Second thoughts for assignment 2

Another week has passed and to all appearances, I have not progressed any further with my idea of considering the stories that particular family photos don’t show, so I have decided to put it on the backburner for now. I may revisit it in one of the later assignments.

On the other hand, after numerous pop-up experiments which did not have the right connotations for me and some of which are shown below,

I have settled on a firm idea for this assignment, which will be looking at those tropes which are the backbone of the family album. You know the sort of thing – births, Christenings, marriages, trips to the beach etc.; all the high days and holidays that we record and preserve for future viewing. Erik Kessels (2013) in The Vanishing Art of the Photo Album argues that most family albums consist of  about eight volumes, with the following subjects:

  1. when a couple first meet
  2. the marriage
  3. the first year of the first child
  4. general family life
  5. general family life
  6. general family life
  7. general family life
  8. when the kids have left home (lots of holidays in this one)

I will go into the cultural theory of the family photography album in another post, but for now I am looking at the practical side of the assignment. A recent purchase from the wonderful £3 Book Store in Bristol was Helen Heibert’s (2014) Playing with Pop-ups: The Art of Dimensional, Moving Paper Designs, and in it I found a template for a volvelle, as well as several artists who work with 3D paper designs and photographs. The volvelle (a word I had not previously come across) is something we are all familiar with from our childhoods, and I have seen one more recently as a colour wheel. It is a rotating paper mechanism which was originally used to make astronomical calculations. From the point of view of my assignment, it has several specific advantages, notably,

  • it continues with my theme of circles (circle of life)
  • it bears a strong resemblance to a camera shutter when in use
  • it hides and reveals, allowing more than one image to be shown as part of the same piece.

I have made a couple of test pieces, which are shown below, and the plan is to put images from my family’s legacy of albums on specific subjects behind the leaves. A series of about six will be produced, and bound into a small album style book. It will all be accompanied by a video, as part of the work is changing the image on each volvelle. And while all this is going on, I need to do the post that my tutor suggested after A1 on the symbolism of the circle, as it is relevant to this as well.


Clark, Tim (2013) ‘The Vanishing Art of the Photo Album’ [online] in At: (Accessed on 15 November 2018)

Heibert, Helen (2014) Playing with Pop-ups: The Art of Dimensional, Moving Paper Designs. Beverley, MA:Quarry Books.




First thoughts for assignment 2

1991.8 Disney Florida-04v2

Disneyworld Florida, 1991

I am fortunate enough to have quite a large collection of family albums, going back to the early 1900s, so there is quite a bit of scope for this assignment. While doing the reading for the part of the course, I have been trying to learn the basics of paper sculpture, through this excellent Youtube series by Duncan Birmingham. Spatial awareness is not one of my fortés (I always do appallingly in those sections of psychometric tests), and so there is a lot of trial and error (lots of error) involved.

So my plan is to produce a series of pop-ups, possibly in a carousel format, to consider the family events which are the staple of family albums – births, holidays, Christmas, weddings etc. and using a mixture of album images from across the last 120 years.
I have another idea floating around too, but it hasn’t yet crystallised into something I can work with – all those events which are not recorded in the family album, but which certain images remind us of. Just to give an example, one of my albums has a series of happy holiday images from a visit to DisneyWorld in Florida (see image above). What is apparent nowhere in this series is the miscarriage I had while there, my subsequent visit to parts of the adventure park that nobody usually sees and my stay in the emergency room at Orlando Hospital. Every time I look at those images, I remember the miscarriage, but it is entirely absent from the visual record. I would like to delve into this at some point during the module, and look at why we don’t record the bad and sad family events that are often the real defining moments of our lives.

Exercise 2.2 – Abigail Reynolds


Abigail Reynolds is a contemporary British artist and writer, based in Cornwall. Reynolds’ background was in literature before she did an MFA, and her interest in books and libraries comes through very strongly in her work, which I first came across via Instagram. Her oeuvre is quite eclectic, so for this piece I will concentrate on two series which were the subjects of a solo exhibition at the Peer gallery in London earlier this year. Sadly, I did not manage to see it, as I would love to see the work ‘in the flesh’. The two series are quite different, but both use elements of the archive, albeit in very different ways.

The Universal Now is an ongoing series tapping into her interest in collecting old travel guides. She pores through them, along with old books, maps and magazines to find images of the same places taken at roughly the same spot but in different years. She then splices them together via complicated patterns of cuts and folds to form single 3D pieces in which one can see elements of both images. She says that by manipulating the folds, it is possible to see all of either image or bits of each together. They are titled with both of the original dates and also the year she made the piece, and the overall effect is to telescope and ‘ruffle’ time and encourage the viewer to question how much things really change or remain the same. The archival link in this is clear, as the work uses old books and prints, instead of newly made images.

[Reynolds} thinks about the materiality of meaning and the meaning of materiality. [She] cuts and folds, arranges and rearranges these images to create works of geometric beauty and conceptual dissonance, tackling political themes with detached precision’ (Jeffreys, 2018)

The latter part of the above quote refers to the other series which made up the exhibition – Lost Libraries: the Ruins of Time. This was based on a 2016 journey along the silk Road to look for the lost libraries along the way, and for it, she was the recipient of the BMW Art Journey award. Reynolds is passionate about libraries and books, and the spur to her application was the ongoing slow closure of British libraries as part of austerity cuts. (Something I too am passionate about, as I am Chair of my local community library trust, which we formed when local cuts made our state funded one no longer viable). The series therefore has a subtle but striking political message.  This series dwells on the libraries that are gone, and considers how to represent ‘the void’ when something no longer exists and cannot be seen. This concept is of interest to me, as my last assignment skirted around the idea of missing information and fading memories, and for my next one I plan to take this idea to its logical conclusion by removing pieces of the photograph altogether and replacing them with acrylic. She also uses panes of coloured Perspex  to alter our perception of the images we are shown, and that too is something I would like to try out. The archive element is this series is more subtle, using the understood value of libraries as a starting point and then seeking out evidence of their existence and the empty space that is left by their loss. That space holds all the missing information, literature and knowledge which is no longer accessible and there is a palpable sense of frustrated sadness associated with it.


BMW Art Journey (2016) British artist Abigail Reynolds was selected for the third BMW Art Journey. Her project “The Ruins of Time: Lost Libraries of the Silk Road” will take her to China, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Iran, Italy and Egypt. [online] At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Rekorder (2016) BMW Art Journey/Abigail Reynolds [online video clip] At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Elephant (2018) ‘Preview – Abigail Reynolds: The Universal Now and Further Episodes.’ [online] In: At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Escape Into Life (n.d.) Abigail Reynolds. In: At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

HiFructose (2016) ‘Abigail Reynolds’s Collages of Folded Vintage Photographs’. In: [online] At: (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Jeffreys, Tom (2018) Abigail Reynolds’s “The Universal Now and further episodes”. [online] At:’s-“the-universal-now-and-further-episodes”/ (Accessed on 23 October 2018)

Reynolds, Abigail (2018) Website [online] At: on 23 October 2018)

Reynolds, Abigail (2018) The Universal Now and further episodes
26 April – 23 June 2018. [online] At: on 23 October 2018)

SW OCA study day – curating

Yesterday, I attended an excellent meeting of the OCA South West group. The theme of the day was exhibition curation and it was led by OCA tutor Michele Whiting. As usual, the programme for the day was tutor led work in the morning and student’ work in progress in the afternoon.

Michele began by giving us a brief history of artist curation from the late 1980s, starting with Damien Hirst’s led The Freeze, a group exhibit put together by Goldsmiths students, which was the first time that work had been taken outside the gallery setting and curated by the artists themselves. Prior to this, they were dependent on catching the eye of  one of the rather exclusive gallerists, but the BritArt group pioneered the use of other spaces and opened up exhibiting to a much wider range of artists.

She described the role of the artist curator (a particular term describing artists who exhibit their own work) as ‘translating and moderating the artwork from the place of production to the space of public display.’ Interesting use of the words place and space, for consideration later. This type of exhibition

  • brings objects artefacts and artwork together through a knowing, non-verbal dialogue
  • brings material knowledge to the expression of display
  • creates a narrative through collation, i.e. making new meanings through curation
  • can consider what and exhibition can be

We moved on to some theoretical discussion about exhibitions being dialogic spaces, encouraging a conversation within and about the space. It can question, point towards, elucidate and illuminate. Artist curation can be a medium in itself. An artist curator is telling a story, or at the least, providing pointers for the viewer to make up their own story. We also touched on practical considerations, such as thinking about how to encourage visitors back more than once, legacy aspects (important for funding applications) …..

For the workshop section we broke into groups and were asked to put together an idea for exhibiting and promoting the disparate objects that each of us had brought. The work my group had to marry together was a sculpture, a children’s book, some handmade paper and my assignment 1 work using lightboxes and old family photos.  (see below)


At first we were flummoxed, but then Michele suggested we think about accessibility, and we were off. Before too long, we had designed and thought of promotional ideas for a small travelling exhibition with a draft name of Please Do Touch.  The references are obvious with the sculpture and paper, but my lightbox work would be changed to individual acetate backed photos that visitors could change themselves to see the patterns, while we thought we could emboss the illustrations in Dorothy’s book, add a Braille text below, and have it being read aloud on a loop as well. The concept was a table-top collection of objects that people with sight issues, learning disabilities, dementia homes etc. could hold, smell and feel. We would then offer a workshop alongside for the participants to have a go at making something themselves. The exhibition would tour locations where our target audience met or lived and we thought perhaps it might open at the Exeter Sight Village. We were chuffed to have Michele come up, after all the groups had presented, to suggest that the idea had legs and that we should seriously think about doing it for real.

We also thought about venues, practical stuff like licenses, promotion (Anna G reported that an art centre had recently told her that 80% of footfall for exhibitions come from targeted advertising, and only 20% from flyers), size of exhibition and any particular events that we wanted to run alongside. Michele said that many exhibitions struggle because the communication to the public is poor, rather than the subject or venue.

She finished by saying that how we construct a show is part of its nature, and that the venue is as important as the work. When collaborating, a clearly understood group vision is vital. When thinking about putting a show together, start with the nature of the work, and then move on to the type of exhibition, space, promotions etc. Clarity of thought is essential.  Also, allow enough time (2 years is not too long). There are many issues to sort out and it really needs to be run as a project management exercise if it is to work well. Finally , we talked about catalogues, whether they were necessary, who should write them (it doesn’t have to be the exhibitors themselves) and a reminder that they are a part of the exhibition, so creative thinking is helpful.

It was very different from many of the study events I have attended, and refreshingly academic in tone, and I came away thinking I had really learned something new.

The rest of the day was occupied with showing students’ work and talking about how the assessment process works. There was some wonderful work there, two pieces of which are shown below. I can’t recall the name of the lady who had produced the textile work, but the second is Liz Nunn’s fascinating 3D photographs, which she intends to make into a star book.



Spellbound, Oxford

On Thursday I visited the Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford at the invitation of Kate Aston. I hadn’t actually been to the Ashmolean before, despite its relatively close proximity to where I live, and it is so easy to get to that I have resolved to keep an eye out for other future exhibitions which might be of interest. The museum itself is a surprise – very modern behind the traditional façade and much bigger inside than it appears externally.

The exhibition itself was very eclectic, with everything from book engravings to multimedia installations and the title reflects the subjects of the three main rooms. The first was given over to the place of magic in the lives of people until relatively recently. I am not a believer in religion myself and it was very easy to see the parallels between religious and magical beliefs. Both depended on staying on the right side of forces which could not be understood, and for Mediaeval people life was ‘a delicate balancing act between environmental pressures and the use of magical interventions to control destiny‘. The pieces on show varied enormously from complex armillary spheres (reminding me of Lyra’s alethiometer in Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, which was unsurprising given that the book takes place in an alternate version of Oxford) to crystal balls, witch flasks (supposedly containing the spirits of witches) and complex manuscripts explaining the system of beliefs which underlaid much of the ritual of Mediaeval life. So much of it could be paralleled with religious rules and artefacts, and it all made me reconsider once again how we humans are pre-programmed with a spiritual side that has always quested for meaning to our lives. The belief systems by which we do it may differ around the world but the fundamental need is universal.

The second section looked at the rituals which people routinely undertook to make them feel safer in a dangerous world. I particularly liked Katherine Dowson’s installation of light beaming of a crystal heart alongside unidentifiable sounds. The work considered the role of the hearth and wall of the home in providing a centre of safety away from the outside world. There’s a short video explaining her work below.

There were poignant collections  (hordes) of mixed items which had been found up chimneys and behind walls, but little explanation of why people would make these little secret shrines, and I even wondered whether they were intentional or not. We cannot help but try to interpret their meaning. In particular, single shoes appeared again and again and we really don’t know their significance. The catalogue suggests that perhaps items of clothing tied the home and the person together metaphysically, but there is no solid evidence for this belief. One wonders what other secret treasures are held within the walls of old buildings (even my own house, built in the early 1800s),  whether they will one day be found and how future generations might interpret the ‘time capsules’ which we hide today. Alongside clothing and personal items there were also a variety of revolting toads, animal hearts, etc. pierced with nails, and various door markings which were probably protective symbols.

The final room was all about the evil art of witchery and was fascinating in a different way. Up until this point, the general theme was of people trying to protect themselves as best they could in a dangerous spiritual world. This last room though was all about the other side of this belief system – blaming people when things went wrong. We learned that 4 out of five people accused of being witches were women, most being post menopausal dependants, which led me to consider the role of precarious role of the mother-in-law in the home in previous centuries; homes which were often very small, with little income and where people who could not pay their way were expendable. There was an underlying fear of older women’s authority in the home, and one can see that accusing another  of being a witch or bringing bad luck was a way of removing that influence. There were some truly astounding statistics, such as Matthew Hopkins’ trial and murder of 100 people between 1645-47 in his self-appointed role of Witchfinder General (great title). He toured England during this period charging towns sums of up to £23 to try and kill accused witches. £23 was a significant sum in those days, and this gig sounds like a nice little earner for him.

Surprisingly, the outcome of a trial was not a foregone conclusion,  and only about half finished with a guilty verdict. There were many complex ways of testing a witch’s veracity, such as weighing them against the Parish Bible (which clearly favoured the better fed, as if you weighed more than it, you were off the hook), and dunking people. This all sounds rather stupid from our point of view these days, but clearly the threat of being charged with witchcraft was a significant concern in the 16th and 17th centuries. By the early 1700s though, the practice of trying people for witchcraft had died out in England and many other Western countries gave up the practice during the following century. Almost unbelievably though, the laws against witchcraft in the UK were only repealed in 1951, and the belief in witchcraft remains underneath the surface to this day. And of course, some countries still believe in witchcraft and undertake undercover trials and executions to this day.

The exhibition concluded with some consideration of modern rituals and magical thinking. We still routinely make small rituals without really thinking about why we do it, such as not walking under ladders, or crossing our fingers. Alongside this, there has been a resurgence in interest in non-religious spirituality and magic, which seems to be gradually offering an alternative to organised religion as a belief system, at least in some parts of the world. I live near Avebury, seat of much pagan ritual, and often see ribbons and fetishes tied to trees locally, for example. I myself love reading fantasy novels and there’s been a subliminal thread of magical thinking in quite a lot of my previous OCA work, especially during Context & Narrative which needs pulling to see where it leads.

At the same time, our political landscape is full of references to witches, whether it be Teresa May and Maggie Thatcher or Donald Trump’s ‘witch hunts’. I feel that we are currently (right in the middle of the Kavenaugh Supreme Court hearings)at a point where the advance of women’s rights is being curtailed by people whose aims bear more than a limited resemblance to the original witch hunters –  to disgrace and limit the power and rights of older, independent, knowledgeable women, and to pillory them for speaking up against injustice, particularly in the United States but one can its effects in Western Europe as well.

I’m used to seeing the London exhibitions and this was much smaller, meaning that I left wishing there had been more to look at. There was so much that resonated for me with my own work and the current wider political landscape. My mind is now buzzing with research lines and ideas. Thank you, Kate, for suggesting it.

Karen Knorr lecture

Karen Knorr India Song

© Karen Knorr

On Wednesday of this week, I went up to London to hear Karen Knorr’s inaugural lecture for the Royal Photographic Society’s Women in Photography group at the London College of Communication. It turned out to be the first day of the new term and students were able to attend. This meant that, keen as mustard, they ALL wanted to come along and the lecture hall was massively overfilled, to the point where I was surprised that Health & Safety did not become involved. There were people everywhere – sitting in the aisles, on the floor in front of the entrance, and in fact, anywhere another person could realistically be squeezed.

The event was introduced by Max Houghton, who runs the MA in Photojournalism & Documentary there. She soon passed over to Anna Fox (UCA) who has been a long term friend and collaborator with Knorr. The title of the lecture was Another Way of Telling: Storytelling and Documentary Practice and to be honest, I was a little disappointed with it. I had come along expecting to hear something about women’s place in documentary photography, but it seemed to be more of a retrospective look at her own practice of the sort she no doubt gives to audiences all over the world. That being said, her dissection of her work was interesting and I cam away with plenty of food for thought; just not the type that I was expecting.

Knorr stared with a list of photographers and books that have influenced her over the years, ranging from Berenice Abbott to Lisa Barnard. She explained that she and Fox were currently reprising a road trip that Abbott had made down the eastern seaboard of the USA in 1954, a year before Robert Frank’s better known version across the USA. Also mentioned as influences was Lynne Cohen’s Occupied Territory , Milagros de la Torre’s work on the victims of torture in Latin America, Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document, Martgha Rosler’s The Bowery and Vanitas, 2004, Zarina Bhimji’s installation work, Yellow Patch and Lisa Barnard’s Whiplash Transition. She then went through some of the main series of work that she has undertaken over the years, including Punks, Swiss Account, Belgravia, Gentlemen, Connoisseurs, Capital,  Academies, Ladies, India Song and Monogatari. (All can be seen via Knorr’s website: )The earlier series were mostly social documentary morphing into tableaux and still life over time, but it was not until India Song that she became sufficiently well-known to be able to make a good living from her work, and so she has also been an academic throughout her career to pay the bills.

India Song, Monogatari and other associated series are visually stunning, using photomontaged animals and birds over historical building settings which exemplify the two countries, India and Japan. She photographed the animals and the locations separately, and then merged them together to reference folk tales and stories from the two regions, with the animals representing the spirits of the locations. Her recent work is characterised by vivid tonal colours and strange disconnects between the creatures and their backgrounds which are very striking and difficult to forget.

Over the course of the lecture and subsequent discussion with Anna Fox, we learned that Knorr’s mother had been a photojournalist in Germany, which was where she picked up her interest in photography, and that she finds being a woman to be an inconvenience to her photography, which she has had to overcome in order to achieve her work. She made difficult decisions about how to fit her work and family life together and one got the impression it had not all been plain sailing, but that she had been determined and assertive.

Knorr’s work is highly intellectual and full of symbolic references which take some time to unpick. This made some of her earlier work difficult for contemporaries to understand and people are only now coming back to revisit it with a more informed eye. I came away with a strong desire to delve into her work in more depth, but also that the lecture had somehow missed the point of both the occasion and its title.

Learning from the greats – long post

This last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy, and I am way behind with my blog posts. There is so much to digest and get down before I forget it all. The undoubted highlight though has been a workshop I’ve just returned from with Paul Kenny and Doug Chinnery. Getting onto one of these workshops is an achievement in itself – they sell out within an hour of being advertised, so I was cockahoop when I was accepted for this one in Sheffield.

It was a two day event, and I suppose I’d been expecting a sort of double act. In reality, Doug Chinnery’s role was very much one of facilitator, and we had the opportunity to spend most of the time listening to Paul Kenny taking about his work, discussing his processes and showing us some of his prints. In addition, as I arrived the night before, I was able to have dinner with Paul and to ask him many of my own questions about his processes.

For those that don’t know his work, Paul lives in Northumbria, very close to the Holy Isle, and has spent the last 25 years walking the beaches there, picking up bits of detritus and making beautiful, highly contemplative work which lies somewhere between photography, collage and mixed media. He dries seawater on slides from the places he visits and adds bit of rope, feathers and other debris before scanning the results. (He began by photographing them with a medium format camera, but has moved wholeheartedly to scanning as he says the colours are better.) These are then made into incredibly detailed prints which are breathtakingly beautiful, and have something of the microscope slide or petri dish about them. As an example, here is one of his actual slides (they are about 5×4″) alongside a screenshot of the print which he made from it.

There is some sort of alchemy that goes on during this process that makes the prints ethereal and otherworldly, while incorporating  vid colours and incredible detail.

It is clear when talking to Paul how wholeheartedly he has committed himself to his project Seaworks over the years. From its early roots in annual trips to Applecross where he obsessively re-photographed the same dry stone sheep fold to see how it changed, he has concentrated on the tiny details of the natural world and in particular, the strandline, iteratively adding new processes over time in a very considered, thoughtful way. He says that he knows from the beginning how he wants the finished print to look, and the tricky bit is working out how to do it. He explained the various ideas he explored over time, but for the sake of length here, I will concentrate on his recent work only  – Seaworks and O Hanami.

We discussed the motifs which appear again and again in his work – circles, rectangles, subjects which are different in the top and bottom of the print, and his keen interest in making objects from more and more insignificant and ephemeral materials, such as seawater, old plastic bottles and cans which he finds on his walks. It is a pinpoint view of the world, and how he sees it, which has nothing of the ‘big picture’ in it.

In the last few years, he has begun to move away from the strandline as a subject and more towards the ‘celebration of transient beauty’ in his garden, hence O Hanami, the Japanese translation. This has led to an equally astounding set of work using leaves, flower petals and pieces of bark, precision cut and put together in squares which often have subsidiary grids within them. (He uses a standard die cutter to make his shapes precise, which was a surprise). O Hanami is a year-long project looking at the changing seasons through the foliage around his garden. These make a virtue of their imperfections and made me want to rush home and start cutting up dead plants. A slide from one on tulips is shown below and the print version can be seen here: The image Tulip Nights is near the bottom of the page.


Paul also talked about what influences him, which included landscape examples of the grid motif, such as the farmland around the Salton Sea in California, circular shapes on Google Earth (he’s a great fan of Google Earth), copper wire, pollution and humanity’s relationship with the natural world. He also went through an extensive list of artists and photographers whose work has influenced his own, and what was particularly interesting about this was that I could clearly see the links between their work and his. It ball made complete sense. He finished up by showing some of his current work, for which he has designed his own lightbox system. This is because he feels his images look better on his iPad than on a print, and he wants to begin to show them as backlit. However, galleries have not been keen to take up this new technology as yet, and I had the impression he is becoming a little frustrated with both Seaworks and O Hanami and is looking for a totally new project, perhaps because he believes they are finished and it is time to move on.

Paul Kenny is a fascinating person to talk to. His views about his art are so laser sharp and precise, and his method of working so considered, with layers of historical influences and iterative experiment. By using insignificant materials, he somehow manages to say something very profound about the beauty of the natural world and how humanity fits into it. However, I ended up thinking that, although it clearly works for him, it would drive me slowly insane to do the same thing. He is a perfect example of the old adage that he who climbs one peak to the top has a much finer view than the many who climb loads of foothills instead (also known as the Helsinki Bus Station Theory) . The same effort is involved, but the outcome is entirely different.

Finally, over the course of the weekend, he showed us some of his fabulous prints and I was able to buy one at a very reduced price. It will take pride of place on my wall once it is framed.

Things for me to take away from talking with him:

  • tiny subjects can be just as interesting as big ones, and can make big points despite their size
  • repetition is a good thing and eventually leads to new ideas
  • try out his scanning process
  • don’t listen to the photography police. Do what inspires you – if anyone else likes it, that is a bonus.
  • Paul keeps only a tiny proportion of the work he does. He says it is better to get rid of the mediocre and to concentrate on the best. (We had a discussion about the effects of time on one’s opinion of what is best in our own work. It does change.
  • don’t be afraid to experiment, and the more whacky the experiments are, the better. What can really go wrong, after all.
  • try to think about whose work influences my own and to keep a list of particular images. It’s good to look at them from time to time for inspiration.

I have come away with a host of ideas and processes to try out, and a desire to get working on them right away.