Assignment One feedback and reflection

As the eldest I occupied the privileged position beside him as he lay by the edge of the double bed. I held his hand until I felt sure his last breath had signaled the passing, keeping the hold that I had of his hand I leant forward and kissed him. I turned then to go downstairs to let his wife, my mother, know that the father of her eight children had indeed gone. When we returned, we witnessed my siblings taking it in turns to hold his still warm hand and bid their personal farewells. And we stood around the bed, all nine us of us, in our parents bedroom perhaps for the first time all together; in that space where at least four of them had been conceived and born. We were quiet and the time passed very slowly.

Sharon, my tutor suggested in the report that I am very pleased with, that I talk more about the images that I chose for the assignment and also to review the work for any linking themes. In the report she felt that she had discerned a few but wanted me to review and ponder before we talk about the work.

There were a few references to possible noticed themes in the report, memory, traces, fictions (interpretations of truths) as opposed to the deliberate falsification of lies and deceits. Sand is of course very easy to mark and the referencing of a ‘mark’ as well. I composed this image to ensure the presence of marks and then lead them away, to a place hidden behind the fence and toward the sea. The sea is a place of infinite power and unforgiving cruelty, it takes without feeling the compulsion to return. It is a very quiet and I think disturbing image with a notion of threat – at least that is how I read it. I purposefully delivered it with a subdued palette to encourage those thoughts and I think the next image has similar muted tonal qualities:

I feel/felt that the central disruption in the water reflected a sense of isolation, some sense of discord; the green isn’t a ‘good’ green and the absence of a horizon is disturbing, discordant as I say before. Taking the sheen of the water, as much as I could within camera and post-processing, allowing detail of the bottom of the shallow water to become more visible helps. The edges are important also, no horizon encourages the viewer to ‘search’ for anchorage and most of the visual imagery is ‘topsy turvy’ not making that search easy. It is a compositional norm to anchor a part of the image to a corner and I have done so bottom right, which hopes to direct the natural flow to the central disruption.

Long after the funeral, long after I, as executor of his will had dealt with the aftermath, I thought of those last moments; his hands, his lips, his eyelids never opening again to witness those around the bedside, all his immediate family, there wasn’t room in the bedroom for sons-in-laws, or daughters-in-laws let alone grandchildren, there was barely enough space for the nine adults around the bed that one last time. I thought about what he might have said with those lips as he moved to slip away, on whom would his eyes have rested longest on and to whom would those hands have reached for that one last time.

Whilst I don’t plan to review all of the works I submitted – I am hoping that the gist of my edit might become apparent by regarding fewer of them – these next three are specifically about isolation, maybe ‘otherness’:

The fence with the ‘light’ from the other side, chinks in the fence allowing a glimpse of what may lie there. The hedge, carefully nurtured to have a consistency, a uniformity interrupted by the sprig of ivy breaking the status quo. And finally, the one which I heavily cropped from the original image, the two ducks seemingly noticing the dead , upturned duck, by the waste pipe. More than a nod to Lempert. All three photographs isolate a physical element, in the case of the fence, the viewer from the ‘other-side’, the ivy as a clear outsider in the visual narrative and the ducks active avoiding/recognising the existence of a deceased relative(?).

I enjoy the physical contact of hands, holding them of those that I love. In that bedroom we all took turns in holding one of his hands, but I don’t remember holding my siblings hands in the room; we stood separately in near silence. Mother was consoled then of course and at the funeral, we held hands, I held her throughout. On another occasion I carried my sister to the pew at her husband’s funeral when he died prematurely, my hands were vitally important then and she clung to me with hers. I remember holding the hands of my newly born sons, encircling their tiny hands in mine; stroking their head and marvelling at their softness. Kissing them, watching them watching me, holding them in my arms. And, most importantly, those of my wife.

The fairground images starts with this photograph:

I did crop this image to emphasise the toddler, to foreground her as she was in the middle distance when I made the picture. I have no idea who she was, a woman, presumably her mother rushed over to her soon after this frame was taken. It is the opening frame of a number of images that are situated in the narrative by this contextualising shot. The young child is looking, we presume for her mother/father, she is alone and there is no-one at the fairground. A fairground is destined to be a populous place, people spilling from one ride to another, but these rides are dormant, covered over. It isn’t what it should be. There is an undercurrent  I detect in the image of suspense (?) that is amplified by the ensuing images that often have text that appears at odds with their present state:

The absence of people is transgressive. The high contrast – bright sunshine helps, I think to amplify that ‘oddness’. Why aren’t there people here having a ‘Sizzling’ time? This series has limited potential in the work for the course, not because I don’t often go to the sea-side, or indeed, the fairground. These were taken as much as part of a pyschogeographical exercise as anything. I think they reveal parts of me, as much as all images are reflections of the artist creating the image, but I’m unsure of the overall narrative and where it might lead; unsure in the sense of not knowing rather than wanting to avoid.

Looking back I can’t remember ever holding my father’s hand, apart from that scene in the bedroom. I can’t remember him holding out his hand for me, nor taking hold of mine. At the side of the road I would be told to stop and wait and look both ways before moving across. Father wouldn’t take my hand and go through the pedestrian drill. I can’t remember him holding the back of my head in a way that both my sons would reward me with a slight backward pressure whenever I did so to them. I also can’t remember kissing him before that time after he had died, moreover I can’t remember him kissing me, holding me in his arms close to his chest or face. I don’t feel sad about that.


These monochrome images were an attempt to create an ‘open’ narrative:


I was interested to view a scene from a stable perspective and develop a scene(s) with a character in several placid and active situations and see what if anything might result. This particular place is a ‘folly’ near where I live and I have made lots of images there and nearby over the years, though never with a subject, always still and maybe lifeless images. I wanted to work with film again, I wanted to ‘mess’ with the materiality of the medium. I have been reading a lot recently about the intellectual difference between the the digital and chemical processes. I have just recently designed and built my own UV light box to better control the making and printing of cyanotypes. I have a notion that this physicalness of film, whilst a part of my past, will be important to me as I go forward in the course.

The situation in the folly has an interesting ‘lightscape’, it might be described as episodic as the eye moves from frame bottom to frame top through the image. The placement of subject in differing ‘light-spaces’ helps to generate a narrative sense, and of course playing with the order also disrupts what might be thought of as a ‘straightforward flow’.

And so to themes:

Memory is a constant in the way I consider photography, Sharon has suggested Barthes and Camera Lucida – and if I go down this route she suggests a ‘blog-post’. I have written on this particular subject before and will therefore look to see what my earlier thoughts were and look again at the text. And a ‘quote’ that Sharon drew form a text she also provided “Traces are not made; rather, they are (involuntarily) left behind.” And yes, I see the theme of trace in some of this assignment, perhaps especially the work from France and possibly in some of the novice tableau work at the folly. I have a quick look at a photographer referenced in the report – David Favrod, not one I have come across before, first impressions are that I can see a linkage between his accomplished work and my direction.

The suggestion is that I start to try and focus on ONE area/strategy that I want to develop and strengthen. And of course, as it is perhaps obvious I am very interesting in narrative fiction. Lots to do and I need to get up and running. Oh, and more reading!

Of course I do remember his hands, his eyes and his lips, they were a constant presence in my life, both physical and mental. When he reached out, as he often did, it would only be to strike a blow. This would be with his open hand or fist, or quite often with an implement the better to focus it’s attention on where it would land on me. Sticks and straps the most commonly commandeered implement. Those lips would also engage with me; describing what and why he was either doing or was about to do to me. Discussing how it was that I would likely fail at all that I attempted and why it was never worth his investment to do anymore to help such a lost cause. And those eyes that always seemed to cast a disparaging glance.




2 thoughts on “Assignment One feedback and reflection

  1. Your narrative is powerful John. It seems separate from the images (apart from the ducks) – maybe this is what you intended though.
    Regarding ‘traces’ – I hadn’t thought of them in that way and was going to argue the point until I remembered ‘marks’ – created with intent.

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