Analogue/digital

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).

Kim Asendorf, Mountain Tour series, 2010

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.

Andrew Brown, Barking Harbour treatment, 2020

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.

Andrew Brown, Barking RIverside treatment, 2020

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).

References

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.

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.

FMP mid-point review

According to the schedule, at this point (Week 14) I should have completed my fieldwork, and be working on composites and other images for the outcomes of the project. Seems like a good time to review progress to date and map out activities for the next 4 months.

Photographic Fieldwork

Image making for and with community groups has been pretty intense over the past few months.

Thames Ward Community Project (TWCP). Following on from a series of photographs of the members of the Citizens Action Group, I decided to focus on activities within the community. Consequently, I have made images of the following activities: TESOL for Parents (two sites – Riverside and Thames View), Mums with a Mission (Thames View), DJ workshops (at Riverside Campus: see selected images below), Thames Ward Health Stakeholders, Young Citizens Action Group.

A repository of photographs has been created and I have made prints for the project leaders and participants. Prints from projects have been used to raise awareness of the different activities amongst the project team (for instance, at the recent project dinner).

Sharing project images, TWCP dinner, 18.12.19

Photographs have been used in press and promotional material. The 100 images made for the Thrive Community Day have been given to the Mental Health Foundation for the report on the Thrive Thames View project. Next step is to produce a collection of larger prints for the TWCP to use in promoting its work.

New View Arts. My Shed Life photographs (of participants, the area and the models produced) have featured in the press and funding campaigns. They have also been used in the report produced by University of East London architecture students and in support for the planning permission application. I would like to submit images to the WISERD Civil Society Photography Competition, which closes on 13th January. I will continue to make images with the group to feed in to the exhibition planned for the opening of the Shed and any prior promotional work. The Arts Council funded film on the Creekmouth flood and displacement, to which the summer workshop for children contributed, was presented to residents on 2nd November and I gave to prints of photographs used, including archive photographs, to the group. The film was also shown to the public at the Sue Bramley Centre, with accompanying pop-up exhibition of my images and photographs taken with and by the workshop participants, on 13th December. Future showings are planned.

Everyone, Everyday. This is the local incarnation (and most prominent project) of Participatory City. I have joined the project and attended events, and discussed the possibility of exhibiting at the Warehouse with the facility manager and running workshops with the project officers. Their next planning cycle starts in January, and I have a meeting with the Barking project team on 9th January to explore contributing to the programme of activities, which starts on 25th February.

Eastside Community Heritage. Photographs of the demonstrations relating to the Riverside Estate fire, and images of the estate, are being used in the independent report and the website being produced around resident accounts. They have been used in press coverage, and a BBC feature was made with footage from the demonstration on 19th October. Follow up with residents planned. Possible collaboration with ECH producing images for their Becontree Estate project. ECH has previously collaborated with Studio 3 Arts on the Open Estate project, focusing on the Gascoigne Estate.

Barking and Dagenham Heritage Conservation Group. I have continued to to attend meeting and kept in touch with activities. I have made images of developments around Barking, and collected a list of proposed developments from emails about applications for planning permission. May be possible to draw work together for a pop-up exhibition in the town centre (for instance, at the Barking Hotel). Another possibility would be to do a collaborative piece with Keith, who has a particular interest in photography, particularly with film, or to focus on some of the members of the group and their concerns. Might fall outside the scope of the FMP.

Greatfields School. On 8th October, I ran a workshop for GCSE Photography students to introduce a collaborative project focusing on the impact of changes taking place on the Gascoigne Estate. Kiran (the photography teacher) repeated this with another group, and invited proposals for projects from the students. These have been submitted and projects selected. We plan to run the sessions after school on Thursdays, alongside the photography club. Pressure of work around the end of the year have led us to postpone the project start to 23rd January (to run for 6 to 8 weeks).

Exhibition and engagement

Work has been exhibited locally in pop-up (such as the Creekmouth film showing) and other exhibitions (such as the IG11 Art Trail, which ran until 9th November) as planned, and used in community engagement and dissemination activities (for instance, the Community Day, TESOL for parents and DJ workshops). These opportunistic exhibitions will continue. For the FMP outcome, however, something more formal will be needed, which can incorporate and showcase my own work. I am pursuing a number of possibilities, and the London Creative Network will give rise to new opportunities, including the new block at Barking and Dagenham College and the Warehouse. Most likely is the Sue Bramley Centre, which has good outside space in which work could be displayed without danger of vandalism (which would be a problem with the hoardings in the areas, which would otherwise provide a good display surface).

I have discussed this with the centre manager, who is supportive of the idea. Other site specific exhibitions could also be organised. I have also discussed the possibility of running workshops at the Centre, for TWCP project leaders and at the Warehouse. At this point, there are ample viable sites for exhibition and engagement, but this will have to be tied down in the coming month, and work produced for exhibition if this is to be a principle outcome of the FMP. I am also exploring handmade books as a way of displaying photographic work in easily portable form (I’ll make a specific post about this).

Next Steps

I am currently collating images and other material (including maps, planning documents, data and archive images), and exploring how these can be juxtaposed. Ethically and practically, I am inclined now to identify a number of key collaborators, and a narrow range of themes, and to work with them as models, and in selecting images with which to work. Over the next two weeks, I need to produce a range of images to exemplify the form of outcome, and/or to act as base composite images to which to add images of members of the community. Alongside this I will identify the most appropriate ways of disseminating and exhibiting the work. I will also produce a range of forms of book to illustrate how the work might be transported and shown. In addition to the photographic work for and with community groups, I have been exploring the boundary between the Riverside development and Footpath 47, which runs alongside the Thames. Currently this gives direct access to the riverbank, but under plans for the estate development, will become a paved walkway between the housing and the river, which will dramatically change the local ecosystem, and access to the marshland environment. In addition to the community related composite work, I will explore the environmental aspects of the development through the incorporation of environmental effects on the images themselves (see, for instance, the discussion of work by Matthew Brandt; I have collected samples of water from the marshes and rivers to experiment with the effects on images). Related to this, I want to visually explore the boundaries that are being created, and the conceptual limitations of the notion of boundary in understanding the entanglement of human activity/well-being, the built environment and the natural environment. From this work I also need to produce a clear statement of the focus of the FMP (as a subset, or intermediate stage, of the wider project) – a post will follow about this. Commencement of the LCN programme at the end of January will also have an impact on the development and ultimate focus of the FMP outcomes.

Revised schedule

Whilst progress with the work has been good, and largely to schedule, there is a need to fix the focus of the FMP and revise the schedule to ensure that adequate time can be give to the work that needs to be done. The revised schedule looks something like this:

Composite image-making and preparation of prints prototype books (16th December 2019 to 12th January 2020)

Week 13 Collation of images and documents
Week 14 Creation of initial composites and other images
Week 15 Printing and preparation of images and prototypes
Week 16 Final determination of project focus, collaborators and outputs. WISERD images submission.

Sharing of composites, creation of images, feedback and preparation of cumulative outcomes (13th January 2020 to 23rd February 2020)

Week 17 Image making with participants. Commence work with Particatory City.
Week 18 Image making with participants. Commence Greatfields project. Commence LCN programme
Week 19 Image making with participants
Week 20 Image making with participants. Thames Ward Growth Summit exhibition
Week 21 Production and presentation of work
Week 22 Reflection and follow-up with participants

Final outcomes: exhibition, artists book/archive and workshops (24th February 2020 to 5th April 2020)

Week 23 Preparation of material for exhibition and workshops
Week 24 Warehouse exhibition and workshop. Complete Greatfields project
Week 25 Falmouth workshops and portfolio review
Week 26 [Singapore & Canterbury]
Week 27 Workshops and exhibition
Week 28 Finalisation of outcomes.

Preparation of FMP submission (6th April 2020 to 1st May 2020)

Week 29 Review CRJ and online portfolio (Easter)
Week 30 Finalise Critical Review of Practice (Easter)
Week 31 Finalise Project pdf
Week 32 Submit Project pdf and Critical Review of Practice

Light, Paper, Process

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.

Light, Paper, Process at the Getty Museum, 2015, LA Review of Books

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.

Lisa Oppenheim, A Handley Page Halifax of No. 4 Group flies over the suburbs of Caen, France, during a major daylight raid to assist the Normandy land battle. 467 aircraft took part in the attack, which was originally intended to have bombed German strongpoints north of Caen, but the bombing area was eventually shifted nearer the city because of the proximity of Allied troops to the original targets. The resulting bombing devastated the northern suburbs, 1944/2012 from the series Smoke. 2012 

Chris McCaw constructs cameras in which the trajectory of the sun is burned onto the film.

Chris McCaw, from Sunburned, 2010

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.

Matthew Brandt, Tree 3, 2009-2011. Pigmented handmade paper made from wood gathered from George Bush Park, Houston, TX

In his Lakes and Reservoirs series, 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.

Matthew Brandt, Nymph Lake, WY 4A, 2013. Chromogenic print soaked in Nymph Lake water
Matthew Brandt, Rainbow Lake WY G1, G2, 2013. C-print soaked in Rainbow Lake water, grid of twenty four 20 x 30 c-prints, 60 x 240 inches

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.

References

Heckert, V. 2015. Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography. Los Angeles: Getty Publications.

MOMA. 2013. Lisa Oppenheim discusses her series Smoke. Online.

Landscape, Portrait, Still Life

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).

Paul Nash, Cumulus Head, c1944

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.

Andy Goldsworthy, Japanese maple leaves stitched together to make a floating chain, Ouchiyama-Mura, Japan, 1987

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).

Crome, John, Study of Flints, c1811

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.

Paul Nash, Landscape from a Dream, 1938

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.

Paul Nash, The Menin Road, 1919

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.

References

Harris, A., Hollinghurst, A. & Smith, A. 2018. Tacita Dean: Landscape, Portrait, Still Life. London: Royal Academy of Arts.

Anthony Gormley Exhibition and Workshops

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.

Anthony Gormley, Clearing V, 2009

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).

Anthony Gormley, Sketchbooks, Royal Academy, 2019
Anthony Gormley, Sketchbooks, Royal Academy, 2019
Anthony Gormley, Sketchbooks, Royal Academy, 2019

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.

Clay Workshop at Anthony Gormley Exhibition, Royal Academy, 2019

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.

Jack Latham – Sugar Paper Theories

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.

Jack Latham, Sugar Paper Theories, 2016

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.

Jack Latham, Sugar Paper Theories, 2016

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.

Creating your own audience: Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales

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).

Related posts

References

Paul Strohm (2014), Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury, New York: Viking.

Reflection on October FMP Module Leader Group Critique

Andrew Brown, Test Portrait Composite, 2019

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).

Valérie Belin: portraits and superimposition

Valérie Belin, Fox Chase Antiques, 2019

Belin’s recent commission for the V&A (for which she produced layered images using photographs from the V&A archive) has prompted me to revisit her work. My principal interest is to explore ways of incorporating portraits into my collaborative composites, layering them with built and natural environment images, artefacts, maps, archival images and so on. Whilst Belin’s practice is very different from my own (in most cases she uses professional models to pose for the portrait components, for instance, whereas I am working collaboratively with community members in the production of portraits and composites), it is instructive to explore her visual strategies and technical production processes.

Valérie Belin, Bravissimo, Stage Sets series, 2011

It is her earlier monochrome layering work that bears the closest resemblance to what I am doing. In Stage Sets (2011) she superimposes stage sets on urban street scenes, her first exploration of the landscape, also using solarisation in a similar way to her Interiors (2012) series (the process of conversion of channel mixed images to black and white produces a similar effect).

Valérie Belin, XXX Toys, Brides series, 2012

Brides (2012) combines earlier images of Moroccan Brides with street scenes, producing an interaction between the adornments of the brides with the complexity of shopfronts (with neon signs and text). Bob (2012) combines the human figure with theatrical prop store interiors and China Girls (2018) blends models with highly complex images of flowers and fruit, merging figure with background.

Valérie Belin, Bohemian Glass Cup, China Girls series, 2018

This work differs from my own not just in process and focus, but in the number of images combined (two in Belin’s case, three in my case) and the contrast (her images are high contrast, mine must lower in contrast). The size of her prints is also notable – each of the images in China Girls is 173 x 130 cm (in and edition of 6 with two artist’s prints). She is working with large format film, which is then scanned and manipulated.

Valérie Belin, Pieris Japonica Mountain Fire, Black-Eyed Susan II series, 2013

Of particular interest in the development of my own work is the production of colour prints in the series All Star (2016), Super Models (2015), Black-Eyed Susan II (2013) and Black-Eyed Susan I (2010). By following Welling’s channel mixing approach, colour in my images is an artefact (the initial images are black and white, which are fed into red, blue and green channels before being converted/manipulated to produce a final black and white image – the colour images thus bear no relation to the colour of the original objects).

Valérie Belin, Ishtar, Super Models series, 2015

To achieve her effect, Belin is clearly superimposing in this work, which produces a ‘natural’ colour image, but does not allow the interaction of tones and entanglement of images achieved in the process I am using. As I am not able to process colour film myself, adopting Belin’s process would require me to shoot digitally, which will limit the size of image I can ultimately produce. Something to explore: colour images would be more engaging, I think, for some of the community projects. I also want to explore ways in which Belin has drawn out the faces of the models in China Girls (compare this with the images from Brides, which more closely resemble my initial composites with portraits, but again without the tonal interaction/interruption).

Valérie Belin, Golden Girl, All Star series, 2016

Lots to be learned from this work, both in relation to similarity in the use of layering/superimposition and the the underlying rationale for this (bringing things together in the frame which don’t physically and temporally co-exist in a given place, but which psychologically, socially and culturally do interact with each other in the development of a sense of ‘locatedness’ and becoming). My process is, however, is very different, and the underlying intent (and theory) is distinct. There is, however, no clear rationale for producing black and white images (apart from the evocation of a fiction, rather than a representation), so exploration of ways of producing large colour images would be productive.

Resources

Valérie Belin, https://valeriebelin.com/ [accessed 01.11.19]

Warner, M (2019) Valérie Belin’s reflections of the real and imaginary, British Journal of Photography, 22.10.19. Online at https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/valerie-belins-va/ [accessed 01.11.19]