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).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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
In the publication produced to accompany her three simultaneous London exhibitions in 2018, Landscape, Portrait, Still Life, Tacita Dean considers the extent to which Paul Nash’s watercolour Cumulus Head (c1944) can be considered to be a portrait (of Nash’s wife), a landscape (or more precisely, a cloudscape) and a still life (the head takes a sculptural form).
As such, the work questions, and subverts, the established distinction between landscape, portrait and still life. Dean’s three exhibitions focus in turn on each of these forms, but, as with Nash’s work, the permeability and instability of these forms, over time and across contexts, and the manner in which Dean’s work is positioned in respect these categories of work (and others working in these genres), raise further questions.
One question, which resonates with my own work, is the extent to which her landscape work tends to focus on the landscape, or on elements in the landscape. My own work tends to be very much in the landscape, tending to focus on objects and artefacts rather than the larger features of the landscape (as do many other so called landscape artists, like Fay Godwin, who’s photographs draw us to what is in the landscape, which prompt out attention to flicker between landscape as context and landscape as content: what is in the landscape provokes us to think differently about the landscape itself). This, in turn, raises a question about the category of still life, the defining feature of which appears to be the decontextualisation, or rather recontextualisation of the object (from, for instance, the field to the studio). Artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long also question this distinction, creating works in and from the landscape.
This calls to mind the work of still life artists, such as John Crome, who work in the field, foregrounding particular aspects (for instance, Crome’s studies of flints, c1811, which, by focusing within the landscape, blurs the landscape/still life distinction).
The distinction is further problematised by the question of whether a still life has to be of inanimate, or dead, artefacts. Can living plants, or animals, or people, be the subjects of still life? Ultimately, the photograph renders them still, and animation can only be implied or inferred. New materialism, and object orientated ontology, of course, re-animate these objects and artefacts, in de-centring humanist accounts. This focuses us on consideration of how the landscape, human activity and objects inscribe and mark each other in the process of co-production, which I aim to explore in my own photographic work.
The composites produced for my neuropolis series can be seen as combining the landscape (urban), portraits (street) and still life (flora) in the same setting, with accompanying connotations of, in turn, a future, present and past. Whilst I have explored the interaction between these elements, I haven’t thought about the work in terms of artistic forms or genres. Dean’s exhibitions produce resonances between forms and each raises questions about stability and integrity of the boundaries between forms and genres. My work mashes these forms together and, in a modest way, raises similar questions in a different way. In addition, I hope, the use of composites and juxtapositions creates a possibility space for exploration of the potential of photography in inter-disciplinary enquiry and practice.
As a parenthetic thought, looking at Nash’s work in doing research for this post, there are other resonances with strands of my current work. In Landscape from a Dream (1938), for instance, Nash places frames and art works into the landscape, which is echoed in thoughts about exhibiting my work in non-gallery internal and external spaces, placing art work, and the structures that support it, in the landscape. I’ll follow this up in a future post.
His work held at the Imperial War Museum, for instance The Menin Road (1919), explores the manner in which war scars the landscape, in ways not dissimilar to the impact on the landscape of preparation for the large scale building development.
Interesting that entry to the AOP Student Awards 2020 has to be in one of three categories, people/places/things, that mirrors the long established, but clearly questionable, portraits/landscape/still life distinction considered here.
Harris, A., Hollinghurst, A. & Smith, A. 2018. Tacita Dean: Landscape, Portrait, Still Life. London: Royal Academy of Arts.
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.
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).
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.
The purpose of the tutorial was to take stock and set a clear direction for production of the FMP outcomes. Whilst the individual projects are moving forward, I want to allow them to take their own course (with their own timescales) and to view them as a resource for my over-riding (clearly defined) FMP project, which by necessity has to be completed by May 2020. The diversity and complexity of the projects provides a rich set of possibilities in terms of the focus for the project. The challenge at this point in time is to clearly define the direction and outcomes of the project.
We discussed possible over-arching themes for the FMP project. The relationship between the natural and built environment and human activity (and, in particular, the ‘pushing back’ of the natural environment against human exploitation) appears to have most potential (for instance, in relation to the history of flooding of the marshland on which the Thames View, Thames Reach and Riverside estates are built, the recent fire on Riverside, the destruction of trees on the Gascoigne Estate, the pollution of land in the area by the coal-fired power station and other industrial units and so forth). This can be addressed through collaboration with selected participants in the micro-projects, and will involve archival work, environmental portraits, quotations, sound recordings, personal and official documents, photographs of the natural and built environment and of human activity relating to the place, developer and other images of current and future building, including CGIs. The work could focus on something like eight themes spanning both inter-twined environmental and human concerns (for instance, flood, fire, infestation, environment damage, mental health, migration, communication, isolation). Each theme could have a collaborator/informant, and would include material relating to their life world, trajectory and aspirations. The work could be presented as a multi-modal installation (see earlier discussion of the work of Edmund Clark and Janet Lawrence, for instance). The aim would be to invoke a sense of the relationships being explored, not a literal description. For that reason, and because of the complexity of the relationships, the exhibition (or other output) would not be explicitly themed (which raises the question of how to organise the work – do, for instance, I cluster the the biographical and archival material around the related composite image, what text is used and how, what is the relative scale of the images, and so on).
Specific issues raised in the tutorial:
I should use a sketchbook for exploration of both the images to be made and the layout of exhibitions and other public outputs;
I could create a zine mock-up or similar for each of the themes/clusters of work, to explore ways of editing, sequencing and presenting the material.
think about the ways in which the images will be presented, and experiment with alternatives (for instance, the use of projection). Need to take care over costs. Might think about a website, and other ways of creating resources for the online submission of the the final project.
of the exhibition spaces explored, the Warehouse looks most promising in terms of flexibility. Another possibility is the new block at Barking and Dagenham College, where the Photography programme is housed, and which is in the process of being fitted out and occupied. There are a number of places where a temporary exhibition might be possible.
check out work by Noemie Goudal (I saw her work in London last year). Particularly interesting is the scale of the work, and the use of frameworks and other structures for display. Her website includes lots of installation shots and is a good source of ideas.
make more environmental images. Look at Gillian Wearing’s remaking of Durer’s weed paintings (for the video work Crowd, 2012) in relation to the exploration of plants and boundaries along Footpath 47.
explore portraiture further. I am doing this as part of the work with the TWCP Citizen Action Group.
Not primarily photography focused, but interesting in relation to my theme of community engagement with the arts. I accompanied a group of 50 Level 2 and 3 Art and Design students from Barking and Dagenham College on an evening visit to the Gormley exhibition. This included entry to the exhibition and a number of workshops exploring themes from the exhibition and from Gormley’s work more broadly.
The exploration of the body in/as space/place relates to one aspect of my project. For Gormley, two dimensional work acts as a precursor to (but not studies for) his final three dimensional pieces. It was particularly interesting to see his sketchbooks, in which he has worked through and sketched out ideas for potential work (some of which is included in the exhibition).
These are displayed as four chronological periods, and there are distinct differences in form and content over time. The most recent notebooks are more dense, and contain schematics for exhibitions as well as exploratory drawings and text for new works. My own exploratory work tends to be in the form of photographs, and my notebooks (I am keeping a notebook specifically for the FMP) are predominantly textual. I am coming from photography and writing to visual arts, and therefore drawing is not a foundational practice (as it is for others on the course, who have had a more conventional arts education). This prompts me to explore more visual forms of exploration and preparation for photograph work (for instance, in understanding what makes particular combinations of images work in the channel mixing process, and how I might plan the production of images more effectively for this process – important in using large format film. Weirdly, this is on the shelf next to me in the library as I write this.
A message to get more visual: my notebooks should become sketchbooks. In a conversation today, a photographer friend (who followed the conventional art school route) observed that I was using the MA as a kind of foundation course, which I suppose I am.
The workshops offered to the students were loosely structured and exploratory (using clay, exploring augmented reality, life drawing, making zines and 3D montages). The students were great, and really got involved, and seemed to enjoy the experience. It raised for me, though, the question about how to engage the public with art practice, in a way that gives greater access to the principles of production of artistic work (particularly important for those who, perhaps, don’t have the same degree of social and cultural capital as others who feel more at ease in these settings). The experience certainly seemed to make an institution like the RA more accessible. The scale of the education programme is remarkable, with workshops running every Monday and a target of 1000 participants per evening (it is sponsored by BNP Paribas, who cover the cost of transport and food, as well as the workshops). The group from the college that went on an earlier trip were fortunate to have a workshop run by Gormley himself.
Today I am exploring the possibility of exhibiting work and running a workshop at a local community arts and maker space. The challenge is to design the workshop in a way that engages participants in collaborative activity and also gives them confidence and agency as producers of artistic/photographic work, which requires a balance between guidance and autonomy, and a sharing of expertise.
‘The path of least resistance leads to elegant solutions’ Brian Eno, Oblique Strategies.
Seminar with Frances Scott, and showing/discussion of her film PHX [X is for Xylonite]. The film is the outcome of a collaborative project between UCL and Bow Arts focussing on plastics in the industrial heritage of the River Lea area. There was also an exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery and a publication (Vickers and Hill, 2019). The project provides a good example of a multi-disciplinary exploration of a theme (in this case plastics), spanning the arts, sciences and social sciences. It also focuses on a specific area of east London and explores the industrial history of the area around Hackney Wick (which includes buildings, now demolished, that I photographed in the first module). Frances works with a Bolex hand cranked camera and 100 ft reels of 16mm film, which she bucket processes. The use of film here is apposite as Xylonite (Ilford bought Xylonite for the process) came to be rebranded as celluloid, the material base for film. The film incorporates archival material and accounts. Objects from collections are incorporated by 3D laser scanning (fast scanning leads to degraded object images, mirroring the decaying of early plastic objects) and photogrammetry. The work is created by a process of ‘stitching together’. Frances tends to ‘let the material determine the process’.
Local people were involved in the steering group, and visits to archives and local sites were organised. Polymer chemists and other experts were involved in the process. An exhibition was organised around museum objects and artistic responses to these by Slade students.
Vickers, N. and Hill, S. (eds) 2019. Raw Materials: Plastics (Exploring the industrial heritage of the River Lea through a series of materials). London: Bow Arts.
The first relates to the relationship between Latham’s photographs, archival (including police) photographs, texts and artefacts. These are combined to suggest not just that that there are multiple conflicting accounts, but that accounts (and the place of photography in relation to these) are contingent, uncertain and unstable. Whilst some of Latham’s photographs revisit earlier archival images, they do not remake, or rephotograph, places and scenes, but rather revisit and re-present the place. In some cases, the places have undergone dramatic change, in other cases images of the people, and things, that now populate the landscape are presented. Images are presented out of sequence and in different forms and formats, to disorientate and disrupt in the manner of the forms of interrogation utilised. The materials provide a resource for, but don’t dictate, the construction of narratives. As Latham stated in discussion, he wants to thwart our tendency to ‘bend images to fit narratives’. Alongside each other the different forms of material prompt us to raise questions, rather than constitute a single narrative or an unambiguous description. In my own project I have to think carefully about the relationship between different elements, and the complex relationships between people, places, things and different accounts.
The second relates to the relationship between the different realisations of the project. The exhibition and the book are clearly very different ways of engaging with the work (and the discussion between the photographer and other participants in the project is yet another). Moving around the gallery makes the investigation of the narratives easier than the linear structure of the book. The scale of of the photographs and the juxtaposition in space are also to the fore in the gallery space (pictures are in clusters, next to each other, opposite each other, obscured and revealed by movement around the space. On the other hand, the book offers a tactile experience, accentuated by the use of different papers (including sugar-paper), gatefolds and french folds, loose images, text on transparent papers and so on. This mirrors my earlier discussion of the the relationship between film Island and the related installation.
The third aspect relates to the relationship between the photographer and the participants in the project (also raised in the guest lecture by Sebastian Bruno this week, who initially made his work with minimal engagement with the community, but latterly has adopted a more collaborative approach). The project required close collaboration with the people imprisoned and those involved in seeking justice. Latham mentioned that he sought the agreement of the people involved before the final edit of the book was approved (he arranged to have a meal with everyone and went through the edit with them). This emphasised the importance of engaging collaborators in deciding the form that are taken by the outcomes of the project.
The fourth relates to consideration of what it is possible for photography to achieve, and how it might contribute to a multi-disciplinary investigation (such as this project, which involves psychologists, forensic investigators, ‘conspiracy theorists’ and others). Latham is clear about the limitations of photography to tell stories, and raises questions, for me, about whether ‘telling stories’ should be a primary aspiration for photographers. Rawlinson refers to Allan Sekula’s advocacy of the use of sequences of photographs through which to create a narrative. Latham’s work operates in a different way. His aesthetically and technically accomplished images are woven into the other material to produce multiple narratives. Their contribution is distinct, and arguably could not have been achieved by any other form expression/(re)presentation. The images alone do not form a narrative, nor do they provide, in themselves, illumination or analysis. They do, though, draw us into engagement with the people and places depicted, and their part in the overall complex of narratives. They also disrupt assumptions about placed he passage of time. The success of this, for me, has its foundations in Latham’s modesty about what photography alone can achieve, and inquisitiveness about how these achievements can be enhanced within a multi-disciplinary, and multi-modal, project. This is at the heart of my own project, which seeks to explore what, distinctively, photography can contribute, both as a practice and outcomes, in multi- and inter-disciplinary work.
MIRRA (Memory-Identity-Rights in Records-Access) is a participatory action research project exploring access to records for people who grew up in care. Care-leavers commonly have gaps in their memories of childhood, and lack images and artefacts from periods of their lives. Care records provide a potential source of material. However, the records kept by local authorities and others concerned with the management of care describe the trajectories of children in a way which is designed to meet bureaucratic requirements, without any concern for the voices of the ‘subjects’ of these records. The project helps care-leavers not only access their care records, but also interpret the records and emotionally come to terms with what is recorded, how it is recorded and what is not recorded. It also campaigns for more human-centred (rather than bureaucratic) forms of record keeping. The relevance to my project is that these records constitute an official bureaucratic account of the minutiae of everyday life by the ‘corporate parent’ in the interests of compliance, and as a result present a particular form of description of individual lives (a ‘paper self’) on which important decisions are made. This is similar to the role of quantitative data in housing development in the areas I am exploring. In the same way that I am trying to use photographic art to produce a counter to this, the project is seeking a more ‘human-centred’ form of record keeping, and in particular, a way of recording the life courses of looked after children that gives voice, and ownership, to these children, which has the capacity to hold ‘personal memory objects’ (such as photographs and valued objects). When the records are requested by individuals, they are usually in heavily redacted form, with large sections of text blacked out for confidentiality reasons. This is unsettling for care leavers, in giving the impression that there are aspects of their own lives, and decisions that have been made and recorded, that are being deliberately withheld from them.
The attempt being made here to question official forms of record keeping (and the image of a person that is projected as a result of this) and to develop a way of keeping records that gives greater voice an agency to the person and more appropriately, and openly, provides an account of their lives, resonates with my project. At the community level this is similar to the images of a community projected by accounts given, for instance, in compulsory purchase orders and through quantitative social progress indicators, a raises the question of how communities can record and communicate who they are and what they do, and within this the role that can be played by photographic images (and the practices of photography).
A further issue concerns the move to digital forms of record keeping, which has had the effect of fragmenting and obscuring accounts. Agencies rarely use the same systems for making digital records, and often these are incompatible making it difficult to compile a single consistent record. This is further compounded by the out-sourcing of care to private and third sector agencies, whose records may not be in the public domain and thus not allow right of access. The proposal made by the project is for the co-creation of records, and ownership for the individual. A physical (analogue/material) form would seem most appropriate, given that development of a common digital system is unlikely, and the limitations of digital forms for evocation of memory and longer term transportability across systems and formats. This brings to mind the use of portable archives and meaningful objects by migrant communities.
Paul Strohm (2014), in Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury, identifies the cultivation of, and through performance direct engagement with, an audience, as vital to the practice and status of the medieval poet. In moving from London to Kent, Chaucer lost his audience, albeit intimate and small in number. His solution, in Strohm’s account, was novel and transformative. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer created his own audience for his writing within the text itself, by making the thirty pilgrims an audience for, and commentators on, each other’s stories. The pilgrims come from different walks of life, and the stories differ in form and content. In seeking a form of direct address to mobilise his narrative, Chaucer’s artistic breakthrough is, according to Strohm, to create ‘a body of ambitiously mixed participants suitable for a collection of tales unprecedented in their variety and scope … a portable audience’ (227) enabling Chaucer to produce a work of art that places itself ‘beyond the vagaries of time and circumstance’ (228). ‘The idea starts with a mixed company of Pilgrim tale-tellers. From this mixed company issues the form of the work: It will be serial, multivoiced, stylistically mixed, many-themed, and contentious’ (228).
I’m reflecting on this as I plan the protocols for working with different groups on my micro-projects. It prompts me to consider the extent to which diversity both within and between groups can be reflected in the forms of visual outcomes. Chaucer’s literary strategy provides a way of managing this diversity, in constituting each group as both producers and an audience for, and interlocutors with, what is produced. This allows the space, in each group, to produce diverse forms of constituent images and collective outcomes, and makes the fieldwork a generative enterprise. The outcomes will be ‘multivoiced, stylistically mixed, many-themed’ and are likely to be ‘contentious’ (particularly where the perceptions and experiences of individuals and groups lie in opposition to, or diverge from, those of, for instance, the local authority and developers). The work produced is thus presented to an audience in the process of production, and potentially transformed. It is formalised in the creation of a pop-up exhibition, with the prospect of enlarging the audience. The outcomes are unlikely to be serial, in the sense of a manuscript of Chaucer’s work, unless the constituent projects are presented, in part or whole, as books or other linear forms (which presents another dimension of challenge).
Thinking of the groups and the work produced in these terms strengthens the collaborative nature of the process, and allows the meaningful production of a range of forms of image. It also reinforces the poetic/lyrical nature of the project (rather than the third party construction and mediation of narratives).
Paul Strohm (2014), Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury, New York: Viking.