Assignment 2: Response to Tutor feedback

My tutorial with Wendy left me a great deal to consider, most useful of which was something that has been on my mind for some time and incisively identified by Wendy – how to bring work to resolution quicker. Wendy was generous in her praise for the amount of work I had put into the assignment, interestingly however, the image she found most engaging was one of the first I made which showed the background around the mirror and was more documentary in nature than the subsequent images. Her advice was to remake 6-8 images using this simpler technique, something that she felt could be done quickly. This seemed like a reasonable point to make at the time of my tutorial and caused me to reflect on how becoming too close to a piece of work can prevent you from being able to look at it and assess it clearly. (I wonder if it is ever possible for the creator of a piece of work to be able to objectively assess it?) As I thought more about how to rework the assignment, I considered the following approaches:

  • Documentary approach:
    • photograph reflections of Boris in different locations – perhaps using my iPad.
    • Photograph imaging devices around the house with images of Boris on them. E.g. television, smartphone.
      • A development of this could be to include family members as part of this – using their devices.
      • The images of Boris could be brought into the photographs either by showing them on the devices or adding them digitally or physically.
    • I could add images of Boris digitally to documentary photographs from my local area.
  • Collage:
    • Rework the assignment as a collage in the style of John Stezaker, perhaps using found images of Boris at Eton or Cambridge juxtaposed with the election pictures.
    • Make work in the style of Peter Kennard’s ‘Profit/Studies for a Head‘ series (see notes below) which rely on the distinctive style of Boris e.g. unkempt hair.
  • Provocation:
    • When I looked at the work of Alison Jackson (see below), I was struck by the way she uses a confrontational style to challenge and satirise the way celebrities and politicians cultivate their media personas. Perhaps in my work on Johnson I am being too mannered and need to consider a more provocative approach that is more blatant in critiquing what I consider a media persona that is carefully developed to prevent true scrutiny.

Artists recommended by Wendy to look at:

John Stezaker:

I have previously researched the work of John Stezaker (see here) and have a great admiration for the simple effectiveness of his collages. It is a technique that I made a crude attempt to replicate here without a great deal of success – it is something that could warrant returning to however. Wendy mentioned to me how Stezaker experiments making these images physically in his studio, which is littered with attempts that have not worked. While I do not want to spend a huge amount of time on this, perhaps making composites physically could be a way to explore this technique further – it will be interesting to note if I have any more success with this than I did when I attempted the technique digitally.

Peter Kennard:

I have previously looked at the work of Peter Kennard (see here), however Wendy specifically pointed me to his Profit/Study for a Head series. For these works, images of politicians are collaged onto pages from the Financial Times as a comment on their complicity with policies of economic austerity. It is a simple, yet effective strategy with both elements of the collage being immediately identifiable as well as the identity of the politician. The immediate recognition that is achieved despite a lack of distinguishing facial features got me thinking about the possibility of doing something similar with Boris – someone who has a distinctive style that could be easily utilised.

Cornelia Parker:

Appointed election artist for the 2017 election. (See here.)

Alison Jackson:

See here.

Alison Jackson makes faux documentary style images with look a likes standing in as celebrities, politicians and members of the royal family. The work is witty, irreverent and convincing, as well as controversial and edgy. For example, a piece that imagines Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed posing with their mixed race child. The work causes a double take and a jolt – it is certainly of questionable taste to show a couple who died in such dramatic circumstances and it could be seen as complicit with the conspiracy theories that the Paris crash was actually an execution to prevent Diana continuing her relationship with a Muslim. By being completely convincing however, the viewer is forced to confront their own prejudices and personal relationship with class and race. I was aware of the work of Alison Jackson previously in a superficial way and it is something I will have to come back to again. The work is not immediately relevant to this assignment, however, it has made me consider whether my approach is too mannered – is the injection of an acerbic edge into the work to give an element of provocation a possible way to take it forward?

Simon Roberts:

Appointed election artist for the 2010 election. (See here.)

I have previously looked at the work of Simon Roberts (see here) and his work for the 2010 General Election was mentioned to me by my tutor for my previous course Documentary. Something that particularly resonates with me from this series is the video installation ‘When did you last cry?‘ The video is printed on 3 screens with images taken from during the 4 weeks of the election campaign, mainly shot through the side window of a car, accompanied by a soundtrack of ambient noise intercut with radio interview soundbites. I find the uncertainty and ambiguity of the piece entrancing – rather than providing a sense of optimism there is an uneasy tone of uncertainty about the future present.

Assignment 2: #boris

See here for posts leading to this assignment:


These images of Boris Johnson show the many sides of this polarising political figure. Appropriated from social media posted during the 2019 General Election campaign and stripped of their context it is sometimes difficult to tell which are intended to be in support of Johnson and which are not. We are left to consider who the real Boris is, and indeed, whether it is possible to make an accurate assessment of someone’s character by simply looking at a photograph.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

Making this work has required rephotographing images found on social media and manipulating these in Photoshop to remove the background. These were then presented as a book in PDF form and publishing to Issuu. The images are made by photographing the reflection of my computer screen into an illuminated mirror – this was a lengthy process that involved much experimentation in order that no reflections were visible in the image and the view was focused solely on the face of Boris Johnson.

Selection was probably the most important aspect of this assignment, first selecting possible candidates to be rephotographed, then reviewing and choosing possible final images from these before arriving at a final choice. I have tried show a variety of images but similarity has also been a factor in the images selected – repetition is an important aspect of this series both in terms of subject matter and theme. Although I describe this process as selection, deselection is more accurate as I refined my choices by removing images that I either felt were duplications or lacking in some way. The most common reason for this was removing images that either showed someone else in the frame or contained an element that I found distracted from focusing attention on Johnson. My usual method of selection is to make prints and review and select them physically. On reflection, this is something I should have done from the start as making choices on the screen is much more difficult than choosing a physical photograph. Publishing these images as an electronic book pushed me to select a large amount of images – my aim here was to emphasise the importance of image in politics and make a comment about how much politicians are photographed.

At this point I am unsure as to whether a smaller section would prove more effective. In my post detailing the development of this project, I discuss ideas about making a physical book from these images and my desire for this to allow the viewer the opportunity to influence the sequencing and viewing experience of the images in some way. This is something I am still interested in pursuing but feel I need to spend some time away from the images to allow some reflection before returning to make any further decisions about how to progress.

Quality of Outcome:

I am more satisfied with the concept of this series than the final outcome. When I started collecting social media posts during the 2019 General Election I had many ideas about possible ways to proceed and I am pleased with the way this assignment has developed organically. I am unsure how successful the conceit of photographing the images reflected into an illuminated mirror is, however, the experimentation I engaged in before arriving at my final approach has been a valuable learning experience for me. I have tried to make something that is not a straightforward exercise in appropriation, but I simultaneously worry that this has resulted in something that is simultaneously contrived and straightforward. I have tried to create a united set through the use of a consistent style and by photographing the mirror at the same angle, however, something more free form could have led to a more stimulating visual experience. My selections also aim to display nuance in the way Johnson is portrayed in an attempt not to impose my personal thoughts onto the viewer. Perhaps I should have made something more critical of Johnson, or a more overt narrative and not let this bother me so much. I had originally wanted to use text extensively but decided against this as I decided to leave the series ambiguous and open to reader interpretation and require the viewer to draw their own conclusions about my intentions and what the images mean. This is something I think works for the series and my intention to focus on the fallibility of image.

Demonstration of Creativity:

My aim with this series was to produce a set of images that makes the viewer question the way politicians are presented and present themselves in the media. I also wanted the nature of Boris Johnson’s persona to be called into question without overtly saying this is how the images are to be interpreted. There is enough ambiguity present for the viewer to arrive at differing conclusions, but I hope there is commonality in the realisation that the projected image of Johnson is more complex and contradictory than it might first appear. As I mention earlier, the key success for me for this assignment is how I have developed the idea organically to its eventual resolution, although I would consider the project not yet fully realised or possessing the ability to be taken in further divergent directions. A major problem that I must address however is the length of time it has taken me to bring the assignment to this point. Some of this has been the result of time constraints driven by family and home life, but much has been because I have procrastinated too long about what I am doing. Thinking about the work as unfinished is something that I have been focusing on as a strategy to help me get the work over the line – sometimes you can just end up being too close to what you are making that you arrive at a deadlock. By thinking about the work as something that is evolving and that can be returned to, I have eventually been able to finish this version.

Context:

The artists I have studied throughout this section of the course have been a major influence for me, particularly the way themes are developed and transferred into subsequent projects, there is a large amount of research evident in the ‘Artists’ section of my blog. Artists such as Penelope Umbrico, Joachim Schmid and Hans Eijkelboom and their use of repetition is something that has influenced this project. By putting visually connected images together the effect of similarity and difference is amplified and subtleties become more pronounced. The work of Christopher Spencer/Cold War Steve is also a major influence – his satirical edge is often brutal and funny and I greatly admire his prolific output and the way he publishes this on social media.

Assignment 2: Development

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:

Presentation:

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.

Context:

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!

Bibliography:

Sekula, A. (2003) ‘Reading and Archive’ In: Wells, L. (ed.) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 443-452