During the General Election campaign of 2019 I collected political posts and memes from the various political parties with the intention of using these in assignment 2. Following the landslide victory of the Conservative Party I was struck by how quickly these previously important pieces of campaigning became dated and obsolete and was left wondering if there was a project to be made from them. The way the political landscape changed, literally overnight, was both staggering and bewildering to me – the deadlock of Brexit which had consumed the news and political debate since the referendum result was now over and the bill that had previously brought parliament to a standstill was quickly passed without incident. Reflecting on how politics had changed so quickly I was struck that the election had been fought, lost and won in a presidential manner with the the leaders of both main political parties being put front and centre. Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson were now yesterdays news and Boris Johnson was praised for his daring calculation and leadership through the campaign.
By accident I came across a way I could explore ideas of image and politics that had been the catalyst for collecting these posts – looking at them on my computer I found them reflected in my daughter’s illuminated mirror that happened to be beside the screen. I experimented taking images with my iPhone and instantly felt this approach could have some potential.
I then experimented removing the background in photoshop:
The development of the idea up until this point is detailed in my earlier post here:
Development and experimentation:
Although I liked the way of working with my iPhone, and the thought of using this as a tool to make images for the assignment was appealing, it soon became apparent to me that I needed to create a uniform style for the images in order for them to make a coherent set. To achieve this, I set up my camera on a tripod focused on the illuminated mirror which was angled in such a way to display an image from my computer screen. I then went through each of the images from the social media posts I had saved that featured Boris Johnson. I found that I could use my wireless mouse remotely as a way of moving and enlarging the images so they could be shown in the mirror and I could also check the composition. At the end of this process, which took a great deal more time than I expected and involved a couple of false starts where I had to begin the process from scratch, I was left with 223 images. Using Photoshop I then selected the central part of the images and removed the background, here are contact sheets of these:
Selection, editing and sequencing:
My main concern when selecting the images was to minimise any sign of context – my aim was to focus solely on Johnson. A number of motifs recurred that tied into the myth Johnson had made about him being a different kind of politician – the unkempt hair, the personable gestures, the friendly, everyman persona and the clown, unafraid to make himself look foolish. The images came from official Conservative Party sources, news websites and posts that were in opposition to both Johnson and the Tories – I was struck how having removed the context for the images it was now difficult to place the sources of many of them. Something I had noticed at the time was how some images were even used both by the Conservatives and their opposition to illustrate conflicting viewpoints about Johnson. Similarly to Donald Trump, Johnson had a way of polarising the electorate with many either vehemently for or against – the campaign seemed unconcerned with trying to convince those in the opposing camp and aimed to amplify all of the things that attracted people to Johnson while emphasising how he represented a difference to the status quo that had brought British politics to a standstill.
Ultimately, my selection was based on instinct and personal preference. A number of images showed pixillation due to either the low resolution of the source image or due to the enlarging process. This was something I found visually interesting as there was a direct link in the image to the digital nature of the source, although I was concerned this could prove distracting when the images were presented together.
The question of editing was something I considered a great deal and ultimately struggled to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion about. The brief for the assignment suggests a minimum of 12 double pages, so 24 images potentially. Clearly my shortlist was much larger than this so I was faced with the decision about how many images to include. As the output that we are asked for is an electronic (PDF) book, there was the possibility that I could include a large amount of images. This approach could potentially fit with my idea about being bombarded with images, but could also be criticised for being undisciplined and indecisive. A potential solution could be to select the number of images that could be shown in a physical book, should I choose to pursue this route. (See below)
Equally difficult was the choice of sequencing – potential solutions were to form a developing narrative leading with images of Boris the statesmen to Boris the clown, that is, positive to negative (or vice versa). Or perhaps juxtaposing images from these extremes next to each other. Another idea could be to create a random sequence selected using chance or some other method that would prevent me imposing my personal views. This was something suggested by OCA tutor Andrew Conroy when he looked at my images for assignment 1 at an OCA North study day and would also fit with my interest in Dada. Of course, if I choose to make a physical book that allows images to put placed next to other by the viewer then this would mean I was no longer the author of the sequence.
Here is a rough PDF draft of all of the images together:
The brief for the assignment asks for the images to be presented as a pdf book. Having enjoyed working with physical images in assignment 1 and experimenting with collage I was also keen to transfer this into a physical object. I started thinking about innovative books I have come across and immediately remembered ‘Last Stop’ by George Georgiou, an exploration of London captured from the vantage point of a bus and presented as a concertina book. (See video about the book here.) Georgiou’s intention presenting the work in a book this way is that the viewer would be able put different images together to create juxtapositions and relationships between them that would echo the way taking the same journey each day can draw on similarities, differences and create surprising narratives. It struck me that my concerns about imposing my personal view of Johnson could be mitigated with a similar approach that would echo the random way I had come across these on the internet and allow them all to be viewed at once while retaining the form of a book. Another extension of this could be printing the multiple images onto a large piece of paper and folding it in a way that it became a book. I experimented with making a concertina book using card and this seemed like something that could work and would be worth pursuing.
Whether to include text or not in my finished presentation was something I considered throughout the experimentation process before I decided to feature the images without any words. I had considered the idea of sourcing pieces of text from the original social media posts I had collected but ultimately felt that this would go against my aim of forcing the viewer to interact with the series purely on the basis of image.
I have gained so much from the artists I have studied in this section of the course – perhaps to the point that I have taken a great deal of time conducting research. This is not something I would wish to change however as the inspiration that has followed has been something that has driven me on. The use of repetition and pushing a theme to extraordinary lengths is something that is of particular relevance and note for this assignment. (I am thinking particularly of Joachim Schmid, Erik Kessels, Hans Eijkelboom and Penelope Umbrico here.)
When researching Thomas Ruff, I came across this quote by Allan Sekula from his essay ‘Reading an Archive’. I am not sure if it has any place in this assignment, however, I have come back to it a number of times during the development of this series and it continues to resonate with me. I particularly like the sentence, “photographs in themselves, are fragmentary and incomplete utterances.” It is a quote that seems to fit my intentions for this series perfectly:
“Conventional wisdom would have it that photographs transmit immutable truths. But although the very notion of photographic reproduction would seem to suggest that very little is lost in translation, it is clear that photographic meaning depends largely on context. Despite the powerful impression of reality (imparted by the mechanical registration of a moment of reflected light according to the rules of normal perspective), photographs, in themselves, are fragmentary and incomplete utterances. Meaning is always directed by layout, captions, text, and site and mode of presentation.” (Sekula, 2003: 445)
Further developments and experiments:
A recurring theme from some of the artists I have studied during this part of the course is their ability to take an initial project and develop it further into multiple outputs – this is something I find inspiring. A number of developments for this project could be possible, although I do not want to become too hung up and distracted by these at the moment. One possibility is to put the images together as a video, which is something I will experiment with in the future (perhaps developing ideas I had with the introductory exercise – image flood.)
Joachim Schmid‘s series ‘Statics‘ is something that has particularly stayed with me since I looked at his work. My style of work has always been based on photography’s relationship with the real world, however, abstraction increasingly appeals to me and is something I am looking to experiment with. For ‘Statics’ I admire the way Schmid both transformed previous work into something else while making a new set of images that are completely abstract – the series is highly conceptually with multiple layers of meaning but the images themselves are aesthetically strong and can be enjoyed purely on those terms. I used the mobile app Adobe Capture to make some quick ‘sketches’ that could develop further:
The shapes feature quickly turns the images of Boris into line drawings which could potentially be further manipulated in Photoshop, for example, colouring and presenting in a style similar to Warhols screen prints.
The pattern feature has multiple options and creates a kaleidoscope from single images. This results here really appeal to me and they would work well as large, poster sized prints. I also wonder if there would be a way of capturing these and animating them?
The colors feature selects the key tones from an image – something that would push my ideas of abstraction to the limit!
Sekula, A. (2003) ‘Reading and Archive’ In: Wells, L. (ed.) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 443-452