Talk by Chloe Dewe Matthews at UCA Farnham on 18th February 2016

I first heard Chloe Dewe Matthews talk at the Brighton Photo Festival in November 2014 and wrote about it near to the end of this post here. This new talk was arranged by John Umney, Level 3 student, organised by the OCA and then, through collaboration with UCA, Farnham, held in one of their lecture theatres . UCA students were also invited and three of the UCA Photography Department staff were in attendance.  The advertisement for the talk on weAreOCA included a link to this excellent video on the Vice site .

In fact, her talk very much covered the same ground being about her evolution as an artist using the medium of photography from being a Fine art Student studying conceptual sculpture at Ruskin College, Oxford. She recalled asking herself, after three years’ study, “What do I want to say about the world?”. After then working in the  Film industry for four years she left because she didn’t feel she was doing anything creative  Matthews became an assistant to some photographers  and it seems that not having a photography education somehow left her freer to take photographs and trust her own instincts rather than worrying if she was doing things the right way. She discovered there was a group of Hasidic Jews who spent holidays in Aberystwyth, Wales and her fascination with this, and how different people lead their lives, led to her creating a series Hasidic Holiday (2009). From there she created another series Banger Boys of Britain, being attracted by the sculptural aspects of the cars, and set up an exhibition in a car spraying workshop to create a ‘finishing point’. There ensued a period where she was trying to find a photographic language, teaching herself along the way and photographing things that caught her interest. She continued taking photographs during a long journey in 2010 hitchhiking with her boyfriend  from China to London – in China’s Wild West Xinjiang,  attempting to portray the lives of its minority population of Uighur Muslims  who were constantly ‘watching their backs’;  Kazakhstan workers constructing mausoleums for the rich class and holidaymakers along the Caspian Sea visiting Sanitoriums to have oil treatments.

As she became better known there were Commissions and a residency in St John’s College, Oxford to produce the work Shot at Dawn around the story of the British, German, French and Belgian soldiers shot for desertion during World War I. There was a lot of research involved in uncovering these hidden sites and histories as there are no monuments and families were shunned. The archives on German sites have been lost. In fact she said the series was actually 90% research. Matthews visited sites where this happened producing ‘late’ photography and creating a visual archive, as form of restitution, that evokes the tragedy of what happened. She achieved this through photographing this hidden history in dawn’s early light, in cool pale tones. Different outcomes were planned including a book and dedicated website and the series was included in the Exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography, shown in Edinburgh and Tate Modern, London.  Matthews explained that she was unable to speak to families so could only talk about the people by the places and  captions were essential

In addition to a long term project along the Thames Estuary (with an Exhibition due later this year) Matthews has been back to the Caspian region to do further work (with a book  due later this year) and most recently has undertaken a commission for Tate Modern responding to the Southwark area which she has discovered has the highest density of African Christianity. She talked of how the visual and audio landscape changes on Sunday. There are eleven churches on an industrial estate and she has kept going back to one particular church. The work produced includes video screens installed in a gallery in an ex-church, showing layers of church happenings (2015).


Chloe Dewe Matthews is a very interesting and engaging speaker and her enthusiasm for photography shines through. She made her development and recognition as a professional photographer sound an easy process but I think this probably belies a great deal of hard work, networking and communication of her ideas. It was interesting for me to see the difference in her images as well from the exuberance of Hasidic Holiday , Banger Boys and Sunday Church in Southwark to the quiet solemnity of the sites in Shot at Dawn. Here website is here  and her talk to us was also videoed and can be accessed here by OCA students




5. Johanna Ward : Talk on 6th December 2014

This event, in Thatcham,  was organised by the OCA Students Association and would involve Johanna talking about her work and then discussing students’ work with them.

The Talk

I Shall Say Goodbye with my Strengthening Love for You, Forever and Ever

A Handmade artists book in five volumes. Each volume a concertina of unfolding images, conveying a narrative from different places and time periods.

I saw those volumes spreading along a shelf at the Brighton Photography Festival and was fascinated by it. Johanna later said that people either love or hate it – some don’t get it at all. What seduced me? First the linear progression of the pages on the shelf then, drawing closer and seeing those images – not in a straight line but making different patterns of rectangles, squares etc. Even closer and seeing the soft colours first, then what they have captured. The colours and the repetition – like holding a candle in a darkened room and exploring what can be seen. The volumes contain a mix of images (new and old) in different formats with varied placement. A certain softness about them even when portraying a forest fire, death. Muted tones; a subdued palette; the sparseness of high key – something over that once began with words of love in letters; now entwined with a damaged landscape.

Johanna talked about the book as she stood in front of the looping video – pages slowly turning. I’m not sure whether this was a distraction or not. It gave a sense of events going round and round in her memory.

The book was created as part of the Masters Degree that she had decided to study to find out where she was as a photographer. She wanted to weave together many strands. An environmental story about trees and the death of trees with inspiration from the book Ragnarok: The End of the Gods (2012) a re-telling of a Norse myth by the author A.S. Byatt. ( which is entwined with the story of a young girl evacuated to the countryside during World War Two). Memories. A story about people, without showing people, using symbolism and metaphor. Trees dying and the destruction of the world, her own family being a microcosm, as her parents’ marriage had ended. The title is a sentence from a love letter written by her father to her mother before they married, and the spare text at the beginning and end of each volume is also taken from love letters so, in a sense, her dad is narrating the story through letters. All the images are hers – taken by herself (some constructed) or family photographs and her family agreed to the making of the book. I wonder how it made them feel looking at their story and knowing that so many strangers would do the same as they open and close each chapter.

Johanna said she was grateful to do the Talk; to find out more about herself and where she is going. She acknowledged that not everyone will agree the juxtaposition of landscape as metaphor to tell another multi-layered story. The issue of ‘truth’ was raised and her thought was that “Images are opinions not facts”. She also talked about the myth of the family album and how one chooses the juxtaposition of images. This reminded me of our ‘family’ album created many years ago when our children were younger. We (my husband and I) ended up not being able to agree which photographs should be placed within it. Our album has remained incomplete, as has our family in a sense as new configurations are formed as we all grow older.

Colours became important in the construction of the book. The first volume has green hues – Spring, young love, a white horse. Growth follows, then hues become colder as relationships change – the empty bed; animals fighting; the dead deer.  A query was raised about the use of the image of this skinned deer which, to me, comes as a ‘jolt’ in the book. Johanna said she wanted to have animal characters in the book and arranged to visit an abattoir (I think). Her intention was to photograph a dead animal with skin, however she saw the skinned deer and this seemed more apt. She talked about the serendipity of having a plan but then freeing oneself to fall into the moment.

The five ‘volumes’ can be read backwards or forwards and so one can oscillate between past and present. She talked about the difference between quiet and loud music regarding the differing sizing of images. I had a sense that she was working very much from a subconscious intuitive level in terms of sizing and placing images to begin with as a pattern emerged for her.

This left me thinking about what happens between the plan and the execution – evoking for me what happens when ‘something else takes over’ (I’ve written about this before). Some kind of alchemy when the project becomes an entity in itself and you’re in dialogue with it; drawn into its orbit like a planet circling a star; dizzy in its light like a moth to a flame. The ‘obsession’ of being completely immersed and subsumed into it The project (whatever it is) is “all” – it becomes figural. Going to bed thinking about it and waking up thinking about it – waking dreams, thoughts on planning that can get lost and then haunt thinking during the day.

Johanna referred to two other books, The Pond (1985, 2010) by John Gossage which is about the relationship between man and nature and Redheaded Peckerwood (2010, 2011) by Christian Patterson which uses different genres to retell the story of two teenager who went on a three day killing spree. I’ve bought both books and will write about them in a later post.

b : Work Review

Five of us presented work. Johanna’s feedback was direct and honest whilst remaining supportive and constructive and I enjoyed the whole process both as observer and participant. Some points that came up were:

  • You can explore your own history through photographs of other people. One strategy may be to construct the family you wanted but didn’t have.
  • If you rely too much on text then you don’t allow the images to speak, they’ll be illustrating a narrative.
  • Does the effect you use expand the story?
  • If it’s documentary choose the side you feel most passionate about.

I talked about my first Assignment (with my tutor at that point) and showed some further work I’d done in an attempt to create a foldout minibook. Johanna was particularly interested in one photograph of a house on the edge of the woods. It reminded her of a Disney film Watcher in the Woods. One of my ideas for further work was to construct a story about the person who lived there and Johanna encouraged me to do this; use my imagination; look at the house from differing perspectives; even try to get closer by talking with the house owner.

Overall, a very satisfying day, leaving me with much to think about.

4th February 2015


Elina Brotherus Exhibition 12th November 2014

Artist Talk at The Wapping Project Bankside Elina Brotherus  was born in 1972 in Finland. She studied science (analytic chemistry) before turning to photography and completing an MA. Her early work was very autobiographical, whilst based in the documentary tradition as she photographed actual events in her life such as her marriage, divorce, feelings about sex, focussing on the presence or absence of love. I have read about and looked at her work several times over the past two years so I went to the Talk with certain views and responses that I’ll summarise first. It might seem jumbled, so apologies if so, but it’s taken some time for me to sort out how her work affects me.

What I took with me to the Talk, i.e. the context of my response to her work

I first became aware of her work of in July 2012 when I went to the Out of Focus Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and saw her image Femme a sa toilette (2001)  from her series The New Painting where she was leaving behind the more autobiographical aspect of her work and referencing artists such as Degas  and Cezanne. Femme a sa toilette shows her naked and yet, somehow not exposed, as it is the pale shape of her body (and hair) that draw the eye. As William Ewing writes in his commentary, “Brotherus isn’t really giving us a nude at all, but rather a self-portrait, a confession and admission of vulnerability rather than an image of titillation. It is best appreciated within her larger series of melancholic self-portraits”. The shutter release cable is also plain to see as it dangles over the edge of the ‘sink’. I have to confess that, despite the quality of the print, the pose looked awkward to me as she crouches in the ‘sink’ that is only just large enough for her to squeeze into.

A November 2012 WeAreOCA blog post by Sharon Boothroyd focussed on Model Study 5 (2004). Again a nude self-portrait where Elina is crouching on the floor with her back to us. To me, she invites us to look at the shape of her body, almost as if in a life class where the artist captures shape and form. Amongst other comments I wrote

Elina seems so unselfconscious in her nudity, and workwomanlike. Maybe that’s what happens when you have allowed yourself to be gazed upon for some length of time so dispassionately. And the urge/fascination to gaze upon and explore someone’s body with your eyes, without sexual intent, judgment or comparison. If that’s allowed, again for sufficient length of time, does the fascination disappear? Does the person beneath the skin reveal him/herself more clearly? The visible cable of the remote release – like an umbilical cord in a quest to constantly re-invent/re-visit herself.

I was left with the question as to whether she was revealing herself to us at all – hiding in plain sight as it were.  I gained that same sense of ‘workman-like’ /‘dispassionate’ on looking at the video of her, working in collaboration with two artists, at a point were Elina wanted to further develop the notion of the artist’s gaze, the model and the self-portrait. In Artists at Work Part 1  she asks “Who is watching whom? Who is the artist? Who is the model? Who gets ‘the last gaze’” as we see the two painters gazing at her intently as they capture her body in paint on their easels and her using her remote cable to video the session.

There is another video on Vimeo here  (an interview in 2012) where she does explain how her work, “ is a kind of game of hide and seek, showing and not showing”. Also talked about in this video is Annunciation (2009)  the work of self-exploration Elina continued during years when she was attempting to become pregnant and some of this was shown in the Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity Exhibition that I visited in October 2013.

Background to 12 Ans Aprés

There was another interview, with Sharon Boothroyd, recorded in Photoparley blog  where Elina talked about Suite Francaises 2 (1999) which she said tells about “outsiderness”, the incoherence between the person and his environment and the simple small means with which one tries to take his place in society. She travelled to Chalon-sur-Saône, France to take up a residency, with little knowledge of French, and used post-it notes as a method of language learning. After beginning by photographing interiors she realised the notes could be used outdoors as well and make an unfamiliar landscape accessible.

Elina maintained links and returned to Chalon-sur-Saône at a point when she had turned 40. This was officially for a job but she thinks it was a pretext. It seemed logical to return to an autobiographical approach to meet a felt need to make a position statement at this turning point in her life. She walked with her 4×5 camera, looking serendipitously, very early or in so-called bad weather and did some new versions of 1999 places, utilising an interaction of styles to create wider narratives and a full picture from different points of view. I won’t write more about the interview here as it can be read on Photoparley but, as I read the interview I also recollected that experience of going back to reconnect with areas from my childhood and that sensation of being accompanied by an earlier version of myself yet knowing I’m another person now.

So, before going to the Talk I had this image of a talented photographer who often uses herself as her own model, clothed and unclothed, to create self-portraits, often during unhappy events in her life. Alongside this she has also referenced classical artists and developed the notion of the artist’s gaze. I imagine that she uses her nakedness as a metaphor for vulnerability. That it is self-portraiture is made clear by the inclusion of the shutter remote release cable. There is such a depth of self-exposure in her work and, yet, I did not experience this as emotive/emotional. To me it was as that very real pain had been transmuted into something more like an object; had been conquered “This is me looking at myself as I am experiencing pain, sorrow, anguish”. I’ll return to this later.

The Talk

This was organised by OCA and many thanks to Gareth and Sharon for this. It was held at the (prestigious and glamorous) Wapping Project Bankside in London, and concerned the Exhibition 12 Ans Aprés, currently showing there. What follows is based on extracts from my notes taken at the time. I know there are things I missed, but there is now a video of the Talk on the OCA student site so I can keep going back to discover more. Elina was generous with her time and with herself in the way she invited us in to explore her photography with her .

She explained her desire to confront herself with younger self; to stay in the same room; conduct a human experiment on herself. Elina pointed out how the yellow stickers had changed. Previously simple words, labelling objects and emotions; changing to longer, more fluent sentences. Her French is considerably improved (she speaks several languages) she has a home in France as well as Finland. Elina talked about her editing process and book creation in terms of her plan to produce a book on the Annunciation series and editing help from a friend. –She said she needs to detach herself from her work, for 6 months say, so that she can see clearly what works together and what doesn’t.

Here are some of her responses during the following question and answer session: John  asked if any of her work could be done with someone else in the frame, especially a work like Annunciation. Her response was “That, of course not”, although she has used other people as subjects, as in her series Études d’après modèle, danseurs. It was the same thing as she was doing with herself except wonderful models of course, who just happened to be classical dancers. Elina believes that when the work is personal it’s hard to have anybody else there because she can’t really guarantee that what is shown is genuine unless it’s her when talking about emotions or that sort of thing. With a study of a human figure – shadows, light, composition, how to frame, how to flatten the three dimensional into the two dimensional – it can be anyone else and it’s easier when you don’t have to keep running backwards and forwards to check the pose, composition etc to see what’s wrong (has wasted much film). There is less waste with digital but still a lot of running back and forth. Elina very much likes the large format analogue because it’s so slow and you “kind of stay calm when you’re doing it”. Very often when she goes out to work she tends to do so on her own. She doesn’t like the presence of anyone else there on the scene, it disturbs her. She starts to rush and would be concerned about another person getting cold and tired etc.

Asked if she goes out with a plan she responded that very often she might not have an idea of what she’s looking for but recognises it when she sees it. She has realised that she can trust her eye. It’s just the hard work of carrying the apparatus around and eventually she will find something. Anna queried whether not wearing makeup in a lot of the images is like taking off a mask. Elina said she stopped wearing makeup out of laziness. Is it taking off the mask? Not intentional but a very nice point and some Art historian could write about that point. She recollected a C19th Finnish painter, Akseli Gallen-Kallela who created, in Paris, a beautiful painting Démasquée (1888) of a nude model holding a mask next to face that she had taken away

Another question by Keith concerned ‘figure in a landscape’ but the cable release always shows. Elina’s response was that it’s important that the viewer sees that the person who is the model is also the author. By knowing that maybe we also look at the landscape in a different way. We know that the artist or author has chosen this particular landscape to look at and chooses to show it to the spectator, like an invitation to a shared contemplation. That’s why she likes the back so much. If a frontal view, the figure is looking at you and a confrontation, then we would be lured by the face and less by the landscape. She thinks it’s easier to enter into this kind of scene because we feel we are there together but not disturbing each other. Regarding the cable release – this makes it an image about photography. “This is a photograph, this is the person who took it”. It’s free for you to see it how you like it . When asked if the landscape says something about the model, Elina responded that she was not going that far. She has her reasons for each picture but it’s really free for you to feel the way you want about it.

Asked whether she had ever regretted making her IVF treatment public with Annunciation Elina said she was happy she finally decided to show them in a book and a Show after encouragement by Susan Bright. This is something that touches the lives of an amazing amount of people and we don’t know about it because it’s a taboo. As an artist we can assume the responsibility, like the Kings Fool, to “put the cat on the table”. Many people got in touch and it was a good thing to do. It’s a big thing in our society; difficult to talk about it and that’s why pictures can be a route/pathway into those questions. She said she doesn’t believe in catharsis but she believes that pictures can be a route into things you can’t express easily and sees herself as part of a bigger picture. We are much more like each other than we are different.

Conclusions and thoughts

As I wrote above, Elina was generous with her time and even stayed on a little to talk further with us.

. DSCF1297 web

I already knew much of the story of this particular Exhibition and yet it was different to hear it from Elina direct. It was illuminating and thought-provoking for me in terms of approaching photography and self-portraits. Also the first time I’ve heard an artist talk whilst standing in front of their work and referring to it. It gave the work so much more meaning for me and I gained a greater understanding of her motivations and concepts. I’ve wondered before how much difference it makes to perception of an artist’s work when you’ve met with and heard them speak. I think that this evokes empathy and adds another subtle layer – unseen but informing understanding because my imagination is engaged and I add to the narrative.

DSCF1296 6x4 web

The photographs are beautiful. Large images (from both film and digital) on the walls in pale, subtle hues, with misty landscapes, some including Elina in the frame, often looking at her from the back. She also re-photographed herself in the same room, wearing a similar colour coat and boots; hair dark instead of blonde; obviously older yet still looking fragile somehow.

For me there was a sense of melancholy about the work – the misty softness of the outdoors and, throughout a subtle, slightly faded colour palette. Her work fascinates me, despite feeling slightly distanced by the dispassion I sense, which is why it’s taken me so long to work through this write-up. I am interested in her Landscapes with figure where a ‘traditional’ Landscape view (beautiful if not quite sublime) is mediated by the figure of Elina with her back to us; her more solid figure drawing our eyes from the misty view as if directing where we look. We are always aware of her presence, holding the umbilical cord of her camera. We are looking at her looking at the view. How intense is this view given that her attention must be split between the looking and the decision as to when to press the release button. We can only see what she allows us to see as our view is hindered and we cannot see exactly what she is looking at. She is a large presence in the landscape yet, by turning her back to us, puts herself in the frame at the same time as removing herself from the frame.

The point about the ‘mask’ made me think of Gillian Wearing who also exposes herself to view whilst not being exactly present, whilst taking on other personas. Elina Brotherus always re-enacts herself. I wonder if self-portraiture at depressing times uplifts the spirits or depresses even more. It certainly acknowledges it rather than serving as a distraction and the slow process of medium format analogue must slow down emotions – calming as she said. I guess that attention paid to actually making the photograph gives some emotional grounding and feeling more in control and this lends itself to a more dispassionate and objective approach.

As Elina said, you can look back through the photographs and see where you are now. You can also re-edit them and create a new story from an earlier story.   This control of our view and how we look makes me query how ‘open’ her work is. Quite definitely the narrative is about Elina – no death of the author here and yet she portrays something universal that we can lean towards as we enter into her space – albeit at some distance. I have also been thinking about depiction of space, place, passage of time and creating the narrative. We can compare the artist at different points in her life; see how she has aged; see where she lived and walked.

The landscape is pretty much the same but the colours, tones etc add an out-of-time feel and sense of melancholy as she looks back over her life. The post-it notes also show the changes and reflect some of her thoughts. I have spent a lot of time thinking about her work and have taken from it the advantages of working more slowly. Medium/Large format attracts me very much although I have to deal with that voice that tells me I’m not technical enough. I aim to practise more with long exposures. I can’t say that I feel more attraction towards self-portraiture but maybe that will change somewhat as I work through Context & Narrative. 30th January 2015


3. Brighton Photo Biennial 2014 18th and 19th November 2014

Brighton Photo Biennial 2014 : Commun ities, Collectives & Collaboration
Weekend Study Visit with OCA

The weekend was packed full of people, places and photographs. Many thanks to Gareth, Angela, Clive, Jesse and Russell for their input. Here are a few of the highlights (and one lowlight) for me as I look back at the experience with the benefit of hindsight and with ‘presentation’ more or less in mind.

 Brighton University Gallery

We gathered here to start the weekend and were taken in to see Afterimages work by the artists Cornford & Cross. I understand that they create work through discussion and debate, positing different conceptual ideas. We were informed that they had created Afterimages by deconstructing images that were originally exhibited as photographs on aluminium, i.e. scratching off the surface of the aluminium – see here  Russell encouraged us all to imagine we could see parts of these images. He also encouraged us to see presentation in terms of different aspect ratios; the thickness of the blocks, the way they were framed. All I could see was a faint, blurred reflection of myself. It would have been different maybe if I could at least have seen some kind of proof that there had once been an image there, even if only a tiny portion. Yes – I could see Russell’s point regarding comparison with a palimpsest but with that there is both texture and evidence of  the scrapings and what once lay beneath.

Is this all about how we reflect upon what we see; everyone perceives differently; the image reflects ourselves back to us; the life of a photograph from creation to decay? I don’t know! I felt as if this was some kind of game, a contemporary artistic con and I wasn’t willing to play it. The Emperor’s Suit of Clothes comes to mind. Not to be compared with artists such as Thomas Demand, the sculptor and photographer who creates architectural models that he then photographs (in large scale) and destroys. There’s an interview here with Demand.

Q: How many clues might a viewer need from an “open” work to retain their attention, including a story.

Real Britain 1974 : Co-optic and Documentary Photography

This Exhibition aimed to “….explore how the Co-optic Group attempted to establish an authentic representation of 1970s Britain” in monochrome which was the preferred aesthetic in the 70s (Biennial Brochure). The group aimed to combine the ‘new’ independent photography inspired by US examples, with the style and forms of 1960s photo-journalism. This Exhibition celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the group’s Real Britain postcard project in what was its first public showing from the archive. There’s a Guardian article here. I don’t remember these postcards at the time but to look at them now was so evocative for me. Martin Parr’s brilliant image of two people sleeping amongs rows of empty deckchairs – the slight cruelty in the way in which his wide angle lens barrelled out the man’s chest as it pulls at his shirt – tie askew mirroring the barrelling effect, also mirrored the same effect created by the woman’s arms under her fluffy jacket. The John Knill Ceremony 1971, photographed by Homer Sykes , who has a wonderful web archive. Girls in pale dresses amongst a crowd streaming down what looks like a steep hill with a church spire on top. Portrait aspect – again at a slight tilt to exaggerate the steep slant of hill and steeple. It immediately reminded of Whitsun and how (if there was enough money in the family) the girls always had a new dress for Sunday and maybe even one for Monday. We went knocking on doors and were given pennies. Goodness – it was begging! Not Whitsuntide in Sykes’ photograph at all, but St Ives, Cornwall in July 1971 and a local ceremony.

I can’t find much information about the Co-optic group itself although I recognise most of their names. Wondered if they still meet-up. Certainly they met their aim in showing the real Britain. They’re the kind of photograph I would want to buy now when I’ve been to places but then? I’m not too sure they would have matched my visual thinking style then. I was living in the “real” Britain so maybe those postcards wouldn’t have appeared different enough to me. I wanted vivacity and colour in my life at the time.

In terms of context,

Postcards proved to be popular items in the resurgence of ephemera that took place during the 1970s. The Arts Council had used them in its “Two Views” exhibition in 1972. They also featured in student assignments and regional Arts group competitions (p. 49, Photoworks, 2014)

I’m certainly very aware of their use now so postcards have continued to be a creative and economical way of demonstrating creative expression and gaining publicity.

I had wondered whether the 1970s postcards were successful – seems they were as 50,000 cards (selected by a group vote) sold out within a year, followed by a reprint. There were criticisms though from within and outside the group and it ceased operations in 1977. Some members of our group thought the postcards were stereotypical. Parr’s slightly cruel humour was noted. Some were quirky, with a politicised view. To me, what came through was how a narrative can be created with one image and the importance of composition and aspect in creating the effect.

Brighton Pavilion

Amore e Piambo : the Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy

This was a collection of press photography from the 1970s, which was a turbulent period in Italy. It included archive prints; television news footage, film sequences and sound recordings, plus some Italian photo-books loaned from the Martin Parr collection.There is a sombre essay Photoworks (2014) by Roger Hargreaves and Frederica Chiocchetti who write that this Exhibition, far from offering answers, “…… seeks to concoct a viscous minestrone from the ingredients of the season: gnostic terrorism, coalition government, conspiracy and collaboration” (p.91).

In some respects, the curators created order through the presentation, vitrines –  dark wood cabinets, with open, glass-framed doors containing wood frames on the right hand side as we entered through the door, with photobooks in glass display boxes in front of them

DSCF1205 crop 1 web

series of bookshelves, displaying photographs in double frames of different sizes and aspects – divided into divergent ‘categories’ such as celebrities and politicians.

This was contrasted by large hoardings on the opposite side of the room

Further down the room there were deep box frames on small plinths – photographs of assassinated politicians – resembling tombs. These were arranged on the floor in front of a large board containing a statement by Aldo Moro’s family made 9th May 1978, the day of his execution by members of the Red Brigades, with unframed photographs of flowers and wreaths stacked below.

Brighton Photo Fringe at the Vantage Building

Exhibitions here included work by emerging photographers and photography collectives

4th Floor – Inhabit: Alison Bettles, Fergus Heron and Alison Stolwood

Three artists exploring intersecting domestic and natural worlds

Alison Bettles

Her series, Unruly Habits  used found, inherited and household objects to create installations, “where the home becomes a backdrop or theatre set for picture making and the “the ambiguous line between the documentary and the theatrical” is questioned. Her work is striking – deep, brilliant colour, strong lines, particularly diagonals, dissecting negative space.

Fergus Heron

Photographs of Harlands Pond an old farm pond located within a housing development near Uckfield, and exploring nature in the centre of an often encountered but overlooked places – not the sublime but taking on a documentary feel. He uses a large format view camera and available light which turn what might at first seem ordinary into something with a still grandeur. I noted that one of his series is on Chobham Common which is in my neck of the woods.

Alison Stolwood

From her statement –  “blurs the distinction between the natural and the artificial, and with highlighting through camera technologies, notions of time, change and perception” .

At first you think it might be a greenhouse somewhere but then realise the plants may be on a wooden floor rather than a shelf and there’s some kind of backdrop behind them. I’m sure I’ve seen her work before in Source or Hotshoe magazines. There’s a lesson for me here regarding “still life” and its possibilities, also, again, how something ‘ordinary’ can be made to seem special with creative framing.

7th Floor

Provided a panoramic view of Brighton from its windows

Adrian Turner

He was showing some images from Sun-Urbia and his ongoing new project 36 Views. He is loosely basing this on Jeff Wall’s work A sudden gust of wind which, in turn, was based on Hokusai’s Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri from the portfolio thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, and examining Brighton as both a seaside town and a city by the sea. Straightforward documentary style photographs I think but large format and with beautiful colouring.


I haven’t captured them so well here, but I was entranced by these ‘mobiles’ – small lightboxes twirling and twinkling.


I think I was the only one who enjoyed them because there were comments like, “too much like Christmas decorations” etc, but they drew me towards them. I couldn’t find a reference anywhere to the names of either photographer/s or series. I’m also remembering now the discussion on the OCA Flickr site here regarding negative comments about photography by the Guardians Art critic Jonathan Jones  and the words “It’s amazing how long some people can look at a photograph. I observed the observers, rapt before illuminated images that I really can’t look at for more than a few seconds.” He was referring here to the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year. I have to admit that when I visited it previously I was aware how these backlit images seemed to have lost all materiality. I still think there’s a place for Lightboxes if they’re used appropriately though.

Johanna Ward

This photographer is represented by the Laura Noble Gallery  which gives information on her series I shall say goodbye with my strengthening love for you, forever and ever. The series “draws on myth, fairy tales, private emotions and environmental destruction” and “generates an allegorical narrative that is both enchanting and haunting”. It is housed in a collection of 5 individual concertina volumes

There was a beautiful simplicity about them; differential placement of images; mix of portrait and landscape aspect, some text but not a lot. Here is a video which shows them more eloquently than I can write about them.

Her website also contains responses to her work from two writers, Nick Burbidge and Charlotte Barrow. I wanted to keep on looking at her books and they were the highlight of the weekend for me. I am so pleased that OCASA have now organised for her to talk to OCA students on the 6th December.

Brighton Library

A talk by Chloe Dewe Mathews

Chloe was there to talk about her project Shot at Dawn dedicated website here which was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford as part of the 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art commissions. She travelled to sites where British, French and Belgian groups were executed for cowardice and desertion between 1918. The project comprises images of 23 locations at which these soldiers were shot or held in the period leading up to their executions and she created a visual architecture of the places, following a rigorous process where all the photographs were made as close to the exact time of execution as possible and at approximately the same time of year.

The square, large format images are sombre in hue, heavy with import, although a part of me wondered what my reaction would have been if I hadn’t known the historical context as there is no sign of what happened – no memorial or inscription. Would they just have seemed like straightforward landscape or building shots?

Chloe also referred to another project of hers where she utilised small photographs with scraps/pieces of words as a kind of dialect like Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange. These were then posted back to Brighton. I have actually contacted Chloe for more information about this as I didn’t catch everything she was saying about it so will add this if/when I hear back from her. In the meantime, I have tracked down some information from Photoworks, here and  I look forward to learning more about the Nadsat language.

(Postscript May 2016) :  Looking back I realise now that I never found out more about about the project she had devised, whilst working in Russia on her Caspian project – devising a photographic dictionary of Nadsat. Nadsat was created by Anthony Burgess in 1961 whilst writing his book A Clockwork Orange. I did email her about it but the link she sent to me was a  Photoworks  one I already had. Of course, this got me interested again now. Another internet search didn’t give me any leads but I did find an Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders. 

Circus Street Market

Vicki and I were guided here by Russell. The area reminded me a little of the large hangar like sites at the Arles Festival last year. It was twilight by then and the space seemed rather empty and intimidating with its dim lighting, although the food stalls were very welcome.

The project I was most taken by was A Return to Elsewhere displayed in large lightboxes and looking very vibrant in the twilight. The project is a collaboration between Kalpesh Lathigra (UK) and Thabisa Sekgala (SA) exploring communities in two primary locations (where they began at the same time) Marabastad and Laudium in South Africa and Brighton in the UK. They were looking at Indian Communities and one aspect that was particularly interesting for me was the link between Brighton Pavilion and Woking. In the 1914-18 War the Royal Pavilion was used as a hospital for wounded troops from the British Indian Army. Some of those who died were buried in the Muslim Burial Ground in Woking which I wrote about here and I have continued to take photographs there.


I wasn’t expecting to write as much as this so it shows how inspiring I found this visit. At this point I won’t comment on the Sunday morning work review as this fits more appropriately into my preparations for Assignment One. In the meantime, I’ve noted some thoughts on Presentation:-

  • How “open” can a work be to retain the viewer’s attention? How much does the viewer need to know about the context (Co-optic and Italy).
  • The importance of composition and aspect in creating an effect and constructing the narrative, especially in one image (Co-optic group and Amore e Piambo)
  • The use of bookshelving and deep box frames to add grandeur and gravity to important events.
  • The way in which an apparently simply concertina book can frame such an eloquent narrative. (Johanna Ward)
  • How often something apparently ordinary can be made to seem so interesting by ‘Installing’ it or creating a sculpture from it (Alison Bettles and Alison Stolwood).
  • To remember the use of text in all its infinite varieties.
  • Lightboxes definitely have a place for me. They can make images ‘glow’ out of the darkness, but they have to be used appropriately
  • The many ways in which postcards or small photographs can be used (Co-optic and Chloe Dewe Mathews). I already have a project in mind!

17th November 2014


Photoworks (2014) Issue 21 : Collaboration, Photoworks, Brighton, UK


Prix Pictet Exhibition, V&A, May 2014 : Part Two

OCA Study Visits and Talks

2: Prix Pictet, V&A May 2014 Part Two

The winner was Michael Schmidt, who sadly died days after he was honoured at the V& A for his work Lebensmittel exploring the processes of the European food system. The images were taken at salmon farms, dairy farms, bread factories and abbattoirs and presented as an enormous collage in rows and columns without text so that the images spoke for themselves. Apart from the size, mirroring the scope and scale of the industries, it didn’t really grab my attention. Maybe I’ve seen too many similar series.

Mischka Henner’s was short-listed for Beef & Oil work using Google, to make a statement about how,  these landscapes represent a systematic intent to maximise production and yield in order to satisfy extraordinary levels of human consumption. The result is a natural landscape transformed into something not too dissimilar from the circuit boards that drive the logistical operations of these industries, and ultimately, feed consumers’ appetite for these resources. There is almost a beauty about these large scale appropriated images and it must have taken hours to access and process them, but I do find myself wishing that Henner would take some photographs sometimes. I know he was in the forefront with this type of work on Google images but there is so much of it around now.

There were two very different photographers who drew me in though. Hong Hao’s My Things  is a project he had been working on for 12 years, Day by day, I put my daily consumed objects into a scanner piece by piece, like keeping a visual diary. After scanning the original objects, I’ll save them in digital forms and categorise these digital files into different folders in my PC, in order to make a collage of them later on. This task, like yogi’s daily practice, has become a habit in my day-to-day life as well as a tool to observe the human condition in contemporary consumer society.

The collage, which to me seemed very much like a self-portrait of his personality, was amazing in its obsessive detail. I had visions of him almost being overwhelmed by the sheer number of objects he had been collecting. In my mind I kept contrasting him with Erik Kessels who also collects but arranges the photographs and albums etc into such picturesque installations.

The work I most enjoyed was Tea, Coffee & Cappuccino  presented as small images in a row. I had to step very close to see them, almost peer at them, which drew me in. People buying whatever frugal supplies they could in a bleak environment; one man squatting in the street, defecating I think.

I talked about them with tutor Clive and said I would like to take photographs such as that because they have a powerful narrative. His view was that they are vernacular photography, almost like snapshots, and yet there was a power in their record of life in Mikhailov’s home town of Charkow, Ukraine, between the years 2000 to 2010. I see them as similar to Hogarth’s work somehow, vignettes from everyday life and a poor life at that, whereas Mikhailov uses them to show the consumerist invasion of western capitalism – Old women have started wheeling around trolleys full of their commodities, calling out “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino. It shows how used I am to this society of ours and yet would I want to go back to living the kind of life that my family had in the late C19th when my grandfather went around barefoot because his family couldn’t afford to buy him shoes.

The other paradox is that this Exhibition is supported by the Pictet Group  which is a private Swiss Bank and “one of the leading independent wealth and asset managers in Europe”.

Prix Pictet Exhibition 24th May 2014 : Part One

2: Prix Pictet Exhibition, V&A, 24th May 2014

Part One – Laurie Simmons

The theme for the 5th Year of this Competition was “Consumption” with 11 photographers being shortlisted. Information about them is here . The Prix Pictet website states

Consumption lies at the heart of the Prix Pictet’s mission to bring global attention to what we believe is the greatest challenge facing humankind today: the issue of environmental sustainability.

I thought the concept was stretched quite far by some of the short-listed entries such as …..

Laurie Simmons

Simmons’ subject is a customized, high-end, life-size love doll. I know that some men use them but I’ve never seen one in actuality. Some members of our group found the images disturbing. I was fascinated by them. They seem so real and, at first, I thought they were actual women dressed/posing like a doll.

Translucent skin, large, soulful eyes, soft, plump, glistening lips. Of course I was reminded of Japanese Geishas, although they are so much more than love dolls – skilled in many different arts with their white faces seeming like a mask. The story is here. The book is printed on a special paper to evoke the touch of a Love Doll’s skin.

Simmons has had a long, photographic relationship with dolls, including, more recently, people who dress as dolls. She uses dolls as surrogates for an interrogation of the human condition and the nature of identity – a visual metaphor in human form. I was fascinated by the love doll because she perfectly fits a poem I wrote many years ago:-

Rubber Doll

Love your rubber doll,
Compose her limbs around you.
Blank face; empty head,
Frozen in her stillness,
There to do with what you will.
Loose, lolling, lifeless. Except where it matters.

Moist wetness; smooth sheath enfolding.

Place all your fantasies upon her.
She can take them.
She has no brains; no feelings;
No screaming in the night to haunt your dreams.

Love her – for she cannot love herself.
No Romeo for her. No shining knight in armour.

Watch here; feel her. For she is yours to do
With what you will.

The poem must have been waiting for Laurie Simmons!

I found this video interview from a few years ago

I have used dolls in my photography, almost reluctantly because, at first, it seemed like a cliché until, somehow, they became real and I could project my thoughts onto them. I keep wondering how else I might use them.

In the meantime, I will have to move on to part two of this Exhibition write-up.


Anna Fox Talk : UCA Farnham 7th May 2014

This blog post first appeared on my DPP blog (which won’t be assessed because I transferred to Context & Narrative). The talk by Anna Fox has had a continuing effect on me and I think is particularly relevant to this new Module – questioning as it does the meaning of Documentary as “Telling a Story about the truth”.

OCA Study Visit

I’ve visited the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham previously during their Degree Shows but this time it was different because I felt a more immediate connection with the place in the person of Professor Anna Fox . The talk was relatively well-attended by OCA students as well given the venue and the mid-week timing.

We’d been provided with a link to an interview by Niccolo Fano in 2013 for American SuburbX and this set the scene nicely in covering some of the ground that Anna described in her talk to us. We OCA students are also fortunate now in having an edited video of the talk to refer to. I’m giving a link to an earlier, publicly available video below as it provides a reference point for me as well.

On looking at her website I was struck by the different ways in which she has approached documentary photography over the years although this is not surprising given that she qualified in 1986 and her approach will have evolved. She told us that she grew up with photography books in the house as her father was a keen amateur photographer and early influences were Brassaï, Atget, Cartier-Bresson and Tony Ray Jones. She is particularly interested in the ways in which images and text can be combined in many creative ways and the use of the printed page.

Anna worked before she went to study for her Degree at UCA, Farnham and her tutors were Martin Parr and Paul Graham as well as Karen Knorr. Karen Knorr is now her fellow Professor at UCA, Farnham and an immediate difference I see between them is that Karen Knorr appears to have a particular interest in the upper reaches of society and how they live, often adopting a wry, humorous look at them whilst producing exquisite imagery. Both of them use text to make political comments, but Anna Fox often looks aslant at the more ordinary and everyday.

It takes a very creative mind to keep a Cockroach Diary and make it into art – although, on the other hand, perhaps it was also one way to deal with them and her house sharers. This ‘recording’ of everyday life extended into Notes from Home when Anna moved from London to live in Hampshire near to where she was born and spent much time at home with her children. She created a series of hand-made concertina books which were displayed as an installation on shelves and the exhibition created was shortlisted for the 2010 Deutsche Borse Prize.

In the ASX interview Anna says that the irony that Karen Knorr creates with her use of image and text was an inspiration for her in creating Basingstoke 1985/86 and also Work Stations – a study of London office life in the late 1980s. This was a commissioned piece of work and she gained access to about 60 London offices. Anna told us that she wanted to look at how words can create a sense of drama by using text combined with images that portrayed the social conditions prevailing in Thatcher’s Britain – the place where “There’s no such thing as Society”, and there was an obsessive pursuit of success. Having worked in offices she had an insider view of what goes on in them which must have helped her as she negotiated entry. Anna told us that she didn’t ask permission to photograph workers but people knew she was there and if they didn’t want her to take photographs of them then she didn’t. In the ASX interview she also says that the Camerawork Gallery (one of the two commissioners of Workstations ) wanted her to concentrate on women at work but she objected to that:

I mean, it felt like they had employed a woman photographer simply because it would mean I would want to photograph women! I didn’t. I was more interested in politics, society and power structures within the working environment of the office and particularly in Thatcher’s Britain as the period later became known.

Her combination of text and image in this series is an example of her imaginative use of words. The captions were taken from other places and yet, placed in conjunction with the images, provided a third way of reading the narrative in the image along the lines of ‘survival of the fittest’. For example – a photograph of a young woman, on the telephone, with pen/pencil in hand, behind a desk is composed in such a way that the young woman looks embattled as two men, in suits, and holding briefcases loom at her from each side of the image. the caption is “Should a competitor threaten to kill a sale, the modem would provide a lifeline back to base computer” (Business 1986).

In addition to Karen Knorr, the influence of Martin Parr is also apparent in the colour and ironical approach – another example for me of the way in which a photographer can assimilate the approaches of, and influences/inspiration from, other photographers without copying or mimicking them.

During the session Anna made a statement that “documentary is a story about truth”. Now I’d never looked at it that way (which made me feel a little foolish) even though I “know” that we all have different versions of ‘the truth’ and, with our images, portray our own version of facts and situations. I know that this aspect of ‘truth’ is something I’m going to bear in mind much more consciously from now on. This was highlighted for me in looking at the series My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words (2000). This is described on her website as “An unexpectedly wicked narrative exploring a claustrophobic relationship” and was designed as a miniature bookwork. Close-up views of the contents of the cupboards are juxtaposed with words said (in other contexts) by her father. Here’s a video where Anna is talking about this work and others, which were shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize in 2010

She describes the book (4.25 min in) as quite an evil book and talks about how her father, when he was very ill, used to rant a lot in the house, and the recording of it (and book) were her way trying to find a way to deal with this. During her talk to us Anna explained that when the images and captions were exhibited they were very small so that the viewer was enticed into them and this intensifies the claustrophobic atmosphere conveyed. Anna has said that although much of her work has been autobiographical it has also been created in such a way that other people can relate to it. I did think it was quite a cruel book, even though I could imagine something like that going on in other homes, and don’t think I could create that kind of work for public consumption. “Hanging out the dirty washing on the line” comes into mind! I also made a note to myself – “I felt detached. More of a performance than a dialogue. How is that reflected in her images?” Thinking around that now it could be that it was that sense of cruelty and claustrophobia that led to me distancing myself as an observer – trying to work out what was going on and avoiding confluence.

We also looked at some more recent, commissioned work done in Butlins for the occasion of their 70th Anniversary) and a commercial project in France, again with the subject of Leisure. For me this was less interesting because it was more staged, with a crew of people assisting her in a large scale production where she also uses the technique of stitching together images in composites. Well – she told us she does the rough composites of how she wants it to look and then has it sent away to be completed. This is clever and exacting work but, for me, the outcome was bland somehow and I was left thinking that, here, there is a fine line between Documentary and advertising. It also occurred to me that there is a metaphor in this somehow – the construction of the large images mirroring how a leisure industry is ‘constructed’, less is made to seem more and the unreal made real (and vice-versa).

Further thoughts

I am left with much to think about. I’m interested in the recording of every day life and this idea of documentary as a story about the truth – how something that happens, however trivial, can be embroidered into something with a rich texture using the warp and weft of image and text. There’s also that boundary line concerning ‘truth’ – how far does one go to make work more dramatic, and/or to touch the sensibilities of a wider audience? This is something that Lewis Bush recently touched on in a brief Duckrabbit post Hesitant Fictions using Joshua Lutz’s work Hesitating Beauty as a reference point for some thoughts on adding elements of fiction. I have quite a reading list now on Documentary, and have had discussions with other students on ethics, truth, fiction and different ways of combining image with text. A further thought concerns ‘open’ and ‘closed’ text. From what I’ve perceived so far (and allowing for contradiction) I think that Anna Fox uses text in a more directive way, which, perhaps, fits with irony as commentary.

Again, which is something I’ve touched upon in an earlier post, there is this use of photography as a form of self-therapy – to become an observer with a camera and so make sense of difficult situations and emotions.

I think that Anna Fox is a highly creative, energetic and action-oriented photographer with a mind teeming with ideas, and I gained a strong impression that she is an inspiring mentor and tutor. It would be good if there could be some collaborations between the Open College of the Arts and the University of the Creative Arts – talks, workshops etc.

25th June 2014