Introducing the work – updated 9.11

I am in the fortunate position to be able to show my work for critique before I finish the final assignment for the course. I have been offered the opportunity to present my work for critique at the Family Ties Network event in Glasgow on the 19th of November, I will be amongst other students presenting their work in an informal session, called ‘new voices’ by the organiser Dr. Nicky Bird who saw my work, in a previous edit and thought it worthwhile to have at the event. The programme details are here: Family Ties Network – events

It is a great opportunity and despite comments from my tutor I am a little daunted at the prospect – but in a good way. I attended the previous event in the University of Bedford and wrote about it here. I wasn’t able to stay for the post event reception last time, but I will be able to this time and hopefully find some opportunities to discuss my work within the context of the Network’s aims.

I have spent a good deal of time re-editing the work, the scale of the artefacts, the text and its position on the image. Tomorrow I will present the work to Tom, an artist I have known for sometime and who has agreed to provide a critique. Assignment five asks for the final edit (I won’t be ready too make that cut until after Glasgow) as well as an introduction. I will take the opportunity to provide Tom with an introduction I have recently completed and an artist statement – both of these I have shared with Wendy.

I shall ask Tom for his response to both these texts as well as formative responses to the BoW. No-one has seen this current edit, I have removed the video of the previous sequence due to its inherent issues as much as it is out of date.

My Introduction:

I keep looking for him.

 I think I always will.

This work deals with the relationship I have with my deceased father. Through various phases of my life I have faced success with greater trepidation than failure, for failure was a constant prediction and, therefore, more readily welcomed. Despite many clear and very obvious personal and professional achievements my learnt responses to them have always been negative. This work is the first structured correspondence into a relationship that has maligned many events in my history. And whilst he has been dead for nearly twenty years it is this burdening legacy that I have confronted here.

Purgatory is an unsettled space a few miles from my home in North Oxfordshire. I found a trigger for this project there because it had both physical and emotional resonances at a time when another success loomed (the final project of these studies). My technique was 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. These images have very distinct personal connotations, which I recognised and composed for, seeking that ‘Punctum’ that Barthes talks about but, rather than in a photograph, I sought to find it in the making of the image.

In Purgatory 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 might never resonate elsewhere. And whilst I had been focused solely on that bondless father and son relationship I now realise that the work, in its construction, reflects also on it’s meta-narrative, love.

The work comprises views of the land in and around Purgatory. Intertwined with these perspectives of the place I have introduced artefacts from a box supplied by my mother. This small box of items was given to me as a response to look at whatever physical objects had survived him – this appears to be all that’s left of him. My mother didn’t want the box or its contents returned, in which I found an interesting corollary with worth/value. They were of no monetary value, nor it appeared any emotional substance – she was happy for them to leave her as he had done nearly twenty years previous. The texts are principally from my own recollections, though a couple are drawn from art literature, a key is provided.

I am principally concerned with relationships, personal and close bonds, both intergenerational and otherwise. Ideas around the presence and absence of love and how those twin perspectives might be described and illuminated. Purgatory deals with love at a meta-level, but from a single perspective, no account is made of an others view – either his, my mothers or indeed, a detached observer and this may form the basis of further research.

1Purgatory is an unsettled space a few miles from my home in North Oxfordshire – see attachment. I have not provided this attachment in this post.

My artist statement is:

John Umney’s project – “I keep looking for him. I think I always will.” – provides a psychological response to an environment inextricably coupled with memories from his past. Currently completing an undergraduate degree in Photography with the Open College of the Arts, John Umney has previously exhibited at Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital permanent artspace May/June 2015 and the South Street Gallery, Churchill Hospital, Oxford July/October 2015 and will informally present his work for critique at the upcoming Family Ties network conference in Glasgow in Nov 2015.

Assignment Four

And the wheel turns. It’s been a reflective day; I have posted my assignment four to my new tutor and, as usual, feel a little loss at it’s departing. Earlier today I found out that someone I was quite close to in my adolescence died five years ago.

There are things that I might change in the assignment, but I decided to deliberately let it go because I want the feedback to help to inform me about how the work is being read. It is purposefully as ‘open’ as I thought I could allow. I have had some feedback from a video I made, which shows a static representation, and I was very glad to receive it – the video also has certain issues. I also made this video to illustrate how the box might be opened.

I hadn’t been in contact with the friend who died of cancer, we had gone our separate ways and clearly neither of us felt compelled to keep or get back in contact. However the passing has had an effect and I think it is because it was five years ago, and I never knew. And I have a sense that I am to blame for not knowing, curious about my feelings and perhaps a little foolish.

I have also injected some energy into the studies by enrolling on SYP, this happened yesterday. I had wanted to enroll earlier but I think the timing is right and I have the same tutor as for the last two assignments for BoW. I had ‘known’ how my work was going to be presented at the end of ‘SYP’ for a while now, but in an initial conversation with my new tutor I mentioned that I have become aware and perhaps, at an initial stage, involved with Family Ties Network, a loose organization of artists and academics making work around the subject of ‘Family’. The next meeting is in November and I pan to go along. I expressed a lofty ambition to perhaps present my work there – it will certainly need to be developed from where it is at present – but the idea is starting to germinate that this could be the way I take the work to the ‘world’.

I encountered my friend’s family on-line today, raising money and awareness around cancer in the name of their lost loved one; and so I started to wonder the worth of my introspection in light of real loss and the catastrophes that surround untimely departure. Perhaps I just internalize it and move on, add it to the canon of experience for future reference.

My notes accompanying the submission are here:


 Dear Wendy,

Please find Assignment Four Body of Work: 

I came to a decision about the direction of this work a month or so back, and whilst the changes in tutor have been a distraction, it was about committing to the work and to complete an edit, this edit – far more difficult than I first imagined. Nevertheless here are my thoughts to accompany it:

The landscape imagery/s are still vested in my psychological response to the space called Purgatory. With very little graphic editing – none for the most part in terms of what I found in the viewfinder – these photographs depict what I felt as I have wandered the Purgatory landscape. I suspect I will continue to walk there and make more work as I close this part of the course and move towards the end of my studies.

The artifacts, that were my father’s, I have tried to make representations of them as if they were archaeological finds. I took advice from and archivist who recently retired from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and presented them as if they had no personal connection. I wanted to try and create a distance between what they are and what they might connote.

Similarly the texts – which have been researched from literature on the subject, largely, of father son relationships (though not all) are meant to ask questions of the viewer. The vexatious quality of the texts, if it works, will test whether the relationship between father and son and, son and father, is healthy or otherwise. I have references for the texts, but wanted to test the idea before imparting them as I feel it might ‘lead’ the viewer.

The editing process was, I felt, always going to be the most challenging. I didn’t want to ‘lead’ the viewer through the work, I wanted the viewer to develop emotional responses to the work, and if it worked well, for those emotions to be varied and mixed. The difficulty in that purpose was to not make it too diverse and obviously conflicting – it is this that I think I need to do more work on. Having the context of my father’s personal effects – all that is left of him – clearly brings a very personal note to the work, but within the work itself I wanted the viewer to be able to transcend that notion and engage with their own personal narratives.

I edited on various levels; there were visual harmonies – landscape number two and then the necklace for example, the darkness of the black stone in the ring echoed with the dark hedge row of it’s previous image &c. The visual aesthetics of the landscape imagery I think is consistent – subdued with, what I hope, is a sense of ambivalence – as compared to the artifacts which are quite contrasty, which tends to suggest to me a didactic quality which I suspect is important aspect of historical evidence. The intervention of the texts was decided upon after the image series was concluded in the main – I made one alteration. The texts were placed where they appealed to me, which I suppose denotes my meta-narrative.

I am aware that with this presentation I am controlling, to an extent, the narrative flow, much as a video I have made of it – I will publish a link to it later – and whilst I harbour some concerns about that control, it is because I currently envisage a book publication for SYP that I wanted to test this strategy out. An alternative would be a gallery exhibition, however in that case I would want to reconsider the placement of both text/image, and possibly artifact in a physical form. The idea of presenting at FTN though does seem a really interesting potential for this project…..

Overall I am pleased with this assignment. However whilst I begin to consider the final assignment I do not anticipate this form of presentation to be how I will finish the work for BoW, let alone SYP.

I look forward to discussing this with you,



Curating the evidence

As advised by Chris from the Ashmolean in Oxford, having a ruler to describe the size of an artefact is part of an archivist’s standard process when cataloguing finds. I have made composites of various items and created images of single items as if they were evidence. I have spent some time to try and ensure that the scale is correct – although their depiction is clearly different. The number of items left of him become, seemingly fewer. These objects are a selection of a very few personal possessions of my father after he died some years ago.

The next stage is to sequence the landscapes, artefacts and texts into a ‘tighter edit’ for assignment four. The scales can clearly be seen to be different on these images, but I’m interested to see what, if any reaction, people might have to the scaling – is larger more effective than smaller?


Fathers and Sons


‘I ought to tell you, I . . . idolise my son . . . but I dare not show my feelings before him, because he doesn’t like it. He is averse to every kind of demonstration of feeling; many people even find fault with him for such firmness of character, and regard it as a proof of pride or lack of feeling, but men like him ought not to be judged by the common standard, ought they? And here, for example, many another fellow in his place would have been a constant drag on his parents; but he, would you believe it? has never from the day he was born taken a farthing more than he could help,..’ ‘Fathers and Sons’, Ivan Turgenev

More on fictions

It is an invented memory that is exhausting me, and which I cannot liberate myself from. For this reason, I will uncover some parts of my archive, hoping that – by making it public – I can get rid of this weight. This will be my attempt to destroy a memory that doesn’t know how to erase itself.

Rabin Mroue, text for the performance ‘Make Me Stop Smoking’.

It’s all a fiction

In my early work I pretended to speak about my childhood, yet my real childhood had disappeared. I have lied about it so often that I no longer have a real memory of this time, and my childhood has become for me some kind of universal childhood, not a real one.  – Christian Boltanski


“I keep looking for him.

I think I always will.”

from “Inventing my Fatherby Diana Markosian 

Project defined

An exchange of emails with Sharon has confirmed the direction for the remainder of the BoW. My idea is to continue to work in the land in Purgatory, the imagery is imbued with narrative possibility and that imagery is strongly informed by my psychological response to the ‘space’.

I have collected the majority of whatever is left of my father’s possessions – in my project description I wrote “all that is left of him’, which Sharon thought of as a possible project title. I still think “Purgatory” is a strong project title, but will allow this suggestion to rest a while and see how I feel about later. I will photograph these artifacts and then couple them with the Purgatory landscapes. I have some ideas about presentations, I know an archivist from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as one option is to present them as historical/archeological artifacts.

I have long liked the connection of text and image and will research texts I plan to weave a layer of text about love, for this is what I think the absence is mostly about, into the work. I have long wanted to do a work about love and well this may be it. These texts will come from different sources, some from classical literature, some from modern fiction, some, perhaps from tattoos. I have also asked my sons to contemplate fatherhood and provide me with a reflection of what they thought fatherhood was before they became fathers and then after they became fathers (of boys incidentally).

The presentation is almost certainly a book, I plan to work with a bookbinder I know to make a handmade book that will feature the landscapes with strategies to couple (or triple) these with the artifacts and text. I can see how this work might well work in a gallery setting, maybe even a video as sound could add another layer of narrative that I feel might enhance the piece.

I feel very sure that this direction, which has taken some time to formulate is the right way to go. I appreciate that things may veer from what I have in mind for the work, but I firmly believe that this is how the work will best accomplish what I have wanted to include in my BoW.

A gift from a fellow traveller

I was thrilled to receive an email from a fellow student Stephanie D’Hubert recommending an essay that might have some relevance to the work that I am trying to make. The essay : “Photographically unconcealing the crimes: Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood and Heidegger’s aletheia” by Emma Bennett of the University of Essex.


I have written about Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood here though not in any great detail, and another recent, more considered review here by Stephanie D’Hubert. It is a book that I still rate very highly and Bennett’s considerations regarding the idea of the exposition of truth are in accord with my own views regarding Patterson’s narrative flow – Bennett’s essay goes beyond an examination of Patterson’s narrative structure – something which I may come back to later. However reading the suggested essay (I have now purchased a copy) a thought struck me about how I can broaden the scope of the work that I am doing, whilst still remaining close to the essence of what the project is about. All along I have wanted to broaden the scope of the work, to introduce ways by which I could develop the discourse and whilst previous attempts haven’t worked as I would wish, by investigating them, it has continued to develop my thought processes.

Redheaded Peckerwood is a story, based on a true story, but nevertheless a fiction. Bennett poses the following question very early in her essay: “The question of photography’s truth is usually posed along the following lines: does the photo-graph offer an accurate image of what the world actually looked like at a specific moment?” The work on Purgatory isn’t about a specific moment and though a temporal component is going to be vital to the work, it is about how a relationship has/can shape a life. I have enquired about how I could introduce either a voice – my own (other than by visual imagery) or my father’s – into the work and I have failed to find a way that would allow that entrance which seams ‘real’. However this essay has made me think of another way, partly by its specific reference to Patterson’s work and by it’s academic discourse partly founded on the work of Martin Heidegger around the subject of ‘aletheia’, which isn’t, according to Bennett a direct translation of truth but of ‘unconcealing’. I need to research this a bit more, but it appears that Heidegger’s contention is that ‘unconcealing’ is about partial revelation, and in doing so allowing what is or has been concealed to be brought into view. ‘Unconcealing’ allows the notion of partial truth/s and promotes the inevitability that the didactic assertion of right and wrong to be distanced.

I see no elemental truth in my work, whatever sense there was of it has been mediated through the fallibility of my memory (and in this case members of my family), and the absence of a voice that might offer an alternate view – his. Therefore my assertion is; that narrative founded in what Bennett describes as Heidegger’s alitheia (concealment and, by consequence, unconcealment) is of a past that can never be tested. Bennett talks about Kendall L Watson’s much-discussed ‘Transparent pictures: On the nature of photographic realism’. Where Walton claims: ‘Photographs are transparent. We see the world through them.” – another reference to consider, but I like the notion that the opaqueness of a photograph has revelatory consequences and brings in-sight into the perspective of the image.

Bennett continues to discuss the ideas around truth in photographs and says this: “Redheaded Peckerwood (2011) thus situates at least some of its claims to truth beyond the transparency of the photograph….. More than this, the work as a whole is understood to say something truthful. The relation of one image to another must be considered as much as the individual transparency of each photograph.” And then this: “A single image can be read as making a statement about the world; of course, it may be more complex than my oversimplified example. But if a statement is brought, in a series, into contrast with another statement, then the truth(s) of photograph(s) are no longer exclusively within the image. They are also between the images”. I am painfully aware that I have an ambition to render a truth. In photographic aesthetics, I recognise that I want to create imagery in the in-between zones of 1 to 9 inclusively. The twin tones of 0 and 10 have no use for me as I feel no-one should lay claim to those twin territories and I would be extremely cautious of anyone laying claim to them as platforms of discourse. This realisation is a recognition I have that no absolutes to cloud my narratives. This fictional soup will never clear.

My thoughts are now to introduce/invite another voice, that of him, to a conversation that I couldn’t previously achieve, and to allow that discourse to happen in-between the images as much as in the individual images. The imagery that I hope to author may well fit Heidegger’s “unconcealment” but also in Bennett’s words: “We obtain truth not just from individual photographs, or just from our understanding of what they portray, but also from their context, their presentation and, importantly, their relation to each other.” Something I have heard a lot about recently. And again this in respect of context and narrative and the single image ; “A single image is at most a partial truth that points towards ‘the whole truth’ (if such wholeness exists).”

I fully understand that the underlying narrative in this BoW has been difficult to comprehend, as much for me as for any viewer to it, but I am becoming to get a real sense of what it is about and this essay has helped me clear my head about it. Thanks Stephanie.


In Sickness and in Health

Reproduced by kind permission of the artist Colin Gray

Reproduced by kind permission of the artist Colin Gray from the series “The Parents”

“This work is, in a sense, a preparation, helping me to face the deterioration, and the loss I have endured.” These words, which close the “eulogical” end of work statement to Colin Gray’s “In Sickness and in Health” struck a chord; as did “Looking at myself in the mirror I see a reflection of my father’s face. I see the history in my own future. This is a curious and rather frightening experience.” Steidl Mack, itself an interregnum in publishing history, published Gray’s work that depicts a short space in time in the record of the artist’s body of work on the single subject of his parents. The project “The Parents” formally began when Gray had access to a borrowed Hasselblad in 1980 and continued until his mother’s death in 2010. The book was published in 2011. There have been many bodies of works that deal with the passing of one parent or another, or even both, but not so many that come after thirty years or more of studying the same subject. It was at the “Family Ties” conference, where Gray presented this work, and where I met him and discussed his, and my own, work, when I had the sense of the scale of this work, with its concomitant requirements of collaboration, issues over ethics and the whirl-pooling of narratives that weave, one into another. The book is beautiful; Joby Ellis at Steidl Mack had worked on the design with Gray and I recognize that I have a heightened sense of awareness about editing and sequencing which clearly accompanied this ‘read’. All the images are the same size, they are all square – suggesting full frame Hasselblad and the self containment of narrative content. Solid white margins with no text whatsoever apart from page numbering. There are some white pages, indicative of punctuation; there is no introduction and, as I say earlier, an end-statement with, finally, the almost obligatory (but un-headlined, in this case) acknowledgement. Words therefore seem less important to this document, the imagery left to the photographs, no direction home in this tale about home, family, love and loss. Simply put, this is a beautiful rendering of familial love, care and nurture. The three individuals who share emanance in each frame – whether they are physically present or not – the parents and their photographer-son propel the narrative with lyrical, poetic, and at times, harrowing imagery.

Reproduced by kind permission of the artist Colin Gray

Reproduced by kind permission of the artist Colin Gray from the series “In Sickness and in Health”

There is a lot to be said about the sequencing that I mention earlier; colour tones, physical structuring, short and immediate narratives – no more than the two page spreads, continue to build the sense of the meta-narrative – which isn’t, in my mind, determined to be deeply intellectual, but deeply emotional. The sense of scale of involvement between the three protagonists – woven into a story about ‘oneness’ is visceral. It perhaps didn’t mean to set out to touch raw emotion, but it does nevertheless, by dint of the honesty by which all three entered into the project, those thirty-five years ago. It wasn’t inevitable that Gray would photograph his deceased mother, but his father ceded to his son’s wish for a short time with her in order for it to happen. Gray, I seem to remember him saying, had no formal plan to do so, but did so because of inertia. I wonder how the passing of the surviving parent will be dealt with. The loss that I endured marked an ending with his death, and it is this that I am still trying to elucidate. This work of Gray’s has helped me see further into what it is I have been trying to describe. It isn’t “about” an abusive relationship, though it was certainly that. It isn’t “about” pain, though there was certainly a great deal of that. It is “about” loss, an absence of love and remoteness from it that I have tried to overcome without having a reference for it. “About” choices made and consequences thereafter. Most everything else I have tried to do, around Purgatory in this last year, has been to try and steer a course away from it. Purgatory though has provided the base camp and will stay there, I need to plan more imagery.

More data

I only really had one opportunity this week to go to Purgatory, and of all the photographs I had planned, this one, which was not thought about at all, is one which I think is most interesting.


The these with a portrait I made yesterday. Pinned to the wall, the breeze helped I think.

I wanted to place the film strip in the frame as well, but the when the wind took it, it seemed to reveal too much.




This appeals, though I sense it shouldn’t.


And then these:


fallen treec2