I am Michael Millmore and this is my learning blog for the Open College of the Arts course ‘Digital Image and Cuture’.
I am working towards a degree in photography.
I am Michael Millmore and this is my learning blog for the Open College of the Arts course ‘Digital Image and Cuture’.
I am working towards a degree in photography.
I made the journey to Halifax for the bi-monthly OCA North study day in Halifax. OCA tutor Andrew Conroy made an excellent presentation about his photographic practice and ways of working – particularly his thoughts about collaboration. Andrew describes himself as being interested in space and place and is particularly drawn to urban edgelands because of what he describes as his ambivalent relationship with nature. He resists the label psychogeographer, both because he feels the element of ‘drift’ (derive) this implies does not apply to his way of working, and also because he has an aversion to labels in general. He finds that talking to people as he makes work can influence how it develops – often key information or a different viewpoint can spark the imagination or unlock something that would otherwise have remained hidden. Much of what Andrew said resonated with me, particularly his way of working which involves going back again and again to the same area. He encouraged us not to overthink and just to make work, however, he also pointed out that research should be used to force ideas as these do not come from nowhere. He summarised this with the advise to widen our research but narrow our focus. Reassuringly, he said it was important not to be driven to make every project a magnum opus as this can be stifling to creativity. It was encouraging to learn that some of his own work either ends up going nowhere or is only resolved when a conscious decision is made to bring it to an end. Strategies that work for him include imposing a time limit on completion of a particular project or limiting the number of images series – he mentioned 12 as being a number he often returns to. He showed some recent videos he had made using a ‘glitch’ app which he described as ‘micro films’. He did not know if these would develop into anything else but were the result of limiting himself to make a small film in one day using his smart phone.
Andrew’s series ‘1984’, which he describes as a long term aftermath project, resonated with me immediately as the subject matter of the legacy of the coal industry is something I have explored myself in my local area and something that continues to interest me. The title is loaded with significance as it refers to the Miner’s strike of that year and marks the beginning of the end of the coal mining in the UK. The series of 12 photographs are taken at the former site of the Orgreave colliery that was a key flash point during the strike – the so called ‘battle of Orgreave’ remains controversial to this day. The transformation of the are into a major housing development and nature area can be read as an attempt to conceal the trauma of the sites history which remains unresolved – despite attempts to erase the industrial past the area remains Orgreave. The project’s culmination was a self published book with a limited edition of 10 – 5 of these were left in the area that the photographs were made for people to take, or not, or to be eventually taken by the elements. A follow up is planned if an enquiry into the events at Orgreave is ever granted.
‘Indices of Irregular Return’ is an abstract video made in collaboration with poet, artist and soundscape artist Linda Kemp. The interesting aspect of each of the collaborative projects Andrew discussed is that none of these involved working directly with the other artist. In this instance, Andrew took a track from Linda Kemp’s band camp site and used this as the soundtrack to the video without her knowledge. Another example involves the Andrew sending photocopied photographs of an area that was the site of a second world war POW camp in Yorkshire to artist Chris Graham who then paints over the top of them. Graham’s style is overtly political and loud and often involves the use of found materials and even the destruction of work – something that is at odds with the quiet nature of Andrew’s images. Andrew described initially feeling shocked by the way the photographs were transformed, but ultimately, and as the work developed, recognised the unexpected directions it was taken. Not being precious about your work is an important, even essential, aspect of successful collaboration.
‘The Drive’ is a work that was made in collaboration with poet laureate Simon Armitage, although Andrew has not met or even spoken to him. Armitage sent Andrew a sound file of him reading a piece from his collection ‘The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in it’s Own Right’ – his only involvement in the project. Originally, Andrew had envisaged a slideshow piece that would last around 15 minutes, the reading of the poem however only came in at over 2 minutes which meant he had to radically rethink what he was going to do. Armitage’s distinctive delivery is accompanied by a slideshow of grainy, black and white images images that were taken during car journeys in rainy conditions. A soundscape by Ian Baxter completes the piece. For me, this is a great example different artists coming together, albeit separately, to create a work that is greater than the sum of its parts. The images, words and evocative soundscape combine to make a piece that reminds me of so many car journeys I have taken – the feeling of the mind wandering as you look in a detached way out of the windows to the grey world beyond – it is melancholy, but beautiful, both a celebration of the everyday and lament for wasted time.
The meeting ended with a chance to chat to the other students present in an informal way and view some of each others work. Rather than present the work formally as we had at previous meetings, it was placed around the room which led to some interesting and informal discussion. I took along my work for assignment 1 which was well received, previously, I have been reluctant to take work and have been racked with anxiety about showing it. On this occasion I felt quite relaxed which I feel is a major breakthrough and shows a growing confidence in putting myself ‘out there’. Andrew made a couple of interesting suggestions – he said the images would look good blown up to a giant size and displayed upon the wall, and following from a discussion about how I had been influenced by early Dada collages, he suggested I revisit the hand made work and drop the individual strips randomly before photographing the resulting arrangements.
Level 3 photography student Hazel Bingham brought her body of work submission which was a photobook exploring a particular urban landscape in London and had strong political intent. It was fascinating to hear Hazel’s plans to exhibition her work as part of her ‘Sustaining Your Practice’ submission and to listen to her share her experience of her photographic journey with the OCA.
Andrew Proctor, currently studying his first OCA photography course, brought work from the other end of the spectrum for his first assignment. Andrew had chosen to shoot on film and printed his own work as a practical response to the brief of the decisive moment as limiting how many images he could take and not being able to view them until they are printed forced him to really consider each time he pressed the shutter. Along with his final selection he also brought ‘real’ contact sheets – it was great to see these being so used to viewing everything digitally. For me, these could make the assignment submission itself or form part of another project – I love the idea of going out of your way to limit yourself to the confines of the decisive moment and then to subvert this by presenting everything that has been shot!
One of the things I love about OCA North is that it is multi disciplinary and it was great to say some paintings from Emma Wilson and Helen Jones. Emma is currently studying UVC, and although the course has been rewritten since I did it, I was glad she was enjoying it and finding her thinking stretched. We came to the consensus that this sort of course should be compulsory, and I certainly think that the challenge of the course has meant I have been able to progress unperturbed by research and challenging academic writing – the difficulty of which is a common complaint from students as they progress through the levels. To her credit Emma has also managed to keep making work while studying UVC – something I did not manage to do and the canvasses she brought had a contemplative and claiming feel. Helen presented 4 large paintings and asked everyone to respond to specific questions:
1. what is the first impression?
The 4 pieces are bright abstract works that immediately attracted my attention and made me want to consider what they were about and how they made me feel.
2. Do they make a cohesive group?
There are natural motifs and shapes in the individual paintings that unify them even though they are different both stylistically and through the use of colour. One of the pictures has what appears to be an horizon line which is not present in the others and felt out of place to me.
3. What are they about?
Initially they appear to be about the natural world – landscape and sky perhaps. The use of colour had an emotional effect upon me the more I viewed them an I wondered if representing different emotions was the intention.
4. What should they be called?
No idea! perhaps they should be untitled to maintain their ambiguity – this is certainly an aspect of the work that I appreciate and attracts me to them.
This exercise really forced me to consider the work and Helen’s intention – this might be something I consider to try myself in the future.
All in all, a fantastically invigorating meeting and trip out. With 9 attendees on the day (second highest since the group started last year) the indication seems to be that having a fixed location and planning when the meetings are happening in advance is paying dividends. As with all of these types of groups the main success is the building of networks – hopefully we will be able to work towards a collaborative exhibition over the next year. In short, well worth the 250 mile round trip!
Completing of the first part of the course has taken me much longer than I expected and had planned for – in order to complete the course I am going to have to increase my pace significantly otherwise I am in real danger of running out of time. With this in mind, I decided to brain storm all of the positive and negative aspects of my study so far on the course. The aim of this is that by acknowledging what is going well and facing in to the things that impact me and have stopped me from progressing I will be able to make changes to my ways of working…of course, this could be another example of deferral!
I now acknowledge it was a mistake to enrol on the course before I had completed my assessment submission for Documentary. Going back to this was both a drain on time and motivation – I was so unhappy with what I put together for my submission that I seriously considered not sending it at all. This had the knock on effect of slowing down my progress with DI&C as I became seriously demotivated. The fact is however, that even if I was unhappy with the mark I received for Documentary I passed the course and the eventual effect was that this negative experience focused my mind on what I need to do differently with DI&C.
With a busy family and work life I often consider why I would want to invest so much of my free time on study. The amount of time I have versus the amount of time I would like to be able to spend on the course is a major issue for me. Simply – I need to moderate this and set myself clear deadlines for completing coursework to make sure I have the right balance with most of my time spent on the assignments rather than the exercises. Keeping motivated can be a struggle, but I have found that working little and often helps with this. It is also important not just to confine working on the course to my days off as invariably something will come up and before I know it a week has passed without doing anything. Also, if even a week passes without looking at the course, getting back into the swing of things can take a while so I need to avoid falling into this trap. Recently I have been trying to spend some time each day on some aspect of the course and I have found this is helping me keep a more even pace.
I have really enjoyed the research, particularly looking at artists, and readings for the first part, however, this is in danger of becoming my comfort zone and a distraction from making work. I have been able to stop myself form spending lots of time on writing posts about the papers we are asked to read as this can often be time consuming, it may also be helpful to try and make my research posts more like notes and not be overly worried about how they read. I am also concerned that there is not enough personal response to the course material – I struggle with the diary aspects of the learning log, I am not sure of this is an issue or not however. I remember my first tutor saying that the blog was not something that needed to be ‘weighed in’ for assessment and that there was a limited amount of time to look at them. If I keep the emphasis on the assignments as the most important parts of the course then this should help me keep the balance right.
Experimenting more, and showing this on my blog, was a key goal for me starting this course, and I am pleased with how much more of this I have done. Looking back however, I recognise I could still do more – lots of ideas occurred to me during this section and I have only acted on a few of them. Pushing this will help me significantly going forward as a simple idea that initailly seems of little worth can easily morph into a larger biody of work.
It has simply taken too long to get this done and I am struggling to really understand why. My idea for the assignment developed organically alongside my research and context and self doubt which is something that usually impacts me significantly was kept largely at bay. Something just stopped me getting down and finishing it – I need to be acutely aware of this working on assignment 2.
This has gone well and although a drain on time, is something that I need to continue with as it keeps my motivation going and is a real help with the isolating nature of distance learning. I participate in a regular course hangout group, am a committee member for OCA North with meetings held every two months and meet up with students locally to visit exhibitions and have a chat over a coffee every three months or so. Again, I have tried to limit the amount of time I spend writing about these on my blog as it is the attendance that matters here.
Visiting exhibitions is an important part of both my OCA learning and also wider understanding about art, photography and visual culture as a whole. At the point of writing this post however, I have only noted one of these visits on my blog. I am trying too hard to complete major research following exhibition visits, and while doing some wider reading about the artists and work I have seen is something I will continue doing, I am beginning to recognise that translating all of this into a definitive blog post is not practical. Going forward I will try to write blog posts about exhibition visits as soon as I can following after seeing the work and attempt to keep the emphasis on my personal reaction to the work.
This exercise in trying to be honest about where I am with my studies and what I need to do differently feels like it is helpful – only time will tell however – hopefully I will look back at the end of part two and find that the actions I have decided upon here have been followed through and also made a difference.
Notes on artists cited in this section of the course notes can be found here:
This exercise asks us to bring together a typology of 12 images, either appropriated from the internet or from our own archive, and present them an appropriate way, such as grid form, single images or as a slideshow.
Typically, I have gone a little over this by selecting 224 screenshots of various pieces of ‘wisdom’ that have appeared on my Facebook feed over the period of a couple of days. These vary from pseudo psychology to irreverent, incorporating the profane and the banal. The sharing of these memes and quotes is something that I normally pay little attention to as I scroll through my social media feeds, when I started taking screen shots however, they became something of an obsession. I have been surprised by how much I have been influenced by the work of Joachim Schmid, and perhaps just as importantly, his philosophy as an artist. Putting a large amount of images together in some way seems to increase their power.
For presentation I have experimented with both a grid format (created in Photoshop using the contact sheet action) and a slideshow (created in Lightroom). The effect I am going for is for the amount of images shown to be both overwhelming an difficult to read – something that for me represents the superficial way this type of visual data washes over us. The slideshow has a deliberately short transition of 1 second between each slide – for some of the images this is not enough time to even read the text, and even when it can be read, the transition to next one is so quick that it is impossible to fully take anything in.
Link to Vimeo here
I have had a few days off work and have spent them trying to get back in the zone with the course…something I am pleased to say has been both productive and successful. Yesterday, my head was full (in a good way) of Joachim Schmid and I decide to take go out for a walk with the camera to blow away the cobwebs. Increasingly I have been finding it difficult to get out on these walks – there always seems to be something else more pressing I should be doing. The fact is though I always feel better afterwards – reenergised, relaxed and more able to put things in context. It is great to just wander as a flâneur without any preconceptions, taking the time to look at the everyday with an inquisitive eye. Pushing myself to go out today has made me realise how important this is and that I need to make a conscious effort to do this more.
Clearly my research into Schmid must have made an impact as I soon began to notice recurring themes – specifically the varying ways people signpost that parking is not allowed. Is there anything to this? Not sure, but it started me thinking about ways of recording and classifying that could potentially form part of assignment 2. Later that evening, I attended (via a zoom call) a presentation by OCA tutor Ariadne Xenou which concerned “strategies to help identify the wider themes, contexts and issues your work might address.” The talk completely blew my mind (also in a good way) – it was aimed specifically at level three students enrolled on contextual studies/body of work so I was expecting the level to be high, however, I was not prepared for how far away I feel I am from this level. I need to digest what I thought about it but my strong initial feeling is that it has given me a shot in the arm about what I need to do to be ready for the next modules. Something that resonated immediately was a discussion about grand narratives and micro narratives. These are terms that I have come across but am not really familiar, however, my understanding is that a grand narrative is the overarching theme of a body of work while the micro narrative is the specific way this is communicated – i.e. the project itself. One of the students described this in terms of their current work – the micro narrative of which is architectural development of a rural area local to them with the grand narrative being change. Ariadne also discussed how work and research comes together in increments as smaller pieces and how sometimes undertaking the smaller parts will eventually lead to the whole becoming apparent. (As I am writing this I am realising exactly how much work I need to put into expressing ideas clearly)
Anyway – here are the images. They are all taken quickly, without any real consideration about being seen as a set. I don’t know if this is anything to pursue, but in the least, ‘collecting’ random items could be a diverting project in itself.
The majority of Joachim Schmid’s practice involves gathering and re-presenting photographs taken by an anonymous public. He describes himself variously as curator, editor and artist – it could be argued that each of these titles is factually correct, however, his work has a strong conceptual underpinning with recurring concerns about the value of photography as a cultural practice, particularly the role played by the photograph in everyday life. The images he collects/repurposes/finds are often intentionally discarded by their creators – by repurposing them Schmid is creating what he describes as an ‘anti-museum’ where assumptions of photographic worth are questioned. As Heffley describes:
“By gathering the world’s photographic rejects and mounting them on gallery walls, Schmid’s work asks us to reconsider the so-called photographic canon, which depends on weighty notions of history, authenticity, and authorship.”Heffley (S.D.)
Joan Fontcuberta, in his essay ‘Archive Noises’, explains that Schmid’s work is concerned with “visual ecology” – in a world where we are supersaturated by images, the abundance of which leaves us confused:
“Schmid cancels the value of production (taking pictures) and shifts it to selection, to the act of pointing and choosing.”(Fontcuberta, 2014: 172)
Fontcuberta also has this to say about Schmid’s practice:
“[it] has its origins in the idea that excess, waste and rubbish are paradigmatic effects of late capitalism. His projects espouse a kind of photographic ecology, but they are also concerned with the values of the creative experience itself: accumulation, chance, authorship, quality and originality.”(Caspar, S.D.)
Schmid himself says this about this practice:
“I’ve been working with found/appropriated imagery because I think that basically everything in the world has now been photographed in every possible way. We have an incredible amount of pictures after a hundred years of industrialised image-making, so making more pictures is no longer a creative challenge. Nevertheless this production of photographs, of images, goes on: photographs will always be produced. It’s not so much the production of photographs which needs to concern us, but the use of them.”(Fontcuberta, 2014: 172)
Heffley quotes a section for a manifesto that was co-authored by Schmid for the 2011 exhibition ‘From Here On’ which gives an insight into both his philosophy and thoughts about the very modern problem of image overload that I find compelling:
“Now, we’re a species of editors. We all recycle, clip and cut, remix and upload. We can make images do anything. All we need is an eye, a brain, a camera, a phone, a laptop, a scanner, a point of view. And when we’re not editing, we’re making. We’re making more than ever because our resources are limitless and the possibilities endless.”(Heffley, (S.D.)
I must admit my initial thoughts were that Schmid’s practice was something of an intellectual exercise rather than anything that I would find interesting – in fact, the concept of simply collecting photographs from different sources seemed quite boring. I quickly realised that this unfounded preconception was completely wrong and the many ways Schmid has developed his core idea, pushing the limits and developing all the time is both inspiring and thought provoking. The work has strong theoretical underpinning and is rigorously formed, but most importantly, there is a sense of play and joy in the work. Schmid’s character is all over each project – the most significant parts of my research have been listening to him talk about his work – his enthusiasm is infectious.
Pictures from the street (1982-1999):
This series is made up of photographs Schmid found discarded in the street. The mystery of why the pictures were discarded is what makes the series compelling as it is left to the audience to complete the stories that could accompany them. The physical nature of the pictures is also significant with some being scratched and worn, others ripped or defaced. The photographs are catalogued by number (there are 1000 in the series), date and location found in a way that gives the series connotations of an anthropological or scientific study. The series eventually came to a natural end as digital photography meant people were no longer printing photographs so there were simply less to be found. Schmid says this about the project:
“Most of these pictures are intentionally discarded, many are ripped up. It’s exactly the opposite of a museum collection that is meant to preserve the finest samples of our culture for future generations. These pictures from the street must be so bad and disturbing that they were not meant to have any future at all. My project foils this plot, and I guess eventually it will end up complementing a museum collection. It’s the missing piece.”(Shore, 2014: 22)
Cotton (2014: 213) says this:
“By being discarded, the photographs represent the loss of personal memories and also their active rejection. These differing processes of archive-construction emphasise that what is being retrieved from the pictures is their status as evidence; that the contiguity between image and object can be shaped to create a re-engagement with forgotten histories and also projected fantasies of their historical and emotional resonance.”
Archiv develops the strategy of Pictures from the street to include anonymous snapshots and commercial photographs classified by generic type and shared aesthetic characteristics. Heffley describes the project, which is presented in groups, carefully mounted on panels as “a visual taxonomy of the mundane.”
“No attempt is made to ‘interpret’ beyond the acts of gathering and collating. Viewers are invited to manoeuvre between contemplating the images individually or as whole arrangements. Despite the uniqueness of each image what emerges is the systematic, serial nature of photography in mass culture.”Campany (2013: 63)
Fontcuberta (2014: 175-6) believes Schmid’s use of a classification style that evokes the thematic cataloguing of archives is a satirical exercise which also mocks the pretensions of the Dusseldorf school.
This series, made in collaboration with Adib Fricke, is described on Schmid’s website as “an ironic comment on the accidental nature of photography.” Looking at anonymous snapshots found in fleamarkets, Schmid and Fricke occasionally came across photographs that bore resemblance to the ‘unmistakable work’ of great masters such as Ansel Adams and Eugene Atget. These were presented as if they were images by the photographers themselves along with an essay attributed to photo-historian Helmut Gernsheim included to add authenticity.
The timing of this series is significant because 1989 marked both the 150th anniversary of the birth of photography and was also a time it had become accepted into the art market. This acceptance relied on academic historiography which categorised photography in terms of authorship and canon while classifying photographs as both commodity and collectors item. By selecting anonymous amateur snapshots and suggesting a false authorship, Fricke and Schmid directly critique the way value, or worthlessness, is invested in photography.
The R. Flick Collection (2017) is the digital sequel to ‘Masterpieces of Photography’ with the same concept being applied to images appropriated from the internet.
In 1990 Schmid invented the Institute for the Reprocessing of Used Photographs (IRUP) – an imaginary organisation that claimed old photographs were both a health and environmental risk and offered to recycle them free of charge. He placed ads in the press and was surprised by how seriously the concept was taken – masses of what they deemed to be useless photographs were sent to him which then formed the basis for further projects. (For example, Photogenic Drafts, and Statics)
Photogenic Drafts (1991):
This series was made out of photographs sent to the IRUP. A professional portrait studio sent masses of medium format studio portraits, however, each was cut in half to prevent their reuse. Undeterred, Schmid brings together two different images in this series to create new images that interesting juxtapositions between each side – young and old, male and female are presented together as collages that are quirky, humorous and also disturbing. The images succeed because the posing and lighting techniques used by the studio allow the images to be combined together in new, interesting and unintended ways.
Statics was a conceptual and aesthetic departure for Schmid and is the response to feeling overwhelmed by the volume of images that were sent to him via the IRUP. Up until this point Schmid believed that all photographic images could be recycled in one way or another, indeed his practice up until this point was entirely based on this assumption. Now, faced with piles of photographs that could be measured in weight rather than counted, he faced the realisation that many of them were useless. Rather than throw them in the bin however, he took the radical step of using an industrial shredder to cut the images before carefully reassembling them – a process which is both an act of destruction and transformation. He describes the resulting strips as “white noise” (Shore, 2014: 22) which seems an appropriate description both about the images themselves and of the overwhelming feeling that Schmid faced.
Fontcuberta likens Statics to a parody of what it is like to watch an encoded TV channel without the right decoder:
“The fog, the noise and the parasites that cloud the clarity of the communication here become signals that reveal the disruptions of knowledge and memory. Statics can thus be read as a commentary on the archive in terms of loss: it confronts us with a dialectic between documentation and experimentation, or between memory and forgetting. It also confronts us with the institutional mandates that are established in the archive and the museum.”(Fontcuberta, 2014: 178)
Photographic garbage survey project (1996-7):
This project sees the Schmid’s concept of the ‘anti-museum’, as well as ideas from his earlier projects, developed into what Heffley describes as “an urban archaeology circumscribed by the conditions of a specific place and time.” Over two years Schmid meticulously explored preplanned routes around seven cities, collecting, preserving and documenting every piece of photographic garbage he found. The objects were exhibited alongside maps showing the route and statistical data such as type and condition of the photographs found.
Other people’s photographs (2008-2011):
This series sees Schmid embracing the change that digital technology had made to amateur photography – rather than finding his source material discarded or in flea markets, they are taken from photo sharing sites such as Flickr. The images are arranged in a quasi-encyclopaedic way as 96 print on demand books based around themes that Schmid observed as recurring motifs in the images he looked at. (For example – food, self, sunsets.) Not only did the advent of digital photo sharing make this project possible, but the development of print on demand technology made the output of the work as individual books possible.
Boothroyd observes that Schmid’s thematic curation of these photographs is a critical look at our relationship with photography and how we continually repeat ourselves by taking the same images. Responding to this question, Schmid states:
“They work. We know that raising kids is not a bed of roses but if you look at the photos people take of their kids the world is just fine. Not much crying, no diapers, no throwing up, no measles. That’s what people want. A happy marriage but no divorce. One of three marriages does end in divorce in modern society but this is not reflected in popular photography. People will rather try a second marriage than a new approach to photography. I guess it’s more comfortable to base your life on the assumption that things will be all right. Living with the idea that things may well go wrong is closer to reality but not very popular.”(Boothroyd, 2013)
Digital photography and photo sharing also represents a number of key changes to analogue photography. Previously, the images Schmid collected were mainly vintage, particularly those from fleamarkets which were often sold after the owner had passed away. Now, the images he selects are up to date and contemporary. The lack of cost involved in making digital images is also a factor, and an explanation for the growth in unusual genres – for example, the trend in food photography. In typically dry fashion, Schmid notes that many of the images he sees online would have made excellent conceptual projects in the 1980s. Batchen makes this observation:
“Here on Flickr, through the mediating agency of Schmid’s hunting and gathering, we get to see the art world, which once upon a time mimicked this aspect aspect of so-called snapshot aesthetic, now having that mimicry copied and reabsorbed back into vernacular practice. It seems the analog snapshot is indeed remembered in digital form, but only via a historic artistic mediator.”(Batchen, 2013)
Estrelas amadas/Beloved stars (2013):
The images for this series were found by Schmid in a set magazines from the 1950s bought at a Portuguese flea market. The black and white images of actors within have their lips coloured red by the former owner. Schmid seed the act of a young woman dreaming with a colour pencil in hand despite growing up in a poor country under a dictatorship as inspirational:
“I am not very interested in the fact that these interventions are non-photographic, and I am not very interested in the photographs themselves…The personal use of these photographs makes them so special, and the fact that the alterations are so meticulous in this absolutely stunning red…I love it if people do something with photos, draw or paint over them, make collages, add writing or whatever…It’s just a pity people don’t do it more often.”(Shore, 2014: 22)
Batchen, G. (2013) Observing by watching: Joachim Schmid and the art of the exchange. Aperture #210, Spring 2013. Available at: https://aperture.org/blog/observing-by-watching-joachim-schmid-and-the-art-of-exchange/ [accessed 22nd October 2019]
Boothroyd, S. (2013) An interview with Joachim Schmid. WeAreOCA, December 10th 2013. Available at: https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/photography/an-interview-with-joachim-schmid/?cn-reloaded=1 [accessed 28th September 2019]
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Wells, L. (ed.) (2003) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge.
It was important for me to experiment with this assignment and I feel that I have done that (as evidenced in my previous post detailing the development of this project.) After arriving at a process of working that resulted in a series of images that could be brought together in a composite, it was important to me to recreate this earlier approach before pushing the limits of what could be made from the images as far as I could. Overall I am pleased with the work I have produced here but frustrated at the amount of time I have taken to reach this point.
Making the final composites has meant that I have needed to refine my use of Photoshop, being able to balance experimentation alongside having a strong idea about how the original piece would look has been a major learning for me. This brief for this assignment could easily mean that two completely separate sets of images would be produced. I have attempted to link both approaches together which is successful to a point, particularly the similar use of the way people are placed either walking towards or away from the camera. Without the brief however, it is unlikely that the two sets would be shown together which makes me question how well they do actually work together. Compositionally, there is a distance present in each of the images that resulted from where I positioned the camera and the fact that I tried not to draw attention to the fact photographs were being taken. Looking back on the work of Peter Funch and Chris Dorley-Brown I note that where they began to take the images was a major consideration for them, particularly Dorley-Brown who in some ways is interested primarily in the urban landscape and architecture rather than the people. The positioning of my camera was based more on necessity than anything else – I wonder if I repeated the exercise again if I would choose the same place?
At a point when I am so immersed in this project it is difficult to give an objective analysis of the quality of the outcome, however, I am happy with the level of experimentation I have made which I think is real progress for me. I have tried to unify the assignment through the subject matter and to make a feature of the brief to produce two approaches – one physical, the other digital. An unexpected difference between the work I have made here and my earlier digital experiments is how changeable the lighting conditions were on the day I made these images. Initially I tried to blend the tones of each aspect of the images with the background before embracing the uncanny effect which creates an unsettling feeling. I am not sure how well this works and whether it is too disconcerting for the overall effect, or even if my analysis forms a kind of justification that is unwarranted, but the effect has grown on me. Conversely, this aspect of the source images really helps contrast the different ‘strips’ in the physical montage part of the assignment.
Following advice from the tutor on my previous course, I have tried to write the introduction to the assignment as if it was an an artists statement/text accompanying an exhibition of the images rather than as a student. To communicate the essence of a project in a concise way that both explains and unlocks the work while being concise and establishing context is a particular skill and something that is important to practice as I move towards level 3. For this particular assignment I have struggled to hit the right tone and although the introduction details how the work was made there is not enough about why I chose this approach. At this point I need some time away from considering the work to be able to rethink how I can rework this – I am hoping my feedback will help me gain some clarity.
The digital part of the work is definitely my comfort zone although I have been able to refine my workflow and refresh aspects of my Photoshop knowledge. From the beginning I knew that the physical part of the assignment would be the part that challenged me the most and I am glad that I have tried different approaches before arriving at my preferred method. I also think my decision to keep this part relatively simple was sound and has resulted in a more effective final set. Also, although the source photographs were taken over the short period of one hour, many hours have gone into selecting images, experimenting with different layouts and considering each in turn. This emphasises to me the importance of the editing process and it has benefited me having to spend so much time with the set as a whole as it has concentrated my attention on which images should be selected. I have often been faced with the problem that a particular aspect deserves selection only to find that it does not fit into the overall composition – the ability to leave these behind is a real development for me.
Although I approached this assignment without any conscious thought about other artists who have produced this kind of work, I found my research into the practices of Chris Dorley-Brown and Peter Funch provided inspiration rather than self doubt – previously I would have been demotivated by such a discovery, but here, I was able to use this research to spur on my own work.
When I have considered the length of time that it has taken me to complete this first part of the course, I have considered the amount of research I have conducted and whether I should pare this down. I can categorically say that this research has been essential – even though I have not explored each artist in a practical way I have taken something from each and I am sure I will return to many of these artists in the future for inspiration. The difficulty is that it is impossible to tell which aspects of research will return to inform the kernel of an idea. This is an aspect of my study that I now understand is fundamental to my development and something I intend to continue to pursue through the course.
Although I have alluded to ideas around realism, documentary value and the indexical nature of photography in my introduction to the assignment, there is a lack of theoretical underpinning in the work. I wonder how much of an issue this is in this instance – at this point it would be disingenuous to attempt to retrospectively validate the work by adding theory, in many ways the point is that it is an experimental exercise. I do wonder however if I should have considered this more closely as I developed the assignment. Perhaps Baudrillard (particularly Simulacra and Simulation) would be appropriate here?
On a sunny day in August 2019 I chose a nondescript area of the front street of my local town, Stanley, Co. Durham, and set my camera to photograph the same scene at regular intervals for one hour. Over this time I did not intervene with the picture making process – each of the 640 photographs made rely completely on randomness and chance. From these raw materials, two sets of triptychs are presented – the first uses digital techniques to place figures into the imaginary landscape and the second uses traditional cut and paste techniques bringing ten individual ‘slices’ of images together.
The idea for the series initiated from thoughts about how street photography, and the notion of the decisive moment, could be subverted and challenged. The final images are both accurate and truthful records of reality at a particular moment and works of wholly constructed fiction. While the digital compositions are less evidently constructed, they also have an uneasy sense of hyperreality while the cut and paste images seem more realistic despite foregrounding the way they are brought together physically. Together, the two sets allow consideration and contemplation of photographs relationship to memory, reality and imagination.
The complex relationship between photography and indexical truth is demonstrated in ‘One Hour Photo’ – the final composites could not exist without my intervention and yet they are completely made from the raw images collected over that one hour. Multiple combinations are possible, and yet, the six composites are my final – albeit completely subjective – interpretations. My judgements were driven by instinct and it is unlikely someone else would make the same choices meaning multiple narratives are possible from the same source material.