This assignment asks for a series of 4-6 combined images of either portraits or landscapes. For some time now, I have been experimenting with repurposing photographs by altering their material properties. I am particularly fascinated by how one might use concepts from traditional womens’ crafts, such as patchwork, embroidery and paper crafts to physically alter photographs. At the same time, I have taken on the task of finding ways of using my later father-in-law’s many, many family snaps to make something new, but which references the memories which are contained in the original, careful stored and catalogued pictures. The series begins to examine the value of family photographs and how it changes and gradually fades over time as the people involved are no longer present to keep them alive. Most people’s physical family photograph albums are filled with images of scenes and locations which have lost their reference points and my father-in-law was no exception – he accumulated many hundreds of photographs (created at considerable financial cost) whose meanings have passed away along with him.
The photographs for this assignment are physical objects which change as the light moves around them. These images show the subject matter, but are not the assignment work itself. That has been sent to my tutor.
Firstly, I must address the time it has taken to produce this first assignment of Digital Image & Culture. I began the module in February 2018 and so it has taken the best part of six months to do. Much of this time has been spent experimenting and learning about Photoshop layers, but I have also been attending workshops on paper making and darkroom techniques and visiting a variety of exhibitions, both in photography and other artistic disciplines to broaden my horizons. These are written up here:
Throughout this first module, I have been looking at ways of cutting up old photographs to consider how the family memories we cherish alter and diminish over time. As mentioned in the Contextualisation blog post, I have been using my father-in-law’s archive of family holiday snaps to explore these ideas, with the aim of producing some work which will remind his children and grandchildren of him and his wife, while being artistically interesting in its own right.
The analogue journey towards the submitted assignment has been précised in this post:
but I had previously been experimenting with digital collage using patterns on my own photographs and news photographs, which were explored in Project 1 at
It very quickly became clear that the material nature of prints was crucial to the project, as I found that digitally altered images, although they have their place, are too flat and uniform, giving an almost otherworldly feel to the images, and they did not allow the use of reflective backing material which I wanted. By using actual prints, I was able to choose between a matt, reflective or transparent backing, which alters the way that the interventions show themselves as the photograph is moved around. The different materials each have connotations which are relevant to the concept, with gold symbolising memory, happiness and love, black referencing grief and forgetfulness, and transparency connoting gaps in recollection and the fuzziness of declining memories (although I did not use transparency in the final selection).
The use of patterns, and in particular circles has been a feature of my photographic work for some time, as is clear to anyone looking at my Instagram account here: Alongside this, I enjoy using concepts of colour and pattern making which come from patchwork and cross stitch, hobbies I enjoy alongside photography. An early iteration of the assignment saw me trying to make named patchwork squares from the photographs, but at the time I did not have access to the cutting machine, and felt that the results were not as complex and delicate as I wanted. Although I tried a variety of different patterns once I began cutting the photographs, I kept coming back to variations on the circle, with its ‘circle of life’ connotations and enveloping nature, but in this case often broken or stretched. This seemed to speak to the emotions which are generally felt in the months after the death of a loved one.
Looking ahead to how this work can be built upon in future, I am fascinated by the possibilities of using my own photographs as the basis for further explorations around the use of transparent and translucent ‘gaps’ in photographs, which the viewer can choose to fill with different backgrounds. There are a number of photographers who have used images with figures removed to leave a plain black or white gap in the image, but I believe this concept has potential for consideration using non-portrait images as well.
Finally, after a fascinating visit to Susie Bigglestone’s studio, I have begun to record my experiments in a sketchbook, and thumbnails from some of the pages are attached below. It is useful to see the evolution of an idea through a series of experimental phases, which informs the final result.
Self-assessment against coursework criteria
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills
Clearly the original photographs in this assignment are not mine, and I had no input into their production. My own intervention has been to select photographs, cutting patterns and their positions on the photos; in other words, the layering aspect which appears to be on top of the originals, although in reality it is behind. I tried some of the patterns with a transparent background, but this is difficult to show in an online scenario, so I reverted to gold, with some black. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing with paper cutting and will undoubtedly use it again in future assignments.
Quality of Outcome
Currently, I am too close to this work to be able to give an objective opinion on its success or otherwise. The physical photographs (and I have many more which I made during the selection process) have been turned from poor quality landscapes into objects which one wants to handle and move around in the light to reveal or hide the patterns and the subject. For my assessment submission, I will need to make some others, as there are marks on a couple of the images which I cannot remove, and I still wish to try out some other work using transparent backing.
Demonstration of Creativity
There are not many artists who work specifically with this type of photographic intervention, with Pippa Drylaga and Kensuke Koike being the ones whose work most closely resembles this assignment. At present, I am limited to using stencil shapes which I find on the internet, and then altering them to make them my own, but I would much prefer to create my own patterns. This will require delving into Photoshop Shapes Microsoft Illustrator though, which I have managed to avoid up to now.
I am confident that the research aspect of this assignment has been well covered. Details of the main influences are contained in this post: https://hollyocadic.wordpress.com/2018/08/14/assignment-1-contextual-background/
but I have also looked at the work of many other photographers and artists working in this field along the way.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit OCA Headquarters in Barnsley, about which I have already posted. As we finished at 1.30pm on the Tuesday, there was time to squeeze in a quick visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park before heading back south. It is a beautiful place, where one can wander for hours, but there is one particular work I was transfixed by. An entire vacant chapel was completely transformed by Chiharu Shiota’s paper and string installation Beyond Time and it was stunningly beautiful.
I cannot even contemplate how long it must have taken to put it all together. According to the blurb, Shioto is a Japanese artist who has been based in Berlin since 1997. She creates complex pieces using wire string and paper to consider themes of ‘memory and human relationships through the use of objects‘ (YSP website, 2018) which reference the location’s history and previous occupants. Each of the pieces of paper had some words written on it, but sadly I didn’t have time to read any of them. The installation can be viewed from underneath and above, giving a myriad of different viewpoints and one could spend hours in there taking photographs. Shioto has made previous pieces from red and black threads, some of which can be viewed on her website at http://www.chiharu-shiota.com/en/. Please go an have a look – they are stunning.
The thing that fascinated me most about the work, apart from its sheer beauty, was the use of 3D sculptural effects alongside paper. The string both anchored the thoughts on the papers to the building and provided a framework for them to float in space. I am currently looking at ways of securing some altered images within Perspex boxes without the attachments being visible and clumsy, and like the idea of securing them within a framework of threads, either coloured or transparent.
This brings me on to the next exhibition, which I saw yesterday as part of the Marlborough Open Studios. Last year, Kate Aston and I visited a show by Jane Corbett which I blogged about previously. I have been following Jane on Instagram since then and was keen to see what she has produced this year. Things have moved on for her a lot since we last met and she is now taking an MA at the Royal College of Art, specialising in glassmaking. As ever, her pieces were gorgeous, and this year’s work referenced nature through seeds and cells, mostly in shades of green.
She displays much of her work in Perspex boxes and we had a long and fruitful discussion about how she does it with objects that are both fragile and not flat, as well as papercutting machines. I was able to refer her to the work of Rogan Brown, who makes delicate paper cut microbes and lichens which reference similar themes to those that interest Jane.
It was here that I made my drive-by purchase of the day too – one of her little resin and felt cubes from last year’s exhibition which will serve as inspiration for my own work.
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.
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!