The grades are in, the comments received. I’m surprised. Pleasantly so.
Last year I received a couple more marks than this, initially I was disappointed until I thought further, thought deeper about what that meant. The first year grade was some way off from my degree grade, but then my degree was in photography, the MA is fine art. They’re different things (although it can be argued as being part of the same due to my approach). There’s also a step up in level.
This year I was worried about my input. I didn’t want to submit any of the Le Loup work in case I needed it next year, so I relied on a couple of other projects that were the product of far less work. I expected, no, I hoped to scrape though, but as I said, it was only a couple of marks down from last year. Perhaps I should’ve been more disappointed last year...?
Anyway, in terms of feedback:
Well done on a professionally presented submission.
Your themes of journeying/travel are developing into a consistent voice for your enquiries, and with the Le Loup series that you have started to develop a more personally referenced approach.
Your contextual research is very good, but be cautious this does not over determine your making. This is now time to step outside your comfort zone, to push your ideas and be more experimental in your making practice.
Your thoughtful contributions are always valued in group sessions.
Professionally presented - I wouldn’t want it to be anything else. Without the presentation, it would seem like nothing. Or that I didn’t care.
Time to step outside my comfort zone? I’ve been doing that all year! Well, I thought I had anyway!! Making images that use technologies other than a camera, exhibiting in a foreign land... not my comfort zone at all! How do I become more experimental in my making though, now that is something truly to ponder. Can I become more experimental?
In the resolution of Drive you have submitted both the book and the large scale prints in the archival box, we wonder what role the prints play when the book seems to be a more successful realisation of the idea, and to an extent the prints could be seen to undermine the book.
In the work After Stephen Shore II might there have been a way of presenting these ideas that was more of an imaginative transformation from his originals by making more of the way the images had been obtained by you.
Fair play, the prints from Drive didn’t feel like they were what should have been the end result, but the truth is I wasn’t sure about the book. I liked it, but others didn’t. I was trying to hedge my bets, and in doing so it appears I’ve shot my foot off a little. More faith required... As for ASSII, hmm. I’m not sure where I should’ve gone with that then. I deliberately left street names in, I left in the GSV irregularities. Others have photographed their screen to get display artefacts, but these don’t appear to be as obvious on an Apple retina screen, and I’ll be honest I didn’t have the time to try this due to the house move. Maybe I can give it a go soon - my office is close to being sorted now (bookcase arrives on Tuesday, whoop whoop). ASSII was a making day exercise that I’ve elevated - it has potential I believe, even if it is overly indulgent and reliant on knowing Shore’s originals.
Your practice is very well informed by your knowledge and understanding of photography and its contemporary context; we encourage you to bring in more of your own voice and experiences such as those you mention in your journal. Thinking about your first year submission we encourage you to have a broader critical engagement with what photographs might be and how they might be materialised.
So where will photography be heading? It looks like Arles and other recent curatorial attempts are exploring this. OK, let’s look into that.
Contextual Study – you have a deep knowledge of your form and subject matter, this study brings together historical and contemporary perspectives and amply demonstrates the themes and interests behind your work. You might you have made much more mention of videos, blogging, GoPros and Webcams? This well constructed and fluently written, with good use of own voice and citations well integrated. A good selection of illustrations. The conclusion is a bit weak.
TYB evaluation athoughtful and thorough reflection on project in progress. Your presentations are well executed and well researched. You have ensured the presentation of work is professional. Moving forwards with an exhibition to work towards at the end of the course, you will need to think carefully about the communication of concepts and content through display and consideration of audience engagement.
My conclusion a bit weak? I have to acknowledge that the conclusion was a bit rushed. I wrote most of the essay prior to moving house, then things ran away with me and I lost my train of thought in the push to the finish. I won’t be moving home again this coming year (I hope!), so I can deal with that. The exploration of other technologies can take place in the final year, see what I can do with that.
So, there we go - happy and relieved, although I know I could do better if I allowed myself to push and to take the time to look beyond the sphere of photography.
In preparing for the assessment, I’ve decided to submit After Stephen Shore II, the reworking of Shore’s Uncommon Places using GSV images, but blacking out the area Shore actually photographed, such as the Desert Center image below:
California 177, Desert Center, California, July 2014
And Shore’s original:
California 177, Desert Center, California, December 8, 1978
I’ve never printed these images before, they’ve only existed digitally, so as a trial I thought I’d try to add something, to paint the black square instead.
20 years ago it might have worked. My hands were steadier – I drew straight lines all day long (I was a draughtsman at the time), but now… the edges are somewhat wavy! It looks messy, there a brush strokes, which to be fair I thought would be a good thing, but it doesn’t work for me. Perhaps with time, practice and patience…?
No. I take that back. I actually think that adding paint runs contrary to where my practice has evolved. I used to photograph using film, I still have many film cameras (they’re generally much nicer “objects” than digital cameras), I have film in the fridge. However, that film has been in the fridge for probably 6 or 7 years, and the last time I shot film with any purpose would probably be from around that time. I bought a digital back for my medium format Hasselblad and haven’t put a film through it since (although to be fair, I don’t use the camera that often).
No, my practice is pretty much completely digital now. Yes, I soaked some prints in diesel last year, but then I rephotographed them to retain them (apart from the whiff of diesel, they no longer really exist as they did last year). I suppose this was an attempt to do something similar with paint, but no. I’m digital. Why fight it? Well, until next time I feel like doing something different.
So, the prints have rectangles created in photoshop. That’s where I’m at
The tutorial with Joanna Lowry was late (all my fault - TYB in France, then no Internet, etc.) but it was great. She said I made some great formal compositions, so my ego was stroked. That's largely insignificant though as we went on to discuss where the project might end up, and from that it can be deduced it''s not finished yet.
Part of the tutorial spoke of what the story might be, the photographs have a feel of an empty film set, waiting for a story to be told. In the last tutorial she had advised doing more research into local events, local history and she was pushing this. I have done some research though, and pulled the name of Sebastien Le Balp out of the bag. Le Balp led a revolution in 1675, taking the Bonnets Rouges on to victory in Lower Brittany before being killed by a prisoner. It's this spirit of revolt that I've been trying to capture in one thread of the photographs - the burned out car, the graffiti, even the empty bottles...
So, next year I plan to bring this more to the fore somehow. I don't like being too direct, but if I can find a way to lift it... It might even be by including other objects. Extracts from memoirs, photos of old paintings, or similar. I don't know what there is available on that level just yet, so I'll have to do some further research and it will therefore run into next year.
The 25th April saw me present some work in the group crit session; some of the more recent images from Le loup... together with some of the installation shots from the TYB exhibition, some photographs from After Stephen Shore from the making day, and finally a link to the video and some stills from Drive.
I provided the first part of my statement (more on this later) and then some questions, as follows:
My practice is moving more clearly to being related to the journey (or at least I’m recognising this more and more), the following is from my website and was updated earlier this year as the trend became apparent:
My aim is to record the journey, the road trip, getting from A to B geographically, temporally or metaphorically, and the things I see whilst I'm on that journey using whichever style of image making seems right at the time. Another recurring subject is what has been termed the “mundane” or "neutral"; those everyday things we fail to notice until someone makes an image and we are asked to stop and consider them.Occasionally I'll even try different things.I want to look at different ways of showing these things, for example using the GSV images as in the making day earlier this year, or with the Driving video, whilst not moving completely away from a “contemporary” style that might be used to describe Le loup…How I work can change from project to project, from the fairly contemporary style photographs of Le loup…, to the GSV images (Ruscha… and After Stephen Shore) to the night time photographs of Drive. Does this then seem eclectic, incoherent in terms of my practice?Is Drive in photograph form too obscure? Is the lack of information in the photographs a problem? (note - there are many more of these images in the set, it’s a subset of the video stills...)Where might I go to further explore the possibilities of the road trip or journey?
The feedback was positive, with a couple of tricky questions from Tanya thrown in for good measure. What follows below is from the transcript of my notes taken as people were providing feedback. They're short and perhaps not quite as concise as they could be, but people were speaking to make comments, not speaking to be written down. Having said that, there was a recording...
Wondering about the name for the project, Le loup, le renard et la belette.
Likes the journey, the framing at night, with the lights hitting the screen and the fact that the framing cannot be controlled.
Feels weird to see the mundane represented, but familiar and interesting.
GSV images made her feel voyeuristic - to take off the black square and see behind it. Feels gossipy...
Has the feeling of missing the people for some reason, make her feel lonely like after a disaster...
Images can feel like a hole that you keep going into, loneliness.
Likes the aesthetic of the GSV images, but has no link to them
Drive gives a direct relationship, about driving, speed - likes them very much.
Shares the loneliness of the images, but gets the feeling that being involved within the images, a part of it. Feels like being forced to see a certain part of the scene, the atmosphere of the dark sky, the petals on the floor.
Interested in the text that was juxtaposed on the installation images.
The black squares - are they removing people in the GSV images?
Loves the darkness around the drive images, working with the environment. Glare, air blowing, the warmth of the street lights... The yellow and red lights with the blackness, an explosion caused by lights and raindrops...
In response to question about incoherent and eclectic - sits very well with the photographs, journey between points.
Wants music for the video... Why didn't I just let the video roll (as video, not stills).
Doesn't feel like the photographs are people-less - there are kids, flowers and the truck. It's not lonely...
Incoherent... No! Do the projects need to be connected anyway? How was the film made?
The lack of people is not about loneliness - about framing and what's not there.
The video, you are the person in the video.
Single images of Drive more evocative of experience of driving - slipping into and out of the conscious act of driving, this impact is missing from the video.
Peter Fraser - the beauty of the quotidian, of the everyday. A space before the beauty beyond what we don't notice - where I'm exploring...
Answering the questions.
Le loup... is a song title.
After Stephen Shore is self-indulgent. Working with the images of a photographer I like in a way that doesn't cost the earth to revisit them. You need to know the original photographs (or have copies to hand) to get the relationship, and this is part of the reason for the self indulgence...
Would like to develop the idea further, collaborating with someone photographing an area "live", whilst I photographed the same area "virtually". Something for the future perhaps?
The loneliness... Done on purpose for three reasons. Firstly the French privacy laws with the subject owning their own image copyright and the need for model releases. Brittany is also emptying, so there is a metaphorical reason too with people leaving and the houses lying empty until bought up by Brits or even Parisians (Normandy is getting expensive). I also don't like photographing people - it's not really something I consider myself good at...
Mwamba picked up on the fact that he felt involved in the image. I like the idea of being able to share the experience of the image - I know the facts about the photograph, but it will hopefully be able to bring something from the viewers own memory to the fore, so that the experience is then shared at some level, and it means more, even if the meaning is different.
In answer to Tanya, I'm not confident working with video... I also think it would've been too long to keep it as is, although that doesn't deter some. Not for me though - I wouldn't watch it.
The film was made with a GoPro and Aperture.
And good to think that people don't think it's incoherent.
And yes, I’ll be looking up Peter Fraser (and Simon Faithfull) again.
A couple of weeks ago, I took part in one of Mathew’s collective intelligence art sessions. At the moment, I’m a bit pressed for time so didn’t take the time needed to read the liminal stage notes he’d provided in much depth, just skimming them. However, the performance started and everything then sort of slotted into place - the use of UNU to allow the group to decide the parameters of the piece (a sort of ouija board type interface) and then transitioning over to the work area, configured as per the results of the UNU decision process.
The making was divided into two halves - constructing the shape and then colouring, which resulted in the piece above (or at least this is part of it). I actually found this to be quite frustrating on two levels. Firstly, the interface used for the drawing wasn’t completely flawless on my Mac; the full “canvas” wouldn’t display, with some of it dropping off the bottom regardless of zoom level and without scroll bars. Also, I would click in a cell to colour it and sometimes a cell several rows lower would change colour. There were a few palette glitches too, not sure why. This is all stuff that is probably due to my computer setup as Mathew hadn’t heard of this problem before - being a Mac user for years I’ve become accustomed to some things not quite working properly as they’re generally written for Windows and ported over to the Mac as a sort of afterthought (MS Office on Mac has been atrocious in the past) - this has been changing in recent years with Apple’s growing popularity.
The other thing that I found frustrating was intrinsic to this collaborative art form - I wanted control. I guess being of an artistic disposition I have a certain desire to control what I am creating, I’ve not been used to any form of collaborative art making in the past (beyond the old children’s game where a figure is drawn in segments on folded paper...). Artists by their nature might be considered as having something of an ego - they make things they believe others should want to look at! This part of me wanted to remove the large sections of magenta from the image, maybe the fuchsia too... Purple and sage green together? Not for me thank you...
Reflecting though, this is absolutely part of the point. It’s collaborative - others may not like my choice of muted blues and greys (not all me in the piece - the participants could choose any colour from the palette, not just the ones they’d selected). I suppose the end result is less important than the actual creation - this is a technological take on the old Fluxus happenings - an instruction is given and people do their own thing. If a member of the audience had taken a savage cut from the clothes of Yoko Ono, the effect on the rest of the performance would have been detrimental. Whilst things can be changed with this digital happening (colours changed back and forth, etc. - nothing is “final” until it stops), the same general thing applies - you need to be cognisant of others, working with them rather than against.
If the drawing is to be elevated in importance in terms of an aesthetic outcome, perhaps a more considered group of participants might be a way forward - people with similar taste or styles might produce something more harmonic. But then this is engineering the end result, generating a hive mind - becoming assimilated into a borg-like collective. Yes, the outcome “improves” but the element of conflict is removed, and whilst this might be frustrating, it is probably quite key to the performance. I’ve only taken part in one, but I can see this might be the case. Its down to what the goals are - performance or end result, and that’s up to Mathew to tailor as he wants. It’s his performance, his rules at the end of the day.
Here are the installation images from the exhibition:
Berrien (featuring Koloreg)
Brasparts (featuring Motrev)
Carhaix-Plouguer (featuring Saint Herbot)
Huelgoat (featuring Gwirliskin)
Kergloff (featuring An Uhelgoad)
Loqueffret (featuring Karaez-Plougêr)
Motreff (featuring Breniliz)
Pleyber-Christ (featuring Kroaz ar Hars)
Plouyé (featuring Saint Herbot)
Poullaouen (featuring Plouie)
Whilst the photograph at Pleyber-Christ isn’t an authentic “installation shot”, it’s all I have - the photograph was going to be attached the following week (the mediatheque didn’t have the full instructions from the mairie’s office, so it was only when we dropped in for the photograph that they understood. There is also the mairie’s office at Landeleau which was being updated and didn’t actually have their board installed yet. They’ve promised me a photograph of it in situ, but I also have this with Mme Manach...
Another project, another song title and a move towards where it probably sits more naturally within "what I do".
A while ago, I posted a link to a time lapse video that I'd pulled together from images taken using a Go Pro on a journey from the ferry port of Roscoff to Huelgoat, both in Finisère. At that time, I wasn't sure where the video (called "Driving", after a song by PJ Harvey) was going to end up. It didn't have any form of soundtrack, and trying to record one using my iPhone in the car proved incredibly unsatisfactory. Modern cars don't really make a lot of "car noise", it's just wheel noise unless you really give it beans. Unless of course you have something really sporty, which I don't - just a diesel that rumbles a bit when it's ticking over. Perhaps the 2CV we have in the garage would have liked a run out...?
Anyway, without a soundtrack, the video felt a little odd, so I;ve returned to the form I like most; the Photobook. I've tried to keep the price down a little, so rather than the 2s intervals between frames, I've cut back and used far fewer frames. It keeps it moving too...
So what's the book about? A journey obviously, and one that I acknowledge nothing really happens in - nothing of any major consequence anyway. Many of the images are very similar, with only little details to mark the change from one frame to the next - it's dark so many details are lost to the night. But does the fact that "nothing happens" really make this any less relevant? No, personally I don' think it does. Sure, it might be less interesting as a pure documentary, but I actually see this as an art piece in itself. Change, action, passage, obfuscation, travel... All things I'm drawn to. Hopefully the viewer will get some of this too.
I know it might be a difficult book for some to view, especially as it's very mundane, but I find it fascinating. I'm now wondering how I can move this forward for my next major road trip I'm planning in Canada. I really would like to use this somehow, perhaps interspersing with more traditional images, but then would this feel muddled? Further thought required.
Well, as I write this it's early Friday evening (or late afternoon if you prefer), the log fire is burning (it's a little too chill here in Brittany for it not to be) and I've still not finished getting around the various sites again to document the images presence.
As I mentioned the other day, all the images are out there with the mairies, but I will be photographing the last two in situ tomorrow. My wife had the idea of taking a photograph with a representative of all the mairies offices in front of the photograph, and most have accepted for this to take place. Today it was the turn of Brasparts (up on the day we delivered it, but no representative available), Huelgoat and Motreff. Even though both had received the photograph on Monday, these latter two put them up today just before the documentation photograph with their representative - would it have happened at all if we hadn't insisted on such a record being made? Possibly, but I do wonder...
Tomorrow is the turn of my local Plouyé and Pleyber-Christ, one wasn't up yesterday, the other we've been assured is up in the mediatheque. Only Carhaix has declined to have such a photograph taken, not sure why. Certainly the maire has today announced his candidature for the next presidential elections (2017), the news of which is jeopardising my chance of making an appearance in the newspaper Ouest-France (they have more newsworthy things to consider now). Still, I made it into 2 of them, and I have posters scattered across the region, even one on the door of the Huelgoat notaire's office and the Carhaix cultural centre. If the exhibition doesn't reach its audience, it's not for the lack of trying!
(Poster in the window of Ouest-France - right of door, top right of group of 4)
(Poster in the window of Le Poher - third from right)
(photoshoot with a top model and a photographer from Le Poher)
(top model in front of photograph in Carhaix - from Le Poher)
Having said that, it is reaching "an" audience. Figures for the website (visitors and page views) have gone up, and there are spikes that correspond to announcements being made (newsletter, newspaper articles, etc.), and whilst the viewing figures aren't gargantuan, they're pleasing, with over 2150 views so far since I set it up (first spike being a request for feedback), and several hundred this week...
Viewing Figures (from Weebly dashboard)
I guess many of these will be people I know, but I'm hoping that it will reach others - appearing in the newspaper, posters in various areas, mentions in community newsletters... Yes, I'm hoping the audience will be expanded. I've not received any feedback yet though - I guess some people might be worried about being the first? Much like life here in Finistère, it can be a long hard slog rather than a sprint, so I will have to play a waiting game I guess.
Lunch time, the second day of the LeLoupExpo set up, with most of the photographs dispersed and some chasing up done, I'm sitting (with my wife) in a little creperie in Carhaix. After lunch, it's off to the local newspaper offices opposite the mairie in Carhaix for a photoshoot to go with the article they're running in the Wednesday edition. Now though, having placed our crepe order, there's a mind dumping session - lessons learned so far, what seems to have gone well, what hasn't, etc.
So here it is, elaborated a little from that scrawled onto a sheet of paper in a creperie - it will form a basis for what goes into the reflective report on the experience.
Plan for change. Also, people don't always deliver on the first opportunity. There's a need, in some instances, to push a bit more... A day seemed to be ample in my own mind for distributing images, and it pretty much has been, but I also expected to have the images up on the board, the photograph of it in situ taken, together with a snap of the maire (or whoever). This certainly isn't the case, with only three photographs up on the first day, and only one photograph of someone from the Mairie taken. I'd also hoped to visit the tourist information offices, but this hadn't happened at the time of eating our lunch either.
Explain. It's necessary to re-explain things even though it was explained in the submission e-mails and over the phone. Doing so seems to get the message across. More clarity is required for some things though. Some people thought it was a painting exhibition (awkward silence) of animals (awkward silence - le loup, le renard et la belette is the wolf, the fox and the weasel). Not that paintings of animals was ever suggested in the sample image I sent physically, via e-mail or can be seen anywhere on the weekly site...
Recognition. I've made sure that I've tried to recognise the various mairies as collaborators, I've made sure they know I'm grateful, but also included the names of the villages in all communications with the press and the radio, etc. I've tried to get a photograph with someone from the mairie's office (not all have been happy about this), so that I might include them in a further development. If I was having an after show party, they'd all get an invite, so it will have to wait for that development to (hopefully) materialise.
On the subject of recognition, another facet of this is using a more personal touch. Some mairies asked if we were going to drop the photographs in the post , but we decided to visit them in person. We've treated the peopled we've dealt with as people, not just as being "the Mairie" or "the press". Some have even gotten around to calling us now, rather than waiting to be chased (not all though...)
The A3 posters I had printed have been well received (even if there is an auto-correct spelling mistake in there - lesson learned is check and check again, especially the French!!) They were less than a couple of pounds each from Staples, less than it would have cost to print them on my inkjet with ink the price of liquid gold... Well worth it, and worth doing it again for future. (Posters left with the mairies, tourist information offices, the local press, etc.) In hindsight though, a little more information on there might have been useful.
Photographs selected.. Always a tricky one. My vision is perhaps a little bleaker than some of the mairies might want to show, so in allowing the mairies to choose which image they displayed from a small selection printed it was the more colourful, dramatic or "pretty" that were snapped up first. My personal favourites are generally unchosen. Go figure. This would then lead to some hard curatorial choices - should I have chosen the more picturesque and cater for the audience more, or stick with my own vision, my own preferences? Sell out, or sell nothing? (Not that anything is for sale this time). Allowing the maire (or secretariat, adjoint culturel, etc) to choose certainly seems to have been a positive in terms of making them feel included - a form of psychological empowerment I guess.
To get the viewers (and for them to participate) I need to get the news out there. Time will tell if I've managed to do this with the use of (limited French) social media, the radio (my wife's interview on RMN FM) and the newspapers (Le Poher and Le Courrier already to press, with Le Telegramme and Ouest-France yet to commit). There's the posters too... I've even started using Facebook, but I've not yet got a great reach. The weebly exhibition site has been getting more viewers than my own website though, although there has been a sudden spike today (50-odd viewers compared to single figures seen normally). Sitting in the creperie I'm surrounded by posters and flyers from other exhibitions, I should've targeted some of these too...
The card. I chose early on to present a photograph at A4 size, together with an A5 information card. Some mairies expressed a desire for a larger photograph, but not all could accommodate this, so I opted to keep them the same (no favouritism!) The card was intended to have a bit of an artists statement on it, together with an URL for the weebly site, but as things evolved, and Facebook strongly advised for online regional interaction (by Aude from RMN FM), there was then 3 URLs, and therefore less room on an A5 card, so it really became a signpost pointing to the website. More information would've been good at the "point of sale" to get people to visit. It might still come to pass - we'll see...
Whilst on the subject of the card, one of the mairies (so far) neglected to pin it to their board. This has been rectified, but it raised the question of whether it might have been better to print differently and include the information from the card on the same sheet. This is not something I would normally consider, but it's a case of adapting to the environment. With the card separate, there is nothing other than proximity to tie the two together. Will the audience understand?
One things that has only really occurred to me now I've seen things installed is how the context I envisaged changes with the surroundings, both in terms of being in the open in village centres or even almost rural surroundings, and what else is on the board. A fellow photographer friend (Dewald, one of the photographers shooting with me and Tanya for [( 6 )] Oxford) also noticed this, commenting on Twitter. Seeing things in a gallery context gives a certain expectation - it's in a gallery therefore it si art. Here it's on a community information boardtherefore is it something for the community? In a way, it is, and I've been pushing for community collaboration by offering to include their images on the website...
Also, and a really important point - the research is never over! Well, not until the project is finally put to bed, and even then... There's the research in terms of the project itself (e.g. Local history, additional communities - I'm still shooting, and whatnot) and in terms of getting it out there. Whilst in the Carhaix office I was asked if we'd been in touch with their communications department, which we didn't know existed. We also found out whilst talking to people that there are several of the mairies that do community newsletters - further details have been sent for inclusion in these.
It's also been HARD. Not being on site has brought its own difficulties that should be obvious. There's also the language barrier - my wife has been utterly awesome as there is no way I could have navigated all the things that have happened without her. I can get by, but it's more of a "not getting hungry" getting by than an "organising an exhibition" getting by. So hats off to her, I acknowledge I would've bitten off far more than I could chew without her...
That's it, the crepe (trois fromage, a local speciality I gather) has arrived and the pen and paper put away. It was time to chew on something else.
Monday 4th April was an incredibly hectic day, hitting the first mairie in Kergloff at 9:00, before our point of contact walked in with her dog (only a minute or so before). After a quick refresh about the raisin d'etre for the exhibition, the photograph was selected and on the information board just outside the mairie's offices, and a photograph taken of the two of us stood in front of it. A good and easy start.
The next mairies offices didn't have the keys to hand, so it was to go up later in the week. The third is still in the middle of a renovation and hasn't actually got an information board erected at the moment (it will be this month though). Things were beginning to dip a little...
Carhaix took delivery of their photograph and promised to have it up the following day, then asked whether we had been in touch with their communications team. We didn't know they had one as they hadn't mentioned it before, so the short answer was "no". A quick introduction was made and a promise to send some information later when we had a wifi connection was greeted with a pledge to see what they could do...
Almost lunch time already and one more squeezed in (to my local Plouyé office). Again, no keys to hand but a promise that the secretariat would pose for a photo with me later in the week (Marcel the maire wasn't feeling photogenic).
After lunch and a frenzied distribution of information, Poullaouen's maire wasn't in, so a return trip scheduled the following day. A couple more visited, and Loqueffret and Brasparts both put their photographs up, although no representatives were available and photo shoots rescheduled. I also took the opportunity to drop a poster under the door of the Brasparts Tourist Information office (which was closed on Mondays).
All in all, 11 mairies offices were visited (over 100 miles travelled in total, back and forth), with 10 photographs deposited and three put up straight away, and one photograph with a representative taken. A hard day, and not quite as immediate as I had hoped, but it was a good start...
Tuesday was filled with appointments and actions - people to call, people to visit and things to arrange. A visit to one of the mairies saw the photo installed but without the little card, this was sorted and a photograph taken with the maire... A bit of running around and Carhaix's image was installed on a smaller information board around the back of the building because it could be alone and not half hidden by other notices and such. Perhaps a nice thought on their behalf, but I actually like the way the photograph interacts with other posters, etc. One of the local newspapers met up for a photo shoot for the next day's paper (Le Poher), and posters were dropped into various locations.
The final visit for the day was with the maire of Poullaouen - earlier in the day he'd been rescuing an abandoned pig, and now he was posing for a photograph in front of my photograph he'd just selected and attached to the notice board next to the front door of his building. Such is the life of the mairies of rural Brittany...
So, many miles covered, most of the photographs installed and some media coverage achieved. Now let's see if anything comes back.
Two days before setting off to France to put the TYB exhibition up, I’ve had a last minute phone call from the mairie’s office in Pleyber-Christ - they will be able to participate after all, putting the photograph up in their mediathèque. That means I have 11 locations and an updated map. I’ve also been able to update the poster I want to put up in the tourist information offices, etc. and have updated the press release pdf, although I doubt I’ll be sending it out anywhere else. Pleyber-Christ won’t be getting a mention on the radio though, the interview with my wife (I’m too English...) should be airing today (31st March), with the soundbite hopefully also being available on the RMN FM website.
(note - entry typed on the 31/3, but not uploaded due to lack of Internet connection)
“Effectivement Rob a un fort accent anglais. Je pense qu’il serait mieux que ce soit vous, Lory, qui preniez la parole à l’antenne.”
It seems my French is too “English” for the radio... And with that news I breathe a huge sigh of relief as it will be my wife (Lory) who will be giving a 2-minute soundbite to regional Breton radio station RMN FM to promote the upcoming exhibition in Brittany in their cultural segment. Of course, I’ll have to tell her what she has to say.
In addition to the above, I’ve to send some stuff over to the regional newspaper Hebdo du Finistère for inclusion, including an image from the show and a photograph of me. Ha, I’m a photographer, I don’t have images of me...!
I’ve also got the photo call with Le Poher for a piece and have to get in touch with Le Telegramme when we arrive there.
As we were all sat together looking at our computer screens last week, waiting for the TYB "show and tell" to start, I began wondering why I was so fascinated by the idea of the journey, by the road trip. I'm not sure why I specifically thought about it then, but I did. I also came up with a simple answer: I'm something of an "outsider".
It's a simple and somewhat sweeping generalisation. I'm not really an outsider, I've lived where I do for 10 years or so (but will be hopefully moving soon), and before that I spent the previous 30-odd years living in the bright lights of Blackpool. Clearly I'm not an outsider there. Well, actually, in many ways I am... and it's reflected in my outlook on life, on the way I take photographs and what I take them of.
I prefer to sit on the periphery, looking in, rather than on the inside looking out. I suppose it's this trait that draws me to photography and the road trip - you can move from place to place, taking the images as you go without having to travel into the centre of it all. And now, with GSV, you don't even have to travel at all!
Would I like the life of a traveller, with nowhere to hang my hat? No, not at all. I like my home comforts, and I suppose that's one reason why my wife and I bought a holiday home a few years ago (there are other reasons too, practical ones...). We get to travel whilst enjoying the familiarity of home. We come back here, so whilst my current project (Le Loup...) is labelled a road trip/travelling experience, in some ways it's not. Outside the walls of my little French cottage I am that outsider though, even amongst the neighbours who have accepted me. I'm far from fluent in French, although we do communicate well enough for the most part. And yes, I'm part of the Brittany problem of too many holiday homes (although with perhaps an intention to settle here once my working days are spent).
When looking at what I photograph though, and perhaps more importantly how I photograph it, I think this is with non-native eyes. I look for things that are somewhat "quotidien", banal and everyday things that get overlooked because of this. I'm not alone in working with such subject matter, it really is a mainstay of contemporary photography - normal things recorded in an unsentimental way. I'm not necessarily attached to anything that I photograph, and that sometimes makes it difficult for some viewers... They don't always understand that the odd things I focus on aren't always meant to "mean" something, it's just that I'm highlighting things that I see so that they might see them too. It's easier to do this when you're just passing by, seeing new things with new eyes.
As part of the push to interact with an audience, I’ve included another gallery to the website louprenardbelette.weebly.com - for the viewers photographs (Vos Photos). Hopefully this will provide a chance for the audience to feed back, drive interest in the exhibition and traffic to my website. I’ve also created a tumblr at louprenardbelette.tumblr.com to put the images on, these will also be tweeted to my main account - the idea for this came from Tanya’s Postcards of Reading and we’re also talking about setting something similar up for the Oxford project.
I’ve no idea if this will be picked up on, I suppose it will depend on people being made aware that something is happening - that’s where all the press activities come in, and the tweeting in French (to a mostly English audience... hmm). I’ll have to hope for the wonders of social media to take hold!
Two weeks to go before I head off to France to distribute the photographs to the mairies and it’s now confirmed I have 10 locations to put the work. I originally tried to get 15 involved, so I don’t think a 66% hit rate is bad at all - some have been harder work than others to bring on board, granted, but 66% is good I feel. And 10 is a nice round number.
One of those that turned me down has another event on at the same time and will be using the notice board space to promote that, but they have said there is a possibility of putting something up in the adjacent mediathèque but we won’t know until the beginning of April. Another has been impossible to get hold of, the other three simply not interested for whatever reason.
Having the locations finalised (ignoring the possible prospect of adding Pleyber-Christ via the mediathèque option), I’ve now been able to finalise the press release and will be sending that out. Initial probings into getting media coverage have raised some potentially very positive opportunities, although actually quite terrifying. My boundaries will be tested to the limit by the potential coverage in the newspapers (Le Poher are talking of sending a reporter/photographer over on the 5th April), there’s a radio segment (my wife will be covering this on my behalf for ease...) and even (GULP) some TV coverage on the local network. One contact has been particularly positive sounding as she is a photographer graduate from Paris, and this has piqued her interest. I’ve also been promised an entry in the English language Central Brittany Journal for April.
None of this media coverage is finalised, stemming from some phone calls made by my wife over the last couple of days. All sounding really exciting though!
The presentation of the TYB project went painlessly enough, talking over the shared slides. In discussing further a few thoughts came more to the fore in my mind, and I've also been asking myself questions about this body of work and my oeuvre in general. First of all though, the comments that were raised by Les and the cohort:
I spoke about how the organisation may not have been made any easier by my style of photography; I don't really make pretty photographs. Mathew countered this with what I must assume was an observation based on the 2 or 3 "purer" landscape images, the mist over the hills or in the trees. These won't be a part of the printed selection and are really there to pander to the needs for "prettiness". Is this a cop out? Have I sold myself short by including them? In a way I have, but then I'm sure I'm not the first to compromise a little on these things.
Mathew also questioned the 2 empty whisky bottles by the corn field, and whether these were a metaphor for the loss of people form the region. I rather glibly responded that the people liked a drink (I have more photographs in the same vein, but the light works better in that one). In truth though, I'd not consciously thought about it like that, but all of the images are really within one of maybe three themes; the melancholy emptiness of the region, or the protest (resistance) or perhaps, in conjunction with one of the previous themes, a touch of quirkiness (use of colours, fluffy bikes, etc.). Yes, there's other things too but it's mostly shot through with these themes - even down to the Fest-Noz posters which, of course, are written in Breton. So, on a subconscious level, I will have picked up on this. It's my way of working. It's sometimes a surprise what you find in your own work when you stop and think about it. And that's what I'd appreciate more than anything; people stopping and thinking about it rather than being momentarily charmed by a vapid prettiness (that's a different "vapid" than what might be drawn from the images).
Tanya mentioned that perhaps Brasparts might be an idea for the location for a second exhibition. Maybe that might be the case, based on their interest in this first one. I'd certainly like to pull together a second exhibition, and have mooted such an idea as part of the proposal with the mairies - that the original images will be pulled back into a single location. I particularly like the idea that these images might be the original images, perhaps with signs of weathering, fading or whatever. A flavour of having been outside... I think in reality this might be a bit of a pipe dream for the moment - it certainly can't be until next year due to other commitments, but then it will either have to be a short show, or there is a logistics issue with taking it down again. I'm not sure I'd be able to stay in country long enough for it to be worthwhile...
Les questioned whether I'd made it all a bit too difficult, that I'd set my sights too high and was trying to achieve something... not impossible, but dogged with issues. The language, the distance, the time required for responses to be forthcoming, etc. I don't think so though. The work needs to be seen in such a way, it makes sense to me for it to be seen in this way. I'm not sure I'd have been really happy for it to be seen any other way. I draw a parallel to an earlier body of work I've produced, Into the Valley, which should be viewed in the Ribble Valley, where it was photographed. At least initially. I've resisted this being shown elsewhere first, and perhaps its time has passed now - there is a reluctance for it to be shown as intended within the local gallery system as there are photographs of people (even children) and I don't have model releases. Not that I legally needed them. Perhaps the French system isn't so bureaucratic and oppressive after all - I've encountered the same over here in England!
The other question that came to me indirectly (i.e. it wasn't raised by Les or the cohort, rather as I sat thinking just before the presentation) was "why do I photograph the journey?" I'll save this for a future post - I think it needs some serious contemplation, although I do have a sort of half answer ready...
Whilst TYB is essentially a short time project (circa four months from initial presentation to getting the work out there), is there any real point doing things unless there are people to see it? And if not, how to get them to go and find it?
My TYB is spread across a region, on the notice boards in and around various village mairies in Brittany. Yes, by being on a community notice board, there will be people seeing it as they head over to the mairie for whatever it is they’re going for, as they head across the village square to the boulangerie or whatever it is that they’ll be doing. I do like this somewhat random aspect to the exhibition, the step away from the gallery and bringing it to the public. But, it would be nice if people took the time to see more than one of the images, even though it is possible (probable) that I won’t get to know that they have.
So something for the media - my wife thinks it should be print, online, radio and social. I tend to think not the radio but anything else would be good. I’ve already managed to get Central Brittany Journal to commit, so what else?
There’s the tourist information office - I’m thinking maybe an A4 poster for here.
The local press (in French) - there are a small number of newspapers it might be worth approaching with a press release. Breizh Info, Brud Nevez, L’hebdo du Finistere, Le Poher and Le Télégramme. But what to put out to them? What follows is a starter for 10:
“Le loup, le renard et la belette is an exhibition of photographs of Brittany by the artist Rob™. However, there is a difference to what might normally be expected: instead of being held in a single gallery location, the photographs are being displayed on the Mairie’s notice boards across the central Finistère region, making them available to everyone to see, inviting the viewer to travel to further locations to experience the fuller exhibition, thus experiencing more of Finistère in the process.
The exhibition will start around the 4th April 2016, and will remain in situ for varying periods, depending on the local Mairie.
The photographs themselves do not aim to glorify or condemn, merely to record and to present what can be seen in Finistère. They hope to capture something of the life, beauty, solace and the fortitude of the region, whilst not brushing over the hardship and the conflict that life there can undoubtedly contain. A theme that recurs through this and other projects is what has been termed the “mundane” or "neutral"; those everyday things we fail to notice until someone makes an image and we are asked to stop and consider them: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” (Paul Klee). The exhibition therefore aims to make Finistère “visible”; a chance to stop and contemplate.
Locations The following Mairie’s offices will feature a photograph from the exhibition: Brasparts Kergloff Loqueffret Poullaouen ...
Biography Rob™ is a photographic artist living in the rural North-West of England whilst spending regular periods in Central Finistère.
After leaving school, he studied graphic design before moving into a career in engineering, initially as a designer and subsequently as a certification specialist. A number of years ago, he picked up a camera again in order to break away from the rigid constraints and structure of the technical and back into something more creative.
His aim is to record the journey, the road trip, getting from A to B geographically, temporally or metaphorically, and the things he sees whilst on that journey, using whichever style of image making seems right at the time. Occasionally he even tries different things.
His work has been exhibited around the world, and is held in both public and private collections.”
It’s all been quiet with TYB for a couple of weeks - I’ve turned my attention elsewhere, the essay and the PPP for example (in terms of the course). However, things are inching inexorably onwards - a little frustrating when I sit down and pause to think about it, but it is moving on.
There are still only four confirmed mairies taking part, with another one looking probable (they’ve asked to see what photograph they would be hosting). I’m hoping a few phone calls next week will improve the situation and get me nearer to the hoped for 10 or 12 taking part.
I’ve also had an English speaking ex-pats magazine, the Central Brittany Journal, confirm they will run a little something on the exhibition in their April issue. I’ll send something off to the French media soon in the hope they can include something. I’ll also have to start hitting the social media a bit more!
Last week I had a tutorial with Les Bicknell on the Testing Your Boundaries project. I’ve left it late to document it, but here is what I recall:
There was a very brief discussion about the lack of time and therefore enthusiasm that I’d been having, which had been lifted slightly with the news of acceptance from the first of the French mairie’s to host images as part of TYB. Plans for moving home are taking over at the moment (due to be completed some time around Easter…)
There was more prolonged discussion about how the villages that will be displaying the work might be connected to each other, whether there was any logic to the choice of venues (there wasn’t really – they’re a mix of those I’d been photographing). A phrase I wrote down during this time was
Extend to Exchange…
By this it was meant how to use connections from the UK in France, and vice versa. For example, is it possible to use a connection in the UK to open doors in France, to get past “gate guardians” that might block the way? Can twinned towns provide any possibilities – display in the UK to display in France, etc.
As it happens, Tanya and I have been talking with a small group of photographers we’ve exhibited in the past about photographing the English city of Oxford with the intention of having the images displayed in Oxford, Nova Scotia, and then if I go over there for the exhibition, photograph NS to display in England… The same principle.
Also, my wife (who just so happens to be French, hence my connection to the country) is a member of a twinning committee here in the UK. I’ve yet to broach this, but we have been invited over to France via this twinning committee to photograph the street art in Vitry sur Seine – I’ve no time to do this at the moment, so something for the future.
This all seems to be leading towards “art tourism” – I liked this phrase and will likely reuse it at some point. This came from my idea that you would need to go out of your own area to see the other images and those from your own (acknowledging that many will actually just look online if they’re interested), and that I hope to put flyers/posters in the tourist information offices, etc.
The actual display of work was also discussed, and how the work and the display can become a “book” in its own right, the work on one page and the work on display on the facing page – a recto-verso pairing. It might well be a worthwhile exercise to produce this book as part of the documentation.
Returning to the way that the mairie were selected, there was s recognition of the gap between the two (the mairie and the site the photograph was taken), it is not planned for any mairie to display an image taken in its own locale, so there is something of a journey to be taken between the two, the art tourism thing. This then lead to how this might be exploited, and to talk of video taken en route from the ferry to near my house – a similar thing might be done here also (Go-Pro stop motion type thing – “draft” video here).
The project is slowly progressing, with the exhibition planned to commence the first week in April (our next trip to France), and with the website at louprenardbelette.weebly.com and social media promotion starting now.
Loqueffret (Lokeored) have just confirmed that they will be taking part in the exhibition, which is great news. Three boards so far, with only one rejection.
They have come up with something that I’d never even thought about, which probably positions me somewhat within the art world. They asked me to confirm that I wouldn’t be expecting any payment from them for hosting the exhibition! I’m near the bottom of the arts food chain, I’m expected to pay for the chance to exhibit places (entry fees for exhibition calls and competitions, etc, or rental costs for a week in a gallery). I’m not in the position where I expect a fee to exhibit somewhere. That’s not my reality. Not yet at least, although I do follow campaigns like Paying Artists, etc. Without payment, how are artists supposed to survive? Which of course ties back in to the asynchronous discussions on value in the art market...
Anyway, I’ve sent them confirmation that I won’t be expecting any payment, and a thank you.
I’ll also be sending a follow up e-mail to the others to confirm this, and to nudge them along, although it is school holidays in France this week and next, so there may be a limited response, I might know more by the end of the month (fingers crossed).
I’ve received my first rejection from one of the mairie’s approached for the noticeboard exhibition as part of Testing Your Boundaries. Guerlesquin (Gwirliskin) have stated they do not want to take part. Never mind, you can’t win them all...
But on a much more positive note, I’ve had my first acceptance too! Poullaouen (oddly enough, Poullaouen in Breton too...) have agreed to host a photograph. So that’s it, even if it is just the one noticeboard, there will be some form of exhibition.
A couple of others have murmured in an quietly positive manner too, but nothing definite yet, hopefully they will swing over to confirmations in the next couple of days - I need to send a few more e-mails and letters to refresh memories, and to those where the mail hasn’t arrived for some reason... (one mairie has moved, another wants it for the attention of someone else, etc.).
So some bad news, which was always to be expected, but accompanied by the good!
For some reason, it’s not embedding properly, I occasionally get this problem with Rapidweaver.
The footage covers the circa 40 minutes from Rosko (Roscoff) to An Uhelgoad (Huelgoat) in Brittany. I’ve been thinking about a longer video, covering the whole duration of a visit whilst travelling (battery life would prevent the lull when we’re not out and about).
A whistle stop tour of Les’ thoughts on context in terms of exhibiting work - 49 quick fire slides that got straight to the point but served to trigger more thoughts on my behalf. Some of it so blatantly obvious it shouldn’t need stating, but now it has been stated how does it change what I thought about it? A bit like when Neo broke the vase when he saw the Oracle... Sort of. What follows are bullet points because that’s all I really got chance to make...
Slide 2: How is the work experienced? > think about rooms, about the journey to the room. How is the work informed by them? Does the room change the way the work is received?
3: Where is the work experienced? Is there some form of informal social contract? Do national stereotypes take hold? The behaviour of the location (do not cross the line... talk in hushed tones...)
4: Context frames understanding - work may be received differently in a white cube gallery than if displayed in the open, etc.
5: Items take on different meaning depending on use; fishing nets or cricket nets for example.
6: Towels can be used for drying and as markers for ownership...
7: Mats on sale in a store are different to one behind a door - the context changes what we expect of it.
8: Packaging keeps its contents neat until they are discarded when empty and become rubbish.
9: Christo and Jean-Claude used nylon sheeting to create art in Running Fence, a 24.5 mile long installation, similar sheeting is used in the building trade to surround building sites/scaffold. Intent changes the material, even though it is the same...
10: An Issey Miyake installation with the same material on manikins (clothing) and on the floor... Changes in purpose causes confusion.
11: Whilst context frames the reader, it also frames the makers understanding of the work.
12: Modern life is very much mediated through the screen - the MA course happens through one for a start. How is the work to be viewed without a screen? Something to be aware of.
13-16: A series of slides of fishing nets; bundled, stretched out, in glass cabinets, in an anthropological scene. All coming from an exhibition by Susan Vogel - the same object viewed and interpreted in different ways because of the manner it was displayed. Context is everything...
17: Museums - they collect things for the future, preserving and cataloguing from antiquity.
18: Libraries - a place for knowledge and learning. They’re going through their own change at the moment (books on paper to books on PC). An outdated idea based on trust? People come back every few weeks = audience.
19: Galleries - have their rituals, a slow and hushed walk around, reading of labels and statements...
20: Hanging work - not from the wall, but in space - not suited to all work, obviously, but more possibilities can arise and helps give a sense of temporality or flight.
21: The floor - Is work more “honest” if it’s displayed on the floor? It’s no longer on a pedestal so is there less preciousness to it? Can you walk on it? (I thought about printing on flooring tiles some time ago for Speak My Language)
22: The wall - This is the obvious choice for 2D art, but where about on the wall - hanging lower than expected can cause discomfort and can be appropriate (as with Pete’s work from [( 6 )] - he is a wheelchair user, but the gallery moved it back up after we’d hung it and left). A piece of Lawrence Weiner’s art was to remove the plaster and show the wall beneath...
23: The plinth - elevate things physically and conceptually, makes things appear important.
24: The spotlight - used to direct focus, what is valued in terms of worth looking at. It also plays with light and dark. (Kohei Yoshiyuki’s The Park was displayed in pitch darkness, with the audience being given small torches when they entered)
25: The vitrine - the glass case can change viewers thoughts, from art to museology. They provide protection and block access. What are the politics of protection?
26: Other glass boxes give different ideas - the style of the vitrine can affect the impact... (Wattage Yukichi’s A Criminal Investigation was displayed in glass topped cases at Le Bal, it made you look down, as if searching for clues)
27: The table - provides a domestic vibe, it’s familiar and accessible...
28: The shelf - is not a table (clearly). They provide a more private viewing experience than something on an open table. It’s not far removed from staring at the wall.
29: Online - There is a connectedness to the work, and can allow direct feedback (blogs/comments, etc). it’s available 24/7, but only to those who have Internet access, and also know where to find it...
30: The home - open house, domestic by nature, small gatherings.
31: Other systems - includes parish notice boards, fetes, car boot sales, even camp sites... (I’m actually working with community notice boards for TYB, putting photographs on them around the region)
32: National Trust land - Orford Ness in Sussex was a military site now open to the public. Work displayed in areas previously used for other means can give it an air of something else - Orford Ness has links to atomic warfare, but is now a bird sanctuary...
33: The artist book - understood in its basic form, but can be so much more... It’s also portable, intimate and democratic (until they become filthy expensive collectors items).
34: Live transmission - changing practices... outside broadcast, etc.
35: Video/DVD - the packaging for digital work becomes part of the art? Also memory sticks and similar.
36: Monitors - the type of monitor might be important, and if so it will anchor the display in time/history.
37: Digital projection - where is the work? Is it on the screen? Or the projector? Or does it lie somewhere between the two, and is subject to interventions from outside influences?
38: New media - smart phones, tablets, VR headsets... can be live streamed, accessed via the web or available any time.
39: Photographs - are photographs the work, or are they of the work?
40 & 41: Documentation - photographs of the art, even video. Or other evidence, such as what remains of Christo’s fence mentioned earlier... Momentary events, performances, etc. recorded as documentation.
42: Process - can process be the work? The act of colouring, elements of scale (smaller and larger - Alice in Wonderland effect). Ideas of childhood - will this then include the slides at the Tate?
43: Performance - something that’s transient and gone at the end (unless documented somehow). Anything can happen...
44: installation - Beuys, the meaning of place. Installations where everything is relevant, from the lights to the floor to whatever else is there...
45 & 46: Interventions - where something is added to a situation, be it graffiti or whatever. Layering is another angle. Doing something as a performance (artist biting her nails...) during an intermission or similar.
47: Site specific - work that would be the work if it were somewhere else...
48: Relational art - Nicholas Bourriard was mentioned (pdf downloaded, need to read it)
49: Mel Chin’s interventions in Melrose Place, the American soap. Hidden messages and the like - “Free Tibet” written in Chinese on the takeaway boxes, AIDS drug gene coding on a quilt...
After that, there were audience relationships to consider. How the maker, the work and the audience (and other factors) interact, from simple relationships such as the maker makes the work and the audience sees the work, to interactions, feedbacks and other things altogether more complex. This is how I envisage my interactions with my audience with the TYB exhibition:
"I don't think we've even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do society - both good and bad - is unimaginable."
Source: David Bowie predicted the internet's impact on music and society
The video was filmed in 1999, but much of what he said is pretty good. One thing that really especially resonated with me was his discussion about Duchamp and then the audience finishing the work, and grey space that exists in the middle of the art and audience... (around the 10 minute or so mark). Without the audience, there is no art, it's truly meaningless. The audience interprets, give the art that meaning that maybe the artist wanted, maybe its something else. The author has died, just as Barthes might postulate...
And he wore stilettos and a dog collar to meet the PM. Magical!
Many thanks to Tanya for highlighting this video for me, enjoyable in the midst of a time where I do feel the loss.
He stole ideas from everywhere and was a great collaborator, pushing almost everyone he worked with to do their best work, but Bowie was always unmistakably Bowie, adding his own distinctive sense of style into the mix.
I've been a huge Bowie fan since I can remember music, I own every album he recorded up to the late eighties/early nineties, some of his music from that point was conflicting too much with my new found goth tendencies (my own reinvention of myself).
I've seen him live (I was the only goth at the Tin Machine concert in Brixton), I've read books and watched films and documentaries. Ziggy Stardust was also my karaoke debut in a small bar in Kyoto. His lyrics have meant much to me, even when that meaning is far and away from what was intended (I read today that Station to Station was a reference to the Christian stations of the cross...).
He was a chameleon, a re-inventor and a thief. Yes, according to the above from the Guardian, he stole his ideas, or at least some of them. How can I put this into my ethics debate?
I suppose the more important thing to take from the above quote though is that Bowie was always unmistakably Bowie.
Fijalkowski's lecture was an interesting one. Some of it resonated directly to the Provocations debate I'm in the middle of planning on appropriation. Other stuff echoed around some of the things I read a few years ago in terms of commodification and the economics of art. There was a lot of information here. A lot of questions to consider too, grist for the mill that is the asynchronous seminar.
What is the "art world" and who controls it?
How does art relate to value and economy?
Is making art a practice, a system or an industry?
These questions are the start of the Value - driver of the art world forum discussion. I've set things rolling with:
Just to kick things off, I suppose there are a number of things that are at play.
Commodity value (art is without doubt a commodity that is traded, just like stocks and shares) is what is important, rather than use value (ok, it can be nice to look at for a while) or production value (cost of materials and time).
To give art a use value, it would be low. What's the difference between an original and a reproduction? In terms of photographic art, is there even an original? If a print was made by Cartier-Bresson, and has a CoA, is it really any different to a mass produced copy in terms of "use"? No, it's not. The same goes for the production costs, with a slight variation for economies of scale. The photographic print in its own right is a fairly low value item. What is of value is the name, the authenticity provided by the CoA, the exclusiveness... the owner becomes important because they own... self gratification...
Of course, some items are different, the above is a crass simplification. Hirst's platinum and diamond skull clearly has material worth in the parts, etc.
Then there's economic determinism - supply and demand and the desire for more of the same...
Where do I sit...? hmmmm. Of course there's a bit of the "collector" in me, it's human nature. I don't have the money to make any inroads into that desire. Will I feed anyone else's? I'm not sure, but I can dream...
It's not a direct answer to the questions above, but a response to the start of the seminar. We'll see where that leads.
In Fijalkowski's notes there was a list of actors on the art world stage. None of them are totally surprising, but it's worth listing them again, just to let them sink in...
Museums and galleries
Art fairs and Biennales
Critics, curators and historians
Magazines and publishing
Funding bodies, local, regional, national and international networks.
Above all though, you have to remember that art can be absolutely anything, it just needs conceptualisation, contextualisation, strategies and some form of organisation...
More will undoubtedly follow over the coming weeks.
Whilst in France I started making some initial enquiries by phone with the various mairie (Ty Ker) offices that I’ll need to get onboard for the exhibition. They want everything in writing, with examples...
My initial reaction was that this was typical French bureaucracy going mad, but to be fair I should have expected it. French copyright law is such that everyone who appears in a photograph has to give their permission for each and every usage of that photograph, so they need to know what they’re agreeing to show on their notice boards as effectively they’ll be endorsing it. To a much lesser degree, property permissions may also be needed if the use of the property. From 2004 onwards, the owner of a property or object doesn’t have exclusive rights over images of the property from public spaces, although they can oppose the use if such use causes them an “abnormal” problem (according to the Photo This & That website).
I’m now in a position where I will need to write a series of letters with sample images and some clear background, including links to associated websites and all the stuff that normally goes with a submission and post them off to them. A bit of extra cost, possibly a slight delay but hopefully everything should be pretty smooth once they have that...
Well, it seems that it will be ok to put my work up for display a week or two after the March 14th deadline (presentation day), although of course I will have to include the documentation of the actual display within the journal and write up.
So, beyond what I was mentioning the other day, what are my first thoughts?
Displaying Le Loupe... in France is the basic concept, and it was always going to be something of an idea. I had initially thought about some form of gallery context for the display (well, after the book form), but now I’m looking of pushing those boundaries, taking the work outside the conventional environment. I mentioned the Tourist Information Office the other day, or perhaps the mairie. Now, I’m thinking that I’d like to see the work scattered across the region on local village notice boards, reflecting the fact that the photographs have been taken across that region. The fact that the notice boards are an occasional subject in these photographs isn’t lost either.
Spreading the work out, an image here and an image there will weaken the narrative aspects, which is fine - it’s not pure documentary anyway. What I might look at doing is providing some background information, perhaps through a linked website where people can see the other related works. It becomes the glue for disparate works that will be lacking in context in isolation.
As it stands, I’m not sure what is involved in gaining access to these notice boards. I’m guessing it will be via the mairie, or maybe the bibliotheque or poste (assuming there is one close by). I’m in France soon, so I will start to ask these questions. I can also look at other places that might be options for display... I had thought of some guerrilla postings, but if I link to website, there might be repercussions, which is something I’m not keen on experiencing (bureaucracy can be problematic for an easy life!). I also need to find all these boards..
As for the website, obviously it should contain some form of gallery for the images, but also some context, maybe a map for the images that are displayed. An open comments section? Or maybe just a contact form? Things to think about - I’ve not got these solutions yet.
Also, how to print? To what size? Initial thoughts are that they should be maybe A4 or so, but whether these should be photographic or poster style prints, I don’t know. Some of the information boards are completely exposed to the elements, some might be behind glass, or even inside. I don’t know. Inkjet prints will be waterproof (from a better grade printer, I’m not talking a cheap inkjet...), they’re certainly diesel proof anyway as the Ruscha Gasoline Stations Revisited project has proven. How durable they’d be when exposed though... Actually, I think that’s part of the interest for me, how things will last. Will they last? Will they be removed from the boards? Will they just decompose or fade? Board use might be time limited, so this might not be much of a consideration.
Maybe the prints should be a little bigger? Maybe I need different sizes for different info boards? Maybe some places will want things smaller, post card sized?
I’ll start to test the water, weigh the options and make some decisions with the aim of having things ready for Easter.
The Testing Boundaries part of the module is designed to do just that. And I can tell you, it feels quite intimidating.
Les Bicknell kicked off with a slide presentation outlining the aims of the project, which to cut a long story short is to put your work out there in a way that is appropriate yet not what might normally be done. There was talk of Open House events (not going to happen - I wouldn't want strangers coming around to my house, which is in any case in the middle of nowhere and somewhat small), Open Studio events (I don't have a studio as such, certainly not one that isn't part of my house), Shop Windows and Hospitals. There were other things too...
The more... difficult part of the session came with thinking who to put your work out there and describing those first thoughts to the group. Well, no, not difficult, but in some ways yes... If you consider my current project, the obvious thought would be to present it in some way in France (well, Finistère actually), and as the project has multiple streams, one of which is the emptying of the region, it might be considered that a venue could be tourist information offices, the mairie or maybe libraries... Would they want it to be shown there though? It could be argued that it can paint a somewhat negative image at times; burnt out cars, graffiti and empty premises and no people... Yes, it could be a tough sell.
Another option might be to see if I could make use of public information boards (like the one below), pinning to the boards for it to either remain or be removed. Or perhaps postcards distributed somehow. Or empty shop fronts. Or perhaps something totally different.
The distance involved will be challenging, to say the least. The fact that I'm only there intermittently even more so, especially as there is a mid-March deadline and I will only be there probably once before that time, maybe twice if I'm lucky... I think this really is a non-starter in terms of achieving it by March.
Do I therefore need to think about something else instead? What about making use of last year's Ruscha project, or even the Stephen Shore stuff from the making day? How can I make use of the GSV images? How can I present them? A small part of Ruscha's Gasoline Stations Revisited will be making an appearance in a show in Los Angeles this week, what else can I do with it? Do I go back to some earlier work? Some thinking is clearly required!
Monday's crit session was a good one I feel, again with interesting work being created from amongst the cohort. For my own presentation, the images were posted the other day (here) and the text below is what I'd prepared to guide what I wanted to say. I will have deviated from this in places, but as I said, it was guidance.
Le loup, le renard et la belette
It’s a working title, carrying on my habit of naming projects after songs - Le loup… is from La jument de Michao (Michao’s mare - the wolf, the fox and the weasel), a traditional Breton song that’s been recorded by a number of French recording artists/groups in different styles... (Tri Yann, Nolwenn Leroy, Manau....).
The project looks towards Penn-ar-Bed (Finistère) in Brittany. I have a house there, so in a way it’s personal but I’m trying not to be introspective.
I started out just photographing… Now there are a number of themes that I’m hoping to weave together into an extended body of work.
Beyond the region itself, I guess the first theme is that in the photographs, there will be frequent signs of people, but no people themselves.
This is because French law states that each individual has the exclusive right to their image and of who uses their image.
Not only publishing the image, but even taking a photo containing someone, the photographer has to have their permission.
This then gives another theme, which is that the emptiness this creates is also representative of the fact that Brittany is emptying - the region is largely rural offers few real employment prospects.
Isolation, charm, otherness, toughness/resilience, a step away from modernity, nostalgia are all things I’ll also be hoping to capture. There is a resistance to the stereotypical French “chic”, it’s less ostentatious (unless we’re comparing tractors).
The area also has various legends, there are druids and it’s one of the places that King Arthur is said to have come from. The forest near Huelgoat features a Merlin’s Cave and Arthur’s Camp…
Another theme might be the conflict that bubbles under the surface in Brittany. It’s long been “different” to the rest of France, subjected to different taxes and the like. There are the bonnets rouges and their tax protests, protests against the airport, lack of subsidies and Brittany not being Breton…
All the photographs are titled with the Breton names of where they were taken. Whilst I don’t think that Breton is officially recognised as a national language, they do allow it to be taught in schools, and they’re fiercely defensive of it. Some posters and the like are only in Breton…
The comments from the chatbox during and after the presentation were - I've added some post crib notes in italics:
Susan Miller 19:38 Western Brittany is more like Cornwall than France. The Bretton language has a commonality with Welsh (Part of Finistère is actually called "Cornouaille")
Tanya A 19:39 how big is the geographical area you are working with? (I guessed at about 150 sq miles)
Monika Brueckner 19:39 I don´t miss poeple the emptiness tells a lot
Susan Miller 19:40 the colours in 2 and 6 work really well (An Uhelgoad and Kenec'h David)
Caroline Wright 19:40 In a place where the people seem to hold sway with things such as the taxes, it is interesting that they are absent in the images
Monika Brueckner 19:41 but I would sort them in series (I'll decide on this when the collection is finished and I know how I'll be presenting them - it will depend on juxtapositions, etc.)
Alison South 19:42 When I first looked at the images I thought they were constructed - there is something really detached about them - very intruiging
Máire Keogh 19:42 I love 5 & 6 - different from the other road,buidings etc. I dont think you need people? (Ode Tredudon and Kenec'h David)
Emma Delpech 19:42 I agree Alison....
Caroline Wright 19:43 5 and 6 present a very different experience, a subset? (I’m not actually sure if these belong...)
Susan Miller 19:43 the eeriness of 2 5 6 is quite haunting
Emma Delpech 19:44 I'll find the link... (Emma had mentioned a photographer who shot at night with long exposures to make things look like daytime)
Máire Keogh 19:45 well maybe 5 & 6 important in portraying lack of people living in Brittany 80% of time? I found Brittany so different from other place in France
Alison South 19:45 In some of them the absence of the people is heavier - like there is a narative there
Monika Brueckner 19:45 yes
Caroline Wright 19:45 I agree
19:45 where in brittany Rob (It’s Finistère - near Huelgoat/An Uhelgoad)
Monika Brueckner 19:46 on your homepage there is one in a garden with a blue box - great it´s irritating (I see these like punctuation - the "detail" photographs)
Emma Delpech 19:48 Gregory Crewdson sorry - he's not the one I meant
Máire Keogh 19:48 do you print all /select your images just wondering because really like no 5!!! (When curating the finished sequence, I'll print out many 3x2s and work with those. I am planning to start printing more of my work out though)
Caroline Wright 19:50 Tell me about image no 7, the car... (The burnt out car is a result of some protests I believe, I came across it early on a Sunday morning in Carhaix [Karaez] - not sure what the protests were about exactly, but it's probably not a coincidence that it was a British car... I like this image, but not on my wall!)
Tanya A 19:51 photojournalism vs art? reminds me of wales… burning down the weekend houses of the english...
Caroline Wright 19:53 It is bizarre that the burn line is pretty much right down the middle, but it is also the open door that catches my eye (we originally thought that, from across the car park, it was painted half and half, but no...)
Tanya A 19:53 is one of your themes the brits or the french or are they the same? (I'd not really considered this, they're both missing yet both there - I don't think I'm differentiating)
Caroline Wright 19:54 but they are in the images indirectly through the clues you present
Emma Delpech 19:56 no people.....evidence they WERE there. Scary
So there we have it. On the whole, in response to the questions I posted, the weaving of different narratives seems to work (albeit in a very small subset as posted), although some sorting may prove useful. I'll see when I have something more substantial to sort through... The lack of people doesn't seem to bother those in the cohort who were in attendance, so that's good... And the photography seemed to get some positive response too.
The latest making day was an opportunity to progress with an alternative interpretation of my After Stephen Shore project. Rather than continuing with the more direct approach, I decided to explore the direction of the "void" version I'd discussed towards the end of September, which was partially triggered by Leppard's quote cited in Liz Wells' Land Matters:
Photographs are about memory - or perhaps about the absence of memory, providing pictures to fill voids, illustrating and sometimes falsifying our collective memory.
Shore's photographs feel familiar to me. Actually, no that's not it. Shore hits a space with his photographs that is there in me because I've been indoctrinated with American culture, growing up with US TV programs and the like. His photographs (from Uncommon Places) are from the 70s, just like Starchy & Hutch, Kojak and The Streets of San Francisco and the like. They sit there, filling that void brought on by a vague knowing without first hand experience.
There are also a few other things I've decided to work with too. A few years ago I read a piece by Errol Morris about Fenton's Crimean photographs, in it he spoke about the elephant outside the frame. The fact of the matter is that 99% of the time, we don't know what was excluded from a photograph. We don't know if there was an elephant cropped from the image. So why did Shore choose the framing he did? What makes number 611 Wolf Street more interesting to him than, 615 or 625? Or the opposite side of the street? Using Google Street View to expand his framing allows you to see some of this. GSV is completely objective, photographing everything every 8m or whatever the interval is. Yes, there is some censorship of faces and words performed by software, but the 8-eyed beast sees pretty much everything.
This also leads to something else I find interesting; the changes brought on by the passage of time. In the few examples I worked with during the making day, the changes are fairly superficial. The 70s vibe from the fashions, the colours, the cars and even the shop signage has passed, but the architecture is by and large the same. Not so with other locations I found when doing my more literal project a few months ago. But yes, things do change and I find that fascinating; the comparisons, the thrill of spotting a similarity, recognising things even if just in the background. It's one of the major things I've enjoyed about working first with Ruscha's images, then Shore's.
And yes, it's also all about the journey...
With this approach, I do have concerns. Without access to the Shore original when viewing my photographs, I fear the context will be lost. Yes, they will still be curious. Why have I done what I have done? What can't we see? In not seeing what one artist has made important, is my work left unimportant? Uninteresting? Is it something of a clique work - you will only "get" it if you are familiar with the original? If it were ever to be shown, how would you do this without Shore's work sitting alongside (and yes, I'd be happy to share an exhibition...)
Many questions to think about and address (maybe), but in the meantime here are the photographs:
Church Street and Second Street, Easton, Pennsylvania, Aug 2013 (after Church Street and Second Street, Easton, Pennsylvania, June 20, 1974)
I'm not 100% sure about the Breton name here - the hamlet is named after the chapel that's there. In Breton, that's the Chapel Sant-Herbod, rather than Chapelle Saint-Herbot in the French. However, I've only seen the French spelling for the hamlet - Saint-Herbot. All the road signs are in French (unless referring to the chapel), and I've not found anything online yet to say otherwise.
Today’s one-to-one hour long lecture was with Joanna Lowry, leader of the Photography MA at the University of Brighton.
Discussions were centred around the Brittany project Le Loup… When asked to describe what was drawing me to document the area, I found it difficult. Much of what I recounted was personal, my reaction to being there, rather than anything specifically interesting about the area itself, which prompted the recommendation that I should think about “the place” rather than about “myself in the place”. This should help make it more accessible to others, less personal.
Isolation, charm, otherness, toughness/resilience, a step away from modernity, nostalgia were all things I came up with. There is a resistance to the stereotypical French “chic”, it’s less ostentatious (unless we’re comparing tractors).
Whilst it’s perfectly possible to photograph a bus stop (as with the photograph Kroas ar Hars), what does it mean? In order for the series to gain further meaning, I need to deepen my “understanding” of the area (rather than simply “knowledge”) – history, stories, myths, political attitudes, etc. Such things might help the various threads intertwine, to trigger something with the viewer. Help it mean something, even if I don’t know yet what that “something” is.
Kroas ar Hars
There was talk of contemporary photographic practice. I spoke of specifically not wanting to produce work like David Chancellor’s Huntress with Buck – I’d rather not take photographs at all (as good as it may be, it’s simply not what I want to do). Alec Soth was mentioned, also something I do not wish to pursue, although closer than Chancellor. I spoke about the lack of people (and the reason), and a fear that it might end up looking like after the zombie apocalypse. I thought about John Darwell’s Chernobyl photographs – I need to look at these again. Work by Sarah Pickering was mentioned in relation to An Uhelgoad, although I think this may have meant to have been Steffi Klenz’s Nonsuch in Poundbury. As was Peter Fraser’s Welsh Valley work and William Christenberry’s American houses (later posts will undoubtedly look at these).
Talking around the various words, “empty” “resistance” and “history” kept on coming to the fore, which then tied in with a possible thread of depopulation – approx. 30% of houses in a local village are owned as second houses (much as is mine), a place to go for holiday. There are photographs of graffitied signs: “Free Bzh” is clearly aimed at the English, but there are also attempts to reclaim Nantes from Loire Atlantique. It’s something to explore further. There are already several layers of politics (with a small “p”) that I’m aware of and undoubtedly subconsciously influencing my work.
The aesthetic was described as “melancholia”, which fits my personality and completely apt for me. This aesthetic might become more “interesting” because of the politics. There are transitory signs of disquiet. History might be seen as emptying out of a place, with something “other” taking that place.
Size was discussed; I personally don’t believe that, as of right now, there is any need for these images to be particularly large (many, not all, are photographed with a medium format digital camera, so could perhaps support larger prints). A book might be the primary goal, with a curated narrative and careful layout choices, but the gallery should also be considered.
This was an incredibly useful talk, helping to bring vague thoughts into the real world by having to voice them to someone else, and then to have that person, a photographic theorist, bounce other thoughts, threads and hooks around is great. I feel like I’ve taken much from it, lots hope it sinks in and I action the discussion too.
Last Monday was supposed to be a “Show ’n’ Tell” evening, with each of us having a topic to research and informally present our findings. Out of Audience, Engagement, Site and Display, I opted for the latter and focussed my attention on something that divides my opinion - size. Unfortunately I was having connection trouble in France, but I sort of expected this so I provided the slides with some speakers notes so that they could be read and (hopefully) understood.
Anyway, sometimes I like big prints, they’re impressive and you can almost step into them, other times I like the intimacy of holding a small print in my hand and peering into it. One thing that is fairly obvious, regardless of what I think or like, is that over the years prints have been getting bigger! Now, there have long been billboards with photographic images on them, that’s not what I’m referring to. What I mean is proper “photograph quality” prints. To me, it seems that some photographers are making larger prints just so they will be more commodified, I don’t always like the end result when this is the case (as with some work of Normandy bunkers I saw in the Tate Modern last year - at the Conflict, Time, Photography exhibition). Others create images that demand being larger. Struth is one that we expect to be larger, although to be honest, I’m of the opinion they’re too large - certainly when I saw his work in the Whitechapel Gallery in London a few years ago, they were soft when you really looked at them. In a book (several factors of scale smaller, of course), they are razor sharp!
Anyway, enough of this at the moment, here’s my presentation (click image to download as pptx file):
Three artists talk about their practice, their thoughts, their research. These are but simple notes taken whilst listening to their audio presentations.
Cox is a recent MA graduate, coming out from the very course I am studying myself. She’s a storyteller and painter, working across many surfaces concurrently and in series. There’s a dialogue between making and research. Peter Doig (a Scottish figurative painter) gets a reference, as does Paula Rego and photographers such as Francesca Woodman, especially her drawn on contact sheets.
Research is key within her making; originally she made paintings and then applied theory. This wasn’t as prominent in terms of communicating ideas. She has now developed a visual language, reducing down the information presented – partial trace figures. Ambiguous, but not to the point of losing the viewer in the process of looking. This approach seems similar to the “Provoke” method (Moriyama, Takanashi and Nakahira), removing information in an attempt to provoke thought and creating a new language and ideas.
Much of her reading also takes place outside art theory – stories and anthropological texts that talk about stories. The story is an important factor to her making, this much becomes clear through her presentation.
She uses photography and drawing as means of research – this allows her the freedom to produce work that isn’t finished. Playful, mapping and drawing out ideas. Talks about figures a lot…
Writing and mind-mapping (Venn diagrams) are important and she found this quite revelatory to define her practice. I guess this came in as part of the first year of the MA – I’m not currently finding that so useful at the moment – perhaps it feels a little too much like my engineering background, which I’m trying to escape using photography.
Key text – Lines: a brief history by Tim Ingold, which details the relationship between gesture and storytelling. The making of hand gestures when storytelling, meandering and deviating from a path to discover new things and learn. This in turn reminds me of an interview with PJ Harvey from the time of her Let England Shake album, which is essentially about story telling through the war (First World War) – I’ll try and find it and post a link. Cox tries to make and reflect, to use learning to make something else. To challenge everything. To experiment and take risks.
She talks about the idea of authentic lines – what is an authentic line? Does the viewer know when looking at the line that it is authentic?
Cox is also excited about the edge of the frame – where does the image end? Does a repetitive figure across multiple surfaces allow viewer to weave story? Is the work becoming like a comic strip in this sense – another story?
Dover is an OCA lecturer and is also working towards a PhD at Wimbledon. She talked about her “research”.
She went to the Chelsea PhD student show with her husband (also an artist) and was surprised how literal the work was, apparently something that is frequently said about practice lead PhD work: that it’s an illustration of theory rather than a means of research itself. Dover tried to start with the emotional response rather than theory, quoting that if someone talks of Lacan or Derrida, the work will be dead. (I’ve done this on several occasions, but I tend to apply the theory afterwards, whilst being aware of it during the making – the theory doesn’t tend to be the main driver…). She declares theory should intertwine with research, that practice and theory should be harmonious.
Her PhD research focusses on a Victorian artist/botanist//amateur – Anna Atkins (the label depends on whose categorisations you use – Victorian women weren’t classed as “artists”) . She used John Herchel’s cyanotype technique, a basic photogram process that involved painting the medium with potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate solution, typically during the night, and allowing to dry before then exposing to sunlight. It was often considered as a process for women and children to do. It then became the “blueprint” and entered the male, technological/scientific domain.
Dover tried to reproduce Atkins work practically, her Poppy in particular – she considered it to be both simple and beautiful. It looks at first like Atkins simply reproduced ithe poppy, but this is not the case. Atkins actually made a number of albums for submission to various societies she would not have gotten into being a woman. However, she “reproduced” nature and donated the albums to scientific institutions. The cyanotypes were actually of dissected and reconstructed flowers to make idealised prints. They were, in effect, collages. This was a subversive act – women not allowed to do such things at the time.
Dover’s stepfather’s sock image illustrates these thoughts – sock was too thick to make cyanotype of so she drew it. She created a simulacra, a false original to make the image from. And now, like Atkin’s work, it resides in an institution. It’s something everyone can relate to; everyone has a sock, and every image tells a story.
As we, the viewer, are able to tap into these stories, we can then tell our own stories. Complex images might be difficult to tap into – the war for instance can be hard to grasp if not experienced. Everyday items can help you grasp it.
Paris is the co-artistic director of Curious, named because, as artists we are all inherently curious about the world we live in. For example, what is relationship between smell and memory? And can we, or even should we trust gut feelings?
She is mostly interested in producing live performances (for a small audience), site specifics art, installation and film. She is fascinated by the live “moment” and the shared experience between performer and audience member – what is possible?
When considering smell, projects such as On the Scent (?) have a long process time. They worked with biological processes, in conjunction with teams of scientists, these things require long research and gestation periods.
On the Scent / Essence of London were live performances, each one being unique.. The way that smell triggers memory means that it can take an audience off to their own space within memory. Associations with smell can transport you back to a moment/place/experience. The transgressive nature of smell – it’s like time travel!
The research started in Bangalore in India, working with a team of biological scientists who were in turn working with the process of smell in the brain – smell memories. These scientists were also interested with processes of performance to; both forms of experimentation, whether as artists or scientists – you don’t know what the outcome in when working on a project.
One of original problems was how do you work with smell? How do you keep them discrete? By their nature they link together, intermingle. The solution was to keep the performance within discrete domestic spaces, with a performer resident in their own room; the kitchen, the bedroom and the sitting room. This approach necessitate small audiences, with only 4 people per performance, 8 performances per day. During the olfactory journey, the performer recites memories then the audience invited to share their own. They created an archive of smell memories. This then lead to a companion piece, a video of essences of London featuring people who worked in “smelly” trades – perfumiers, fish market, refuse collectors, etc. The motive of questioning audience and communities. Inviting people to respond to own questions.
Of the three interviews, Cox’s and Dover’s were the most relevant for me, the most stimulating and the ones I felt I could take something from. Cox worked in a style similar to my own; work, then vocalise the theory that will have been simmering in the background whilst working, rather than working as a direct response to exploring a theory. Dover spoke of work being dead if made in response to theory, so it would seem that maybe somewhere in the middle ground is preferable. Be informed, don’t be too literal in response to theory (especially some of the more… theoretical theories…) and more importantly, don’t make work in a vacuum. Will I change my own modus operandi? I’m sure it is changing all of the time in response to things said, things read and the general experience of studying the MA.
Helen Rousseau is not a name I was familiar with. She’s not a photographer, so she is already off my normal “radar” in terms of who I look at (I can be a little too insular some times). The work she does create is perhaps a further step off my radar too, at least that’s the case with the work she showed during the presentation she gave as part of the series of visiting lectures. That’s not to say that Intersections – connecting and disconnecting the dots wasn’t interesting. There were certainly aspects I was drawn to, not least her discussion about language and its connection (whatever that might be) to art.
One of the first mentions of language was that making is her starting point. She begins to work with the material, negotiating with it, rather than from some preconceived idea that has been defined within a coded language. The work takes shape in its own language, unfettered by the limitations of a constraining system of words and meanings. This is something that I’ve adopted when approaching a long term project, such as Le Loup… I find it difficult to pre-visualise what the project might become; I don’t know what I will see in 5 minutes time, never mind what I will see in 12 months. And then there’s the question of what I have seen will mean to me by the time I try and construct the finished article. With shorter conceptual pieces, this is clearly less of an issue though…
Allow the body of work to grow organically and then see what it means.
I think that’s about the crux of it anyway, and it’s certainly what I took from it, and from what others had said previously; Rinko Kawauchi, the Japanese photographer, said it about Illuminance in an Aperture interview (I think) several years ago (she gathered the work, photographing what she saw then had “conversations” with the images), it struck home at the time and completely changed the way I was thinking during the BA in photography I was doing at the time. Having no clear endpoint from the outset offers up a greater range of possibilities for the outcome… or to use a quote from the presentation:
“The decisions about how to start and conclude are choices that shape the very identity of a piece. It is only by concluding in a particular way that the piece establishes its own standards of completion and demonstrates why it had to be the way it is.”
(Jan Verwoert, The Beauty of Latency, Exhaustion and Exuberance, Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform.)
This idea of coded language perhaps seemed strange though. Rousseau spoke about problems paving the way for the work with words, but then the presentation was peppered with quotes. Art might be considered a language of its own, but we seem to feel the need to wrap it in syntax, to explain it in what might be considered a reductive way with quite limited signs and signifiers, rather than just exist in its more free-wheeling form as art, that can speak on different levels and say something different to us all.
Later, a small group discussion centred around the idea of sculpture, what it is, what it means to us. Things like 3D came up, the physicality of the object, interactions of touch and space. Are Carsten Höller’s slides a sculpture? Are they installation? Is there a difference? Do we become part of the sculpture (assuming they are) when we pass through them? The Marionettes of Nantes – a series of sculptures or merely a form of entertainment?
Monika spoke of some artists from the Biennale in Venice, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot and Pamela Rosenkranz, whose sculpture moved through the audience, or the audience moved through it. Rousseau spoke in turn of ultra high speed photography of balloons bursting and the temporally fixed moment of the water retaining the shape without a bounding surface.
I myself thought about Richard Wentworth, a sculptor in his own right but also someone who photographed things that happened naturally as a form of sculpture – a glove on a fence, tyres leaning on a wall. Mundane items in mundane situations but they become something else by chance, by the act of recording them. Then there’s the likes of Lorenzo Vitturi, a contemporary photographer who has created assembled elements to photograph and juxtapose with the images, as with Dalston’s Anatomy. Still life pieces, props, sculptures? Is there a difference? Does it matter?
It would have been fairly easy to remain closed and detached from the lecture, but no, there was discussion and much procrastination. Will it change things with the way I work? It’s unlikely I will start making Vitturi-esque still life images, but I do relate to the constraints of language, and even the idea of deliberately using the constraints of language to deflect and divert meaning from being too… obvious, I guess.
Monday’s hangout introduced some of the major projects for the coming year; a research presentation, a scholarly debate and a contextual study. These notes are just a verbatim copy of the things I jotted down during the session (italics are thoughts added later):
Research Question - look at something in more depth - What if? How might? etc.
Research relating to work - question, & how material might impact work > follow up something...
Put it out there on the table - tentative questions
We will be sharing drafts and receiving comments on what we’ve been writing - learning about others by their comments and by their work
Moving into small groups, with Monika and Alison - Monika had connection problems so much done via chatbox
Essay : Journey / road trip? Something around this subject. Me
Art out of the gallery. Alison
How about literature Rob - thinking of road trips I think films and books?
it was a real challenge
I find it really hard to read...
(on the road) (Talking about Kerouac’s book...)
boyle - Hear book - a young not hearing woman tries to get back here card dates...
is it better
I´m thinking about memory
Hairs in memory
A few of the people on the BA photography course are looking at that (memory)
German history ....... realting to the third generation
no hair (asked if meant “heir”)
Are you using hair?
hair is something special there exist memory amuletts
yes I want to stitch with them
hair has DNA - personal memory
no maps travelling routes
I collect long hair from the girl friend of my son
I want to set a grand- uncle memory beside a refuguee of nowadays
hair - what does it mean in art
thanks - refugees - we have a lot in our village now
yes they are coming - no place etc.
and my relatives were refugees as well
yes my mother as well , my grandmother
yes - but it could be interesting to see it beside
lets do an exhibition together (our two takes on the journey)
time aspect by road trip
TC Boyle - Talk Talk - book about a road trip.
The research question to be ready for discussion by 25th Jan.
Intersections & Articulations
Research & informal presentations - 7-10 minutes long
Cultural practice - look @ aspects thereof
Audience Engagement Site Display Participation : audience / other artists
When I was talking to Caroline in my recent tutorial about planned work going forward for the year, there was some discussion about making After Stephen Shore a little less obvious. I wasn't really sure how I might like/want to do this; layering was mentioned and I've tried this with an image I'd already created for Wolf Street, going back to the area on Google Street View to recapture the area in order to allow me to work with it beyond what I did first time (the first image I've included here).
Wolf Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jun 2014
This was my first take, a slightly wider view to that Shore recorded back in 1976 (here - from Christies).
Layering Shore's image over what I recaptured gives this:
Wolf Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [composite]
For me, it feels like it's trying to be something it's not meant to be, or at least that it's trying to be something that I hadn't originally envisaged. I don't feel drawn to this at all. Perhaps this is because I've seen it a number of times, notably with the recent centenary remembrance of WW1, when historical images were layered onto modern images from GSV - I think this was on the Guardian website but I can't be sure and haven't gone back to check. Shore's image also feels lost in there, as it obfuscates the GSV image. All a bit messy I fear (not that I'm adverse to removing information, it's one of the things that drew me to Provoke).
Where to go then?
I recently started (re)reading Land Matters: Landscape, Photography, Culture and Identity by Liz Wells with the hope that it will inform my next trip over to France and the photography I make there for Le loup.... However, there was a quote at the head of chapter 5 from Lucy Lippard that went as follows:
Photographs are about memory - or perhaps about the absence of memory, providing pictures to fill voids, illustrating and sometimes falsifying our collective memory.
This immediately struck home. I'd mentioned that there was something about Shore's work that triggered a false memory in me, something I'd assumed came from watching 70s cop shows like Starsky and Hutch or Kojak back when I was younger. Maybe it is actually more akin to what Lippard described, maybe it's just the power of the photograph? Reading and re-reading this quote, two things came through to me. Memory (already mentioned), and void. Shore's photographs are filling a void - what if I was to take them away? I'd be left with a void chosen by Shore - if I was to omit what Shore photographed, you're left with all those things that he didn't want to show. The "elephant in the garden" if you like (a reference I often refer to from Errol Morris' book Believing is Seeing - parts of which are available online here, which includes the aforementioned elephant standing outside one of Roger Fenton's photographs...).
Is this a possibility? That I void the images? As I already have the above composite file, it's straight forward enough to create the equivalent void, so that's what I've done.
Wolf Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [void]
The immediate question now gets raised: "What is missing? What are we not allowed to see?" There's a niggle there. Will anyone recognise this hole is the size and position of Shore's image? I would doubt it. Other than in my choice of series name (assuming I keep it as it is), there is no obvious link.
Does the opposite image add anything?
Wolf Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [un-void]
Would these images make sense as a diptych? Is there any point in doing this? I really don't know... I suppose it brings back the lost information. Does it need to? Something to think about, to deliberate over...
Something else to consider will be the extent of what I can capture from GSV, this image was fairly straight forward in that it was approximately the same angle, etc. - the GSV image is taken from a similar (although not the same) location. This will not be the case with all of them. It shouldn't be a major cause for concern, but it's a factor.
Should the Shore rectangle be in the middle of the image? Purist design aesthetics might want to push in that direction, but does it being off-centre "do" anything?
I'll let this sit in my head for a while before I make any decisions on it.
Morris, E. 2011. Believing is Seeing (observations on the mysteries of photography). New York. The Penguin Press.
Wells, L. 2011. Land Matters: landscape photography, culture and identity. London. IB Tauris & Co Ltd
I’m going to post an (ir)regular image from the bank of images I’m accruing for Le loup… just to slowly build up a sort of gallery from which I will draw the final curated “narrative” (or whatever it will be).
What do I want to achieve over the next year of the MA?
Well, I suppose I was slightly disappointed with my performance over the last couple of months in terms of getting myself out there, so that would be a good place to start. I took my foot off the gas, my eye off the ball and all those other over used phrases that can describe what happened over the summer. I guess another one has to be that I took a break and tried to re-energise - 40 hours a week doing the day job, together with the 6 or so hours of travelling can take it out of you when you combine that with studying for the MA and then all those family and friend commitments, and everything else life tends to throw at you. It sounds like I'm just making excuses here, and so it might be, but I'm also trying to put things into perspective. So, no I didn't make the progress I had thought I could over the summer in terms of getting exposure, but if you go back to the middle of last year, there has been some:
July-August 2014 - [( 6 )], at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. A group exhibition I organised in conjunction with 5 other photographers (including Tanya). The prints from this exhibition have gone on to be shown at the OCA offices and BVL, one of the sponsors.
November 2014 - Papergirl Blackburn, a community arts venture that exhibited then distributed the art within the Blackburn community.
June-July 2015 - APhF:15, at Benaki Museum as part of the Athens Photo Festival.
I was included in Issue 9 of #Photography, an online and print photography magazine. I also got a mention in Big Issue in the North to coincide with the [( 6 )] show. Various projects are also being featured in the newly designed photography course notes, illustrating the various threads running through them.
During this period, I've also produced the catalogue for the [( 6 )] show (available here) and the book version of Ruscha's Gasoline Stations Revisited (available here).
I also redesigned my website at robtm.co.uk, it seems to hang together a bit better now.
So, no, it wasn't what I wanted, it wasn't major coverage, but it was something. And something is, of course, better than nothing. And this is all leading to the fact that my main goal this year is to actually interact with my audience more, to exhibit and to publish. Which is handy because this is one of the course threads. Actually, I probably need to find my audience in the first instance; family and friends are great for moral support, but I actually need a little bit more...
Another thing I want to achieve is to produce a couple more bodies of work. I actually have three projects that are truly "ongoing", and another one that I just need to close down (finally). These are, in no particular order:
Le Loup, le renard et la balette. A body that will hopefully coalesce over the course of the year, although I have no real specific goal other than it will be all shot in Brittany and to not include people.
After Stephen Shore. A sort of progression from the Ruscha work, but without the diesel. This is perhaps more something to work on when I'm not in/just back from France.
Station to Station. A slower burn study of train stations - I don't take the train that often, so this will understandably take time but I would still like to make some progress.
Thirteen Ribble Valley Petrol Stations. I just need to grab the last one to finish of what was intended as the counterpoint to last years Ruscha project. Something for a quiet Sunday morning...
Other things will likely crop up as the year goes, I'll see what triggers from discussions along the way (things always change).
A work in progress, deliberately photographed with an iPhone (or as it happens, a series of iPhones) over time - I don't take the train that often... But it's something that I thought I'd bring together here so as to focus my mind on to the fact that I've been slowly bringing something together; to remind myself to continue.
My thoughts for the coming year are moving towards doing something with my "second home"; Brittany. I've got a few little projects going on to be honest, all of which are connected to "the journey" in some way (a slow burn on train stations with an iPhone, and the Stephen Shore stuff), but I really want to do something in "Penn-ar-Bedd" (its Breton name). For one thing, it will force me to get out to explore the place - it's all too easy just to get there and become a recluse and to try and relax in-between all the little DIY jobs that need doing, so going out to photograph will be excellent.
The thing is, I'm not sure what it is I want to do. I have no real preconceived ideas about what I want to say, I've no real agenda and I've no idea what will come of it all. All I know is that I want to take the photographs and then see what they all say to me at the end. See what my subconscious was picking up. No, actually I do have one little preconception, and that is the omission of people from the photographs - in France you must obtain the subjects permission to photograph and publish (see here for a bit of background), something that I'm not planning on doing. There is clearly a danger that this might lead to a rather empty feeling to the series, but then, this might also work in its favour in terms of creating a certain atmosphere. We will have to see.
Another "danger" with approaching Brittany as my subject is that I'm only there sporadically - a week here, ten days there. Four or five times a year. Is this enough? Certainly, if I was to produce something like the Into the Valley project from my own region here in England, it might not be - I photographed the Ribble Valley on a fairly regular basis, and from that there are a number of different narratives that can be taken from the work, the one I chose was more personal than I'd intended. I don't want to produce the same thing in a different space. It wouldn't represent a step forward in any way for me - I will need to push and step beyond the pale in some way. But yes, I know there will be certain similarities, it's still me taking the photographs after all.
The project will develop slowly, but hopefully sufficiently, throughout the year which will also allow me to work the other projects and maybe even come up with something new too (I'm sure there will be something the MA actually instigates in its own right...).
And yes, the working title - Le Loup, le Renard et la Belette - is a song title. After wandering away from my little idiosyncrasy with the two GSV projects, I'm back naming my projects after songs. I might change it, but its there as an anchor - if it has a name, it clearly exists, so it's a start!
The second year of the MA is yet to start, but this work feels like it belongs here rather than in the previous year - it’s a sort of continuation from the Ruscha gasoline stations in that it’s revisiting another artists work through Google Street View, so it could have gone there. However, it’s the start of the project, so I can only assume I will be adding more to it as the year progresses (I’m not imagining this as part of the major project I’m expecting for the second year though). Whatever, it’s here now.
Stephen Shore is something of a bright light in terms of contemporary photography, one of those early American colour guys that changed the way of things. I’ve written about him before, during my photography degree, about how his photographs invoke non-existent memories in me (Uncommon Places). These (non) memories will actually be drawn from watching American TV shows when I was growing up, things like Starchy & Hutch, The Streets of San Francisco and Kojak, etc. I guess it wasn’t just police shows, but then again, maybe it was. What I’m really referring to is a familiarity with the things he shot, even though I never saw them personally in the era he photographed them (70s and 80s).
One feature of his photographs is that his captions are detailed. Whilst I find that captions that direct a response are a distraction for me, Shore normally gives a geographical caption so that, together with other visual clues, the location of the scene can be pinpointed. This has then allowed me to revisit his site with GSV and recreate his images with something more recent.
Sutter Street and Crestline Road, Fort Worth, Texas, July 2014
Now, clearly the quality is not the same. This is not my intention. Shore used LF cameras and a very precise technique, whereas I am limited to what the GSV car captured on its way past. The newer images are far “better” than the older ones, but then, so what? The quality of the image is part of the GSV trope, together with odd stitching, excessive lens flare and the odd superimposed street name, etc. It’s part of what identifies it. My intentions are more to do with the passage of time, appropriation of an idea within a contemporary photography context and the virtual journey. I.e. they’re similar to what I was working with on the gasoline stations.
I suspect that whether people will “get” what I’ve done here will depend on their familiarity with Shore’s work. Without that appreciation of the original, these re-photographs will perhaps fall a little flat for the viewer. Is there anything “special” about a GSV image the corner of Sutter Street and Crestline Road? Or a nondescript section of the US97 in Oregon (especially now the billboard has gone)? Indeed, was there ever anything “special” about them? Or did Shore make them special through the act of photographing them? Did he transform them into something worth looking at because he chose them? This is something that has always appealed to me, the elevation of the normal, the mundane.
Anyway, here’s a few more that I’ve recreated to date.
US97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, October 2013
California 177, Desert Center, California, July 2014