Thames Valley OCA Group : 31st May 2014

Thames Valley Group Meeting : 31st May 2014

Reviewing ongoing work

The morning session provided three presentations of work. John showed us his ongoing work on using image with text in the context of “Open Work” as described by Umberto Eco in his collection of essays on The Open Work (originally published in 1962) and the decision of an artist to leave some elements of the work open to the public or to chance. I knew of open work in relation to Stockhausen’s music but no more than that.

Eco’s theory is more specific than accepting that any text is open to multiple interpretations according to the reader. What I was aware of was the amount of effort I put into attempting to relate John’s text to his images in my search for meaning. We also talked about how text can contradict what appears to be the meaning of an image. I have read Eco’s novels the Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum but his theoretical writing seems dense and complex and, at this stage, I don’t think I want to be too immersed in attempting to understand it. I know that John will continue working on this and so I will look to this to provide me with a base for a beginning understanding, although I suspect that Eco is going to be whispering in my ear and saying, “Come and talk with me”. I also began to think about my own need for clarity of expression and how my approach is more direct. I’m sure I could learn other ways of conceptualising my work.

We also looked at Richard’s first Assignment for Level 2 Documentary and putting together a theme through choice of particular moments in an amateur theatre production and Eddy’s self-portrayal of characteristics of himself as described by others.

Discussion Topic – Feminism

Some reading had been suggested and I was expecting that there’d be some heated discussion around attitudes towards women photographers and why they seem to be less successful. I also had in mind my separate discussions with Keith, John and Penny about women photographers and landscape – during which we had wondered whether male photographers tend more towards the ‘sublime’ whilst women photographers lean more towards the ‘intimate’. I intend to do more work on this in the future and, in the meantime keeping a visual record of research via Pinterest.

In the event we didn’t actually discuss feminism as such. Sharon asked us to write down some words associated with women first and share them. Mine were along the lines of cute, pink, soft, pretty, etc. Then she passed around books and magazines with images taken by women photographers and asked us to write impressions of what we saw. I saw/experienced:-

  • landscape from a distance
  • magnifying
  • sensual
  • women all fastened up
  • parodying the male gaze
  • replacing the male gaze with a female gaze
  • hidden
  • puzzling
  • violent
  • constricted
  • post-modern
  • cynical
  • trying to be like a man
  • emulating male photographers
  • using male photographers as a reference
  • emulating male photographers
  • women looking at women

There was so much difference there. I gave myself a mental note to particularly check on the work of Patricia Townsend and her work with landscape and Barbara Bloom. We also discussed a photograph that queries the notion of gender. I wrote down the name Jen Brill. A confusing image – just a hint of breast, androgynous, not attractive in a conventional sense yet fascinating.

We ended with a brief discussion on some of the difficulties in being a woman photographer – getting known, being overlooked in major exhibitions, being able to find the time and space to make the work. How can support be given? Sharon told us that there is a growth in mentoring of women by women and forming into peer groups for support. I have been keeping a note of collaborations and my impression has been that this seems more organic and flowing – women coming together for a particular purpose then separating – rather than ongoing groups. I could well be wrong on this though and will have to do more research.


A thought-provoking session that widened my view of women and photography. I was beginning to believe that I could tell if a photograph was taken by a woman. Sometimes I can but I realised that mostly I can’t.


31st May 2014



Patricia Townsend: Less references to her on the web. This is her university site. Her work is obviously reflective and highly conceptualised. Barbara Bloom Another conceptual artist working in a wide range of media. Also here. Another photographer who has explored representations of the feminine is Susan Trangmar  and she carries this into landscape here  where she features the figure of a woman looking at the landscape with her back to the camera. “The viewer is invited to make an identification with the view through her eyes while at the same time being of a ‘blind spot’ in the visual field caused by her physical presence. Of course, there could just as well be a photograph by a male photographer of a male viewer. It’s the fact that this subject is a woman that makes a difference. Last year I did a series of photographs of people looking at the same view:-

I hadn’t thought of having just women as subjects though as I was more interested in the aspect of looking than the lookers. I’m thinking that I don’t even have the beginning of a feminist visual viewpoint. If I start to develop it then I’ll be doing it consciously and I’m wondering how that will affect the way I work.

Re Jen Brill, a web search informs me that she is a fashion model and photo agent. This  is one of the web sites I found – an interview,   Interestingly enough the photographer is Tierney Gearon who I’ve written about before. I hadn’t taken on board that she did commercial work as well. I read more and she’s an ex-ballet dancer and model so will obviously have an understanding of that world to take into her photography apart from the personal work she does. Whilst I’m writing about models – one aspect that has always irritated me is that the actual models in magazines are very rarely credited in them and I think that’s very wrong.

I have also just discovered Patricia Heal through Yiannitsa, another of my OCA student colleagues. Heal has found a way of inserting herself into her landscape images in such a way to create a visual dialogue with them.


16th October 2014