Shedlife portraits

First shot at looking playing around with different ways of representing the group, taking influences from forms of group and individual portraiture. We spent some time looking through Dutch 17th Century paintings of civic leaders. This one by Bartholomeus van der Helst appealed, so we had a go using a simple single strobe set up.

Bartholomeus van der Helst, Four aldermen of the Kloveniersdoelen in Amsterdam, 1655.

We’re going to need a shorter table … More to follow maybe, after the group have looked at the prints. Followed a session of individual portrait work.

We took a look at the Taylor Wessing Prize catalogues for 2018 and 2019 and thought about different forms of portraiture for future sessions.

neuropolis book

Experimenting with different book forms. The challenge with the neuropolis series has been to show the relationship between each final image and its three constituent images. I used Japanese stab binding for this book. As the pages are folded (with the open edge at the binding), I have been able to print the grid of initial images ‘inside’ alternate folded pages, and cut windows to show the three images that are used for each of the final images.

The paper is double-sided matt 170 gm. Heavier than I would have liked, but OK for a trial. More difficult is getting photo paper with the right grain direction. To get the book pages to sit properly requires short grain, but this paper is long grain. The only solution, for small scale production by hand, would seem to be to use watercolour or sketching paper (which can be bought in larger sheets and cut to size with the correct grain), and to coat it for inkjet printing.

Stab binding isn’t ideal for this kind of book. It would be better to use a form of binding which would allow the pages to lie flat. I also still like the idea of presenting these images in a portfolio box, and allowing the reader to order the images in different ways. More experiments to come.

Prototype displays

I am working through ideas for a portable exhibitions, and seeing what can be produced with existing resources. Following earlier consideration of work by Dayanita Singh, I have produced some prototype accordion books, to explore size and format, and the suitability of different types of paper (in terms of printing, use in book production and in display). I’ve used the following images of housing developments in Barking, for instance.

I’ve used 200 gsm single-side coated matt photopaper for this. There is a problem in getting stock from which I can get A3 sheets which are short grain. The print surface is good (certainly works well for these monochrome images) and it handles well for book making.

There is work to be done on how they would be used in display, and how different angles of view and light can be used creatively (and, consequently, how images are sequenced and arranged). Some kind of clip that holds each fold at 90 degrees would be helpful (I saw something like this used at Paris Photo last year). The next step is to explore other formats for books/displays and other sequences of images.

I have been looking at work by Heather Weston, a book artist who explores ways in which established book forms can be used creatively to produce resonances, and tensions, between form and content, for instance in her works a diction (2004) in which the pages are the shape of a pint glass, and unfold into a circle, READ (past, tense) (2000) which is printed with heat sensitive ink that responds to the touch of the reader and Paper Cut: relief (2007) dealing with self harm and taking the form of an accordion book with cut outs (below).

Heather Weston, a diction, 2004
Heather Weston, Paper Cut: relief, 2007

In Bookcraft (2008), she refers to Karen Hanmer’s Destination Moon (2003) which takes the form of a ‘flag book’ (a kind of accordion book) that juxtaposes archival photographs of the Apollo Manned Space Programme with John F. Kennedy’s “Man on the Moon by the end of the decade” speech and a whimsical song about a romantic journey to the moon.

Karen Hanmer, Destination Moon, 2003

This dynamic handmade book form, which has been produced using an inkjet printer, is well suited to the forms of juxtaposition and change that I am exploring in my own work, and warrants some exploration.

As a foonote, the black and white images above are all reflections of developments along the River Roding taken from the same place as this 1832 drawing of Barking town (the vantage point is now a supermarket car park).

References

Weston, H. 2008. Bookcraft. London: Quarto.

Portable exhibitions

I’m preparing work for two pop-up exhibitions over the coming two weeks: (i) images from the Creekmouth project with 7-11 year olds over the summer to accompany a public viewing of the film made with NewView Arts and funded by the Arts Council: (ii) images from the English courses being run for parents at Riverside Campus and for residents at Sue Bramley Centre. As with the earlier Shed Life pop-up, I am printing and mounting photographs and figuring out how to exhibit them in the space available in a way that is quick to assemble and low impact on the space. At the end of the Shed Life event, I gave most of the photographs away to people who took part, and it’s likely that I’ll do the same for these events.

Longer term, though, and in relation to the outcomes of the FMP, I need to think about developing a way of displaying my work which is both durable and portable. Using an archive box has enabled me to carry and show the work I am doing in an intimate manner, and it might be fruitful to develop this further for material that can be displayed.

Dayanita Singh, Box 507, Spontaneous Books, New Delhi, 2019.

This idea of portability and adaptability is at the heart of Dayanita Singh’s work, and in particular her book objects. For instance, her Box 507, which she describes as follows:

‘an unbound book of 30 image cards held together in a wooden structure. It is meant to be hung on a wall or placed as an object on a table. The structure has been built to allow the collector to change the front image as often as they like. The image cards, however, exist as a set of 30 and are not meant to be separated from each other or the box. Once you have more than one box, you become the curator of my work, as you build your own conversations between the boxes. Box 507 has been published in an edition of 360 and is available only in its exhibition format. It is to be acquired directly off the wall. In this way the exhibition disappears with time and when all the boxes are sold, the edition and exhibition are over.’

The work thus consists of both the images and the casing, which allows the images to be transported and exhibited in different ways in different spaces. Museum Bhavan takes this a step further in presenting a number of ‘museums’ as a set of books, allowing the reader to construct different configurations of the work.

Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan, published by Steidl-Verlag, 2017
Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan, 2016

This ‘pocket museum’ mirrors Singh’s traveling exhibition, which can be configured in different ways in different galleries. The plan below is the scheme for her Haywood Gallery exhibition.

Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan, Haywood Gallery exhibition view, 2016
Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan walkthrough

Accordion-fold books are also used as a way of displaying work, which I will explore with the work that I have been doing with Thames Wards Community Project (better, I think, than zine format as it provides a more satisfying object and allows the work to be displayed).

Dayanita Singh, ‘Sent a Letter’ (2008/17): leather case embossed with a poem, teak wood enclosure, seven accordion-fold offset printed booklets.
Dayanita Singh, ‘Sent a Letter’ (2008/17): leather case embossed with a poem, teak wood enclosure, seven accordion-fold offset printed booklets.

Looking at other forms of low-cost but flexible forms of display, the Gerrit Rietveld Academie exhibit at Unseen Amsterdam this year is interesting.

Gerrit Rietveld Academie exhibit at Unseen Amsterdam, 2019

Their Uncut 2019 group exhibition provides another option (using photostands for the suspension of large prints).

Gerrit Rietveld Academie exhibit, Uncut, 2019

References

Dayanita Singh, http://dayanitasingh.net

Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Uncut 2019

London Creative Network (LCN) at SPACE Ilford

Lindsey Mendick, Regrets, I’ve Had a Few, SPACE Ilford, 2019

Great to see SPACE Ilford open this weekend. Provided the opportunity to visit the new studios and talk to the artists who have moved in so far. Not much in the way of photography, but some interesting digital media work, with a number of artists in residence working on new projects.

Spoke to people from the London Creative Network (LCN) and have subsequently put in an application for their artist development programme – see statement below. A great opportunity to make links with other local artists and work on development of my practice beyond the MA. Putting the application together provided an opportunity to think about how I frame my current practice and how I might develop my work over the coming years.

Statement

I am a photographic artist, writer, academic and educator exploring the ways in which photography can make a distinctive contribution to inter and multi-disciplinary practice and enquiry. My current work focuses on community engagement with urban regeneration in the outer east London boroughs, through exploration of the entanglement of human activity with the changing built and natural environment. This involves three forms of photography: working with residents’ own images to explore and understand their lived experiences and aspirations, collaborative image-making with community and activist groups for use in advocacy, and my own artistic exploration stemming from a range of local community projects. My practice is post-digital, and I produce images and artefacts using digital, analogue and alternative processes, exploring what is added and subtracted as we move between different forms of production and circulation. This resonates with the increasing quantification of human experience and data driven decision-making (in housing development and employment) and the environmental consequences of the change over time from chemical to digital industries in east London. To date this work has been disseminated through community pop-up exhibitions and group shows, and contributions to publications and archives (for instance, relating to a recent fire on a local estate).

Benefit

Following a career in education, I have returned to an earlier interest in photography (which began at the age of four as a child model). I will shortly complete an MA in Photography. My artistic work is currently subsidised by other forms of income. The LCN programme will help me transition to a primary focus on artistic work, and enable me to develop a financially, ethically and artistically sustainable plan for developing my practice.

I have lived in Ilford for the past 20 years. I am committed to development of the community, and have, for instance, served as a governor of local schools and colleges. I am excited about the developments at SPACE and potential for the arts to play a part in the revitalisation of the town and borough. My current work focuses on estates in Barking: having seen how developers exploit artistic work and that arts funding often fails to engage residents meaningfully, I am interested in developing alternative funding models for community focused art.

My primary motivation is to learn. I also hope that my experience and expertise can benefit others in the network, at a time when inter-generational understanding and collaboration is vitally important.

LensCulture review

https://www.lensculture.com/submission-reviews/73881

LensCulture-AB-submission-review

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.

Reflection on Week 10 Tutorial

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.
Barking and Dagenham College, D Block.
Barking and Dagenham College, D Block.
  • 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.
Noemie Goudal, Satellite II, 2013
Noemie Goudal, Fotografiska, Stockholm, 2018
Noemie Goudal, Exhibition View, Station VI, Fotofestival Lodz, 2017
Noemie Goudal, Southern Light Stations, Installation View, Hayward Gallery, 2017
  • 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.
Gillian Wearing, from Crowd (colour video for monitor 15 minutes, loop), 2012
  • explore portraiture further. I am doing this as part of the work with the TWCP Citizen Action Group.

Stronger Stories

Thames Ward Community Project, Barking, 25th November 2019.

https://strongerstories.org

Stronger Stories workshop, Barking, 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.

Resources

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

FMP Week 8 reflection: Concrescence

‘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).

BeFirst Gallery, Barking Station
BeFirst Gallery, Barking Station

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.

The Warehouse, Thames Road, Barking
The Warehouse, Thames Road, Barking

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.

Studio 3 Arts, Vicarage Fields Shopping Centre, Barking

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.