Note to Assessors

Dear Assessors,

Thank you for reviewing and assessing the work and learning I have undertaken over the course of study of the Context and Narrative course.

Through out the programme I have kept an on-line learning log. This contains the course exercises, assignments and my reflection and thoughts as I have learned and developed through the course. 

My submission for assessment is made up as follows:

  • My online Blog
  • Physical submissions posted to the OCA  for Assignment one, spiral bound as a book of diptychs,  Assignment two,  Assignment three and  Assignment five. These include my assignment notes and are the reworked versions
  • The reworked essay for Assignment four, based upon tutor feedback, this is also in the Gdrive
  • The diary for Assignment three
  • A Tutor Feedback Folder containing my annotated tutor feedback sheets, my e-mail responses to my tutor and my action plan following tutor feedback. 

My blog is set out in sections which I hope aids navigation. To assist you in finding the course exercises, research points and assignments I have also created a content locater. This is in the document below. There is also more information about my research, reflections and learning set out in the sections of the blog which I hope provides further evidence of my engagement, learning and progress during the course.

Yours Sincerely

John Adrian Orr                                                                                                                                            514280

Context and Narrative Resource Locator

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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)

 

 

 

Belfast Photo Festival – Off Theme

St. Annes Square – A  journey through Assad’s Syria

Syria, January 2017 – Destroyed street alley in East Aleppo. Residents who have returned to the streets. A child and his mother search a beauty shop for nail polish. ©Christian Werner

Christan Werner’s ‘A journey through Assad’s Syria’ was for me the most hard hitting work I saw throughout the whole Photo Festival. There were only six images by Werner, a German photojournalist and filmmaker, but all were gripping and at the same time full of dread. Making work in Syria’s second city Allepo, his camera offers us a glimpse into the true terror for ordinary citizens trying to find a way through the hell they must have experienced. What struck me most was that he used signifiers that in someway were so mundane but in the context of the terrible conditions for the people of Allepo these simple signifiers take on true terror as the signified.

His portrayal of people trying to go about a life that in anything but normal created a sense of helplessness to my western sensibilities. Reading about Werner after seeing the six   20×16 images he had on display in St. Annes Square, I learned that he had at an early age been influenced by the conflict photographer James Natchwey. Quoting Natchwey in the video clip referenced below, Werner describes his desire , like Natchwey to ‘tell stories that otherwise wouldn’t be heard. This work at Belfast Photo Festival certainly achieves that goal.

Werners images for this exhibit were taken from a wider set of work called Rubble and Delusion. These can be seen here:

http://www.werner-photography.com/albums/rubble-and-delusion/

References

Christian Werner – World Press Photo Interview – Found at: http://www.worldpressphoto.org/people/christian-werner (Accessed June 2017)

Exercise: Record a real conversation with a friend

Record a real conversation with a friend. (It’s up to you whether you ask permission or not!)

Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation.

Then listen to the recording and make note of the discrepancies. Perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunications etc.

Reflect upon the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?

This was an interesting exercise for a variety of reasons. I should say at the outset that for professional reasons I have a well developed memory system for listening to aural information, processing it and then feeding it back in as accurate a manner as possible. Indeed retaining one of my professional accreditations involves an annual assessment based upon listening to the three way conversation in controlled conditions and feeding back a detailed summary and synopsis of the key points from the triad. Dropping below an 80% accuracy level means failing the test and not getting the accreditation. This would be serious for my employment, so I am well prepared, attentive and regularly practicing this skill.

Against this back drop I recorded a conversation with a friend as part of the exercise. I pondered on whether I should say I was recording the conversation or not and in the end decided to record it secretly. I know this throws up a whole raft of ethical issues, but I felt that if I alerted the friend that I was recording the conversation it would have led to a different and less natural engagement, the dynamic would have been different and my friend perhaps more guarded.

In order to manage and address the ethical problems this approach I am revealing nothing about the friend, who they are, not even their gender or relationship to me. I also deleted the recording once I had completed this blog entry. Given some of the personal characteristics of the friend, I think there is a high probability they will never know about this blog entry and OCA exercise and anyone looking at the this online would never know the identity of my friend.

The topic of the conversation was taxation, rebates, engaging with the local tax office and the implications of in complete personal information and records. I need to sayat the outset  that myself and the friend have nothing to do with HMRC, nor the world of the fiscal! This just happened to be the conversation. My friend had a range of concerns and our conversation was about those concerns an might attempt to are advice and support, all of this at a personal friend to friend level and not from the stand point of expertise in taxation. My only knowledge of taxation is that I am a taxpayer!

The conversation was 17 minutes long during which time my friend was initially upset because of a personal circumstance. During the first 8 minutes I listened and made a small number of comments mostly affirming support and a desire to assist someone who was experiencing some real difficulties. In the latter part of the conversation based upon the information gleaned, I offered some suggestions, that might be interpreted as advice but were all caveatted with a denial of any claim of expertise on tax affairs. The conversation ended much more positively than it started with the friend listing for themself a set of actions they were going to follow up on. I left the conversation with a sense I had offered a listening ear and assisted the friend ‘see the wood for the trees’ around what they needed to do next.

Before listening to the recording a I made a written record of the key elements of the conversation as a sort of table of contents. There were 14 distinct elements I picked out during the exchange. These elements were all based upon what I felt where the most significant things we discussed. I also gave each of the 14 elements a ranking of importance based upon a reading of my friends worries and concerns. I completed my write up by listing the key words at the start of the conversation that framed the whole dialogue and also the actions my friend was going to pursue following the conversation.

As the above suggests, I brought my clinical and forensic professional approach to my review of the conversation. Listening then to the recording I learned something new about myself and my approach to listening and mentally recording conversations.

As stated above I have a tried and literally tested methodology for recalling conversations. What struck me about listing to this recording was the subtle nuisance of my friends emotions at different points in the conversation. My list of what was covered , how the conversation started and was framed and how it finished was as I suspected very accurate. However the relative importance I had assigned to the different elements of the conversation was challenged by the recording. Some of the things that I had recalled as being the most significant where called into questions by a review of how things were said in he recording rather than what was said. Although my recall was generally very accurate listening again to the conversation made me ask some questions about how I had interpreted  some aspects of the conversation. It made me think that accuracy of recall is not all about the content,  it is also about the nuisance, tone and what is sometimes not said. I didn’t have some revelation that my professional technique for listening was wrong, but it did make me think that my analytical approach can at times miss subtle aspects of meaning, particularly when dealing with something that is upsetting to one or more of the parties in a conversation. I then left the exercise and spent some days pondering on its relevance to photographic practice.

In considering the believability of of re-enected narratives, there will always be an element of bias , with the author (or participants) of a work recalling an event or events through a lens of their own perspective, biography, motives and intent. The concept of accuracy, which might link to more forensic perspectives on recall and memory has itself some limitations. There are a variety of contradictory perspectives on human memory and recall and there is a whole other potential blog post about neurons, axons, short term , long term memory and the bias and hierarchy when memory is being encoded, but  I feel myself drifting into the work of my professional life here, which in many respects I am trying to escape in this OCA work!

Reflecting on listening back to the recording I made of the conversation, where my focus had been on accurate recall of the content, I must confess it was the tone and cadence of my friends comments that I had paid less attention to. Language and communication are manifold concepts and meaning is transmitted through more than the words. Indeed meaning is created through the interplay of phonemes, pitch and intonation. In English we also have the added complication of not actually saying what we mean, our language is abstract at times, with us often not actually saying what we mean but rather, coding what we mean through tone and body language.

Where does this take us in terms of making pictures and re-encated narratives? Well I think we need a healthy scepticism about what we recall and we need either to check what we believe we saw , heard or did with a variety of sources. I often think about returning to my primary school as part of a visit, shortly before it was demolished. What I was confronted with as an adult did not fit with the recollections I carried in my head. For this reason we need to apply external references whenever possible.

Some summative thoughts:

  • Be skeptical about what we recall from our past
  • Be skeptical about memory in general
  • Where ever possible look for external references that will help shatpe recollections in to something that is closer to the truth
  • Accept that the past is gone and only a trace remains, even images only tell prt of the picture
  • Re-enactment or recreation of a past event can only ever be a subjective act with all the caveats about accuracy and truth

Derrida and deconstruction: some initial thoughts

jacques-derrida-paris-12-de-se_54215948225_53389389549_600_396-1jacques-derrida-paris-12-de-se_54215948225_53389389549_600_396-1jacques-derrida-paris-12-de-se_54215948225_53389389549_600_396-1jacques-derrida-paris-12-de-se_54215948225_53389389549_600_396-1

The idea that language isn’t fixed and and can be malleable is on that I find ver accessible. In many years of work with children and adults with autistic spectrum disorders the flexible and at times counter intuitive nature of colloquial language is a feature of one of the principle barriers to those with autism understanding the world around them. The rules of language are not taught but rather gained through layers of successive interaction. This personal perspective on language is my starting point to trying to make sense of Derrida and the semiotic.

Also in true ‘Derridian’ style I have to challenge the statement in the course materials that reading as book takes as much effort as writing a book. Whilst I do think there is tremendous effort involved to properly read a book, i think the effort of writing a book can be all together a more herculean task!

What i think i do like about my initial reading around the work of Derrida is the challenge to a prevailing orthodoxy that sometimes says we shouldn’t challenge the ideas of the learned. The idea that scepticism and challenge are helpful in making sense of the world and that questions are perhaps the best response to a piece of writing or a piece of art and irrespective of the author or artists original intent, the reader or viewer has just as much right to their personal and unique interoperation of that work.

That said, I can see that there are common signs and symbols that lead a more common sense of underrating and interoperation. The colour read for example tends to mean danger, alert or risk and in images red has come to signify something that can be hard to define but has some universal ideas about interpretation.

I will read some more Derrida!

 

Masters of Japanese Photography-Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts

masters-of-japanese-photography-6049

Masters of Japanese Photography is an exhibition of the work of three photographers described in the exhibition guide as three of Japan’s most prominent living photographers. Nobuyoshi Araki (b1940) Ekoh Hosoe (b1933)  Kikuji Kawada (b1933)

They work is set against a background of post war Japan, a period in which rapid reconstruction and industrial development took Japan from defeat to be a leading industrial and technical nation. At the same time traditions were bing questioned and cultural change in this island nation led to a critical review of identity.  I tend too think of Japan as having three distinct historical contexts, an ancient one rich in traditions dating back to before medieval times, a more recent imperial history dating back to the 1800’s and a post war modern in austral history. The work of the artists in this exhibition touch upon all of these themes and to my relatively uneducated eye, also show European cultural  influences such as surrealism, Dada and classical renaissance european painting.

masters-of-japanese-photography-6025

before relflecting on the artist i wanted first to say something about the display and curation of the work. All the images were framed in large simple wooden frames and i was really struck by the high quality of the productiopn of the work. Given the dates of the work, i assume they were all film based process, and some were labeled as such. There were three distinct zones separating the work of each arts and in two of the individual exhibits there was a clear sequence. one

Nobuyoshi Araki

Araki is the youngest of the three artists featured and he started his career in commercial photography after graduating in Filmaking from the Chiba University in 1963. His work more than the others appeared to present a sharp contrast. One wall was made up of large 20×24 framed Cibachromes, slightly entail in colour. The images bar one were all of exotic and complex japans flowers. There was something slightly unreal about the works and the colours remind me of the super real and sometimes lurid colours seen in Martin parr images. On the other wall there were images of women, all in monochrome and these ranges from Fashion images with an clear erotic tone to very explicit images of women in Bondage. The contrast in the works was as  I say very stark. The exhibition notes set out out that Araki used ‘Kinbaku’, an ancient Japanese type of bondage using ropes as a recurrent theme in his work. I am not sure I liked the images but I have to say I felt the exhibit in hola gave me a revealing and indeed completing sense of the tensions between the ancient and the modern in Japan. Images of women wearing kimonos and tied in ropes suggest something dark. From a technical point of the view the images were faultless and Araki is clearly a skilled images maker, his work offering glimpses of thing that sit below the surface in this distant and to me quite alien, but intriguing eastern  culture.

Ekoh Hosoe

Originally a freelance photographers and film maker, Hosoe changed his name from Toshihio to Ekoh, in response to an new era in Japan following the end of the war. With a number of artists he established the Vivo agency in japan

Hosoe’s work in this exhibit had a much clearer narrative and although the style of the images changes through the sequence, i found this set much easier to read than Araki’s work. All in monochrome the collection of work on display are large, beautifully printed 20×24 silver gelatine prints framed simply and elegantly. The work has a whole had a beauty about it that appealed to my love of film made black and white art.

The set of images on display were a surreal exploration o the writer Yukio Mishima, entitled ‘Ordeal by Roses’, originally called ‘Killed by Roses’ when published but changes at the request of the subject. The works range from fairly orthodox portrait images to college like surreal interpretations. All had some reference to flowers /roses as part of the iconography. I got a real sense of the tension and angst from the work I think about when considering Mishima. As a student many years ago I had read some of his work an was aware of his ultimate ritual suicide following a failed attempt inciting a coup d’ etat. 

masters-of-japanese-photography-6029

I could see many in the work and al were executed beautifully. I was confused by the sequencing of at e work, all of which had unique numbers in their titles, but they were not displayed in number sequence. I would have liked to find out the curatorial reasoning behind the sequencing but no one at the gallery could tell me. That said this really did flow and there was a strong sense of sequence. There was also a clear sense of western influence with collage like sequence that used  snippets of well know european art, within the overall composition. I  was also intrigued by the artists use of the rose, a reference perhaps to beauty and thorns. 

Kikuji Kawada

Kawada, unlike his peers in this exhibition started out as an economics graduate and after working for a publishing company got involved in photography. A founder member of the Vivo Agency his work in this exhibit is a strange and at times hard to follow exposition  of natural phenomena. With a particular focus on eclipse and images of the astronomical events. This ‘Last Cosmology ‘ set draws upon traditional notions of such natural events being the harbingers of disasters. The work was very dark and although there was some serial progression i the eclipse images, I found the narrative of the work oblique. The exhibit notes talked about influences from European landscape art but again i found that hard to read. I will persevere though. i have made it an early new years resolution to look further into work that is hard to grasp and see it as an academic as well as aesthetic challenge. I was remanned of the scene from early black and white hour fils, patricianly the cloud and moon images. there was area Hammer feel to some of this work.

sains-2-1-of-1

 

What I learned from this exhibit

This was a challenging and thought provoking show. i led Hose work the most, and was more intrigued by Akira and Kawada. I left with a real sense that visiting exhbition and getting something from them isn’t about whether i like the work or not. Rather it is about the thought processes that are provoked. All three of theses artists offer an insight into post war Japan, a clash of cultures and the influence of the west. i also reflected that the post war industrial growth in the country also gave us many of the tools we all use to make our our own work

Note to Self- Follow up on the Vivo  Agency and the idea of an anti documentary approach. 

 

References

Koetzle, H-M,(2015) Photographers A-Z, Taschen, Koln

Sainsbury Centre Gallery Guide  (2016) University of East Anglia,Norwich

Project 2 – Masquerades

Of all the self portrait work discussed to date, the idea of masquerades really caught my interest and I have spent some time reading about and looking at the images of the artists referenced in the text. I have also followed further references and considered the work of several other artists who are working in this area. I will start by saying something about this work and then draw together my thoughts and learning from reviewing this work.

Nikki Seung -Hee Lee

Nikki S. Lee (b 1970) is a Korean born photography who based in New York but now works in Seoul whose work takes the notion of the artist as the subject to an all together different dimension than the artists i have written about earlier in this section. Indeed considering her work I have to ask myself is she a photographer or performance artist with the latter winning out. Her approach is to assume the identity of different characters, dressing up as them and then playing their role in the world at large. In this work she takes on both the individual identity of the character she is playing, but also participates in the group identity in which her character would exist. She then asks an onlooker to make an image. The work includes her playing the role of a tourist, someone at a wedding, a jogger and a bride. One of the edgiest and most risky , by her own admission was playing the role of an exotic dance. I was also struck by the idea of paradox and irony in some of the work, like the image below where she is a character in this image?

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Copyright Nikk Sueng-Hee Lee

Her work explores identity at a number of levels  and not just from the characters  point of view but also from the group perspective. There is something about the exploration of subculture and the images reveal more than just the character she is assuming. This work and the ideas behind it appealed to my interest in culture and the social construction of meaning. The performance nature of Lee’s work demonstrates the power of an image beyond a conventional story telling narrative and offers some insight into decoding ideas about the post modern narrative. Boothroyd (2015) suggests that Lee’s work questions the reliability of the photograph as a record. My view is that this has always been in question, what Lee does for me is raise questions about how a fictional narrative might reveal trust in the way a pure record of an event might not. in this sense the idea of documentary photography is challenged. I am also reminded of the reading earlier in the program about authorship and the death of the author. I will return to this themes later in my conclusions

Trish Morrissey

Trish Morrisey (b1967) is an Irish born artists who has also explored the idea of identity through constructed scenes and images. She has done  this through a novel and confident approach. In her work front (front referring to the sea front, although to me its alternative colloquial meaning of cheeky confidence also perhaps applies to her approach)  she visited  beaches around England and also in Australia ( while she had a residency there). Approaching family groups on the beach she requested that she swopped clothes with the main female figure in the family group and replaced them in a fictional scene that is then photographed by the person she has replaced. This must have taken some nerve and I can only imagine her level of self confidence. The images are strangely beguiling and there is strong sense of smooth ng natural but also unnerving. She is simulation and gust and interloper, a cuckoo in the nest, literally. Like  Nikki S. Lee, she forms part of a wider seen although she is perhaps more obvious in the scene because she is not as disguised as Lee is in her work. As well as exploring identity this work considers boundaries and to me asks questions about a families dynamics and relationships. The work is simultaneously engaging and a bit disturbing. Also like Lee’s work it rises questions about authorship and perhaps shed light on a postmodern narrative in which meaning is created through thinking about the fiction it creates. Cotton (2014) suggests that this type of approach:

‘rather than being evidence of the photographs originality (or lack of it) or statement of authorial intention, photographs were seen  as signs that acquired their significance of value from their place within a larger system of social and cultural coding”

pp191

 This really helpful statement leads me to ask about the family photograph and its importance and meaning. The images with Morrissey as the interloper or imposter, still have a strong sense of the family group to the viewer that doesn’t know the family in the picture and are still valid examples of that trope. I think it is this that made this work so attractive to me. there is a cultural coding built into this type of image because they are so much part of family life. Morris test this coding by replacing a key element but the code rains as strong as ever.

sylvia-westbrook

Copyright Trish Morrissey

Yasumasa Morimura

Working in this similar genre of mascara ad and mimicry the Japanese born artist Yasumasa Morimura (b1951) has created a series of self portraits that parody western art. His eastern eye brings a critical outsiders view and I am uncertain of there is a degree of mockery  as part of his mmimicary. Cotton (2014) refers to his experiments with the malleability of identity and this can be seen in his portraits. It is however the overt parody that stands out to me in this work . The image below perhaps typifies the point I am trying to make. Mimicking  an american icon, Murimura as Marilyn Monroe is both parody and humour. The image is clearly not Monroe, but it has features of Monroeness’, that are recognisable, beacusue Monroe is such an icon, her lines has become a recognisable cultural code. , Murimura is playing this back to the viewer. There is fiction and truth in the image

yasumasa_morimura_monroe1

Copyright Yasumasa Morimura

Cindy Sherman

In researching the genre of the self portraiture in photography Cindy Sherman’s (b 1954) name is a recurrent theme. Sherman has used herself as the object for her work over many projects. Her series of self portraits that were based upon and inspired by moments from american cinema attest the the iconography of american cinema and how these have passed into a common cultural awareness. Replicating scene from  cinema, Sherman captures something of time and culture. At the same time the images can be larger than life with an extreme empathise on makeup and features. There is something of parody rather than homage. Cotton (2014) suggests that Sherman’s work, Untitletled Film Stills is:

a demonstration of the argument advanced by feminist theory the ‘femininity’is a construction of cultural codes and not a quality that is naturally inherent or essential to women. 

pp193

With this in mind Sherman’s self portraits far from being studies of different selves are far more about how society assigns attributes based upon appearance, gender and culture. This opens a new and interesting area to consider the value of the image as a representation of how culture is constructed and not just a story narrative.

Final thoughts

It’s is hard to summarise the learning from considering masquerades, but what I can say is that my ideas about the purpose and nature of images and their meaning has been expanded. Through replication and mimicry all of the above artists are commenting not just on culture and identity but also how the visual codes create wider understanding.

There are also some interesting  ideas about authorship in this work and I am reminded about the earlier coursework about the death of the author and the post modern non linear narrative. In all of these works the artists have constructed the images but they not the photographer.  Or are they?  Questions are raised about who is the photographer. In a modernist critique it is perhaps the person pushing the shutter release, not so in a postmodern interpretation.

All of the artist above have something to say about intent being beyond the domain of the photographer too. There is something beyond the contents of the from of the image that purposefully allows the viewer  considerable latitude in their interpretaion of the image. These are examples of a postmodern critique and a postmodern view of photography as a medium. I am of course merely scratching the surface of what feels more like an exploration of the construction of meaning in the world about us than it does an interpretation of images. I will need to reflect more upon this, but this is very different territory to the ideas I wrote about when considering documentary narratives!

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

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 (Accessed October 2016)

Nikki S. Lee: The Creators Project found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI8xpJItPVI (Accessed October 2016)

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)

Morimura-Yasumasa found at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Morimura-Yasumasa (Accessed October 2016)

Exercise- Autobiographical self portraiture 1

Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in this project in your learning log and do some further research of your own.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

How do these images make you feel?
Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?
What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?
Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?
Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

Make some notes in your learning log.

How do these images make you feel?

All of the images are thought provoking and all take a different level of decoding. They all demonstrate the power of the artist as the subject o the work but they do this in different ways. I still find Woodman’s work the darkest but that is perhaps because I see them in the context of her troubled life and ultimate suicide. I am perhaps looking for allusions to this in the work. All her simultaneously confident and even exhibitionist, but also disturbing. They are  the most dynamic of all the works. the slow shutter images give a sense of motion and things changing. 

The work of Brotherus seems far more staged and planned, although that is a perception on my part rather than an objective fact. There is a clear  sense of planning and an ongoing theme running through the work that tells of reflection through self. To me there is a more evident thought process behind the images I reviewed and there is also a sense of an ongoing engagement with her self as the subject in order to explore the world.

Wearings work is disturbing to but in a different and actually quite a positive way. the idea of literally getting inside your family is a genuinely innovative one that set me thinking about my relationships with family. As stated, all very positively thought provoking. It did make me think about ways i might include myself in images that say something about my family and my place in it!

Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?

I really pondered on the idea of narcissism t when  I first looked at the work, but quickly came to the conclusion the were not. Nor was any of the work self indulgent. Experimental, self focused and very personally confident yes, but not self centred in anyway. To me narcissism is rooted in some sense of self love and that is not what these works are about. In these works the self and the self portrait are vehicles to explore, thought and feelings, the family, the self and the world around the artist. I also ned to say although perhaps a bit overs simplistic, these works are well beyond the notion of the selfie which is so much part of contemporary culture.

What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?

I asked my self would the images work with the artist clothed and my genuine answer is that i don’t know. Her nakedness points at a vulnerability but also an honesty, literally bearing all. The theme of motherhood, IVF and the sadness of not being able to conceive a child are all supported by her nakedness and the works are not sexual in nature. The nakedness I guess confronts the subject and makes a statement to view. That said I still ponder on whether other images could create the same narrative?

Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text? 

I have really pondered on this too, particularly in relation  to Brotherus’s work. I have come to the conclusion that some text is required to make sense of the work and to be able to gain insight into the artist motivation. Whilst and outsider will bring some of their own interpretation, an artist’s statement of intent at some level is needed to really reveal what is at the heart of the work. There is a question about how much text is required and I have grappled with this dime in my own work. 

Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

There is a resounding yes to this question for all of the artists. Woodman’s explores the possibilities of identities, of expression through self and ideas about emotion and even mental health. I suspect also she was creating work to communicate rather than to look inward. Brotherus is engaging with a range of contempaosry them about being a women anbaout displacement in place and about motherhood and IVF. All resonate with wider thoughts about the human  condition. She is wanting to make wider connections and her work asks questions about how we see ourselves and how we are seen. Similar is true of Wearing, her work seems to try and reveal something quite personal that asks questions about our place in our families, of inheritance and most of all who we are and where we come from. All of this work offer the possibility of understanding the  world around us in different and quite innovative ways.

 

Exercise- Autobiographical self portraiture 1

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-1981) work evokes a range of thoughts an feelings. the somewhat ethereal black and white pictures, almost all of which contain the artist, present a confident and at times exhibitionist view of Woodman. I can see that there are themes such as gender and identity evident in the work, but to my relatively untrained eye there is also something of the troubled about them. The artists use of props to hide in ‘plain site’ in some of the images suggests something about anonymity too.

This notion is reinforced by many of the poses where the artists face in’t seen at all either because they are turned away or because there are obscured by an object of some sort. The use of a slow shutter exposures creates a ghost like presence in many of the images. Also the locations chosen for the staging of the images I googled appeared to be run down and defying old rooms/spaces, suggesting faded grandeur in decay.

I find much of the artist work quite dark and I think the elements described above suggest that I concur with Bright (2010) when she suggests the work alludes to a troubled state of mind. Reading about woodman reinforces this idea and she seems to have been a talent cut short by her suicide. I watched the film, the Woodmans and was  with an over whelming sense of a child that was bourne into a house with odd and self obsessed parents. Woodman’s art and untimely death raise some troubling questions about her family constellation. All o that said, her work appears to typify the idea of the artist being the subject of their own work and whether accurate or not , reviewing her images leaves me with a real sense of the artist as a troubled talent communicating something about the power of the image to reveal the soul of some one. And in Woodmans case lon after they have gone.

book-review-francesca-woodman

Copyright Francesca Woodman Estate

The first image I saw of Elina Brotherus’s  (b. 1972) work iI mistakenly took for an image by woodman. Although in colour, the nude and seemingly troubled pose in the image evoked many of the feelings I had looking at Woodman’s work. However as I looked at more of Brotherus’s work I saw something quite different. This work looks to be less dark, but none the less not without a sense of pain. There is also a real sense of the artist confidence, her face is also very prominent in many of the images. like Woodman there is a real sense of confidence in showing herself and some might also see something of the exhibitions about the work. There is something of the classical painting in some of her images and to me her interest in the painter and their model is evident in work such as the one below , where her gaze back at the camera is a gaze at herself as much as it is to an unseen audience. The best description of this artist biographical journey though images I found, was in her own words:

“I only can acknowledge that work follows life. I made autobiographical self-portraits in the very beginning of my career when still in art school. At that time I simultaneously finished my previous university studies of chemistry and my first marriage. It was a major liberation on all fronts and it had to become visible in my photography. Then, for ten years, I did other things – I was interested in painting, the way artists look at their models and how to represent this in a picture. I was using myself as a model but the photos didn’t talk about what was going on in my life. I was an image-maker, dealing with formal, visual and art-historical issues. Then I approached 40 and life got complicated and the autobiography sneaked in again. It wasn’t anything I planned but I didn’t push it back either. This is my strategy as an artist: to accept the pictures that need to happen”

Elina brotherus (2016)

I found it easier to find some recurring theme in Brotherus’s work. Whilst she is the subject, she is exploring ideas such as diverse and separate, sex, motherhood and IVF. I gained a real insight into her approach watching her discuss her work on the Louisiana Channel interview. I key bit of learning from this is caution in interpreting an image, as she said to some one asking her about the theme of her image ‘I don’t like sex’, her reply was simply ‘it’s only a photograph!” There is caution in this statement to the view about how much the images is about artistic exploration and how much is about the artists? In many respects this is more accessible work than that of Woodman because there is a clear descriptive narrative about motive and intent available when you search this arrest on line and in texts. What did Learn from it? Well common human themes can be encapsulated in single images, there is also a confidence that points to the recurring theme of liberation that i hard the artist comment upon in the Louisiana video and also the photographers gallery Interview. A further and  recurrent theme that struck me were the number with two people looking in different directions. there is something about relationships and separation in the work and I will continue to reflect on this as I move through part three.

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Copyright Elina Brotherus

Gillian Wearing (b 1963) presents to me some markedly different work to the previous artists. Wearing is a Turner Prize winning artists and one of the YBAs who has used photography to explore ideas of identity and self. While hunting for references I came across her work from the early 1990’s where she photographed strangers in the street holding placards that made a statement about how they felt. The work titled: The Family. Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992–3) in essence reveals what the the subjects of the images were thinking. This work was almost prescient about the social media age to come where people would share their inner thoughts with strangers through Facebook and other social media.

The work referenced in the course materials took a little understanding. Albums is a collection of recreated family  images found in albums. In each of the works Wearing creates a silicon mask of the family member, mother, father, sister, uncle. Wearing wears the mask to look like the family member in an earlier photo. The work is at first disconcerting because the edges of the masks and eyeholes of some of the masks are clearly visible, the work has a sort of unfinished , look with it being clear to a view that a mask is being worn. As Cotton (2014) suggests:

‘Wearing is literally trying on the identities of family members’  pp197

Exploring her place in her family through this project raises questions about families and relationships. Also, although the masks are artificial, they do point to the fact that the person behind the mask is linked through birth, blow and DNA to the subject they are mimicking. This is a complex work that takes the idea of the self portrait to a different conceptual level than the previous artists discussed
References

 

Adams, T. (2012) Gillian Wearing-“I have always been a bit of a  listener, The Guardian found at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/mar/04/gillian-wearing-whitechapel-gallery-feature (Accessed October 2016)

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

Bright, S. (2010) Quoted in Boothroyd (2015)

Brotherus, E. ( 2016)  found at: http://www.elinabrotherus.com/bibliography/ (Accessed October 2016)

Brotherus, E. ( 2013) It’s not me, it’s a photograph, Louisiana Channel video found at https://vimeo.com/58005699 (Accessed October 2016)

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

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

 

Putting yourself in the picture- some initial thoughts

hassy-selfy

I must confess to feeling more than a little uncomfortable reading through this section of the course! I thought I should share some of my thoughts about this as I begin part three of the module.

I do recognise the ideas set out in the opening page of part three. There is clearly a strong and well established tradition of the artist making themselves the object of their own work. Earlier in the year I attended the excellent Alberto Giacometti- A line through time show, in which one of my favourite works was a self portrait painted by the artist as a young man. It was more than just an image of himself, the paintings rich use of colours and sculptural, heavy and thick brush strokes said something about Giacometti beyond the likeness that the painting contained. In this image I could see the power of the self portrait as a statement about an artist. Giacometti made many self portraits through his life and to my still perhaps naive eye, this works plot a set of helpful markers about style and approach through the differing phases of his work

alberto-giacometti-self-portrait-1920mast_0

I have also seen many photographers using self portraiture as a theme for their work, some I am sure I will cover as I work through this part of the course. Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman, Claud Cahun to name just a few  and all artists were there is s strong and personal narrative at the core of their.

All that said, I tend to hide behind the camera. In years of image making I  am the one missing in the thousands of images that plot my families life. In recent years I have experimented with shadow and reflection self portraits. I am concise though that this approach still retains a high level of anonymity. I think I will need to to move beyond this as I start this next part of the course.

More to follow but I have made a quick review  of some of my blog entries from my previous course.

Selected Reference

EYV blog entry about Claude Cahun Exhibition here