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.



4 thoughts on “Texts do not signify the world; they signify the images they tear up.

    • I’m not sure there was a concept greater than the collaboration. Hewitt is on the outside and will provide ‘eyes’ to a certain extent, but she is ‘otherred’ by gender, by country and by incarceration.

      • I think her work is very thoughtful, really seeking to understand her subjects but, somehow, with that particular collaboration I can’t quite get hold of its purpose. It would mean more to me if he was sending her drawings or poetry, something he has created.

  1. The project has only just begun and it was presented in a symposium regarding integrity. I think Hewitt said that she had received some writings and some drawings from Kentucky, hours I’m not certain. I was more interested in Hewitt’s work around the subject, which is still in its early stages – she only showed one image. It is a precarious project that could end at any time on the whim of the prisoner, the prison, the execution, post going astray.
    Like many projects they describe more perhaps about the artist than of its subject.

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