It is always interesting to read feedback which was written prior to a tutorial, after we have talked, as frequently it seems we are not getting the same impressions of the conversation. I came away from the video tutorial feeling that I needed to step away from experimental work and to start thinking about building meaning into my assignments, but this doesn’t seem to be what my tutor was suggesting at all. She urges me to continue experimenting and researching photographers and artists who look at materiality and to explore how ‘making’ and rephotography can add extra meaning to digital culture. She also again suggested I consider how scalability could be applied to my work, and how different surfaces would affect the results. As it happens I am interested in surfaces at present, and particularly using transparent acetates to print on, which are then given different backings.
Alongside the two photographers she suggested, Alix Marie and Dafna Talmor, we also talked about looking at the work of Alexandra Lethbridge, Max Houghton, Stephen Gill’s Best Before End, Ester Teichmann and Ellen Carey, so I include a quick tour around their oeuvres here as a marker for the future.
Alexandra Lethbridge – In this interview, she talks about how important the layers and translucent elements of the work are to her, and that they dictated how the book for The Meteorite Hunters was made (handbound Japanese style). I was interested to learn that much of her collaged work is physically layered, not digital, (and that this gives it a level of integrity which digital layers lacks – my thoughts). Her work is also appealing because she uses different images together to make a more informative and rounded study of her subject.
Alix Marie – Marie’s work is semi-sculptural and she frequently uses her own body as the canvas. She cuts, crumples and folds images for display, and also plays with the size. One of the most startling pieces shows elements of her body, at greatly increased scale, draped over a pole like pieces of washing. She is interested in the Gaze, scopophilia, and how the photograph can become sculpture.
Dafna Talmor – Talmor takes negatives from her own collection of family images, and cuts and resplices them to make new, impossible landscapes that are somehow more than the originals. They are representations of memory and idealistic recall.
Max Houghton – I haven’t been able to find a website for her, and was unaware that she makes work as well as lecturing, so this is something to look into later.
Stephen Gill – There’s a helpful YouTube video here where Gill describes what he is doing in Best Before End, and how he is trying to embed the subject within the image via the back door, which is a very useful description. He talks about collaborating with a place, and ceding some control of the process to the location. The element of chance is important.
Esther Teichmann – I have looked at her work before here, and what I said in that post still applies, about the fascination of layering up ideas through a series of work so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
Ellen Carey – I can’t recall who suggested I look at Ellen Carey’s work, but I am glad that they did. She bills herself as an experimental photographer, and tries all sorts of techniques, often on analogue images and Polaroids, with a strong bent towards the process. Her series Photography Degree Zero looks at similar themes to my recent A2 work, but the results are totally different. Interestingly, and before I found her work, fellow student Kate and I were experimenting with taking Polaroids apart and then reintegrating them digitally, with some fascinating results, and I will most probably be continuing with these experiments going forward. Here are a few of the recent ones, which like my A2 images, in which the subject of the image is the process, not the photographed picture, and in which re-photographing plays an important role.
This has been very useful, as it has crystallised a few concepts that have been circling around in my head, such as the process of making as a subject, multiple views of a subject to build a more layered story, impossible landscapes and the use of translucency and gaps to add meaning.
The process of making this assignment involved playing with numerous different versions of the image, before I selected the current edit. Some of the ones that did not make the cut are shown below with the reasoning for their exclusion.
Not possible to depict adequately without backlighting or 3D glasses.
(With back lighting, the semi-cut image has a wonderful transluscent glow, which I have not been able to reproduce as yet on video.)
Straying too far from my brief
These begin to use techniques which substantially alter the meaning of the image. I would describe them as artistic interventions, rather than those based on process.
This is an ongoing process of exploration of the digital image and since making these, I have already produced a number of further experiments.
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills
I believe that this work is technically and visually interesting. A considerable range of Photoshop and image editing skills were needed for the series, but not in the original image which was made at the Festival of Light in Longleat at the beginning of January. I selected this image because of light’s importance to all photographic work, and because the colours were bright and distinctive. In reality though, the image itself was not important. The same processes can be applied to any other image in a similar way.
Quality of Outcome
I still do not really know how I feel about this work. Clearly, it is not finished, as I have left it open to adding other different manipulations of the image and perhaps this is the reason for my confusion. I have done a great deal of background research and experimentation, and I feel confident that it is well rooted in theory, but am not clear about whether it works in reality. I have shown it to several of my peer group and they have been positive about it, although there have been two questions I want to address. Two people questioned the notebook format and asked how it relates to the subject. For me, the format is deliberately an interim one, and it will be changed for assessment, after a period of time has elapsed and I can view it more impartially. Secondly, someone said that they did not see much in the way of meaning in it, and wanted to know whether it referred to my ongoing work on fading memories or something else. My response to this is that the meaning of the work relates to its position within the digital/analogue debate and the potential that digital imagery has for alteration and manipulation. I would very much have liked to attend the Creative Coding for Beginners course at the Photographers’ Gallery this spring, but sadly the travel costs make it too expensive.
Demonstration of Creativity
This work is definitely on the same trajectory as some of my previous assignments. In particular, it continues the themes of altering images and using craftwork techniques as well as Photoshop manipulations. I see my developing style as a fusion between photography, paper arts and fabric crafts. It is also becoming clear that I favour a conceptual approach, with ‘the idea or concept being more important than the object itself. (Modern Art Oxford, 2017) and that experimentation of all kinds is a fundamental part of my creativity.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the reading and contextual research for this assignment. Several of the photographers whose work inspired me are mentioned in the Contextual Background post, but I particularly want to pick out the work of Thomas Ruff and Mark Dorf. The way that Ruff alters one element of an image, applies it to a series and then re-photographs it is inspirational for me. I was mesmerised by his 2018 series Tripe, using old Empire images at the Victoria & Albert Museum last month. Mark Dorf’s exploration of how the new digital world and the natural one are coming to co-exist is also fascinating, and the ways he expresses his feelings about it through image manipulation has opened up all sorts of ideas for future work for me. A final core source was this article in Photoworks on New Materiality.
An object is frequently not seen, from not knowing how to see it, rather than any defect in the organ of vision. (Babbage, 1830)
This assignment follows on from my previous one, in that it also considers the material nature of the photograph, but in this case the digital image. The concept of materiality with regard to photography is now well-embedded in academic culture, but on the whole it tends to focus on analogue photographs, with their physical characteristics of paper and ink. Rachel Smith’s fascinating OCA Symposium lecture  discusses the ‘object’ nature of the analogue image in detail, including its surface, location, the processes involved and its history. She considers Geoffrey Batchen’s idea that the photograph consists of both a subject and an object, and that generally people look past the object to the subject without really seeing it. ‘In order to see what a photograph is of, we need to supress our consciousness of what it is.’ (Batchen, 1997:2) The notion of materiality refutes that concept and argues that the object itself carries contextualisation and meaning which adds to the viewing experience. I have written a separate post about this and some photographers who consider this in their work here .
It has also been argued that the rise in interest in materiality has come as a result of the the so-called ‘death of the analogue’, with the appearance of the digital image and its apparent lack of material characteristics. Smith argues that time has the same degrading effect on the digital image as occurs with an analogue photograph, through glitches, altering metadata and missing pixels instead of scratches, dustmarks, etc. and that one can think of the digital image as material despite its lack of physicality. Joanna Sassoon posits that the photograph can be considered as a multilayered laminated object in which meaning is derived from a symbiotic relationship between materiality, content and context. (Sassoon, 2004:189)  either separately or together, but that the digital image lacks the material aspect. Smith, on the other hand argues that the vehicle for the image (the phone, laptop, screen) should necessarily be viewed as part of its materiality. The phone screen is the same as a sheet of photopaper in its function, i.e. that of carrying the image.
While Barthes talks about a photograph’s inseperable relationship to its subject in Camera Lucida (Barthes, 1980;13), Fontcuberta (2014:62) posits that either the image itself might be the subject of interest, or the object. For example, the Victoria & Albert Museum’s current exhibition in its new Photography galleries offers a very different experience from a regular gallery, with the objects being as important as the images they hold. Fontcuberta encourages us to choose which variables of a digital image we want to alter in order to break the conventionality of the analogue photograph.
Taking this concept of looking at the materiality and layers that make up a digital image, A Derridian deconstructive approach seemed appropriate. Derrida theorised that in order to fully understand anything, one needs to take it apart (deconstruct it) and to examine its constituents. This is the best known part of his theory, but he also adds that the final part of the exploration is to reconstruct the object again. (Derrida, 1983)
In order to present this series as a blog post, I have had to re-photograph the images. Like my two previous assignment, this work is something that is inherently physical in nature and it does not have the same effect when viewed on a screen, either in still or video format. In order to fully understand it, one has to be able to move it around, and raise and lower some of the images. The digital transparencies can be viewed from either side, and their relationship to the images above and below is part of the work. I have therefore included another post on the effects of re-photographing on a piece of original work  and how it can change the meaning of it in ways which may add to, detract from or completely alter that meaning. This is further accompanied by a post on the photographers whose work as influenced my series and another on how digital images are encoded and decoded. 
This physicality has also influenced my choice of presentation. I see this piece as a work in progress, to which I may add other interpretations as I think of them, and that the final assessment presentation will most probably be quite different. At present, it takes the form of a ringbound A5 notebook, to allow the viewer to flip over the pages vertically and reveal the next image. Some images are double sided, some are transparent and others need to be viewed collectively as well as individually. I felt that this format was the simplest way of enabling the viewer to play with the work and to consider the reality of the variations on a theme it includes. As yet, I am unsure how the final version for assessment might look, but it could potentially be similar to a book of wallpaper samples, with a solid spine and looser pages.
For this series, I have used a conceptual approach around Derridian deconstruction and the notion of a photograph being both an image and an object to dissect the nature of a digital image into its various elements, each of which has its own reality and potential meaning, both separately and together. I have attempted to ignore the subject and concentrate on the object, but a virtual object – the digital image – rather than a real-life one, and the subject is irrelevant: merely a vehicle to visualise the processes.
Digital images are by their nature virtual. In this work, that virtual reality has to be reconstituted into something solid, that one can hold. By making this a physical book of images, I have tried to blur the lines between the digital/virtual and reality, to consider how they differ and are the same. This book has then been re-photographed, which takes it back into the digital realm.
Assignment images (some of which have been photographed more than once, alone and in combination with another.)
Babbage, C. (1830). “Reflections on the Decline of Science in England: And on Some of Its Causes, by Charles Babbage (1830). To which is Added On the Alleged Decline of Science in England, by a Foreigner (Gerard Moll) with a Foreword by Michael Faraday (1831).”, p.210 [online] At: https://archive.org/details/reflectionsonde00mollgoog/page/n234. (Accessed on 9 March 2019)
N.B. This post should be read in conjunction with the companion one, Photography and New Materiality (Woodward, 2019). This assignment has morphed through several different ideas since I began the research for it. Originally, I had planned to do it on some old correspondence that my great-grandfather had with the operetta composers Gilbert & Sullivan. After reading the course and reference materials though, my mind was teeming with new ideas, particularly on the subject of internet privacy and specifically, how much Instagram knows about us – or can surmise about us – given our interests and the pages and images we like. This led to further research on algorithms and how the internet stores our data, and the ‘Aha moment’ came when I printed out the digital code for a 7×7 pixel square and was astounded at the size of both. The image and the associated data now forms the first image of my assignment book.
This led to some experiments using photographs and digital image code, two of which are shown below.
Fig. 1 Two altered found photographs (2018)
At this point, it became clear that I wanted to explore the relationship between the digital image and the code that forms it. Using the program onlineimagetools.com I printed the entire code for a single 6×4″ photograph to PDF, and it came to over 1100 pages of Word, using a 3 point font. Such a huge amount of information for one image! And with so much potential for alterations, visible and invisible. This underlying matrix of coded information, particularly at the micro level, became the basis of the assignment.
Following on from assignment 1, which was influenced by the work of Kensuke Koike, Joe Rudko and Pippa Drylaga, I have continued to watch out for photographers who use the materiality of the photograph to make their points. In the previous assignment, I used found photographs, but this one called for digital images, and I have used my own photograph this time. Just the one, as my exploration is about the constituents of the digital image rather than the end result.
There are several modern photographers whose work in the this field particularly underlies the project and I would like to consider three in particular in this post.
I have written about Ruff’s work before, in my posts Thomas Ruff – Tripe (Woodward, 2019) and Thomas Ruff- Size is everything (Woodward, 2017). The aspect that particularly intrigues me is his way of looking at the nature and constituents of an image and then plays with them by altering just one aspect. He has moved a very long way from his original, very typographical work, although he still revisits it from time to time. In jpegs (2009), for example, he examines the geometric nature of the pixel and reduces the numbers to re-see the images as if to form a more limited point of view (similar to how the first digital images appeared). At the same time, he hugely increases the size of the photographs, so that from a distance, they look to include all the original information, while close-up each individual pixel square is clearly visible. On another tack, in substratum (since 2001) he overlays multiple copies of an image onto each other and then plays with them in Photoshop to the point where the original meaning of the image is completely lost, just leaving an impression of the work, not its reality. (I have been doing my own versions of these, but at a lesser, more realistic level, with my mandala images, some of which I discussed in my blog posts ore More on photo-manipulation (Woodward, 2017) and Some more mandalas (Woodward, 2017). In these, I retain some of the detail of the original but reworked and simplified to make a pattern which echoes the main points of the original, while producing something totally new, and hopefully interesting in its own right).
Tillmans is another photographer whose work I looked at in my post Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate Modern (Woodward, 2017). Although the range of his interests is vast, he also has a fondness for exploring the nature of the photography and specifically the relationship between subject and object. An excellent article in Dazed Magazine (Epps, 2017) refers to his ongoing interest in mistakes, darkroom accidents and interventions, which he has then explored more fully in series such as Blushes (2000) and Freischwimmer (2003), as well as the ones I mention in another post. I am fascinated by his ability to take an idea and then stretch it out to form something completely new, but which still clearly references the original.
(Speaking of darkroom accidents, and still very much on the subject of this assignment, I was in the darkroom yesterday, with the intention of printing the first image below. I had originally planned it as a digital negative, but had printed it on the wrong side of the transfer film and rather liked the results. Unfortunately, when drying the print, I put the negative alongside it for comparison, and it stuck to the print. Perhaps I should call the second image Double Digit Accident (After Tillmans).)
Fig. 2 Darkroom mistakes: before and after (2018)
On a different tack, I cam across the work of Ellen Jantzen via Instagram. I love her ongoing Unexpected Geology series, in which she imports small rocks into much larger landscapes to play with their relative sizes, Coming Into Focus (2016-17), where she lifts parts of the image away from the rest to give the impression of a landscape slowly coming into focus as a whole, when initially one only saw specific elements, and Losing Reality; Reality of Loss (2011), in which shadowy figures inhabit the landscape almost invisibly. I could go on, as most of her work appeals to me. Earlier last year, I made some images using similar techniques and a couple are shown below.
Figs, 3 & 4 The mystery in the woods, Spring & Winter (2018)
In a related vein, I have an ongoing experimental series which I have called Barcodes of Nature, which uses some of the same techniques to try to capture the colour palette of a place from a single line of pixels in the image. There is more about this in my blog post First thoughts for assignment 1 (Woodward, 2018). Other photographers whose work examines similar themes are:
David Szauder – his Failed Memory (2013) series uses ‘glitch art’ to consider how our memories of events fragment over time
Joan Fontcuberta – in Datascapes: Orogenisis/Googlegrams (2007) he takes the ideas in the opposite direction and constructs images from multiple other internet images, which have a similar other-worldly vibe, but are based on some of the multitude of online data.
Catherine Yass – uses digital manipulations alongside both digital and analogue layering to look at how we perceive time and space. She is also a fan of the light-box and digital negative, which are both becoming a feature of my own work.
Samuel J Fordham – uses physical and digital manipulations to think about memories. I love I Thought I Would Sit Here and Look Out At The Fjord For The Last Time, 2018 from his series C-R92-BY (Fordham, 2018). It looks simple enough, but the digitally altered pieces don’t correspond with the missing pieces in the main image, producing a nagging feeling of discord.
I could go on at length, but it is worth considering the works of Anastasia Samoyova, Barbara Kasten, Adrienne Hughes, and Anna Yeroshenko, to name but a few.
Finally, and in a different direction, the different ways in which pixels have been interpreted has been a subject I have explored before, specifically in my posts More thoughts on subverting the male gaze, NSFW (Woodward, 2017) and Quick note on another iteration of the mandala work (Woodward, 2017), and which was influenced by my work for Research on embroidered photography (Woodward, 2016). It seems that I keep coming back to the same themes – of materialism and manipulation of ideas and both digital and physical images from a conceptual viewpoint. Maybe I am finding a Voice, at last.
Fig. 1 Woodward, H. (2018) Two altered found photographs. [mixed media] In the possession of: the author.
Fig. 2 Woodward, H. (2018) Darkroom mistakes: before and after. [mixed media] In the possession of: the author.
Figs. 3 & 4 Woodward, H. (2018) The mystery in the woods, Spring & Winter. [Altered digital images] In the possession of: the author.
‘Your ultimate guide to Wolfgang Tillmans’ In: Dazed 23/01/2017 At: http://www.dazeddigital.com/photography/article/34353/1/your-ultimate-guide-to-wolfgang-tillmans (Accessed 18/06/2020).