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,




gardening at night by Cig Harvey

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much to enjoy and learn from.

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.

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.

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.

Purging through

Than I so stared and started and felt lost

When the dream fled and left the face of me

Pale, as of one whom fear congeals like frost.   Purgatory, Dante, Canto IX lines 40 – 42

A chance conversation has led me to Dante. Sharon had suggested that I find a critical contextual framework for the ‘place’ that is Purgatory and Dante’s second volume of his epic “Divine Comedy” may indeed be it, my copy is the translation by Dorothy L Sayers with a long introduction and excellent commentaries throughout. The text is littered with the language of landscape and I am hopeful that this layering of Dante’s verse with the underlying narrative that this work seeks to be about will bring.

It has been an interesting week. I had planned to submit my Literature Review for Contextual Studies last week, but the arrival of a bellyaching superfluous appendage had me admitted to hospital for its removal. I had felt under pressure to complete this review and its completion was a matter of personal priority, I sent it the day after I left hospital so I expect it will be a couple of weeks before I see the comments from my tutor. Dante’s verse is an allegorical text, there is no inverted mountain on an island in the Southern Hemisphere with corniche’s to traverse in order to purge one’s sins; nor is his metaphorical journey a mere psychogeographic peregrination from Inferno to Paradiso. The purpose of Dante’s Purgatory is to endure it, freely, willingly in the knowledge that the only outcome is the paradise of Heaven. The purpose of Purgatory the ‘space’ is one less lofty; perhaps more primeval.

But ’twas the marsh I made for; there, bogged round

With mire, and tangled in the reeds, I fell,

And saw my veins make pools upon the ground. Purgatory, Dante, Canto V lines 82 – 84

Endurance is a very personal aspect about the ‘space’ of Purgatory that I want to try and document/narrate – it has deep echoes. I am interested in the conscious decision to endure, to accept that pain is part of the process; not necessarily the Catholic concept of redemption through purgation, but perhaps the knowledge that strength can be claimed by challenging it.

These images were taken at a different time of day than all the other posts i.e. mid afternoon as opposed to morning. When I feel fitter I plan to be there late afternoon/early evening utilising the different perspective of a changing light. The images that work best for me are those that have muted contrast, as if they were unsure of themselves. Those with higher contrast stand firmer in the frame, and whilst their allegorical content could be equally strong, they tell different stories, or the same one in a different way. I am aware that this story is still in its early days and that, as Sharon has suggested, an episodic narrative might – just as Dante’s text does – enable a more nuanced story.


For better waters heading with the wind

My ship of genius now shakes out her sail

And leaves that ocean of despair behind. Purgatory, Dante, Canto I lines 1-3

I don’t plan for the words to illustrate the images, nor vice versa; but rather the ‘Open’ collation of the two to illustrate the underlying narrative. The one of my youth.

A moment

My last post – here – had me questioning the work that I was doing. I struggled with the nature of direction of it; though the work itself – Marks & Traces – will provide a very valuable visual resource from a textual/semantic/narrative perspective, but a fellow student Keith Greenough in one of his recent communications with me provided a link to a work that I have found to be truly inspirational and directly connected to what I want to do in BoW.

A couple of nights ago I woke in the middle of the night, the bedside clock said 1:29 and the idea for a story had come to me – in fact it’s working title was 1:29 – mostly these ideas are forgotten by the morning unless I write them down, but this time the narrative was so strong that I held it until daybreak and jotted some brief notes down. It is a short story about love and the link that Keith provided was to a body of work by the artist Johanna Ward and in particular to a work called – I shall say goodbye with my strengthening love for you, forever and ever and it rang bells for me. I found the work in the video extremely moving and it seemed to personify almost exactly – in tone and delivery – the sort of work that I knew I wanted to do after ‘Documentary’. I had discussed my desire to write short stories about love and fidelity to both of my current L3 tutors and hadn’t really known where to start.

Before I came to the decision to retreat as per my last post, I had decided to look again at that last work in Documentary, but what this doesn’t show is the end work which is a short concertina book form, and it was that that I looked at, the physical existence of the work and not the virtual – in fact for assessment I packaged it up as a present. Johanna’s video of her books seemed to echo so many areas of what I would have wanted my work to have said, and did it in with an eloquence I have yet to approach. But I am very excited about this moment, this seems to have given me permission to find, research, develop a means to translate this type of written narrative here:


into a visual form. I want to be able to ‘un-restrict’ the linear flow of textual narrative and allow the viewer to insert their own experience into the flow, allowing their own experience to develop and maybe conclude the short story. I feel that by interrupting the linear left to right structure it will disrupt the easy flow, allowing greater possibilities of ‘Openness” to be possible.

I have a lot of ideas that I need to settle on, work out and notate somewhere. I think I may have left the berth for the journey.

Lights and Letters


Jane Wheeler, aged 19. of Steeple Aston, was brought before Magistrates Rev’d T. Churme and W. Foster-Melliar Esq. at the meeting of the Wootton North Petty Sessions Court on 23rd June 1876. She was charged with stealing a purse containing three shillings, two sixpences, and four penny piece, the property of James Horwood….

The prisoner appeared in the dock with a baby, said “I had the money and spent it”. She was sentenced to 3 weeks imprisonment with hard labour. Bicester Herald 30th June 1876.

Michael Kenna, in a talk he gave that I attended the other day, suggested that his work is collaborative, between him and ‘the tree’, or perhaps less specifically the land. Kenna has ‘special trees’ in different places, the first being in a park in Widnes where he grew up and now in different situations around the globe, such is his reach these days. My reach these days are more purposefully local. Introspection is not a country I want to explore too deeply too quickly at level three, though I suspect it will be one of the stopping-off points. Kenna’s work, prints of outstanding beauty were on sale together with his new book ‘France’ and ready to be signed at a discount of £5 from the normal retail price. I’m sure that those who took the offer will find, as many others have done in the past, that the investment will reap dividends in the not too distant future if past performance is anything to go by – investments may go down as well as up! 

These photographs have been made as part of the build of imagery, to try and find a way of building visually narratives that I want to communicate. I feel I am at a starting point with a general direction in mind. I have been researching at the local library and have had some success in finding not only texts, but texts with imagery of people from the local area i.e. local to me and the Blenheim estate. I want to be very careful to not make documentary work that attempts to deliver a ‘truth’, I instinctively feel unable to do so, I want to build a sense of the area, perhaps in an historic context and construct a fiction. There is something very compelling in David Favrod’s imagery, maybe partly because it was suggested by Sharon, nevertheless I can’t seem to be free of it, especially when I considering what it is I want to do. This text introduces ‘Hikari ‘This work represents my compulsion to build and shape my own memory. To reconstitute some facts I haven’t experienced myself, but have unconsciously influenced me while growing up’. I wonder about the ‘knowing’ of the unconscious influence, but I feel that the body of work works extremely well. I can sense that the unconscious will affect whatever we, as artists, will conjure and it is with in mind that I am trying to assemble a visual syntax, personal statements in light and shade, tone and texture, composition and form that, hopefully, will form a cohesive language. As I see into the future I want to rely on text less and less. I am interested in the work being ‘openly’ read.

These trees from Blenheim could be from anywhere, that they are in the grounds of the estate provides a contextual framework for me to work from. I want to ‘use’ these trees, these trees that have held root for decades and sometimes centuries bearing witness. Simon Norfolk has photographed some of the more esoteric examples in the estate here, however these images seem somewhat superficial but no doubt they fitted the ‘brief’ when they were made. Michael Kenna explained in his talk that a significant part of his practice is the acquainting and re-acquainting of the land he wants to image, returning many times – dozens, sometimes scores of times to look and re-look. I have been to Blenheim a number of times, but plan to increase the frequency and to limit the places of interest to a few, less well travelled paths.

William Brooks, 25, was brought before the Magistrates at the Petty Sessions held at the Town Hall, Deddington on the 19th January charged with stealing a hammer, value 1s, the property of John Hopes on the 13th January at Great Tew……

William Brooks was sentenced to 2 calendar months imprisonment with hard labour in the House of Correction at Oxford.

I am fascinated by the need to ‘mark’ these trunks, leaving mementos, and how these words develop with the inexorable increase in height and girth of the tree. I am also fascinated by the light on both the words and bark, seemingly highlighting certain left massages.

I do feel that there is a collaborative feel working within a certain area, returning to the same area, getting to understand the light. Kenna’s talk was in the nearby (to me) Stowe School, part of ‘Arts at Stowe‘, the facilities were wonderful, his exhibition in the Watson Art School and talk in the ‘State Music Room’ (actually changed to a larger venue, still within the school facilities) was organised by his Gallery agents, Beetles and Huxley. I’m not sure I’ve seen prints more beautiful than these and if the queue for book and calendar signing was anything to go by it was a lucrative evening for this ex-Banbury School of Art and Design student. Local, local local. And whilst I felt the prints were extremely beautiful I wondered about the context of them in this setting, what it was saying about photography as a commodity, what it said about the artist who has a reputation amongst prestige motor manufacturers for creating images that sell their products. I’m not entirely sure what this all means, perhaps I’ll donate my old Michael Kenna book to a charity, perhaps this one.