Marks & traces in Thatcham

I decided to test my experiments in visual language at a meeting of the Thames Valley student group. It was a very valuable exercise, and these images here are a reproduction of part of what I presented. The initial images were the photographs I made from a few visits to the grounds of Blenheim Palace, I have been looking in a relatively small area – about two hundred yards nearby the lake but off the beaten track as I have found it easier to locate traces and marks away from the main thoroughfares.

Initially I looked for obvious, overt marks which I found quite easy to locate and I became aware that a lot of these marks were signatures, some simple signs of affection or simple statements of being there. I found both of these signs interesting; to want to ‘mark’ a presence in a formal and elevated place, maybe associating oneself with the place? I also wondered about the notion of marking one’s love for someone by coupling names together on a tree, which in all likelihood would out last the relationship – leaving aside the likely the statistical likelihood of a relationship lasting until death.

These two monochrome images had an echo in them – I felt the ripples left by diving grebes and the fleeting sun on the truck of the tree seemed to align and help make the pairing. The combinations of imagery took some time to develop. I decided to reduce some of the narrative layers by editing all the images to square; some of course were square to begin with being 6X6 medium format film photographs, but the digital, all of the colour photographs are digital capture, and one or two of the monochrome were cropped to comply with a single format type. I then edited the images with a text in mind. The handwritten text (including it’s colour) stems from a quotation by Saussure which I found apposite to the experiment I was undertaking.

I broke the text up and then spent a good deal of time coupling image pairs – and in one case a triple – that made some kind of sense to me. This process enabled me to consider the images in different lights, I saw different ‘marks’ and different ‘traces’ as I went about the work. I felt, for example, that the light became in one sense a ‘Mark’ or perhaps illuminated a ‘Mark’, but in other instances it became a ‘Trace’ – I do wonder of light can be seen as a ‘Trace’, I think the ephemeral nature of it suggests that it might? Something to consider.

The square images were relatively small 3.6cms on a side. I think I chose that scale as I have been exposed to relatively small prints lately; the Kenna images at Stowe School and the Francesca Woodman work in the Victoria Miro gallery. Of course this image size would be very difficult for a gallery wall, but for the student exercise it seemed to work, the students being close enough to work out the image content and to read the text – I had laid the images out in a sequence that privileged the text.

It is of course difficult to tell, but my feeling is that the form of the second presentation of sequenced images, albeit paired (or tripled) couple with the text enabled the viewers to seek or perhaps eke out some of what I was requesting them visually to find, namely ‘Marks and ‘Traces’.


There can be no doubt that my vocabulary isn’t anywhere near sophisticated enough to leave images untethered by the anchorage of text. Even if it were I am not sure I would necessarily want to leave my viewers, at this stage free to roam. I became very aware that care must be taken to engage the viewer visually as well as narratively, so my work in the image couplings was well spent, even from a limited set of edited visual phrases. I feel that as I develop my vocabulary, and hence my voice, viewers to my work will find it easier to discern a sense narrative form – even if it isn’t the form that I had when generating the piece of work. I was very pleased that the Thames Valley students were all prepared to engage with the work and start to embellish the images with narrative structures, which because of the scant nature of text must surely have been anchored in their subconsciousness’.

I need to do more work to develop my phraseology and think very hard about the narrative that I want to develop. And then try to develop a contextual referencing to situate the work.


6 thoughts on “Marks & traces in Thatcham

  1. I was very drawn to the intimacy of the small, square images – so different as well in their physical form. I imagined them in a book with a special binding – something organic. At the same time I could imagine them as much larger and displayed on a wall. I could certainly make sense of most of the pairings. Whilst the words themselves didn’t make a link for me your handwriting added to the sense of intimacy and sense of you as the photographer. It seems a very personal piece of work.

    • Thanks Catherine, whilst these are research exercises it is difficult as I have mentioned before, to detach the personal from the work. I like smaller images at the moment, I like the need to get close to inspect, though I wonder about the non-linear structure, no one seemed to comment on that…..

  2. Enjoyed our discussion of your work. I think I am reading the work more as a conceptual piece, drawing attention to the ambiguity of photographic meaning.

    For me the word ‘mark’ itself refers to the different elements of the work. I see the photographs themselves (arguably as in pencil of nature), the marks represented in the photographs, the text elements, the arrangement of the image and text elements in the panels and the organisation of the panels as a group all as ‘marks’.

    The meanings of your juxtapositions of images and text are open emphasising that marks or signifiers will imply or connote different meanings or chains of signifieds to different people, depending on their background and social/cultural conditioning.

    The message of the work is in the concatenated text ‘a mark is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity’….’something’, ‘somebody’, ‘some respect’ and so on all imply doubt and ambiguity….

    So rather than trying to determine what the combinations of image and text mean for me, I find myself simply accepting that multiple meanings are possible and find the work intellectually stimulating. For me the pleasure is in the concept and not in the narrative….

    • Thanks for the comment Keith, and the critique during the session. I wanted to disambiguate the noun from the verb of Mark. I wanted to focus on the noun and employ that, I’m not sure I succeeded though😨 . You are right of course that I wanted, and want to create open texts with the conjunction of words and images and I appreciate that I’m on the very early steps on the road, which is why the concept is more pleasurable at this stage than the narrative, the former is far more dominant than the latter; I still have to determine what it might be I want to talk about…

  3. The fact that you provided a hint at the beginning as to what you were making this work about helped enormously in reading it and developing an individual train of narrative, connections and thoughts. Previously when you showed a new work you hadn’t done this and so it made it difficult to find a starting point. As you say, “There can be no doubt that my vocabulary isn’t anywhere near sophisticated enough to leave images untethered by the anchorage of text. Even if it were I am not sure I would necessarily want to leave my viewers, at this stage free to roam.” I feel that was possibly one of the most important points you’ve made.

    Besides the above, I found that what you were doing with the experimentation was very uplifting and gave me some heart to continue along the path to finding my own way especially after a long period of photographic inactivity I’ve just been through.

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