On Saturday, a good number of us met just outside Bristol for the day. We spent the morning talking with OCA tutor Helen Sear about her practice and the afternoon discussing people’s work. Unlike the Thames Valley Group, this one has people following a diverse range of pathways to their degree, including Creative Arts, Painting, and Textiles, amongst others. It was fascinating to see the work people were producing and I always find some areas of cross-fertilisation for my own potential work.
For someone who is just starting DI&C, the morning with Helen Sear was a wonderful jump-off point. She originally trained as a painter at university, but began to look at photography as part of a mixed media approach soon after she left and her work is incredibly diverse. She also uses a variety of techniques which will be useful for me to know about for my own work, such as Photoshop layering, back lighting, cutting and burning. I came away with loads of ideas to test out at home.
Helen took us through some of her earlier work, explaining that at the time, she was interested in the theory of landscape, how humans are inseparable from it, and what makes us find some landscapes beautiful and others not so much. In essence, she argued that we are drawn to landscapes that might be good to live in. I’m not sure that I wholly go along with that, thinking about some of the more mountainous elements of landscape photography, but it is an interesting idea.
She became interested in the materiality of the image, and how it can be disrupted, by lights, montage, multimedia and specific points of view, mainly through manipulating analogue images initially, but later with digital ones. Her pieces often combine some of these elements to produce work that you need to move around to see properly, with reflections and projections changing as your point of view changes and you catch glimpses of what is below the surface work.
We also looked at some of her trademark work using taxidermy in the home and the landscape which plays with the idea of what is real and what is constructed, and her dioramas, which made me think of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work.
We then went on to discuss how going digital changed what she does. She said that she feels there is much more precision now, and that she likes the way one can play with colour and oversaturation in images. Her interest in what lies below the surface came to the forefront and she used heavily marked layers in Photoshop to make work like the image below, which sits somewhere between photography and drawing. I found this work both beautiful and mesmerising, and would like to try out something similar myself. I was also intrigued by her use of drilled holes in images and backlighting.
Her method of working is interesting too. She doesn’t really have a plan when she starts a new project, but lets it slowly expand and assume a direction over time. She frequently goes back to revisit old work and to re-edit it. When it is complete, she tried a range of different sizes before settling on what she feels is the right size, as she feels that how you ‘meet’ work is very important. Finally, she showed us a short film she had shown at the Venice Biennale of birds in a real-life diorama, which was fascinating, as it focused the viewers attention on the tiny short-lived dramas that take place all around us, but which we never really stop to see.
I found her work inspirational and exciting, and look forward to experimenting with the ideas myself. It reminded me of Thomas Ruff’s exhibition, which I saw in London last year, and she did refer to him herself too. It had the same sense of working with different specific elements of the image and exaggerating them to find out what can be achieved. I also need to read some of her extensive writing too, which is linked on her website.