Artist research

After assignment four was submitted my tutor has suggested some artists to research and consider. Rafeal Dellaporta’s work, particularly the Antipersonnel series was suggested as another approach to my own in the presentation of artefacts. Dellaporta, in his work of deadly devices, describes these still-lifes in a beautiful chiaroscuro light against a black background. The background elicits the notion of preciousness, as if they were jewelled treasures from an auctioneer’s catalogue, the accompanying text though firmly places these objects as if from a manufacturers’ catalogue:

“Antipersonnel Bounding Fragmentation Mine

V- 6 9 Italy

The V-69 antipersonnel bounding fragmentation mine can be set off by footfall pressure or through a tripwire. When detonated the fuse sets off propellant gases that fire the mine’s inner body 45cm above the ground. This explodes sending out more than 1,000 pieces of chopped steel. Between 1982 and 1985, its manufacturer Valsella sold around 9 million V-69s to Iraq. The mine was given a nickname by Iraqi minelayers: the “Broom.”

  1. 120 mm wght. 3,2 kg”

The disembodiment of the treacherous device from any sense of context, its complex beauty transliterating from purpose to object d’art is the beguiling device Dellaporta uses to conceal the artifice. The indexical properties of a photograph, which might catalogue both the device and the mis-en-scene of its designated purpose come together off the page. Nowhere in an armaments catalogue would the collateral damage be available for viewing. These objects aren’t typologies in the Becher tradition, though they are imaged in a very similar construction, distant from their purpose yet imbued with menace by the accompanying textual referencing.

The artefacts in my work were conceived to the distant, their emotional presence distanced by, what I have hoped is a forensic aesthetic methodology. The visual rendering of the images is as wide as I could make it; I wanted as little information as possible missing from the frame, from the artifact, the whiteness suggesting a clinical presence. Perhaps that’s the key differentiator – black versus white, or vice versa – Dellaporta’s work draws one in whereas my imagery holds the viewer from the frame.

Also mentioned was Celine Marchbank’s work ‘Tulips’. This work is a very tender rendition of the artist’s mother decline through cancer to death. I suspect it was mentioned to me because of the imagery within the images, clearly very personal and it reminded me of fellow student’s Penny Watson’s work about her Nanny as well as Colin Gray’s work ‘In Sickness and in Health about his mother’s decline, I wrote about it here. I hope to meet Colin in Glasgow when I attend the FTN event on the 20th November as he is part of that collective.

Also suggested was Laura Larson’s work ‘Hidden Mother’ which I think has a lot more going on, archive clearly with its concomitant historical perspectives, but also about representation and motherhood. I’m not sure what relevance this has for my work, but I am intrigued and will come back to it when I have more time.


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.

And more

More from the recent shoot. These though seem to have a different expression.

twin notesc2

Fog certainly isolates and that emotional charge seems to be in these images – at least for me – and distance.


half lightc2

And the lastly these funghi which, to me captures a great deal of what I went searching for.

funghi 5c2

It is similar to the recent post, but for me the altered perspective heightens that sense of distance.

Beautiful weather

I was asked by a fellow student how many images will I be presenting at assessment, I have no idea. I don’t intend to make any more images of artefacts, because there aren’t anymore artefacts. All there is have been documented.

However Purgatory still implores me back, and as the weather deteriorates the more expressive it seems to become:

I now have a strong sense about what the work is ‘about’ which informs the editing process from image making to sequencing in a way that wasn’t happening before. My suspicion is that the work become longer, but I may substitute imagery that better expresses what it is that I trying to narrate.

river windc2

The first frost is being forecasted this week, as the wind changes direction from the west to the east and perhaps back again. The summer of relative inactivity in image making looks to be waning quickly and I’m looking forward to looking for more opportunities to develop my vocabulary.



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?


They fuck you up

A little while ago I met up with John, he had been to the exhibition at the South Street Gallery and had commissioned a print – unframed and unmounted. He has been a support for my work and has several prints of mine which he only buys as described – I wonder where he stores them. John and I chatted about a few things, I think he misses conversation as he wife is now in care-home to which he visits every day, and he seemed genuinely interested in my work, how I had contextualised it and how I have envisaged it as a body of work – at Oxford John had had tutorials by JRR Tolkien and was at school with Tolkien’s son Christopher, I mention this to situate his place in time and space.

When I collaborated with John in making a self portrait he provided me with a file of 36 images of his books, which I then mixed with an image of him, I was very pleased with the outcome and so when I received another email from him recently with some literary references for my work I was thrilled but not surprised.

There were three ‘father and son’ references which came to mind, but none of them involve physical violence. The motivation for all of them seems to me much more trivial than what you appear to have in mind, but you might, nevertheless, be able to make use of quotations from them.

The first is a memoir aptly enough entitled “Father and Son” by Edmund Gosse. It was published in 1907 and is an account of the battle of wills between an a Victorian scientist/academic and his son on the role of religious belief in life. It is written from the viewpoint of the son and the father emerges from the book as a sort of monster determined to impose his own extreme religious bigotry on his offspring. It is a literary classic and once you have adjusted to the somewhat dated style of writing, well worth the read. It may well contain quoteable passages for your purpose. It should be readily available from the library, but, if not, you are welcome to make use of my copy.
My second author is John Betjeman. There are references dotted around his poems to the strained relationship which developed between him and  his father. It stemmed from his adolescent refusal to follow in his father’s footsteps as the director of the family business.
     Fourth generation, John – they’ll look to you…………
     I was a poet. That was why I failed……………………..
     Black waves of hate went racing round the room.
     My gorge was stuck with undigested toast.
     And did this woman once adore this man?
     And did he love her for her form and face?
     I drew my arm across my eyes to hide
     The horror in them at the wicked thoughts.
These are quotations from Summoned by Bells, chapters 2 and 8, which deal mainly with his estrangement from his father.
My last literary reference is to Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be The Verse” (They fuck you up, your mum and dad).
It is a pretty obvious quote, but if it is apt for your purpose I see no reason why you should not use it. It is a wildly over-the-top response to Larkin’s feelings of embarrassment about his parents. In actual life he recognised their virtues as much as their deficiencies and respected them both.
Best wishes
The weather has been too nice to wander to Purgatory and I’m hoping it will deteriorate soon; but I continue to walk around my home and purposefully take a camera with me. John’s references are of a specific time and place, though Larkin’s fuller text seems as apposite as any I’ve read:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”
This summer’s determination to make imagery and follow the course I’ve set for the course I am undertaking is still holding. Though the news that Sharon is moving on will likely test that resolve. Good luck Sharon and my best wishes for wherever you land. Pretty pictures….


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 evidence

Collecting evidence. There isn’t a lot more, but I wanted to start to build technique on depth of focus and posing. Colour temperature is still an issue, but not insurmountable, i may have to wait for a completely cloudless day as I’m using daylight at present. I could use a soft box source which would make it much easier, but I’m unsure and I’m not sure why I’m unsure. Perhaps something to do with truth.


All that’s left of him

“I remember my dad taking me to school, when I was very young, when my mother was ill.

The feel of his huge hand wrapped around mine, rough and hard and warm.

The length of his strides, and having to run to keep up.

The very cold days when he’d wrap his scarf around my face until it almost covered my eyes, and when I breathed in I could smell him in my mouth, damp cigarettes and boot wax and the same smell as his hair when he said goodnight.

I remember how safe I felt, wrapped up like that, blinded.”

“if nobody speaks of remarkable things” John McGregor.

” I just did the objects as we moved and packed them at the Ash (Ashmolean), tiny things to large quern stones, with a photographic stand etc, most of them turned out okay, but they were for record purposes only, not studio type photos.  And the light was not always good, the sun came across the roof so we got shiny bits on the photos.  For arch (archive?) objects we always do the back and front if appropriate, ie coins. Obviously as close up as possible to see the detail, but avoiding unfocusing. I also used small bits of plastozote (firm foam type material) to hold small objects like rings if I wanted to photo the front, (the intaglio or jewel in the centre), otherwise the photos would see the rings or such objects on their sides if not held in place..” Christine E, retired archivist Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

The colour temperature isn’t matched, the scale is slightly different – but I suspect it is, like most things, about practice and I shall continue to do so. I wanted to start with his signet ring. It was cut, along with another ring, from his fingers. Signet rings are about identity, usually engraved with initials, I can only see the slightest possibility of an identifier. What I see clearly is a very thin band covered in evidences of work.