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).

Summary

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

 

References

http://www.chloedewemathews.com/
http://www.vice.com/en_uk/video/chloe-dewe-mathews

OCA Collaborative Art Swap

 

I came to this collaboration through a post by Ange Mullins on the OCA students site in September last year here (for those who can access). Each of us had to think of five words (separate or forming a sentence) which we then emailed to the other 5 collaborators who each created a small piece of art in response to post to the author of the words by an agreed date.

My five collaborators were:-

Ange Mullins who is studying Level 1 Printmaking, although she includes many other aspects in her art practice.

Alison Saunders currently taking Printing I but also works in oils, watercolours, inks and wax Facebook Art page is

Mark Butler Completed level 1 – drawing, printmaking and sculpture and due to start on Sculpture 2 which is his passion. His blog is here .  He is also a landscape photographer

Bee Skelton had been studying Drawing but is now back to painting

Ingrid Booz Morejohn Studying Creative Arts, specializing in Printmaking and Art History and currently studying Printmaking 1

I felt excited about the idea of collaborating with people who were studying different art disciplines but also a little apprehensive as I still can’t see myself as an ‘artist’.  Even so, I was keen to meet the challenge.

The Process

Ange suggested that as soon as we received the words we might consider some of the following questions:-

What was your emotional  & physical response when you first read them?
Did you even have an emotional or physical response?
Did a full or part image jump straight to mind & you were immediately inspired?
Did your heart sink or jump with a negative reaction?
How did you feel a few hours or days later once you’d had time to mull it over?
Has your response changed with time?

Ange

Whispering halfpenny water runs aimlessly

I thought straightaway of a fountain with coins on the bottom of the pool. In the absence of that I kept my eyes out for water in all its guises as I walked with dogs and even managed to find a small pool which had a run-off pipe to a tiny stream.  Thinking of running water with maybe coppery autumn leaves layered into it; wondering if it would be possible to do this within a video. I wanted the sound of water.  Nothing seemed quite right – then I remembered I had just got back from a few days in France where I had taken several short sequences of video in a lovely area which had been turned over to different kinds of running water. It even had a statue of a man crouched under a copper coloured umbrella with water dripping off it. The photograph is a still from the video so not as good a quality as I would have liked.

 

Waterman web

 

Alison

Fly away on gossamer wings

There were many images that came to mind. Floating skeleton leaves; a dragonfly; a Chinese kite; a fairy; a child wearing tissue paper wings; tissue paper origami, and an image that could be a composite/layered, showing what was beneath. One idea I had was to dangle feathers from a tree and also to buy some butterfly confetti which I could throw over the feathers and video. I collected feathers when I saw them and bought some confetti, which I still have.

Instead, I had a different idea.  I wanted to make something and so I decided to make a small dream-catcher that I could then give to Alison together with a photograph of it. I enjoyed making the dream-catcher, thinking of its purpose as I was winding the strips around the ring and then creating the cobwebs.

I wanted to make a record of it before I gave it to Alison and enjoyed that she came by my house so I could give it to her personally.

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I photographed it on a white board to create the printed photograph

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Mark

Iron ore vein, dark, dangerous

Mark lives in the North and I immediately thought of miners toiling underground. The darkness’ hardness of stone, flickering lights from helmets, Thor’s hammer. I live in Surrey and so there are no mines nearby or even those granite cliffs. I kept thinking about toil, hard work and then remembered the marker stone (sarsen) that rests alongside one of the paths on Horsell Common.   I wanted to use words to go with the image and to use Mark’s own words.  My first thought was to have five sentences, each beginning with one of the words but I couldn’t get it to flow right.  Instead I utilized the words. I thought that it being a ‘marker stone’  fitted with Mark’s Christian name and also the fact that he is a sculptor.

Iron sparks as we strain to clamber ever upwards past veins of ore gleaming wetly
From this dark and dangerous place.

 It was the sarsen stone that marked the spot
Where we should dig


Bee

Glimmer, rustle, fluttering, dart, quiet

My first thought was butterflies.  I love to see them and have been several times to butterfly farms, including the special displays at nearby Wisley Gardens.  Then I thought of fish and the flashes of light as they gleam through the water. We have aquariums of tropical and marine fish and so I decided it would be interesting to create a short video of the fish. I sent the link to Bee and also posted a printed still photograph to her.

 

 

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Ingrid

It’s weighing on my mind

This was the most difficult for me, bringing up images of heaviness, depression, pondering; Atlas with the world on his shoulders. I thought of a page with lots of writing covering it, a paperweight, a pair of old-fashioned scales weighing a miniature skull.  I’d pushed the whole project to one side a little in the knowledge that I needed to concentrate first on completing the OCA module. I was on a deadline to finish it all and anxious as to whether I’d succeed.

Christmas had approached as the weeks went by, three weeks after my birthday – another marker of time passing by. My anxieties and ruminations linked together with Ingrid’s words and actually led to the creation of the necessary Assignment for my module and other photographs more to do with my thinking about some mislaid letters.  The letters were important to because they were from my father to me when I was small and he was far away in the Army. I had put them in a safe place when we moved house – too safe!  I created two photographs – one (quite literal) of a pile of books connected with my Module – waiting to be ironed out and decisions made. The other was more contemplative I think, a slightly calmer mood. I’ve posted both to Ingrid.

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My words

Summer’s dying lines Autumn’s cloak

Autumn is my favourite season as I love the colour of the leaves. I’ve taken many photographs of autumn trees so, this time, I decided to experiment

I have received four responses to my work so far and it’s been exciting waiting for the postman. They all so differently and creatively evoke the theme. As soon as the final one arrives I’ll post photographs of all of them here.

Conclusions

This was such a worthwhile project to be involved in and it certainly took me out of my comfort zone. I appreciated the opportunity to work with other artists in different disciplines and hope that we can get together for another one some time in the future.

I now have all five responses and a here they are

 

As a final word, Ange Mullin has now written a blog post about the collaboration as a whole. It includes collages of all the responses and can be seen here 

Websites

https://bookpressprinting.wordpress.com/
https://bookpressprinting.wordpress.com/collaborative-art-swap-4/
http://indigoblah.blogspot.co.uk
ingridsocaprintmakinglog.wordpress.com
http://www.chasingsparrows.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/groups/297321773706174/
http://www.yorkshiredalesphotography.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Response to Tutor Feedback on Assignment 5

My tutor’s response is detailed, comprehensive and generally very positive. I also had the benefit of a follow-up telephone conversation which enabled further clarification of his comments.

CatherineBanks507005-AS05

The feedback PDF is attached, but I thought it useful to revisit aspects that I think are particularly important – especially when I reach the point of preparing for formal Assessment.The sentences in italics are quoted from my tutor’s written feedback and provide a positive foundation for me in considering some of his queries and suggestions that also appear at the head of each section below.

Overall Comments

Your final assignment for Context & Narrative is very good, your aims and objectives have been visualised to a good degree.  The final image works and contains some intriguing signs and connotations; one of which is about who took the photo! Your selective ‘setting-up’ contact sheets are quite interesting, which could possibly be developed into a triptych for the final submission.

The research is strong, with some excellent observations, coupled with your other visual investigations, which have great potential for further development. Overall, your tableau is interesting and pulls the viewer into your domestic setting, allowing them to read the subtle signs and start to piece together possible discourses.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

Technically, your image is very successful, it evidences your strong technical investigations coupled with being an interesting and engaging shot.

 Would the effect of the subtle signs have been stronger if done in a very overt and conspicuous way?

a.The subtle signs were created through my intention to leave the photograph as open as possible to a viewer’s interpretation and so I think that more conspicuous ones would have been more directive and closed.

What was the balance and collaborative nature of the image?

a. This relates to my husband’s involvement. I had thought I made it clear in the assignment write-up here  that I was the one who researched and devised the concept, created the tableau, and made the decision on camera and lights settings after experimentation and placement of the lights. At the point of pressing the shutter release I was on the wrong side of the camera for the wireless remote to work properly and so I asked my husband to press it for me. I could have moved seats but had been determined as to where each of us should sit. I could have cloned out the shutter release switch but chose not to do so.

Quality of Outcome

Your ideas and intentions have been communicated very effectively, your single image does provide some interesting avenues of thought. You have applied yourself very effectively, drawing together ideas and notions from previous projects that feed into this one, which evidences a sustained and responsive approach to learning.

Is the uncanny evident or does it lie on the periphery of a banality?

a. I do think I achieved an image that was more ‘uncanny’ than ‘banal’. The overall lighting and placement gave an impression of a scene that appeared realistic yet slightly odd – almost too perfect, like a wax tableau.

Demonstration of Creativity

It is good that the shoot happened quite ephemerally but could it have been developed through conducting some tester shoots and responding to those?

a. The shoot did happen ephemerally in one sense but two ideas and earlier experiments came together in the impulse to create the shot at that particular moment. As referred to in my earlier write-ups on the assignment, I had experimented with posed self-portraits and a visual dialogue with my alter ego in the lead-up to Assignment 3. I now wanted to create a three-way communication between the subjects in my image and a viewer. I knew I wanted the image to include the Christmas Tree. In fact I had delayed any photographing until the tree was set up. Once the tree was there and I was looking at it with all those thoughts in my mind I knew that this was the right time to start taking photographs.

The ‘random element’ of the dog adds depth and introduces a chaotic element but could I have made any other additions or subtractions that may have suggested more challenging discourses – such as direction of gaze/s, facing away from the camera, all the tree decorations fallen on the floor?

a. I wanted our faces to be in view. We could have been looking at each other but I think it would have been more difficult for us not to react to each other – for us to smile, our faces soften, to become ‘real’ and show our natural feelings towards each other. If that had happened then I would not have created my version of ‘uncanny’.

A totally random image, which popped into my head, was seeing all of the decorations fallen on the floor under the tree. Perhaps something a little more obscure and out of place may have worked, something that does not belong?

a. Decorations fallen under the tree could certainly fit with an earlier query regarding the effect of ‘signs’ if done in a very overt and conspicuous way. That might be too obvious though – could suggest a relationship falling apart, arrangements broken etc. What could be more obscure? There are no presents under the tree, maybe if there was just one present. I’m not sure.

A main recommendation to experiment using two of the test shots to form a triptych with an example of one that puts the dog in command of the scene. Additionally two further artists to explore.

a. Certainly I created a triptych layout previously on my tutor’s recommendation as a follow-up to Assignment 3 and it worked very well. The suggestion of a ‘dog’ layout is a clever idea but would this move the mood away from ‘uncanny’ towards the ‘banal’, turn the concept into a joke somehow. Put together with the main image would it then take away from mood I set out to create? I have time to think more on this before submitting for formal Assessment.

Context

The research component of this submission has been excellent, your have indeed developed your personal voice. The overall project evidences a high level of self-awareness, the prose and language is very articulate and engaging.

The post, titled ‘Approaching the assignment’ was very good and your side project into archives was excellent. This is indeed a project to develop; it has depth and research potential to perhaps even carry forward into your final level (HE6) studies.

Re using a different approach to writing the reflection for this assignment by waiting for the blog comments. Does this provide more, did I manage to extrapolate any other points or readings about the work that I was not already aware of?

a. I chose a different approach this time because I wanted to test how my intention to create an ‘open’ narrative had worked and to include that in the reflection. I liked the idea of fitting my reflection to my concept whilst still then using the criteria headings. There were different types of comments, some of which also recognised that even a title would have directed a viewer. I certainly did extrapolate other points/readings or, rather, feedback highlighted aspects of my life/relationship that are usually in the background. For instance, the push/pull of seeking companionship yet fighting for independence, how a long relationship can lead to confluence (dressing similarly sometimes) and how having a pet can be so important in providing both a purpose in life and a sharing of time together.

Learning Logs or blogs

Your learning log is an extensive resource and provides the viewer with much information into your research, direction and progress through your studies. Reading about the Thames Valley Group meetings is great; this is an incredible and supportive group that truly embodies the nature of peer support and strengthens the practice of distance learners, hopefully your group is becoming an inspiration to other distance learners.

aThames Valley group has certainly played an important part in my development, providing peer feedback, support and inspiration. I do feel fortunate in having such a network available to me on both a group and individual basis. They have spurred me on at times when I have thought I might not continue.

Interim Thoughts

I  feel pleased and relieved that the feedback has been generally positive. It is comprehensive and has given me much to think on further during the period up to submission for formal Assessment.

 

Revisiting Assignment 5 : 23rd May 2016

I have continued to ponder my tutor’s suggestion regarding creating the triptych and have put one together.  However, I still think that, although it adds humour it still moves towards the banal which is not the intention behind my creation of the image. Due to the Module completion deadline my submission to my tutor was digital/via this blog.  I intend to submit one print of the chosen image for assessment whilst the diptych will be included in my Assignment Preparation folder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection on Assignment 5

I decided to wait until I had received some feedback through blog comments before writing this Reflection as I wanted to see if I had met my stated intention:

I am much taken by the concept of the “uncanny” where we see a world that resembles ours yet appears to have been replaced by a substitute. With this photograph I aim to depict a moment in time in a domestic setting. Real people in a real place but constructed to convey something unseen. My hope is that there is enough of an ‘open’ narrative to interest the viewer and evoke a response’

I’ve been so pleased and encouraged by the comments I received indicating how the composition and various signs within it connoted a range of narratives.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

I think my technical skills have improved during the past two months. Dealing with lighting and setting-up equipment always seemed a difficult task to me but I learned just to see them as tools during the Studio Photography day instead of foreign objects so I can now put everything together reasonably quickly. Additionally I now have a better idea of the steps I need to take to get the type of light I want at least to a reasonably competent level. Gels and green screens etc will have to wait awhile.

In terms of composition – I was clear that I wanted tight framing – as can be seen by the lighting set-up photograph I included that actually shows what was outside the frame. I left just enough in the frame though to draw attention – the cards at the end of the cabinet and the dog’s bone.

I chose the photograph I did despite the dog stepping into the scene – unknown to me because I was focussing inwards at the time. When I first looked at the image on the back screen I thought, “Oh! No!” but looked again and realised that she had introduced that random element – choosing her own decisive moment – as does life in general. This also created a disconnect from the ‘perfection’ of, say, a Jeff Wall or Gregory Crewdson scene which meant that I wasn’t ‘copying’ either of them.

Quality of Outcome

The comments I received did indicate that viewers read a variety of narrative into the scene and even those who know me were able to suspend disbelief. Indeed, some of them saw more than I had intended, e.g. the matching clothing indicating a couple who are confluent in some respects, despite appearing to be detached and withdrawn at times.

There were times when I was concerned that I was spending too much time reading and reflecting, allied to my anxiety at meeting the Module deadline, but it did work for me because I think all this was a strong foundation for what seemed at the time to be a spontaneous impulse to make a photograph. I wrote several blog posts leading up to the assignment expressing my thoughts on “uncanny’, and the frozen aspect of staged photographs, yet I also knew how this intrigued me and that I was drawn to the psychological undercurrents of Gregory Crewdson’s work. I knew there was something I was struggling with and then an apparently fleeting thought occurred to me.

It seemed to me that, whilst Crewdson might be creating photographs that were eerie, unsettling, difficult to understand on the surface of it, he was speaking about them in a way that pointed towards the existential anxieties that we feel as human beings and usually work to ignore/overcome. – the purpose of life, the push-pull of yearning to be free against the yearning to belong, the uncertainty of being alive and facing the knowledge that we all die one day.

I could well be wrong about Crewdson, but I think that my recognition of my own feelings, especially at that time of year, enabled me to express some of this in the photograph and for it to be seen by viewers. This was the first time I had written a more formal statement. I know this is expected at the next Level and that I need to refine and improve my skills in this respect.

Demonstration of Creativity

I took a risk in enacting a domestic scene and undercurrents in a relationship in my own home and with my own partner. However, he was very willing to collaborate, even though slightly puzzled as to what I was aiming for at times. I think the experiment worked and I was able to transmit something normally ‘unseen’ and not always talked about. I’ve written above about our dog, how she stepped into the scene and I’m pleased this happened because although I do plan photographs I think I do more creative work when I leave myself open to serendipity and her presence serves as a visual metaphor for that.

I’m also pleased that I have managed to encapsulate some of my learning through the Module in this final Assignment. When I look back at my original intentions, here  I see that I met several on the list. The photograph showed a relationship in time and place and conveyed something unseen through using signs, symbols and visual metaphors. I put myself well into the frame and this has been a gradual process since first declaiming that I did not like self-portraits. I think I achieved the “uncanny” in a constructed scene that evoked narrative interpretations in viewers without the use of a caption or textual descriptions. 

Context

 At the time, I know I was anxious about meeting the expectation of the brief and unsure what I might produce but now, looking back, I enjoyed the whole process.

All my reading, research and thinking has been documented along the way and I believe I have increased my understanding and use of constructed photographs within my own practice.

Assignment 5 : Making it up

Assignment 5 : Making it up

My first idea was to use the landscape to re-visit work done for Art of Photography on fairytales and their meanings. This foundered when the weather became so windy and wet that I decided indoor work would be better, especially as I had now gained more confidence in dealing with flash lighting through attending two day Workshops and then acquiring a new set of lights. I kept thinking back to Part Three when I had portrayed a dialogue with my alter ego (wearing a wig) that I had not pursued because, at the time, I couldn’t imagine what we might be saying to each other.

During my reading and research for the Assignment I had become quite absorbed by the work of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson. The large scale photographs, produced with the use of a production crew, actors, special sets or locations and considerable post-processing work, are impressive. Their concepts are different – Crewdson’s deliberately cinematic evocation of small town life in America and the violent impulses which may lie beneath, and Wall’s aim to portray a moment in time, as seen through his imaginative eye, rather than through historical or social reality. Because everything is stilled in their images, frozen in a limbo between moments that have never actually existed, their subjects appear more like automatons, gazing blankly into space.

I have continually queried whether narrative, a story, can be contained within a single image as opposed to a series. The photograph I analysed for Assignment 4  proved that it can – through its composition, use of perspective and light etc and with only a short photographer’s statement. I enjoy looking at Wall’s work but have to confess that, despite reading and listening to a lot about his process, I have to search hard to find a narrative. On the other hand, despite my initial resistance, Crewdson’s use of light, together with the numerous interviews where he explains his thought processes, pushed me further into the more introspective state of mind that I experience as a year comes to an end. I think it was this that contributed towards the creation of my Asssignment image. My description of the way I approached the Assignment is here .  I wrote a list of threads I wanted to carry forward from earlier in the Module and will write further when I reflect in a separate piece how I think I have met the brief of the Assignment.

Statement

I am much taken by the concept of the “uncanny” where we see a world that resembles ours yet appears to have been replaced by a substitute. With this photograph I aim to depict a moment in time in a domestic setting. Real people in a real place but constructed to convey something unseen. My hope is that there is enough of an ‘open’ narrative to interest the viewer and evoke a response.

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Technical aspects

I have described the path I took to the creation of this photograph in an earlier post here  . A image of the flash placement is below

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It was a simple set-up with the lights almost equally balanced – power 3 on the left on myself, and power 2.5 on the right on my husband. The lights were angled towards each person and at around a 4 feet distance I wanted to have more light on myself , having one of Jeff Wall’s earlier photographs A Woman and her Doctor 1980-1 in mind. This was presented as a transparency in a light box and I do think that, in this sense, pre the computer age Wall was ahead of the back-lit computer screen in bringing light to images. I realised afterwards that the woman in that photograph was wearing a pale, plain top and that makes a difference to the lighting (which is why I wore pale tops in the later photograph experiments, referred to in my previous post). The photograph was shot at 41mm focal length and tightly framed with the camera on a tripod about 8 feet behind the lights which were around 4 feet in front of the subjects. The RAW original showed some evidence of the flash in the window and the healing brush was used in PS. I reduced clarity on the faces, but only very slightly. There was some adjustment of light and shadow to lighten the tree and brighten the ornaments.

I think the process worked, given that I am still fairly new to dealing with flash lighting and the initial work required to balance the light achieve the effect I am seeking. I want to say thank you as well to my husband, Jeff Banks who was a very willing technical assistant and subject.

At this stage, I will write no more about the meaning of the photograph for me  but will return to this, together with a reflection on how I met the assessment criteria, in a further post.

 

 

Approaching the Assignment

Working towards Assignment 5

My tutor offered me some guidance for the Assignment

“The last assignment is to produce either a single image or a series that is entirely constructed and directed by you, so avoid documentary. Look into creating a tableau, where you have a multi-layered scene and a deep discourse about it. Aim to produce an image/s where the studum pulls you in but the punctum may not be overly evident. Perhaps as a follow-up project from this assignment, how about investigate your own areas of custodial responsibility, either current environments you oversee, or past locations, if still accessible. You could take this further by constructing elements in the environment that represent different aspects of your history. “

Firstly, my mind went straight to landscape but, of course, environment is anywhere I am or have been indoors or outdoors, even my mind is an environment for ideas to form (or fail).. What I was hoping to achieve with this final Assignment was a way of combining learning from all its separate parts and to carry forward some threads from the previous Assignments:

  • Where do I position myself within contemporary photography?
  • Attempting to gain an understanding of why I keep taking the same photographs and returning again and again to small areas of the outdoors – what is it’s attraction for me.
  • The indexicality and temporality of the photograph
  • Narrative in a photograph and the difference text can make
  • How does text, within, around and about a photograph affect its ‘reading’
  • Can a story be told within just one photograph?
  • Ways of photographing the unseen, how to convey it and evoke metaphorical and visceral interpretations
  • The role of Connotation and denotation, signs and symbols in photography. How to read a photograph and then, of course, how utilize these devices in composing a photograph.
  • Learning from ‘Putting myself in the picture’ – present or absent.
  • Constructing a mis-en-scene.
  • The use of the “uncanny”
  • Looking for an answer to the question, How can a photograph be like a “prose poem”

This is probably too large an ambition with such a long list, but I’ll keep it all in mind.

Technical Preparations

I attended two Day Workshops, one on Performance Photography and the other on Studio Photography. I have written about these here and here . These gave me more confidence in dealing with light, enough that, with my husband, we bought some more lights with various accessories. I also acquired three scenic background – two landscape ones and an indoor one.

Initial thoughts

I’ve long had the desire to go right back to a theme begun in AOP – that of fairytales and their meanings. I have been slowly compiling some references but, at this stage, I wasn’t thinking of ‘fantastical’ photographers like Alexia Sinclair  who uses rich, gothic tones or Kirsty Mitchell with her baroque scenes. I’m interested in Paolo Ventura but his scenes/dioramas are more reminiscent of the work of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson, although along different themes, See further information here

Alongside that I was interested in some photographers who have used a backdrop when photographing subjects in landscape. I had a more simple vision of using a scenic backdrop, something more along the lines of Lydia Panas’s work but with a particular theme or Clare Strand’s Gone Away portraits {2002/3), with the obvious backdrop that doesn’t quite match her subject. The difference for my work would be that my scene would be wider format so it would be obvious that the backdrop is unfamiliar in the landscape as with Lydia Panas.

My vision was to re-visit “Red Riding Hood” but with a modern Red Riding Hood. I had the idea of asking one of my grand-daughters to be a model, with chosen clothing and also her choice of objects that would represent how she views herself as a modern version of Red Riding Hood. I even had ambitious thoughts along the line of then (if her portrait was successful) asking to photograph her friends, also against the backdrop, in their version of a modern Red Riding Hood.

First though I needed to see how the backdrop might work in the landscape. I had one that would be suitable for experiment, although not the right scene (another one was on order). Off I went, to the local park and up into the woodland at the top. It was quite a struggle to attach the backdrop to some trees (I realised I would need an assistant to do this properly) I turned round at one point to see I had a couple of interested lady dog walkers watching me as they walked past!

Backcloth ContactSheet web_MG_7740.web

This what I ended up with after trying out various viewpoints. The backcloth needed to be higher and straighter but it looked as though it could work. I just needed to wait for the other backdrop to arrive. Unfortunately the weather became so bad, with a lot of rain during the following weeks. Even now, the local woodlands are very muddy. My idea will have to wait but I would still like to do it.

The new lighting set arrived and was set-up expectantly near to Christmas and so I moved indoors!

Indoor work

I had been continuing the reading for this part of the Module and researching photographers see here , herehere and here . I knew there was no way I could approach the large scale productions of Wall and Crewdson but the concept of the “uncanny’ that I had read about in Theatres of the Real (Lowry, 2009) caught my imagination. I remembered the work I had created during Part 3 “Putting Myself in the Picture”. I could do some further work in my kitchen maybe some kind of installation. I had also experimented with wearing a wig plus staging a conversation with myself  At the time I couldn’t actually think what the dialogue with my alter ego might be but my reading on Gregory Crewdson and his conceptual process had  reinforced the slightly melancholic mood that I seem to experience around this time of year.

I was sitting on the sofa with my husband, television on, but me not really paying attention. Various thoughts were running through my head – memories competing for attention with the here and now. I wondered whether it would be possible to evoke any of those ranging thoughts through a photograph.

I said, “I have an idea. Let’s try the lights”. The furniture was re-organised slightly and we collaborated together on working out the placement, and the balance needed for the lights with the umbrella attachments fitted. I decided I wanted to use a more equal light similar to that of Jeff Wall rather than Gregory Crewdson, but with slightly more light on myself. I had in mind the kind of lighting for Jeff Wall’s A Woman and her Doctor 1980-81 . The light at power 3on myself and 2.5 on my husband eventually worked the best. It quickly became obvious that the flashing strobes could be seen in the windows. I didn’t want to have the curtains completely closed so they were half-closed to frame the Christmas tree, add some colour and hide the flash reflection as much as possible although I knew I would have to do some work in Photoshop to completely remove this. During all this time I endeavoured to split my mind so that I could retain some essence of my thoughts. Here are contact sheets with a selection as we worked through the process.

The Archive

I have already written about this here , but, to add further brief information about the process, when we moved house I had put my father’s letters in a safe place but had only just found them again (after nearly eighteen months). I wondered whether it would now be possible to do a follow-on and create a series of some kind. In the first session, I was on my own during the day time . There were patches of shadow and so I used a light, on low setting, with a barn-door attachment to have directional light. This cast light onto the wall at the back of me.

Archive ContactSheet web

A reflector on my right side, opposite the window managed to offset some of the shadow but I ended cropping what I considered the best image to get this_MG_0723 web

It had been quite difficult manoeuvring equipment around (and myself) in a fairly confined space so the next evening I used my willing assistant who was now available to help with the lighting. At first I tried focused light (with Crewdson as my influence) although the brighter the light became the more shadows occurred

ContactSheet-002 web

A reasonable balance was then achieved, with shadow minimised, and I chose two photographs – one in shadow to use for the Collaborative Art Swap and another in more light.

_MG_0753 crop web_MG_0765 web

Overall I had learned more about lighting from the single images around the archive but, although they had been carefully staged, I preferred the constructed scene with the tree.

 

 

References

Lowry, J et al (2009) Theatres of the Real, UK,:Photoworks

https://alexiasinclair.com/collections
https://kirstymitchellphotography.com
http://paoloventura.com/?p=179
http://paoloventura.com/?p=530
http://www.clarestrand.co.uk/works/?id=100
http://www.lydiapanas.com/statement/
http://www.mca.com.au/media/uploads/images/130501-MCA_Jeff_Wall-3604.jpg

 

 

The Archive

I am very interested in the idea of using Archives – whether found, appropriated, created or mine. I have already written about found photographs here referred to the created archive The Fae Richards Photo Album here and the created archives of Joan Fontcuberta here  .

I was looking at Facebook yesterday and saw an item about the Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, his novel Museum of Innocence, and an associated ‘Collection’ he put together – a set of vitrines containing everyday objects that each represent a single moment within the relationship of a young couple’s fated romanace. This collection of The Museum of Innocence  is being exhibited in Somerset House from 27th January to 3 April this year and so I must go to see it. The film-maker Grant Gee has also created a cinematic extension of the novel using the sights and sounds of contemporary Istanbul alongside new text from Pamuk. Here is a trailer from it published on 11 August 2015.

 

A wonderful idea for connecting found objects, film/photography and literature. I am always looking for these.

Another artist who has come to my attention recently (the joys of reading the blogs of other OCA students) is Christian Boltonski who has spent much of his career examining issues of loss, memory and death. Boltonski creates mixed-media installations using everyday documents, items such as passport photographs, school portraits, family albums and worn clothing to memorialise ordinary people, unknown children killed in the holocaust, local working people and also people’s heartbeats  – a collection that is now housed in a purpose-built museum on an uninhabited island off the coast of Japan.

I am slowly collecting a ‘found’ archive of a variety of photographs obtained from sites such as eBay as I have in mind a project which, alongside my own photographs, could connect with my Assignment 2 “Expressing the Unseen”, where I created a fictional blog with associated photographs. This could provide Paul Dumont with an extended family.

More importantly, I am constantly promising myself that I will create a series around my personal archive of photographs, letters and other documents – maybe more than one because I can think of at least three at the moment – the women in my family , a wartime childhood and my father’s letters. I used a few photographs in previous blog posts in People & Place here and during this current Module here.  I have also referred to my idea of using the metaphor of an apple tree and have been taking photographs over the past year.

One of the ideas I had for Assignment 5 was to either construct a photograph of my archive or, more complex I think, to construct a tableau around self and identity. During experimental practising for Assignment 5 I created some self-portraits of myself looking at some of the material I have.  In the event I decided that my archive merits longer term work following more reflection on the idea but, as a promise to myself (and, hopefully, my next Module) here are some photographs:-

 

References

http://www.orhanpamuk.net
http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/about/press/press-releases/the-museum-of-innocence
http://www.designboom.com/art/christian-boltanski-the-heart-archive/