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)

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