Assignment Five – update prior to assessment

Assignment 5 – updated 4th May 2016

The documents that are required at A5 are a descriptor for the work and a course reflection.

The Reflection:

An evaluation – Body of Work at Assignment Five

The course has been both the most challenging and also the most rewarding. The challenge to find a way forward had me considering what it was that I wanted to gain from photography as a means of communication i.e. what did I want to communicate and for what purpose? This process of deliberation was the most difficult period of the course as a whole, and yet it proved to be decisive in breaking through with determining what, and how, my personal voice would proceed and develop. It was clear on reflection that I was unsure what the Body of Work would be ‘about’ until the end of Assignment Three, and yet through the process of reflection I became sure that what I wanted to deliver was a discourse on the ‘personal’ and how I fit into the world I inhabit.

The Work

The impetus to work in “Purgatory” provided the psychological trigger to make a work based on my ongoing relationship with my deceased father. There were a number of avenues of exploration that I tried in order to enter into a conversation with ‘him’. For example I tried to bring his effigy into view in a number of ways but it was only after retrieving the last of his personal belongings – his jewellery – that I found a route to insert ‘him’ into the frame through those objects presented as archeological artefacts.

I felt the need to provide a textual narrative device to enable the viewer to contextualize the work. My first attempts didn’t work particularly well, in that they were too diverse. Refining them, making them more specifically personal have strengthened them, although I am concerned that I have overdone this aspect, something I am sure that will come out at assignment review. Feedback through critique from various sources, as part of “Sustaining Your Practice” have helped me to place some critical distance between the work and myself in the final edit. I am mindful of a comment Fiona Yaron-Field made in her feedback regarding the texts “The last three pages from the sting of his spittle [text], next landscape, and then the rings works brilliantly together. Each element expands the narrative, is very moving and visually connects. They are all open and leave me space as the viewer to enter. Some earlier text and image are too literal and leave me outside the work.” The need for access points for viewers, to have a sense of ambiguity that fosters engagement has been a very difficult line to find and follow and one that I still find continually ebbs and flows.

The landscape imagery, though difficult to edit down to a manageable quantity all exhibit the sense that I want to express. That sense though came about as much by examining the work as a whole, before editing/sequencing, to form a narrative that worked visually. There are many images that remain outside the set that individually hold significant connotative strength but do not work in the series. And whilst I think that my visual language has developed, I recognise there is a distance still to go.

The Outcome

As the work progressed from an undefined work in progress, to a project with defined parameters, I felt a growing sureness of how the work might or might not be presented. An early decision was to make the work small. I wanted the imagery to be personal and to represent that with images that were sympathetic to that goal. I had printed and exhibited most of the landscapes at an exhibition I had organised at the South Street Gallery in the Churchill Hospital permanent artspace from 1st August – 24th October 2015. I was pleased with the way the work was hung, I was required to work with a professional technician who works for the Modern Art Oxford Gallery in physically hanging the prints which I mounted in 20” X 16” frames. Visitors at the exhibition needed to be at a distance to these prints to view them, for assessment I felt that by making them smaller, presenting them as un-mounted photographs they would be able to be held in hand and be interacted with them as objects. They would thus have a private experience with them, and so I have made them approximately A5 size. I also made photographs out of the texts, so that the words became more physically present. I felt that if there was a sense that the words were printed from a text file they would have had an ephemeral nature. I wanted the words to have a sense similar to that of the artefacts, of having a history. These words though have remained – worn with time and remembrance – either as they had been expressed at me a half century or more ago, or with my recently un-silenced voice. I’m not sure whether viewers will capture that notion, but it has been embedded. This idea of remembrance, of memory resurfacing has become a component of my research for my new work under the umbrella project title“Legacy”.

The Box

I designed the box to contain the images with twin purposes. Primarily it was a practical means by which the prints could be held and presented for viewing. The design was a collaboration between a mechanical designer, a carpenter and myself and I think it works very well from that perspective. It also addresses the relationship I have with my father and his continual disdain both for my need to design, create and make things as well as my apparent failure to do anything well. It was important to me that the box addressed those criterion and that I achieved a measure of success and I believe the box and the work achieve that mark I set for myself. I am also aware that the box has visual connotations to memento mori, a casket perhaps and that I have also chosen to call it a container.

Take-aways

There is a fine line between allowing the work to develop, to wander, to find direction and recognizing that the work is ‘about’ something. In one of my written journals I made a note to myself to ‘believe in the project’, this was before Assignment Four. It was at a point when I ‘knew’ how I was going to complete the project – or at least the form of presentation (editing issues notwithstanding). It is evidence of maturation, I think, that enabled me to make that critical decision and subsequently feel confident enough about the work to be able to enter into discussions with interested parties about the narrative. This confidence provided me the authority to ask for feedback from comparative strangers, albeit knowing they were enabled to respond from a critical distance. I am very sure that in my next piece I won’t be so unsure about whether the project is a work in progress or a confusion of imaginings.

Once the work developed a ‘path’ I became settled in what I found myself describing, and to that extent I feel that the subject that I want to continue to research now has definition, at least for the foreseeable future. It is somewhat comforting that this sense of a ‘voice’ has found a way to direct what I shall be working on and I have some ideas about projects to work on post this course.

The comfort I feel about a ‘voice’ appearing during this final phase of the course is in stark contrast to the way in which I felt about a lack of one at the beginning of it. I feel a resonance with the way this project has developed a sense of what I want to make work about, and the conceptual framing of the work itself. The landscape imagery was conceived as a psychological response to the space that I was in and it follows that that response was a way for my voice to surface and express itself in the way it has. And I find it curious that I am still very engaged with how I see that the work is seemingly successful, but maybe that’s a part of the sub-narrative.

I would like to think that I will work on other projects that allow other voices to emerge, but the central theme of love will, I think, never be far from what I want to talk about.

Looking Forward

Presentation

Some time ago I felt that the idea of finding a white wall space to exhibit this work wouldn’t be the right way to present it. As described earlier I feel the physical handling of the images works better and various people who have examined the work have corroborated this notion.

I have considered designing a book, which would be hand-made in collaboration with a bookmaker and designer I know. My thoughts are currently that in making this book it will become quite a precious object and that might not work due to the narrative and so have stayed that decision.

I have designed a web-site to host this and other work and have had significant critique resulting in several updates to the site. There is a plan to update the site further with the inclusion of a blog that will detail developments in new work on-going. See below.

Artist Talk/Presentation

I have been invited to present some work at an upcoming symposium as part of Jesse Alexander’s residency at the Bank Street Gallery (BSA) in Sheffield. Link here: http://bankstreetarts.com/people/residencies/jesse-alexander/

“Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self

The symposium that will run as part of the residency will consider how contemporary landscape practice has shifted from its pastoral traditions and embraced more nuanced and personal approaches and narrative strategies. It will be an opportunity to hear more about Jesse’s collaborative project with BSA, The Nymph and the Shepherd, as well as hear him discuss his broader research interests in critiques of pastoral representation, and the potential for landscape practice as autobiographical expression. Several other artists will also present their practice, including the photographer Michal Iwanowski, whose major project Clear of People (currently under publication), retraces the footsteps of his grandfather and great uncle as they escaped from a Soviet prisoner of war camp at the end of the Second World War back to their hometown in Poland. Further information and details of other speakers to follow.”

I’m very excited about this prospect. It has been suggested that I should prepare a presentation of around 30-45 min’s and that more details about the event will be forthcoming. My ambition at this stage will be to focus on the BoW but also to finish with an example of my new work, very probably a video.

The Family Ties Network is a research group of artists, filmmakers and writers who explore memory, space, place and the family in photography and moving image. I had the opportunity to present my work, in a previous edit, at an informal session on the 20th Nov 2015. I have asked whether it would be possible to resent my BoW at a formal session at the next event, which is tentatively scheduled in Sunderland in spring of 2016. I feel this would be the ideal venue to present this work for the following reasons:

  • The Network is a research group whose main area of interest includes the main tropes of my work: memory, family, space and place.
  • The mode of delivery of the work is for the presenting artist to discuss their practice (their identity as an artist) then show their work before an extended question and answer session mediated by a facilitator.
  • Notes regarding the presentations and subsequent discussions are then hosted to the Network’s website to enable other practitioners in the field of inquiry to interrogate and develop the network.

The presentation methods at the FTN events are image projections, which may or may not incorporate sound. Some very careful consideration of how the work would be seen by an audience would be required to ensure that it was received sensitively. I have a thought that I might also accompany the work with a reading from a piece that I wrote some years ago, which would provide some contextualization as well as presenting some other work that I have completed at HE6 (level three).

I feel I am being realistic to suggest that my chances of being selected, amongst the august academics and practicing artists in the Family Ties Network, are slim.

Web-Site

I looked at the Adobe on-line courses for “Muse”, which will enable me to design and construct a web-site.

For some time I have taken an interest in the way in which artists, and in particular lens based artists, have created their on-line presence. The practitioners who inhabit the FTN arena have been of particular interest for obvious reasons, but I can discern no particular ‘house-style’ and they appear to be as disparate as any other practitioner. In fact diversity – or at least the apparent aspiration to be an ‘individual’ is the only common denominator amongst all those I have looked at. There are some who have clearly used “canned” ready-made profiles, some have used ‘blogs’ as a means to display themselves, there appears an almost endless variety of means to an end.

I have a couple of works that are ‘ready-to-go’, but I will make space for ambition, I’ll create a void in which new works will need to be made. Now complete – link here:http://www.johnumney.co.uk. I am grateful to those who provided support and critique in what is an area of real importance to a practicing artist.

And finally

I have a strong sense that this BoW, along with other works that I have worked, on will continue. This work, as it appears for tutor assessment, will have an edit which is current and this may well change for final assessment.

The presentation at the symposium will need to be tailored to the time allotted and my current thoughts are about twenty – twenty five images/slides. If I am successful for an artist presentation with the FTN I suspect that I will have a greater amount of time which would enable me to show all the current BoW and some other work.

It is all a work in progress.

_______

The Project Descriptor

The event specific descriptor for the Sheffield Symposium is as follows:

‘I keep looking for him – I think I always will’ uses landscape photography as a vehicle to reflect on personal memory and autobiography. Using the relationship with my deceased Father as a starting point, I explore the complex and multi layered nature of the father-son relationship through a presentation of landscapes set in Purgatory, an unsettled village in Oxfordshire, text and personal artefacts that relate to this relationship. Memory is capricious, malleable and fallible and this (perhaps impossible) search for the truth of our relationship informs ‘I keep looking for Him …’.

The overall project descriptor has changed a little from the document I took with me to the event at the Glasgow School of Art:

Descriptor:

I keep looking for him.

I think I always will.

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

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

In Purgatory I went searching for unspecified imagery that would become specific, to see if I could find, through the sub-conscious, a ‘Punctum’, fully aware that the context of the image is rested within only one person and perhaps might never resonate elsewhere. And whilst I had been focused solely on that bondless father and son relationship I now realise that the work, in its construction, reflects also on it’s meta-narrative, love.

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

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

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Post assignment tutor review

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I don’t think I could be more pleased with the feedback I have received for my final assignment in this course.

The clear advice I have received I have considered and implemented, and the resultant work has a much stronger sense of personal voice. The changes I have made to the edit based on the various feedbacks I have received, from the Glasgow FTN event at the Glasgow School of Art, various requests from the network I am continuing to build and those from the first assignment of Sustaining your Practice, have all helped to develop the work and make it stronger.

I will write up separately the thoughts and investigations in to the form of presentation that I have considered and employed so far. I have several things to do as the course comes to a conclusion, one of which is to provide my reflection on the work and the feedback session. Wendy’s notes are here:

John Umney –Feedback: Assignment 5 – Body of Work

SKYPE feedback – Monday 7th December (1 hour)

Many thanks for your submission for Assignment 5 for Body of Work, which took the form of: a hard copy edit of your project, written notes and an evaluation/summary of the work to date.

Your project for BOW has significantly developed since your last submission and in my opinion this submission is of a very high quality.

In summation you have:

  1. Provided a clear and comprehensive evaluation on the project as it stands.
  1. Submitted a proposed final edit of your project (for the purpose of this course), which works well. *
  1. Provided a clear route map for the way forward and development of this project as you transit into your next course (Sustaining Your Practice).

* Most notable in this edit is the way in which you have developed the content and position of text within your project. I think that your final chosen texts (first person and confessional in tone) work well and are much more effective that previously used strategies (i.e. using quotes on father and son relationships from fiction).

As discussed in out feedback session, I would recommend that you:

  1. Finalize the edit by re-arranging one or two of the images (a minor edit) as discussed.
  1. Consider using the title ‘Legacy’ (with your existing title remaining but perhaps becoming a sub-title) for this project and as an over-arching title to embrace an area of research that will span several projects (to be further articulated as part of Sustaining Your Practice.
  1. Rewrite your project summary to include a description of Legacy as part of a wider, ongoing series of projects. This will allow you to set the stage for the development of your work in your next course.
  1. Provide a short couple of paragraphs on modes of presentation employed to present this work and explain why you have selected the box form in particular.

 

 

Assignment Five

And so in the post tomorrow to my tutor will be the final for Assignment Five and two additional documents. I almost wrote ‘final edit’ but of course that will depend on Tutor feedback and, in respect of SYP – the blog for which is here – where it will undoubtably continue its development. The documents that are required at A5 are a descriptor for the work and a course reflection.

The Evaluation:

An evaluation – Body of Work at Assignment Five

The course has been both the most challenging and also the most rewarding. The challenge to find a way forward had me considering what it was that I wanted to gain from photography as a means of communication i.e. what did I want to communicate and for what purpose? This process of deliberation was the most difficult period of the course as a whole, and yet it proved to be decisive in breaking through with determining what, and how, my personal voice would proceed to develop. It was clear on reflection that I was unsure what the Body of Work would be ‘about’ until the end of Assignment Three, and yet through the process of reflection and I became sure that what I wanted to deliver was a discourse on the ‘personal’ and how I fit into the world I inhabit.

The Work

The impetus to work in “Purgatory” provided the psychological trigger to make a work based on my ongoing relationship with my deceased father. There were a number of avenues of exploration that I tried in order to enter into a conversation with ‘him’. For example I tried to bring his effigy into view in a number of ways and it was only after retrieving the last of his personal belongings that I found a route to insert ‘him’ into the frame through objects presented as archeological artefacts.

I felt the need to provide a textual narrative device to enable the viewer to contextualize the work. My first attempts didn’t work particularly well, in that they were too diverse. Refining them, making them more specifically personal have strengthened them, although I am concerned that I have overdone this aspect, something I am sure that will come out at assignment review. Feedback, as part of “Sustaining Your Practice” has helped me to place some critical distance between the work and myself and this edit has resulted from considering those various feedbacks. I am mindfull of a comment Fiona Yaron-field made in her feedback regarding the texts “The last three pages from the sting of his spittle [text], next landscape, and then the rings works brilliantly together. Each element expands the narrative, is very moving and visually connects. They are all open and leave me space as the viewer to enter. Some earlier text and image are too literal and leave me outside the work.” The need for access points for viewers, to have a sense of ambiguity that fosters engagement is a very difficult line to find and follow and one which I find continually ebbs and flows.

The landscape imagery, though difficult to edit down to a manageable quantity all exhibit the sense that I want to express. That sense though came about as much by examining the work as a whole, before editing/sequencing, to form a narrative that worked visually. There are many images that remain outside the set that individually hold significant connotative strength but do not work in the series. And whilst I think that my visual language has developed I recognise there is a distance still to go.

The Outcome

As the work progressed from an as-yet undefined work in progress, to a project with defined parameters, I felt a growing sureness of how the work might or might not be presented. An early decision was to make the work small. I wanted the imagery to be personal and to represent that with images that were sympathetic to that goal. I had printed and exhibited most of the landscapes at an exhibition I had organised at the South Street Gallery in the Churchill Hospital permanent artspace. I was pleased with the way the work was hung, I was required to work with a professional technician who works for the Modern Art Oxford Gallery in physically hanging the prints which I mounted in 20” X 16” frames. Viewers needed to be at a distance to these prints to view them, I felt that by making them smaller, presenting them as un-mounted photographs they would be able to hold them in their hands and interact with them as objects. They would thus have a private experience with them, and so I made them approximately A5 size. I also made photographs out of the texts, so that the words became more physically present. I felt that if there was a sense that the words were printed from a text file they would have had an ephemeral nature. I wanted the words to have a sense similar to that of the artefacts, of having a history. These words though have remained – worn with time and remembrance – either as they had been expressed at me a half century or more ago, or with my recently un-silenced voice. I’m not sure whether viewers will capture that notion, but it has been embedded.

Take-aways

There is a fine line between allowing the work to develop, to wander, to find direction and recognizing that the work is ‘about’ something. In one of my written journals I made a note to myself to ‘believe in the project’, this was before Assignment Four. It was at a point when I ‘knew’ how I was going to complete the project – or at least the form of presentation (editing issues notwithstanding). It is evidence of maturation, I think, that enabled me to make that critical decision and subsequently feel confident enough about the work to be able to enter into discussions with interested parties about the narrative. This confidence provided me the authority to ask for feedback from comparative strangers, albeit knowing they were enabled to respond from a critical distance. I am very sure that in my next piece I won’t be so unsure about whether the project is a work in progress or a confusion of imaginings.

Once the work developed a ‘path’ I became settled in what I found myself describing, and to that extent I feel that the subject that I want to continue to research now has definition, at least for the foreseeable future. It is somewhat comforting that this sense of a ‘voice’ has found a way to direct what I shall be working on and I have some ideas about projects to work on post this course.

The comfort I feel about a ‘voice’ appearing during this final phase of the course is in stark contrast to the way in which I felt about a lack of one at the beginning of it. I feel a resonance with the way this project has developed a sense of what I want to make work about, and the conceptual framing of the work itself. The landscape imagery was conceived as a psychological response to the space that I was in and it follows that that response was a way for my voice to surface and express itself in the way it has. And I find it curious that I am still very engaged with how I see the work as successful, but maybe that’s a part of the sub-narrative.

I would like to think that I will work on other projects that allow other voices to emerge, but the central theme of love will, I think, never be far from what I want to talk about.

Looking Forward

Presentation

Some time ago I felt that the idea of finding a white wall space to exhibit this work wouldn’t be the right way to present it. As described earlier I feel the physical handling of the images works better and various people who have examined the work have corroborated this notion.

I have considered designing a book, which would be hand-made in collaboration with a bookmaker and designer I know. My thoughts are currently that in making this book it will become quite a precious object and that might not work due to the narrative and so have stayed that decision.

I am however, in the process of developing a web-site to situate my developing practice. My old web-site, which hasn’t been updated since before these studies began, is, in my view extremely poor. It does, however, represent the distance I have travelled during these studies and although the site still gets a lot of ‘hits’, it is no longer how I see my identity as an artist and so needs to re-made.

The Family Ties Network is a research group of artists, filmmakers and writers who explore memory, space, place and the family in photography and moving image. I had the opportunity to present my work, in a previous edit, at an informal session on the 20th Nov 2015. I have asked whether it would be possible to resent my BoW at a formal session at the next event, which is tentatively scheduled in Sunderland in spring of 2016. I feel this would be the ideal venue to present this work for the following reasons:

  • The Network is a research group whose main area of interest includes the main tropes of my work: memory, family, space and place.
  • The mode of delivery of the work is for the presenting artist to discuss their practice (their identity as an artist) then show their work before an extended question and answer session mediated by a facilitator.
  • Notes regarding the presentations and subsequent discussions are then hosted to the Network’s website to enable other practitioners in the field of inquiry to interrogate and develop the network.

The presentation methods at the FTN events are image projections, which may or may not incorporate sound. Some very careful consideration of how the work would be seen by an audience would be required to ensure that it was received sensitively. I have a thought that I might also accompany the work with a reading from a piece that I wrote some years ago, which would provide some contextualization as well as presenting some other wok that I have completed at HE6 (level three).

I feel I am being realistic to suggest that my chances of being selected, amongst the august academics and practicing artists in the Family Ties Network, are slim. It is with that I mind that I shall develop a web-site to show this BoW and other projects more recently developed.

Web-Site

I am about to embark on a series of courses, which will enable me to design and construct a web-site; this is how I constructed the previous site. For some time I have taken an interest in the way in which artists, and in particular lens based artists, have created their on-line presence.

The practitioners who inhabit the FTN arena have been of particular interest for obvious reasons, but I can discern no particular ‘house-style’ and they appear to be as disparate as any other practitioner. In fact diversity – or at least the apparent aspiration to be an ‘individual’ is the only common denominator amongst all those I have looked at. There are some who have clearly used “canned” ready-made profiles, some have used ‘blogs’ as a means to display themselves, there appears an almost endless variety of means to an end.

I have a couple of works that are ‘ready-to-go’, but I will make space for ambition, I’ll create a void in which new works will need to be made.

And finally

I have a strong sense that this BoW, along with other works that I have worked, on will continue. This work, as it appears for tutor assessment, will have an edit which is current, this may well change for final assessment. It may well change as it is expressed on a web-site and, if I am lucky enough to be chosen, for presentation at a future FTN event.

_______

The descriptor has changed a little from the document I took with me to the event at the Glasgow School of Art:

Descriptor:

I keep looking for him.

I think I always will.

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

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

In Purgatory I went searching for unspecified imagery that would become specific, to see if I could find, through the sub-conscious, a ‘Punctum’, fully aware that the context of the image is rested within only one person and perhaps might never resonate elsewhere. And whilst I had been focused solely on that bondless father and son relationship I now realise that the work, in its construction, reflects also on it’s meta-narrative, love.

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

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

Introducing the work – updated 9.11

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

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

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

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

My Introduction:

I keep looking for him.

 I think I always will.

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

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

In Purgatory I went searching for unspecified imagery that would become specific, to see if I could find, through the sub-conscious, a ‘punctum’, fully aware that the context of the image is rested within only one person and perhaps might never resonate elsewhere. And whilst I had been focused solely on that bondless father and son relationship I now realise that the work, in its construction, reflects also on it’s meta-narrative, love.

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

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

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

My artist statement is:

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

Texts and updates

So, considering the path forward to assignment five. Probably the biggest area of concern with my fourth submission was regarding texts. Firstly there was a random mix with and without parentheses which provided a confusion/distraction. Were these texts from me or from somewhere else? Additionally there was a lot of confusion with intent – were the texts viewing the relationship between father and son positively or otherwise? And lastly, why did I have the texts randomly placed on the image? (well to break it up I think, to not be monotonous).

So I have aligned all the texts to a common starting point. I’m planning to continue to have a background tone in order to place it as an image rather than as a just text. I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps it is something to do with image and text as opposed to simply text.

One of the other comments was about unifying the texts, this may be partly because I had conflicting statements. Conflict as opposed to ambiguity didn’t seem to work, quite a few comments suggested that I had that wrong. I was being too ambitious with the texts, wanting to create too many entry points, better to have a simpler structure.

And so I have created more texts, bringing more of my own voice directly into the work. The first, third and these two below are quotes from elsewhere, the rest are wrenched from memory.

I’m planning to let them lie for a while before re-sequencing them.

Tutor feedback Ass. 4

half lightc2

The first time I remember holding his hand was as he lay, I was waiting for his final breath; and when I was finally sure, I let go.

_________________

I’ve received my formative feedback from Wendy, with no surprises. I feel very close now, the scope of the work to Assignment Five doesn’t appear too far and I have some ideas about how to achieve resolution to the issues highlighted by the tutorial post Assignment Four. Overall the visual imagery appears to work well, however the incoherency of the text’s and artefacts need some more work as they aren’t as well as they could be/were intended to be.

As regards text’s, Wendy suggested a stronger methodology – up to me – perhaps a single voice as opposed to multiple. My thoughts, which I plan to test, are to use my voice. The artefacts are his, the landscapes are my psychological response to Purgatory and the text’s could be the bridge, though I am fully aware that it will be my voice bridging, excluding his. There are a couple of texts that I feel very connected to, but I need to test the presentation.

My current plan for the artefacts is to double their size, make them twice life-size in the presented state and set them centrally. I don’t think I need to re-photograph them as they are fine as they are, and their apparent ‘floating’ presentation works I feel. It is important to the work to have a developed emotional distance between the objects and I feel if I made them too large in frame they would become abstract objects and lose their emotional perspective.

I plan to re-edit the work before I go to Glasgow and present the work at the Glasgow School of Art on the 20th November. I also want to try and find a way to workshop my ideas around the reformatting of the texts. After the Glasgow event I suspect I will be very nearly ready to submit my final assignment as an early Christmas present for Wendy.

Feedback:

One of the principle issues to overcome on this course is to find ways of receiving feedback on work in progress, or perhaps any work. I have largely been unsuccessful on the informal fora, such as Flickr and so have developed a pseudo cohort that I am happy to go to, albeit individually, for feedback. The Thames Valley group have been very helpful and they have ‘bent’ their rules to provide indulgent extensions to the limited allotted time on occasion.

Feedback is a matter of trust, not a matter of fact. Interpretative skills are developed through discourse and time. When I set up a print group, a decade or so ago, it was for the purpose of providing critique on developing work and specifically not finished work and I take work there when appropriate. But it is to fellow students, tutors and increasingly practitioners that I am now turning to for critique/comment. I mention this now perhaps as a mark that I have embarked on the final part of the course “Sustaining your Practice” which seeks, amongst other objectives, to situate the work within a framework of a professional practice and equip me to transition from a student to an artist.

Over the past year or so I have started to develop a cohort of students whom I trust to provide critical feedback, and not to just tell me whether they think the work is good, bad or indifferent. Students operating in isolation of a pedagogic framework might appear a risky venture but I think those that I share work with provide feedback grounded in their studies. I have also found practising artists who have been very kind in providing critiques of my work – especially this BoW currently in development. The opportunity to present at the Glasgow School of Art is another opportunity to engage not only with academics and practicing artists to provide enlightened feedback on the work, but also to develop the network of connections as I transition through the course.

I have learned a lot about feedback over the last few weeks as I have ‘put this work in progress’ out there. None of it has been negative, all of it has been constructive and I plan to discuss it with fellow students at a later stage. I shall also collate the feedback and write up a post that reflects on the attempts to gain critique on this work, what has succeeded and what hasn’t.

Assignment four reflections post feedback

Images (as opposed to the images of texts):

Landscapes are working, the size is fine and work within the context of the work.

Artifacts: the placement and the scaling of the objects need to be refined. The current variability in the printed page is incoherent and the scale makes them more difficult to ‘read’. Maybe central, although critical to the work is the impression of emotional ‘distance’. Life size is just too small – maybe workshop, or test other presentations to gauge how to develop a stronger visual strategy. “Play with scale” and have a consistent (probably centralized) depiction. Suggestion to look at the work of Raphaël Dallaporta.

Texts: Critical area for consideration. Overall the diversity of the texts created an overdeveloped richness in the narrative which confuses and misleads the viewer. The inconsistency of the sources is perhaps at the heart of these criticisms, whilst the placing of the texts on the page also added to it. The suggestion would be to research a body of work that I might use: suggestions were temporal – a relevant subject from one time to another, or topical. The use of one personal text could be developed into multiple. Either way, refining the source is vital for the work.

A suggestion to present this work at an informal session at the next Family Ties Network in Glasgow, in November, was suggested. Wendy has already opened the way by mentioning the work – though not sharing it – with Dr. Nicky Bird one of the principle organisers of the group.

Responses:

I’m pleased that the scale of the landscape images are working, and that the imagery seems to be as well. No suggestion was made to alter the image edit/sequence – though I think it is implicit that that is a significant possibility after more work is done on the artifacts and texts, which are in need of a lot of work. I will continue to work in Purgatory to look for more imagery and expect to rework the sequencing on a regular basis. No comment was made on the sequencing strategy, perhaps I should find a way to gauge it’s validity?

I am also less concerned with the artifacts, I agree that the placing of the imagery is vital and will look at scale. I’ll discuss with the archivist that I spoke to from the Ashmolean as to placement etc. Wendy said something about scratches, wear &c. on the objects, about how important/significant they are. I will think about that as my concern is critical distance between those items that were his, and which are now, by legacy, mine.

As regards the texts, I think I need to re-think the whole strategy. Texts are vital to the work, they bring context and possibly direction, but the ‘scattergun’ approach I had employed, which tried to weave ‘absence’ ‘love’ ‘paternalism’ &c., did not succeed. I have a notion that I will revert to very personal recollections.

I am now in conversation with Dr. Nicky Bird about an informal ‘New Voices” presentation at the forthcoming FTN event in November. Excited and daunted.

 

 

And more

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

twin notesc2

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

hidingc2

half lightc2

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

funghi 5c2

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

Beautiful weather

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

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

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

river windc2

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

Purg1c2

 

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:

5.10.15

 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,

Best,

John