I’m not sure about the standing of these reviews, but it seemed like a good idea to get feedback on the composite work from as many perspectives as possible. I submitted five images from the neuropolis series. The review draws attention to the need to attend to formal compositional aspects of each image, which I need to do in disentangling what kinds of combinations of images work best. The issue raised about the different degrees of spatial depth in the images is interesting, and something I need to consider in future composite image making. Most of all, it is pleasing that the reviewer thinks that it would be worthwhile to consider projection of the images, and finding ways in which the viewer might be able to move through and interact with the images in an exhibition space. This is something I have started to explore, and the review has motivated me to go further with this. Overall, a positive and constructive review, which has encouraged me to explore formal composition in a more focused way, and work out how I could project the images effectively.
The purpose of the tutorial was to take stock and set a clear direction for production of the FMP outcomes. Whilst the individual projects are moving forward, I want to allow them to take their own course (with their own timescales) and to view them as a resource for my over-riding (clearly defined) FMP project, which by necessity has to be completed by May 2020. The diversity and complexity of the projects provides a rich set of possibilities in terms of the focus for the project. The challenge at this point in time is to clearly define the direction and outcomes of the project.
We discussed possible over-arching themes for the FMP project. The relationship between the natural and built environment and human activity (and, in particular, the ‘pushing back’ of the natural environment against human exploitation) appears to have most potential (for instance, in relation to the history of flooding of the marshland on which the Thames View, Thames Reach and Riverside estates are built, the recent fire on Riverside, the destruction of trees on the Gascoigne Estate, the pollution of land in the area by the coal-fired power station and other industrial units and so forth). This can be addressed through collaboration with selected participants in the micro-projects, and will involve archival work, environmental portraits, quotations, sound recordings, personal and official documents, photographs of the natural and built environment and of human activity relating to the place, developer and other images of current and future building, including CGIs. The work could focus on something like eight themes spanning both inter-twined environmental and human concerns (for instance, flood, fire, infestation, environment damage, mental health, migration, communication, isolation). Each theme could have a collaborator/informant, and would include material relating to their life world, trajectory and aspirations. The work could be presented as a multi-modal installation (see earlier discussion of the work of Edmund Clark and Janet Lawrence, for instance). The aim would be to invoke a sense of the relationships being explored, not a literal description. For that reason, and because of the complexity of the relationships, the exhibition (or other output) would not be explicitly themed (which raises the question of how to organise the work – do, for instance, I cluster the the biographical and archival material around the related composite image, what text is used and how, what is the relative scale of the images, and so on).
Specific issues raised in the tutorial:
- I should use a sketchbook for exploration of both the images to be made and the layout of exhibitions and other public outputs;
- I could create a zine mock-up or similar for each of the themes/clusters of work, to explore ways of editing, sequencing and presenting the material.
- think about the ways in which the images will be presented, and experiment with alternatives (for instance, the use of projection). Need to take care over costs. Might think about a website, and other ways of creating resources for the online submission of the the final project.
- of the exhibition spaces explored, the Warehouse looks most promising in terms of flexibility. Another possibility is the new block at Barking and Dagenham College, where the Photography programme is housed, and which is in the process of being fitted out and occupied. There are a number of places where a temporary exhibition might be possible.
- check out work by Noemie Goudal (I saw her work in London last year). Particularly interesting is the scale of the work, and the use of frameworks and other structures for display. Her website includes lots of installation shots and is a good source of ideas.
- make more environmental images. Look at Gillian Wearing’s remaking of Durer’s weed paintings (for the video work Crowd, 2012) in relation to the exploration of plants and boundaries along Footpath 47.
- explore portraiture further. I am doing this as part of the work with the TWCP Citizen Action Group.
Thames Ward Community Project, Barking, 25th November 2019.
Workshop with members of the TWCP Citizen Action Group, exploring ways of constructing compelling stories to coney a sense of the work that people are doing in the community. We worked with a template based on Joseph Campbell’s universal story structure (from ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’).
Our initial exercise was to work through the section of the template with our own community activist story as a focus. For me, this illuminated the manner in which I have used similar narrative structures to construct my own biographical accounts (see forthcoming post on Andreas Gursky’s photographic biography). It also reinforced my commitment to evade and subvert the common desire for photographic storytelling in my work (see reflection of Week 10 Tutorial for exploration of the implications of this for the outcomes of my FMP). Quite how image making fits with this is an open question. Film was used to illustrate how the structure drives narrative and moves to resolution (key in the use of stories to persuade). Images could be used to illustrate the unfolding of the narrative but this literal and descriptive approach would limit the use of images to adornment. As the members of the group produce narratives around their own work, it is an interesting challenge to produce images to supplement and enhance these.
For the second part of the session, we worked in pairs to create narrative for people who had been identified as ‘villains’ in our own narratives (the council, the developer, funders), a useful exercise in decanting, the principle point being that people do see themselves as the villains in their own stories, so to be convincing, we have to appreciate, and incorporate, these narratives into our own. Again, this issues a challenge to image making.
The workshop was useful not only in exploring the use of stories in advocacy, and clarifying our own stories, but also in the illumination of each others motivations and aspirations, which for me creates a stronger base from which to develop my photographic work in this context.
Campbell, J. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 1st edition, Bollingen Foundation, 1949. 2nd edition, Princeton University Press. 3rd edition, New World Library, 2008
Stronger Stories, Resources https://strongerstories.org/resources#resources
Royal Academy, 18th November 2019
Not primarily photography focused, but interesting in relation to my theme of community engagement with the arts. I accompanied a group of 50 Level 2 and 3 Art and Design students from Barking and Dagenham College on an evening visit to the Gormley exhibition. This included entry to the exhibition and a number of workshops exploring themes from the exhibition and from Gormley’s work more broadly.
The exploration of the body in/as space/place relates to one aspect of my project. For Gormley, two dimensional work acts as a precursor to (but not studies for) his final three dimensional pieces. It was particularly interesting to see his sketchbooks, in which he has worked through and sketched out ideas for potential work (some of which is included in the exhibition).
These are displayed as four chronological periods, and there are distinct differences in form and content over time. The most recent notebooks are more dense, and contain schematics for exhibitions as well as exploratory drawings and text for new works. My own exploratory work tends to be in the form of photographs, and my notebooks (I am keeping a notebook specifically for the FMP) are predominantly textual. I am coming from photography and writing to visual arts, and therefore drawing is not a foundational practice (as it is for others on the course, who have had a more conventional arts education). This prompts me to explore more visual forms of exploration and preparation for photograph work (for instance, in understanding what makes particular combinations of images work in the channel mixing process, and how I might plan the production of images more effectively for this process – important in using large format film. Weirdly, this is on the shelf next to me in the library as I write this.
A message to get more visual: my notebooks should become sketchbooks. In a conversation today, a photographer friend (who followed the conventional art school route) observed that I was using the MA as a kind of foundation course, which I suppose I am.
The workshops offered to the students were loosely structured and exploratory (using clay, exploring augmented reality, life drawing, making zines and 3D montages). The students were great, and really got involved, and seemed to enjoy the experience. It raised for me, though, the question about how to engage the public with art practice, in a way that gives greater access to the principles of production of artistic work (particularly important for those who, perhaps, don’t have the same degree of social and cultural capital as others who feel more at ease in these settings). The experience certainly seemed to make an institution like the RA more accessible. The scale of the education programme is remarkable, with workshops running every Monday and a target of 1000 participants per evening (it is sponsored by BNP Paribas, who cover the cost of transport and food, as well as the workshops). The group from the college that went on an earlier trip were fortunate to have a workshop run by Gormley himself.
Today I am exploring the possibility of exhibiting work and running a workshop at a local community arts and maker space. The challenge is to design the workshop in a way that engages participants in collaborative activity and also gives them confidence and agency as producers of artistic/photographic work, which requires a balance between guidance and autonomy, and a sharing of expertise.
UCL Institute of Making, 19th November 2019
‘The path of least resistance leads to elegant solutions’ Brian Eno, Oblique Strategies.
Seminar with Frances Scott, and showing/discussion of her film PHX [X is for Xylonite]. The film is the outcome of a collaborative project between UCL and Bow Arts focussing on plastics in the industrial heritage of the River Lea area. There was also an exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery and a publication (Vickers and Hill, 2019). The project provides a good example of a multi-disciplinary exploration of a theme (in this case plastics), spanning the arts, sciences and social sciences. It also focuses on a specific area of east London and explores the industrial history of the area around Hackney Wick (which includes buildings, now demolished, that I photographed in the first module). Frances works with a Bolex hand cranked camera and 100 ft reels of 16mm film, which she bucket processes. The use of film here is apposite as Xylonite (Ilford bought Xylonite for the process) came to be rebranded as celluloid, the material base for film. The film incorporates archival material and accounts. Objects from collections are incorporated by 3D laser scanning (fast scanning leads to degraded object images, mirroring the decaying of early plastic objects) and photogrammetry. The work is created by a process of ‘stitching together’. Frances tends to ‘let the material determine the process’.
Local people were involved in the steering group, and visits to archives and local sites were organised. Polymer chemists and other experts were involved in the process. An exhibition was organised around museum objects and artistic responses to these by Slade students.
Vickers, N. and Hill, S. (eds) 2019. Raw Materials: Plastics (Exploring the industrial heritage of the River Lea through a series of materials). London: Bow Arts.
RPS, Bristol, 16th November 2019
Very fortunate to have a tour of the exhibition with Curator Mark Rawlinson and then attend a panel discussion with Jack Latham, Erla Bolladóttir and Gísli Guðjónsson as part of the Falmouth MA meet-up in Bristol. There are a number of issues raised by the exhibition and discussion that are important for my own project.
The first relates to the relationship between Latham’s photographs, archival (including police) photographs, texts and artefacts. These are combined to suggest not just that that there are multiple conflicting accounts, but that accounts (and the place of photography in relation to these) are contingent, uncertain and unstable. Whilst some of Latham’s photographs revisit earlier archival images, they do not remake, or rephotograph, places and scenes, but rather revisit and re-present the place. In some cases, the places have undergone dramatic change, in other cases images of the people, and things, that now populate the landscape are presented. Images are presented out of sequence and in different forms and formats, to disorientate and disrupt in the manner of the forms of interrogation utilised. The materials provide a resource for, but don’t dictate, the construction of narratives. As Latham stated in discussion, he wants to thwart our tendency to ‘bend images to fit narratives’. Alongside each other the different forms of material prompt us to raise questions, rather than constitute a single narrative or an unambiguous description. In my own project I have to think carefully about the relationship between different elements, and the complex relationships between people, places, things and different accounts.
The second relates to the relationship between the different realisations of the project. The exhibition and the book are clearly very different ways of engaging with the work (and the discussion between the photographer and other participants in the project is yet another). Moving around the gallery makes the investigation of the narratives easier than the linear structure of the book. The scale of of the photographs and the juxtaposition in space are also to the fore in the gallery space (pictures are in clusters, next to each other, opposite each other, obscured and revealed by movement around the space. On the other hand, the book offers a tactile experience, accentuated by the use of different papers (including sugar-paper), gatefolds and french folds, loose images, text on transparent papers and so on. This mirrors my earlier discussion of the the relationship between film Island and the related installation.
The third aspect relates to the relationship between the photographer and the participants in the project (also raised in the guest lecture by Sebastian Bruno this week, who initially made his work with minimal engagement with the community, but latterly has adopted a more collaborative approach). The project required close collaboration with the people imprisoned and those involved in seeking justice. Latham mentioned that he sought the agreement of the people involved before the final edit of the book was approved (he arranged to have a meal with everyone and went through the edit with them). This emphasised the importance of engaging collaborators in deciding the form that are taken by the outcomes of the project.
The fourth relates to consideration of what it is possible for photography to achieve, and how it might contribute to a multi-disciplinary investigation (such as this project, which involves psychologists, forensic investigators, ‘conspiracy theorists’ and others). Latham is clear about the limitations of photography to tell stories, and raises questions, for me, about whether ‘telling stories’ should be a primary aspiration for photographers. Rawlinson refers to Allan Sekula’s advocacy of the use of sequences of photographs through which to create a narrative. Latham’s work operates in a different way. His aesthetically and technically accomplished images are woven into the other material to produce multiple narratives. Their contribution is distinct, and arguably could not have been achieved by any other form expression/(re)presentation. The images alone do not form a narrative, nor do they provide, in themselves, illumination or analysis. They do, though, draw us into engagement with the people and places depicted, and their part in the overall complex of narratives. They also disrupt assumptions about placed he passage of time. The success of this, for me, has its foundations in Latham’s modesty about what photography alone can achieve, and inquisitiveness about how these achievements can be enhanced within a multi-disciplinary, and multi-modal, project. This is at the heart of my own project, which seeks to explore what, distinctively, photography can contribute, both as a practice and outcomes, in multi- and inter-disciplinary work.
‘The growing together of parts originally separate’ (OED).
In the early stages of the FMP a key issue for me has been the relationship between the various ‘micro-projects’ and the FMP outcomes. Whilst leaving this to emerge over the coming months has particular creative benefits (for instance, in the exploration of the entanglement and entwinement of themes both in the process and outcomes of the project), the uncertainty around what will be produced and how it will be publicly disseminated is unsettling (and potentially might lead to non-completion). Reflecting on progress to date with the FMP, I am now thinking of reformulating the relationship between the ‘micro-projects’ and the FMP outcomes. Over the past few weeks, the individual projects have developed at different speeds and with different visual, and other, outcomes. This makes anticipation of the final form of the FMP challenging. One way to mitigate the risks is to develop a ‘meta-project’, with its own distinct focus and outcomes, but which can draw on the processes and outcomes of the ‘micro-projects’. In this way, the FMP project can benefit from progress with the projects, but is not directly dependent on them. I’ll formulate a precise statement of the objectives of the project in a later post. Over this week I have been exploring possible exhibition spaces and thinking about how the project could be framed to produce outcomes that would be appropriate in these spaces.
One possibility is the small pop-up gallery in a vacant shop at Barking Station. This is run by Barking Enterprise Centre, and features the work of local artists (as a succession of single artist exhibitions).
The space is flexible with good natural light and, given the location, very high footfall. The current exhibition features the work of local artist Griffi.
Another possibility is the Warehouse, one of the Participatory City sites. This is a large and very flexible space which has the advantage of allowing workshops to be run alongside (and/or as a precursor and/or follow-up to) the exhibition.
A third option might be the Studio 3 Arts space in Vicarage Fields Shopping Centre, where I have had work exhibited as part of the 2019 Barking Arts Trail, though space is limited here.
In all cases, the most appropriate focus for the exhibition would be my own image making, though it would be possible to find a way to show how the collaborative process has fed into this. To give this aspect of the work it’s own life and identity has the advantage of taking the strain off other aspects of the work (for instance, the community portraiture), allowing this work to develop at it’s own pace without threatening the completion of the FMP. To an extent, this reflects the point made by Laura Pannack in the presentation this week, regarding the benefits of a self-contained project with distinct deadlines. Operationally, this doesn’t really depart from the plan mapped out in the FMP proposal, but psychologically it brings a degree of clarity about the FMP which will be particularly useful in making a pitch to the galleries. The production of opportunistic pop-up exhibitions relating to the various micro-projects will continue as planned, and these will influence the images made for the FMP. The pdf submitted, and the Critical Review of Practice, can show the nature of this influence, but the FMP pdf will be built around the images presented in the exhibition. The next step is to secure an exhibition space and time. I’ll make a presentation at the Open Project Night at The Warehouse on 20th November and take it from there.
UCL Minds Lunch Hour Lecture, 14th November 2019
MIRRA (Memory-Identity-Rights in Records-Access) is a participatory action research project exploring access to records for people who grew up in care. Care-leavers commonly have gaps in their memories of childhood, and lack images and artefacts from periods of their lives. Care records provide a potential source of material. However, the records kept by local authorities and others concerned with the management of care describe the trajectories of children in a way which is designed to meet bureaucratic requirements, without any concern for the voices of the ‘subjects’ of these records. The project helps care-leavers not only access their care records, but also interpret the records and emotionally come to terms with what is recorded, how it is recorded and what is not recorded. It also campaigns for more human-centred (rather than bureaucratic) forms of record keeping. The relevance to my project is that these records constitute an official bureaucratic account of the minutiae of everyday life by the ‘corporate parent’ in the interests of compliance, and as a result present a particular form of description of individual lives (a ‘paper self’) on which important decisions are made. This is similar to the role of quantitative data in housing development in the areas I am exploring. In the same way that I am trying to use photographic art to produce a counter to this, the project is seeking a more ‘human-centred’ form of record keeping, and in particular, a way of recording the life courses of looked after children that gives voice, and ownership, to these children, which has the capacity to hold ‘personal memory objects’ (such as photographs and valued objects). When the records are requested by individuals, they are usually in heavily redacted form, with large sections of text blacked out for confidentiality reasons. This is unsettling for care leavers, in giving the impression that there are aspects of their own lives, and decisions that have been made and recorded, that are being deliberately withheld from them.
The attempt being made here to question official forms of record keeping (and the image of a person that is projected as a result of this) and to develop a way of keeping records that gives greater voice an agency to the person and more appropriately, and openly, provides an account of their lives, resonates with my project. At the community level this is similar to the images of a community projected by accounts given, for instance, in compulsory purchase orders and through quantitative social progress indicators, a raises the question of how communities can record and communicate who they are and what they do, and within this the role that can be played by photographic images (and the practices of photography).
A further issue concerns the move to digital forms of record keeping, which has had the effect of fragmenting and obscuring accounts. Agencies rarely use the same systems for making digital records, and often these are incompatible making it difficult to compile a single consistent record. This is further compounded by the out-sourcing of care to private and third sector agencies, whose records may not be in the public domain and thus not allow right of access. The proposal made by the project is for the co-creation of records, and ownership for the individual. A physical (analogue/material) form would seem most appropriate, given that development of a common digital system is unlikely, and the limitations of digital forms for evocation of memory and longer term transportability across systems and formats. This brings to mind the use of portable archives and meaningful objects by migrant communities.
Paul Strohm (2014), in Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury, identifies the cultivation of, and through performance direct engagement with, an audience, as vital to the practice and status of the medieval poet. In moving from London to Kent, Chaucer lost his audience, albeit intimate and small in number. His solution, in Strohm’s account, was novel and transformative. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer created his own audience for his writing within the text itself, by making the thirty pilgrims an audience for, and commentators on, each other’s stories. The pilgrims come from different walks of life, and the stories differ in form and content. In seeking a form of direct address to mobilise his narrative, Chaucer’s artistic breakthrough is, according to Strohm, to create ‘a body of ambitiously mixed participants suitable for a collection of tales unprecedented in their variety and scope … a portable audience’ (227) enabling Chaucer to produce a work of art that places itself ‘beyond the vagaries of time and circumstance’ (228). ‘The idea starts with a mixed company of Pilgrim tale-tellers. From this mixed company issues the form of the work: It will be serial, multivoiced, stylistically mixed, many-themed, and contentious’ (228).
I’m reflecting on this as I plan the protocols for working with different groups on my micro-projects. It prompts me to consider the extent to which diversity both within and between groups can be reflected in the forms of visual outcomes. Chaucer’s literary strategy provides a way of managing this diversity, in constituting each group as both producers and an audience for, and interlocutors with, what is produced. This allows the space, in each group, to produce diverse forms of constituent images and collective outcomes, and makes the fieldwork a generative enterprise. The outcomes will be ‘multivoiced, stylistically mixed, many-themed’ and are likely to be ‘contentious’ (particularly where the perceptions and experiences of individuals and groups lie in opposition to, or diverge from, those of, for instance, the local authority and developers). The work produced is thus presented to an audience in the process of production, and potentially transformed. It is formalised in the creation of a pop-up exhibition, with the prospect of enlarging the audience. The outcomes are unlikely to be serial, in the sense of a manuscript of Chaucer’s work, unless the constituent projects are presented, in part or whole, as books or other linear forms (which presents another dimension of challenge).
Thinking of the groups and the work produced in these terms strengthens the collaborative nature of the process, and allows the meaningful production of a range of forms of image. It also reinforces the poetic/lyrical nature of the project (rather than the third party construction and mediation of narratives).
Paul Strohm (2014), Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury, New York: Viking.
It was good to catch up with the development of other people’s projects. Particularly good to see Alison’s project, which is in the final edit stage. The key general messages for me were:
- there is no need to be epic. Can focus on a particular aspect of a project. Important to do something that is manageable, achievable and coherent. Better to limit the scope and ensure that the project is well realised and documented.
- think carefully about the translation from the materiality of the outputs and the presentation as an online document. Think about how the feel and scale of the work produced are communicated in the final pdf.
- the edit for a book or an exhibition will be very different from the edit for the pdf. Think carefully about the purpose of each edit.
- document everything so that evidence can be included where needed in the final pdf edit.
- it is important to have some form of public output/engagement, but this can take a number of different forms. The quality and appropriateness of the engagement, and the detail of the documentation, are more important than duration, scale or size of audience. Transient and impermanent events can be impactful.
In relation to my own project, the discussion reinforced the value of the pop-up exhibitions and events and workshops/seminars as outcomes from the project.
I presented some images from my S&S WIP portfolio (which others in the group will not have seen) plus an example of how I might incorporate portraits of participants (see above). The discussion reinforced the importance of thinking about ways of presenting the work to a wider audience (see discussion of feedback on FMP Proposal).