Making it up

 

Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme.

As the culminating assignment for the course you may wish to draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – using various forms of narrative, using yourself as subject matter, telling stories and reading images. The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. Remember to create a story with a specific context like the artists you’ve looked at in Part Five. This means you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas. This could then form the basis for a 300-word introduction to the piece. You may find it helpful to draw storyboards to help you visualise your ideas.

The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image. (Use flash/lights if required but available light is fine as long as it is considered.)

If the narrative is to be set in a different era, then the elements of the image must reflect this. Also, consider the symbolic meanings of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach. For example, don’t automatically use red roses in a love scene but try to be subtle in your ideas to obtain a more true-to-life scenario.

For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s). Include snapshots of setting up the work and write about how you felt your direction went, how you found the location, props, etc. How did this process affect the final outcome? Write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).

Send your final image(s) to your tutor, along with your commentary and relevant pages of your learning log (or blog url).

Creating a plausible fiction:

Who I might have been, who might you have been?

Reviewing the work undertaken throughout Context and Narrative I was struck by the notion of the artist as subject of their own work and the potential of the image as autobiography. While preparing for this assignment two fortuitous things occurred. I revisited Jodie Taylor’s ‘Memories of Childhood’ and I received an annual pension contributions statement from my employer. Two entirely unconnected events that led to a creative moment.

Reflecting on 34 years in a career, set out in the stark numbers of a pension statement, with Jodie Taylors images on my computer screen, I was reminded that I hated school, with one small exception, the time I spent in woodwork lessons. They were a sort of haven, in no small part due to the kindness of Mr. Arkwright, a teacher who seemed to be genuinely interested in his pupils. As a 15 year old I found confidence through those lessons. I had an aptitude that meant I was trusted with higher grade materials and more complex projects. The experience of one part of school being positive helped my confidence and sense of self-worth.

In my final two years of secondary education I was set on becoming a carpenter, a career working with wood, making things of value and usefulness. A future as an artisan was the plan for when I left school. The next step would be an apprenticeship, day release to technical college and a pathway to earning a living.

This never happened and a strange turn of events took me along a very different and on reflection, ironic path. As I read my pension statement of May 2017, recording 34 years of service in my chosen field of work, I pondered on what life would be like now and who I would be, had I taken the path of artisanship all those years ago.

For this assignment, I set out to create a single self-portrait of who I might be now, based upon an imagined self from my adolescence. A fifty something me, had I taken a different path at 16. The tools, timber and plans set out on a work bench creating a sense of my then naive notion of the carpenter and his work. My attire, a reference back to a teacher who had supported me develop self-confidence that ultimately led me on a very different path than artisanship.

It had to be a fictional image for multiple reasons, firstly it isn’t who I am, but more importantly it couldn’t be like a woodworking artisan in 2017, with all that technology affords such a worker today. I wanted the image to be a carpenter as envisioned by my 15-year-old self, a fantasy made real through location, props and lighting. There is undoubted nostalgia in this work but also something about a fictitious tableau image, that reveals echoes of my past.

I’d like the work to invite the viewer to consider who they might be at this point in their lives if they too had taken a different path at 15 or 16 years of age. I want the work to ask that question of others. Life is full of key points of decision making, but also key points to ask the question, what might have happened if I had chosen a different route?

Context, Preparation and Completion

My key influences in creating this work were Jodie Taylor’s: Memories of Childhood, Nikki S. Lee’s Masquerade images and Tom Hunter’s constructed images. In addition, the tableau approach of Geoff Wall and the filmic work of Gregory Crewdson gave me food for thought. Cindy Sherman’s fictitious but plausible self-portraits offered inspiration and her work around film stills influenced my final choice of image.

Location

In creating a plausible fiction, I considered booking a studio to undertake the work because of the control it might offer. However, I was able to gain access for several days to a disused former carpenters workshop in a Nissen Hut (now used for storage) to make the work. This presented some challenges in preparing it and the foibles of lighting and set dressing, but the effort was worthwhile in terms of the authenticity I was seeking to achieve in the final images. There were also space and time constraints, in particular the view point, subject positioning and lighting, but these were all managed for the final images.

Props, lighting and costume

Sourcing tools as props from the era that I was at school involved eBay, car boot sales and requests to friends. Through this, I secured the materials needed to make the work in line with the vision I had from the outset of the images I wanted to make. Creating a tableau image in the space, using the tools, costume and lighting was all achieved through a degree of experimentation, trial and error. The contact sheets illustrate this process and the images below show the location and the constraints of space. Through practice and experiment I settled on a mix of daylight for backlighting, a single high power daylight balanced continuous light source and a speed light and umbrella running at 30% power.

I have no doubt that my adolescent self’s vision of a carpenter was shaped by Mr. Arkwright’s appearance. Unlike the other practical subject teachers, he wore a collar and tie. He also wore a white lab coat (not the beige coat of his fellow practical subject teachers). His lab coat top pocket filled with pens and pencils was also a feature I recall. I didn’t know any carpenters and my positive engagement with woodwork, shaped by a helpful and positive teacher created a sort of fantasy that being a carpenter would be like being Mr. Arkwright. I set out to reflect this in my image using a similar attire.

Camera and Lenses

This assignment was a solo effort and working alone pushed the boundaries technically for me. I used a crop sensor camera, initially with a zoom lens until I understood the space and location and the framing implications and then I switched to a fast-prime lens to achieve the depth of field I envisaged. The camera was mounted on a tall tripod set high and I aligned it from a step ladder to get the viewpoint I wanted. Like the experiments with the lighting, I made several self-timer images to get the desired framing. I used a wireless trigger for the speed light that also allowed me to control the flash output remotely. In addition, I used the camera wirelessly tethered to a tablet. This allowed me to frame and focus as well as review images quickly.

Using this approach and taking more than 300 images to test the lighting, framing and lens selection I settled on a final selection of image from which a made a final choice. Set out below is the last cut of images from which the final selection was made.

       

       

       

       

Self-Evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Working within the physical constraints of the workshop space, I feel I managed the lighting and exposure to make a range of technically acceptable images. The use of props and the composition of the images, given the constraints of space and time also led to the production of some plausible balanced compositions. The structure of the Nissen hut and its harsh fluorescent lighting and daylight provided by the windows, presented a range of challenges. Through experiment I managed the lighting and the creation of a tableau that is well lit and plausible.

Quality of outcome

I have mixed views about the final image, there is a degree of technical competence and I am pleased with the lighting, control of the highlights and the overall tableau. I was pressed for time given I was using someone else’s space and I feel I was rushing a little. If time had permitted I would have liked to revisit and rework some of the developing image themes. The selection of the final image was heavily influenced by the look of Sherman’s cine still’s work. Although Sherman’s theme in this work is very different to mine, there is a pensive, distant look to her poses in her images that asks a question of the viewer about the subject’s thoughts and feelings. I am not sure I achieved this but I had a good stab at it

Demonstration of creativity

This work came out of a creative process set out in greater detail in my blog. I feel the idea of exploring an alternative self, based upon memory and recollection from more than three decades ago was a worthy project to explore and one that might benefit from further work. The idea of the image to explore one’s own and others biographies is a theme that appeared throughout the Context and Narrative course. This is a theme I am already exploring further in my work outside my OCA studies, but I feel this complements my OCA journey.

Context

This work tells a fictional story, but one that might have happened, it is made up, constructed through memory and recollection of times long past. I have travelled a very different path to the one envisaged by my adolescent self, but the exercise h reconnected me to a very different time in my life. If photography has the power to tell stories, this assignment illustrates it has the power to create a fiction that might have been a truth but for circumstance. Like Morrissey and Wearing, all be it is a very minor way I have tried to create work that shines a light on what it is to be human and how memory is a subject for the artist to explore.

Summary

This was a rewarding learning experience. Having reviewed the images and drafted the text to support the work there are things I would have done differently had time permitted. Specifically, I would have liked to review all the images and then gone back some time later to focus more on the more tightly cropped images. Those in my final selection start to achieve what I envisioned but are not quite what I had wanted, but almost! There is something about the gap between what is imaged and what is possible and I am sure this is a recurrent challenge for the aspiring artist.

References

Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames and Hudson, London

Christianson, H. (2015) The photographer went on a one woman honeymoon, Dazed- found at : http://www.dazeddigital.com/photography/article/25387/1/this-photographer-went-on-a-one-woman- honeymoon (Accessed June 2017)

Kino, C. (2006) Now in Moving Pictures: The Multitudes of Nikki S. Lee, New York Times found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/01/arts/design/01kino.html?ex=1317355200&en=ba68cca87c7 383c1&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0 (Accessed June 2017)

Shaffran, N Website, found at: http://www.nigelshafran.com (Accessed June 2017)

Gillian Wearing takeover: behind the mask – the Self Portraits https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/mar/27/gillian-wearing-takeover- mas (Accessed June 2017)

Nikki S. Lee: The Creators Project found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI8xpJItPVI (Accessed June 2017)

Phillips, S. (2013) Trish Morrissey’s best photograph: infiltrating a family on a Kent beach, Guardian, found at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/23/trish-morrissey-best- shot (Accessed October 2016)

Trish Morrissey works found at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/index.html (Accessed June 2017)

Sherman, C. (1977) Untitled Film Stills Found at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2014/12/cindy- sherman-untitled-film-stills-1977-1980.html (Accessed June 2017)

Assignment 5 Preparation – Making it up

Making it up

Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme.

As the culminating assignment for the course you may wish to draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – using various forms of narrative, using yourself as subject matter, telling stories and reading images. The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. Remember to create a story with a specific context like the artists you’ve looked at in Part Five. This means you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas. This could then form the basis for a 300-word introduction to the piece. You may find it helpful to draw storyboards to help you visualise your ideas.

The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image. (Use flash/lights if required but available light is fine as long as it is considered.)

If the narrative is to be set in a different era then the elements of the image must reflect this. Also consider the symbolic meanings of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach. For example, don’t automatically use red roses in a love scene but try to be subtle in your ideas to obtain a more true-to-life scenario.

For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s). Include snapshots of setting up the work and write about how you felt your direction went, how you found the location, props, etc. How did this process affect the final outcome? Write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).

Send your final image(s) to your tutor, along with your commentary and relevant pages of your learning log (or blog url).

At the start of this course when I looked through all of the assignments I would have to undertake I felt most daunted by Assignment 5. Now that I have arrived at the preparation stage for this assignment I feel much more confident about its planning and execution. Why?  Well I am viewing it as a culmination of the whole Context and Narrative journey and I generally feel a better image maker, not a great image maker, but definitely a more thoughtful one.

Throughout my OCA studies there has been reference to finding a ‘personal voice’, in the course materials and in the dialogue between students online, on both the OCA Forum and the numerous unofficial OCA social media sites. At this point 26 months into my degree programme, I am getting closer to a notion of the work I want to make and the idea of the autobiographical image has been a feature of most of my assignments on this course.

In planning  this assignment I thought it would be helpful to do a quick recap from memory of what I had covered in the course so far and who had been the influential photographers whose work and ideas had piqued my interest. While waiting for a train  I sat in a damp waiting room and I  drafted out a  quick chart of the C&N content, it was a useful exercise to do from recall alone and it helped me to begin to distill and create the idea that was to become the theme for this final assignment. 

Although not covering all of the course in detail, it still proved to be a valuable exercise, particularly in reminding me of the photographers whose work had had the most impact on me throughout the course. It was also helpful to see a clear train of learning from the initial exploration of the photograph as document, the ideas of reportage, the challenge of authenticity and the manipulated image. The work of W. Eugene Smith and the reasons for his departure from Life magazine reminded me of the fluid idea of what is real and what is not in an image. Then in part two the notion of narrative as story, but also as the link between images and how meaning can be communicated in a variety of ways.  Barthe’s idea of the death of the author, tackling the post modern narrative and the loss of primacy of the author. The idea of the reader/viewer creating meaning as being separate from the authors intent also  made me think about the idea of a narrative in general  and where the locus of contreol sits in the creation of meaning in both text and image.  Autobiography, the self absented portrait and the idea that an image can tell a story beyond the frame and its content has also been a clear message along the way. Masquerades and the photographer themselves being the focus of a project, but hidden and exposed simultaneously within a wider story made me think of the power of photography beyond it’s imagery and obvious initial content. The work of Lee, Morrissey  and Wearing really stand out in this section as does Shaffron and  Brothers.  Latterly Calypso’s ( see Christianson 2015) work has also influenced my thinking about masquerades, making it up and the self absented portrait.

All these artists  offer a narrative beyond the content of the frame. All to some extent use common tropes, the family portrait, the tourist photograph, the self portrait and the construction of  still life of domestic objects to mention a few,   to say something bigger about the human condition.

Decoding images and having to write about a single photograph in assignment 4 made me think in real detail about narrative, rudimentary semiotics, the sign and the signified and also placing work in a broader context and the concept of intertextuality. This notion in particular made me think about the natural and also accidental links between works in the same and different genres. Although not an exhaustive review of the course this was what I gleaned from just recall in a dreary railway station waiting room with paper pen and no access to my blog or the course materials. I was pleased with this exercise in recall!

The next stage in the assignment preparation was to pull out the work of photographers whose images and approach to image making seemed to be most relevant to my developing idea for a constructed image  for this assignment. Again, putting my thoughts on paper as a diagram assisted. From this I pulled out ideas based on the work of:

  • Cheryl Dunye and Zoe Leonard
  • Gregory Crewdson
  • Geoff Wall
  • Cindy Sherman
  • Tom Hunter
  • Jodie Taylor
  • Gillian Wearing
  • Hannah Starkey

While doing the research and preparation for the assignment two fortuitous things happened. I revisited the work of Jodie Taylor and I received an annual pension contributions statement from my employer. Two entirely unconnected events that led to a creative moment!

The genesis and development of an idea

I hated every day of school!

Attending secondary school in the 1970s, at a large urban secondary modern, was marginally more bearable than primary school, but only just. I generally hated school. The exception was the time I spent in woodwork lessons. They were a sort of haven, in no small part due to the kindness of Mr. Arkwright, a teacher who seemed to genuinely care and be interested in his pupils.

A very different educator to his peers, who with hindsight were cruel martinets, quick to use the cane and even quicker to point out your failings and inadequacies. A tough and at times brutal regime that made the idea that your schools days are the best of your life an utter absurdity. The secondary modern school was the home to those who had failed the 11+ and I recall being reminded of this on a regular basis. A topical issue in 2017 with marginal  government committed to opening new grammar schools (stop press, this might be off the table now), which by default will mean the downgrading of comprehensive schools to secondary moderns,  a thought that sends a chill down my spine! But I digress.

As a 15 year year old I found confidence and sense of self worth in being able to make accurately  measured and well cut mortice and tenon joints, dovetail joints and many other constructions in timber. All executed, planned and prepared with hand tools, through careful measurements and a can do spirit spurred on by a good teacher. First a jewellery box, then a small coffee table , then a chair. Moving from using cheap pine to then ash and oak, then teak and mahogany. I had an aptitude that meant I was trusted with higher grade materials. The experience of one part of school being positive and engaging helped my confidence and sense of self worth. In my final two years of secondary education I was set on becoming a carpenter, a career working with tools and wood, making things of value and usefulness. A future as an artisan was my plan for when I left school. The next step  would be an apprenticeship maybe, day release to technical college and a pathway to  earning a living making things in wood.

This never happened and a strange turn of events took me along a very different and highly ironic path and as I read my pension statement of April 2017 recording 34 years of service in the field of work I have been in for more than three decades, I pondered  on what life would be like and who I would be  had I taken the path of artisanship all those years ago.

I decided this would be the theme of a constructed stand alone image, an imagined me as an artisan worker in wood, as I might have envisioned myself all those years ago at school.

It has to be a fictional image for multiple reasons, firstly it isn’t who I am, but more importantly it won’t be like a genuine woodworking artisan in 2017, with all that technology affords such a worker today. I want the image to be a carpenter as envisioned by my 15 year old self, a fantasy made real through location, props and lighting. There is undoubted nostalgia in this work but also something about a fictitious tableaux  image, that reveals something about my past. I’d also like the work to invite the viewer  to consider who they might be at this point in their lives if they too had taken a different path at 15 or 16 years of age. I want the work to ask that question of others. Life is full of key points of decision making, but also key points to ask the question, what might have happened if I had chosen a different route?

My influences in creating this work were Jodie Taylor’s: Memories of Childhood, Nikki S. Lee’s Masquerade image and  Tom Hunter’s constructed images influenced by classical painting. In addition the tableaux approach of Goeff Wall and also the epic and filmic work of Crewdson also gave me food for thought. Cindy Sherman’s images or more specifically her fictitious but plausible within her work also offered some real inspiration. Reflecting on the work of these artists allowed me to begin to construct , or make up the idea for this final assignment

In short I set out to create a self portrait of who I would be now, based upon an imagined self from my adolescence. A fifty something self had I taken a very different path at the age of 16.

Creating a plausible fiction, Making it up!

Location

I needed an authentic  location in which to make the work. I had thought of hiring a studio and taking some props, but decided early on I needed something more authentic. After some leg work I was offered access to  a modern carpentry workshop, set up with high tech equipment, a fully 21st century operation. That didn’t fit the bill  for the atmosphere I wanted to create in the work. My mid teens where in the middle of the 1970’s and my notions of wanting to be a carpenter were located in the workshop and tools of that era. Given I wanted to create an image of me as a carpenter in my mid 50’s it needed to be as I imagined it back then. Trapped in time, un-realistic and far more about a vision in my head as a teenager, than any contemporary notion of the woodworking artisan in 2017.

The rural landscape of East Anglia where I live, is littered with remnants of the second world war and in particular the remains of the 8th Army Air Corp of the United States. After the war some of those facilities were recycled and it was in one such location I found the exactly what I needed. In the 1950’s a local house builder in the village where I live bought and moved a wartime nissen hut to his premises. The hut was used as the workshop for his caparenters who made bespoke windows and doors for the houses he was building. He went out of business in the 1970’s (when I was still at school hundreds of miles away from this location and thinking it was a carpenter I would become) and the workshop fell into disuse, eventually being used for dry storage. Some traces of the nissen huts workshop past remain but when I found the location I needed to do a lot of tidying and clearing to make a usable location. It did have a workbench though and although the working space was cramped, I set about using this as the location for the work and clearing things out (with permission) in order to construct my plausible fiction.

The bench and the main shooting location

The lighting and also an image showing the relatively cramped condition in the location

Props

In setting out to create a tableaux image I needed the right props. My image of me as a carpenter in my mid 50’s, as perhaps envisioned by my adoelscent self would be using hand tools and the sorts of tools that were used in a school woodwork room. Other than a lathe and a pilar drill all other items were basic hand tools, a try square, steel rule, pencil, chisels, a mallet a tack hammer and mortice gauge. A couple of car boot sales and  several eBay purchase proved beneficial and I was a blue to assemble the tools I envisioned using in the assignment.

The range of tools as props, not all were used

There was also what to wear? I have no doubt that my 16 year old selfs vision of a carpenter was  was shaped by Mr. Arkwright and his appearance. Unlike the other practical subject teachers, he always wore a collar and tie, what I now know to be a regimental tie and cufflinks. He also wore a white lab coat ( not the manila beige coats of his fellow practical subject teachers. His lab coat pocket filled with pens and pencils was also a feature I recall. I didd’t know any carpenters and my positive engagement with woodwork, shaped by a helpful and positive teacher created a sort of fantasy that being a carpenter would be like being Mr. Arkwright!

This then became part of making up my plausible fiction. I acquired a white lab coat , a regimental tie and the pre requites pan and pencils for the lab coat pocket. Reflecting on the military striped tie neatly in place created an echo of a time before health and safety regulations. 

Lighting

The assignment forced me to really push the boundaries in using lighting. I tend to use natural light and have some rudimentary skills in the use of  speedlights. For this work I set out to create the sort of lighting that is use in environmental portraits, the sort that might be used in advertising materials or magazine articles. The nissen hut had poor quality fluorescent lighting that would not be helpful and also had a number of windows allowing natural light. One of which was large and given the restrictions of space and where I could place the camera and me as the subject, meant it would be behind me. I  did a lot of experimentation with both multiple speedlights, umbrellas and reflectors and also some daylight balanced continuos lighting from a softbox.  the corrugated scripture of the building created some strange effect that I was able to counter through experiment.

   

I was able to practice and experiment at the location and eventually settled on a mix of daylight for backlighting, a single high power daylight balance continuous light and a speed light and umbrella running at just 30 %. The diagram below shows the arrangement at the location. It also illustrates the mix of light sources I was manipulated to achieve my desired outcome. What the diagram can’t show is the effects that all light sources, artificial and natural have when directed in a corrugated nissen hut, which is in effect a giant baffle.

Lighting arrangements

It is also worth noting that the diagram shows the final position of the lighting, but during the image making process the camera position was changed slightly with the final images being made with the camera off set to let from the position in the diagram

Camera and Lenses

This assignment was a solo effort much like assignment three. It would have been great to have had an assistant but in  truth having to work alone pushed the boundaries technically for me. I used a crop sensor camera, initially with a zoom lens until I understood the space and location better and then switched to a  fast prime lens  approximating to 50mm on a full from camera. The camera was mounted on a tall tripod and I aligned if from a step ladder in order to get the height I wanted. like the experiments with the lighting I made a number of self timer images to get the framing that i wanted.

I used a wireless trigger for the speed light that also allowed me to control the flash output remotely. In addition I used the camera wirelessly tethered to an tablet. This allowed me to frame and focus as well as get a quick preview of the images. Had I not done this I  think I would have taken days to get an image I was happy with.

Location of the iPad for wireless control o the cameras functions

I set up the location and made the images over two days , around 300 images were made included the location light testing shots.

All in all this was a very enjoyable, nostalgic and personally thought provoking assignment to execute, one that I learned much from, technically, artistically and also psychologically.

References

Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames and Hudson, London

Christianson, H. (2015) The photographer went on a one woman honeymoon, Dazed- found at : http://www.dazeddigital.com/photography/article/25387/1/this-photographer-went-on-a-one-woman-honeymoon (Accessed June 2017)

Cosgrove , B. (2012) W.Eugene Smith’s landmark Portrait: Country Doctor 1948 Found at: http://www.time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ (Accessed June 2017)

Kino, C. (2006) Now in Moving Pictures: The Multitudes of Nikki S. Lee, New York Times found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/01/arts/design/01kino.html?ex=1317355200&en=ba68cca87c7383c1&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0 (AccessedJune 2017)

Shaffran, N Website, found at: nigel shaffran (AccessedJune 2017)

Gillian Wearing takeover: behind themask – the Self Portraits
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/mar/27/gillian-wearing-takeover-mas (AccessedJune 2017)

Nikki S. Lee: The Creators Project found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI8xpJItPVI (AccessedJune 2017)

Phillips, S. (2013) Trish Morrissey’s best photograph: infiltrating a family on a Kent beach, Guardian, found at:http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/23/trish-morrissey-best-shot (Accessed October 2016)

Trish Morrissey works found at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/index.html (AccessedJune 2017)

Sherman, C. (1977) Untitled Film Stills Found at:  www.americansuburbx.com/2014/12/cindy-sherman-untitled-film-stills-1977-1980.html (Accessed June 2017)

 

 

 

Assignment 4- Reworked and rewritten

Motorama – Los Angeles – Robert Frank  

This essay interprets a single image, reflects on its meaning and places it in a wider artistic, historical and political context. It also presents a personal reflection on a single image, the artist’s intent and what might be being communicated.

The image is Robert Frank’s: ‘Motorama – Los Angeles’, taken from ‘The Americans’ published in 1958.

Frank, a Swiss born photographer needs little introduction, ‘The Americans’ makes a major contribution to photography’s cannon, described by Peter Schjeldahl[1], art critic of The New Yorker as: ‘one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium.’

‘The Americans’ was the product of a road trip in three parts,[2] over several years. On coming to America, Frank’s association with Edward Steichen, then the curator of Photography at MoMA[3] and with photographer Walker Evans, led him to successfully secure a Guggenheim grant to fund the project.

Motorama – Los Angeles at first glance might appear to be one of the less iconic images in ‘The Americans’. The image denotes a dark scene that on closer inspection reveals the illuminated interior of a car seen thorough its windscreen. Cars and people framed through windows are recurring tropes in Frank’s work. This image isolates the windscreen in a sea of darkness, hints of chrome in the highlights imply an expensive automobile at night. The image alone reveals little about the cars location. The framing and printing[4] place emphasis on the occupants of the vehicle. All are children, but one stands out in particular, his face half lit, half in shadow stares directly out at the viewer. It is this face, self-assured and assertive in its expression, flanked by the two others, both staring at this protagonist, as if seeking approval or waiting for instruction that creates what Barthes (1979) would describe as the punctum: ‘that accident which pricks or bruises me’. The interplay of the expressions of the car’s occupants asks questions of the viewer about the relationships of the occupants. The absence of adults and the unknown location present additional questions to consider.

The occupants, protected in a steel and glass sanctuary from the surrounding darkness could be an allegory about wealth, class, race and division. The car as a symbol of prosperity is not new. Two decades earlier, Margaret Bourke White’s image[5] of African Americans queuing for aid in front of a hoarding depicting a white happy family through the windscreen of their car, anchors it as symbol of the American prosperity. The hoardings caption reads: ‘Worlds highest standard of living’ and ‘there’s no way like the American way’. Frank’s subtler image, like Bourke Whites earlier work, questions the validity of Americas view of itself in the 1950s as a place of growth and prosperity. Indeed, during Eisenhower’s[6] two terms of presidency the administration only balanced the budget on three occasions. Frank’s image doesn’t refute that Americans have wealth and happiness, but rather that it might not be a universal experience.

But all may not be what it seems, Motorama was General Motors annual show of its latest models. It’s likely that Frank made this image at the show in March 1956[7]. Does this contextual information shift the meaning of the image, now simply a group of boys sitting in a show car?

The image is beautifully cinematic, a screen within a screen, like a still taken from a film noir movie, evocative of Hollywood’s renditions of Raymond Chandler[8] or Dashiell Hammett[9] novels and Frank is highlighting the three-young occupants and not the car.

The title too is important, although the image was taken at an event to showcase new automobiles, this may not be what Frank was revealing in this image. It is the three young people in the scene that Frank captured and like the new cars at the show they too were on display. The next generation, most likely to inherit the fruits of the American dream, already being groomed for a future far from the experience of many. The expression on the face of the principle protagonist confirming a confident assertive view of themselves. The meek might inherent the earth, but these future presidents, praetorians or philanthropists in waiting, are the generation that will inherit the best of the American dream and Frank’s image tells us that they know it.

Like Chandler and Hammet’s fictional private detectives, Marlowe and Spade, Frank and his camera are revealing a truth that might otherwise have been hidden.

Thinking about this image in the wider context of Frank’s work, it certainly provoked a range of reactions and has been used to question a nation’s view of itself, presenting an alternative view of America that chimed with the ‘Beat’ generation[10] who’s literature and poetry also challenged the assumptions about the American dream.

As Jobey (2009) states:

 ‘Frank’s book was condemned almost unanimously when it was first published, but for decades now it has been recognised as a work that identified a cultural shift in America; that showed the country back to itself, and more clearly than most of its inhabitants cared to acknowledge.’

However, Dunford (2011) presents an argument for Frank’s work being appropriated by commentators wanting to make political arguments about America in the 1950s. In doing so Dunford suggests they have robbed it of its aesthetic and iconographic content. Citing Frank’s work being referenced by sociologists without any use of or reference to a single image.

Barrett’s (1988) notion of the ‘external context’ of an image might also help understand where Frank’s work has been located and how the connotations present in ‘The Americans’ have become a tool for political and or sociological critique, as he suggests:

the meaning of any photograph is dependent on the context in which it appears.’

In summary, what this single image reveals is the investigative power of Frank’s camera, his bold use of iconography, referenced to wider media of the time, notably cinema, to present to the original viewer in 50s America, three young people, who just might be charge in the future. As an outsider, Frank was uniquely placed to do this, uncontaminated by an American’s view of themself and revealing what was there in plain sight. For the contemporary viewer seeing this image ‘out of time’ it is Frank’s keen eye for the pictorial that tells a story beyond that which is contained within the 35mm frame and in doing so we are offered tangible evidence about the power of the still image to tell a story.

[1] Peter Schjeldahl, Quoted in Dawidoff (2015)

[2] Sarah Kennel (2014) describes the three components of Frank’s road trip in her lecture to the Bowdoin College

[3] MoMA is the Museum of Modern art in New York

[4] In researching this essay 8 distinct versions of the image were found with differing crops and varying degrees of darkness and light in the prints

[5] Bourke White’s image was part of an assignment looking at the impact of the 1937 flood of the Great Ohio River in Kentucky that displaced many residents. Source: Cosgrove 2014

[6] The Eisenhower Era 1952-1960- AP United states history Study Notes, found at: ww.apstudynotes.org/us-history/outlines/chapter-38-the-eisenhower-era-1952-1960/ (Accessed March 2017)

[7] Motorama was only held once in Los Angeles during the period Frank was working on ‘The Americans’. Frank started his road trip in July 1955, too late for the only other time Motorama was in LA Source 1- Kennell (2014) Source 2- GM Archive found at: https://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/1956_Motorama:_Design_for_Dreaming

[8] Raymond Chandler 1888 – March 26, 1959American/British novelist famous for crime dramas and his character Philip Marlow, a private detective

[9] Dashiell Hammet 1894 – 1961 American author famous for stories like The Maltese Falcon and his character Sam Spade, a private detective

[10] Beat Generation writers and artists such as Karouac, (who wrote the introduction to The Americans) Ginsberg and Burroughs questioned materialism, wealth and the inclusivity and equality in American society Source: http://www.online-literature.com/periods/beat.php

References

Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, Vintage, London

Barrett, T. (1986)  Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts  Art Education, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul., 1986), pp. 33-36. Found at: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/Barrett%20(1986)%20Photographs%20&%20Contexts.pdf (Accessed March 2017)

Campany, D. (2014) The Open Road- Photography & the American Road Trip, Aperture, London

Cosgrove, B. (2014) Behind the Picture-The American Way and the flood of ’37, found at: www.time.com/3879426/the-american-way-photos-from-the-great-ohio-river-flood-of-1937/ (Accessed March 2017)

Dawidoff, N. (2015) The man who saw America-Looking back with Robert Frank, the most influential photographer alive, New York Times Magazine found at: www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/magazine/robert-franks-america.html?_r=0 (Accessed March 2017)

Dunford, T. (2011) Looking at Robert Frank’s “The Americans”- New English Review found at: http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/90393/sec_id/90393 (Accessed March 2017)

Dunford, T. (2012) Miss reading “On the Road” New English Review found at: http://www.newenglishreview.org/Terry_Dunford/Misreading_%22On_the_Road%22/ (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1958)  U.S. Camera Annual 1958 , p. 115 found at: www.americansuburbx.com/2012/07/robert-frank-a-statement-1958.html (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1959) The Americans, Stieidl (2008 Reprint), Gottingen

Howarth, S. (Ed.) (2005) Singular Images-Essays on Remarkable Photographs, Tate Publishing, London

Jobey, L. (2009) Photographer Robert Frank: holding a mirror up to America, The Guardian, found at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/jan/29/robert-frank-america-photography (Accessed March 2017)

Kennel, S (2014) Robert Frank: Nobody’s Home, Bowdoin College Lecture found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfEhCoWcvrc (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2004) The Big Empty- The Guardian, found at: www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/oct/24/photography (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Robert Frank at 90- The Photographer that revealed America won’t look back. The Guardian found at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows (Accessed March 2017)

Papegoerge, T. (1981) Walker Evans and Robert Frank – An Essay on Influence, found at: www. americansuburbx.com/2010/07/theory-walker-evans-and-robert-frank.html (Accessed April 2017)

 

Asssignment 4 – Feedback

I received feedback for assignment 4 from my tutor and as I had expected my assignment needed more work if it is to meet the brief. Whilst there were a number of positive comments about what I had written, the fact that had left a number of questions unresolved meant that the work was unresolved.

The feedback is very valuable though and I will redraft the assignment taking on board the comments my tutor made.

The full feedback can be found here: Assignment 4 Feedback J.O Tutor Report 4

In response to the feedback I sent what is set out below to my tutor:

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your feedback on Assignment 4. You will have read in the preparation section on my blog that I had some struggles with this assignment. I don’t have issues with writing but this type of writing is new to me and I recognise I need to work at it. I am pleased that the descriptive element of the assignment appears to have been ok, but I do see that I didn’t reach a proper conclusion and left more unanswered and unresolved. I guess defeating the object of the exercise! I think I hit a point where I just thought I needed to complete the work and submit it or I would have just kept going around in circles.

It has been a valuable exercise though, and your feedback has given me some helpful suggestions about how I might resolve some of the questions I left hanging in the submission. Your reference to Frank’s outsiders eye and the potential influence of European film noir set me thinking. There is something of the cinematic about the image and certainly film noir ‘esque’ (if I can say that!) Rather than the European tradition there is something to my eye, of the Hollywood ‘Chandler’ or ‘Hammett’ atmosphere to me in the image. Also, thinking about the image title, it does suggest something about drama. I think I became to fixed on tracking down exactly what the title meant In a literal sense) and it was this I focused on rather than what Frank might have been intending to communicate. My head works better in the empirical, but I need to begin to operate in the theoretical and the imaginative. I will use these thoughts to commit to a personal perspective that resolves the questions I posed in the essay. To compound arriving at a personal conclusion I think I also felt a bit of a block in arriving at a personal viewpoint given so many others have written so much about the meaning of Frank’s work, although I didn’t refer to that either!

I am interested in the notion of the ‘privileged flanuer’ that you refer to and will look up some of the references you made in the feedback. The idea of critique from those that remain in the mainstream with all its advantages, but critique what is around them seems a valuable area to delve further into. I did a quick search around Wilson’s ‘Outsider’ and have ordered a copy as it looked quite intriguing.

With all the above in mind I am going to redraft the essay in an attempt to come to a firmer conclusion about the image, using the permission that Frank himself gives in the quote at the end of my initial submission.

I will also look up some of the photographers whose work you have suggested that I consider further. Several are names that I am familiar with and Wearing and Crewdson are artists whose work I have blogged about in this course. Others are entirely unknown to me so I will seek them out.

I am pressing ahead with part 5 and pleased with the progress I am making. I have begun this weekend to start to plan, all be it in outline,  ideas for Assignment 5. I am keen that this is a piece of work that reflects what I have learned along the way during C&N. Many thanks again for your helpful critique, it is appreciated.

Best wishes

John

Assignment 4 Submission (Original)

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

Copyright Robert Frank

Motorama – Los Angeles – Robert Frank

This essay interprets a single image, reflects on its meaning and places it in a wider artistic, historical and political context. It also presents personal reflection about a single image and the artist’s intent.

The image that is the focus of this essay is Robert Frank’s: ‘Motorama – Los Angeles’, taken from ‘The Americans’ published in 1958.

Frank, a Swiss born photographer needs little introduction, ‘The Americans’ makes a major contribution to photography’s cannon, described by Peter Schjeldahl[1], art critic of The New Yorker as: ‘‘one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium.’’

‘The Americans’ was the product of a road trip in three parts[2], over several years. On coming to America Frank’s association with Edward Steichen, then the curator of Photography at MoMA and with photographer Walker Evans led him to successfully secure a Guggenheim grant to fund the project.

Motorama – Los Angeles at first glance might appear one of the less iconic images in ‘The Americans’. The image denotes a dark scene that on closer inspection reveals the illuminated interior of a car seen thorough its windscreen. Cars and people framed through windows are recurring tropes in Frank’s work. This image isolates the windscreen in a sea of darkness, hints of chrome in the highlights imply an expensive automobile at night. The image alone reveals little about the cars location. The framing and printing[3] place emphasis on the car’s occupants. All are children, but one stands out in particular, his face half lit, half in shadow stares directly out at the viewer. It is this face, self-assured and assertive in its expression, flanked by the two others, both staring at this protagonist, as if seeking approval or waiting for instruction that creates what Barthes (1979) would describe as the punctum: ‘that accident which pricks or bruises me’. The interplay of the expressions of the car’s occupants raises questions to the viewer about the relationships of the occupants. The absence of adults and the unknown location present additional questions to consider.

The occupants, protected in a steel and glass sanctuary from the surrounding darkness and all that connotes, could be an allegory about wealth, class, race and division. The car as a symbol of prosperity is not new. Two decades earlier, Margaret Bourke White’s image[4] of African Americans queuing for aid in front of a hoarding depicting a white happy family through the windscreen of their car, anchors it as a symbol of American prosperity. The hoardings captions read: ‘World’s highest standard of living’ and ‘there’s no way like the American way’. Frank’s subtler image, like Bourke Whites earlier work, raises questions about the validity of Americas view of itself in the 1950s as a place of growth and prosperity. Indeed, during Eisenhower’s[5] two terms of presidency the administration only balanced the budget on three occasions. Frank’s image doesn’t refute that Americans have wealth and happiness, but rather that this is not universal or evenly spread.

But all may not be what it seems, Motorama was GMs annual show of its latest models. It’s likely that Frank made this image at the show in March 1956[6]. Does this contextual information shift the meaning of the image, now simply a group of boys sitting in a show car? Does it change what is connoted? Connotations are subjective and they may still be valid, but it raises questions about precisely what Frank was communicating in this work.

Frank’s work certainly provoked a range of reactions and has been used to question a nation’s view of its self, presenting an alternative view of America that chimed with the ‘Beat’ generation[7] who’s literature and poetry also challenged the assumptions about the American dream. As Jobey (2009) states:

“Frank’s book was condemned almost unanimously when it was first published, but for decades now it has been recognised as a work that identified a cultural shift in America; that showed the country back to itself, and more clearly than most of its inhabitants cared to acknowledge.”

However, Dunford (2011) presents an argument for Frank’s work being hijacked by commentators wanting to make political arguments about America in the 1950s. In doing so Dunford suggests they have robbed it of its aesthetic and iconographic content. He cites Frank’s work being referenced by sociologists without any use of or reference to an image at all.

Barret’s (1988) notion of the ‘external context’ of an image might help understand where Frank’s work has been located and how the connotations present in ‘The Americans’ have become a tool for political and or sociological critique, as he suggests: the meaning of any photograph is dependent on the context in which it appears.

What a single image can connote and how widely varying interpretations can be drawn suggests the viewer ultimately constructs their own meaning in spite of the rich and varied commentary available about Frank’s work and its meaning. It is perhaps through Frank’s own words that the best insight is gained into the meaning and purpose of this image and his wider work. Writing in the U.S. Camera Annual (1958) Frank says:

“My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind—something has been accomplished.”

 Frank’s view of different facets of American life has certainly left an image in people minds, it might not however be the one he envisioned himself and in conclusion we might ask the question, does that matter?

 (1000 words –excluding quotes)

Footnotes

[1]
Peter Schjeldahl, Quoted in Dawidoff (2015)

[2] Sarah Kennel (2014) describes the three components of Frank’s road trip in her lecture to the Bowdoin College
[3] In researching this essay 8 distinct versions of the image were found with differing crops and varying degrees of darkness and light in the prints
[4] Bourke White’s image was part of an assignment looking at the impact of the 1937 flood of the Great Ohio River in Kentucky that displaced many residents. Source: Cosgrove 2014
[5] The Eisenhower Era 1952-1960- AP United states history Study Notes, found at: ww.apstudynotes.org/us-history/outlines/chapter-38-the-eisenhower-era-1952-1960/ (Accessed March 2017)
[6] Motorama was only held once in Los Angeles during the period Frank was working on The Americans. Frank started his road trip in July 1955, too late for the only other time Motorama was in LA Source 1- Kennell (2014) Source 2- GM Archive found at: https://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/1956_Motorama:_Design_for_Dreaming
[7] Beat Generation writers and artists such as Karouac, (who wrote the introduction to The Americans) Ginsberg and Burroughs questioned materialism, wealth and the inclusivity and equality in American society Source: http://www.online-literature.com/periods/beat.php

References 

Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, Vintage Classics-Random House, London

Barrett, T. (1986)  Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts  Art Education, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul., 1986), pp. 33-36. Found at: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/Barrett%20(1986)%20Photographs%20&%20Contexts.pdf (Accessed March 2017)

Campany, D. (2014) The Open Road- Photography & the American Road Trip, Aperture, London

Cosgrove, B. (2014) Behind the Picture-The American Way and the flood of ’37, found at: www.time.com/3879426/the-american-way-photos-from-the-great-ohio-river-flood-of-1937/ (Accessed March 2017)

Dawidoff, N. (2015) The man who saw America-Looking back with Robert Frank, the most influential photographer alive, New York Times Magazine found at: www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/magazine/robert-franks-america.html?_r=0 (Accessed March 2017)

 Dunford, T. (2011) Looking at Robert Frank’s “The Americans”- New English Review found at: http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/90393/sec_id/90393 (Accessed March 2017)

Dunford, T. (2012) Miss reading “On the Road” New English Review found at: http://www.newenglishreview.org/Terry_Dunford/Misreading_%22On_the_Road%22/ (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1958)  U.S. Camera Annual 1958 , p. 115 found at: www.americansuburbx.com/2012/07/robert-frank-a-statement-1958.html (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1959) The Americans, Stieidl (2008 Reprint), Gottingen

Howarth, S. (Ed.) (2005) Singular Images-Essays on Remarkable
Photographs, Tate Publishing, London

Jobey, L. (2009) Photographer Robert Frank: holding a mirror up to America, The Guardian, found at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/jan/29/robert-frank-america-photography (Accessed March 2017)

Kennel, S (2014) Robert Frank: Nobody’s Home, Bowdoin College Lecture found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfEhCoWcvrc (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2004) The Big Empty- The Guardian, found at: www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/oct/24/photography (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Robert Frank at 90- The Photographer that revealed America won’t look back. The Guardian found at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows (Accessed March 2017)

Papegoerge, T. (1981) Walker Evans and Robert Frank – An Essay on Influence, found at: www. americansuburbx.com/2010/07/theory-walker-evans-and-robert-frank.html (Accessed April 2017)

Reflection and Self EvaluationAs noted in my preparation entry on my blog, I struggled with this assignment and needed additional time to complete it. This was in a large part due to spending too much time overthinking the whole exercise. I have learned something from this though through the difficulties I experiences. Sometimes you just need to produce a piece of work, ‘warts and all’ and just submit it, there is always scope to redraft based upon feedback. In this instance, I managed to create a significant block for myself by over thinking and worrying too much about my essay. I will try not to make this mistake again!

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills: I used my knowledge and Frank and his work to undertake further research in the preparation of the essay. My references demonstrate a genuine engagement with the assignment and I have tried to make good use of primary and secondary sources in constructing the essay. I have used learning from earlier activity in this course and in Expressing Your Vision to produce a coherent response to the challenge of the assignment.

Quality of Outcome: The essay meets the core requirement of the assignment but would benefit from critique and view in order to make a more robust response to the question. I see my submission as being partially complete.

Demonstration of creativity: This is a hard criterion in the context of an essay although I have used a range of sources and reflections on franks work to produce this essay. I think the range of material demonstrate an attempt to produce a worthy response to the assignment all be it an in complete one at this stage. I await tutorial critique in order to refine what I have produced at this stage

Context: In the context of this section of the course and the requirements in the essay remit I feel I have started to respond to the question. I feel that the issues raised and the position I have taken in this work demonstrate an appropriate engagement with this section of the Context and Narrative course, I have more to do though to not only refine this essay but also to develop my writing around art. I need also to be more succinct, I really struggled with the 1000 word limit, which I recognise is part of the challenge in effective writing about art

Summary: I have had a good stab at this assignment but I am dissatisfied with what I have produced. I have set myself the task of reading more about ‘writing about art’ in order to try and overcome the barriers I experienced in this assignment.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Assignment 4 Preparation: An honest reflection on my problems with this assignment

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

I pondered on this assignment for far too long before making a proper start. I thought about a range of images that I might use and narrowed these down to three:

  • Robert Franks:  ‘Motorama LA’
  • Phillip Jones-Griffiths: ‘Boy destroying a piano in Pont-y-Waen’
  • John Bulmer’s:  ‘Manchester 1977’

But more importantly I  bought a copy of Sophie Howarth’s : Singular Images Essays on Remarkable Photographs and read much of it, some of it twice. This I  thought would be good preparation for thinking about the content of an essay. It also gave me access to Liz Jobey’s Essay about Diane Arbus’s image ‘A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday Outing NYC 1966 for the Part 4 Research Point.

As well as reading the Jobey’s essay several times I read all the other essays in the book with the exception of Geoffrey Batcham’s: Latticed Window (with camera obscura) August 1835. I will at some point soon read this one too.

In truth  I struggled with the Jobey’s essay. It wasn’t difficult to read and it was also very engaging, indeed it’s an excellent example of using a single image  as a window on the work of an artist. It takes an analysis of a single image and skilfully weaves a compelling and evidence based history on the life , work and death of Diane Arbus..

What I struggled with and I think it shows in my Research Point here, was that the essay created a real block for me in thinking about what i needed to write in my assignment. I now know much more about Arbus and that’s good, but I started to really over think what had to be in my 1000 word essay.

Where I really struggled was that perhaps I had perhaps completely misread the purpose of Assignment 4? Howarth’s introduction to: Singular Images Essays on Remarkable Photographs offers a compelling reason for focusing on a single image, the challenge between Van Deren Coke and Beaumont Newhall provides a rationale. But am I supposed to be reviewing a single image for meaning, i=or offer an greater insight into the photographer, their life and work? This I believe is what Jobey has done in her essay in Howart

In short I read the essay and thought how can I do anything like that in 1000 words. I know the assignment is not meant to be on the scale of Jobey’s, an accomplished writer, who also had 4,350 to make her case, but I suppose I slipped into a serious phase of over thinking assignment 4 perhaps. Other essays in the book seemed more achievable as a blue print for my assignment. In particular Dominic Willsdon’s:  Aegean Sea, Pilion 1990, using a Sugimoto image as the focus.

To cut a long story short my reflections and pondering on all of this ground me to a halt. I did decide upon an image fairly quickly and checked out my choice with my tutor and he was supportive of the image that I finally settle upon.

Struggling to make a start I immersed myself in reading about Robert Frank. Although, familiar with Frank’s work I felt I needed more background. Using the title of the image and some internet research I even tracked down to with in 4-5 days when and where precisely the image I had chosen was made. I found no reference to this in any of the material I read through so I felt fairly pleased that this, at least to me seemed like an original piece of research about Frank. All this activity though was to a large extent an diversion to setting pen to pare and writing the assignment. I even had to ask for an extension in order to complete it. What I wrote was the product of 5 to 6 drafts none of which am I really satisfied with , however, as the poet said: ‘what is writ is writ”

End Note

I should say, that I don’t have an issue with writing, but I have struggled with writing for this assignment. I have to get over it, move on and learn from the experience. I am sure their will be much more writing of this nature ahead!

References

Howarth, S. (Ed.) (2005) Singular Images-Essays on Remarkable Photographs, Tate Publishing, London

Assignment 3 Feedback and reflections

ass-3-feedback-6249

I was pleased with my feedback for this assignment, particularly given the challenges that this assignment presented to me. As stated in my peroration notes i am far more used to being behind the camera than in front of it and I arrived at a very individual take of the brief. I also learned a lot along the way, not least how it would have been helpful to have an assistant for this sort of work. 

Using my now standard review methodology, I highlight the strengths my tutor identified as ell as the limitation and the areas for further study

The full tutor feedback can be found here:  j-o-tutor-report-3

As with other assignments i set out my thoughts I response to my tutor:

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your feedback on assignment three, as ever it is very helpful and thought provoking. I did find this assignment a challenge but enjoyed the whole exercise, the diary writing, the thinking, the execution and the technical aspects. It was very different, particularly the diary production and this whole way of working from a self-produced text. I agree about the images of the diary on my desk, the scribbles and comments on the diary copies perhaps form a different response to the assignment.

Images of my work, writing and OCA activity on my desk are a sort of ongoing project that spans across my OCA studies to date. Spurred on by a single polaroid image I made in June 1985. That year I left a bricks and mortar university and my abiding memory of it was an empty Formica desk with a single and permanent stain from a coffee cup on its empty surface. My ongoing collection of images of my desk at home with the activity from my OCA journey has become a personal project which counters the single polaroid from my past!

The assignment also brought home the ongoing dilemma I have about whether there should be any accompanying text with an image. This has been a recurring theme through each assignment in C&N. I am still working at not including text, although some of the reflection you offered regarding the assignment and in particular, how it would appear to a viewer, could perhaps be partially resolved with some excerpts from the diary that make direct reference to things I had written that link to the texts I was reading at the time. It was these elements of writing in the dairy and the observations of my diary reviewers that led to the selection of the texts I used as masks in the self-portraits. That said I think I still prefer to avoid the use of text to make me think about how an image might speak for itself. I recognise though that I still have a way to go on making my images talk for themselves.

Your comment about using a wider context of the background is interesting. In my initial experiments, I did try some images using a 14mm (21mm full frame equivalent) lens to show much more of the context in which the image was made. Some of the images I liked but I also felt the focus on the principle subject was reduced. I think I would again perhaps use a slightly narrower wide angle to include more of the context, particularly because I was trying to say something about me, the text/mask and the environment. I think this brought home to me the balance between a creative and well thought out assignment response balanced within the time available to make the work. This is a useful reflection when thinking about future work. I do sometimes struggle with time and experimentation and to be frank, the work is a compromise to some extent between vision, intent and the ruthlessness of time.

On the date for the next assignment I think the date you have suggested are the ones for this previous assignment, as the due date for the next assignment is that date for the submission of assignment three. I’d be grateful if you could let me have a date for assignment 4, it helps me focus and manage workload and time.

On a final note, I am in the process of looking at a number of images that might form the basis of the assignment four essay. When I have narrowed this list down to two or three I will drop you a line to get your thoughts

Again, many thanks for your comments and commentary, I genuinely find them helpful.

Best wishes

John

PS, I really like the reference to Fahrenheit 451, I hadn’t thought of that while making the work, but I could perhaps be a character in it, I am pushed to choose which book I might consume and become but it would probably be Becker’s outsiders or Funder’s Stasiland!

Assignment 3 Submission

The semi absented portrait – hiding in plain site

“Sharing your [book] shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity.”

 Knox (2012)

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Context, Preparation and Execution

A full description of the preparation and planning for this assignment can be found on my blog here:

https://johnaorrocacn.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/assignment-3-preparation/

In brief though I completed a diary as suggested in the course materials. My diary was written over 21 days and was in many respects a collection of the thoughts that came into my head at the end of each day. It wasn’t a slavish account of the all the events of the day, although it did refer to things that took place during the day. The diary was then reviewed by four people I know. Each gave me their thoughts about what the diary said about me. Although my diary reviewers all made unique contributions to this task the single factor that stood out most in their review comments were my reading, my commitment to make time to read and the material that I read. This objective observation became the catalyst for this assignment.

In reading the course materials I had been struck particularly by the work of Gillian Wearing and Trish Morrissey. In different ways, they both use a wide definition of the concept of the self-portrait to explore different aspects of identity. Both artists have work that looks at family identity, or indeed multiple identities. ‘Mimmickery’ is a feature too of their exploratory approach. Morrissey takes this approach further and her: ‘Ten People in a Suitcase’ is a mix of performance and investigation. While reading Baylis’s (2016) review of this work it was her comment:

‘Morrissey works to embody the lives of the subjects she has chosen and to speak of what those connections mean to her.’

 Considering this work coincided with reading an article I found in the Guardian while researching something for a presentation at work. An article by Knox (2012) entitled: What does your bookshelf say about you? In the article Knox encourages us to take a picture of our bookshelves to share this image with others as it can say so much about who we are, but more importantly why we are the person we are. He further suggests:

“Sharing your shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity. “

I thought of photographing a bookshelf or collection of books as a still life and exploring this idea as an absented portrait, but I then came up with the idea of being the bookshelf, in a semi absented traditional style portrait. It was this idea upon which I developed the work for this assignment.

Technical information

All the images were made using a crop sensor camera (1.5x crop factor) and using a single prime focus 60mm lens (equating to 90mm on a full Frame camera). The images were recorded as RAW files, processed in Lightroom then converted to Jpegs, 1500 pixels on the long side and in Adobe (RGB) colour space. A second set was made ready for sending to a commercial printer as TIFF Files in sRGB colour space and the file size specified by the commercial printer. Given the brief of a portrait image I chose the 60/90mm focal length because it was reasonably fast at f2.4 and it would allow the subject to be isolated from the background in a shallow but sharp depth of field. This assignment presented some new challenges, not least that I would not be behind the camera. Initially I enlisted a family member to help but this proved problematic. My family member assistant non-photographer they were unable to get the focus correct in the shallow depth of field that I needed. Also, there were availability issues as I made the images over a week in a variety of different locations.

Being creative and using a bit of a Heath Robinson approach, I used the camera on a tripod and set up a second tripod as a stand for the book that would be in the image and the area of key focus.

This created a precise zone to focus on the achieve the sharp but shallow depth of field images I was pre visualising. I used the camera in manual focus mode and set the scene up. Then using a cable release and self-timer I set about making the images. Some were made at home; others were made in two different city locations that I happened to be in during December. I did illicit some strange looks and comments from passersby but this is becoming a feature of my OCA assignment activity!

Self-Evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I think there is some technical competence demonstrated in several the images. This is set against the backdrop of the technical challenges taking pictures of yourself creates. Even using my multiple tripod technique there are some images I am much happier about than others. I think there is a coherence to the set of images and I think I meet the brief of the assignment. There is of course room for improvement and If I did this activity again I would enlist the assistance of a competent photographer as an assistant. This would allow for far more experimentation. I felt constrained to some extent using my ‘one man’ methodology.

Quality of outcome

I believe the outcomes meets the brief of the assignment and there is some technical competence in the images submitted. I also recognize that some are stronger than others. I am far better practiced in natural light than in artificial light. The latter is an area I need to develop my skill in. I think there is reference to the work of part three of the course in my images and if nothing else the work raises some questions and issue about identity. The approach I have taken to this assignment might be interpreted as clichéd, but I think there is the kernel of an approach self-portraiture worthy of some further exploration and experimentation.

Demonstration of creativity

I have engaged with the material cited in the course around the theme of ‘putting yourself in the picture’. I have also read and researched beyond the material. This preparation supported in the production of this work. I have tried to use some of the simple tropes of formal and informal portrait images in a different manner. I have used the idea of a mask and hiding in plan site to respond to the brief in a personal manner. I think the resulting work is an ‘oblique’ form of self-portrait revealing things about self and identity. I am pleased with the outcome but recognise I am merely scratching the surface of a potential  vein of self-expression.

 Summary

This was a genuinely engaging assignment to work on that made me think in different way. I also had to manage some technical as well as creative challenges to achieve the images that I visualized. I have partially managed this and feel this assignment responds to the brief but has more potential than perhaps my images at this stage present. As with all my OCA work I press on with a journey that test me but also offer insight and challenge.

 

References

Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph, OUP, Oxford

Clarke, G. (1992) The Portrait in Photography – Critical Views, Reaction Press, Seattle

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames and Hudson, London

Zohar, A. (2011) The Elu[va]sive Portrait: Mimicry, Masquerade and Camouflage-Conceptual and Theoretical Notes, an Introduction, Trans Asia Photography Review, found at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0002.102?view=text;rgn=main (Accessed December 2016)

Assignment 3 Preparation

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Assignment Brief

Drawing upon the examples in Part Three and your own research, you can approach your self-portraits however you see fit. You may choose to explore your identity or masquerade as someone else, or use empty locations or objects to speak of your experiences. However you choose to approach it, use yourself – directly or indirectly – as subject matter.

Keep a diary for a set period of time (at least two weeks). Each day write two or three pages about yourself – what you’ve been doing/thinking. This can be as specific or poetic as you wish. You may wish to pick a theme for the duration. This is an open brief designed to give you freedom to create something personal which suits you best. Use the artists you’ve looked at in Part Three or your own research for inspiration.

Select the most interesting parts of the diary (which could also be the most banal or mundane) and interpret them into a photographic project.

A good way to approach selection could be to ask a friend/fellow student/stranger to read it and send back a highlighted version. You could then base your project on those parts. This would take the pressure off you to find a ‘good story’.

You may choose to select a few days or phrases that spark an idea for you, or you may wish to exaggerate how you were feeling one day into a parody of yourself or the circumstance. You may wish to create a ‘document’ of that time in a re-creation of events – or direct a model to act out some of the content of the diary, making your own ‘film- stills’.

You could present your chosen diary entries as a visual diary or use it as a springboard for further exploration. You may choose to insert the pictures like snapshots into your diary and hand it all in together. You don’t have restrict yourself to the diary itself; you may decide to use it to take you into new territory.

Send your finished piece to your tutor by the method agreed together with an introduction of around 300 words briefly setting out your rationale and how you approached this project. You should also send to your tutor the relevant pages of your learning log or blog url.

Introduction to Assignment

As I noted in my reflections earlier in this part of the course, I have spent a lifetime remaining behind the camera. In a mass of family pictures taken over decades there are few in which I am anything other than virtually present. I am uncomfortable in front of the camera and this made this assignment novel and challenging.

My interest had been piqued though by the very different interpretations of the concept of the self portrait that I discovered in this section of the course. The traditional notions of the self portrait are challenged by the work of Sherman, Goldin, and to me, most notably by Trish Morrisey, Nikki S Lee, Gillian Wearing and Yasumasa Morimur. All of these artists use the self portrait to reveal something more than the the image of an idividual. While considering their work I was reminded of Clarke’s (1992) comment about the self portrait:

‘at virtually every level the portrait photograph is fraught with ambiguity’  pp31

Clarke (1997) goes on to suggest that this ambiguity is in part that it is never clear as to who or what is being photographed. Making reference to Robert Mapplethorpes portrait ‘Apollo’ 1988, Clarke suggests this is an exemplary enigmatic image. Half real half mask the images presents a  contrast indeed conflict between the real and the ideal, the real and the imagined. It trancends the idea of simply capturing a likeness, it captures a much richer set of ideas about who someones is, who they might be and what we might learn about them beyond the merely pictorial. I was captivated by this image and wondered whether Trish Morrisey had seen this work, the idea of the mask, of hiding within plain sight and of revealing more in an image than the sitter really helped me bring together alI I had learned in this part of the course.

The idea that the self portrait reveals something beyond the immediacy of an individual in the frame was where I started to develop the concept that I used for this assignment. The course reading had already helped me see that the self portrait was something that had to possibility of going well beyond the simple idea of the ‘likeness’.

Assignment Planning 

As suggested in the brief I kept a written diary over a three week period. This too was a new activity,  having never kept a journal type diary as far as I can recall. I have a very busy work diary with appointments and activities, that at times I see as tyrannical, and controlling, but the idea of recording events and thoughts from the day was new to me. Perhaps as  child I had recorded some reflective jottings as part of school exercises but I left school a very long time ago!

Taking a leaf, literally from Anna Fox’s ‘Cockroach diary, I used an a A5 spiral bound notebook as the repository of this diary journal. I just wrote what I was thinking about at the end of each day.The three week period covered several days on a holiday, but mostly time during my hectic working life. There wasn’t really a pattern to what I set out to record, I just set aside time at the end of each day to write two pages of jottings about the day, my activities and thoughts. Reading it back it does provide some insight, all be it a disjointed insight into three weeks of my life.

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I wrote the diary long hand and like many I am sure that most of what I tend to have to write (and I write a lot as part of my work) is done with a computer and not a pen. I noticed some real writing fatigue during the recording  of the pages for this project and I was reminded of times in my youth when I had to write pages as a student. My long hand writing muscles had not quite atrified but they had certainly been dormant for some time.

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I did really enjoy the physical act of writing the diary in long hand and although fatiguing I had forgotten the satfication of writing this way. I have produced long hand planning charts for my OCA studies, but this has been the some total of scribbling for many years.

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At times I think the diary reads as a bit of a stream of consciousness, it flits from one thing to another as ideas and thoughts came into my head. I used no formal structure or plan and I treated the diary task as free thought and free writing. I also recognised that I was too close to it to get any meaningful analysis from the pages and as suggested in the brief I enlisted friends and colleagues to review the diary for me.

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Two of the diary reviewers were professional colleagues and two were photographers friends. I felt this would provide some more objective insight into my jottings. I was a touch concerned about whether they would actually be able to decode my scribblings, given that my cursive hand is at best idiosyncratic and at worst illegible. Although my reviewers were from two different parts of my life, they all had in common the fact they had at sometime been secondary school teachers. I particularly chose them for this reason, the deciding factor being their ability to decipher scribbling, rather than any artistic or psychological criteria.

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Each was given a photocopied complete version of the dairy, all  45 hand written pages to review and comment on. I thought I did need to frame the review process but without fettering each of the reviewers own ability to comment on the diary and its content. I was also mindful they like me were all busy people. So I set three broad questions to each of them in their task.

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The questions, although not intended to limit their comments were:

  1. What does the content of the dairy say about me as an individual

  2. Could you recognise any themes or patterns in the dairy

  3. Any other comments you want to make about the diary

I encouraged them to highlight or scribble in the diary and return their thoughts, reflections and comments by e-mail to me, ideally with a bit of a summary.

Each of my four reviewers had a full photocopy of the diary for about a fortnight. All returned their copies with some annotation and some notes.  Most amazingly they all managed to decode my hasty and scribbly handwriting and all commented on the insight the diary offered into me an as individual. After the review activity I spent about an hour either face to face or on the telephone with each of the reviews talking about their observations. What stood out was that their thoughts on my diary’s content raised more questions than answers. I was  also struck by the range of things they commented on in the diary and some of the insights they made, one common observation however stood out above all others. I will return to this later.

The Diary- Review, Analysis and summary comments

Caroline C., a work colleague with the same professional background as me. She really focused on the work elements of the dairy, commented on the long patterns of work and also how work extends far beyond the 37 hours a week that we are payed for. She also picked up on my role in some of the review work. This was interesting because from my perspective I felt that the smallest bit of the diary was about work. I guess this was the common ground that we have though, so perhaps this was the lens through which she read my comments and reflections. She did comment on photography and the fact that I still used film and managed to carve out some time in a hectic work schedule for  a personal interest. She commented on her lack of ability to find time for personal interests. By far the biggets point she raised though was my commitment to reading. Reading for work, reading for my photography interest and also reading for pleasure, particularly literature. She commented on her lack of time to read and that this was a source of stress for her. In fact I felt there was something cathartic for her in her comments about my diary, she revealed something about herself while commenting about how I used my time. I was left with a sense that it had actually upset her, not because of its comments and content but because it shone a light on her own concerns about how all consuming our job can be and how little time we have if we let the job become all consuming.

Richard W., also a work colleague made a few comments about our work and my references to it, but made lots of comments about my photographic work, both for the OCA and my own project work. He was very interested that I was still using film and that I developed and scanned my own negatives. His feedback was fuelled with more questions than observation, but of course these questions said something in themselves. To me that highlighted the important role that photography plays in my life, a thread that runs through it offering moments of sanity in what is at times an unreasonable work expectations. That said, most of his comments were about my reading, the material I read, particularly the prose and poetry and also my perceived capacity to make time to read in a very busy professional life.  In reality I feel guilty that I do not read enough although I got a sense from his comments that he was keen to read more but had resigned himself to the fact that this might not happen. I have subsequently loaned him my copy of Asimovs, Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep. A book he commented on , saying he had read it in his youth and would like to read it again

Margaret S., a photographer friend and acquantance who has nothing to do with my work commented on the range of activity that I do in my work and also commented about my semi structured days. She commented on my pattern of work, reflections, cycling and then reading. She was very interested in my film developing and scanning and the labs that used when not processing images myself. She did make some reference to my work and asked me lots of questions about the work I do particularly the references to reviews, which she knew were about schools. What was fascinating again about this reviewers comments and questions was that she raised more questions than  offered comments. I suppose I provided a written snapshot into three weeks of my life and it raised more questions than provided details. I really liked this idea of the dairy as a catalyst for wider thinking. Margaret was also very interest in my OCA photography studies and I have since given her access to this blog and also my EYV Blog. Again the thing that struck her in my scribblings was the reading that I did and that reading tranceded all of my activities. I read for work, for pleasure and to learn, she felt this was something she would like to do more of and she asked me to share the titles of books about photographic practice that I found useful. I have subseqauntly bought her a copy of Bergers Ways of Seeing, giving her the copy over the christmas holidays, sadly only days before the news of John Berger’s death

Jeanette C. Also a photographer friend and retired teacher. She focused immediately  on what I was reading, she commented on the range of books I made reference to and her views on several of those books, particualrly Street Photography Now which she was also reading. She commented that retirement had brought her the time to read the things she felt she had not been able to read when working and like the others commented on my time commitment to read in a busy working week. She was also interested not in my film photography work but on my choice not to use digital cameras. We had quite a chat about this but that sits outside the remit for this task and assignment. We also talked about education and she was interested , although with a sense of concern, about my school review work, she knew about my work as an Inspector (not directly referenced in the dairy) and she shared her feeling and indeed anger about Ofsted and her perception of its impact on teachers. In many respects Jeanette’s engagement led to responses that were wider in scope than the other reviewerss, All helpful though.

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Common themes identified in the diary

There is clearly some subjectivity when looking at someone elses diary but in collating the general comments the list below is a summary of the collective observations that my reviewers made. I have edited this does to some extent and the criteria I used was to only list things that appeared in all four reviewers commentary.

These were:

  • Very variable handwriting, at times really legible at other times quite hard to decipher
  • You seem to spend at least some of everyday reading
  • You read a lot. You make and allocate  time to read for pleasure as well as for work and for study.
  • I need to make more time to read like you do
  • You spend more time on  an exercise bike than a real bike.
  • Do you really watch TV on your exercise bike?
  • This OCA course is clearly something you are investing time in.
  • How do you create time for all the things you do!
  • Your reading habits tell me things I didn’t know about you.

The Semi Absented Self Portrait-Hiding in plain site

Armed with the comments from my diary reviewers  and reflecting on the course materials, I began to develop my assignment response. I had been struck particularly in the course reading by the work of Gillian Wearing and Trish Morrissey. In different ways, they both use a wide definition of the concept of the self portrait to explore different aspects of identity. They appear to exploit the ambiguity that Clarke (1992) refers to that i mentioned at the artist of this blog entry. Both artists have work that looks at family identity, or indeed multiple identities.’ Mimicry’ is a feature too of their exploratory approach. Morrissey takes this approach further and her: Ten People in a Suitcase is a mix of performance and investigation.

While reading Baylis’s (2016) review of this work it was her comment:

Morrissey works to embody the lives of the subjects she has chosen and to speak of what those connections mean to her.

Considering this work coincided with article I found in the Guardian while researching something for a presentation at work. An article by  Knox (2012) entitled: What does your bookshelf say about you? In the article Knox encourages us to take a picture of our bookshelves to share  this image with others as it can say so much about who we are, but more importantly why we are the person we are. He further suggests:

“Sharing your shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity. “

I thought of photographing a bookshelf or collection of books  still life and exploring this idea as an absented portrait, but I then came up with the idea of being the bookshelf, in a semi absented portrait traditional style portrait. It was this idea upon which I developed the work for this assignment.

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This idea gained some momentum as I re read the diary myself, through the lens of the comments of Caroline, Richard, Margaret and Jeanette. The time I invest in reading also really stood out now to me, it was not something I had thought about before to the same extent. If a portrait is about capturing something of the sense of an individual, revealing a wider perceptive or even truth, then this seemed a way to develop the assignment.

As with other assignments I brainstormed out some of these ideas, but to be frank, I already had a strong idea in my head by this stage of what my assignment images might look like.

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I have already commented upon my concern about being in a photograph and my preference to be behind the camera. The  approach I took offers a sort of camouflage, a hiding in plain site, but affording something about me in the camouflage I deployed. Although an article about women in protest work, I took the idea of camouflage from Zohar (2011) excellent article on: The Elu[va]sive Portrait.

Making the work

This assignment presented some new challenges, not least that I would not be behind the camera. Initially I enlisted a family member to help out but this proved problematic. My family member assistant  non-photographer struggled and was unable to get the focus correct in the shallow depth of field that I needed in the images to achieve the look I envisaged. Also, there were availability issues as I made the images over a couple weeks in a variety of different locations. Timing was a challenge too during the month of December when days are short and available light can be limited. We tried for several days but in the end frustration on both parts meant I had to rethink the approach.  As I mentioned above, I had a vision in my head of what my images might look like. Being creative and using a bit of a Heath Robinson approach, I used the camera on a tripod and set up a second tripod as a stand for the book that would be in the image and the area of key focus.

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This created a precise zone to focus on the achieve the sharp but shallow depth of field images I was pre visualising. I used the camera in manual focus mode and set the scene up. Then using a cable release and self timer I set about making the images. Some were made at home, others were made in two different city locations that I happened to be in during December. I did illicit some strange looks and comments from passers by but this is becoming a feature of my OCA assignment activity!

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I made a number of images many of which I discarded in the first instance. I retried and refined my approach and started to get images of an acceptable quality in terms of technical execution and the visual effect I was trying to achieve. I really enjoyed the technical and creative challenge of this assignment and by the final set of images I had added elements into the images that reveal something more about me and who I am. This was a genuine exploration of self  through a semi absented self portrait using a type of mask but a mask that contained information that had the potential to be revealing but also ambiguous and secretive. Even what I am wearing  in the images has some coded information. 

From a technical point of view all the images were made using a crop sensor camera (1.5x crop factor) and using a single prime focus 60mm lens (equating to 90mm on a full frame camera). The images were recorded as RAW files, processed in Lightroom then converted to Jpegs,  with a dimension of 1500 pixels on the long side. As per the OCA requirements they are in Adobe (RGB) colour space. A second set was made ready for sending to a commercial printers as TIFF Files in sRGB colour space and the file size specified by the commercial printer. Given the brief of a portrait image I chose the 60/90mm focal length because it was reasonably fast at f2.4 and it would allow the subject to be isolated from the background in a shallow but sharp depth of field. I did initially experiment with a 14mm (21mm full frame equivalent) lens at very close proximity (300mm) to the subject, this created an interesting effect but I found too much distraction in the wider background and quickly settled on a classic portrait focal length lens and portrait format image orientation.

References

Baylis, G. (2016) Hidden People, Ten People in a Suitcase, Source- The Photographic Review,  Autumn 2016, Issue 87

Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph, OUP,  Oxford

Clarke, G. (1992) The Portrait in Photography – Critical Views, Reaction Press, Seatle

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames and Hudson, London

Knox, P (2012) What does your bookshelf say about you? Guardian , found at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/07/bookshelf-say-about-you (Accessed December 2012)

Zohar, A. (2011) The Elu[va]sive Portrait: Mimicry, Masquerade and Camouflage-Conceptual and Theoretical Notes, an Introduction, Trans Asia Photography Review, found at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0002.102?view=text;rgn=main (Accessed December 2016)

Assignment 2 Feedback, Reflection and Rework

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I was very pleased with the feedback for this assignment. There was a helpful balance of positive comments mixed with constructive critique. I code all my written feedback using highlighter pens in order to maximise the learning from tutor comments and also to inform the rework of the assignment. This has come a bit of a habit, but as a distance learner working in a degree of solitude I try to eek out all that I can from the written feedback.

Strengths are highlighted in green, areas for development in pink and follow up suggestions are highlighted in yellow. The feedback for this assignment confirmed that there was good development in conceptual thinking, a sense of narrative with some continuity and some good images. There was a good level of technical ability also demonstrated.

This was tempered with very helpful critique suggesting that some of the images did’t meet the ambition of the project. Also my thinking was not singularly defined enough leading to some ambiguity in reading what the work was ultimately about. I have stated before that I am on a journey and I am refining my technique as I go, but achieving my intent in work is still illusive. But, there is much learning on the way and in many respects the constructive critical feedback is more valuable as a learning aid than the positive comments. I also recognised and understood the criticism  about some of the images , particularly the cluttered ones where my message was not clearly enough defined. This was a very personal project and making it accessible to a wider audience isn’t easy, nor should it be really. At the risk of sounding trite any one could do it if it were easy!

This work was in many respects very emotional and personal, particularly for my wife. For this reason I feel it is important to rework some of the images in order to fulfil the goal I set out to achieve , capturing love and cherished memory in the objects left behind by someone close who is no longer with us.

My response to Tutor feedback

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your helpful feedback for Assignment 2. It was a very personal interpretation of the brief and your feedback is helpful in identifying the strengths and limitations of the work. Your question about the purpose of the work proved to be particularly helpful in raising what should have been an obvious point for me to consider. In many respects I saw the work as a response to the brief, but recognise I need to make work that transcends the idea of the brief and stands out in its own right. With hindsight the work is about presence and this needs to stand out more. I was pleased that you liked the final images in the set. Interestingly these were also images I made towards the end of schedule. I think ideas and themes developed through the process of making the work may be the most interesting, more so than those the planning stage.

Taking on board your feedback about the clutter in some of the images, which I agree with, I am going to re do the exercise in advance assessment. I want to explore the idea of a juxtaposition of the living with the objects that are in the images. I will also look at some references about still life photography. I was very interested in your comments about Vanitas objects. I have done quite a bit of reading about this over the past few days. I have looked at some interesting on-line discussions about the work of Steenwyck.

Many thanks for the references, I really enjoyed the Avedon and the Richon in particular

This was a good assignment from a learning point of view and I recognises that I still have further work to do.

Thank you for the comments about the blog. It is a work in progress and there are still some items that are not displaying. Mainly write ups to exhibitions and study visits. I thoroughly enjoyed and felt quite enlighted by my visist to the Conceptual Art show at Tate Britain. I am going to set aside some time to try and get to grips with my WordPress woes!

I will press on with the next part of the course and am today starting the diary in advance of assignment 3 I thought it might be good to do it for longer than 2 weeks.

Many thanks again for your helpful feedback, it is exactly what I need.

Best wishes

John

Overall I was pleased however that my tutor felt this was a good attempt at a complex piece of work. I was left with the clear sense of the strengths and the areas I need to work on. The full feedback can be read here: j-o-tutor-report-2

My tutor also suggested I should look at further work around still life photography and supplied some helpful links which I followed up on.

I was intrigued by the notion of the vanitas object, a feature in dutch school painting

Objects featured in artwork are a well known area of discussion and thought and the vanitas works of the dutch school are perhaps some of the best known. I first came across the idea while reading Berger’s: Ways of Seeing. He talks about painting becoming a mechanism for the display of wealth and power during the Renaissance.

The gospel quote below shed some light on the idea of objects and vanity

 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:18-21

Olivier Richon suggests:

–“ a re-interpretation of the still life genre and a reflection on the object as sign. He uses a large format camera to quote genres and other images, also using animals as a recurrent subject that complements the stillness of objects. The camera is commonly a metaphor for the eye. Richon proposes that the camera is also a metaphor for the mouth: a devouring eye or a drinking eye that absorbs its subject to turn it into an image. Here photographic practice is located within a contemporary notion of allegory that considers the images as a script and a rebus, where meaning and signs are accumulated, in the same manner as objects are represented as an accumulation of signs in the Flemish still life.”

From this quote I began to explore two key areas in the reworking of this assignment. The first was the notion of images as a script or more significantly a Rebus. I also spent some time looking at Flemish painting and the idea of ‘Vanitas’ symbols.

Following up on a reference made in the written feedback I read the 1974 article from Camera Magazine by Richard Alvedon – ‘Jacob Isreal Avedon- (1974). In this brief article Alvedon reflects on photographing his father in the final years of his life. Avedon was impolying all his skills as a prriat photographer who in essence worked with strangers to record a subject with whom he had a deep relationship. I was struck by a particular line in the article in reference to the final images:

They exist on their own. Whatever happened between us was important to us, but it is not important to the pictures. What is in them is self-contained and, in some strange way, free of us both.

This quote was important in my reflections about my assignment and what i was trying to achieve in the images I made. The essence of the images and their content was highly personally an at odds to the idea Alvedon sets out above. This helped me anchor what I wanted the set of images to say, it helped me unpack some of the confusion evident in the work as suggested in my tutors comments. In the feedback my tutor posed the question any viewer would ask:

….what is the purpose of the work? Is it a celebration of a life, an account of a life, a critique of a life or an evaluation of a life?

For me I wanted the work to be a celebration of life, a statement about objects in the present that say something about an important life that still has influence although now gone. I was also helped by the critique of the individual images. One was singled out as offering a different way of developing the theme. With reference to the image below the feedback suggested:

I particularly like the image of the picture and the figure in the background that creates a certain ambiguity. This image suggest to me that perhaps there was another way to interpret this brief through the relationship between the objects and at the point that they come in contact with the living.

sally-5900

This set me thinking about how I might combine some of the compositional ideas i had looked at in the flemish painting and the notions of objects at the point they come into contact with the living. Based upon this idea I made a number of new images, in which the Vanitas, the Moment Mori are seen in the same context as the living. This was much more exploratory and to some extent more of a risk than the original set of images.

The set uses some of the original images but removes some of the very cluttered one and actively superimposes the living in the same scene as the objects that are at the heart of the theme.

The works remains very personal and i am struck by the paradox that it is very hard to be objective about a work that is so unashamedly subjective. For the images to work they need to strike a connection with the vower who may also hold certain personal object dear from deputed family member sand relatives. Indeed this is at the heart of the idea of vanities object. in the end object outlive their owners and a vanities object does not have to be as brash as a skull, a candle, a clock to make the point about the passage of time and the temporal nature of life. To me and in this work, the binoculars seen on both the first and third images (they are the same pair) fulfil the same symbolic function

I am uncertain as to whether the final set works, but it does get closer to the sense of a celebration of someones life and the part they play in the current lives of their loved ones.

Reworked Image Set

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Avedon, R. (1974) ‘Jacob Isreal Avedon’ Camera Magazine November 1974 , found at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/04/richard-avedon-jacob-israel-avedon-1974.html (Accessed December 2016)

Harman Steenwyck – Vanitas Still life Painting http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/still_life/harmen_steenwyck.htm

Momento Mori Defintion, found at : http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/memento-mori (Accessed December 2016)

Arkette, S. (2009) http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/photography-olivier-richon-anima-l/