – pre production meetings

Contact report  minutes of the meeting

Wrapping – finishing the day

OOH – Out of Home, eg images that are seen outside the home such as bus stop, billboards etc.

DOOH -Digital Out of Home – eg posters  might pop up inbetween adverts

POS – point of sales – the oint at which you would normally buy the product

DM – direct marketing

A brief mention of Camera Lucida – Barthes

I’ve spent the last couple of months reading this book (I could only read a couple of pages at a time!) For me, a difficult read but also touchingly beautiful in the way Barthes tries to recapture his mother’s essence through a faded photograph.

As a brief summary I have listed a few quotes. Particularly pertinent for me is the quote in bold. I intend to investigate this notion further in the not too distant future.

The photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only for certain what has been. (p85)

…in the Photograph the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation. (p.89)

The photograph is violent…because …it fills the sight by force…in it nothing can be refused or transformed. (p.91)

If I like a photograph , if it disturbs me, I linger over it. What am I doing, during the whole time I am with it? I look at it, scrutinise  it, as if I wanted to know more about the thing or the person it represents. (p.99)

…to scrutinise means to turn the photograph over, to enter into the paper’s depth , to reach its other side (what is hidden for us Westerners more “true” than what is visible). (p.100)

The noeme of photography is simple, banal; no depth: “that has been.” (p.115)

The full book reference may be found on the References page of this blog.

Three new photobooks

I purchased three photo books at the Paris Photo fair. Not for reasons of subject matter, but because of their design – anticipating that they would be helpful when deciding on the structure /edit of my dummy photo book.

  1. Lighting Store – A-Chan.

IMG_6142

This soft-backed book measures 10×7 inches, has a black sugar-paper type cover, has 12 double pages and is hand bound. It has 3 holes for the stitching. My copy is number 190 of 700. It cost 12Euros. All the images are black and white, printed on off-white fairly thick paper. It feels rough to the touch. Each image has a white border.

Inside the first page, as the final part of the front matter is a short poem about cleaning chandeliers and other lights in a store. It is written by A-Chan and serves as an introduction to the photographs. Some are close up detail whilst others have a longer focal length. The images illustrate the short poem.

The simplicity of this book is appealing and is reflected in its price. I could make a dummy book like this.

2. 10 days in Kraków – Yuanyuan Yang.

IMG_6143

I fell in love with this book as soon as I opened it. The dimensions are 18 x 26 cm. It is a hardback and has 168 pages. My copy is number 249/500, each copy is signed.  The first four pages are the front matter with a short text introduction and two photographs. Then comes the title page, then a quote from T.S. Eliot.

This book is beautiful, with a mix of single images, double spreads, inserts, pockets, and found photography. It has all the elements that I tried to use in my ‘Terry’ project in the previous module (apart from the subject matter of course). It’s appeal is in its intrigue and its tactile nature. In places it looks like a dummy photo book, as if there are actual photographs stuck in – but this is a clever illusion. I definitely am drawn again into creating another dummy book with inserts and fold outs, but won’t be able to manage the hardback and sharp edit without a designer.

I was happy to pay 40Euros for it at the Paris Book Fair, but not sure that otherwise I would have paid that price elsewhere.

I found a vimeo recording of the book online – the link is below. (Details are in the References Page of this blog).

10 days in Kraków video link

3.  Eden – Bernadita Morello

IMG_6146

The largest of the three, this book measures 13×8 inches. The vendor sold it to me for 20 Euros because it was the last one and wasn’t bound.  There is no text on the front, and the title is difficult to spot as it’s printed inside the  fold-out which is the first and last page. The vendor couldn’t remember who the photographer was, I eventually found the print on the last page in small text which did not stand out from the deep red paper. However, he did tell me that the book had won a dummy book award, and its publication was the prize. On the last page is the explanation – this work won the Fiebre photobook 2015 dummy award.

The appeal of this book, for me, is in the full-bleed images, and the way the edge of the paper is not a boundary for the print – the images continue onto the following page, as if they overlap and merge into one another.  Some of the images are not full bleed, and there are blank pages too.  The full bleeds form the middle part of the book, with smaller images in the first and last sections.  it is visually attractive.  Although the front page in its size and colour are reminiscent of a scrap book, the insides do not have that same feel due to the high quality of the paper and colourful images.

Sara Davidmann – Ken. To be Destroyed

I looked this work up on recommendation at my portfolio review.

I found the online edit a little odd – with a mix of colour, black and white, portraits, abstract and still-life images .  My own work also works simultaneously with these genres so seeing them next to each other on the page has helped me think about which of mine should / should not be placed next to each other.

I have to decide whether I group images in my dummy book according to style or theme. I have veered between the two and ideally see them being placed thematically. However the above images of the still lives do work well together; whereas in my opinion the third line down doesn’t work as well due to the positioning of the family portrait on the end. This , I feel might have been better positioned next to the image directly below it as they both appear to be from a family album in their original state.  (Details of webpage on References page).

Portfolio review in Paris

Being my first portfolio review I was not sure what to expect, and there were mixed messages about how many people we would be presenting to (ie, our tutors, or our tutors and other students). The tutors present hadn’t seen my current work as far as I was aware so I had no idea of what they would make of it. Consequently I was a little nervous when it came to my turn.

It was noted that I was finding the gaps in the found album that is the source of my project; and acknowledgment that it is a mixture of fiction and reality. One comment was that the contemporary reenactment didn’t work so well, and I have also since written a post about these self – portraits and why I still hope to include them. (link here) Also to note is that they are not in fact reenactments but fictional inserts, filling the gaps where photographs had been removed.

A fellow student suggested I use sepia tones in some of these images; I chose not to follow this though feeling that this might prove too cliched, however I did convert them to black and white as this works well with the original photographs.

The photographs I showed of the ripped album pages received the most positive feedback from tutors and students alike. Since my review I have continued to work on these, including some re-shoots, layering and resizing ready for prints to be used in my dummy book.

It was suggested that I look at the following practitioner’s work:

  • Zoe Leonard (see recent post) (link here)
  • ‘Ken. To be destroyed’ by Sara Davidmann (to follow)
  • Eva Stenram ‘Drape’. I am familiar with this work and will revisit it
  • Broomberg & Chanarin – violence inflicted on photos and albums (to follow)

    As I was packing away, one tutor remarked about some of my previous work (multi-layered with mirrors and camera interiors as props); commenting that this had been successful. The work in question had in fact been the most enjoyable to create but I had stopped on advice from other tutors – not because it wasn’t successful, but because it lacked depth, and didn’t ‘grab’ . Naturally this comment has given me much to think about, and as my transition to the Final Major Project gets ever closer decisions on which creative route to pursue become more difficult! If time allows before submission of this module I may use mirrors to photograph some of the page rips.