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 MA 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 FMP 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 …
Participatory City Warehouse, Barking, 4th March 2020
An opportunity to bring together a selection of my community focused work with work on various housing developments around the borough (town centre, wharf, Riverside and Creekmouth) in one pop-up exhibition. A total of 64 prints, zoned with the community work at the edges around the entrance, and the FMP work on display boards in the centre. Used pins, hooks and clips with 500x400mm mounted prints as in previous exhibition, and was able to set it up and take it down rapidly. I’ll include something about these rapid and portable pop-up kits in the FMP submission.
The lighting was particularly challenging, so I need to think about how to handle this in different settings. I also set up a a ‘Photo Booth’ which generated some interest.
There were a number of other events running during the evening, which brought a variety of local people into the exhibition. It was good to be able finish the evening with a showing of Noel Moka’s film Pathways (2019), and to discuss themes related to my own work with Noel, and the possibility of doing some work together in the future.
‘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.
Selection of initial reflection shots of the developments along the River Roding, optimistically dubbed the ‘Roding Riveria’. Will use these in the Warehouse exhibition, but work on others for the FMP (both on the river side and the side of the development facing the Abbey – see developer images on hoardings below).
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).
31st January 2020. The Photobook Cafe, London EC1.
Interesting to talk to Vincent about the project and process of producing the book. He’s known as a portrait photographer, and has an image in the 2018 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition (see below – also from The Trap).
It took three trips to Atlanta to complete the project. He was disappointed with the images from the first trip, principally because they were predominantly portraits which gave little sense of the distinct context (as he observed, they could have been taken in London). The images from the next two trips convey much more of the context and the relationship between people and place. For the editing and sequencing the images, he worked with an editor who asked to look at all of the images, and some images (including the cover image) were included in the final edit that had initially been rejected (this reinforces the importance of working with an experienced editor). It is interesting to see the manner in which images, which may not seem strong in their own right, can form effective bridges and transitions between other images. I particularly like the manner in which maps, on tracing paper, are included in the text, further emphasizing the importance of place in this particular project.
Desailly, V. 2019. The Trap. Edited by Hatje Cantz – 51 pictures, 128 pages, English text, introduction by Gucci Mane. https://www.vincent-desailly.com/
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.
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).
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.
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).