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.

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.

Lessons in love

The previous post A kiss seems perhaps a great departure from the work I was making previously, and after discussions with my tutor about this new work it was agreed that I should try and explain how I came to this place, and indicate any connections for the creative direction of my studies.

In my literature review, assignment two for CS, I wrote: “Geoffrey Batchen’s introductory essay to ‘Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida’ entitled ‘Palintode’ provides an explanation to the title of the critical work in the original French title “La chamber Claire”: An instrument, patented by an Englishman William Wollaston, provided the user of, what the English call a “Camera Lucida” an image directly onto the receiver’s ‘…retina. Thus, the image produced by a camera lucida is seen only by the draughtsman (as it was designed for) and by no one else…Here, then, was an apt metaphor for Barthes’ own text’ 1.  What Barthes, and by implication Batchen, is agreeing with, is that the viewer/reader re-situates the narrative of the image in their making, and that the “Punctum” ‘…that accident that pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)2 is a very personal reflection on the narrative contained within the frame.”

The work in Purgatory was to try and find imagery within the frame – not in the landscape, if that makes sense and whilst not entirely in a haphazard way, at least without the trappings of traditional landscape photography – tripod &c. I attempted, and to some extent succeeded, in finding imagery that punctured my sub-conscious and revealed to me narratives from my past. Which is interesting as Purgatory has no connection to the past I was considering, but nevertheless I purposefully became ‘open’ to it and by doing so found it. This latest development is about how I can develop imagery in front of the lens to purposefully reveal – and in this case illustrate the feelings that I hold to be the most important of all feelings. In Purgatory I went outside to find what I was looking for in my relationship with my father, now I don’t feel that urge, here I can purposefully work close to home, in my home even though I don’t feel limited by any geographic place.

I had always wanted to write about love, the last work that I did in the Documentary course was largely a reflection on love  – in an ‘open’ way – and the work that I am putting up for the Memory exhibition will be a new presentation of that work.

On a morning stroll recently I found, under a newly blossoming magnolia tree, a part of the bud that had protected the blossom through its infancy and development into maturity. It appeared to me to provide a metaphor for familial love, that nurturing force that conceives, develops and releases humanity into the world. I felt the tenderness of this discarded protection that must be both strong and tender to resist the worst of the weather and yet caring enough to nurse the bud from conception through to adulthood. And it reminded me of someone – the subject described the The kiss.

Sharon suggested that I develop the metaphorical potential of the magnolia bud, but having looked at it, it appears to have lost a good deal of its previous vigour and so I may have to come back to that a little later. Purgatory as a space was overcome by love, I don’t mean the spiritual discourse provided by Catholicism – Dante’s journey – I am talking about my personal departure led by the love of, and by, someone else. The weather has changed. “The Kiss” a very short exert from a longer piece which was influenced in it’s structure by Calvino’s ‘Difficult Loves’ 3, a series of ‘open’ texts that enable the reader to develop a way forward. This will be very important to how I develop my work as I feel there is no single truth in life only stories about truth.

Purgatory still radiates with potent allegorical strength, my visit there earlier this week found me dismissing the place as I walked right on by, focusing on the land before I reached there and on the arrival of Spring as I left it, on the hour or so walk home. If Purgatory is about life and afterlife then the images I made on that walk were about birth and decay, where decay is but one part of the continual organic process of life that includes birth. I don’t see this project morphing to a comment on ‘green-ness’. It will however, be about love.

1 – Batchen , G, 2009. Palinode. In: Photography Degree Zero reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pp 10 – 11.

2 – Barthes, R, 2000. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage pp27

3 – Calvino , I, 1996. Difficult loves. London: Minerva.

A kiss

I’m fairly sure that my first memory of kissing a man has remained faithful to the event; I was twenty-one, he was much older. It being late in the day, I remember the sensation his part grown stubble had on my lips, I also remember him being embarrassed and turning his head away right at the last moment. I remember him being flustered and recoiling a little in this very public display of affection. I remember this today as I write these words, realizing that I had perhaps overstretched my love for him; the love that I still feel for him, that unconditional love that I had felt for him for as long as I can remember.

My first memory of him was standing at his side when he shaved. I looked on incongruously at the steam rising from the bowl, the water having been emptied from the kettle lifted from the gas burner on the stove. I watched as he applied the shaving soap and lathered his face before purposefully removing it and his bristles from his cheeks, his neck and from under his nose. I wondered about the white of the soap as it turned to the pink of his skin as he rinsed himself, whilst gazing at his own reflection in the shaving mirror. The final ablution almost complete was finished with the application of a tonic for his hair, a clear orange liquid from a bottle retrieved from a cabinet to his left and combed into his neat and regularly barbered hair.

Perhaps at about the same time I remember him holding me, furling his hand around my neck and pulling me to him, making me feel safe, taking me into his world. I knew then that he loved me and would do so forever. We would walk in his garden, he would talk to me, it seemed to me that he wanted to know what I thought about things, what was important to me. He made me feel special, I felt I had an importance to him and when he held my hand he became and stayed the most important man in my life. Strolling slowly down his garden path, towards the vegetable patch, he would want me to know about his feelings on politics, on music, what it meant to him so that I knew him, understood him and what he stood for.

The first present I gave him were a set of cufflinks, they were bought from Clifton’s of Bedford. ‘Real Mother O’ Pearl’ was the label inside the gift case and after he carefully unwrapped them from the Christmas paper he looked at them and let me know the alternate name of Nacre and how it was one of the oldest naturally formed organic substances on the planet. He made my inexpensive present seem so much more valuable to him than I could have imagined. I have worn them whenever I need to feel him close to me.

Spring is Purgatory

I had hoped that the view around Purgatory was going to be less clear. I know now that I need to get up even earlier.


I walked straight past the building that occupies the central space of Purgatory, the light seemed to provide no sense of narrative potential, or maybe it says something about what I am thinking.

I had taken two cameras, both with fixed lens’ to try and help me focus on the task in hand. I found the camera with the wide angle lens a more compelling perspective.

Just evidence I suspect. I feel more words than images at the moment.

I’ll have a think about what all these mean.


A river of memory

‘When we think of the reality caught in a photograph as a “slice of time” or a “frozen moment”, we paste the image into a particular type of historical understanding.’ – so writes Ulrich Baer in his introduction to his book ‘Spectral Evidence’. I have much more to read from this book and will return to that later. However this quote chimed with me after attending the TVG meeting at the weekend, where I presented and talked about where my project on Purgatory has reached. Baer goes on to quote Heraclitus about the inability to step into the same river twice and these two thoughts are echoing in my thoughts.

My work is about memory, about a specific time, and the more I consider that episode the more I sense the fluidity of memory which militates against the idea of that ‘frozen moment’ veering toward that metaphorical body of water flowing, escaping from my grasp, not being fully able to trust what comes to mind. These memories that I am trying to fix from the subconscious, to force out like some deep-seated abscess are becoming more difficult to discern, more difficult to take hold of.

The notion of establishing a critical framework for the project led me to Dante and to the second of his Divine Comedies – Purgatory – and in order to experiment with the text I chose to construct images with verses from the text. My strategy was to use text that was abstract, Dante uses a lot of landscape imagery in the text as well as overtly spiritual both of which I wanted to steer away from. My intent wasn’t to illustrate the image with text nor vice-versa, however upon presentation it appears that this conflation of text and imagery didn’t work too well, if at all.

The general feeling about this image/text presentations wasn’t favourable. I had already decided that the presentation of the text wasn’t right – too large a font and its relative position to the image seemed neither connected nor unconnected and, although I ensured that the centre of the text and image matched, they appeared separate. One of the comments suggested that the text was too directive, another that it appeared to be a crutch that I was employing and that the imagery would/should stand on its own.

I had noticed, after printing the images, that these images all had a structural element that I wasn’t aware of, either in the framing of the image nor in their post production. Part of my strategy is to reproduce images as full frame as possible, I wanted to editing to be done in the composition, in the act of image conception; however these particular images had the object/subject central to the frame. And this composition suggested to me at least, either the dominance of the object/subject or the fragility of it; it is something to think about – this inconsistency as it suggests I am not sure what story I am telling.

My concern though at this stage is where to take this project. Image and text seem to me to provide a very real chance to develop dialogue within the viewer. The work I am presenting for the ‘Memories’ exhibition seems to work very well, the ‘openness’ of the imagery and the text allows the reader to enter the work, whereas the general feeling of the viewers to these images was much less so. A suggestion was made about the use of Dante’s work that I could provide a contextualising text which was associated with the work – alongside, but not coupled – to provide that structural contextually, something to think about. There were also comments that the imagery wasn’t as potent as some of my earlier work in the project, whereas I see some very powerful signs in these pieces, so perhaps it is a strong signal to find a better way to be able to communicate. I also feel that the work at present is very focussed and that perhaps I should try and find a way to allow it open up a bit more, allow it to breathe a little which might allow me more opportunity to help me write this fiction.

Baer’s suggestion that photograph’s are a slice of time from a flowing river also concerns me. The fluvial metaphor that Dante employs, running its course from the ‘gateway to paradise’ to the inferno below, is the River Lethe and which, after imbibing from it, the drinker will forget all their sins as if they never existed, expunged from their memory and, by implication, from their sub-conscious. These images I have made aren’t evidences, this work will not be about ‘what happened’, no ‘slice of time’ as I am fully aware that there is much that I don’t remember, nor do I want to revisit that place. However there is a ‘spectre of evidence’ that I do wish to investigate, to depict and to interrogate through this work. But I need to find a language and syntax that does it better than I have managed to find ’till now. I also wonder whether I should step out of the land, and whilst not leaving it, think about other strategies to help describe what I want to express. Perhaps to employ more poetic imagery that I began using and which is being employed in the ‘Memories’ exhibition. After all it seems to have a root in an appropriate trope.

In search of lost memories

You could be in danger

You could be in danger

Obliquely I have been led to Proust. David Bates’ essay ‘The Memory of Photography’, suggested by my CS tutor failed to ignite any sense of connection with my research until close to the end when, towards the latter stages of the essay Bates suggests: ‘It can be said that photographic images do not destroy personal memories, but that they interact with them in very specific ways, which may not always be conscious. The binarism implied in the distinction between cultural memory and individual memory collapses as photography re-figures their relationship.

I’m particularly interested in not only whether the unconscious memory can be stimulated by images, by photographs &c, but by found images in life wherever they manifest themselves. My wandering in Purgatory has had me looking for imagery that sparks what Proust talks about in his “In Search of Lost Time” as ‘involuntary memory’. I haven’t read Barthes “Camera Lucida” in the French original – the English translation doesn’t include a Proustian reference where ‘ is suppressed’, but apparently Barthes’ notion of ‘punctum’ has a similar conceptual base – Bates also compares ‘Studium’ to ‘voluntary’ memory.

‘Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, has tried to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too much confused; scarcely can I perceive the colourless reflection in which are blended the uncapturable whirling medley of radiant hues, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter, to translate to me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste of cake soaked in tea; cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, or what period in my past life.’ Proust, In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way (volume 1), Overture, Kindle edition Loc 868 The narrator has just tasted a piece of ‘madeleine cake’ that he had recently ‘dunked’ into a cup of tea whereupon he experienced ‘… a shudder ran through my whole body…. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin..’ ibid Loc 844. The narrator goes on to describe, in effect, that the experience came from a place that he had no knowledge of ‘…It is face to face with something which does not so far exist [to the narrator’s consciousness], to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.’ Ibid, Loc 850.

I have just completed the printing/mounting of my exhibition pieces for the forthcoming show that I am co-curating with fellow student Penny Watson. I have continued to work on the project I used for the my final assignment at Level Two on Documentary and my thoughts about it afterwards and my prints will be a ‘new’ narrative based on where this work is today. And whilst I have been busy with the mechanics of printing and framing, of sequencing and therefore forming a newly developed narrative, I have the sense that what I am doing/have done in BoW is a continuation of the work that I started previously, its just I didn’t realise it, or expect it or look for it. My reaction to the imagery wasn’t predicated on a formal plan, other than the plan to make images about what attracted me – an ‘involuntary’ response, a subconscious response, a ‘punctive’ response to what appeared in the frame – I am aware of course that it is a photographer that does the framing and I will naturally (sub-consciously?) exercise the viewfinder in a practiced way. The notion of ‘pretty pictures’ comes to mind, however I am less concerned with that now and more interested in how the images turn and what they might reveal.

The show, to be hung on the 2nd May, is entitled ‘Memories’. The title was decided upon as an ‘open’ entry for Level 3 students of photography – surely all photographs have the past imbued within them? I am though wondering about the active process of searching for memory.

In his essay Bates talks about “Freudian slips” ‘…where we may recall a name “wrongly”, these more permanent “memories” turn out to be based on a forgetting, the substitution of one memory for another or, indeed, one memory laid over another or embedded inside of it.’ This ‘slipperiness’ of memory is something that concerns me, I have distinct memory of some of my youth, though my siblings can remember major incidents from that time that I have absolutely no recollection of. And here I go back to Dante and a liquid thread that stems from the entrance to Paradise through Purgatory and into Inferno – the River Lethe. Despite it’s headwater in a land where it never rains; the water has the power to erase memory. Drinking it ensures the imbiber that they will never recollect their sins – no mention is made of other, sinless memory, only the turpitudes of the sinner as they make their ascent inexorably from the foot of Mount Purgatory to Paradise. Purged of the stain of sin, and with a memory expunged of all ill remembrances, and therefore unencumbered by notion of sin, they walk through into an Edenic glory for eternity. I wonder whether no memory would be a paradise on this mortal coil……

I have been in search of lost memories, I wonder if I have remembered what it was I was looking for.

Old news, just in

I have been waiting for a local historian to provide some background to Purgatory and it has arrived. Not a lot, and some that I knew already, apparently she is doing more research but she cannot give a date as the information seems pretty scarce, so she thought she would send what she has and then carry on.

The most interesting news is that there are two sites ‘First’ Purgatory and Purgatory. Both sites have been ‘unsettled’ and whilst Purgatory refers to the farm, ‘First’ appears to be a reference to the first place encountered whilst on the walk from the village along the old lane. There is another perhaps even more enigmatic reference to a place called ‘Paradise’ – though no-one appears sure where that was, other than between ‘First’ and the farm.

These images were a set I made several years ago during a cold winter’s day when I only got as far as what I now know as ‘first’ Purgatory.

Cold, dank and difficult


I was particularly interested to read Dr. Jennifer Good’s review of the exhibition ‘Conflict, Time, Photography,’ where in her final paragraph she states: “If one of the aims of this exhibition is to demonstrate how the photograph of conflict evolves as it passes into history, there is no coherence to speak of here either. Except, perhaps, that as a general rule, in the first few moments and days there is photojournalism and thereafter there is landscape.” Source Winter 2014/5 issue 81. So, that’s what happens to the memory?

I have no particular interest in photojournalism, perhaps even less so after this year’s debacle concerning the WPP ‘competition’, but I am curious about the transition between the ‘what was’ and ‘what might have been’. Between the attempt at exposé – however flawed – and the use of landscape to propel a fiction and whether it is solely the intent of the photographer/artist that arbitrates in the discussion?

The ‘Purgatory’ that I’m considering is developing and I am concerned about finding texts that might help illuminate the path. There are some works that have been suggested; however – and I fully appreciate my lack of breadth – most works that deal with landscape as history (memory), including those that deal with personal memory, deal with it in from a perspective usually (at least) one person removed. What I am trying to do is to view the landscape image as a way of photographing my memory/memories. I want to point the lens at the past, particularly my past, which I appreciate could be viewed as self-indulgent. Conjuring reactions to an image, framed by the viewfinder, that elicit what Bates (and Freud) describes as Mnemic-traces described in “The Memory of Photography” Bates 2010 – traces that reside in either the unconscious or pre-conscious. Freud suggests, from what I understand in what I’ve read so far; that the temporal constituent, fundamental to conscious memory, is missing in the unconscious– though not necessarily so for pre-conscious memory. I suppose I am dealing with pre-conscious memory – from half a century ago – and my intuition is suggesting that these images that I frame, whilst consciously rambling in the ‘place’, are involuntary (punctum) responses that Bates (and Barthes) goes on to discuss in the paper: “As with human memory, we can no longer verify the original experience or sensation of the photograph, but the image provides a scene in which we may bring voluntary (studium) or involuntary (punctum) memories to bear on it. Voluntary memory is like the work of history, but involuntary memory belongs to the personal affect.” Ibid

At the moment I am “seeing” these images, I know what they connote – also appreciating that others are unlikely to and concerned whether that is an issue to be resolved now, or whether I should continue on to see where it ends. Bates goes on to describe ‘mnemic inscriptions, mostly inaccessible, which is the trace “left by the memory”’ (Bates references his research into the work of French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche which he draws on – not a text that I’ve looked for). My imagery can only be referential; the land that I am working in has no connection to that of my youth, so any connotative elements must therefore come from my sub-conscious, although I know I am looking for imagery with a specific thematic structure.

Good’s suggestion that the ‘Land’ subsumes the event that crossed its path sooner rather than later, surely a similar trait that underlines Simon Schama’s tome ‘Landscape and Memory’. That in the end the land, despite the scarification of it – usually referenced by human intervention, witting or otherwise – will normally revert by natural means to an eventual, albeit possibly new, equilibrium. Altered states that in countries such as England, where much of the land has been continually and extensively modified and which is not that difficult to uncover scars and concomitant memories. There is, for example, an abandoned villages razed to the ground near where I live, detectable only by the slightly depressed level that marks where the main street used to be. Interestingly it is on an old public footpath – now rarely used – that wends it way to Purgatory, providing a possible narrative element and link for the project. But these topographic details are distractions to what I hope will be the main thrust of my project, which is to document/record/describe/narrate a discourse into a period of my life that I have left largely buried and can hardly remember.

Mnemic veracity is something that concerns me. Bates go on to say: “ As in a Freudian slip, where we may recall a name “wrongly”, these more permanent [childhood] memories turn out to be based on a forgetting, the substitution of one memory for another or, indeed, one memory laid over another or embedded inside it.” Ibid. Am I ‘forcing’ remembrances? I am interested and concerned as discussions with siblings have revealed events that I have no recollection of, even though these events have been corroborated by several siblings and my mother, I cannot remember them – despite the strength of the decription. Is the repression of memory part of what I am trying to uncover or should I not be concerned with the tenuous connection to veracity and focus on the meta narrative?

What I have to do is to focus on structure. The post operative incapacity is frustrating – there was a beautiful mackerel sky over Purgatory this morning which I had no way of getting to – denying me of opportunity to make images. However I do need to research and consider the best way to frame the work. Dante’s Comedy has a very rigid structure that I am considering utilising, using threes. There are three Comedies, each volume is set out in 34, 33 & 33 cantos (the very first canto being a sort of introduction), each canto has verses of three lines, so I may integrate the number three into the structure somehow – triptychs? I’ve also not overly considered how to work the text into the narrative. Much to do.