C&N Part Two – Reflection on Tutor Feedback

Here’s a condensed version of the Pt 2 report along with my comments and responses:

A much looser and creative approach than the previous assignment which has yielded some
interesting lines of enquiry in terms of practical work. Your writing is focused and analytical
where required, resulting in balanced argument(s) whilst maintaining a sense of humour.
Good work.
Thank you.

The Wind:
An interesting idea, rooted in personal experience, expressed here in a series of images,
some of which speak to each other and others which do not.
What’s working well:  Texture, shape, form, colour, abstraction, atmosphere, mood, metaphor, longer shutter
speeds/motion blur. All of these elements are working well together to convey the feeling/
sense/experience of the wind rushing through the image/person, physically, emotionally.
Slight repetition of seascapes – although I like both images for their different compositions.
I’d chose just one for the final edit.
Print quality is good, colour balance working well, not overly saturated, satin finish to paper
works to good effect. Presentation size is perfect.

What’s not working so well/Areas to improve:
The wider shot of the Harbour Master/flag pole – although evocative of the sound/wind,
doesn’t ‘sit’ well within the set. Almost too much contextual info compared with other more
abstracted images. Agreed – it looks odd
The slight mis-interpretation of the brief has resulted in fewer images per set as created.
Decide on a line of enquiry to pursue and add a few more images to the set (between 7-10). See later comments 

The Shirt:
I like this idea a lot, especially the idea of presenting it as a small hand bound book, creating
a typology of shirts/experiences of those wearing them.
What’s working well:
The composition – spot on, similar crop. maintain this consistency through the set in order for
it to work. The tie needs to be in the same position/size/scale for each image.
Inclusion of enough personal identification in each shot to be of interest – a delicate balance.
Demonstrates independent research/planning/co-ordination with imaginative outcome.
Colour/lighting/tone/focus/finish of prints are very good.
Areas for Improvement:
Shoot more of them.
Would a square crop work to better effect?

The error with the brief led to me doing two assignments where only one was called for.  Having experimented with both I decided to abandon the “Wind” and do the “Shirt” – so I will re-crop to square and ensure that the elements are consistently placed, and shoot the required number.

Coursework
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity
Engaged, imaginative responses to projects/exercises.
Demonstrates excellent comprehension of differing contexts of Campbell/Smith approach
and the working processes of contemporary photographers.
Poem – varied range of responses, objects. Technically could be improved through use of
similar use of point of view/angle which might lend cohesion to the set. Noted
The contrast/juxtaposition of the ship and the sea works well.

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

Detailed, thorough, critical, well referenced, analytical, humorous, uses a range of sources,
makes balanced arguments, not getting too bogged down in details. Good progress.

Learning Log
Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis
Comments as above apply here also.

Pointers for the next assignment / assessment

Include screen grabs of ideas within assignment work.
Include contact sheets where necessary.
Thanks for the prints, I’ll return later this week.

I need to ‘show my working’ more – and take more photographs.  I keep a rambling Onenote folder with lots of observations, hence the reference to screenshots.  And along with those, contacts of all the images unused.

Part 2 Project 2 Exercise 1 – Lee, Morrissey and the staged photograph

Nikki S Lee – voyeuristic?  Exploitative?

It seems unrealistic to label Lee’s work voyeuristic – in its proper application the term requires that the viewer – the voyeur – be concealed from the object of their attention.  The observed must not be aware of the observer otherwise there will exist a measure of collusion – ruinous for the experience the voyeur seeks, because the act must be fundamentally one of theft, of taking without permission.

This is clearly not the case in Lee’s work; those who appear with her are collaborators, in full knowledge of the effect she wishes to achieve.  But perhaps the photographs are exploitative?  Is she making use of her participants to their detriment?  It doen’t seem so.  She does not dress in a fashion which mocks or ridicules her associates.  They have allowed her to join them dressed in what she considers to be a representation of herself as one of them.  But obviously, she isn’t.  She’s an interloper, a photographer, artist, pretty much most of the things they are probably not. Her outward appearance allows her to blend in with her surroundings and the casual observer would not notice anything untoward about her presence, but as informed viewers we know she’s not really one of them.  That’s where the action lies, not in the image itself but in our consideration of it. The Museum of Contemporary Photography has it thus:

“Lee’s projects propose questions regarding identity and social behaviour. Do we choose our social groups consciously? How are we identified by other people? Is it possible for us to move between cultures? Lee believes that ‘essentially life itself is a performance. When we change our clothes to alter our appearance, the real act is the transformation of our way of expression—the outward expression of our psyche.’

”  Museum of Contemporary Photography. http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?t=objects&type=browse&f=maker&s=Lee%2C+Nikki+S.&record=1 (accessed September 26, 2017).

In summary, Lee demonstrates that it is possible to dress up like other people, particularly those who have adopted a certain style, but we are not surprised to learn that just wearing identifiable clothing does not establish identity.

I want to comment on something else which has been bothering me.  It feels almost heretical to bring it up so I will rely on another well established observer to set the ball rolling.  The critic A.D.Coleman writes about photography theorists suggesting that they “eschew the act of attending closely to the specifics of said photographs or bodies of work, preferring instead to divagate on the presumed skein of relationships among them”

“Most people “doing theory” vis-a-vis photography exemplify this attitude. When they do talk about an image, they tend to discuss not its content but rather its contents, the literal subject matter, and their personal response thereto ― equivalent to assessing a Cézanne still life according to your preferences in fruit.

And I can’t manifest much interest in reading essays by, or talking about photography with, anyone who finds concentrating on the actual work itself bothersome and tedious and fundamentally beside the point.”

How to Talk Through Your Hat (2) « Photocritic International. Retrieved July 21, 2017, from Web site: http://www.nearbycafe.com/artandphoto/photocritic/2013/03/31/how-to-talk-through-your-hat-2/

 

Talking around a photograph rather than talking about it offers unlimited scope for discussion and theorising but I feel that equal, if not greater attention should be given to what appears in the frame.  Stripped of any supporting text or ancillary information, how does it stack up as a photograph?  It could be held that this is a pointless exercise, that the photographs were always intended to function with additional information, but I wonder if better photographs work better in any context than mediocre ones?  Which leads to the qualitative evaluation of images, an endeavour which I expect would be met with the disdainful refrain “that’s not the point, it doesn’t matter whether the photograph is ‘good’ or not, it’s all about the context”

Trish Morrissey next.  In the unlikely event of me enjoying a ‘day on the beach’ I would welcome Trish’s intervention, largely to break the tedium.

Her website proclaims:

” As in a more recent series of work, ‘Front’ (2005 to present), taken on British beaches where Morrissey inserts herself into other families, the image she makes is never the one that would go into the family album. She courts the awkwardness, unhappiness or anguish displayed on the body in spite of the smile fixed for a conventional ‘happy’ image.”  Trish Morrissey. http://www.trishmorrissey.com/articles/essays/vit-ph-2006.html (accessed September 26, 2017).

 

I don’t see unhappy, awkward or anguished in her body (posture), nor on those of the groups she has joined.  Any such emotions are a carry-over, a projection of the background text.  It’s a cute idea, one which would function with only that key bit of information (she’s a cuckoo), but I disagree about the album – if I had such a thing her photograph would definitely get its own page.

Photography is a broad church and is used by a wide variety of people for a multitude of purposes.  This is just one such purpose and if it works effectively for Morrissey, Lee and others then it’s working as well as it needs to.

Part 3 Exercise One

 

Franscesca Woodman

Bright’s observations on Woodman’s mental health are made with the clarity of hindsight. She remarks that it is ‘difficult’ to avoid seeing signs of emotional distress in her work but this could be said of many self portraitists. The very fact of their purposeful introspection may be considered evidence of inner turmoil.

Woodman came from a family of artists, her parents worked with ceramics and her father later in photography. It’s not difficult to imagine that artistic expression and personal investigation would be actively encouraged in the household.

I don’t know if it’s possible to consider her work without being aware of her history. I happened on it online several years ago and liked it right away before I was aware of the background. Knowing what I know now makes the work more poignant, but I am projecting my personal experiences of adolescent turmoil in young women onto the images now.

She may have found reward in making those images because of her state of mind, or in spite of it, but in the absence of her own testimony (I’ve searched without success) we must draw our own conclusions.

Elina Brotherus – “Model Studies”

“Model Studies continues from where my earlier series The New Painting (2000-2004) ends. Even more pronouncedly than the previous series, Model Studies is not about personal stories nor a documentary about someone’s life. The images have been constructed for visual reasons. My attention is attached to light, colours, the rhythm of the masses, and to subject matters with classical notions. The figure often turns her back to the spectator. This gesture invites to a peaceful contemplation, not to a confrontation.” Photography — Elina Brotherus. http://www.elinabrotherus.com/photography/#/model-studies/ (accessed September 25, 2017).

In her text for these images, Brotherus explicitly excludes her “self” whilst including her body; they are about form she says, not the person. Interesting that she uses the ‘over-the-shoulder’ aspect which I considered here. (LINK)

Her nakedness may be a visual analogy for emotional exposure, the desired effect being to emphasise to the viewer the authenticity of the images. I wonder if a naked body can ever be contemplated without an element of sexual vulnerability? Does Brotherus believe that her work is more powerful and effective if she photographs herself unclothed? I wonder if she considers any scopophilic response to be advantageous?

If her intention is to hook the viewer’s interest then she has made a good choice. As humans we are deep-programmed to connect with others like ourselves, particularly if we are shown more of them than we would normally expect to see. But once hooked where do the contents of the images lead us? There is little to go on; the photographs look like they have been made in a French house of some age (witness the typical window closures. And the fact that her website mentions homes in Finland and France) and include the occasional ‘objet’ – a glass ball (crystal?), a badly foxed mirror.

I think she has made a success of these photographs because they function on at least two levels – first, as her personal expression, the details of which may be disclosed in text form to a greater or lesser extent. Also as rather intriguing, pleasantly lit and arranged images in their own right, which have value without the application of meaning other than that which the viewer may themselves adduce.

They are not particularly original. There are countless examples of this type of image, naked female with odd prop in flaking room. But they are creative and to a certain extent expressive and they are unique to her, if not to the world in general and they exist within her larger body of work which is more than the sum of its parts

Addressing wider issues? Who knows? It would be very difficult to finger any such matters with any certainty as the images are simply too ambiguous. Supporting text may assist but this is pretty sparse on the website. Perhaps the images would resonate with the personal experiences of some viewers, just by accident, which would be all well and good.

I’ve thought about Gillian Wearing’s mask series at length and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a clever device which soon palls. I don’t think she’s ‘exploring’ anything about the roles of family members; she simply had a good idea and ran with it. She has embellished the supporting verbiage and elevated it to theory-status but the work cannot sustain the top-heavy intellectual burden; it collapses into Gill-in-a-mask after the first half dozen instances. I had the opportunity to see her exhibition at the NPG along with the Claude Cahun photographs, which far outshone Wearing’s in the integrity department.

Part 2 Assignments and reflections on the projects and exercises

 

I didn’t read the instructions properly for the assignment so ended up tackling both options.  Rather, I assiduously read the instructions I had copied from the online course handbook to my Onenote notebook but failed to copy the ‘choose one’ bit.

I wasn’t fired up by the thought of using photographs to explore an issue of concern.  If I have something to say I generally say it or write it and I haven’t yet found that photographs are a rewarding vector for my personal expression.  I say yet because I fully expect to be all turned-around on the matter as I progress through the course.

The wind photographs are an attempt to convey the persistence of wind, how it relentlessly nags away at everything within reach; it never gets tired, or cold or scared… it simply keeps going.  People say they are scared of the sea but left to its own devices the sea is perfectly benign.  It’s the wind that shakes things up.

During our little sailing trip we often picked up nuggets of information from other liveaboards, often about upcoming destinations.  Onesuch concerned Tarifa on the Spanish Atlantic coast, close to the Straits of Gibraltar, and the information relayed to us repeatedly was the incidence of suicide in the unfortunate town – abnormally high because of the constant wind, it’s said.

These photographs attempt to show the effects of wind.

Now the shirts.  I had already decided on the general look, no faces, close-up and face-on.  After the first ‘sitting’ I chose to stick with the direct lighting look I’d tried because it really makes the shirts stand out.  I like the formal arrangement and the restricted number of elements in each frame.

In fact I’m finding this more and more – I am concerned to eliminate elements from the frame rather than include them.  I don’t want background interfering with foreground and I don’t want the edges getting unruly and confusing the main content.  To this end I am pretty much exclusively using my lovely Olympus 50mm (100mm on my camera) lens from the film era.  It’s manual focus and non-auto so it’s a bit of a faff but it does what I want.  It also allows me to use an inexpensive but effective tilt adaptor to manipulate the plane of focus.

I had to gather some volunteer shirt-wearers so I posted a request on Facebook which resulted in several responses.  I offered to do a ‘family portrait’ as the quid pro quo so that helped things along and allowed me to practice indoor lighting for real.  I talk too much if I’m a bit anxious so goodness knows what they thought but they liked the pictures, which I obviously undertook not to post on this blog so nothing to see here.

So far I have only done a few but I think I’ll let the idea run and make a small book (home printed and bound though).  Having mentioned prints, I am minded to print a lot more than I have done in the past.  I’ve always done obscure black-and-white printing using DIY carbon pigments but until recently I’ve avoided colour printing.  Now I plan to print much more of both.

Project 2C–Poem Exercise

 

I feel like I’m beginning to get the idea of how photographs manage to convey mood, emotion and meaning without actually representing something directly.  I still feel that it’s very personal and the viewer may need some text to help align their understanding with that of the photographer.

At the moment I still consider this form of photography to be largely adjunctive for the viewer, intensely personal and meaningful for the photographer.  I don’t think the photograph is readily able to tell a story not establish a narrative, but it can be effective in illustrating  the text which it accompanies.

It is possible to place elements within a photograph which can be viewed as representing a series of events in a totemic fashion; I just think it’s rather like saying that Beethoven’s Fifth can be played on a harmonica.  The blues harp is excellent at blues  but it doesn’t do orchestral very well. 

So the poem exercise will consist of mood images in my offering, pictures which are personal to me and probably meaningless to others (though I’m happy to explain them).  I’ll try to make them as good photographs, with some intrigue, visually engaging and well-formed.

In this part, the coursework book asks us to consider the number of images we submit for this and future assignments, asking “Have you given the viewer enough information? Would another picture help?”     This is a question I’m struggling a bit with – it implies that there is a goal of understanding, that an extra picture or two, or more,  would help the viewer…. to what?  To understand  the photographer’s purpose?  To experience enhanced empathy?  I shall bear this question in mind in the work which follows.