1. Photographing the unseen
Start by doing some reflecting in your learning log. What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? List a few examples of things you’re experiencing now or have recently been thinking about. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth or revealing, but it can be if you want. Equally, it might be something as apparently trivial as how you’re going to fit everything into your busy day. At first you may come up with literal examples, but the more you think about them the more those ideas will develop into specific and more original ones.
Make a list of at least seven ideas. Try and keep to things you have a personal interest in or curiosity about. Keep a notebook with you at all times and make notes when ideas strike you as interesting. (This is good practice for all stages of the degree and beyond. Ideas books are something to be revisited time and again for ideas and hints for the photographer you’re becoming.)
Now implement one of your ideas. Aim for a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7–10 images.
Of the two options available for this assignment I quickly settled on the first. Although bot presented a challenge and new territory, I quickly started to think about ideas for the first option. That said I then spent a considerable amount of time pondering the challenge of this assignment. In fact I had a big psychological block and spent far more time thinking and rethinking that I should have done, I may have been overthinking things too. I have been trying to take a more in depth approach to assignments in this second OCA module for me, but there is a balance to strike that i may not have achieved yet.
As a result of all of this thinking I began to pursue a particular idea, based on my reflections of childhood and significantly influenced by Jodie Taylor’s work referenced in the course materials. This work struck a real chord with me. I got as far as making a number of the images but felt unsatisfied on a number of levels with what I was doing and how the work was developing. As mentioned above I am spending far more time in deeper thinking about the work I am producing and with a newer and more challenging idea for the exercise in mind I decided to start all over again, but I am glad that I did.
An implication of this was that I ran out of time and had to ask my tutor for an extension on the original date. To compound my challenge I also changed jobs during this period and this brought some additional challenges in that I was ‘time poor’ for much of August and a good part of September. The new day job has greater demands than my already demanding work so have also had to reorder many priorities. I know this goes with the territory when undertaking personal study.
The challenge I had was thinking about a strong enough and engaging enough idea, particularly one which would be recognisable by others. The case studies in the course materials are all bold and inspiring and I think I managed to think myself into a space where I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees. What follows therefore in this blog entry is a review of my initial thinking and ideas.
Themes I initially considered and explored:
Marks on the the land
I live in a very rural, but heavily farmed landscape. As an outsider, although I have been here for 17 years, I don’t hold any notions of the idyllic or the pastoral about the English landscape. The land around me is a man made construct and an industrialised space, far more the product of human intervention than of the topography that underlies it. The massive fields are exploited to their limits by men and machinery and shaped and governed by GPS technology, yield algorithms and the needs of the markets. I was introduced to the work of Manfred Willman and Gerhard Stromberg through my earlier OCA studies and I thought in particular about Stromberg’s work ‘Unterwegs-Along the Way’ and its exploration of themes about our place in the landscape offered some insight into exploring the unseen in the landscape. From my perspective the landscape carries an imprint of how it has been used and abused and I thought this might be an interesting idea to pursue and explore. I reflected on this sort of issue in my very first OCA assignment, and have continued to record my square mile for personal exploration and development. In part for this reason I decided not to pursue this work just yet!
Journey from childhood to where I am now
Jody Taylor’s work I found very engaging and thought provoking and evocative, in truth more the themes and ideas within her work than the images necessarily. It proved to be inspiring and at first I settled on this as my theme for the assignment. In fact I did some outline work exploring this concept. As a professional in my mid 50’s I reluctantly have to admit to moving towards the final phase of my career, one in which I have enjoyed reasonable degree of success. I think it was this that struck a chord when I looked at and reflected on Taylor’s work. I live 175 miles from where I grew up but I invested some time and travelled to the streets of my childhood, including going back to the gates of my primary school and retracing my journey to the house that was my childhood home. It was an interesting and emotional journey through an urban space that was simultaneously alien and familiar. As I walked the two miles I was reminded of a conversation between my parents and the headteacher of my primary school just before I left to go to secondary school. Although more than 40 years ago it was a strong memory, a conversation in which I sat as a silent witness. In short my parents were told that if I kept my ‘nose clean’ I might just get a job in one of the many factories in the industrial midlands. On leaving primary school this was the highest expectation and best hope for my future. This conversations contents shaped my parents and my own view of my capacity and capability until I left home in my late teens. This seemed a rich vein to explore but also felt too big and frankly too complex project to do justice in the time available and although I had already invested some time and energy I decided to stop and change track. But it is a theme to which I may return too at some point.
Reflections on my late father in law
This was a very personal and potentially upsetting theme to explore, but one that offered some challenge in stretching me creatively and technically. In 2004 my wife lost her father in a road accident. Following the acrimonious divorce of her parents some years earlier she grew even closer to him and it has taken many years to come to terms with the tragic circumstances of his death. When we cleared his house and subsequently sold it, my wife was keen to retain a small number of his possession as mementos and reminders of him. I thought of Stephanie D’Hubert’s work referenced in the course work and her reflections on the presence and absence of her mother and I had also recently seen John Upney’s work, “I look for him’ about his own father and his dark relationship with him. Reflecting on these work and the assignment brief it seemed an interesting idea to explore the part my father in laws possessions play within our lives. Their impact seemed to be a good example of the unseen and one in which I might seek to meet the expectations of the assignment. Ultimately it was this theme that I used of the assignment.
Work, Work, Work
I lead a very busy life and as stated earlier I tend to be time poor. I wondered about trying to illustrate this idea through a collection of images of my work environment. it would involve recording fragments of my working day. A big challenge because I needed to think about how I create a sense of the pace of work without it being a literal representation. Added to that I would not be able to just make photographs of what I do for a host of reasons. That said there are traces of my world of work that might be recorded that together could create a sense of a busy working life. I got as far as scoping out some locations and ideas, but ultimately felt this was just too abstract at this stage for me to successfully complete in the time available.
The photographers shadow
I have for some time experimented with my own shadow when making images. Shadow play and self portraiture are well warn paths and not particularly original but I thought exploring the notions of capturing my own shadow while making images might be a way of showing the image maker as the ‘unseen ‘ element in many images. I was reminded of several shadow self portraits by Ansel Adams. There is something about these images that anchor the artist in his work without them being physically present and although I know that I will explore self portraiture as part of the third element of this course. Again I decided not to pursue this theme further at this stage.
Traces of time, people and place
Although I live in a rural area, I am 20 miles from the city of Norwich. I have had an ongoing project looking at the contrasts in the built environment of the city. A city which has many buildings dating back to medieval times juxtaposed with some magnificent but hated brutalist edifices. I think the built environment offers insight into how the powerful feel we should all live and in this there is something about class , culture and politics. I have recently completed a personal photobook on the topic. I initially thought I might begin some further work around the theme. I did however think this might be in breach of OCA regulations about using previous work or theme and although I would have created entirely new work I felt I should move on from this theme.
Distant roots and family ties
Although I have lived in England for most of my life and I even have a blunted, but still distinct regional accent, I am still an immigrant, all be it arriving with my parents as an infant. My heritage has always been in the background but over shadowed by my sense of the influence of England and Great Britain on me. That said I remain a dual national and this was brought into sharp relief with the Brexit vote earlier in the year. I was deeply disappointed by the outcome, but respectful of the voice of the majority. My 18 year daughter is far less sanguine about the outcome of the vote which has led to us taking action as family that I had never thought would occur. Feeling that she as a UK citizen may in the future be cut off from the wealth of opportunities currently available to the young in Europe, particularly study, I began the process of getting dual nationality for her, so that she will retain EU citizenship when the UK leaves the EU. This has been an interesting journey and I thought recording this might prove a fruitful subject. There is a lot of paperwork and I envisaged and almost collage type presentation for the final assignment. However it has been a time consuming process and I felt if I pursued this theme I might again run out of time.
Sally and Illness
This was another potential theme that was close to home and potentially emotional. My wife has not enjoyed good health over a period of time and hospital appointments, medication and adjustments to family life have been a feature of our world. Clearly this sort of theme is a well worn path for photographers, but each set of personal circumstances is unique and I thought that this fact alone offers the opportunity to create work that meets the brief. I discussed the idea with my wife , which I thought was appropriate given that she, all be it indirectly, would be the subject of the work. She was not averse to the idea but did suggest that elements might be upsetting to her. After a setback in her current round of treatment I decided that this was not an avenue to pursue.
In parallel to investigating the themes above I was reading a re-reading the case studies in the course material to try and gain a deeper understanding of the task. As highlighted in the ideas above and set out in the references, I looked at and considered the work of a wider range of artists to help me think through the options.
One not mentioned yet is an inspiring collection of images by Polish artist Michel Iwanosski; ‘Clear of People’. This is a record of the epic journey his ancestors made in escaping from capture during the second world war. Retracing their journey through Eastern Europe he records something about the tension and fear they must have felt by documenting the land along the way. To me this work absolutely captures the unseen, using landscape as a metaphor and record. Although I finally settled on a very different project I was very much influenced by the words Iwanosski when I heard him speak at an OCA Symposium particularly when he spoke of his family history and the power of images to evoke meaning far beyond the contents of the frame.
In summary I did a lot of preparation and had more than one false start before I settled on a final theme for the assignment.
Reflections on my late father in law became the final choice. It is hard to define precisely why. The course had encouraged some wide thinking and as mentioned already I had initially settled upon and started another theme, but my research and reading drew me back to this idea and with the additional time agreed by my tutor I set about making the work.
Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley
D’Hubert, S. (2013) What Remains, found at: http://www.stephaniedhubert.com/what-remains
Iwanosski, M. (2016) Clear of People: found at:www.michaliwanowski.com/clear-of-people/4577315405 (Accessed August 2016)
Manfred Willman- Das Land Blog Entry at: https://johnaorroca.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/manfred-willmann-das-land/
Orr, J. (2016) In the Lands of Prasutagas-Unpublished Photobook
Stromberg, G (2013) Unterwegs-Along the Way, found at: http://www.oldbergkunst.format.com/gerhard-stromberg#1Willman, M (Accessed August 2016)
Taylor, J. (2013) Memories of childhood, found at: http://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ (Accessed September 2016)
Umney, J (2015) I Look for Him, found at: http://www.johnumney.co.uk/i-look-for-him.html (accessed August 2016)