3a. Exercise – The Memory

Here’s the story:-

I was born and brought up in the same area of Sheffield, called Southey A large estate of council houses built in the late 1920s and among the first to be built and, when I left home, my parents continued to live there until they moved into a new house in a different area around 1976 which meant that I never returned to Southey even though I could have done. After this I had regular recurring dreams where I was going in and out of various houses on the street and walking around the shops where I used to spend quite a lot of time, either doing the shopping for my mum or just hanging around. I know that probably the dreams were about something else – me sorting out my new place in the world or something like that – but it was a kind of comforting dream.

My dad died in 1986 and, for some reason, I decided to go back to Southey and drive around all the streets; past the house where I had been born, the house nearby where we went to live when I was about 7, my infant and junior schools and the shops. It was so depressing! Everywhere looked as if it was going into decline and uncared for. In fact it seemed quite a scary place to drive around. Some shops were boarded-up and the post office had iron grids across the windows. I was told by relatives who had also lived there in the past that, as the housing stock had deteriorated, the Council had moved in tenants with problems etc and so the vicious cycle continued.

Those comforting dreams went away and I missed them. Instead I kept having dreams that my dad was still alive after all only to wake up and realise the loss all over again. My mum died not long afterwards and I didn’t go back to Southey until 2002 when everything looked even worse and then again in 2011, during which time I had started studying with the OCA. I think I was going through Gestalt cycle of trying to complete.

2011 was a shock in a different way. A Regeneration Project  had been agreed (instead of pulling down the whole estate and starting again) and so the whole area looked refreshed and cleaner and those houses that are for sale are a surprisingly high price.

However, the large shopping area was just about defunct. I think about two of the shops were still in existence along the one-stop lines and the others were blank shells of their former selves. A Community Centre had been built in one of the four greens and the other greens had been landscaped see here . That was good as previously large hedges had prevented access. But there was no community feel, only one or two people walking around, with quite a few of the shops being taken over (heavily protected it seemed) by an organisation called 4G which provides access to services and activities. To me any sense of community was lost.

I walked into the Community Centre, introduced myself and asked a few questions. The closure of the Post Office and other shops, with availability of a supermarket in another area was given as the reason for ‘lack of community feel’ but I think it was more than that. To me it was as if there was an inertia to actually create something within the shopping area itself, something to bring the shops open and alive in different forms maybe but as more of an open hub where people would meet and greet each other, pass time together. I was thinking of ideas similar to the country market idea, places where people could sell their own produce etc. Maybe the Project and already thought of ideas like that but discounted them.

I went away feeling sad at all those changes and intended to create a project around ”Reconnections”, including visits to Derbyshire where I used to go for family weekends when I was small and rambles when I was older. In September 2012 I took some of the images with me to the OCA Student Residential in Leeds and received a lot of encouragement to go ahead and create the Project. I still haven’t done it. Something has been holding me back. I think part of it was thinking that time has passed and I should go back and re-photograph because maybe there have been further improvements. I did go back in July last year when I visited Sheffield again to go and see the OCA photography Exhibition. Everything looked the same and more lifeless somehow – even the Community Centre.  I’ve tried web searches several times but haven’t been able to find any up-to-date information on what’s happening in the area.

Recreating a childhood memory

If I was going to go back and do it all over again I think I would actually be taking a documentary style approach and comparing my memories with those of people living in the area, particularly the older generation, and then newer residents. I have recently been experimenting with self-portraits and so I could photograph myself as I am now in front of the two houses I lived in, the shopping area and the Park. I don’t have any photographs of the area itself from my childhood although I have found some in the Sheffield archives. All of this would need careful planning, with some networking for with local residents – probably via the Community Centre.

Another idea could be an audio walk but then I’d probably have to use a video camera. I’m envisaging something like the work of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller . If I’m to be in the video as well though I’d have to have a partner operating the video. A further alternative, and less intrusive, would be for me to wear my GoPro camera, with a separate microphone clipped to my clothing. I could walk around the area recollecting memories. For example, I could say something like “This shop used to be called Shentalls, and I went there every Saturday for my mum, with shopping basket in hand. I used to have to stand so long in the different queues that I often almost fainted” (that’s true!). If I’m still concerned about reactions of local residents then I could do something similar but with the GoPro camera on my car windscreen.

A less complicated option would be to photograph myself in the present environment but holding a photograph of me when I was younger. Alternatively, I could write on the photographs themselves. Given that I’m not currently planning another visit, and in the interests of keeping it simple (as this is just an exercise). Here are the images I utilised:-

The Shopping area (in the late 1960s/early 1970s I think) as a reminder

Longley Shops (Southey avenue) edit 8x4 web

Me as a child

These are from weekends in the country, but they fit my mood. I think that small me, Catherine Anne (with an ‘e’)  looks a little bit anxious and intense (in fact I wanted to give myself a hug and say, “Everything is going to be okay sweetheart”.) It might have been that I wasn’t keen on being photographed; probably had more important things to do, like play with the others – who knows!

Now

The shopping area

Recreation of the memories

a.Writing on a photograph

Southey Close 8x6 web 2

b. Compositing/Layering

I was immediately presented with the mix of older b+w and new colour images. I therefore took two of the more recent images, converted them to mono and then used them as background for composites. I followed the instructions in Kelby (2015, pp 211) to remove my child self from her backgrounds and insert into new ones in Photoshop CC. I then used Nik Silver Efex Pro to convert the images to a soft sepia. I still then had to use the blur tool in Photoshop on my small self as I was standing out too much from the background.

They aren’t ever so successful and I know I need more practice on this technique. What I’m hoping I captured somehow is that inner child of my adult self that was so shocked at seeing the denuded shopping area. In fact I started this blog post the day before yesterday and I woke up yesterday morning feeling quite depressed. It was if a large part of my childhood had just disappeared – first the dreams about it and then the actual shops.

I know I’m being illogical and self-centred because the regenerated area as a whole must be so much nicer for people to live in and they do have a supermarket to go to somewhere else. Probably not having local shops anymore, apart from two one-stops doesn’t really bother them. It’s harder though now for me to remember those shops from when I was younger and the sense of community, with people being busy about their daily lives, stopping for a chat and to get up to date with the latest gossip. I really have to think myself quite deeply into a sensation of going inside them to recall the memory. I don’t think a Community Centre can really replace that kind of spontaneity because it’s too organised and structured.

Maybe that’s the problem with memories and reconnections through photographs. I recall Keith saying his memories are like photographs, and there is a view that people might think they remember an event but it’s the photographs of them that somehow ‘create’ a false memory. Well – I don’t have any photographs from those times of the shops or of me going into them but I definitely have memories of shopping!

I’m thinking at the moment that photographs can be a double-edged sword. A photograph of now on a happy occasion can play a large part in replacing older, negative, more traumatic memories, but the reverse can happen. Looking at these photographs has really made me realise at a deep level that I’ve moved far, far away from that little girl who lived on a council estate and did the shopping every week for her mum. Sheffield no longer gives me any sense of home.  All of it has altered so much and it’s as if someone else lived there not me.

There are other old photographs though that have made me realise why I have such a connection with landscape and that’s another of the options I have for Assignment 3.

References

Kelby, S (2015) The Adobe Photoshop CC Book New Riders, US

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110118095356/http:/www.cabe.org.uk/files/hmr14b.pdf
http://www.landscapeprojects.co.uk/sheffield-parks/
http://www.cardiffmiller.com/artworks/walks/longhair.html .

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Exercise – Recreate a Childhood Memory in a Photograph

Recreate a childhood memory in a photograph. Think carefully about the memory you choose and how you’ll recreate it. You’re free to approach this task in any way you wish.

 

Many memories. Here are a few:

  • Waking up in the night, hearing engines overhead and aware of my Nan getting out of her bed. “Are they angels?” I asked. “No, they’re Germans”, was her reply. Being carried downstairs (my parents around I think). Hearing sirens and then hearing a cockerel crow as we walked down the road to a neighbour’s house.
  • Posing against a fence for a photo to send to Daddy who was far away.
  • Being fascinated by the clock with the glass cover and the pendulum going round and round and my Nan saying she’d leave it to me in her will.
  • Going to the cupboard at Nan ‘s house and getting out her button box to have a rummage through. Why was I so fascinated with them I’m wondering now?
  • Seeing the flat irons warming on their ledge over the oven in the living-room fireplace.
  • Milly Molly Mandy books – my favourites when I was small.

I wrote these down yesterday afternoon so, of course, now other memories have re-surfaced and one of them has led me to have some reservations about re-creating memories………

 

6th August 2015

 

Project Three

Context & Narrative Part Three

Project 3

Self-absented portraiture

Telling the viewer something of who I am. Using other people as stand-ins, in a metaphorical sense, or conveying self by other means. We’re given these examples to look at:-

Maria Kapajeva

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

An ongoing project to ‘open debate on imagery of women in contemporary society in the context of the historical, cultural bias and the global changes we are each going through’. Portraits of her peers, represented a new generation of young intellectuals who are unafraid to take risks or to break the rules. Women photographed in their own working environment. Looking at the camera with clear eyes. Looking ready to engage and debate.

I read the Photoparley article where Kapajeva talked about her creative process with Sharon Boothroyd and the changes she has made to follow her passion for photography . From Estonia, she went to the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham to study photography – leaving her job and own flat to start from scratch.

I was interested in the way she talked about two ways of working as an artist – to “ …. start from a technique and develop/master/transform it” or “to start from an idea and find a technique for it”. She thinks most of her works follow the latter path and I think that’s my path as well. Kapajeva also says that it isn’t her intention to involve herself in her work as the main character, although she is in it of course as it’s her work. I was so pleased to read as well her comment about the massive volume of information artists all confront and how we need to learn how to select the right subject and focus on it. I was complaining a while ago about how photography teaching must have changed so much over the years because there are so many more photographers to learn about and absorb.

I was also fascinated by the way in which Karpajeva used the technique of cross-stitching and quilting for her series I Am Usual Woman – making a quilt from a selection of website images that recommend how women seeking husbands should be photographed. She links this with the distinction between creative work done by men and women in the European and Russian side of the world e.g. painting icons is a most privileged art for men whilst women are unrecognised for the embroidering they do for domestic items and for the church. Karpejeva uses such creative ideas to continually look at and question the way in which cultures shape and view women and how women respond to this.

Sophie Calle

Take Care of Yourself (2007)

I wrote about this work here . The 107 views on the email from her lover add layers and layers of meaning and subtlety to the work. It’s almost like exposure therapy to desensitize response to such an email, as well, of course, as heaping reprimands on the head of the its writer! That apart, in my own experience, it’s the kind of thing that women often do with their friends when such a situation occurs so there’s an air of reality to it even though (I’m guessing) it was all carefully orchestrated. Quite a collaborative effort.

Anna Fox

I wrote about her here  and that post  includes a link to a video of Fox talking about the Cockroach Diary and other work. Looking at Cockroach Diary again, I’m reminded that this project “marked the start of her exploration of autobiographical story telling, and her questioning of the power of the camera in documentary practice”. Remember – to her, documentary is ‘telling a story about the truth’, which fits with the genre that seems to be named more regularly now as ‘subjective documentary’.

Nigel Shafran

Washing Up (2000)

There’s mention in the Handbook of captions and I’m sure I’ve seen some somewhere where he names what was eaten – maybe it’s in the book. Shafran uses everyday scenes of daily life and “gives the viewer a point of resonance and a sense of shared experience in the commonplace activity of ‘doing the washing up’”. I actually looked closely at the images to work out if it was the same areas in different lights/times of day or different ones but couldn’t come to a conclusion on that.

Exercise

  • Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? Why?
  • In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?
  • What does this series achieve by not including people?
  • Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

To be honest, no thought came into my head concerning the gender of the person who made these photographs. I live with a man who does the washing up and other household chores (more often than I do sometimes) and is also a keen photographer, can quite easily imagine him taking a photograph of the washing up. I didn’t think it was a woman either because I was too busy wondering what the rest of the house/flat looked like! Looking at other series on Shafran’s website I was very taken with Ruth on the Phone (1995-2004) because my husband could create a book of his many photographs over the years of me at the computer (think he’s trying to give me a message but we won’t go into that!).

Does gender contribute to the creation of an image? I think it can. I’ve certainly had discussions with fellow students regarding landscapes and whether women make different photographs.  Of course we’ve also had discussions regarding ‘the gaze’ and whether a woman’s gaze is different from that of a man. I’ve recently been reading a lot about Francesca Woodman and whether she was a femininist photographer or not. Would someone look at my photographs and think they had been taken by a woman rather than by a man? If so why? I’d be interested to know whether my work is seen as ‘feminine’. Bearing in mind of course that I have written, and taken photographs, as a man (see Assignment 2)

I think the absence of people can provide a more blank canvas upon which the viewer can project their own story. Do I regard the images as interesting ‘still life’ compositions? I wouldn’t have called them that. If anything I would see them as documentary images. It’s may well be that Shafran arranged the kitchen areas in those particular ways but they don’t look ‘arranged’, they look natural, almost banal and yet interesting for all that. They have a certain professional style about them so couldn’t be called vernacular photography. Remembering of course that Shafran has also worked in the commercial photography world and so he can bring those techniques into play.  I’ve thought about that previously when looking at the work of Laura Letinsky whose work also alludes to the presence of people in domestic spaces whilst not including them. Letinsky also does commercial work. I’m thinking at the moment that the difference is to do with lighting. Her style is different though and not auto-biographical. I have previously written that I want to experiment more with her work and will post some images in due course.

Back to Nigel Shafran – I found him an enjoyable photographer to follow and there’s an interview here from 2009 that I enjoyed watching where he talks about his photography books. Shafran’s work does prove that even the most ordinary environment can be made interesting if you have the right skills and creative approach. I also think he’d be a good photographer to talk with about creating photo books.

Some interim conclusions

On the theme of – what have I absorbed for myself from looking at these photographers?

  • Using other forms of Art and Craft to add to the layers of photographic work. I’m very much attracted towards that but have this anxiety regarding ‘not being artistic’ which leads to fear of failure.
  • Getting other people to engage in a collaborative project, whilst still remaining ‘producer/director’ overall.
  • An autobiographical project is subjective but it can also have universal application. To me it’s important as well to retain my own sense of truth even though viewers may add their own layer of perception to it. Additionally I think it’s also important to know when I’m steering away from my own sense of self-truth to add the colour of drama to my work.
  • Ordinary life and reality can provide stories just as interesting as dramatic events.

Of course, I was led on to looking at other photographers and adding to my evergrowing Pinterest Boards and collection of PDFs (and books!). I’ll refer to some of these when writing about research for Assignment 3 and won’t forget about Laura Letinsky.

5th August 2015

 

References

https://vimeo.com/17770986

http://lauraletinsky.com

http://www.mariakapajeva.com

http://www.mariakapajeva.com/a-portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-woman/

http://nigelshafran.com

http://nigelshafran.com/category/washing-up-2000-2000/page/13/

https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/maria-kapajeva/

 

Context and Narrative Part 3: Projects One and Two

Context and Narrative Part 3

Putting Yourself in the Picture

Here I am on Part 3. I know I’ve been holding back a little but this is mainly due to feeling unfinished on my Assignment 2 because I’m still having ideas about presentation for Assessment. I also got myself stuck on ‘searching for Francesca Woodman in her images’ and decided that I was spending too much time on this and will save it for completion at a later date.

Part 3 concerns putting myself in the picture one way or another in its widest sense. My understanding of this is that it’s not just a case of being both subject and object but portraying aspects of my inner and outer world through my own eyes – both literally and metaphorically. This isn’t new to me because I’ve done this in one way during Part Two and through the Assignment.

I’ve looked at the Assignment brief for Part 3 and started my diary several weeks ago which is really a continuation of the one I started during Part 2 but with a different approach. The earlier one was about ideas for fictional stories, although containing aspects of me of course, but the new one is more focussed on ‘me’. I’m actually finding this new diary quite boring and the phrase that keeps coming over and over again into my head is, “I lead a quiet life nowadays”. There’s no way that I’ve been able to write two or three pages a day, even in the equivalent of handwriting! It isn’t that I feel bored, just that my life is more sedate nowadays and I’m not driving around meeting and interacting with a lot of different people.

I have a few ideas for Assignment 3 at present abut have decided to wait until I’ve worked through the reading and exercises etc. Hopefully further inspiration will strike!

Project 1 – Autobiographical self-portraiture
(Using yourself to say something about yourself)

The Handbook suggests we look at several photographers who use self-portraiture in a variety of ways. I won’t be writing about Francesca Woodman in this post because I got almost obsessively involved with her, her images, and her life-story. Due to this I acquired a large amount of references and readings and I need to distil my thoughts from all this.

Keith Greenough

Keith’s Iron Man series was about his involvement with the Iron Man Triathlon – long distance races consisting of swimming, a bicycle ride and a marathon, in that order, without a break, and within a strict time limit . Keith explored this through a series of portraits of ‘senior’ triathletes (all over 45) but also through I am an ironman as he came in from training. He presented this as a video and also through a composite portrait. This series continued his exploration into strategies used by portrait photographers to ‘disarm the pose’ of their subjects. He was making himself the subject of his own experiments.

The work that most interested me was his composite portrait. I think because it gives movement to the image. Keith is so full of energy and I’ve rarely seen him ‘still’, therefore the composite, for me, captures the essence of him as opposed to his outward appearance. What would my view be if I didn’t know him quite well? A difficult question. I’d certainly be asking questions as to why, at a more mature age, he chose to pursue this type of sport; what drives him – a subject that obviously leads into documentary.

Elina Brotherus

I wrote about Elina Brotherus here .  I do think she was brave to agree to this series being exhibited in the Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity Exhibition and can only imagine what it must have been like for her to undergo IVF treatment; to begin with hope and then for the attempts to fail. She is certainly speaking for a wider audience here. Would they listen and would her being naked make them pay attention to her work and the accompanying explanation, or would her nakedness turn people away? To begin with I queried the naked pose although now, today, and after listening to her talk last year about her experience, I can see how her naked body adds to that sense of being unarmed, not equipped to cope with such a loss of hope.

I have looked again at Model Studies and noticed how carefully she places herself in the frame and how her skin tone and/or clothes are mirrored by the environment within which she places herself. I also noted that the landscape itself is always beautiful to look at. The landscape I visit is more mundane, everyday on the whole. It’s a small landscape that I can pretend I own as I walk through it. The challenge for me would be to create images that would be interesting for people to look at.

Gillian Wearing

A Gillian Wearing Exhibitions was amongst the first I visited as an OCA student and my write up on that Exhibition is here . This was the question I went with:

After my preparatory reading I noted down masks, sense of self; many different selves; unexpressed selves; boundaries; verbal/non-verbal; Erving Goffman; Eleanor Rigby, and showing yourself through your art.   I read Goffman many years ago and was entertained by his notion of the front and back stage personalities – that we all enact multiple roles in our lives. That was the biggest question I took with me to the Exhibition – is Gillian Wearing going to show me herself through her art – ‘communicate an inner life by proxy’ as her interviewer writes?

 I certainly didn’t get any sense of her as a person or really that she was questioning her role in her family history, or how her role within the family affected the person she is today. The masks made her look robotic, an android. The way people look when they are dead.

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for
(Lennon, J & McCartney, P. [1966]

One of the latest works (November 2014) I have found on an internet search is described here . Interestingly enough, the two ‘mums’ declined to give any details of their personal lives at the time, so there was a continuation of hiding in plain sight. And here  a C-type print Me as an Artist in 1984 Looking out at us through a mask of herself as a 21 year old, created from an old photograph. This is one of five pieces of work she entered for the Vincent Award, an international art prize. Of 50,000 euros. The Award was won by Anri Sala, the Albanian installation artist.

Project 2 – Masquerades

Nikki S. Lee

Born in 1970, in Korea, as Lee Seung-Hee, this photographer and film-maker came to New York in 1994 to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology and work as a fashion photographer’s assistant. She changed her name to a more American sounding one, perhaps showing her desire to become assimilated into this new Culture. Much of her work  has involved her in transforming herself to fit into various sub-cultures – Hispanic, Hip Hop, Tourists etc.

In an interview here  Lee refers to Buddhism and a saying along the lines of “I can be someone else and that someone else can be me as well”. Lee questions her own identity by including herself into other people’s identity. There’s that element of performance in her, acting into a different group. It’s interesting – I’ve never really wished I was someone else. I do remember though, at about the age of 12, wrapping a scarf around my head to see what I looked like as a nun , and then deciding I’d prefer to be an American Indian princess. The first was after exposure to religion in the form of the Christian Fellowship and the second after watching at the cinema (many times) the film Apache. Burt Lancaster was my hero and I obviously wanted to be Jean Peters!

I don’t get the sense that Lee is being voyeuristic or exploitative. I understand what she is exploring – the way in which in any new group we usually observe and work out how the group operates – what it is to be a part of that group – how can I be myself and yet be accepted. I think she is questioning this in addition to questioning the role of photography in the representation of reality.

For example, in gaining admission to a tight social circle, the participant observer may not only wear an accepting look while listening to an informant, but may also be careful to wear the same look when observing the informant talking to others; observers of the observer will then not as easily discover where he actually stands. (Goffman, 1959, p. 19)

Trish Morrissey

I think her work Front (2005-2007) is very interesting and, probably, if I could observe, it would be a lesson in persuasion/communication. Changing clothing, acting herself into the position of one of the women. Similar to Lee and yet more than that, more interactive, as Morrissey asked the woman she ‘replaced’ to take the photograph after some instruction. I would probably agree to a request for her to join us but it would depend what clothes she wanted to swap whether I agreed to that! I think my children would have enjoyed it.

In an earlier series Seven Years (2001-2004) Morrisey “aimed to deconstruct the trope of family photography by meticulously mimicking it”. Seven years was the age gap between herself and her sister and she staged herself and her sister in tightly controlled scenes based on conventional family photographs. She used props and clothing from earlier times with the family house as the ‘stage’. The colours look authentic although not so sure about the prints. I keep imagining what it must have been like; what conversations they had. Did they clear up any old rivalries/misunderstandings.

Tracey Moffat

Under the sign of Scorpio (2005)
I was interested to read here  that Moffat shot her series “…with a simple digital camera in my loft against a bed sheet curtain, and in my cramped awful bathroom. I then added the high-key supernatural coloured landscape backgrounds to the images in Photoshop on my computer”. She wanted a “very pop, almost comic book quality” to fit her proposition that the women she chose to represent are ‘pop figures’, part of the landscape of popular western culture.   As mentioned in C&N Handbook, p. 81, Moffat isn’t particularly convincing in these portrayals. She makes it obvious that she’s acting and uses the manipulated image to “raw attention to the limitations of photography’s role in the masquerade”. There’s something else for me about diminution of anything these women might have achieved in their lives – picking up their life’s work, trying it on like a costume, and then discarding it.

Moffat often uses clips from Hollywood movies in her work. The latest series (at least that I can find) is Spirit Landscapes (2013) which comprised five photographic series and a moving image work. In one of the series Pioneer Dreaming she uses grabs from ‘Cowboy movies’ – “The dreamy heroines gaze with love at ‘their country’, which is in fact stolen Indian land.

Conclusions

Overall I feel more connected with Morrissey’s work. To me it seems less of a performance and more of an exploration. I need to think about this more – what do I mean when I say this? I’m also thinking about age and wider cultural context. Moffat was born in 1960, Wearing was born in 1963, Morrissey was born in 1967 and Lee in 1970 –  in the time when feminism was taking hold, women were wanting to discover themselves. Who am I really? What do I want to be? Each of them in their own way brings roles, expectations and stereotypes to our attention using photography as the medium whilst also pointing out too that photography itself does not always reflect ‘reality’.

References

Goffman, E (1959) the Presentation of Self In Everyday Life London: Penguin Books Ltd
Lennon, J & McCartney, P (1966) Eleanor Rigby, (on “Revolver”) Parlophone

[Accessed on 03.08.2015]
http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/show/nikki-s-lee
http://www.elinabrotherus.com/photography/model-studies/
http://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/news/releases/2005/07/10/94/
https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/gillian-wearing-vincent-award
http://www.tonkonow.com/lee.html
http://www.trishmorrissey.com/