Iterative processes and learning to read (and write) our own work

Having had to work intensively on production of a book manuscript to a tight deadline over the past few weeks, I haven’t felt much like writing CRJ entries (beyond the routine). I have, though, been able to reflect on the development of my practice in process terms, and relate this to my plans for the FMP. In doing this, I have tried to develop a coherent and consistent approach to the development of my own practice, which is reflected in, and consistent with, the constituent components of my final project.

The approach I am developing is iterative in the sense that it evolves incrementally through interactions between theory (general and specifically related to the arts and photography), field (what other artists/photographers are doing, both as individuals and as ‘schools’), practice (what I am doing in terms of my own photography, and other artistic and academic work) and context (the macro and micro contexts within which I am working). With a bit of thought, I could probably represent this diagrammatically, but for the moment, there are a couple issues that I would like to explore.

The first question is where to start this process? My feeling is that it doesn’t matter, hence the title ‘learning to read (and write) our own work’. Reflection is a process of making sense of our work, relating it to theory (the concepts and frameworks available to us to make sense of and advance our work) and to the field (positioning our work in relation to other practitioners and transform how we view that work relationally). The sense we make of the work is also influenced by the contexts within which we do the work, and what is possible within those contexts, and how this might affect both what we do and how we interpret and describe it. Viewed in this way, our readings of our own work (and consequently, our readings of the work of others) is becoming incrementally more sophisticated and informed, and that in turn facilitates the iterative development of that work. This does not, of course, preclude quantum leaps (radical changes in how we understand and position what we do, or in the form of work that we produce, where we do the work, where and how we distribute the work and so on). We are not, however, just producing, circulating and reading our work, but also writing it – that is making our practices and interpretations explicit. This is a necessary part of a pedagogic process (‘showing our workings’), and also a constructive component of a wider process of producing and distributing our work as part of a community of practitioners. Whilst a clear sense of intent is necessary, it is not sufficient: that intent has to be positioned (principally, but not exclusively, in the field of photography) and it has to be capable of being realised in practice.

Secondly, there is the question of the relationship between this process of development of practice and the practice itself. In an attempt to avoid an overly deterministic approach to participatory photography, I have attempted to mirror the relational and iterative nature of the development of my practice in processes that I use in my project. This is a way of escaping from the restrictions of bringing an already prefigured project to participants, which necessarily objectifies participants and restricts their agency and ability to produce something that has both value to them and to the wider project. So having defined a broad focus for the project (community engagement with urban regeneration) and a conceptual base (drawing on post-humanism and new materialism, exploring the entanglement of the human and the non-human in spacetime, and oscillation between the analogue and the digital, and the embodied and the virtual), the specific focus of each component of the project and the forms of the outcomes in each component of the project emerge from following the same process (creation of an archive, digital image making, sorting/classifying/editing/relating, rephotographing, mixing/compositing/juxtaposing, narrating, curating/disseminating). How different the outcomes are from each component/setting is an open (empirical) question.

There’s a lot to be done on every front here (for instance, in clarifying the theoretical underpinning of the move between analogue and digital, in the specification of the process, in the identification and organisation of the settings and participants, in the archival work on each location and in the development of the skills necessary for every part of the process). I’ll address these in the coming posts, and index these posts to the key themes of the module.

Roadmap for Weeks 5 to 11

Title: re.generation

An inter-generational collaborative exploration of community engagement with urban regeneration and responses to local changes in the built and natural environment.

Keywords: urban, regeneration, heritage, environment, community, interdisciplinary, collaborative.

Methods/methodology: collaborative image making to build a collective understanding of individual and community experience of regeneration through visual exploration and expression; participant image making and assisted portraits; collection and analysis of narratives, documents and artefacts.

Preliminary work (Week Five). Workshop with Lewis Bush on investigative techniques, background research on current regeneration projects in Barking and Dagenham, meeting with Barking and Dagenham Heritage Preservation Group (BDHPG), arrangements for image making and anticipated form and presentation of outcomes.

Week 6: Bookbinding workshop 1 at London Centre for Book Arts. Archive work at Valence House (historic images of town centre and riverside areas). Collection of planning documents and developer literature. Image making at Thames Ward Community Project (TWCP) residents summit, and making contacts for subsequent work. Meetings with the headteachers of schools involved to arrange project work in September.

Week 7: Bookbinding workshop 2 at London Centre for Book Arts. Set up participant image making activity with BDHPG. Preliminary portrait work. Printing of work for Arles.

Week 8: Arles meet up and portfolio review. Review of BDHPG participant images and identification of places for rephotographing. Portraits made. Narratives discussed. Response to feedback received.

Week 9: Bookbinding workshop 3 at London Centre for Book Arts. Re- photography done. Composites made and discussed with participants.

Week 10: Selection and printing of images. Design of booklet/archive. Design of exhibition/installation

Week 11: Production of booklet/archive dummy. Production of installation/exhibition material.

Outcomes. Participants images relating to redevelopment of the area, how this relates to their lived experience and how it relates to their aspirations. Assisted portraits of participants. Composites from rephotographs and archive photographs. Accompanying participant narratives, documents and images. Book dummy and installation (or online presentation). Explore possible pop-up exhibition in the Barking Hotel (threatened with demolition in the redevelopment of the town centre).

Relationship with FMP. This will act as preliminary for work my FMP as described in research proposal and updated in my CRJ. The work will be extended by subsequent work in schools and other community groups. The work done in this module will enable my approach to be tested.

Alternative image making methods: above and below.

This work was produced as part of the Week 4 activity Hands Off!: ‘you have 24 hours to produce a mini-series of five images relating to your research project, without using apparatus that is familiar to you’. My project, which address community engagement with urban regeneration, has recently taken on an environmental dimension. This is provoked by an emotional response to the ecological violence of large scale urban development projects and engagement with work on the relationship between mental well-being and the built and natural environment (the ‘neuropolis’ – see Fitzgerald et al, 2018) and different understandings of the relationship between communities and the land held in Aboriginal cultures (see Pascoe, 2014). Buttrose (2019), in her curatorial notes to an exhibition exploring the transformation of the Australian landscape, observes that ‘throughout ‘Material Place’ there is a recurring motif of ‘zooming in and out’ suggesting that both macroscopic and microscopic viewpoints need to be captured concurrently to understand the complexity of the world today’. So, in this challenge I have combined two image making strategies that I haven’t used before: (i) screenshots from Google satellite of the areas I am exploring, made on Wednesday morning; (ii) iPhone digital microscope images of organic material collected from these sites on the same day. I have presented these as diptychs.

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Andrew Brown, Gascoigne Estate Diptych #1, 2019
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Andrew Brown, Gascoigne Estate Diptych #2, 2019
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Andrew Brown, Riverside Estate Diptych #1, 2019
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Andrew Brown, Riverside Estate Diptych #2, 2019
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Andrew Brown, Thamesview Estate Diptych #1, 2019

I am not sure where I’ll take this. I’ve always liked the Boyle family work (see Boyle, 1970), and it would be good to do something like that which engages directly with the ground/land (they chose sites randomly). My desk is covered in bugs. I’ve done some quick channel mixing of images from the same site, just to see how it looks – a couple of examples below.

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Andrew Brown, Gascoigne Estate Macro/Micro Composite #1, 2019
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Andrew Brown, Thamesview Estate Macro/Micro Composite #1, 2019

References

Boyle, M. 1970. ‘Journey to the Surface of the Earth’. Online at http://www.boylefamily.co.uk/boyle/texts/index.html [accessed 26.06.19]

Buttrose, E. 2019. Material Place: Reconsidering Australian Landscapes [Curatorial notes]. UNSW Galleries, Sydney. 21.06.19-07.09.19

Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2018. ‘Living Well in the Neuropolis’, The Sociological Review, 64: 221–237.

Pascoe, B. 2014. Dark Emu. Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books.

FMP plan update

Having carried out the groundwork pretty much according to my research plan over the past 12 months (with interesting visual developments and a range of new possibilities and partnerships along the way), it is time to take stock and produce a deliverable plan for the FMP. The theme remains community responses to urban regeneration, and the intention is to involve community members as collaborators in a way that builds on the relationships and local knowledge that has been built up over the past year. What follows does not constitute a fully worked through proposal. It just sketches out current thinking, with a view to getting the groundwork done as soon as possible. The earlier discussions of context, theory and methodology in the CRJ and coursework still hold. The focus for the WIP portfolio for the Surfaces and Strategies module remains open – I hope to be able to submit preliminary work for the project.

What

The project aims to explore the experience of urban regeneration across generations in areas that are going through unprecedented change. The work will involve collaboration with participants in making and editing their own images and then selecting these for the production of composites using channel mixing. I will also make portraits and provide archival images, developer literature and images, planning documents, maps and other material to draw on. As well as images, participants will produce short texts relating their images and their experiences and aspirations. In terms of the distinction between a study and a project made by Chalfen (2011), this tends towards being a project (there is no tightly defined research question, and images and accounts are not being treated as data; see, though, a critical note on this distinction in an earlier post), with participants taking a role similar to the co-investigator role described by Sinha and Back (2014).

Where

I am focusing on the housing regeneration programmes in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. These are amongst the most dramatic and ambitious, and in relation to existing communities and urban landscape potentially most disruptive, in London, and one (Barking Riverside) is the largest development in Europe. My work will focus on Barking Town Centre (dubbed by the leader of the local council as ‘Manhattan on the Thames’; it includes refurbishment of the Gascoigne Estate, which was the focus of my Sustainable Prospects WIP portfolio) and the Thames Ward (which includes Barking Riverside, dubbed ‘Barcelona on the Thames’ by the local council leader, the demolished Victorian Creekmouth Estate and the nearby 1960s Riverview Estate, which featured in my WIP portfolio for Informing Contexts).

How

I will work with six groups of collaborators, leading to four pop-up exhibitions and one consolidated exhibition. The groups span age ranges from 7 to 70+ and cover the two areas of the borough undergoing the most dramatic development.

The groups are:

Barking Riverside (‘Barcelona on the Thames’)

  • New View Arts (7-11)
  • Riverside Campus (11-18)
  • Thames Ward Community Partnership (adult)

Barking Town Centre (‘Manhattan on the Thames’)

  • Greatfields School (11-14)
  • Barking College (16+)
  • Barking and Dagenham Heritage Conservation Group (adult).

In each school and each community setting I will run six workshops (fortnightly) between mid September and mid December, during which we will produce and edit individual and collective images and texts.

Session 1: Providing context and giving overview. Briefing on production of images (more detail on this in a future post). Sharing of additional resources.

Session 2: Sharing, editing and selecting images. Selecting setting for rephotographing (large format for creation of large composites and animations for projection)

Sessions 3 & 4: Re-photography and participant portraits (for processing, scanning and printing).

Session 5: Mixing and re-mixing individual and collective composites.

Session 6: Pop-up exhibition and zine design.

Output

March 2020: Pop-up exhibitions in two schools and two community settings (Greatfields and Riverside, Sue Bramley Centre and Barking Hotel). Lo-fi publication. [Ideas. 1. collection of postcard size prints. 2. small format staple bound booklet. 3. Envelope with leaflets/packets for each participant, folded A4]. Reduce cost by involving participants in folding and collating.

May 2020: Consolidated exhibition, featuring all work from participants and projections (venue to be determined – possibly at Barking and Dagenham College, or Barking Theatre, or Valence House, or one of the settings available through LBBDfilm, for instance decommissioned power station). Possible publication (could design zines in such a way that these could be combined into a consolidated publication – for instance, as leaflets or packages for each participant and for collective work, put together in the slip case or envelope).

Next steps

July 2019. Discuss with Wendy and others at Falmouth. Set up and make arrangements with schools and community groups. Make preliminary arrangements for exhibitions. Experiment further with large format and channel mixing process (including use of low environmental impact processing and silver reclamation).

August 2019. Carry out background research and archival work. Workshop design and resources.

References

Chalfen, R. 2011. ‘Differentiating Practices of Participatory Visual Media Production’, in Margolis, E. and Pauwels, L. (eds) The SAGE handbook of visual research methods. Los Angeles, Calif: SAGE, pp. 186–200.

Sinha, S. and Back, L. 2014 ‘Making methods sociable: Dialogue, ethics and authorship in qualitative research’, Qualitative Research, 14(4), pp. 473–487.

Planning for the Surfaces & Strategies module

My project involves the exploration of resident engagement with urban regeneration in east London. I have continued to work broadly along the lines set out in my project proposal. The work includes three levels of image making: (i) images made by residents as part of a process of understanding the experiences, lifeworlds and aspirations of individuals and communities; (ii) collaborative image making with community and activist groups for advocacy; (iii) my own artistic response to the changes that are taking place and the ways in which communities are affected by urban regeneration. Over the previous three modules I have developed close working relationships with a number of groups and have focused my work on a particular part of east London (Barking and Dagenham, though I have retained strong links with groups on and around the Olympic Park). I have strengthened the conceptual basis for my work and have developed my visual strategy and methodology in line with this. My current work can be seen here. I have posted regular updates on the development of my project in my CRJ (for instance, here). Most recently, my work has started to address environmental and ecological issues more directly, and I have begun to engage with different conceptions of time (both in response to developments in theoretical physics, and in order to move away from anthropocentric forms of understanding). I have also attempted to bring the work together with other work I have been doing on object oriented learning and indigenous forms of knowledge. I have attempted to assess how the development of my ideas and practice over the previous module relates to the learning objectives for the programme here.

According to the programme description, by the end of the module we should demonstrate: ‘an increased understanding of how complex and sophisticated image-making practices and visual communication strategies can be incorporated into your own practice’. I just want to unpack this a little to map out what I want to achieve over the course of the module, particularly given that this is the last taught component before the FMP.

In my research proposal I identified the following skills for development in this module:

Photo-book production, installation design, printing for exhibition and alternative modes of presentation to different audiences, physically and online.

In relation to the schedule for completion of the project, I earmarked the following actions for this module:

Continuing personal photographic work and collaborative image making. Explore alternative means of presenting images (including books, installations and online galleries). Conduct workshops to prepare community members for Photovoice work. Determine form of personal and collaborative image making, and process of dissemination. Start collection of Photovoice data.

In the light of the ways in which my work has developed over the past year, modifying and expanding the above, this is what I want to achieve over the coming three months:

  • Refine ways of working with participant images and image making. While in Newcastle, I will spend some time working with two projects in the Centre that are using Photovoice (Wang & Burris, 1997) styles of work and arts-based methods of enquiry (with victims of domestic violence and with young offenders in rural areas). Working from the critical work of Sinha & Back (2014), I want to refine the approach to bring it conceptually closer to other strands of my work. Within the module, there are questions about how (if at all) this work is presented to an audience, and ethical issues around working with images made by others for different purposes to be addressed.
  • Incorporate archival images into my work. I have started to do this with the erase series (which incorporates a montage made of archival images of the Creekmouth estate). I need to do some work in the Valence House archives, and also think about how to use the Courtauld archive.
  • Develop the repository of images for advocacy with the Thames Ward Community Project and the Barking and Dagenham Heritage Conservation Group. I want to address the issue of how these relate to other aspects of my work, and the extent to which, for instance, they could together be considered as some kind of archive, and if so, what form might this archive take.
  • Consolidate the conceptual strands from Informing Contexts and focus these on the development of a coherent and informed methodology (with associated strategies and tactics). Lemke’s (2017, 2015) advocacy for a form of relational post-humanism holds some potential in bringing together linguistically inflected post-structuralism with more recent post-humanist and new materialist theory (see, for instance: Barad, 2007 & 2008; Coole & Frost, 2010). Likewise, the engagement by Fitzgerald et al (2018 & 2016) of neuroscience and biology with sociology in understanding contemporary urban life facilitates incorporation of objects and the environment with exploration of the human impact of urban development. The third dimension of this is dialogue with indigenous people’s notions of relationship of the body to the land (and experience of displacement), and running through this the role of objects, materials and making in fostering understanding.
  • Explore the relationship between the digital and the analogue. In the work produced during the last module, I established a resonance between the move from analogue images to digital composites (and animations) and the rendering of residents and communities as data in the shaping of local housing development and planning initiatives. This needs to be further developed both in terms of a visual strategy and conceptually, bearing in mind, for instance, Goriunova’s (2019) notion of the digital subject.
  • Determine the focus for the final major project (from amongst the settings and themes of my work to date) and the form in which the outcomes will be presented.

References

Barad K. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham/London: Duke University Press.

Barad K. 2008. Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. In Alaimo S and Hekman S (eds) Material Feminisms. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press: 120–154.

Coole D. and Frost S. (eds). 2010. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham/London: Duke University Press.

Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2018. ‘Living Well in the Neuropolis’, The Sociological Review, 64: 221–237.

Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2016. ‘Revitalizing sociology: Urban life and mental illness between history and the present’, British Journal of Sociology, 67(1): 138–160.

Goriunova, O. 2019. ‘The Digital Subject: People as Data as Persons’, Theory, Culture and Society. doi: 10.1177/0263276419840409.

Lemke, T. 2017. ‘Materialism without matter: the recurrence of subjectivism in object-oriented ontology’, Distinktion, 18(2): 133–152.

Lemke, T. 2015. ‘New Materialisms: Foucault and the “Government of Things”’, Theory, Culture & Society, 32(4): 3–25.

Sinha, S. and Back, L. 2014. ‘Making methods sociable: Dialogue, ethics and authorship in qualitative research’, Qualitative Research, 14(4): 473–487.

Wang, C. and Burris, M. A. 1997. ‘Photovoice: Concept, Methodology, and Use for Participatory Needs Assessment’, Health Education & Behavior, 24(3): 369–387.