New exhibition

ridge snow 2c2

I’m really pleased that the Purgatory work will be exhibited in the South Street Gallery – part of the Churchill Hospital – in August. It is a really lovely space situated in a wide corridor and having no chairs and a lot of flat light from a vaulted glass ceiling. An altogether better place for viewing prints than the NOC, grateful as I was for the opportunity.

The big difference will be that it is a ‘selling’ show and I have to decide what price to put on the works. I will have a price – list and another sheet of A4 (under perspex) to describe the work. The space could easily host thirty or so 20 X 16 inch frames and the Purgatory set might make a dozen or so at this stage. I have asked how much space they want me to occupy as I could put some more work up.

Texts do not signify the world; they signify the images they tear up.

with permission of the artist Leigh-Anne James

with permission of the artist Leigh-Anne James

I was fortunate to be given an invite to the Exclave exhibition and symposium at the OXO building in London yesterday, which also marked the graduation show of UWE where my nephew’s partner recently received a first with an extraordinary body of work.

The symposium was titled “Photography and Integrity” which I though was an interesting title for a set of talks with a mainly student audience, but the speaker list was very interesting in order of appearance where: Claire Hewitt a photographer, Max Ferguson a photographer and publisher of Splash and Grab (graduated from UWE two years ago), Olivia Gideon Thomson an agent, Natasha Caruana photographer and Emma Bowkett photographer and picture editor at the FT Weekend Magazine.

I don’t plan to rehearse all the talks but consider some of the points made by each of the speakers. Hewitt’s work and practice reminded me somewhat of Laura Pannack’s talk in Barnsley; she had strategies to cope with ‘grey periods’ but committed herself to long term projects that she fitted in around her commercial work. These long term projects – like ‘Eugenie’ where she visited Eugenie once a week for a long time with the project lasting three to four years. Hewitt explained how, despite the project being concluded, that she felt a certain guilt in not visiting Eugenie as often. Hewitt has also embarked on another project where she wrote to a prisoner on ‘Death row’ in a Kentucky prison to develop a collaborative project. The artist has no idea of the crime committed, they will never meet except by written correspondence and Hewitt will make work that she will share with the convict. There was one image from the work that she shared with the audience. It was of a landscape with no horizon.

Ferguson started his talk about a series of work he undertook in Rwanda shortly after graduating, of being in a very special place at a very special time, about revelation, both personal and political. Interestingly Ferguson attended a prison whilst he was there but, unlike Hewitt, made images of people who had committed heinous crimes and then explained other images that he couldn’t make. He then discussed the ‘Splash and Grab’ project and how his ‘Integrity’ as a publisher is different to that of his photographer identity. He has never featured his work in his own magazine, which is a strong sense he described, of that integrity. Issue three is now asking for submissions. Issue two had over 1000 submissions and each submission was viewed at least three times and only 10 submissions were accepted to the publication. Another manifestation of his integrity to the submitting artists/photographers. I wonder though if the rise of such a magazine might hinder that cause for integrity on all fronts.

I was less interested from a personal perspective in Gideon Thomson’s contribution, although she has a great deal of practical experience with some luminaries in the ‘industry’, her insights were mainly about how to get noticed, practical tips on websites and reminiscences of her artists like Kander etc.

Natasha Caruana was very good, she provided us some(very personal) backgrounds into some of her work – for example “The Married Man’, ‘Love Bombs’ including some audio that she normally doesn’t share. Her recent residency for BMW in Chalon-sur-Saone called ‘Coup de foudre’ was interesting, humorous, informative and delightful. I had considered asking Natasha to present at Barnsley, on her performance in the OXO Building she would have been terrific.

Emma Bowkett, amongst other topics discussed the position of the image in a documentary setting, I asked her about why it is that the image still has to conform to very rigid anti-editing strictures otherwise they will be rejected – recent debacles at the WPP event were mentioned, and that there seems to be no such rigour regarding the written word. Bowkett couldn’t find an answer. I was reminded, but decided not to press further with this thought, about Flusser’s comment about words: “Texts do not signify the world; they signify the images they tear up. Hence, to decode texts means to discover the images signified by them. The intention of txts is to explain images, while that of concepts is to make ideas comprehensible. In this way, texts are a metacode of images.” (Towards a Philosophy of Photography – Flusser)

This primacy of the written word seems to me to be wholly out of place. Flusser also discusses the mediation of narrative through text and image, but the fixation on the veracity of the written narrative is assumed – ‘I saw and I wrote’ – whereas the fragility of the integrity of the imagema is viewed with constant caution. Interesting.

After the talk I was given a private tour of the work, which I wont go into detail, other than to say two things: The ‘space’ given over to the work is generally poor. The lighting is very low and quite difficult to gain a reasonable view of the works on the walls. There was quite a lot – about 45 student’s worth – up and down about three floors. However the standout work was accomplished by my host! And no wonder she got a first. Leigh-Anne’s work included a video installation, a handmade book of individually printed cloth specimens assembled as a cloth sampler and a wall installation (above). The work didn’t contain one conventional photograph on display – whose surfaces became, as Flusser suggests, significant surfaces – but echoed a retelling of her family history told via a textile medium in form and forms with machine and hand sewn items. Quite delightful, extremely creative and with depth. Excellent!

The work overall was better presented in the catalogue for the show and I will have a closer look at some other time.


Lessons from Barnsley

In my previous post I noted the general feedback from the residential in Barnsley, this post is a personal reflection from it.

There were many ‘take-aways’ of the event; for example considering John Davies’ continued reworking of his oeuvre reminded me of Elina Brotherus’ continued editing of her work, re-ordering and revisiting both the image and the site. Though John never offered a ‘reconsideration’ of the scenic representation, I wondered if his appreciation of the landscapes that he has re-framed is similar to his self-professed slight re-alignment in his political sensibility. It is said that as one gets older those of the ‘left’ move ‘in-field’. I was reminded also of a peer, that of Peter Kennard, who hasn’t moved and whose work is still as critical today as it was when he started. Different people, different circumstances. I wrote about Davies’ Arles exhibition here and it was interesting to go back and review my thoughts post this weekend’s activities. My view on his work hasn’t altered a great deal, nor I think has his work. Melancholy for a time now turned, much as his favoured medium has had him reaching now for digital capture.

Feedback from my crit’ session was interesting. I had purposefully placed the ‘Purgatory’ set out and placed alongside it some new work that included both my sons with their sons. The aesthetic was clearly different and this seemed to jar with those who commented. But also the setting. Laura Pannack suggested that they had a ‘Stock-like’ appearance, by which I assume somewhat clichéd, they were brighter/lighter and any nuance that I had hoped for seemed to be lost. I had thought about something that Sharon had suggested, about an episodic nature to the work, but that also fell short – the few shots that I purposefully made that were intentfully poetic seem to missed their mark also. I’m wondering whether the strong aesthetic of the ‘Purgatory’ set is too strong, whether to let that go in order to make a more coherent set from scratch. Other suggestions about more research into other father/son relationships were suggested. I have read Turgenyev’s Father and Sons a long time ago but rejected it as a source because of the twin narratives of him and his father, both seemingly coming of age (the father again) and so I continue to search for fictions that I might use to tell stories about truths.

I agree about the setting for these narrative fictions. I need to find an alternate ‘place’. Purgatory was such a gift that it might be too strong, but equally I think that where I had the session might be too bland, too clichéd.

When Laura Pannack talked about her work I felt the linear narrative that she spoke of and she also talked about listening to your own voice. When I started this BoW, my internal voice was very loud on the subject, but somewhat confused. I sense that as I have progressed, that voice has quieted somewhat and the confusion is of a different sort. I need to make some more work to try and make sense of what that confusion is. I haven’t done anything on the tattoo ‘front’ recently and maybe that might help to clear the vision in front of me. Laura also said about getting work out there, as it is part of the process of getting work out there! I am putting “Purgatory” into a selling show at the Churchill on 1st August for a month. It will be interesting to see if that does anything. I am aware that August will likely be a slow month, but some of the work has already sold and the setting is fundamentally stronger that the Nuffield and will be the best place I have hung work.

A busy time

Barnsley Residential Group Photo, courtesy of Amano Tracey

Last week I did some work with an MA (Brookes, Oxford) student as he tried to create an atmosphere where muons can be detected and recorded. It was interesting to see how the experiment was conducted, and how the process of creation for detection purposes wasn’t, and perhaps never could be, foolproof. The experiment was conducted in a small chapel, and whilst we did see evidence of Muons, they were too quick and infrequent to be captured by the camera. The muon revelations were quite astonishing and very beautiful, and I shall return again to repeat the exercise when the experiment is repeated in a laboratory environment. My role was to provide documents to substantiate the research notes, but nevertheless it was interesting to watch a fellow artist at work. Other artists on the same MA programme came to witness the work and I enjoyed discussing the work and the purpose with one or two of them.

Muon Image 1c2

Six individual images, five have evidences of muon activity – images courtesy of Tom Cox

The day after the experiments I travelled to Barnsley in preparation for the Level Three Photography residential weekend I had helped to organize with fellow student Penny Watson. In the time I was in Barnsley I didn’t make one photograph! Though other students did and any that I use I gratefully acknowledge their contribution to this note.

I remember three years ago I suggested students try and organize a residential and Penny (again) and Eileen organised an event in Leeds – which as far as I know is the only other residential for Photography students there have been. At the two-day event in Leeds I made contact with a few fellow students and have remained in contact with them all ever since. Interestingly about half of the Barnsley participants also attended the Leeds residential. This development of a pseudo cohort has been a vital component of my studies with the OCA, providing me with a number of avenues of discussion and interaction that I would have struggled with otherwise.

The agenda for the two days was always going to be tight – Penny and I had set the focus of the weekend on tutor-led crit’s of all attending student’s current work. We had also scheduled talks by two practicing artists – John Davies and Laura Pannack, a photo-book session, a discussion on the new Level Three Photography course, a Pecha Kucha session for all students and plenty of opportunity for socializing. The Pecha Kucha sessions were a great way to ‘break the ice’ and give a perspective into the photographic histories of the participating students and we are grateful to Jesse for suggesting it – despite the work involved in putting them together prior to the event!

In retrospect I think that the two artist talks perhaps could have been culled, whilst it was interesting to have ‘outsiders’ at the event, their presence was felt best at the crit’ session, this was especially true for John Davies who has been involved in teaching for many years – Laura Pannack could only stay for a short while post talk. The crit’ sessions were also a bit short. I think it is true that student’s unused to these type of events may have felt nervous about having their work discussed in this way, but we would all have benefitted from longer sessions, perhaps twice as long at around 40-45 minutes per student. I attend regular crit’ sessions at the Thames Valley Group meetings, and there the level of interaction is slightly more sophisticated due to the familiarity of both the students to each-other and the progression of the work; something only time can help. Several of the L3 students now attend a regular ‘Hangout’ and their work was at least familiar to an extent to those students.

I felt the ‘Photo-book’ session was slightly disappointing. What Penny and I had hoped for was a discussion into the editing/sequencing issues associated with photo-books; whereas we had a discussion into which books we thought were good and which we though were not so good. There were a lot of books at the event supplied by tutors and students alike and the range was exemplary; however the time available for this session meant that the value of the discussions wasn’t as good as it might have been in my view.

The crit’ sessions were generally received quite well, and despite some very obvious nerves, some severely frayed, the general response to the process was very well received. Penny and I had asked that the students bring printed work, however, for whatever reason a couple were unable to and I think their feedback was much less nuanced than those with physical work, which was disappointing I suspect to them, but also to their fellow students. The feedback and thoughts I have about my presentation will have to wait for another post.

The session on the new course structure seemed to focus on the SYP element and there was a good deal of discussion on whether the students felt that there reason for undertaking the degree was to alter their employment/career direction, and I have to say that I have a lot to think about in this part. I don’t have to make any quick decisions, which is perhaps a good thing, but I am regarding this element of the overall degree course with some concern.

It was an exhausting event, with several students staying up late into the night talking about work, freed by the circumstance the residential enabled. And judging by the traffic of emails subsequent to the event the advice to keep in touch has been taken in!

This week I was invited to the OCA Graduation lunch and award ceremony in London. The lunch, hosted by the OCA, was in the ‘Vaults’ at the RSA and the award ceremony afterwards at the Festival Hall. It was really interesting to meet graduands at the lunch, to see them at the end of a significant phase in their intellectual development and the general ‘buzz’ in the air was great to be part of. I met several fellow students and caught up with them, several tutors I haven’t spoken to for a long time and made contact with others whom I had never met, and perhaps never will again. And I was reminded about the Leeds event, how meeting those few students three years ago on a similar journey has sustained me, to a certain extent, whilst studying. How, when working with the MA student in Oxford last week provided an opportunity to develop network possibilities is such an exciting prospect about this phase in my life. In business all network opportunities are about the potential to develop business – after all, the clue is in the name – however building a network, when the potential is to find openings for co-operation, co-development and collaboration is something I find particularly exciting. I hope the Barnsley residential cohort find ways to develop relationships that are likely to sustain them through the latter stages of the course. I know I now have several colleagues to whom I can turn to for advice, collaboration and honest and open critical feedback which I now fully appreciate will be vital as I enter the final phases of this degree course. I hope I find a way to continue to course to the end, and I shall bear in mind something that Carol Smith said to me in the Vaults of the RSA earlier, which was to develop the structure and bearing of the SYP module to where I want it to go, as I start to think where my practice might stray to, should I eventually make an appearance at the Festival Hall. Something that might be stressed by the college I think.

gardening at night by Cig Harvey

It is curious to consider how I have come to a consideration of this work that instantly moved me. There is the student in me that might suggest that this is maybe a learned response after immersion in a subject; or it maybe that the work chimed within me, to an inner sense inscribed in the work that I had, and perhaps never will have, any control over. When the sensation of attraction to a work becomes instantly and engagingly visceral, before any engagement to any deeper intellectual sensibility, there is a provision within me to instinctively hold back. I usually desire to reserve that impulse to consume it, lest it’s core is less than its surface. But with this work I didn’t resist; it was both engaging and beautiful, it pulled me into into its fictive world. So should I regard it as a student or as layman, am I either?

And so, initially as a student, I write: The first few pages of ‘gardening at night’ by Cig Harvey contains no visual images, but images through text, ostensibly in the third person, a self portrait that situates the work as a whole, anchors the narrative providing context in a lyrical and poetic way. The tones that are wrought in these few pages continue to reverberate throughout the book. The notions of identity, love and the effects of time.

There may be some that might question the veracity of any of the story, but I felt drawn to this fiction. One that is rendered in an edit that seemed to be everything that I might want to create in my own work. Images created from words and photographs, where I felt that sometimes the visual image held primacy over the written image, where the contest between the two developed into a sum greater than the parts, and where those parts hold individual and inspirational beauty.

In the interview with the artist by Sharon Boothroyd the artist states: “I love the narrative structure of a book. Gardening [at night] is very much a story from start to finish. It is sequenced in multiple ways: visually, by season…” I noticed seasonal structure, but also the temporal that I felt was a vital element running through the ‘story’. The edit, which was accomplished as a collaboration with fellow artist Deb Wood with whom she has worked before, provided (in my view) layers of narrative augmenting greatly to the pleasure of reading. I noticed the use of colour toning to bring image pairs together and again in the interview the artist talks about “I always say that I like to make pictures about things, not of things, and I try to avoid drawing from only one genre or subject matter. For me, the story is always the most important element and all the formal concerns of light, frame, style are all in support of that narrative.”  This is something that I feel strongly about my work; I do not think of myself as ‘Landscape’ photographer, nor a ‘Documentary’ photographer, in fact I don’t think I fit into a genre as I want to create fictions, and the fictions may appear in the “land’ or in a domestic situation, it may be staged and with or without people. It might deal with events that have occurred or that might be about to happen. I am a photographer?

The visual images are all full bleed, which I felt contributes directly to the work. I felt a sense of (pleasurable) anxiety about what might be outside of the image, that the images – miniature narratives in themselves – only tell a part story. The imagery in the text, whilst beautifully rendered is less ‘Open’, more descriptive and I wonder whether this unbalanced perspective is purposeful or whether it is a happenstance of style. Again, as with other books that I have taken inspiration from recently, there is a clear linear narrative that begins at the start of the book and winds its way to the end. It is ‘Open’ in that there is no ‘ending’ to ‘Close’ the fiction, the reader is left to develop whatever closure might be apparent to them. And by ‘Open’ I mean it to be able to contain an energy that allows it to continue.

And if I read this book not as a student (even if that is feasible), I get the sense of the rapture of life, a celebration of the notion of how sublime the transience of identity and identities can be. Ageing has been forever been alluded with the seasons and use as metaphor, but I felt no sense of an ending as the autumn fell to winter, no ‘Winterreise’, perhaps, even the opposite as the work ends with the words – in manuscript: “I am running towards us”. These last few words, perhaps the most ‘Open’ of all the texts, suggest that the ‘us’ could be all the ‘identities’, or it could perhaps be that the ‘us’ is the both the author at the start and the end of the journey, an accumulation of the twin perspectives of a life into a single ‘I’.

So much to enjoy and learn from.

Aha news and an opportunity


This cover contains both my photography and some art I made in the project at the ‘Echoes’ group, earlier this year, and the work below is also something I’m proud of:



Yesterday I received an email invitation to exhibit at either the JR (John Radcliffe) Hospital and/or the Churchill Hospital. Both have professional hanging systems and encourage artists to sell their work from the wall. I will participate if I can this year – August – for the normal period of a month. It won’t be anywhere near as much work as the Nuffield show.

These successes have come about by the work I have done with Artscape, notably the ‘Echoes’ ground prove the benefit of networking – though I don’t think I am very proficient at it – and in doing so it has brought me into contact with artists across different disciplines, though all in visual arts. The only slight reservation I have is that, other than Artworks, the work is going on the walls in hospitals – albeit purpose designed art spaces. I’m not going to look at the teeth of a gift horse though.