OCA North Study Day – Halifax – 8th March 2020

Vic Allen with a print of ‘Catchpoint’ (1932) by Bill Brandt. (Credit: Andrew Fitzgibbon)

Despite our guest OCA tutor being unable to attend the meeting at the last minute due to being unwell, we decided not to cancel our planned event as it had been in the diary for some time. I am so glad that we did as the day turned out to be well worth the journey with Vic Allen, arts director at Dean Clough Galleries where we hold the meetings more than ably filling the afternoon with an informative and entertaining presentation about holding an exhibition at the venue. By his own admission Vic can talk, but in a good way! He covered so much in his presentation, from the business of running a gallery, the history of the site and his personal views and opinions on art – all with great humour and enthusiasm. I have included some notes below that I managed to jot down as Vic spoke, although I must admit that most of the time I just enjoyed listening to him generously share his knowledge. The meeting ended with the group enthused about the possibility of holding a group exhibition next year, although it was apparent that this would require a great deal of work and collaboration. We agreed to focus on the practicalities of making this a reality at the next meeting and to putting ideas more formally together.

Notes from Vic’s presentation:

  • There are established ideas about what the art world is – however – in reality it is hard to activate and is often different to what is expected or assumed.
  • The artist needs to take responsibility for creating their own ‘art world’ through building connections, networks and engaging with like minded individuals.
    • Artists are often the best patrons and supporters for other artists.
  • Exhibitions are not about selling work but about seeing work in a different context and gaining feedback.
    • This moves an artists practice along and helps them develop.
    • Exhibitions can show the strengths and weaknesses in a body of work and present unexpected opportunities of viewpoint.
    • Exhibiting is an ongoing education – all artists should strive to exhibit as much as they can.
    • We learn from our mistakes not our successes and these move an artists practice on.
    • The collaboration between artist/curator/venue should not be underestimated.
  • Art vs. culture – an antagonistic relationship
    • Culture can be described as habit and art should be about breaking habits.
      • e.g. The Mona Lisa is now so much a part of cultural iconography that it can no longer be consider art.
    • Becoming a famous artist can mean having to (or being forced to) repeat the same formula.
    • Art should have a sell by date to keep it fresh.
    • Art is wider than the gallery space.
  • The gallery is to art what a car show room is to a car.
    • But cars aren’t built to be kept in a show room – they are for journeys and travelling.
  • You can’t have an art world where only great artists exist.
    • Art is not about excellence but about living life with artistic values.
  • Obsession with galleries as the only place to show art is a problem for the art world – too insular.
  • Dean Clough philosophy is about holding a mirror up to the community and inviting them in.
    • Exhibitions range from master to amateur – an approach not embraced by the art world usually!
  • What motivates you to make art?
    • Money?
      • Adulation?
        • Reverence?
          • Social impulse/impact?
            • Sense of fulfilment?
  • Dean Clough operates an open submissions policy (unusual for the art world) with exhibitors being chosen by a panel.
    • See Dean Clough submission guidelines on website here.
    • When making submissions think carefully about how/who to approach – important to build a process of connectivity with places would like to exhibit.
    • Visit and understand the venue.
    • Send concise information
      • It is best to package proposals as definite suggestions rather than leaving open ended which forces a yes/no response.
      • Submissions should be focussed and not overwhelming – “never send two paintings when one will do.”
  • Go to exhibitions and openings.
    • Opportunity to network and make connections.
    • Also the right thing to be interested in new work and galleries as a practicing artist – inspiration.
  • Have a website/web presence.
    • Only problem with this is it being out of date!
  • Deadlines can be useful in not letting work drag on unfinished forever.
    • Can also be a psychological benefit when things aren’t perfect!
  • Maintain a database of contacts – anyone who has expressed interested in work.
    • This is also your fanbase!
This famous 1932 photograph by Bill Brandt was brought out by Vic in a matter of fact way to illustrate a point he was making about the perceived value of art. (He quipped that a vintage print of the same image had recently sold for £140k, but as this was a later, and inferior print he thought it was only worth about £60k!) The scene where the image was shot, although clearly much changed, could be viewed from the room where our meeting was taking place. It felt like a privilege to view such an iconic photograph while at the same time I loved the way Vic showed admiration, but not reverence, for it. For the majority of the meeting it stood propped on the floor in the corner of the room – I wondered was it the image itself, the famous photographer or the value of the photograph that made it so special, and indeed, how much of this influenced how I felt about it.

General Election 2019

The 2019 General Election appeared to offer timely material for assignment 2. From the beginning there was much discussion about how the use of social media would be critical to the success, or otherwise, of the political parties so I decided to follow this closely. I set up specific accounts for Instagram and Twitter and followed all of the political agencies and candidates and news outlets I could find and saved any relevant posts. Keeping up with the posts was quite labour intensive and I am sure I missed a great deal as well as coming across the same information being presented over and over which was a wearying experience in itself. Despite this, by the end of the campaign I had amassed 1870 screenshots which varied wildly in their content and presentation. Here they are in thumbnail form:

Straight after the election I struggled to see what, if anything, I could make of these images and suspected that I may have wasted my time with the whole exercise. My preconception was that some sort of narrative would emerge but all I could see was a variety of propaganda from all sides the only difference being how openly it displayed itself as such. It also struck me how quickly all of these had become out of date – for example – the spectacularly brutal political exit of Jo Swinson. I considered juxtaposing opposing viewpoints or making a collection of memes but neither of these ideas particularly appealed. The more I thought about the various campaigns and how the Conservative’s successfully managed to return a large majority, the more I began to realise this success was not the result of winning any sort of argument but due to putting Boris Johnson front and centre – despite being in government for 10 years the campaign managed to change the narrative in a way that Boris represented something different to what had gone before. (There is huge resonance here with the success of Trump in the U.S. of course.) It seemed clear to me however that the persona Boris cultivates is a careful construct and apparent that this was the real story of the election. As I began filtering the screenshots by those that featured Johnson, my daughters mirror happened to be near by and I instinctively used it to take a photograph of Johnson reflected in the mirror with my smartphone:

The light around the mirror created an interesting halo effect, the contrast also pushed the digital noise which combined with the distortion caused by the angle I took the image. The thought of appropriating the imagery without any sort of intervention did not appeal to me and this seemed like a way I could add my own twist. I set about experimenting taking more images and removing the background of these in Photoshop:

There seems to be something here worth pursuing and experimenting with further both visually and conceptually. I showed these early experiments to fellow students at a recent DI&C hangout and they agreed which was encouraging. Considerations I need to make:

  • Uniformity of the images – initially I liked the varying angles of the images but this could be distracting when presented together. Perhaps I should try to find a way of photographing in a more uniform way? I took these by displaying the images at full screen size and then moving the mirror and smart phone around until I managed to capture an image that isolated Boris as much as possible. One possibility could be to keep the mirror stationary and move/enlarge the image on screen to be displayed to achieve the result I am looking for.
  • Presentation – if I continue with this idea for assignment 2 the course notes ask for the work to be presented as a book. I am not enthused with the idea of producing a traditional book but at the same time do not want to make something different for the sake of it. I have been interested in making a handmade concertina book as I have seen this used to great effect in other projects and like the idea that the viewer can juxtapose images themselves. I have also been increasingly interested in the handmade after some experimentation through part one, although my ambitions are not necessarily matched by my skills. There is a risk that I could become completely side tracked here that I need to be aware, and keep check of.
  • Does it need to be a book? – I have noted that some DI&C students have completely disregarded the idea of producing a book and made something else. The idea of making a film appeals as this is something I want to explore more in the future, although I am not sure what this would look like. An extension of my early experiment for the preliminary exercise ‘Image Flood’ could be a possibility as having a large amount of subtly different images would work well together.
  • Text – my initial thoughts are to keep to text to a minimum or even to have none at all. One thought I have however if I choose to include text is to make a ‘found poem’ from words found in the social media posts. This is something comedian Dave Gorman does to great effect with comments from the internet and is influenced by the cut up technique famously used by William Burroughs and David Bowie to create unexpected relationships between words through the use of chance.
  • Sequencing – a comment made in response to my assignment 1 by tutor Andrew Conroy at an OCA North study day I attended was that I should experiment with allowing cut up sections of the images to fall in a random fashion and then photograph the results. This could be a potential technique to use when sequencing the images for this project.

#personsofinterest

Browsing Facebook I came across a post from my local police force asking the public for help in identifying a suspect. The details of what the individual was wanted in connection with were left tantalisingly ambiguous, with wrongdoing only being suggested as they were ‘a person of interest’ wanted in relation to an ‘incident’. The most immediately striking aspect of the post was that the image was of such a low resolution that I doubt even a close family member would be able to identify them which led me to consider what the intentions of the police were – was this a case of sloppy amateurism or something else?

A quick look through the comments on the post amused me as most responders made fun of how bad the image was. Pressing the hashtag #personsofinterest brought up a whole series of further posts in a similar vein and my mood began to change from amused to troubled – how ethical was it for the police to attempt to identify people this way? It seemed that each of the people featured were at best suspects that had not been charged with anything, potentially ‘outing’ them in this way could damage anyone identified significantly. Even if they were guilty of something, how could it be right that they are portrayed as such without some sort of due process? The quality of the images was so poor that incorrect identification could be a strong possibility – indeed, many comments alluded to this as friends were tagged in jest.

I am unsure if there is any potential use for these except for making me think about the nature of surveillance, law enforcement and all of the connected issues and ethics involved. It also made me consider how much we are unknowingly filmed and photographed each day and how this could potentially be used to control – it is not so much of a stretch to think that we are at a point in everyday surveillance that makes the controlling principles of the Panopticon a reality. These images are so poor that the intentions of the police in showing them have to be questioned – is it such a leap to believe that the aim is not to catch the people in them at all but to make a wider suggestion to the population that any illegal activity could lead to their image being shared on social media? Is this crime prevention by stealth that makes everyone consider the consequences of any potential actions before engaging in them? Or, is this simply a way for the police to demonstrate to law abiding citizens that they are engaged in bringing wrong doers to justice? Perhaps there is a more pragmatic reality that due to funding cuts the police need are using every tool at their disposable to detect criminals and this is a particularly easy way of achieving this.

#personsofinterest

Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein (Hatton Gallery, Newcastle)

Roy Lichtenstein is an artist who’s work I feel a great deal of familiarity with despite not knowing a huge amount about him. Lichtenstein was a pioneer of the pop art movement and his most famous work appropriates both the content and aesthetic of the comic book, although he exaggerates and distorts by either enlarging the image to a huge size or cropping to focus on details. I like the way Hal Foster described his work as the “handmade readymade” – a description that both recognises the craft and skill that Lichtenstein put into his paintings and the conceptual underpinning of his practice:

“His work was…not industrially mechanised, but blending careful techniques of handwork (drawing, tracing, painting, emphasising brushstroke, line and Ben-Day dot) with the reproduction and screening of found images.” (Churchwell, 2013)

Two Nudes (1994) Left, Nude Reading (1994) Right

The exhibition features a couple of examples of work from the 1960s that could be classed as typical examples of pop art, but, focuses mainly on his late period work from the 1990s such as the reflection and nudes series’. As well as pop culture, Lichtenstein also applies his signature style to ‘master’ painters – responses to the work of Monet and Picasso are featured in the exhibition. While there is often irony and humour present in Lichtenstein’s work, Livingstone (2019) states that Lichtenstein took great delight in re-imaging familiar works of art. This is something I would definitely agree with, and also something that is present throughout his work – despite the clear way the source material for his paintings is directly on show, there is also a clear creative ‘voice’ present:

“There is never a sense of him trying to deceive the viewer, or of passing off a found image as his own; the pleasure, on the contrary, lies in the affectionate translation of sources clearly identifiable to educated viewers into a composition of graphic clarity and economy that rejects the personal handwriting of brushwork, but that paradoxically could not have emerged from any studio but his own.” (Livingstone, 2019)

Brushstroke (1965)
Explosion (1965-6)

Out of all of the work on show, I found the reflections series the most inspirational. Many of these revisit famous images previously made by Lichtenstein but feature metalised stripes across the composition which disrupt and abstract the image as well as making a comment about mirrors due to the reflective nature of the material. The exhibition notes draw attention to the way the stripes give a sense of depth by emphasising the foreground and background of the pictures which is normally absent in Lichtenstein’s work as it is defined by the deliberate flatness of the compositions. Lichtenstein himself is quoted as saying he made the work as an excuse to make abstract work – a typically light hearted response that does not make the more studied reading any less true.

Reflections on Minerva (1990) Left, Reflections on Conversation (1990) Right
Reflections on Crash (1990)
Reflections on the Scream (1990)
Reflections on Girl (1990)

This exhibition was a revelation to me and is particularly relevant at this moment as thoughts about how I can interpret the brief for assignment 2 is very much on my mind. The brief for this asks that we use archive or readily available images as our starting point – the way Lichtenstein transformed the work he appropriated, particularly the abstraction that is present in the reflections series, could be a way of working I can incorporate myself.

Links:

Bibliography:

Churchwell, S. (2013) Roy Lichtenstein: from heresy to visionary. The Guardian, 23rd February 2013. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/feb/23/roy-lichtenstein-heresy-to-visionary (accessed 7th January 2020)

Fentiman, C. (2019) Review – Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein. Corrridor8. Available at: https://corridor8.co.uk/article/artist-rooms-roy-lichtenstein/ (accessed 5th January 2020)

Livingstone, M. (2019) Pop goes the past. Tate etc. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-27-spring-2013/pop-goes-past (accessed 7th January 2020)

National Galleries Scotland (s.d.) Roy Lichtenstein Learning Resource. Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/features/roy-lichtenstein-learning-resource (accessed 7th January 2020)

The Crack (2019) Art Editorial: The Art of Poise. The Crack Magazine. Available at: https://www.thecrackmagazine.com/view-editorial/6664 (accessed 5th January 2020)

Whetstone, D. (2019) Artist Rooms Roy Lichtenstein at the Hatton Gallery. Only In Newcastle. Available at: https://www.only-in-newcastle.co.uk/blog/artist-rooms-roy-lichtenstein-at-the-hatton-gallery/ (accessed 5th January 2020)

Andy Warhol and Learning Logs…

While researching artist Samin Ahmadzadeh, I came across a quote from Andy Warhol that I found inspiring. I am noting this here after reading various discussions regarding the learning log following a presentation by OCA tutor Andrea Norrington on the subject. (See OCA discuss forum thread here and Simon Chirgwin’s blog post here.)

I was unable to attend the zoom call presentation but was keen to understand what was discussed. Much seems to have been made about how the learning log is different, and separate, from the blog. The learning log provides context and the material should be from the coursework and assignments. It should record work as it is being done, for example, notes, sketches and physical work in progress. Two important points are made that particularly resonate with me – learning log entries do not need to be finished writing (they can use abbreviations and even emojis) and they should not take a long time to write or read. As noted in my reflection on part one, time taken on the course is a major concern for me – this information is perhaps the ‘kick’ I need to put thoughts about what I need to do to progress faster into practice…so, here is the quote from Warhol that previously I would have filed somewhere and forgotten about. Perhaps I should print it and stick above my desk…

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide whether it is good or bad, whether they love or hate it. While they’re deciding, make even more art.”

Andy Warhol (Bahadur, 2016)

Bibliography:

Bahadur, T. (2016) All Woven Up. On Art and Aesthetics. Available at: https://onartandaesthetics.com/2016/12/03/all-woven-up/ [accessed 24th November 2019]

Chirgwin, S. (2019) Logs and that. Digital Image and Culture – Simon Chirgwin, 24th November 2019. Available at: https://chirgwinphoto.wordpress.com/2019/11/24/logs-and-that/ [accessed 24th November 2019]

OCA North Study Day – Halifax – 10th November 2019

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.

Images from the series ‘1984’

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.

Postcard featuring a still from Indices of Irregular Return

‘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.

An example of artist Chris Graham’s politically driven work – Donald Duck/Donald Trump

‘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!

Reflection on Part One

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!

Documentary:

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.

Time:

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.

Research/blog:

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.

Experimentation:

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.

Assignment 1:

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.

Peer interaction:

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.

Exhibitions:

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.

Summary:

  • Keep up the momentum – work little and often and do not confine working on the course to particular days (e.g. days off).
  • Do something course related everyday no matter how small – e.g. reading, note taking, even take some pictures!
  • Set a time limit for research and writing blog posts.
  • Remember that the assignments are the most important parts of the course and this should be reflected on the amount of time spent on these rather than the coursework. Doing this will hopefully mean time management will take care of itself.
  • Keep experimenting – make work without considering too closely where it will go. Translate research into practitioners into practical work, e.g. techniques used.
  • Make blog posts on exhibition visits more about my personal response rather than an attempt to be a definitive analysis of the work.

HE6 presentation with Ariadne Xenou – 24th October 2019

I came across this online session via the OCA discuss forum and although aimed at students already enrolled on level 3 (HE6) courses ‘Contextual Studies’ and ‘Body of work’, I decided to join with the hope that I would be able to gain some insight into what is expected in the final year, and also hopefully gain something that would help my current course. The aim of the presentation (which is intended to become a regular event) is to address areas of concern facing students at the start of HE6 with a specialist tutor (along with photography programme leader Gina Lundy.)

At first I felt disadvantaged by not being familiar with the CS and BOW. Despite this, there was much in the talk that I have taken away – some of which will help when I begin the final year courses but also much that will help with DI&C. Initial thoughts:

  • Intense but informative presentation which gave me lots to think about but felt I was a bit lost because of my lack of knowledge of level 3 material.
  • Resonated with concerns I have been having about how to start, maintain and theoretically underpin a project.
  • Enjoyed the thought that theory, research and practice are all linked, inform each other, and should not be explored individually.
  • Gave a real idea of the jump to level 3 and that I need to be ready for this.
  • Found the concepts of grand narratives and micro narratives fascinating and the analogies used really helped with my thinking about strategies to approach a project. Need to do much more research about this though.
  • Liked the emphasis on planned, critical thinking and a forensic approach – to be always questioning what is valid and put aside things that are not informing the project.

Here are some notes from the presentation:

  • The approach to CS and BOW should not be separated as they are factually similar in terms of research and output.
  • Both projects deal with ideas – both visual and written – that should be analytical, critical and inquiring. They are intense and intensive, need targeted thinking and targeted making.
  • Grand narratives (grand stories/important stories – the stories we want to tell through the work) – are told through smaller details or microhistories.
    • This is looking at the bigger picture through tiny details.
    • Analytical investigation of minor details can identify bigger patterns.
    • “the methodology of microhistory is not about how small the story is, but about the power of the microscope you use.” – in order to show the big picture, small details must be analysed.
  • Establishing a methodological approach:
    • Choose a subject that truly interests you.
    • Be specific – make lists, write about it, break it down into small components, use your ‘critical microscope’.
  • Research:
    • Ask – ‘how can I tell?’, ‘How can I get information?’, ‘How do I know about this?’
    • Test your knowledge, information and sources.
    • Analyse the small aspects of your grand narrative.
    • Research is incremental, built slowly and bit by bit – methodically.
      • “by looking at the smaller details you will find more threads that link to other things and therefore you will have a much more kind of varied background.”
    • Ask ‘so what?’ about everything.
  • Methodology:
    • Look at your work as a problem which demands a solution – as a puzzle.
    • Grand narrative – your overarching subject – small details used to make large points.
    • You need to be aware of the context and complexity in order to make a statement/communicate effectively.
    • It is important to clarify and identify key aspects of the grand narrative to prevent going down a rabbit hole of unimportant details.
      • A logical structure and sequence will keep you on track and on the right path.
      • The best way to keep on track is to methodically deal with both the problem and the subject.
  • Question yourself and your subject constantly:
    • Do not take information and any preconceptions for granted.
    • Keep wondering whether you have it right and if there is a better way to explain and understand.
    • This will help with understanding fully and communicating better.
  • Establishing a research question:
    • Tagmemics (a very straightforward and helpful way to determine your subject) –
      • Regard the overall topic as a particle/a thing itself
        • Don’t look at things around the topic – only at that.
      • Research as much as possible about ‘the thing itself’.
      • Once researched, begin to regard the topic as a wave – a thing changing over time.
      • Begin to build relationships with adjacent topics.
        • The topic becomes a ‘thing in its context’.
    • e.g. Our understanding of documentary photography is considerably different now than it was in the Victorian era. You would ask:
      • How was documentary used?
      • Why did it change?
      • How did it change?
      • What made the change?
      • What is it now?
      • What are its variations?
  • Engaging with primary sources:
    • Could be anything – e.g. primary research, photographers, particular academic or theoretical work that informs the work.
    • Approach sources in terms of value they can offer – if you find no value, set them aside.
    • Know why you are engaging with the sources –
      • “be aware of the purpose of your task and subject and what they are offering.”
  • Make specific notes:
    • Make specific notes when engaging with any written or visual work –
      • Not only what the work is about, but also how it relates to your work.
    • When you move onto the next source, discuss how it relates to the previous source.
      • Link together, and always link back to your work.
    • “use your sources as evidence and compile your evidence as the core of your knowledge of the topic.”
    • Academic sources are our evidence and we compile them to bolster our own philosophical/visual argument.
      • Use these as building blocks/stepping stones to build the backbone of your work.
  • Research proposal:
    • Consider the methodology as a map to ensure we do not get lost in the arguments.
      • Ensures that we do not make bodies of work that speak to us and non one else.
    • Effective communication – similar to a map or recipe – needs to be easy to follow, needs to communicate, and needs to get us to our destination.
    • The heart of the methodology is the ‘working hypothesis‘ –
      • A plausible answer that you can go and test.
        • “plausible answers lead to a fine tuning of the kind of research we need to undertake.”
      • The methodology will tell you there is a working hypothesis.
      • A working hypothesis will lead you to find your targets.
    • Research proposals help us solidify and clarify the key concerns of our own work.
    • We write research proposals to promote and receive support from others.
    • Research proposals should be written clearly, correctly (syntactically and dramatically), with authority, passion and eloquence.

Links:

The Hunter’s Evidence: Carlo Ginzburg (Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, 4th November 2008)

OCA Discuss forum thread

Suggested further reading:

Cottrell, S. (2014) Dissertations and project reports: a step by step guide. At: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/detail.action?docID=4763634

(Part 3 has some good advice on getting started)

Greetham, B. (2014) How to write your undergraduate dissertation. Basingstoke, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. At: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/reader.action?docID=4762988

(Helpful chapters on preparation and planning your proposal)

Winstanley et al. (2012) Writing a dissertation for dummies. Hoboken, United Kingdom: John Wiley and Sons, Incorporated. At: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/reader.action?docID=712125

(Part 5 on managing the overall experience has general guidance/bullet point take homes)

No Parking

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.

Archive Composite Experiments

The two essays we are asked to read for project 4, John Fontcuberta: ‘Why do we call it love when we mean sex?’, and, Nina Lager Vestberg: ‘The photographic image in digital archives’, both discuss ideas and concerns around the archive. Both of these papers started me thinking about my own archive and using this as a possible resource for future work. With working towards assignment 1 in mind, I began to consider if this was a possible route to take – the brief requires composites to be made based on our immediate surroundings and I have hundreds of images that could show how certain parts of my local area have changed over time.

The first images I thought about were those taken for my Documentary assignment 5. This series was concerned with living in a post industrial area that had been built on coal mining. I photographed areas where there had previously been pits, old images of these sites fired my imagination as in them I recognised my familiarity with the areas, and yet, the sight of the collieries was also completely alien. Using these images as source material, I experimented with compositing them together:

Morrison Colliery:

Out of all the vintage images I happened upon for this project, this was one that resonated the most as the road is pretty much the same 100 years later. First, I layered one image over the other before masking vertical slices to reveal parts of each image. This was similar to a technique I had tried in previous experiments.

Neither of these images really work as it is difficult to make out either of the scenes – not something that necessarily is a problem, but something that I instinctively feel does not work here.

Next, I tried aligning the old image over the contemporary picture and blend them together using a layer mask.

The paths match exactly here and the images fit together well. Getting the balance between the two images is difficult, I tried converting the contemporary picture to black and white but this just made them both too similar to be differentiated. I have tried to minimise the halo effect around the blending of the towers, I have perhaps gone too far with this however.

Morrison Busty:

I applied the same blending technique to these next two images. Although to my eye these are identifiably the same place, they are less aligned than the first image so do not work as well together.

I am not sure if this is a technique or direction I would like to pursue further. This sort of layering of old and new images is something I have seen regularly applied, predominately on local history Facebook pages, and it is potentially my snobbishness that is clouding my judgement here. I wonder if there is mileage in applying this to different images, I do not usually have a problem with abstraction and it is perhaps my attachment to these images, having spent an extended amount of time considering them, that leads me to reject the ‘slice’ technique. I wonder how I would feel about this with images that I am not so attached to?

Bibliography:

Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Why do we call it love when we mean sex? in pp. 183-188: Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora’s camera: photogr@phy after photography. London: MACK

Vesteberg, N. The photographic image in the digital archives in Lister in pp.113-30: Lister, M. (ed.) (2013) The photographic image in digital culture. Abingdon: Routledge