Thinking about the work

Yesterday I spent the best part of fourteen hours scanning and working on some negatives that I had developed the previous day. I had found two rolls of film. One being an unexposed roll of Delta 3200 expiry date June 2006 and a roll of exposed Neopan 1600. I did the decent thing and exposed the Delta on some work I have been thinking about for some time and then developed them the night before last.

I knew what was on the 120 roll, the presence of the image still there in my mind and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film still had some energy left in it. I am awaiting some developer for the other film I exposed at the same time and will continue that work about landscape when I can.

However I had no idea what was on the Fuji 35mm. Some 36 images, which happens to coincide with the suggestion for Assignment One: “…take 30 photographs, or one roll of film….. don’t spend too much time considering what you’ll do…” Well it’s quite clear that as a student thinking about it is exactly what we’ll do! But what if that work had already been done? What if the wandering had been undertaken and the work then was to comprehend the images made?

I thought about this when I started to scan and work the images, and I was shocked, surprised and quite curious with the imagery.

Dark images, disparate images telling a tale. I’ll think about what it means, if anything later.

An ‘Open and Shut’ case

Or perhaps more accurately an ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ case.

I’ve been considering the “Open Works’ and have been prompted to consider how to distinguish between a piece of work that provides information above meaning, work that provides a directed flow to closure rather than enabling the viewer to reflect and summon their own conclusion and thereby by closure form a piece of work.

In “The Open Work” Eco spends a deal of time on the construct of language, differentiating scientific and poetic forms and their independent criteria. Meaning and information are twin distillations of language , and whereas the technical requirements of language place the onus on information clarity and lucidity, the poetic places more emphasis on meaning – and here I am concerned with the denotative conjunction between image and text. Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art) talks about “There’s something strange and wonderful that happens in the blank ribbon of paper.” (p88) Here he is talking about two adjacent frames of a comic book, under the general discussion of ‘Closure’ – allowing the reader to conclude the narrative flow. And that is, I think, the essence of ‘Open Work’ for me; in a comic book, a film, there is a directive flow from one image to another (I take the point that with a physical element the reader might ‘flip back and forth’) however the adjacency has a dictatorial control over the narrative sense, no matter how easy or difficult the flow is. The axe may start to fall on the victim in the leading frame, the person cleaved in two in the next frame allows the viewer to put blade to body. If the second frame showed, for example a picnic in a wooded glade, the viewer would still try and make sense of it, the narrative form would impel the viewer to construct a ‘story’ between the two based on all the preceding story lines AND the viewer’s own personal history. To not provide closure between the two frames will disengage the viewer and the work will have failed (this particular reader).

However the flow from image to text in a body of work that contains both sequential images and associated text provides an altogether different set of challenges for both artist and viewer. Eco cites (p51/52) that the English language (perhaps the Italian too as this text is a translation?) has an endemic redundancy of around 50% “…. only 50 percent of what is said concerns the message to be communicated, while the other 50 percent is determined by the statistical structure of the language and functions as a supplementary means of clarification.” Information. Eco then goes on to write 160 words or so (I didn’t count them specifically about a lover who wants to express his feelings and then goes on to quote a poem by Petrach:

‘Chiare, fresche e dolci acque

dove le belle membra

pose colei che sola a me par donna

The poem has, even though my Italian isn’t very good, a great deal more ‘meaning’ than the 160 words of information about how when the lover when he sees a stream “…a stream of smoothly flowing, cool, clear water. The memory of this stream affects me in a way a particular way, since the woman I then loved, and love still, …..” &c fails to convey the same level of meaning, but a lot of information, that impelled Patrach to pen the poem.


“Clear, fresh and sweet waters where she alone to me seems woman rested her lovely limbs.”

One punctuation mark and disjunctures in the grammar that open up the possibilities of narrative(s). Opening up the possibility of varying poetic closures, not determining the storyline for the reader but encouraging the reader to enter the conversation in the ‘strange and wonderful’ place between the texts, be they image/words or image/image.

Closure is a matter of experience and experience is gained through the overt immersion in the form, such as artists might want to do, or by simple existence. I am wary of being too prescriptive with the narrative flow, I want to be left to ask my own questions rather than be told what to think, what to associate, how to interpret; and by implication, I want to offer the same invitation to viewers of my own work.

Just passing


Another friend passed the other day, cancer had decided to deliver it’s final judgement over twelve increasingly debilitating months. I knew it was close, I knew he had been transferred to a hospice, where one usually arrives with an understanding of whom it will be that will accompany you on your next journey. We were on holiday when a friend dispatched the terminal email, though the address was incorrect and we didn’t receive it. However I had discovered the news via a photograph. Roger’s daughter had posted a photograph of her with him on Facebook, both looking happy and healthy, no-one had yet offered a comment of commiseration, but it was clear by the single presence of a photograph that he had gone.

Walking in the woods with our grandchildren yesterday, in the hope that I might be able to make some more images to help form a direction for my BoW. I made just the one; a single frame of dappled light in a glade in the woods. The grandchildren were running amok, finding treasures, looking for monsters – the stuff of childhood when I saw the image and found a resonance. I made one image and it has sort of stuck.

I have strong feelings that for an image to work there has to be some sort of imbued emotion invested in the photograph, either in it’s inception or by how it emerges through editing into a body of work. I appreciate that when Roger’s image was made it was done at a time when the canker was thought to be beaten, a celebratory investment that turned sadly to become a memento mori. I am  aware that by conflating these stories I am vesting an emotional response into these photographic images on the page. Is this what I should be doing? Is this how I will tell my stories?

Assignment One

Bridge at Blenheim monoc2

“Begin your project by going out on a shoot.”

I took the instruction above and went on a few ‘shoots’, and those that I did, in the knowledge that they might be considered as material for the course, I have documented under the tab Assignment One.

I am still interested in ‘Open Works’ and finished the Documentary course with some thoughts about it here, but I haven’t moved things on very much and will need to refresh those thoughts with more research and perhaps some guidance. The relationship(s) between image and text and image and image have been helpfully moved on by reading a text recommended by fellow student Stephanie d’Hubert: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. These relationships still seem important to me, though in all of the imagery I have selected for Assignment One, no texts exist!

These images, or to be more precise these sets of images, whilst depicting different contexts have an underlying narrative that seem to be to be about isolation – being on the outside of things, left behind, not entirely fitting into the found environment. Of course these are personal/autobiographical images and I wonder if I will be able to detach myself and explore these notions in, or succumb to it . My work at the end of Documentary was an entirely personal project, but one that I felt had a certain detachment inasmuch as I recreated the context for the both the image and the text. I feel that the extension to this work should have that mix of personal and abstraction. These images have been chosen because they represent that to me; they are reactions to the self but in a form that, hopefully abstracts ‘me’ (to whatever extent) from it. I have a strong feeling that I will need to develop my visual vocabulary if I am to produce a body of work in this vein, however I don’t want my viewers to find ‘closure’ a ready commodity and I would be most pleased if any viewer found a vicarious closure as a personal reaction to their own circumstance rather than an extrapolation of the author’s.

On the subject of Genre, there would be a natural inclination to consider Psychogeography as a natural home with these sets of images – I have written about it here – however I am drawn to both ‘Tableaux’ and ‘Fictional autobiography’. The scenes in the monochrome images in the set could be said to fit into both camps (despite the incongruity of the female subject!), and I see it as an extension of my work in theatre (directing) as a way to explore ideas; I therefore see Aliper as a greater inspiration than Self in the search for self…

Currently I feel a bit like this: At the other extreme are those photographers who have hundreds of good ideas which never come to much because they lack the discipline and perseverance to make the ‘great ideas’ into great artworks.” Maybe my ideas aren’t that great, but I know instinctively that I have to start a conversation and this feeling of trepidation is one I suspect that won’t abate by continuing prevarication.

As for the opening picture, as I write elsewhere: “A moment’s pause during a walk with the family, five minutes in post processing produces an image of an image designed to please. The purgatory of which is that it is difficult to resist the charm and pull of these photographic fictions, informed by years of practice. Working hard to find inspiration for the final period of this round of study, this imagery is surely a distraction?”

With the above in mind I have selected the following for that purpose:

yellow cropc2

sandy track cropc2








Aside againc2



More rambling

All photographs were made on the same day

These first three images I made describe a certain sense that I think I may end up working/exploring, we shall see… Then came

Above is the only image I cropped in post processing, to try and emphasise what it was that I felt when I made the image. The rest of this one day series is another attempt to wander and make photographs; separated only by a short time they are split into two distinct sets, I am wondering how connected they are to each other…..

And then these which I took minutes either slightly before the above or just after.


Secrets and Lies

Daguerre was the first to face the dilemma of historical veracity versus perceptual veracity – Joan Fontcuberta 1   

I first saw these salt marshes some thirteen years ago and have visited them since before coming to them again recently. They appear not to have changed, they are either as they were or a simulacra of what they were in my memory. I remember thinking I wanted to make some images of them all that time ago but I didn’t, nor did I on subsequent visits; but this time I made sure I made time and made some film images as well as these digital ones. The film that I used, by a curious coincidence has an expiry date almost to the month – June – of when I last went to these marshes, August 2006. That visit we took along my in-laws as a holiday they would otherwise have been unable to take. This year we had extended the same invitation, but three days before we were due to depart there was a medical incident which prevented one of them travelling, so there were just the two of us. I will develop the film soon, perhaps in August, but not too quickly as I want there to be some time before the revelation.

When I look back at the digital images I have made I can feel a narrative sense of those that couldn’t come, those who couldn’t re-test their memories that had excited them at the joint prospect of return and recapture those few years ago.

These ‘scapes of the marshes and of the beach where we had walked previously contain my memories, they are created with my imagination mediating the mis-en-scene; my framing, perspective and focus. However I felt a sense of my in-laws being there by their absence, even during the making of the images. They were there with us.

As I start to think about settling into the (L3) course – only one more holiday excursion to stay the final commitment – I find the ever-increasing thought that in photographic imagery, memory is being mediated by a mechanism that confines the immediate to the past, even before the image loses it’s latency. So these fictions that we create as visual artists are about the past, developed in a tense whose narrative structure denies, to great extent, a future?

“… one of the earliest known daguerreotypes is a view of the Boulevard du Temple, dated 1838, …In fact there were two identical shots * …. taken from the same point on the same day, but at slightly different times (as the can be seen from the length and angle of the shadows). Daguerre trained his camera through one of the windows of his apartment-cum-studio adjoining his famous Diorama, as Niepce and Fox Talbot also did, prompted perhaps by a photographic intuition that equates what is seen through the viewfinder with what is seen through a window.” 2

* a third shot was thought to have perished in Munich’s Bayerisches Nationalmuseum during WWII

In one of these Daguerreotypes there was no evidence of people – in a very public and normally very busy area of Paris!? In the other an obviously staged appearance of a shoe shine worker with a customer. Seeing the first image Daguerre devised a way to introduce the ‘presence’ of people by requiring them somehow to stand still (not that successfully for the man standing) in order that they become evidenced within the frame, in the construction of the image, the fiction he presented. Both images are fictions and yet the photograph, as an end process in itself, goes on to provide society with an almost sacrosanct trophy of truth, the indexical strength of the photographic image. It was in the frame therefore it must be true. Back to the Boulevard; what of those that weren’t recorded, those crowds in the Boulevard du Temple, their absence from the frame concerned Daguerre enough to construct another image with a purposeful placement? It seems as though Daguerre had an emotional purpose to deal with the ‘falseness’ of his construction.

The construction of the image isn’t though what principally interests me at this moment – which sounds a contradictory notion – but more how the memory is reconstructed through the imagery that I felt mediated my response to the vista before me on this recent trip. When I made the images on holiday it was to a place that I was familiar with, and this was brought back to mind when I received a text written by Jesse Alexander discussing the concept of Y Filltir Sqwar  ‘Photographers and artists have always found inspiration in their immediate location. There is a concept within Welsh culture called Y Filltir Sgwar (The Square Mile), described above by Professor Mike Pearson. It is the intimate connection between people and their childhood ‘home’ surroundings….’ Even thirteen years ago I would never have been mistaken for a child, but never mind, these geographies held memories, albeit not local to me, but familiar nonetheless!

These scenes contained echoes of past visits within the viewfinder, reminiscences of past holidays and perhaps the medical incident brought that emotional response an added piquancy which I knew I found myself responding to. And to complicate things further I am also very interested in how text can radically alter how the construction is read. It seems absurd that Reuters, and other news agencies, hold very strong editing rules on visual images; if an image is altered in anyway then it is likely to be rejected out-of-hand, and yet who mediates the accompanying text?

My memories of recent holidays have contextualised the images above, but what if those words were unadulterated fiction? What if I had never been to Batz-sur-mer either in the past or just recently? What if Y Filltir Sqwar never existed? Does it matter either way? I looked at some photographs for sale at a market whilst on the holiday, I had hoped to find some ‘found photographs’. I hesitated to buy and in the end decided not to and my reasoning was that I was unsure of the appropriativeness of the action. Should I consider all imagery, including images not of my creation, fair game in the construction of narratives? I instinctively sense the answer is yes, but I still faltered, unable to decouple the emotional connotations from the images on the market traders boards. It is a failing I must overcome if I am to move on. I can’t presently be responsible for everything and like Daguerre who recognised what his text lacked and strove to right it, I must strive to assume responsibility for everything in the frame. Confusing I know. Thanks goodness I haven’t started the course just yet!

1 “Documentary Fictions” – essay from ‘Pandora’s Camera: Photogr@phy after photography’, Joan Fontcuberta, Mack, English version published July 2014

2 ibid