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.
To be read in the order they appear: