Developing the Narrative


I thought I’d take the opportunity to generate some imagery for the course and took my sons, and their sons, for some photographs yesterday. I want to try and build up some work to help me generate the sorts of narratives I hope to portray in the BoW project. I had some ideas about poses, clearly the infants had their own!


These images above are very much as I had hoped for, and some others that seemed to have developed from them when in the place.


There are some more which I may edit for the project, otherwise I will set up another shoot and make some more images. I also plan to go back to the tattooist’s hopefully next week.



Inking sheep

Today I visited a Tattoo Parlour for the first time, actually this kind of establishment is now called a Tattoo Studio. I wanted to develop some better understanding about the ‘inking’ of texts on to bodies. It was a careful conversation. For their part I suspect they were a trifle suspicious of a photographer (albeit without a camera) expressing interest in what their customers have written on their bodies, and for my part aware that the impression I was making was likely to define whether I was going to get any further in opening the conversation.

After a slightly shaky start it seemed to go well, I brought some of my text and image work to illustrate where I was ‘coming from’ which seemed to generate some interest. It was suggested that I come back another time around 5pm as they will have more time to spare. I’ll do that.

Earlier in the morning this tattoo video came to me, which I found quite fascinating in the issues it confronted and so I was interested in the responses coming from the tattooist that I spoke to afterwards.

I asked about motivations in his customers, what drove them to want to be marked indelibly – with only repetitive and costly laser removal as a resort to remedy – and his answer quite surprised me. “Sheep” was the response, they see a celebrity and want to copy, they see a mate and they want one as well. Most of the work he does seems driven by that need to conform or be led – like sheep. Surely not all, I said. No, of course people do want mementos and the video (above) seems to have been carefully edited to promote the personal value of body art; however the practitioner – ‘on the street’ – seemed to have a slightly more jaundiced perspective. He then went on to talk about how some customers came with very personal messages, extracts from poems or songs that have clear resonance.

I’m wondering about this resonance and whether I need to worry about it. Whether I concoct that resonance with the associations that I bring to the image(s) that I plan to make that have texts associated to them. These texts won’t be emotional connected until I bring them to the image in some shape or form – to be decided.

Lots to think about and some more discussions with tattoo artists I think.


Assignment Three

Reflections on assignment 3

In order to prepare for this reflection I decided to take the work to a range of viewers for feedback and critique. I presented a series of photographs of Purgatory at the Thames Valley Group meeting Saturday (16th May 2015). The group, prompted by Sharon, undertook to make an edit of the images from the eighteen that I had taken to the meeting. The day after the TVG meeting, I presented the same set of eighteen images to my print group – Forum, which I set up about ten years ago – and asked them to comment. I have also sent a link to the work to fellow L3 students that will get together to discuss work every two weeks via Google Hangouts. Other students have also been asked to comment. My decision on the edit is now made, but I will consider both my thoughts up to this assignment and anything that has come from the various viewings I have asked for.

This has been one of the hardest assignments on the course thus far to come to conclusion, and that is because, I think, that it isn’t meant to be a conclusion; rather a pause in the work. And knowing when to pause to reflect became the defining task.

Background: Purgatory –

The work to date, represented with this submission, reflect my search for images that express the relationship I had with my father. Largely unexpressed until now outside a very small circle and certainly never as imagery; the work denotes how I feel about that connection left largely hidden for nearly half a century. It has had some profound effects on me, enabled me to surface issues and events that had been forgotten for all that time and allowed me to face my role as a father, which I will mention later.

It was a difficult task to attempt to render these thoughts about my this relationship in the frame. My process was to wander the area over a period of time; visiting at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. I accept that I have a ‘photographer’s eye’ to a certain extent and will be drawn to automatically ‘see’ images which are made visually compelling by contrast, light, ambient weather conditions, traditional compositional techniques of balance and harmony. I decided to try and not reject them, but to embrace them and to allow the frame to ‘find’ those images that I have previously rejected as ‘pretty’. This rejection of the ‘pretty’ I fully accept is a character flaw and work I have done with a therapist recently has identified strategies to circumvent this character trait, and so the work takes on that mantle as well.

My technique tended to try and elicit an image with the eye and then ‘find it again’ in the viewfinder. I wanted to respond to the image in an emotional way, fully aware of why I was in this ‘place’ called Purgatory. Many, if not all, of these images have very distinct personal connotations and one of the strands of my dissertation will be about the ‘Punctum’ that Barthes talks about; but, rather than in a photograph, I would like to consider it in the making of the image.

The session at the TV Group led to a set of nine images, all of which I think are composed and printed quite well and, given the tests of the various viewings and the contextual information, they provide a reasonable depiction of what I set out to achieve and form the submission to assignment three. The images are sequenced in the order they appear and have some text allied to them here – there are other edits from other students. This addition of text is a difficult issue with a virtual submission in that they could be construed as captions or titles, which they aren’t. Certainly the prints are absent of any text in any way, though of course they form a ‘textual commentary’ on the relationship they are designed to depict.

The ‘showing’ of these images to the various crit’ sessions enabled two facets that have limited opportunity for in distance learning. The first is to have people view the physical work and give their impression, whether from an academic standpoint or from an outsider perspective. And perhaps, just as importantly, it provides an opportunity for me to talk about the work, which allows me to understand the work from a wider perspective. I learn about my work by talking about it, find out how well it sits in my mind and how much I have to provide the listener in order for the work to work.

Some students have been kind enough to reorder the images into a narrative of their own, letting the imagery work with them to tell stories outside of my contextualization. I am grateful to them and encouraged that others have found enough narrative potential in order to do so. I think the images are fine in their creation from an aesthetic perspective and so I think I have largely succeeded in that respect, but to have the compliment of others engaging with the images at a level above ‘prettiness’ is gratifying and encouraging.

One comment on the contextual information that I provided, suggested that they were unable to engage because they had little experience of the kind that I was trying to portray. I wondered whether I should concern myself with that, whether by ignoring it am I reducing the prospect to engage with a wider audience or whether I should develop that thought and try to widen the ‘entrance’ opportunity? This is an issue that I have been struggling with in any case. I felt that the narrative ‘angle of view’ was narrowing and I had determined to widen this, to help to make the ‘story’ more appealing/tempting and the next part discusses that new direction in the work.

Moving on: Chance encounters.

The section in the course that I have reached talks about ‘chance’. Chance encounters, chance finds, coincidence &c. Two chance events have led me to a new place. The first was a discard of a magnolia bud that I found and how I immediately related that to my early years with notions of familial love. And then on holiday in Tenerife a couple of moths ago, where the weather encouraged people to be exposed to the sun and in doing so revealing inscriptions on their bodies. Tattoos. I plan to conflate all three strands: Purgatory, the magnolia bud and tattoos into a thread whose overarching narrative is about love. The absence, the presence and the proclamation of love. Purgatory wasn’t, I now realize, solely about the absence of patriarchal love, but as much about my own feelings and expressions of love for my own sons. Questioning the absence of a paternal reference and wondering how much I have failed them and not wanting them to experience the same and repeat it with their own sons.

I experienced a ‘Punctive’ moment when I started to view tattoos. I had largely been ambivalent regarding this form of ‘body-art’ until I started to consider the motivations of this form of expression. The first two tattoo texts that I looked at were on the necks of two different women, and I wondered why they decided to place them there, they were never going to be able to see them. The words, which they had painfully engraved on their bodies, at some expense, were surely for someone else’s benefit not their own. The third ‘text’ I saw though stopped me short. Whether because I had been engaged in considering the purpose of these texts or not, the twin words ‘Love me’ made me catch my breath. It read – to me – as an imploration. Written not on the back of the bearer, but on her upper arm, near her shoulder, facing forward as if looking for love.

And so I have been collecting tattoo texts. It was a fairly simple exercise in the heat of Tenerife, but less so in the early Spring of Oxfordshire, though there are more than enough if one trails through the internet. I am slightly troubled using the internet to find these texts as I have an instinctive mistrust, but using as much editorial care as I can muster I have collected a few more. I have also engaged with a tattoo parlour (is that still the correct term for a place to be tattoo’s?) and will discuss with them about texts. I will let the tattoist know that I have no interest at present in photographing tattoos, it is their perspective as a practitioner that I would like to gain about the underlying need to permanently mark one’s body with a text that will reside proclaiming its message in perpetuity. Like love, an expectation?

What I plan to do is to continue to collect these marks and make imagery to act as a counterpoint to them. My plan moving forward is to recruit father’s and sons (including my own) to pose for me in the land – probably Purgatory in the first instance. These images would then be conflated with the text references into a single piece of work whose underlying contextualized narrative is love. They will be purposeful fictions, the models may well be related but the texts are unlikely to be theirs; and this amalgam of text and image I hope will be ‘Open’ enough to allow readers to enter into the story and develop their own sense of narrative flow.

During the time between assignment two and three I have been involved in a couple of collaborative events. The ‘Memory‘ show, which is still ‘on’ at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital in Oxford, and a residential event which is largely for L3 students to be held in Barnsley on 20/21st June. I am very interested in collaboration, I think that it the notion of distance learning students working together, primarily on a virtual platform, is underexploited within the OCA which employs a virtual learning ethic. Something to think about. The learning curve for both of these exercises has been steep and the work involved not inconsiderable. I will write up my experiences when they are both finished.

The submission:

To be read in the order they appear:


Slowing down

Love me

This event in Bristol organised by Colin Pantall, Jesse Alexander and Max Houghton has struck a chord with me. Slow is becoming a ‘thing’ at the moment and no bad thing it is too, I’m very aware that I need to steady the pace and to focus on less in order to move on. And so I aim to try and attend, it looks interesting. However this sentence struck me particularly in respect of my studies “It’s a day of sound and word and image and how they all tie together, a day where we go beyond photography to understand what it is that makes a place look, sound and feel the way it does, and how we can use these ideas to represent the landscape and the way we walk, sense and remember it.”

I’m wondering about this particular phrase “..making a place look and feel the way it does..” because that is precisely what I have been trying to do in Purgatory, which is to attempt to construct an image in the frame that describes what I feel about something. To say that I am a landscape photographer would be to greatly stretch the terminology; rather I have wanted to use the land to describe how I feel not how the land makes me feel. I have wanted to use the viewfinder to frame not what I think the land represents, but what it represents about me. Self possessed probably. However the imagery I have been striving to make is about some strong emotions within me, about how I can describe and come to terms with them.

The photograph that practically ‘flew’ off the wall at Artweeks, within a very short period of the opening, was the one above (without caption). It accurately describes my relationship with my father. I went searching for unspecified imagery that would become specific, to see if I could find through the sub-conscious, a ‘punctum’, fully aware that the context of the image is rested within only one person and perhaps could never resonate elsewhere. And whilst I had been focused solely on that bondless father and son connection I have now widened the work in the course to reflections on it’s meta-narrative, love. Some time ago I wrote some very short stories on that subject, the project was somewhat arrested by the talk I attended with Johanna Ward, who quite rightly suggested that if I wanted to be a writer I should enroll on a writing course. However the turn towards tattoos has reinvigorated, perhaps inculcated by repeated attempts to ‘open-up’ the work, the desire to tell stories.

Nathan 92

Tattoos are stories, and are stories that get told repeatedly for the life of the narrator. They are embedded into the proclaimer for whatever reason. Perhaps noting the love of one for another or for the lost love of one for another. Perhaps the loss of one or the arrival of another. There are of course multiple designs of tattoos – texts – that deliver all kinds of messages, football teams, affiliations, badges of allegiance &c, but my focus will about love. And so I’ve started to collect them. I have seen them, asked to see them, enquired about them, although I haven’t decided on whether I should photograph them, at the moment it doesn’t seem important. I have wondered about whether where on the body the tattoos are located would affect the ‘reading’ of them. These texts that are vital to the bearer, determined to be forever but which are “Open” for interpretation on the discourse of love.

And so back to the ‘slowness’ of photography. It has that ability to hold time and to present a narrative for consideration and musing which is perhaps unique. The mutability of a fixed image that flux’s for each viewing dependent on personal circumstance and cultural contextual references. Reflexive and reflective. Wonderful.

The learning curve

Image courtesy of the photographer Penny Watson

Image courtesy of the photographer Penny Watson

I had been planning to write this piece about exhibiting when Bryan wrote his piece for the WeAreOCA blog that offers some very interesting advice/suggestions. I wondered how I should measure success concerning the two exhibitions of Artweeks and ‘Memory’. Artweeks is now finished and what I know is that just over 160 people came to the exhibition and I sold eight prints, I introduced a good many to the ‘Memory’ show by means of the brochure that Penny designed and at least one has definitely been to the Nuffield to see it; subsequently providing positive feedback. The Artweeks visitor numbers are up on last year, so are sales and many people have come back (not counting family and friends!) who visited the show last year. So far so good!

Bryan suggests considering what might I do better for another time, what didn’t work as opposed to what did. This is somewhat easier to discern for Artweeks as it was a ‘manned’ show, lasting a short time – nine days and quite close to home. The Memory show is much further away and manning would be impracticable, even if it were closer and for a shorter term; it isn’t a ‘selling’ show and the vast majority of the many hundreds, perhaps thousands who will pass in front of the work will have no easy opportunity to provide any feedback whatsoever. At the time of writing Bryan’s latest suggestion is to try and get a review made by a visitor – I’ll try that I think.

Artweeks I have done for a few years now, my fellow artist and I have been in the same place for that time and we have become established, and whilst I know there are things to be done better, the Memory exhibition offered a greater amount of opportunities for learning.

Virtual collaboration isn’t easy and relying on email transactions doesn’t make it simpler. Words slip and slide and nuance is very difficult, especially with the hastily typed sentence. I wanted the opportunity to collaborate, I wanted to experience the ebb and flow of negotiation with both Penny – in this case – and with others such as the fellow exhibiting students (including those that we didn’t choose), the host facility, PR &c. I feel that what we achieved is very good, the look of the show – at least at surface level – is very professional. The Artscape project manager who facilitated our access the space was very pleased with the outcome and the way we went about the process. The consistency of the hanging, the quality of the prints, the attendant information (which Artscape funded as their contribution), the brochure all added up to, in his opinion, an excellent exhibition. So, feedback! More to come as and when it occurs.



Never give up

Things aren’t moving very well on the course side of things presently. The two exhibitions are up and seem to be doing very well, more than enough sales at Artweeks to cover the cost and with visitor numbers up from last year, the feedback from the ‘Memory’ show also seems to be positive. However the studying has hit the doldrums somewhat.

Whilst on holiday I had an idea that I think has some legs, which is about tattoos and in particular text tattoos. I wondered about the need some people had to mark their body with a text, and in such a way as to proclaim to the world, a statement about something/someone. I must admit that prior to thinking about this practice I had a rather ambivalent attitude toward body art and wondered why this commitment to proclaim was important to disfigure their form in such a permanent way. However the more I thought about it the more I came to consider my reaction to these markings and, though I’m not likely to participate in the art-form, I am seeing these texts in a different and more sympathetic light.

rape cloud1 Sc2

The first text I saw was ‘never give up’. No inverted commas of course and no capital lettering. On her back at the base of the neck, along the line of her shoulders I questioned this absence from her view. To whom was she addressing this text? And to what? What was the reader to never give up on? It was these questions, and more, that set me thinking about a visual response to these words, much as I had related texts and imagery at the end of Documentary and which forms the genesis of the work at the ‘Memory’ show at the Nuffield.

The next text I read was ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, again on the back of the body bearing the epithet. Both of these texts are ‘openly positive’; whilst the ambiguity remains they seem to look forward with optimism. The third though read ‘Love me’ and was on the upper arm of a female. I looked twice to see if there was any other text to combine with it and found none, and it was probably this set of two words that persuaded me that there was a piece of work in these tattoos. Gloriously open, the plaintive pleading or the taught instruction, seemed ripe for interpretation and so I have gone about collecting other texts and will try and set them to images. Spring turning to summer will no doubt help with the revelatory requirements, exposing lettering and releasing them. I don’t want to direct my thoughts, but I have a very strong inclination that these texts will be about love which is at the core of what I want to make work about.

Never give up.