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.

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A light goes on in Arles

The decision to go to Arles this year was made very late. I had felt for some time that I should go back, but wondered when it would be. Maybe the idea was prescient, as I have come to a place in my project where I can see clearly what work I need to do and the outcomes that I feel I need to achieve including aesthetic decisions. I have always felt that once I ‘knew’ which way to go it would be easy to comprehend it and therefore follow it through. light entrancec2

Some things don’t change

I’m aware that things may alter/change/become modified but the intent of the work is fairly well defined – I have a clear idea of what work I need to do – and I have sent an email describing those ideas to Sharon for her comments, though I suspect as it is holiday time her response may come in a couple of weeks or so, but I will continue. I will describe my ideas and plans after that response and commit them to the project. I am excited about the prospect. It may be that I would have come to this set of ideas about the work independently of the trip to Arles, but I can’t help feeling that being immersed in the city has helped to progress the situation that had become stuck fast.

Waiting room on platform 1, Arles railway station.

The Arles experience this year was mixed for me. The Ateliers have been reduced to a very much smaller event than when I was there two years ago, the organisers have improved the viewing experience and some of the ‘sheds’ now have air-conditioning, but what it gained in ‘ease’ it seemed to lack in gravity. The Atelier des Forges had a large work based on the album cover and after I ceased to try and see how many of my own record sleeves I recognised, I wondered about the contrivance of art and the commercial, a bit like ‘fashion photography’ in many ways. And saying this isn’t meant to denigrate it, but I feel a lack of depth as opposed to a great deal of depth of professionalism. Good to see editing decisions, but I felt that the size of the show might have been influenced by what appeared to be some sort of sponsor-shipping, maybe I am wrong.

Inside the “Grande Halle”

I quite enjoyed this series of works by Robert Zhao Renhui who must surely have been influenced by Joan Fontcuberta, asking the reader fundamental questions about the ‘real’, but so beautifully constructed – his miniature frogs were very difficult to see however.

Ambroise Tezenas’ work “I was here. Dark Tourism” was one that I enjoyed greatly. Asking serious questions about the nature of catastrophe and voyeurism and commercialisation of tragedy. There were other interesting works in the Atelier, but nothing that really jumped out at me, and a few lowlights as well. The Ateliers were perhaps a defining component of the festival, they have been irrevocably changed. light framec2

A view across the Atelier development

In the Grande Halle – seemingly a lot of space unfilled…

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Part of Majolli and Pellegrin’s work entitled “Congo” in the ‘Magasin Electrique’ (Atelier)

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Workers looking at an issue on the floor in the ‘Facades’ by Markus Brunetti in the Grande Halle which was supposed to question our perceptual relationship with reality – it appeared more to me to be about technical proficiency and the ‘unreal’. The ‘book’ seemed to be occupying more of the stage at Arles with new awards and a significant increase in the items on display. However I think that there needs to a radical retying about how these books are curated for the viewer. Long treacle table at just over knee height in the sweltering heat with no conception on genre or subject left me bewildered about where to look, or even to start to look. Volumes that I recognised, that I thought might lead to volumes of a similar or related subject was a misconception. One either waded through risking a back-ache and a slowly cooked body or flipped randomly through with a hope that something might turn up. Like going to a library and stumbling on a reference, and whilst serendipity can work, in this atmosphere one needed a great deal of stamina to stick at it.

And so what took me two full days the last time I came took me less than a day. There seemed to be a lot of space in the Ateliers, like this one above which had a show before. I wonder what this new development will bring, if anything to the future of Arles.

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I found the whole concept of Parr’s work confusing. The show was held in Eglise des Freres Precheurs where I had seen Alfredo Jaar’s work two years previous, one artist moved me the other didn’t. The fashioning of a concept which wasn’t clear to me didn’t help me to come closer to what Parr’s work is. I know I am missing a point, but the coupling of some quite surreal electronic music to each of the installations moved me away from the work instead of helping me to connect with it. It advertised over 500 images – I suppose eighty per cent were digitally projected. An absolute highlight was the work by Dutch artist Alice Wielinga whose work “North Korea, a life between propaganda and reality” was a delight. Beautiful imagery set in a film, structurally a documentary but offering many narrative motifs on truth and reality both contrived and ‘real’. I watched the film through a couple of times and would do so again, there was so much to discover. Wonderful. Wielinga’s work contrasted with a major exhibition in the Place de la Republique, that being “Another Language” in the Eglise Sainte-Anne, where last I saw a large retrospective of Sergio Lorrain.

Eikoh Hosoe’s work spoke to me of a crisis of identity, a theme which I felt echoed across a few of those eight Japanese photographers and one which I felt lacked a little in imagination. Two of the photographer’s had very similar imagery – dense over-processed, difficult to discern prints – and one which didn’t stand much comparison to the Japanese work at the ‘Together, Forever” show from ‘The Collection of the Maison Europeenene de la Photographie’ which had Moriyami, Shibata, Tomatsu, Sugimoto and others and one of the ‘laugh out loud moments for me when someone did this:

Couple HCB with Parr, not once but, I think, four times! This exhibition from the archives had some great prints and whilst the show was conceptually weak I don’t think that was the point – the prints were wonderful and diverse.

From Klein, Leiter, Callaghan, Close, Brassai and a lot of others. Another site which had a selection of ‘Greatest Hits’ was the Musee Reattu which had: “Daring Photography 50 years of avant-garde collection in Arles”. Though I’m not sure about Ansel Adams and Edward Weston in that list, but it was nice to see some Sarah Moon prints along with Kertesz, Klein, Plossu, HCB (again), Man Ray, Strand and others. Two heavyweights at the festival were undoubtably Evans and Shore. Walker Evans’ show focussed on his magazine work, and whilst it was interesting to see the images, some i had seen before in other places, this curation did nothing to dispel the obsessive nature of his documentary work and this influence was, I think, cleverly echoed in the exhibition of Stephen Shore’s work who has noted Evans as a big influence – but then so many have. Shore’s exhibition was of a size that would have similar in scale to some of the retrospectives two years ago, but in this years festival almost stood out for its size and scope. A good deal of Shore’s various phases were on show, from the early monochrome work through to colour, back to mono and a return to colour. My view of Shore is that he, along with the master Evans, personifies the notion of ‘do the work and find out what it is about later’. Though I can only say that my comprehension of his Montana sticks and stones work defies me, perhaps mostly because of their repressed aesthetic.. The walk along to the Evans’ show allowed the viewing of a curiosity of the festival which was the curation of a set of images, under the festival theme of ‘Odd Collections’ that depicted early photographic images of the Sphinx.

I suppose about fifty or so of them. A curiosity. I haven’t covered all that I saw, and haven’t covered Natasha Caruana’s work which had been awarded the BMW residency for this year very well which I thought was a highlight, so is the catalogue – much improved I think. I had a great time in Arles but I suspect it will be the last time I will go….

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.

Absence of presence

Introduced at the event as a ‘Study Day’ and suggested to me by Sharon as a conference, the “Family Ties Network: ‘Parental Concerns’” event on 3rd July was hosted in the Post Grad’ centre at the University of Bedfordshire – a fine facility despite the malfunction of the air conditioning on a very long warm and inspirational day.

‘Parental Concerns’ addressed on the day by three lens based artists: Colin Gray, David Jackson and Jill Daniels. Each presentation was followed by a Q&A session moderated by one of the organisers. Each work represented a very personal perspective of a view of ‘parents’. Each told stories that whilst I recognised, with their observed familiarity a disjunction to my own, and perhaps no more so than that of fatherhood. One of the first works cited was Peter Day’s “Pictures of my Father” where the author sought to uncover/recover his late father by visiting familial homes:

What I found was space like it had never been before: empty and excessive. A vast emptiness, open in the totality and tonality of its knowledge, infinite in form, ambiguity and some memory (often vague and just then recalled) of what was there in the nothing that was still there.” P7. And then:

Quite literally in the house, my father’s house, there was nothing. Nothing tangible of the events, no records, just nothing and no more – no more personal stories being created. Its emptiness was everything that once held the memories in its indefinite space. Here there is nothing left but space, an abstraction, this emptiness that has not been scooped up and disposed of but that somehow remains. And yet this is so real. Not one thing remains except the aberrations – the marks, the dust, and the dirt. The by-products of life that have no real value are created by this attrition of life itself. A quintessence of dust is described in the somewhere that there was; and that had been a man.” p12

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Colin Gray, the first speaker started taking pictures of his parents when he was five, but started the series “The Parents” in 1980. Twenty years later, and still part of the overall The Parents’ work he produced “In Sickness and in Health” which formed the final stage of the work. Gray presented and talked about images for more than an hour from the huge archive he has created, all of which appeared collaborative, many playful. A fellow artist remarked to me after his talk that she felt concerned about the ethics of this series, that the parents were depicted in a fiction not of their doing, unimagined by themselves but formed from another perspective; I was less concerned about that. The series ‘In Sickness and in Health” has been published by Steidl and – from his website: ”In Sickness and in Health” forms the final stages of “The Parents” series. Begun in 2000, it shows his parent’s deterioration and, ultimately, his mothers’ death. The hospital and church visits became more frequent, the ailments more serious, the drugs regime ever more complex. Whilst his father struggled with his new role as a carer, Gray found that his photographs helped make sense of the deterioration and loss he was experiencing. Having reached the age his parents were when he started the project, Gray now sees their history in his own future.”

David Jackson presented work on his relationship with his father; a film, a spoken narrative and still images. I am interested in narratives about the father son relationship and Jackson, like me, recognised that his work is as much about him as a son as it is about his father. This duality is matched in my own work inasmuch as my work is also about my role as father. Jackson discusses various texts on the subject of fatherhood and read a long quotation from the six volume autobiography of Karl-Ove Knausgaard on the same subject, where the son decides to accept something very unpleasant rather than admit to his father his frailty, something I recognised acutely; a sense of subsumed pain providing the agency of control in the relationship. Knausgaard’s tale ended well for son and father – at least in the episode repeated by Jackson. I found the narrative of Jackson’s film to be one of reclamation of his father into the family fold. His parents had left England to go to Malta, the mother’s childhood home and when she died the father felt no need to stay and wanted to return home. Jackson, seemed to want to record that ‘reeling him in, back to a familial place’.

Jill Daniels’ introduced her work – an hour long film on the subject of her parents – with a short introduction where she quoted Michael Renov from his book ‘The Subject of Documentary (Visible Evidence) “We are all lost in the chasm before our desire to recapture the past and the impossibility of a pristine return.” Which seems to suggest that whichever way we look at the past it can never reveal ‘the truth’. Daniels also suggests that ‘secrets keep families together’ which primes the viewer to concern themselves with addressing what that/those secret/s might or might not be. And, as in the nature of secrets, they can only be secrets if left un-revealed. The film hints at secrets and purposefully reveals others. The film is less pertinent to my own work, but I found it fascinating to consider, in that I sensed a need, by the artist, to shine a light on those long hidden secrets and in the post presentation discussion she hinted at yet more. During the making of the film her mother passed away leaving her with her father and we, the audience, become aware that some revelations now have no path to the light – that impossibility of any form of return, let alone pristine.

Whilst the artist Peter Day went in search of his late father and found him in the presence of his absence, I went to see my mother immediately after the conference and found only an absence of presence. I had wanted to find memorabilia of him to enable me to place him in the frame, to incorporate his presence into the narrative. The small purse of assorted cheap cuff-links and shirt studs were all my mother had of him in the bungalow she downsized to after he passed on. After my father died I was given three rings by my mother and a gold chain (I presumed this was a necklace, though I never remember him wearing one). I remember only two rings, both of which had to be cut from his fingers prior to cremation – where this third one came from I have no idea. It seemed profoundly odd that my mother must have cleared out a great deal of his ‘presence’ to leave such a tiny remnant behind, and why keep these? She doesn’t want them back – I won’t want to keep them. Looking around the sitting room that she now inhabits, there is one photograph of my parents together – celebrating a wedding anniversary alongside a press-cutting of the event. Other than that he is absent, other than in the memory

I now plan to create a way to take my father into the frame and into the land and one of the thoughts is to take these negatives and place them in the land to include him. These are the only photographs I have of him that I made, they were made as a request by two of my younger sisters who wanted a memento. We all knew at the time that he was bearing the brain timor that would claim him soon after these negatives were made. I seem to remember making a few, maybe two or three prints for sisters, nothing more. These latent images have now lain dormant for nearly twenty years; perhaps they will accompany me into Purgatory.

 

Purgatory heat

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I had seen “Clear of People’ by Michal Iwanowski in Penarth in 2014 and I had found it quite profound and moving, the re-telling/surfacing of an epic walk to freedom of his forebears – I wrote about it here. Jesse had suggested that I contact him to discover something more about his work, his strategy; but I had struggled to find a connection between that elegiac work and my own telling of a familial narrative which seemed, still seems, at variance with Iwanowski’s. But write to him I did a couple of days ago and he, very generously, responded with a reflection on what I had to say and some further context on his project.

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In a self confessed aberration in his essay on narrative Tim Carpenter adds the following almost as a footnote:

“To accommodate the growing number of artists, and the multifarious activities now loosely described as art, distinctions necessary to intelligent discussion have been obliterated. In the vast accumulation of conflicting opinion there is one unifying element: all of it is in words. The artwork no longer speaks for itself. It is ironic to think, as the words flow, that the photograph was once thought to speak a more concrete, less abstract language. The slogan was that it was better than a thousand words. Thousands upon thousands of words now encumber a quantity of photographs. This flowering of writing about photography, much of it readable, informative, and innovative, is the latest example of the current cultural mania to transform one thing into another, and eventually into words. To reside in one thing or another appears to be impossible. On the evidence, the thing itself – the person, the object, the painting, the book, the music, the sunset, the operation – exists primarily as a point of departure, a launching pad from which we take off into an orbit of our own . . . Photographs, photographs of all things, were once believed to offer a point of resolution. They offered a stop in the flow of time as well as in the endless stream of our responses. The observer looked. The photograph soberly returned the gaze.

The ambiguity that is natural to the photograph lends itself to conflicting interpretations, but if the viewer’s first impression is not the viewer’s own, he or she may never come to have one that is.”                  My italics.

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The decision to quote in full – from a much longer essay, more later – was to set the italicized sub-quote into context. And this follows some thoughts I have been having regarding what photography, as a form of expression – an Artform – is concerned with, inasmuchas it relates to this writer.

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When I watched Cig Harvey discuss her work, the notion that she made work about things and not of things, that she suggested to her audience – as I’m sure she has to her students – that limiting the surface of the image to be ‘of’ something reduces the opportunity for the reader to, as Carpenter writes: “the thing itself …[photograph] exists primarily as a point of departure, a launching pad…” suggesting that what the work is “about” is whatever/wherever/whenever the reader allows it to be. Carpenter also quotes the writer Elizabeth Drew: “Elizabeth Drew again: A poem has a living reality of its own: it is not religion or ethics or philosophy or sociology. The poet does not work upon listeners by providing beliefs or moral codes for them, or by outlining political, philosophical or economic systems. All these things may enter into poetry; but the poet is concerned with them only in so far as they can be related to his personal vision of human experience. The poet’s domain is the life of Man and the lives of men in their actions, thoughts and emotions, interpreted through the power of words. And readers and listeners of all ages have acclaimed poets, not because in them they have found human problems solved, but because through them they have found their capacities for living enriched and enlarged and their understanding deepened.” Substitute photographer for poet.

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Carpenter in the essay talks about “aboutness”, how an apparent story might be “about”, for example, the escape from a Russian prisoner of war camp; but as ‘read’ it might be ‘about’ something totally other. Is ‘True Detective’ for example about dysfunctional police officers, about vice and corruption, about politics and corruption, about the end of capitalism? Well yes, all of them but more, much more it is about how I, the viewer strive to string a flow from, perhaps, the entrails of its victims – plenty of those – into a narrative form that makes sense for me. I particularly liked the example Carpenter gives regarding Shakepeare’s Hamlet.

Iwanowski’s ‘Clear of People’ was about the escape of his forebears from a PoW camp in Russia, it was also about how the artist regained a lost connection with his past, with a part of his familial history. It was also a narrative about the changing face of Europe, it was also about a connection between man and land that perhaps overcomes Political strife. It was about many things. As I wrote about the work last year, it doesn’t have a starting point but does have a settling point, a destination and Iwanowski’s destination, seemingly, was a settlement with his past. I too am seeking a settlement but in a place that is now unsettled. Purgatory today was very warm and it will be a long search for images to fulfil whatever I want to say regarding what this project is about.

 

 

Texts do not signify the world; they signify the images they tear up.

with permission of the artist Leigh-Anne James

with permission of the artist Leigh-Anne James

I was fortunate to be given an invite to the Exclave exhibition and symposium at the OXO building in London yesterday, which also marked the graduation show of UWE where my nephew’s partner recently received a first with an extraordinary body of work.

The symposium was titled “Photography and Integrity” which I though was an interesting title for a set of talks with a mainly student audience, but the speaker list was very interesting in order of appearance where: Claire Hewitt a photographer, Max Ferguson a photographer and publisher of Splash and Grab (graduated from UWE two years ago), Olivia Gideon Thomson an agent, Natasha Caruana photographer and Emma Bowkett photographer and picture editor at the FT Weekend Magazine.

I don’t plan to rehearse all the talks but consider some of the points made by each of the speakers. Hewitt’s work and practice reminded me somewhat of Laura Pannack’s talk in Barnsley; she had strategies to cope with ‘grey periods’ but committed herself to long term projects that she fitted in around her commercial work. These long term projects – like ‘Eugenie’ where she visited Eugenie once a week for a long time with the project lasting three to four years. Hewitt explained how, despite the project being concluded, that she felt a certain guilt in not visiting Eugenie as often. Hewitt has also embarked on another project where she wrote to a prisoner on ‘Death row’ in a Kentucky prison to develop a collaborative project. The artist has no idea of the crime committed, they will never meet except by written correspondence and Hewitt will make work that she will share with the convict. There was one image from the work that she shared with the audience. It was of a landscape with no horizon.

Ferguson started his talk about a series of work he undertook in Rwanda shortly after graduating, of being in a very special place at a very special time, about revelation, both personal and political. Interestingly Ferguson attended a prison whilst he was there but, unlike Hewitt, made images of people who had committed heinous crimes and then explained other images that he couldn’t make. He then discussed the ‘Splash and Grab’ project and how his ‘Integrity’ as a publisher is different to that of his photographer identity. He has never featured his work in his own magazine, which is a strong sense he described, of that integrity. Issue three is now asking for submissions. Issue two had over 1000 submissions and each submission was viewed at least three times and only 10 submissions were accepted to the publication. Another manifestation of his integrity to the submitting artists/photographers. I wonder though if the rise of such a magazine might hinder that cause for integrity on all fronts.

I was less interested from a personal perspective in Gideon Thomson’s contribution, although she has a great deal of practical experience with some luminaries in the ‘industry’, her insights were mainly about how to get noticed, practical tips on websites and reminiscences of her artists like Kander etc.

Natasha Caruana was very good, she provided us some(very personal) backgrounds into some of her work – for example “The Married Man’, ‘Love Bombs’ including some audio that she normally doesn’t share. Her recent residency for BMW in Chalon-sur-Saone called ‘Coup de foudre’ was interesting, humorous, informative and delightful. I had considered asking Natasha to present at Barnsley, on her performance in the OXO Building she would have been terrific.

Emma Bowkett, amongst other topics discussed the position of the image in a documentary setting, I asked her about why it is that the image still has to conform to very rigid anti-editing strictures otherwise they will be rejected – recent debacles at the WPP event were mentioned, and that there seems to be no such rigour regarding the written word. Bowkett couldn’t find an answer. I was reminded, but decided not to press further with this thought, about Flusser’s comment about words: “Texts do not signify the world; they signify the images they tear up. Hence, to decode texts means to discover the images signified by them. The intention of txts is to explain images, while that of concepts is to make ideas comprehensible. In this way, texts are a metacode of images.” (Towards a Philosophy of Photography – Flusser)

This primacy of the written word seems to me to be wholly out of place. Flusser also discusses the mediation of narrative through text and image, but the fixation on the veracity of the written narrative is assumed – ‘I saw and I wrote’ – whereas the fragility of the integrity of the imagema is viewed with constant caution. Interesting.

After the talk I was given a private tour of the work, which I wont go into detail, other than to say two things: The ‘space’ given over to the work is generally poor. The lighting is very low and quite difficult to gain a reasonable view of the works on the walls. There was quite a lot – about 45 student’s worth – up and down about three floors. However the standout work was accomplished by my host! And no wonder she got a first. Leigh-Anne’s work included a video installation, a handmade book of individually printed cloth specimens assembled as a cloth sampler and a wall installation (above). The work didn’t contain one conventional photograph on display – whose surfaces became, as Flusser suggests, significant surfaces – but echoed a retelling of her family history told via a textile medium in form and forms with machine and hand sewn items. Quite delightful, extremely creative and with depth. Excellent!

The work overall was better presented in the catalogue for the show and I will have a closer look at some other time.

 

Lessons from Barnsley

In my previous post I noted the general feedback from the residential in Barnsley, this post is a personal reflection from it.

There were many ‘take-aways’ of the event; for example considering John Davies’ continued reworking of his oeuvre reminded me of Elina Brotherus’ continued editing of her work, re-ordering and revisiting both the image and the site. Though John never offered a ‘reconsideration’ of the scenic representation, I wondered if his appreciation of the landscapes that he has re-framed is similar to his self-professed slight re-alignment in his political sensibility. It is said that as one gets older those of the ‘left’ move ‘in-field’. I was reminded also of a peer, that of Peter Kennard, who hasn’t moved and whose work is still as critical today as it was when he started. Different people, different circumstances. I wrote about Davies’ Arles exhibition here and it was interesting to go back and review my thoughts post this weekend’s activities. My view on his work hasn’t altered a great deal, nor I think has his work. Melancholy for a time now turned, much as his favoured medium has had him reaching now for digital capture.

Feedback from my crit’ session was interesting. I had purposefully placed the ‘Purgatory’ set out and placed alongside it some new work that included both my sons with their sons. The aesthetic was clearly different and this seemed to jar with those who commented. But also the setting. Laura Pannack suggested that they had a ‘Stock-like’ appearance, by which I assume somewhat clichéd, they were brighter/lighter and any nuance that I had hoped for seemed to be lost. I had thought about something that Sharon had suggested, about an episodic nature to the work, but that also fell short – the few shots that I purposefully made that were intentfully poetic seem to missed their mark also. I’m wondering whether the strong aesthetic of the ‘Purgatory’ set is too strong, whether to let that go in order to make a more coherent set from scratch. Other suggestions about more research into other father/son relationships were suggested. I have read Turgenyev’s Father and Sons a long time ago but rejected it as a source because of the twin narratives of him and his father, both seemingly coming of age (the father again) and so I continue to search for fictions that I might use to tell stories about truths.

I agree about the setting for these narrative fictions. I need to find an alternate ‘place’. Purgatory was such a gift that it might be too strong, but equally I think that where I had the session might be too bland, too clichéd.

When Laura Pannack talked about her work I felt the linear narrative that she spoke of and she also talked about listening to your own voice. When I started this BoW, my internal voice was very loud on the subject, but somewhat confused. I sense that as I have progressed, that voice has quieted somewhat and the confusion is of a different sort. I need to make some more work to try and make sense of what that confusion is. I haven’t done anything on the tattoo ‘front’ recently and maybe that might help to clear the vision in front of me. Laura also said about getting work out there, as it is part of the process of getting work out there! I am putting “Purgatory” into a selling show at the Churchill on 1st August for a month. It will be interesting to see if that does anything. I am aware that August will likely be a slow month, but some of the work has already sold and the setting is fundamentally stronger that the Nuffield and will be the best place I have hung work.

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.

Thoughts on the cold and Conflict

Sunrise was forecasted at 7:42 this morning which meant if I was to beat it to Purgatory an even earlier rise was needed. And I suppose that the frost had one essential benefit which was to freeze the flood plain in front of Purgatory. It was chilly this morning in that in-between land.

ridge snow 2c2

I’ve been considering my reaction to the recent exhibition ‘Conflict. Time. Photography’ at the Tate Modern a lot recently. I’ve been asked for my reaction to it from a couple of places which has helped me to focus my thoughts on what I think now is an interesting show, but not necessarily from the aspect of the curatorial intent. After the second viewing I was involved in a student discussion about the show and there was a suggestion that the show might have been more about photography than about it’s combined titular aspect. Well, I thought, the clue’s in the title – it was always going to about photography in some form or another. Was it though perhaps more to do with the photographer or the ambition of the curator? I suspect both.

Puddle track Sc2

As I continue to create work for this project in Purgatory I am aware that I have about twelve months to do so, I am particularly pleased to be starting this work in winter, I can sense the level of difficulty that even a moderate change in the climate can bring to this un-managed land. It hasn’t been that wet so far and the cold hasn’t dipped for too long at a time. Three years ago this area would have been under two feet of snow. But at this time of year it isn’t a pleasant land, it is recalcitrant. The earth yields readily to the step, yet easier to water whose presence is what demanded the builders to place Purgatory on ground above the flood-plain. Today’s tractors leave deep trenches as they career from field to field, a century or more ago cartwheels might have been too difficult to manoeuvre for weeks if not months at a time.

Riverc2

The more I considered the show at the Tate, the more I wondered about both the curatorial aspect and the notion of ‘Conflict’. Both times I visited the exhibition I lost the idea of ‘Time’ – maybe it was because I wanted to engage with the work, to see what narrative I could extract from the imagery, but as I passed from room to room (lots of rooms) the notion that I was passing through fields of time passed me by. The artists in rooms were often from different eras, their approach to their work, though perhaps contemporary at the (their) ‘Time’ often clashed with each other. This conflation of epochs might have helped to foster questions in the minds of students, but it was at the expense of cohesion. I have come to reflect that the ‘Conflict’ might have been a comment on the way by which artists and photographic commentators had conflicting approaches to the events they were attempting to either to document or to register their emotional response to. The elegantly described innards of Hitler’s bunker in beautiful modernist full tone imagery alongside the artfully constructed conceptual pieces of fiction, crafted by the teamwork of model maker and photographer/fictionalist? Which one being closer to any concept of truth as document would have been an easy calculation, with one being more concerned with form over fact. ‘And so it goes’, as Clive Wight reminded us of a Vonnegut quotation. The real beneficiary of this exhibition was the student, able to wander freely in ‘Time’ with no concept of how and when they might end up. Alarums and distractions from various quarters, seemingly unconnected works of visual referencing to anything but an abstraction of time, which apart from its tutorly contribution left me with a sense of conflict, a conflict of what I should feel about the subject matter, and not about the tenuous linkage between rooms. As Keith Greenough suggested, maybe the images were moulded to provide rigourous referencing for the concept. A clash of styles and genres that for me added to less than the sum of its parts.

horizon snow Sc2

And so back to Purgatory where I hope to conflate Time and Conflict with Photography. I was able to return home after and hour or so in the field and if I had dampened the inner soles of my boots they would be dry before the day was out. No confliction there about how long to stay in this unsettled land, when the sun came up and over the ridge to the south east of Purgatory it started to feel like time to go home to central heating and a hot mug of tea. Home is where the hearth is and it is a cold hearth in this sodden land.

sun up Sc2

Assignment Two

 

Introduction

Purgatory is that place of transience, a place that is neither one thing nor another, a place that is ‘twixt and between’ a holding zone for those not pure enough to enter directly the Kingdom of Heaven but not bad enough to go to eternal damnation. It is in Purgatory that one might be cleansed of sin and one of the key means by which these mortal turpitudes are exorcised is through continuous and predictable application of pain. This temporal inevitable subjugation of the body is key I think to the concept of purgatory. There is no short sharp lesson in that place, the expectation of exquisite pain has echoes today in the ritualized flogging of dissidents in Saudi Arabia, where the victim’s wounds need to heal before the flogging can be continued. Once the punishments have been completed, their soul having been purified and saved, the victim may then proceed to Heaven for everlasting life. The punishments in Purgatory were for the penitents, the unrepentant and the non-believers who would bypass the temporary correction zone and go straight to hell for an eternity of punishment.

Assignment

This assignment, and perhaps this edit in particular, sets out to express in visual terms depictions of how I came to describe this transitory state, whilst visiting the physical place of Purgatory. I have spent a considerable amount of time and plan to spend more so in Purgatory; I want to become accustomed to the ‘place’, experience the terrain and the difficulties of reaching it. There was a settlement in this vicinity for a few hundred years, until the very early part of the twentieth century – I am working with a local historian to find out how long it was inhabited and perhaps by how many – I have found out that at it’s height there were eight dwellings situated there. I am somewhat fascinated by the notion that it is now ‘unsettled’ and as much as Purgatory has many connotations so has the term ‘unsettled’.

After I had decided that I would work on this place as a subject for assignment two I have read three books which have influenced my thinking on the topic. The first was John Gossage’s ‘The Pond’, the second was Christian Patterson’s ‘Redheaded Peckerwood’ and the third, a novel, being ‘The Offering’ by Grace McCleen. All of these books deal with memory – as McCleen denotes – “All these years, there have been things I cannot remember, blanks where the colours had faded or the lines had been wiped out, and there have been others that darkened even as I watched, like photographic paper left too long in developing fluid.” 1

I looked first at dictionary and thesaurus definitions to help me find a way in to the work, I listed the various meanings and terms and then set about to describe what I felt about the word purgatory. After writing them down I looked at the images I had made to see if I could find connections, I tried not to force connections but to allow a free association. Most of the imagery deals with the psychological aspects of the term, only one deals with physical pain, and I realize that those emotional responses to the non-physical may be critically influence the reader if I accompany the image with the response that I gave it, so I have decided to redact those from the assignment, though of course I can provide them if required.

Another phrase from McCleen “…suggestive of things ravaged yet fecund with time.”2 also caught my imagination. That a place, though unsettled, might still echo with a past, with a history, echoed with me recently at the recent “Time, Conflict and Photography” exhibition at the Tate Modern where Indre Serpytyte’s piece (1944 – 1991) Former NKVD – MVD – MGB – KGB Buildings was/is being shown. These buildings, which are presented as isolated edifices – either as models or as highly worked graphic presentations – are very stylized representations, with a sense of ‘otherness’ about them – due to their ulterior as opposed to their anterior aspect. This contextual facet is very significant and finds an echo in what I feel some of this work in Purgatory is about – isolation.

The images are grey monotonic and bland, belying their history and their place in the history of their culture. Our – the viewers – contextualized knowledge about these buildings imbue these two dimensional constructs, that are clearly not mimetic, not depicted in a photo-journalistic attempt at verisimilitude, as a fiction; representing a greater sense of a narrative of what might have occurred, what might have been.

I too have been thinking of using black and white to delineate truth from fiction. I wonder now whether anyone still believes the age-old trope that black and white was a determiner of fact, of an attempt to mine for truth. My suspicion is that colour is the contemporary and ubiquitous disseminator of whatever might be considered as the ‘real’ and so by rendering in monochrome it will be seen as a manifestation of a fiction. And because I believe that truth is mediated, a monochromatic rendition of the narrative will alert the reader to any claim of veracity.

Patterson’s “Redheaded Peckerwood” is a story; no more a truth than my relating of my personal history, but the narrative potential of Patterson’s flow allows the reader to question the notion of a single truth and what I have discerned from this book is that I shouldn’t be overly concerned about telling a fiction about a truth, but perhaps more about being truthful about the fiction. Another influence on this work thus far has been Martina Lindqvist whose work ‘Neighbours’ are stark depictions of isolation, of crumbling edifices reminiscent of the disintegration of relationships and the unsettling of a place. The fact that Lindqvist is comfortable with extensive editing and ‘de-factualising’ the arena surrounding the place – including the re-situating of the sky to a uniformity across the series – has given me some inspiration regarding how I might eventually develop the narrative components in the Body of Work.

1 – Loc 150 Kindle edition.

2 – loc 176 Kindle edition

_________________________

And so to the images:

Image 1:

This image suggests to me of the difficulty of trying to move on, to find a way. There is no route forward other than this difficult terrain and no particular sense of anything better beyond what is in the frame.

Image 2:

A perspective of isolation.

Image 3:

I saw this image as one of hostility, one of demonstration of power, one over another, combative but futile for one.

Image 4:

This seems to me to be an image of neglect, not perhaps of the structural foundations but perhaps more of emotional neglect. I think the broken stairs are particularly important, there is no point in attempting to develop as there will be nothing here to support any ambition.

Image 5:

The first of two ‘horizon’ images which for me are subtly different. This one, because of the obvious, but indistinct references above the horizon line, presents an ominous looming

Image 6:

This is the sole image that speaks to me of pain, more especially of physical pain. I am distinctly aware that the image lacks definition in the white area, but it is a purposeful allowance on my part.

Image 7:

A small thicket at the edge of the space that is Purgatory has this plantation. The fog renders the distance impenetrable and the near distance equally so. Hopelessness and very clearly a man-made construction.

Image 8:

The leaf held in stasis by the ice on the footpath suggested to me down-trodden, unable to move. Stuck.

Image 9:

The indeterminacy of the future, the fog holds back any purposeful sense of a direction of travel, limiting the field of view, restricting outcome.

Image 10:

In looking for a way out, the blankness of the view ‘over-the-horizon’ offers no respite in the search for escape.