More experiments for Assignment 1

With a deadline for the end of July, I’ve now upped the work rate for Assignment 1, and have been making more work to see where it leads. A theme has now been definitively set on fading memories and connections and I have been cutting up images into 1cm squares and reassembling them. Below, is a simple first pass, where I have swapped a few squares to indicate slightly confused recollection, while still retaining the original understanding of the image, it being readily recognisable as one from the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a place my parents in law visited together.

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Next up is something slightly more complicated. So far, I have shied away from altering any images with people in them – it seemed to me that I didn’t want to destroy anything that might have actual sentimental value. However, I bit the bullet yesterday and cut up a very out of focus image of my mother in law. The intention was to remove some of the  squares of the face and replace them either with gold ones, semi transparent rice paper ones and  transparent ones with die cut synapses pasted onto them. Here is the result of the first attempt. There is still work to be done on refining the layout and I’d prefer the synapses to be finer, but that will require more practise. The Eureka moment came when I assembled the missing pieces into a separate line underneath. I find the little row of tiny squares showing parts of the face (all out of focus) very poignant, and a strong pointer to where this exploration is all going. I’ve realised that I am going to have to be less squeamish and begin cutting up slightly more personal photographs.

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Alongside the practical work, I’ve also been thinking about contextualisation. Suggestions that have been picked up recently which need follow up include:

  • Sara Davidmann – Ken, To Be Destroyed
  • Daniel Blaufuks – Killed Negatives and Broomberg & Chanarin’s People In Trouble
  • Kensuke Koike – Nothing Added, Nothing Removed
  • reading on the subjects of: appropriation, relationship of photograph with subject, author and viewer, defacing images, memory
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Some ideas from Marlborough Open Studios

It’s July, so it is Open Studio season, and yesterday, Kate and I, along with her incredibly patient 10 year old, went to see three of the contributors to the Marlborough one. I’d avoided photography last year, because I was doing a project for a previous assignment, so it was nice to visit some photographers this time.

First up was Susie Bigglestone, and we must have spent a good hour there. Susie is doing an MA in Photography at Bournemouth and is a woman with very similar interests to ours. Here is her artist’s statement.

Taking reference mainly from nature and country life, Susie has been working on studio still life, but has also been exploring cameraless techniques. The notion that photographs are mediated not just by social media but can also mutate in the physical sense has led to work involving found photography. Video has also become part of Susie’s portfolio and her passion for pattern making will be a feature in 2018.

There were three series of her work that particularly drew my attention. The first was a series of cyanotype kaleidoscopes of vases of wild flowers, printed onto some gorgeous metallic paper that she was able to use as part of a prize in a photo competition. They chimed decisively with my own experiments on landscape mandalas, and gave me hope that my work in this area could be used for my degree work.

The second was a wonderful series of shoes in various odd places which she had made for her degree. There was one with a shoe hanging next to the drying fish in a smokehouse, one encased in ice, another in a jar, but my favourite was a shoe which she had covered in pieces of found wedding photographs. You can see it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BVkzuaDDZOJ/?taken-by=susie_bigg

Finally, I was interested in her microwaved lumen prints which have a sort of volcanic feel which is very interesting. She usually prints on Fotospeed Platinum Etching paper, and I need to look at this, as the depth of colour in her prints was fabulous, especially as she makes a lot of her work on black backgrounds.

We also spent some time looking at her sketchbooks, which were wonderfully detailed and dense, with a clear path from ideas to finished work, and both Kate and I wondered if we needed to upscale our sketchbooks to A3, as she has. It enables one to put in a lot more ideas on each individual page.

As a result of this visit, I now want to revisit the mandalas and take that exploration further. I’m also intrigued by the idea of covering objects in bits of found photo, either as Susie has done, or as emulsion lifts. Much to think about here.

We then moved on to Diana Neale’s lovely garden studio. Diane uses textured layers and watercolour paint over her photographs to make dreamy images with a romantic feel to them. Kate had met her before, as she is a speaker on the Camera Club circuit. Her work can be seen here: http://www.lateinthedayimages.co.uk/digital-fine-art/ . She is also interested in alternative photography and specifically alternative print surfaces, and she showed us some very effective emulsion lift prints on wood, and a transluscent image printed onto very thin rice paper and presented in a double-sided frame, which I must try. I was also intrigued by her tiny 1.5″ square prints, which have the same feel as miniature paintings, and which I am also planning to test out.

Finally, we visited textile artist Aly Story, who uses photographic processes in the production of her graphic print designs. I must admit that I didn’t really understand her processes and I need to find out a bit more about it. Her work can be seen here: https://www.pinkhousestudio.co.uk/

I always enjoy the Open Studios enormously, as it is lovely to talk to people who are passionate about their work, and I always come away with loads of ideas, so I’m planning to visit some more over the next few weekends.

A quick update on progress

Over the last couple of week, I have been playing around with cut images to see what it leads to. So far, I’m producing stuff which is attractive, but doesn’t necessarily mean anything, and I need to decide whether this path is useful or not. Here are a few of my experiments so far.

I have also been producing some patchwork squares using my FIL’s old prints. As yet, I am not entirely happy with them. They seem a bit clunky, although I reckon the idea is fine. Each of the squares, which has a specific name refers to something to do with my parents-in-law, albeit only those who knew their history would understand the connection. At present, they are 7″ squares, but I could probably a bit smaller without it becoming too fiddly.

It was suggested to me recently that I should make a book of these squares as a memento for his family, but I think I need to sit on them for a while before doing anything else, as the smaller images in the first series in which I used a die cutter have a delicacy which I much prefer. Also, the dots seem to have something about them which I would like to explore further. A couple of other photography students and I have been doing some casual projects, and the subject of the latest was dots. So here is one of my digital collages, using images I sourced online. I’m calling it, ‘Is this our future?’

Dot project

David Hurn and the Martin Parr Foundation

On Saturday, I was one of twenty students to attend a day with David Hurn at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol. Hurn (and Parr, who lurked around in shorts) is one of the elder statesmen of British photography and it was a privilege to spend some time listening to his views on photography and what makes a good images. Much of what he said was discussed in this interview with Dan Meadows, which the OCA had suggested we look at prior to the event, but here are some of his thoughts in no particular order.

  • Photography is about doing. You need to do it a lot to be any good. Work at it, like a full-time job.
  • Photography is different from the other arts, because with them you start from nothing and build something, while in photography, you are trying to ‘clear up a mess’ in order to get to the essence of what you want to show.
  • there are only two controls in photography – where to stand and when to press the shutter. On that basis it is really quite simple. The art is in being passionate about a subject and spending time trying to express that passion through photographs.
  • It’s the subject that matters; not the camera.

He explained the premise of the collection he has donated to the National Museum of Wales – In his earlier days as a photographer, a photographic print was worthless until it had been bought by a magazine for inclusion in an issue. The physical print itself had no value. He started going around asking people he met and admired if they would be willing to swap a specific print of their for one of his, and so it grew. On show were 40 prints (only five by women) arranged with the images he reciprocated with. There was no specific reasoning behind each of the swaps, just that the participants had liked that particular piece of work. Hurn said that the collection was enormous, and that only a tiny proportion of the images were on show, and over the years he has collected a stunning range of images by the photographic elite, of which he is very proud.

We then went on to what I thought was the most interesting part of the day, where we were shown around the MPF, behind the scenes. While the exhibition space consists of only one room, there is a substantial temperature controlled storage room for Parr’s archive, and a large workroom for the staff. We were shown the original book mock-up for Chris Killip’s In Flagrante alongside the original published version and a modern edition. Everyone preferred the original.

We also saw the original mock-up for Julian Germain’s For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds alongside the published version (in this case very different) and dinky little photobook shaped like a cigarette packet, Thomas Sauvin’s Till Death Do Us Part .

The collection policy for the Foundation is British documentary photography – both by British photographers and of Britain by foreign photographers.  With Parr having sold most of his extensive collection to the Tate, the library has had to be built up again and is still a work in progress.There was some discussion about the value of images and photo books and whether buying them to keep in their original wrappers, pristine and untouched, was an unnecessary fetishisation of the object. Books are made to be looked at, after all. (Here’s an interesting Wiki (yes, I know) about Commodity Fetishisation which explains it to the uninitiated, i.e.me.) A photobook is an object with a different meaning to an photograph.

After lunch, Hurn rather surprisingly and very kindly sat with us while we discussed our own projects. It was bakingly hot, there were a lot of us, and it quickly became apparent that Hurn was only interested in documentary style work, so it was extremely polite of him to sit through what must have been an excruciatingly boring afternoon. Full marks to him for not falling asleep. He ended his part of the day by telling us that as an experienced collector, he felt that one should be able to see right away what an image was about and that there was no point in taking photographs that other people were already doing better. His advice was to find a subject that you are passionate about and keep photographing it until you feel you are able to show any viewer what interests you about it.

Finally, a few thoughts about the comments on my own ideas. I did not show any work, but asked for some references on photographers who deal with the idea of memory loss over time and also how small a part of an image is needed for it to have meaning. It was suggested that I look at David Campany’s Killed Negatives exhibition about the FSA photographic commissions, which is currently on show at the Whitechapel Gallery, and his discussion with Daniel Blaufuks on memory as well as John Umney’s essay on the subject for his Level 3 project, which I will do. Matt White, the lead tutor for the day (Jesse Alexander was also there) said that I should consider the idea that what I am doing is destroying the photographs for my project. Am I also destroying the memories? Another tutor suggested that what I was doing was brutal. I need to think these comments over, but my immediate response would be to say that, yes, I am destroying the photographs, but also remaking them into something new which still holds some of those memories – a phoenix rising, if you will. It also made me think of how I felt when Kate and I cut up pages from an old atlas. Initially I was appalled by the concept of cutting up old books, but as she pointed out, if you recycle something old into something new, it should be done with reverence and an acknowledgement of its history. In any case, better to recycle than simply to throw old stuff away. There was also adiscussion which i need to follow up from Karen500249’s work, which is considering among other things, ‘What is a photograph, and if you are manipulating it, at what point is it no longer a photograph?.

All in all, a very helpful day, but possibly not in the way it was originally intended. I must thank Karen509819 and Elizabeth509713 for staying on afterwards to discuss how I could more precisely cut out shapes for my patchwork ideas and for Liz’s references to Kusadama origami.

Exhibition – The Shape of Light

P1680332I wasn’t sure what to expect from this exhibition and hadn’t read up about it beforehand. I think I had anticipated something more along the lines of a light show, than the historic walk through abstract photography which was presented. The exhibition has not had great reviews, with people saying it is dry and way too big – sentiments that I would probably agree with. However, I did get quite a lot from it, and some of the work was wonderfully creative and off the wall.

Rather than going through the whole exhibition, I would like to pick out a few works that I really enjoyed. the work of certain photographers was wonderful. However, before all that, I must just refer to the wonderful light in the Turbine Hall. Every time I go there it is different, and always amazing. It reminds me of an empty swimming pool and I cannot resist photographing it each time I go.

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Holly Woodward, 2018

The premise of the exhibition was to place the history of abstract photography alongside some of the other arts which were experimenting in the same field at the same time., so the photographs were interspersed with paintings and sculpture. Oddly though, there were not nearly enough of the non-photographic works to make it seem dualistic – photography was definitely the main purpose and the other pieces seemed to be there as counterpoints only.

The highlights of the exhibition for me were:

  • German Lorca’s Mondrian Window (1960), placed alongside Mondrian’s Composition C (No. 111)

P1680319Why? – it is a photo of something very simple, and I have a collection of similar images myself, but had not thought of framing them as Mondrian inspired abstract works.

  • Kansuke Yamamoto’s The Thrilling Game Related to Photography (1956)

Why? – The piece is a number of large shards of glass, which were photographed from different angles. If you look at it straight on, it appears to be an interesting abstract image, but from the side you can see the glass sticking out into the room. There is an air of subtle violence about it which is very disconcerting among the other abstract work of the time – egg, bits of string and light. I want to look at this photographer’s work in more detail.

  • John Hilliard’s Black Depths and White Expanse (1974)

Why? – I love the apparent simplicity of the duo. It draws you in, and only when you are close up do you see that there is writing around the empty square on the left of each diptych. The two sets mirror each other without being identical and the layout of several different images on the same page is inspired. Makes me want to try to ‘x’tychs.

  • Barbara Kasten’s Photogenic Paintings (cyanotypes, in reality)

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Why? – so simple. A series cyanotypes of veils, but laden with meaning. A veil is used to cover something (someone) but here we see them as objects of interest in their own right.

  • Antony Cairns’ bonkers hacked Kindle screens

Why? – to be honest, I didn’t really look at the subject matter for these, which were images taken at night and then put onto Kindle screens, which he fixed and removed from their housing. What attracted me was the layout, with dozens of little images in glass cases, set out from the wall. I could have spent hours just photographing how they looked from different angles and how the lights from the nearby installation changed them.

  • Maya Rochat’s bizarre but fascinating installation A Rock Is A River (2018)

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This was the final work on show and was probably the most complex visually as well. The installation consisted of five initial images of rocks which she then manipulated physically by damaging them in a random way. Overlaid on them was a constantly changing video of the changes she made in real time, which covers the whole wall, part of the floor and the exit door. There is so much to look at that one hardly knows how to approach it, but I could have sat there for hours looking at the interplay of the video and the images. She was exploring the idea of the structures of the image and the photograph dissolving over time.

Overall, I found the exhibition grew more interesting as one passed through the rooms. The initial work was beautiful, but very static and based on easily identifiable shapes, but as one moved on, the work became more and more complex, and began to explore the physical image and what could be done with it in ways which I found increasingly attracting. I was also pleased to see a rather larger number of women photographers represented than usual. Either abstract photography is something that women have been interested in for a century, or the Tate is making an effort to include more female artists in their collection. I will go with the latter, bearing in mind Frances Morris’s specific mission to include more women’s work in the gallery, and it was refreshing to see.

PS I bought the catalogue, which I don’t normally do at exhibitions, so I must have liked it.

Assignment 1 – Where am I up to?

I attended the Thames Valley Group (TVG) on Saturday, and as usual it was extremely helpful, both looking at other people’s work and in helping me to understand my own. For the last week or so, I’ve been playing with the die cutting machine and making various patchwork squares using cut up pieces of old images from my father-in-law’s archive. My original plan was to turn them into a photographic memory quilt, and I will be doing a separate post on the role of memory in traditional quilting. However, I also tried playing with dots and considering how much of an image can be removed before the upper level meaning is lost. This post looks at the practicalities of the idea. At the TVG, Jayne, our tutor was more interested in the dot images than the quilt idea, and remarked that there was something very poignant about using someone’s discarded photos to make something new that would remind the family of a person’s life and interests. I then started thinking about using cutouts from old photos to represent the gradual loss of memory of a person’s life, and also of their own recollection of events. This was a test piece I put together quickly yesterday morning, which I think has the germ of an assignment within it.

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Over the next week or so, I will explore this further, and in the meantime will also look at the work of Joe Rudko (my favourite found photo artist), Julia Cockburn, the Farm Security Administration’s censored 1930s images and the collage work of a photographic artist I have just come across via Lensculture – Kensuke Koike. Looking at the bigger picture, I will need to research how photography is connected to memory, particularly within families, how ‘the dot’ seems to be popping up all over the place in art photography work just now, and with my feminist hat on, how one can use female arts and the female gaze to re-contextualise ideas which have traditionally been viewed from the male point of view.

So much to do!

To Bath for a couple of exhibitions

The Bath Fringe Festival is on at present and I thought I would combine a couple of the photography exhibitions with a visit to the Kaffe Fassett/Candace Bahouth ‘A Celebration of Flowers‘ show at the Victoria Art Gallery.

First of all, the photography exhibitions. I am sorry to say that the venues for these were  disappointing. I tried to go to two, both in Kingsmead Square, and both were in quite small cafés where I did not feel particularly welcome as someone who was only visiting to look at the art. While I am sure Boston Tea Party is an excellent sponsor of the event and I applaud their interest, the exhibit in their café was simply too close to the coffee drinking punters for me to feel comfortable standing in front of them. So sadly, I’m not sure what that one was about. The second venue, Society Café, was a little more open, and so I was able to look at the work on show, by Melissa Mahon. Mahon’s work consisted of two series, the first a set of minimalist seascapes similar to those shown on her website – http://www.melissamahon.co.uk/

However, in reality they were fakescapes, images she had put together herself in order to appear natural. The second series was a set of portraits with much of the faces pixelated out, and was called Mugshots, the idea being that one could buy a mug with one of the images on it, as shown below.

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The portraits were mostly of famous people, whom we could discern by the general shape and colouring of their heads and hairstyles. In her artist’s statement, Mahon says,

My work aims to understand the purpose, meaning and uses of photography as its used in contemporary art. What drives me is the question of whether reality can ever be present in a photograph. I am interrogating the photograph as both ‘object’ and ‘message’.

This is highly relevant to what I am doing at present for assignment 1, and so I will need to come back to her work. (Incidentally, I saw something identical a couple of years ago with pixellated faces, but the meaning was completely different there. In that case, the photographer was pixellating faces to protect the identity of the subjects, and to consider how people from some of the less developed countries are treated by photographers as  having no agency. Details are here: http://www.javierhirschfeld.com/el-pixel-protector/ )

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The main event of the day though was the ‘Celebration of Flowers exhibition‘. It was held in a single large room of the gallery, and no photos were allowed inside, which is a shame. I have known about Kaffe Fassett for decades, as he was producing complex knitting patterns during my first knitting phase in the 1980s. (They were way too complicated for me then, and probably still are). Since then, he has expanded into tapestry and quiltmaking, and much of his work is in the latter these days. He’s a bit of a polymath when it comes to art making, as he seems to design a lot of his own fabrics, as well as painting. Fassett’s USP is his mastery of colour, in an explosion of riotous shades which somehow seem to go together, however unlikely they are. Conversely, these colours sometimes dominate at the expense of the actual design of the quilts, which can sometimes get lost. He uses a variety of techniques, including glueing fabric pieces onto each other, appliqué, and traditional patchwork shapes, and there was much for me to think about in relation to Assignment 1 and my use of old photos instead of fabric.

For me, Fassett has become a brand, rather than being an artist these days, in the same was as Grayson Perry, but without the political messages. I’ve never been entirely clear if he makes the pieces himself, or whether he designs them and then gets a host of sewers to do the hard work for him. He’s always very clearly been a man working in the womens’ arts, and applying publicity, marketing and selling techniques which somehow feel slightly out of place in the less self-promotional female art world. Also, and I say this with some slight sadness, his work does not seem to have moved on much stylistically over the course of the last  years. It is still the same mixing of colours and shades which made his work so popular early on, and on which he has built his business. They say, ‘if something works, don’t change it’, but I do wonder if he gets bored producing the same sort of work over such a long time period.

Alongside Kaffe Fassett, a British ceramic artist, Candace Bahouth, was showing her work. It fits beautifully with Fassett’s bright colours, as her area of ceramics is making fantastical sculptures out of broken china. The emphasis in this show was on covering mirrors, shoes and garden pieces with mosaic, and they are a triumph of ‘over the top’ ness, like something you might see in Alice Through the Looking Glass. One has to admire the sheer exuberance of her sculptures and the total lack of fear that they reveal. They are completely bonkers and wouldn’t look out of place in a Liberace style room, but her use of colour and materials together is spot on, and very similar in vibe to the Fassett work.

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Mosaic by Candace Bahouth. © Bath Magazine, 2018

The combination of both of these together made me feel that I might be totally on the wrong track with my current project in preparation for assignment 1, more of which in a post later this week.