Joanna Lowry

Tutorial with Joanna Lowry

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
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).

An Uhelgoad Poste
An Uhelgoad

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.