MA in Photography Blog and Critical Research Journal
Critical Contextualization of Practice. Apply a critical awareness of the diversity of contemporary photographic practice to the development of your own work, and inform your practice through historical, philosophical, ethical and economic contextualization.
Just looking back over the posts that I have made over the FMP period (50 FMP posts in total, 250 over the course of the MA since the first post) as I prepare to submit my Final Major Project pdf and Critical Review of Practice . I’ve stuck pretty much to the intention expressed in the first of these posts, ‘to be more tightly focused on my own project … so I think that means shorter and more speculative items, with occasional longer posts to take stock and pull things together’.
The development of the FMP is effectively mapped, from the initial proposal, through revisions in the process of doing the work through to the adaptations that have had to be made to accommodate the covid-19 measures implemented over the past couple of months. Alongside this I have discussed some the the emerging influences and new directions for the work, such as the use of pixel-sorting and moving between analogue and digital images, and the paradoxical influence of Stephen Gill’s work. Being awarded a place on the London Creative Network artist development scheme has been important, and the influence of events held has been documented (though, sadly, meetings with mentors are now online, but still useful). There’s a record of some of the things that haven’t, in the end, been possible, such as the plan to exhibit work in public spaces, but the exploration of portable exhibitions did prove fruitful in the circumstances. The CRJ has provided a useful means for documenting presentations and exhibitions, and aspect of the work that haven’t featured in the final FMP, for instance photographic work with community initiatives like ShedLife. Also documenting exhibitions and events that have been influential. And galleries presenting my visual work as it has developed.
There is a lot that isn’t here, however. Particularly over the past month, when the primary focus has been on production of the FMP pdf and CRoP. In particular, I haven’t been able to document the feedback that I have received on my work, including a series of invaluable online discussions with other photographers working in similar areas. I have also been discussing ways of developing the work after the FMP, for instance with Kathrin Böhm & Levin Haegele, with Tamara Stoll and with Noel Moka’s Park Society. That’s for another day, and another place …
‘This day will begin with a practical session of developing your presentation skills and techniques for effective communication. We will then look at the different economies and strategies that exist to support artists and artistic development, followed by a session around crowdfunding’.
The first LCN day was excellent, not only for the substantive content but also for being able to get to know other artists working in the area. I want to make some quick notes about the sessions, focussing on aspects of particular relevance to my current work and thinking about what I might do after the MA.
Persilia was able to give us insight into the process by which the work for the first exhibition (by Lindsey Mendick) was selected through an open call process and how the gallery worked collaboratively with the artist. A key factor was engagement with the local community, and the ability to ensure both that the process of producing the work was of value, and that the outcome is a worthwhile and engaging exhibition. In particular, it was interesting to see how the work from the workshops (making work in clay with elderly people from the area with no prior experience) fed into the exhibition. The process also allowed the artist to experiment with new ways of working, and for participants to gain new skills and interests. The central theme for the exhibition (advice that you wish you had been given and taken, inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen), was clear and relatable.
Good opportunity to get to know other members of the group and learn about Alex’s practice (which spans community focused work in east London and his own drawing based work). One of the communication activities involved describing a Lego construction to a partner who had to construct it solely on the basis of the description, exploring the need for a common language. This was reinforced in relation to describing our own practice to different audiences and for different purposes.
Alex introduced the Who (you, brand, partners, fabrications, collaborations, organisations, audiences, customers, clients), What (activity, product, services, company, charity), When (milestones, markers, timelines, stages, evolution), Where (places, spaces, residencies, stockists, connections, communities), Why (reasons, motivations, drive, values, ‘call to action’, ‘reasons to believe’), How (processes, skills, ethics, forms, discoveries), Wow (concepts, achievements, unexpected, magical, imagined) structure and we prepared one minute statements to share and discuss in groups of three (see below for mine).
The framework provides a structure and set of prompts for production of accounts (for instance, and artist or project statement) that can be adapted to different audiences (by, for instance, shifting focus, realigning priorities and changing language). It can also be used cyclically and a different levels in the same account, for instance to describe practice in general and the details of a specific project or a particular work.
In this session we (i) identified and mapped out our networks; (ii) looked at the economic underpinning of artistic practice; (iii) considered an ‘iceberg self-portrait’.
The network mapping helped me to think about the relationship between my prior (academic) work and my current (artistic) practice, and the manner in which networks relating to these different domains might be mutually supportive. For me this is a matter of bringing my artistic and photographic work to a state of relative maturity, and keeping in mind how the work produced (and the processes and contexts of production) might constructively draw on and feed into my academic work and networks (for instance, in forming partnerships between academics and artists in the development of community relationships around UCL East). It was particularly productive to be able to put artistic practice at the centre of the network diagram. Kathrin emphasised the power of working as a collective.
Katherine Gibson’s (2014) iceberg metaphor was used in considering the economics of artistic production. This acknowledges that visible practice is supported by a greater volume and diversity of invisible activities (both personal and institutional). This led to a consideration of the diversity of forms of and audiences for art, and Stephen Wright’s concept of ‘usership’ rather that spectatorship, emphasising a need to be clear about how art is used in different contexts and by different communities. This relates to the manner in which I am using different forms of photography, and using photography in different ways, in different parts of my project (for instance, in activism and as a collective activity). Similar ideas are put forward by Arte Util (useful art); I will explore these further in the critical review of practice, in clarifying the relationship between the components of my project, and, in particular, the positioning of the outcomes of the FMP (as a subset of a wider programme of activities). Returning to the iceberg metaphor, we considered Gregory Sholette’s (2011) application of the idea of dark matter – the stuff that holds the market together but is not readily visible – and where in our own practice we might identify the ‘visibility’ line. Art viewed in this way is special (as a particular form of activity) but not other (set above or apart from everyday activity), resembling Laruelle’s notion of ‘non-philosophy‘.
This session was particularly important for me in (i) helping to think through alternative forms of relationship between art and everyday practice, particularly through the idea of ‘usership’; (ii) thinking through how I can use visual means to describe the relationship between the components of my work (for instance, in providing a ‘visual index’ in my FMP pdf submission).
Tamara mapped out how she moved from the production of a book dummy for her Ridley Road project (8 years and 150 colour images) to publication, and how she used crowdfunding to fund the print run. The project stemmed from identification of a gap in the Hackney archives around the history of the market, and evolved into a site specific, collaborative project concerned with ‘streets and the people who make the streets’. Centerprise was an important influence (in both the publication of local writing and as a place to meet). As in my own work, building trust among the community was important, and she took on the informal role of campaign photographer for the Save Ridley Road campaign, organising workshops and exhibitions. She uses a TLR on a tripod to make the portraits, which quickly distinguishes her from the opportunistic street photographers who are not particularly welcome in the area.
Lots of insights into Crowdfunding – see notes below (and pdf provided by Tamara).
The major insight for me, however, was into Tamara’s work, and resonances with aspects of my own work. In all, the day provided a number of strands to follow up, particularly around relationship between the community engagement aspects of my project and my own work
Gibson-Graham, J. K. 2014. ‘Rethinking the Economy with Thick Description and Weak Theory’. Current Anthropology 55, S9: S147-153. doi:10.1086/676646. [Accessed March 7, 2020].
Sholette, G. 2011. Dark Matter : Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. London; New York: Pluto Press.
Wright, S. 2014. Toward a Lexicon of Usership. Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum. Online at https://www.arte-util.org/tools/lexicon/ [Accessed March 7, 2020].
Following feedback from Wendy, I’ve simplified and focused the descriptor. I’ve got a clearer sense of the outcomes of the project in relation to the work done so far, and how the work submitted for the FMP will relate to the wider community engagement work. The relationship between this work and the wider body of work can be discussed in the Critical Review of Practice, which will include some thoughts on how the work might be developed following the MA. There is still some finessing of the text to be done (including the titling of the three components).
Beating the Bounds
Beating the bounds is an ancient English custom that, in a period that pre-dates maps, involved walking the boundaries of an area in order to remind a community of the extent of its territory through visceral experience of its natural and human markers.
This project, inspired and informed by my community engagement activities in east London, explores three areas of rapid and extensive redevelopment in the Barking and Dagenham, London’s poorest and fastest developing borough. The urgent demand for new housing has put particular pressure on the outer boroughs of east London, optimistically referred to as the ‘rising east’. A combination of availability of disused industrial sites, neglected housing stock, social demand and aspirational local government has led to a proliferation of large-scale housing developments.
These regeneration projects have a profound impact on communities and the environment. As contested, privately owned spaces, they disrupt the relationship between community and place, severing continuity between the past and present and hopes for the future, and transform the relationship between the built and, an increasingly manicured, natural environment. The vision for the three areas presented by the developers is generic and homogeneous, and consequently dramatically out of step with the particular environmental, social and cultural characteristics of each area.
My photographic work presented for the final project visually explores aspects of this disjunction. The work is produced from images and sound recordings made, and artefacts collected, in walking the ‘bounds’ of each of the three developments. It is presented alongside contextualising materials, including maps, historical images, planning documents, text and computer-generated images.
Beating the Bounds One. The town centre is a transport and retail hub that acts as a focus of activity for a diverse community. The vision of creating a ‘mini-Manhattan‘ with high rise apartments and upmarket retail outlets lies in tension with the life-worlds of current residents in one of the poorest wards of the UK. A market, dating back to the twelfth century, runs along one edge of the development area. The images explore the complex entanglement of everyday human activity with the changing natural and built environment, an entanglement neglected and negated by the CGI projected vision of the developers.
Beating the Bounds Two. Barking is an ancient parish, dating back to the seventh century. It straddles the River Roding and developed around fishing and boat building from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, at which time it was home to England’s largest fishing fleet, the Short Blue. The industrial properties and retail parks that built up around the river following the decline of fishing are now the site of a number of large high-density housing developments, collectively referred to as the Roding Riviera. The images explore the developments reflected in the river that flows alongside them and represented on the hoardings which separate the development from a historic site along its eastern border, which includes the Church where Captain James Cook and Elizabeth Batts were married in 1762.
Beating the Bounds Three. The Barking Riverside development runs along the Thames and is surrounded by industrial units, scrap yards and waste processing plants. It sits on marshland adjacent to former sites of two power stations (a decommissioned gas-powered plant and an older now demolished coal-fired plant) and chemical plants, which have left high levels of pollutants in the land. This development is one of the largest in Europe, comprising of over 11,000 units, and ultimately housing a population equivalent to a city the size of Derby. The aspirations of the council leader are to create a ‘Barcelona on the Thames‘, a reference to the regeneration of the derelict industrial eastern Barcelona waterfront in preparation for and following the 1992 Olympics. In this series of images, the unruly industrial and natural periphery of the Barking Riverside development is explored through the chemical and digital degradation of images of the development, and through images made of along the boundary between the riverside public footpath and the private land of the new development.
The images and materials are presented in three artist made archive boxes and can be configured and used in different ways (for instance, as an exhibition, as the basis for a group activity or for individual handling and reflection). There is no predefined order to the images or expectations about how viewing of the images should be combined with the contextual materials. The work is non-didactic and is designed to eschew a single narrative. The sets of images are presented as a lyrical response and intended to offer the viewer the opportunity to construct their own narratives and sense of place from their engagement with the work, and, indeed, to reconfigure and add to the collections.
‘The catalyst that converts any physical location–any environment if you will–into a place, is the process of experiencing deeply. A place is a piece of the whole environment that has been claimed by feelings’.(Gussow, 1971:27)
Alan Gussow. 1971. A Sense of Place: the Artist and the American Land. San Francisco: Friends of the Earth/John Muir Institute.
In this talk to at the Architectural Association, Gill gives insight into his practice spanning a number of projects. My particular interest in this is the manner in which he uses visual means to explore place, and specifically areas of east London. In Hackney Wick, 2005, for instance, Gill uses a toy camera purchased at Hackney Wick market to make images of the area.
To form an even closer link to the place itself, in Buried, 2006, and Hackney Flowers, 2007, he buries prints in the ground, leading to a degradation of the image caused by chemical interaction between the surface of the print and the soil (in a manner similar to Matthew Brandt’s soaking of prints in lake and river water; in Co-existence, 2010, Gill also immerses prints in water from the pond that is the focus for the series, and photographs local residents through pond water).
I am exploring similar interactions between contaminated soil and chemical prints, as well as forms of digitally altering and degrading images. In Talking to Ants, 2014, Gill introduces environmental material into the body of camera, producing a combination of photogram and photograph, and introducing further chance and place related elements into the work.
The productions of artist books, which he self-publishes, has become a core element of Gill’s practice. He is clear, however, that it is the project itself that takes priority, stating that:
‘I try to keep the picture taking stage and the book-making very, very separate. And for me it’s so dangerous, even when I’m photographing to think of a book or that series in book form. I think it’s only at the very end that I would decide. I think that is quite important for me to mention because I do make books and it’s dangerous I think if the book itself starts to steer the picture making stage so I only start editing for books when I have completely exhausted the subject or its definitely come to an end and then I tend, it’s a fine line because I try not to rush the book making process but at the same time it’s almost like you don’t want to take too long either’.
For me, the most striking feature of Gill’s practice is the tight control that he places on the scope and method of each project. The artist statements for each project are succinct, though in many cases the issues being addressed are complex. Each project has a distinct visual aesthetic identity. The roots of this way of working appear to lie in the challenge of taking London as a place as the focus of his work
‘It’s so visually overwhelming, London, and I found it very hard to pin down some of the things that I felt compelled to photograph so what I decided to do is to make these tiny subject parameters and then explore these thoroughly’.
The struggle for me has been to reign in the complexity, which is multiplied by adopting a collaborative way of working. The challenge with the FMP project is to produce a clear descriptor to orientate the viewer whilst not constraining the scope and ambition of the work.
Gill, S. 2006. Buried. London: Nobody Books. Gill, S. 2010. Co-existence. London: Nobody Books. Gill, S. 2007. Hackney Flowers. London: Nobody Books. Gill, S. 2005. Hackney Wick. London: Nobody Books. Gill, S. 2011. Mostly Within the Area: Photographic projects from in and around East London, Photographers’ Gallery @ the AA, Wednesday 9 February 2011. https://www.aaschool.ac.uk/VIDEO/lecture.php?ID=1340 Gill, S. 2017. Talking to Ants. London: Nobody Books.
The urgent demand for new housing has put particular pressure on the outer boroughs of east London, where a combination of availability of disused industrial sites, neglected housing stock, social demand and aspirational local government has led to a proliferation of large-scale housing developments. These regeneration projects have dramatic impact on both the environment, and local communities.
This project (which is part of a wider engagement with community and activist groups) uses visual means to explore and convey a personal emotional response to the impact of three major developments in Barking and Dagenham, which is both the poorest and the most rapidly developing borough in London. The first of these is the transformation of Barking town centre, through an ambitious, but fragmented, mix of high rise housing and new retail outlets, described by the leader of the council as the creation of a ‘mini-Manhattan’. The second is a strip of large high density developments along the River Roding, transforming moribund retail and industrial parks into ‘the Roding Riviera’. The third development, Barking Riverside, runs along the Thames and is surrounded by industrial units, scrap yards and waste processing plants. It sits on marshland adjacent to former sites of two power stations (a decommissioned gas-powered plant and an older demolished coal-fired plant) and chemical plants, which have left high levels of pollutants in the land. This development is one of the largest in Europe, comprising of over 11,000 units, and ultimately housing a population equivalent to a city the size of Derby. The aspirations of the council leader are to create a ‘Barcelona on the Thames’, a reference to the regeneration of the derelict industrial eastern Barcelona waterfront in preparation for and following the 1992 Olympics.
Whilst the wider project address questions of social infrastructure and community empowerment, the work presented for the FMP specifically focuses on the relationship between human activity and the natural and built environment, and our relationship with the land. The principal images result from walks around the perimeters of the developments (all of which are on private land), informed by engagement with community and activist groups and archive work; a contemporary form of the ancient practice of ‘beating the bounds’ in which the boundaries of an area are physically experienced, re-established and committed to memory. The images combine elements of human activity and the environment in different ways. The use of analogue and digital forms of image making, processing and distribution reflect the transition from material/chemical to symbolic/digital production in the area (the site of a large chemical plant, for instance, now houses one of Europe’s largest data centres, and an electricity substation built to serve its power requirements). The play between digital and analogue forms also resonates with the impact on the environment and the lived experience of citizens of ‘datafication’ and use of algorithms in social planning and development. The area has strong links to China, and is the UK terminus for ‘the new silk road’, with a train from Yiwu in northern China arriving once a week with 34 containers, following an 18 day journey, adding a further dimension to the the notion of the borough as ‘the rising east’ and raising questions about where the boundaries for an area can be drawn.
The outcomes of the project are in the form of three sets of images with contextual material (texts, maps, diagrams, sound recordings and artefacts), which together serve to provoke engagement with different dimensions of the impact of rapid urban development on this area of east London, and more widely. The images and materials are presented in three artist made archive boxes, and can be configured and used in different ways (for instance, as an exhibition, as the basis for a group activity or for individual handling and reflection). There is no predefined order to the images or expectations about how viewing of the images should be combined with the contextual materials. The work is non-didactic, and is designed to eschew conveying a single narrative. Rather, the sets of images are presented as a lyrical response, and designed to offer the viewer the opportunity to construct their own narratives and sense of place from their engagement with the work, and, indeed, to reconfigure and add to the collections.
The photographs in the ‘mini-Manhattan’ collection combine images of everyday human activity in the area with images of the natural environment and the process of transformation of the built environment. The ‘Roding Riviera’ photographs use the river as an enduring form of mediation of images of construction and environmental transformation. In the ‘Barcelona on the Thames’ series, the unruly industrial and natural periphery of the Barking Riverside development is explored through the chemical and digital degradation of images of the development. In each case, the principal images are juxtaposed with a range of contextual contemporary and historic images and other material.
The work will be presented publicly in a sequence of pop-up exhibitions, workshops and presentations, including an exhibition (5th March) and a trade school on community archiving (9th April) at the Participatory City Warehouse in the Barking Riverside area, a series of workshops (5th, 10th and 25th March) and an Open Table exhibition (18th April) at Everyone Everyday in Barking town centre, and a presentation to the London Prosperity Board (29th April).
I’ve used the time over the break to explore practically the analogue and digital dimensions of the project, and how I can visually, and in terms of process, explore both the ‘datafication’ of decision-making in regeneration, and the transition from chemical/material production/distribution to digital/symbolic production/distribution in this part of east London (and, of course, the residue of the former lies alongside, and acts and is acted upon, by the latter (I’ll post a project statement that encapsulates this later). So moving back and forth between chemical processing, handmade bookmaking, coding and image manipulation (whilst initiating three new projects, starting the London Creative Network intensive artist development programme, and preparing for two pop-up exhibitions in the coming month, and all the ongoing work).
The algorithmic manipulation of images is a new strand, but important as it addresses part of the overall project that I have been struggling with (particularly finding a way to relate the quantification of community characteristics, and use of that data in decision-making on housing and social policy, and the lived, and located, experiences of residents). Using the Processing language (see Reas and Fry, 2007) to automate, through the use of algorithms, the manipulation of images is promising. To explore this, I have used Kim Asendorf’s pixel sorting (a term coined by Asendorf in 2010, according to Hight, 2013) code (available for download here; see examples of Asendorf’s work here and here).
At this point, I am playing around with changing the thresholds in the programme to produce different treatments of some of my landscapes and portraits, as well as some archival material. Here’s a version of the Barking Harbour image featured in an earlier post.
Each image is uploaded onto a surface as a bitmap and the procedure (sketch in Processing terms) runs along rows or columns (this can be set) to look for pixels in terms of darkness, lightness or brightness (this can be set). If set to search for ‘darkness’ along rows, the algorithm searches along each row for a pixel which lies within the thresholds set for ‘darkness’ and places these in order until it reaches a pixel that falls outside the defined limits. The number of iterations (loops) for this process can be set. The thresholds for each can be set to create different forms and levels of ‘mutilation’. This gives me an opportunity to contrast chemical degradation of images (using the immersion methods developed by Matthew Brandt) with these forms of digital degradation. I want to go beyond playful data-moshing, however, and see if I can feed in data (for instance, social progress indicator data) relating to the specific communities that I am working with.
This raises again the question of how to present the outcomes of the manipulation. My intention here is to continue to move back and forth between the digital and the analogue, and the abstracted and the located. So printing these could take us back into the analogue, local/located and visceral. As with all this work, the question is what is gained and lost in each translation between forms, if translation is possible, of course, in any meaningful sense (see Apter, 2013).
Apter, E. 2013. Against World Literature: On the politics of untranslatability. London: Verso.
Hight, J. 2013. An introduction to Kim Asendorf. Unlikely Stories, Episode IV. Online https://www.unlikelystories.org/13/asendorf0913.shtml [accessed 23.01.2020]
Reas, C and Fry, B. Processing: A programming handbook for visual designers and artists. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
In the approach I am taking to the project, photography is seen as a social, cultural and material practice, leading to the development of a range of distinct but related forms of photographic work. As a material practice, I am interested in exploring the impact of environmental factors in the settings I am exploring on the form taken by the images produced. In Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography (2015), produced to accompany the exhibition at the Getty Museum, Virginia Heckert explores the work of seven contemporary artists whose image making extends and expands the exploration by the founders of photography of the manner in which light and chemical processes act on photographic emulsions to produce images.
This relates closely to the analog aspects of my work, though one of the featured artists, James Welling, has been a key influence on the digital dimension of my practice. The work of the photographic artists featured in this collection resonates with my project not just in their emphasises on the materiality of photographic practice, but also the exploration of the natural world not through description or representation but through its inscription on photographic material.
The work by Alison Rossiter, Marco Breuer and James Welling featured focuses on the interrogation of the effect of chemical processes on light-sensitive materials. There is an environmental aspect to the work, for instance the Lisa Oppenheim’s series Smoke, in which found images of smoke are cropped to remove the source of the smoke (including volcanos and oil refinery fires), but fire is re-introduced in the darkroom as the light source for the exposure of negatives made from the images.
Chris McCaw constructs cameras in which the trajectory of the sun is burned onto the film.
Matthew Brandt explores the use of materials derived from the objects depicted in his photographs in the production of images, for instance in his Trees (2009-11) series using fallen branches from the trees photographed to make pulp for paper and burned to make pigment for ink which is then used to make prints of the trees.
In his Lakesand Reservoirsseries, chromogenic prints of a lake are soaked for different periods of time in water from the lake, creating images in which the characteristics of the water have influenced how layers of the print are affected in the production of the final image.
Like my own work, these works are site specific, and entwined with the objects depicted. They also incorporate non-visual elements of the site in the production of the images. Given the interest in my work of features of the settings such as fire (relating, for instance to cladding of buildings), water (for instance, flooding and building on marshes and by rivers), infestation (for instance, mosquitos, ants and rats relating to the marshes and surrounding industries, such as waste processing) and pollution (both air pollution relating to neighbouring industry and major roads, and soil and water pollution relating to waste from power stations, chemical plants and dumping of pollutants such as asbestos), similar ways of inscribing, marking, modifying or making images could be explored. As a first step, I am exploring, through archival research and conversations with residents, characteristics of settings, and collecting materials that could be used in making or altering images (for instance, collection of marsh and river water from the Riverside development, which could be used to soak prints, or in the processing of film and prints). In earlier experiments, I collected organic material from sites and combined microscope images with Google Earth images of the area.
Heckert, V. 2015. Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography. Los Angeles: Getty Publications.
MOMA. 2013. Lisa Oppenheim discusses her series Smoke. Online.
In the publication produced to accompany her three simultaneous London exhibitions in 2018, Landscape, Portrait, Still Life, Tacita Dean considers the extent to which Paul Nash’s watercolour Cumulus Head (c1944) can be considered to be a portrait (of Nash’s wife), a landscape (or more precisely, a cloudscape) and a still life (the head takes a sculptural form).
As such, the work questions, and subverts, the established distinction between landscape, portrait and still life. Dean’s three exhibitions focus in turn on each of these forms, but, as with Nash’s work, the permeability and instability of these forms, over time and across contexts, and the manner in which Dean’s work is positioned in respect these categories of work (and others working in these genres), raise further questions.
One question, which resonates with my own work, is the extent to which her landscape work tends to focus on the landscape, or on elements in the landscape. My own work tends to be very much in the landscape, tending to focus on objects and artefacts rather than the larger features of the landscape (as do many other so called landscape artists, like Fay Godwin, who’s photographs draw us to what is in the landscape, which prompt out attention to flicker between landscape as context and landscape as content: what is in the landscape provokes us to think differently about the landscape itself). This, in turn, raises a question about the category of still life, the defining feature of which appears to be the decontextualisation, or rather recontextualisation of the object (from, for instance, the field to the studio). Artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long also question this distinction, creating works in and from the landscape.
This calls to mind the work of still life artists, such as John Crome, who work in the field, foregrounding particular aspects (for instance, Crome’s studies of flints, c1811, which, by focusing within the landscape, blurs the landscape/still life distinction).
The distinction is further problematised by the question of whether a still life has to be of inanimate, or dead, artefacts. Can living plants, or animals, or people, be the subjects of still life? Ultimately, the photograph renders them still, and animation can only be implied or inferred. New materialism, and object orientated ontology, of course, re-animate these objects and artefacts, in de-centring humanist accounts. This focuses us on consideration of how the landscape, human activity and objects inscribe and mark each other in the process of co-production, which I aim to explore in my own photographic work.
The composites produced for my neuropolis series can be seen as combining the landscape (urban), portraits (street) and still life (flora) in the same setting, with accompanying connotations of, in turn, a future, present and past. Whilst I have explored the interaction between these elements, I haven’t thought about the work in terms of artistic forms or genres. Dean’s exhibitions produce resonances between forms and each raises questions about stability and integrity of the boundaries between forms and genres. My work mashes these forms together and, in a modest way, raises similar questions in a different way. In addition, I hope, the use of composites and juxtapositions creates a possibility space for exploration of the potential of photography in inter-disciplinary enquiry and practice.
As a parenthetic thought, looking at Nash’s work in doing research for this post, there are other resonances with strands of my current work. In Landscape from a Dream (1938), for instance, Nash places frames and art works into the landscape, which is echoed in thoughts about exhibiting my work in non-gallery internal and external spaces, placing art work, and the structures that support it, in the landscape. I’ll follow this up in a future post.
His work held at the Imperial War Museum, for instance The Menin Road (1919), explores the manner in which war scars the landscape, in ways not dissimilar to the impact on the landscape of preparation for the large scale building development.
Interesting that entry to the AOP Student Awards 2020 has to be in one of three categories, people/places/things, that mirrors the long established, but clearly questionable, portraits/landscape/still life distinction considered here.
Harris, A., Hollinghurst, A. & Smith, A. 2018. Tacita Dean: Landscape, Portrait, Still Life. London: Royal Academy of Arts.
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.
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.