I went to Barnsley on Thursday, via Sheffield and the Bank Street gallery to see “The Nine” but I had an idea that I might find this image on the train. I wanted to make the image with my mobile ‘phone as it fitted the story I had written “I washed your shirt”. I made about seven images but have short-listed these two, wondering which would be melancholic enough.
I have started to collect archive images from people kind enough to allow me access to their albums, carrier bags and old boxes. I have a lot to go through and selecting which ones to include is surprisingly difficult. These images, from one source I have chosen here because I find them poetically beautiful and seem to fit to my narrative sense. I don’t plan to go any further with their value in the narratives I am contemplating right now, but include them to elevate them somehow to see how much they develop in my mind.
Something affected me very powerfully during the Thames Valley student meeting on Saturday, it came as comment from Sharon regarding her work and went something like this (and I paraphrase because I can’t remember the exact statement): “mixing the (auto) biographical and fiction serves the narrative equally” – at least that is how I understood it. That the ‘real’ can be combined with stories are perfectly valid when constructing a story, it’s not that I didn’t know this of course, but it still came to me that I had been holding back, not mixing the two and creating a third mixed narrative which is of course how all narratives are constructed.
I have set up another blog to contain all the fictions that I am creating, it’s called “Stories” because that is what they are – purposeful fictions about love and love & loss. This piece is about how I have started to collect evidence, of fictions to develop narratives scores. I have put a call out for unwanted photographs which I intend to curate for images that connect emotionally to the sort of things I want to talk about, or perhaps things that I want to resonate with.
Some of these images have struck chords within me, these last two very much about love lost. And then these:
Taken I am sure for the phenomenological value, these images, by removing them from any other sequence, have taken on new perspectives, re-situated and repurposed. They will need editing, added to, made to make sense of.
An OCA course leader, though one not in my subject of photography, suggested late one evening over a beer that: “one day the penny will drop, it’ll be a moment when you realize that you are thinking as an artist”. The curriculum leader never meant to suggest that starting to think like an artist would be the end of study, more likely that the moment would herald a more purposeful time of study and research. I’m not sure I have had a single moment, more a series of them, like a gradual ‘un-coupling’; a gaining of momentum that is allowing me to release myself from layers of restraint. I feel I am gaining innocence and the last two meetings in Thatcham of the Thames Valley Group have both been significant steps in that journey, and it is a direction of travel that I find very enticing, curious and perhaps slightly dangerous.
Since starting this course I have purposefully developed a (additional) new cohort, purposefully adding artists, other than fellow students, to those around me; entering into discussions about their art, art in general and probably pissing them off with continual questions about strategy and outcome. And one of the key things from this period of study is the notion of narcissism. It must be very easy, and I have surely been guilty of this, to aim arrows at artists and accuse them of making work only to be looked at! Well of course that is what most artists do, it is how they communicate their ideas etc to the world, but the motives for doing so are wide. But I was until very recently, perhaps the end of ‘Documentary’ wary of allowing myself to enter the frame, not physically but emotionally and now I realise that the work I am feeling impelled to create must contain me in each frame for it to have sense of what it is I am trying to do.
The work that I seem drawn to is the personal, artists who are trying to find ways to understand themselves and their reaction to the mess that surrounds them, whether that mess is an expression of their interaction with the world or not! At least I now recognise whose mess I am in……
For some time now I have been unsure about how to move forward on this course, I have played with the some ideas with fiction and probably tested the patience of my tutor (my tutor for CS must be thinking I have left the planet!). However several things have conspired to bring me to a place from which I have a certain sense of release.
I have wanted to work in fiction for some time, I have felt that my contribution to whatever world I might hope to inhabit as I develop as an artist will not be with grand statements, righting wrongs; paraphrasing Bob – I did that when I was older, I’m younger than that now. As I’ve said elsewhere I want to write short fictions of love and love and loss, tiny narratives that impact us all. Stories that will inevitably tell a great deal about the author, narrating a course through life.
I’m thinking of writing fictions constructed from sentences and snatches of overheard conversations which I will form into new lives from my own perspective and in a visual language so far under developed. The research I have done so far on Marks and Traces I hope will continue to inform the project, those emotive and emotional signs left intentionally and unintentionally by persons unknown and becoming real perhaps for a time in a new story. Elina Brotherus expressed how she used reflection to gauge where she was in her life, a continual process of evaluation and re-evaluation and I see this project as my attempt to reorder my own perspectives on my own life. The fictions expressing, from whatever well I have to draw from, my own feelings about love and loss; being mediated through the medium of fabricated narratives.
The image above is one I sold quite unexpectedly a couple of days ago. I was giving a talk to some photographers about my ‘pretty pictures’ and this image took the fancy of one of the audience. “I think it looks just like Sting” she informed me when I asked her the reason for buying it. I wondered about why she would do that, a fellow student Stephanie D’Hubert, without seeing the work suggested “because who the person in the portrait really matters less than what we see in him”. I thought about that remark and it seems to me to concur with my underlying thoughts about fiction. The lady has a personal connection to Sting perhaps and this image brings her closer to it, I could make up more but it is her story and not mine anymore.
I am aware of the size of the project in front of me. I am aware that I have a huge amount of work to undertake to develop a visual language that can be translated, much as Brotherus’ strategy of sticky notes provided her with a entry into a foreign place, I will have to develop a strategy to test my visual syntax. I’m not sure I have ever realized the size of the task ahead of me like this before. My career changes and directions have been more straightforward, certainly containing a good deal of risk and, thankfully, good fortune, but this self directed challenge is both daunting and exciting in equal measure.
Perhaps it is in the very nature of photography, or more especially photography as an artform, that it inevitably directs the artist towards introspection? After all, photography is nothing if not a memory; a narrative conditioned by either the conscious or unconscious direction of the lens that records temporally, sequencing the past into episodic frames of, or from, a life. If the purpose or practice of a photographer is to continually examine their place in their life, to consider how they fit in within the framework of their existence, it might also be said that that practice itself, being an echo of the means of creation, finds a natural synchronicity. The frame of life rendered on photographic paper reconsidered a decade or score years after creation and juxtaposed with one made yesterday in a continual process of re-evaluation. Elina Brotherus talked about one body of work, viewed collectively as a whole, and re-sequenced continually to revisit her comprehension of the state of her previous life and as it passes now, in the moment.
The artist felt she became aware of herself perceived as an artist when she took up a residency in France aged 27, before then she felt understood as a student and those early frames of her in France, coming to terms with a new identity as a Finn in France, a Finnish artist in France with limited comprehension of either the language or it’s customs. But it was another part of that journey she spoke of, a process by which she regularly took stock and asked ‘where am I?’ (in that journey) that I found very interesting. The changes to her life, her recent divorce before accepting the residency for example and other upheavals that provided the impetus and perhaps the emotional energy to create and, inevitably, to reflect. Brotherus talked about the notion of a private investigation, not knowing – but perhaps wondering – what the result might be. Having no determined plan, her practice appears, at least on one level to be a practice about continuity, to work on a few themes in a process of continuance. The concept of time seems central to her practice, thinking that six months after images are made might be a good time to see what they mean, how they fit into the canon. Seeing this work created a while ago as ‘found footage’, but also working in large format integrates that idea of time, slowing the process, ensuring the contemplativeness is embedded within the work.
Several themes have continually inspired Brotherus; the horizon, the land and the place of the body (perhaps especially the artist herself) within it. She suggested that by placing herself in the frame, in the landscape, looking away from the lens is an invitation to a shared contemplation with the viewer which I receive as an expansive gesture and the least introspective of her work, the least emotionally charged. It appears to me to be about how she is interested in the joint enterprise of looking with her viewer. Regarding and re-regarding the body and the land, how they continually slide and morph, frame to frame, episode to episode, looking for difference. Whereas her more intimate work, whilst also about time, seems to me to be about how she fits into the place(s) she now inhabits. Her first series in France discusses how she strategizes her new found place in France/Artist/single again fledgeling; her second France series, in which she placed herself in surroundings that mirrored her first experience, is about being observed and then observing those changes a dozen years on. The artist has recently turned forty, twelve years is not far short of half her adult life and is therefore significant. Partners have come and gone, her life has revolved, but the ‘new’ French residency allows Brotherus to reflect again. I regret not asking her a question about this second series in France. Language is the means by which people, citizens, visitors to a place negotiate their lives with their fellow travellers. Brotherus’ strategy was to place stickers onto objects with the French language translation written on them. However when she read to those in the room it was in English. I wanted to know whether she translated the French into Finnish before reading to us in English, I wanted to know whether the French that she wrote, describing not objects but an introspective and emotional treatise on how she felt was mediated by language. Would the Suomi provide less or more? The Finnish nation is culturally troubled by both it’s neighbours Sweden and Russia, for a long time Swedish was the national language and many parts of Finland still speak it as their first language. Brotherus speaks about her how time in France has modified her character and personality, I wonder if she reflects on how it has changed her art?
Interesting video here:
Reflecting, as an integral notion in this note perhaps, on the symposium that I attended recently and which I wrote about here I wondered about the distinction between narrator and author that Lucy Soutter discussed, perhaps all too briefly in my case! Brotherus’ practice involves continual sequencing and re-sequencing her work, she mentioned collaborating with graphic artists, mentioning Christopher Bangert for example and how his intervention redevelops different, perhaps more richly nuanced narratives. I wonder then if, not only being an author, something she mentioned was critically important to her work and which was integral to her practice, that she was also narrating her work as Soutter suggests? – “Why Art Photography” Soutter p75 Routledge. Soutter suggests, I think, that the author/artist can continually purpose their work but over a time differing discourses emerge repurposing the work into other tropes unintentionally; much like Brotherus’ first French series combining and recombining with work post that period as a ‘fledged’ artist. Interesting.
Yesterday morning, trying to jump start the project. These are purposefully away from Blenheim, somewhere I shall probably go back to soon, and are from a two hour walk, during which I made just twenty two images, almost as if I had a film camera. Reflecting on them I am interested in the track images. This track leads to a place called Purgatory which I suspect will always have connotations in my mind. Largely unedited and certainly not sequenced they are just more evidence.
At the Science Museum November 8th 2014
One of the principle enticements for this one symposium when I signed up was the presence on the panel of Joan Fontcuberta; in the end he wasn’t present. However David Bates, Peter Kennard, Lucy Soutter, Mia Fineman and Christina de Middel were. A long day which, for organizational reasons, had a delayed start in a crowd packed part of London.
I had been to the Fontcuberta show twice before and I have written about it here, this third time with fellow students Catherine and Penny was still as inspiring, a reminder of how stilted my own creativity is by comparison. But to the symposium:
David Bate opened proceedings with a discourse on truth, as opposed to the titular opposite fiction, and by investigating the notion of how the medium has been blighted (my word) with the responsibility of revealing/ exposing/ presenting the ‘truth’. I think all three opening speakers referred to Rosler’s questioning of that photographic quest of sysophus, as well as questioning the pact between commerce and image. Bates suggests through his talk that the fiction of photography is that it provides a non-fiction, the lie that truth is evidenced as a mechanical function.
I found his questions on the nuancing of truth, or perhaps conversely, fiction very interesting, by suggesting that, for example Rosler’s dialectical montage work, so obviously in it’s manifestation a fiction that it’s truth or Rosler’s fiction becomes more easily determined as opposed to the craft of the digital manipulated image. Rosler’s deceit is more open to interpretation, the ‘textual substance’ of the image is more obviously honest – whether we believe in the rhetoric or not. I wrote a couple of other notes which I am unsure of the context, but which I am sure is about my reflection of the use of fiction in storytelling, which might form the basis of my work going forward – should that day ever dawn:
Where does truth fit in? and Where do dreams fit in? two questions for another time and place I think.
Mia Fineman titled her talk “Let’s Not and Say We Did” and spoke about the questioning of the veracity of the narrative. Using space travel, specifically the voyages to the moon in both fiction and ‘supposed’ reality she exampled work that was purported to be the truth, that purported to be fiction and their complete polar opposites; imaging that purported to be fictions about the truth and also the unraveling of fictions because they were truths in reality. What we were left with was a cogent argument to consider the imagery with a deal of skepticism. For example Fineman suggested that a poll of US Americans which asked whether they believed NASA put a man on the moon in 1969 revealed that a significant proportion, I seem to remember around 20%, believed it to be a fiction, similar proportions responded likewise in the UK but France were even more skeptical. There were all sorts of reasons Fineman suggests for it was felt the discrepancy existed, but I wondered about perspective, and perhaps especially narrative perspective. If the question were asked of all US Americans whether the 9/11 atrocity happened, I suspect a greater proportion would attest to it – maybe all of them. If the question were asked in Pakistan, I suspect the number would be less, by how much I couldn’t say of course. And so I wondered about the role of fiction in such incidents. The planes flew into the buildings, that camera footage provides unassailable evidence; but what of the stories? The stories are all mediated through a western capitalist construct. ISIS would have a completely alternate perspective. For us in the west it right and wrong, a dichotomy. In the Middle East is it wrong and right? Not sure about this, but I am fairly sure that fiction, rather than it’s polar opposite, would provide light into the darkness.
Lucy Soutter’s talk was entitled “Fictive Documents, Fictional Lives” I found this quite inspiring as it discussed, amongst other things, the strength of the narrative component of fiction and compared the visual narrative structure with it’s written counterpart. How fiction provides perspective, Soutter referenced work by Bloomberg and Chanarin, Walid Raad – again I thought of the 9/11 perspective. There was mention of the narrative strategy being not of human, but of object, citing Geraldine Brook’s written work and also the subtle difference between the artist as author versus narrator of their work – I subsequently emailed Lucy on this subject and she kindly replied very quickly with a response that included a reference to her book ‘Why Art Photography’ which I have a copy of and have read. The two comments I made at the end of her talk were “unhinge the position of the viewer” which I took to mean to perhaps encourage the viewer to reflect on their position as reader and ‘What is the drive to reveal truth”.
Christina de Middel,
The artist gave a potted history of her career before detailing the creation of the ‘Afronauts’ book, something I have written before here my feelings towards the work were not ameliorated by listening to the artist. I was interested in some of her tactics in sequencing.
In my humble opinion one of the great artists still working today. Still as angry, still as opinionated and my only comment on his talk was a direct quote:
“Creation of a fiction as a fact” this of course can be read and reacted against in a multitude of ways and Kennard did so in his talk which ranged from his early influences of surrealism coming out of the Bauhaus, Soviet iconographic imagery from the likes of Rodchenko and then his own iconoclastic work with penetrating images speaking truth the power.
Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.
Love stories. I’ve been reading more love stories, I have a collection of them and they enchant me. Cole Porter’s titular lyric line above has been known to me for a few decades and I was only tangentially aware of who the two lovers were, but I finally I got around to reading their letters just recently. The illusion, or perhaps allusion, that I had was that here were two lovers in high medieval times separated, for whatever reason, and to keep their love alive they wrote letters to each other. I imagined that there were a lot of letters. In fact there were only five – and one of these, the first, is debatable as to whom it was written to.
Porter’s inclusion of ‘drop a line to me please’ is probably a reference to the length of the letters, they are long and descriptive and interesting on a number of levels.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the change in direction for BoW, and so far most of what I’ve thought about suggests that it is probably a good decision. I have considered the course notes about genre, where would it fit – under “personal journeys and fictional autobiography”? Probably. My single greatest concern though is whether I should purposefully leave me in the frame as an autobiographic account, or whether I should develop another narrative – about some other – which would also be, by its very existence, somewhat autobiographical
Peter Abelard (1079-1142) was a French scholastic philosopher and the greatest logician of the twelfth century. He taught mainly in Paris where his fame attracted students from all over Europe and laid the foundations of the University of Paris. “From the letters of Abelard and Heloise” Penguin 1974 – introduction.
Describing his first impression of Heloise he notes in the first letter “…In looks she did not rank lowest, while in the extent of her learning she stood supreme. A gift for letters is so rare in women that it added greatly to her charm…. I considered all the usual attractions for a lover and decided she was the one to bring to my bed, confident that I should have an easy success; for at that time I had youth and exceptional good looks as well as my great reputation to recommend me, and feared no rebuff from any woman I might choose to honour with my love…” ibid p11
I’ve looked again at David Favrod, Johanna Ward and Lena Aliper (I have written to both Aliper and Ward and both have been very generous with information and time). At first I wondered how I could begin this work, I have this very vague notion that at the end will be a series of images linked with some situating text! However until a short while ago I had no idea how, or why, that work would appear. Ward notes, in her introduction to the piece “I shall say goodbye…” The story unfolds to reflect on love, land, morality and control, in a place where time is not linear and the past, present and future find themselves sharing uncommon ground; the beginning is not the beginning and the end is not the end, and like the filing away of our memories, order is in disarray. I have a very strong sense that I want my narrative to talk about love, maybe fidelity (in it’s wider sense) as well. So I decided to read:
Abelard develops a strategy to ‘bed’ Heloise, he approaches her guardian (the age of Heloise is not certain, though at least 10 years younger, maybe 20, also her guardian might be her uncle, it could possibly be her father and where she received her education prior to her being ‘chosen’ by Abelard isn’t recorded anywhere), Abelard convinces him that he would be an excellent choice to tutor Heloise privately, and in their the guardian’s home. This is agreed and Abelard set’s about his primary purpose: “ Her studies allowed us to withdraw in private, as love desired, and then with our books open before us, more words of love than of reading passed between us, and more kissing than teaching. My hands strayed oftener to her bosom than to the pages;…. To avoid suspicion I sometimes struck her, but these blows were prompted by love and tender feeling rather than anger and irritation, and were sweeter than any balm could be. In short, our desires left no stage of lovemaking untried, and if love could devise something new, we welcomed it. We entered on each joy the more eagerly for our previous experience, and were the less easily sated.” ibid p12/13
These edited (high?)lights elicit imagery that I feel could be rendered, see here: “You know the depths of shame to which my unbridled lust had consigned our bodies, until no reverence for decency or for God…. Could keep me from wallowing in this mire. Even when you were unwilling, resisted to the utmost of your power and tried to dissuade me, as yours was the weaker nature. I often forced you to consent with threats and blows…” ibid p104
This rendering though is mine, despite Abelard’s admission above and his admission that he was “..(in) the slough of filth in which I had been wholly immersed in mind as in body.” Ibid p105. And this is without the overt racism detailed in the final letter!
Visual interpretations of this text, these motifs – perhaps the overriding one of power and control – come perhaps all too readily to mind. I need/feel the narrative should be less intense, smaller somehow. Favrod’s contemplation on the “Hikari” work “This work represents my compulsion to build and shape my own memory. To reconstitute some facts I haven’t experienced myself, but have unconsciously influenced me while growing up….Somehow, I would say that I borrowed their memories. I use their stories as source of inspiration for my own testimony.” This idea of purposefully constructing a narrative from the vestigial memory of both his grandparents testimony and his remembering of it during a single night’s conversation, whilst certainly more ephemeral, perhaps gets closer to a truth?
Lena Aliper’s introduction to the “Jack and Jill Story” is thus: “Jack and Jill Story is a mapping of personal deliriums bound up with being in love. The girl’s body is studied as it reinvents itself seeking to become an idealised image to be offered to her lover.” Is it Aliper’s body? And therefore an autobiography? Or is there another layer to the narrative that brings into play multiple personalities or people? And yet I can ‘see’ references to the letters of Abelard and Heloise, perhaps more easily those of Heloise in Aliper’s text (both visual and textual), for example in the complete work that Aliper provided me it is written: “A question that quite naturally rose: it is known how Jill fell in love with Jack, but is anything known about what happened on Jack’s part? Did Jack fall in love with Jill? And if Jack fell in love with Jill, how did it happen?” “Jack and Jill” pdf provided by the artist Lena Aliper 2014 p13. I’m also very interested in listening to Elina Brotherus soon as she talks about herself in the work she does with herself firmly in the frame.
The struggle I have is with the purposeful personal. The image above with it’s close physical association of lyric, ‘tunes’ the reader to consider all sorts of associations and projections. I like that, I am attracted to that and recognise it. However I am very wary of venturing into that territory and so will continue to consider the works of the artists mentioned above and my own motivations before setting forth. In a month I will meet up with Johanna and maybe that will help me to consider the navigable channels of the personal, but until then I will continue to read.