Thinking about possible approaches for assignment 1 I decided to revisit the images I used for ‘Street scene composites’. My aim here was to bring work together in a way that would draw immediate attention to the fact they are individual images rather than as a convincing single montage as I had in the previous work.
This technique is a possibility for the physical part of assignment 1 – I decided to divide each image into equal sections, 10 in total, and ‘slice’ vertically before putting these together in photoshop. I went through each of the unedited pictures and chose sections that had elements that caught my eye – this was mainly where people were in the foreground. Once I had done this, I was able to switch between layers to create different final compositions – three of which are below:
Next, I brought together 10 images from one section into a single image:
The sections of the slice images are chosen randomly which is a deliberate strategy, however, I wonder if a more considered approach could work better, such as all women or men, everyone facing the same way…there is a kinetic sense of people going about their business anonymously in the city in these that I like – somehow by only showing fragments of the person, but still giving a sense of the whole scene, this ‘loneliness in the crowd’ feeling is somehow emphasised.
Finally, I noticed from the initial unedited pictures that a lady selling the Big Issue is a constant – some of the other images contain the same people but they are in the same area either sitting or talking. Using the image I had created with no one in the frame as a background, I made a new image with only the Big Issue seller in the frame. This could have potential for further exploration.
I came across this article via twitter – it is an irreverent, but amusing, piece that juxtaposes images of politicians alongside fictional characters or animals they resemble.
I have made some crude attempts at compositing these images in photoshop, none of which are as effective as simply showing the images next to each other. I have found it difficult to find images that are of high enough resolution and similar enough to be usable, however, the technique could have further applications with other images. For example, I may look through my archive and rephotograph scenes that I took in the past.
See posts from my previous course ‘Understanding Visual Culture’ and ‘Documentary’ about Cindy Sherman here and here.
I rarely get the chance to visit London and often feel that means I miss out on so many interesting exhibitions. A brief layover after attending a friends wedding meant I got the chance to see the Cindy Sherman’s retrospective exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Sherman is best known for her series ‘Untitled Film Stills’ and although I was aware of other aspects of her work it is this series that I am most familiar so I was looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of her practice. The first thing to note about the exhibition is that it is expansive and thorough in its coverage of Sherman’s output – from early student work predating ‘Untitled Film Stills’, to the present day.
In the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, Nicholas Cullinan describes Sherman as “one of the most influential and important artists of our time” indeed, ahead of her time as her practice of appearing in her own work predates the modern “seemingly insatiable desire for photographic self-representation”. However, her work challenges the assertion that portraiture should be synonymous with personal truth:
“Sherman’s photographs conceal and mask rather than reveal and illuminate. They often look like portraits but as invented characters, sometimes even iterations of characters and types, they complicate even the most basic assumptions of identity and representation.” (Moorhouse, 2019: 7)
Laura Cumming makes this assessment of the body of work on display, paying particularly attention to Sherman’s later series’:
“Sherman has by now invented more than 600 personae; every one of them is a recognisable type, to some extent, and yet also an individual. The gap between the two is the most fascinating aspect of her art; particularly conveyed in the portraits of women who are not young any more. The hostess who thinks she looks a bit like Hilary Clinton and has taken Annie Leibovitz’s Vogue cover shoots to a makeover artist who hasn’t quit pulled it off. The Fifth Avenue socialite whose facelift has slipped. The Republican matron still trying to look like a college sweetheart.
Foundation leaves a tidemark, concealer reveals itself in the studio flashlight. These women are still trying to keep up appearances, but the cracks are beginning to show. And looking hard at these enormous shots, substitutes for the old family portrait above the fireplace, you notice another abiding characteristic of Sherman’s art. No matter that they are photographs, her images never have the momentary status of the snapshot. They seem to stand outside time.” (Cumming, 2019)
Early Work (1975-77):
I was struck by the confidence in this work that was mainly created when Sherman was an art student at the State University College of Buffalo between 1972-6. Particular highlights for me are ‘Untitled #479’ (1975) which unusually for Sherman shows the process of transformation through 23 images which start a nerdy, bespectacled Sherman and end with her as heavily made up vamp. ‘Untitled A-E’ (1975) draws attention to the artifice of her transformations through the exaggerated use of make up and posing. “Air Shutter Release Fashions’ (1975) is a provocative series showing Sherman’s naked torso wrapped in her camera shutter release with the handwritten caption alluding to the item of clothing it is meant to represent. The exhibition notes make the following explanation:
“In photographing herself naked, [Sherman makes] her own body the work’s central focus; and by wrapping the cable of the camera release around her torso and limbs, she suggests various items of costume, albeit in outline only. As a result, the images reveal the way that Sherman depersonalises her own figure and invests it with artifice; at the same time, they expose the means by which this transformation is achieved.”
Cover Girls (1976):
This series comprises five manipulated ‘covers’ of the women’s magazines Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Family Circle, Redbook and Mademoiselle. Each cover is presented in a group of three: the first shows the original, the second features Sherman’s face composited onto the original and made up to resemble the model, and the third shows Sherman retaining the impersonation but adopting a ‘goofy face’. The exhibition text makes this analysis of Sherman’s appropriation and how this is a comment on the imagery of the mass-media:
“By replicating a pre-existing image, her work quotes the style of the original; in the Vogue cover for example, Sherman draws attention to Jerry Hall’s make up, which she copies exactly. However, by parodying Hall’s expression, Sherman emphasises the artificial nature of the original image, which seeks to convey an impression of glamorous sophistication.”
Untitled Film Stills (1977-80):
For Paul Moorhouse, this series represents Sherman’s emergence as a mature artist and the performative aspect characterise the rest of her output. He continues:
“As the title of this celebrated early series suggests, the Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) evoke publicity shots for films. The protagonist is a solitary woman seen sometimes in close-up and at the centre of the action, at other times glimpsed from afar. Fictitious tableaux staged for the camera, such scenes seem familiar but are also tantalisingly ambiguous, inviting and at the same time defying explanation. These enigmatic works announced the arrival of a compelling artistic personality and yet, by presenting herself as an actress, Sherman simultaneously retreated behind the personae she created. The instinct to fabricate and occupy a world of appearances dominates the Untitled Film Stills, and during the succeeding four decades it has remained a central, motivating force.” (Moorhouse, 2019: 11)
Laura Cumming describes the effect of looking at the full 70 images from the series as deja vu as the characters seem so familiar, each one reminiscent of a film you think you have seen before but you know is constructed:
“The vamp, the victim, the ponytailed student, the black and white heroine startled by the telephone: is it Hitchcock, Hawks or Fellini?
You recognise the type, spot the cinematic allusion and then – crucially – realise that each scene is in fact a fiction that does not exist in memory. Sherman has made it all up. Made herself up, arranged the costumes, props and lighting that elaborate the atmosphere, imply the backstory, the forthcoming action and all. Every still is of – and by – Cindy Sherman.” (Cumming, 2019)
It was strange seeing the series in a gallery setting, these are works that I am very familiar with and have looked at many times before, but, they were in some way changed presented framed and behind glass on the wall. The first thing that struck me was how small the prints are, the fashion is towards giant prints and I enjoyed having to stand closer to the photographs than I am used to, or indeed needed to for the majority of the rest of the exhibition. The success of the series is their basis in cinema of the 1940s-60s, particularly film noir and Hitchcock. The characters are instantly recognisable without being cliches or derivative, Sherman is clearly identifiable and the constant through each but she is also completely different on each frame – it is an extraordinary set and worthy of the praise and influence heaped on it. I have had the experience of seeing other images that I know well in ‘the flesh’ and being decidedly underwhelmed or disappointed – I am glad to say that this was not the case on this occasion, in fact, quite the opposite as my admiration for the series was only increased.
Rear Screen Projections (1980):
These images follow the theme of the cinema started in ‘Untitled Film Stills’ but with the important distinction of being in colour. Sherman is shown in close-up in front of a projected back drop, a strategy that has the effect of strengthening the impression of ambiguity. The notes from the exhibition text make these points:
“Shown in close-up, there is a concentration on Sherman’s cosmetically altered features, in particular her gaze, which seems responsive to some unspecified situation. As a result, her acting has greater psychological depth, but any sense of realism is contradicted by the artificial-looking settings”
This series subverts the male gaze and the conventions of the centrefold by presenting a series of vulnerable looking women rather than sensuous female models typically found in men’s magazines. Sherman is quoted in the exhibition notes as intending the series to replace a “titillating image” with one that “might be intruding on someone’s private pain, sadness or reverie.” ‘Centrefolds’ was commissioned for Artforum magazine but never run, possibly because of the way the women depicted appear vulnerable or even victimised. Sherman’s motivations can perhaps be explained by the way she uses her experiences and anxieties of being a woman and channels her memories into her work. In an interview she explains her motivations for the series:
“[the images are] meant to resemble in format a centrefold, but in content I wanted a man opening up a magazine to look in expectation of something lascivious, and then feel like the violator they would be” (Saner, 2019)
Pink Robes (1981-2):
For this series Sherman makes a departure from her usual practice, appearing without make up, costumes or props and covered only by a pink bathrobe. The images are defiant and confrontational with Sherman staring straight into the camera in the imagined role of a nude model resting between shots.
Color Studies (1981-2):
These images are more subtle examples of Sherman evoking complex psychological mind-sets by suggesting ordinary women in understated, unremarkable settings. Despite the appearance of normality, and the lack of overt drama, the images are highly charged and suggestive exactly because of this.
These photographs are unusual departure for Sherman as they are an overtly critical comment on contemporary culture. Commissioned by New York boutique owner Dianne Benson, Sherman chose to parody fashion photography with the characters appearing neurotic and absurd despite wearing high end fashion clothing. From the exhibition notes Sherman explains her intentions: “I’m disgusted with how people get themselves to look beautiful…I was trying to make fun of fashion.” There is an unresolved ironic tension in the fact that despite implying that the elegance, glamour and sophistication of high end fashion is merely a veneer and illusory, she continues to be commissioned to make fashion work – seemingly the cultural capital she brings to these projects outweighs the critical nature of the imagery.
Fairy Tales (1985):
These nightmarish and grotesque tableaux show a much darker view of modern society and find their sources in children’s fairy tales while bringing to mind the style of science fiction and horror films. The exhibition notes state:
“In some of these images Sherman appears as the victim of some dire event; in others, she appears sinister or threatening. Collectively, the series conveys an abject atmosphere that elides childhood fears with the visual language of adult media. Referring to the violent themes that since the 1970s have increasingly featured in cinema and television drama, these works invite questions about whether the media reflect or incites elements of depravity in the contemporary world. Sherman’s use of artifice distances her images from these media sources. Even so, the Fairy Tales hold up a mirror to the inescapable fact that such dark forces exist.”
History Portraits (1988-90):
These images take inspiration from the visual language of old master painting from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. Rather than aiming to convince the audience about the illusions she has created, Sherman makes her transformations deliberately unconvincing through the use of visible prosthetics. This parody of historical portraiture raises questions about the presence of illusion in images of people.
Sex Pictures, Fashion, Surrealist Pictures (1992-96):
These series’ critique pornography and explicit depictions of sexuality. They are also notable due to the absence of Sherman herself – dolls, prosthetics and other props are used to create scenarios that appear absurd, abject and devoid of sensuality. The exhibition notes make this analysis:
“Deliberately artificial-looking, Sherman’s images debunk the conventions of pornography, and ridicule its visual language as a sham that conceals a striking emptiness.”
Masks, Head Shots, Clowns, Balenciaga (1994-2008):
These series’ are linked by the use of masks to completely transform Sherman’s facial features subverting the notion that a person’s facial appearance can be read for clues to their identity.
Society Portraits (2008):
The themes of this series are age and social status. Sherman creates imposing portraits of women confronting their advancing years through heavy use of make up and cosmetic surgery to create an illusion of youthfulness. Elaborate, digital backdrops convey a sense of affluence and refinement, however, this is contrasted with the insecurity suggested by the women’s haughty demeanour which betrays self-absorption and personal doubt.
For this series, Sherman dresses in Chanel outfits and places herself into a rugged, outdoor virtual landscape. The exhibtion notes state:
“Sherman’s delight in performance here finds an enhanced, virtual context in which the real and the apparent are merged and indistinguishable. In that respect, these works remain true to the ethos of ‘dressing up’ that Sherman formed as a child, while delving further into the mysteries of appearance that her art has always explored.”
These portraits are made on a large scale and placed directly on the gallery wall to resemble murals. Using digital technology, Sherman portrays unusual characters, wearing strange costumes in abstracted landscapes. The exhibition notes make this assessment:
“The effect is to monumentalise Sherman’s fabrication of artificial appearances, expanding a theme present on her work from the outset. Confronting these imposing images, the viewer is drawn more fully into a fictional world.”
For this series, Sherman created characters based on a generation of young women who emerged after the first world war. Described as ‘Flappers’, they flouted convention with their appearance and conveyed a liberated sensuality that contrasted earlier norms of femininity. The characters in the series are obviously now older women and there is a rich narrative potential for the viewer to unpick their stories. The exhibition notes suggest the women could be Hollywood ‘grand dames’ – fading stars of the entertainment industry, a theme which would fit with Sherman’s reference to film and actresses in earlier works.
Harper’s Bazaar (2016-18)
These images, commissioned by the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, show Sherman wearing designer clothes in front of digitally created backgrounds which create a narrative based on the phenomenon of ‘street-style stars’ – characters who attend fashion shows wearing ostentatious dress and exhibit exaggerated behaviour that seeks to rival the main spectacle for attention.
Rarely have I seen an exhibition so expansive in its scope, not a ‘greatest hits’ selection but a full and thorough retrospective. I came away feeling enriched by the experience of seeing ‘Untitled Film Stills’ in a gallery setting and learning more, a great deal more, about the rest of Sherman’s work and practice. It is unbelievable that Sherman has managed to stick to the same working method and artistic strategy, and yet, refine and develop this through her many series’ of work over the past 40 years. It is the ambiguity of each image and the way the viewer brings their own personal perspective and understanding to unravel the potential narratives within the frame that for me makes them so successful. As a final comment, here is Paul Moorhouse’s assessment:
“Sherman’s work is defined by its complex marriage of precision with indeterminacy. Each image involves the viewer directly by compelling them to seek a rationale for their responses to depicted individuals and situation whose significance seems highly particular yet entirely unspecified. While her photographs may be, as she says ‘not about anything’, that does not mean they lack significance. On the contrary, although their messages may not be pre-determined, the individual interpretations brought to them by each viewer in a predicament that mirrors life. In Sherman’s photographs, and also in daily existence, we must constantly negotiate our relationships with people and situations, scrutinising their appearance and, no doubt without any guarantee of veracity, attaching significance. Sherman’s art forms a context and a focus for all too human dilemma.” (Moorhouse, 2019: 17)
Arena: Cindy Sherman #Untitled. (2019) BBC Four. 28th July 2019, 21.05.
One of my main aims with Digital Image and Culture is to experiment more – something I have been struggling to do so far but intend to begin to change. Recently, I hit on the idea of producing composites of multiple images taken in busy locations. If I found a place I could sit my camera and then set it to take pictures at intervals then I could use the resulting images to build images that show two manipulated states of the same scene – the first, completely empty of people, the second full of people. I am unsure if my initial experiments have any value in pursuing further, but my initial reaction is to try and produce a few more of these. If nothing else, it is good practice with Photoshop.
I made these by keeping my camera in a stationary position on a seat, setting the exposure and focus to manual and using the interval shooting option to take shots every 5 seconds. In Photoshop, I started with the first image and then added the next picture in the sequence as a layer. I found an area of the scene in the second shot that had become empty due to one of the people in it moving, made a loose selection and added a layer mask. I continued this until I managed to delete ‘erase’ everyone from the scene and was left with an empty street scene. For the second image I reversed the process and added people into the picture leaving me with a composite that was full of activity.
The work of Jim Mortram, and his long term documentary project ‘Small Town Inertia’ is something that I have been inspired by for some time and I was thrilled that the Side Gallery would be showing the work. For seven years Mortram collaborated with members of his community in the small market town of Dereham in Norfolk, producing a body of work that is simultaneously uplifting and empowering while raging against the injustices of a society that has become fractured and marginalised through government austerity measures. This is work that has the double aim of providing agency and a voice to the people in the images while having a direct political edge which angrily demands social justice. The subjects covered are difficult – disability, substance abuse, self harm and mental illness, and yet, there is also strength, resilience, dignity and hope present in each photograph.
An important consideration about the work is that Mortram is most definitely a part of this world and not an outsider who visits to make photographs before disappearing – in my view this understanding and empathy he has for the people he photographs is evident and is what separates it from other work in the documentary tradition. He describes photography as having saved his life – giving him a creative outlet and enabling him to make connections. Mortram is a full time carer for his mother who suffers from severe epilepsy, and in the opening talk for the exhibition, he movingly recounts a period of his life where he was so alienated and depressed due to the emotional and financial burdens he faced that he did not speak for a year. He was given a camera by a friend and encouraged to go out and take photographs, the use of black and white was a practical, rather than aesthetic choice as the old monitor he bought could not display colour accurately. Slowly, he began to take photographs of people he came into contact with in his community, and perhaps most importantly, record their testimony – the use of text in ‘Small Town Inertia’ is significant in both being able to understand the work and to give the people in the photographs a voice and the ability to tell their stories and share their personal experiences. In an interview with BJP, Mortram says this about the aims and intentions of ‘Small Town Inertia’:
“The majority of people I deal with feel they don’t have a voice; listening, helping share those unheard voices, serves to amplify them, to take them from their isolation into the world. If they are about one thing, my pictures are about the endurance some people need just to survive today… The most important thing is telling their story… I’ve always felt it a duty to be that conduit, that link in a chain to take voices and amplify them in the hope of them being heard.” (Hamilton, 2018: 49)
Lewis Bush describes what separates Mortram from other ‘socially concerned’ documentary photographers whose work can be patronising and paternalistic:
“While many documentary photographers ‘study down’ to use Laura Nader’s term, Mortram looks to people he shares something of a common experience with. Working with great patience and sometimes not photographing for months or years while he establishes relationships, the protagonists of Mortram’s stories are in many cases more his fiends than his photographic subjects. In the process of forming these connections Mortram has a knack for uncovering the enormous potential and individuality in people, something the state seems so often to miss entirely.” (Mortram, 2017: 6)
Ultimately I find this body of work, and Mortram himself, immensely inspiring. On the surface these are images that are in the documentary tradition and language of black and white photojournalism, but this is purely a superficial impression. Looking at the images it quickly becomes apparent that they are made from a defiantly subjective viewpoint which seeks to allow the viewer to understand and empathise with people whose lives are likely to be completely alien to them. Each photograph stands alone and many show they are posed rather than captured in a candid fashion, but, Mortram does not subscribe to the notion of the decisive moment – the work is meant to be seen as a series and viewing this way enables the viewer a brief insight into the lives of the people in the photographs. The ability of Mortram to grow the project and audience outside of traditional methods is also significant – Small Town Inertia originated as a website promoted through social media and the photobook was crowdfunded. Subsequent projects are self funded through print sales which means Mortram can continue to produce work that is true to his personal voice, intentions and without interference. The drive for Mortram to create these stories is inspiring and I anticipate what he will make next.
I have previously written about ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ here and here.
I had the pleasure of hearing Richard Billingham speak about his debut feature film ‘Ray & Liz’ at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, something that illuminated and contextualised the work as well as providing insight into an artist that I have long admired. The film sees Billingham return to the subject matter of his parents who he photographed in his breakthrough series ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ (1996). This is not the first time her has revisited the subject matter, he made the documentary ‘Fishtank’ in 1998 and has also made gallery based video installations which can be seen as the precursors of the film. (The short film ‘Ray’ is a rough version of the films final scenes.)
Similarly to ‘Ray’s a Laugh’, the film provides little in the way of exposition and I wondered how an audience member unfamiliar with the earlier work would have interpreted it. There is much detail to be found, but little is explained – poverty, tragedy, squalor, but also humour, are all present along with the sense that this is real, lived experience we are viewing. This is no fly on the wall, kitchen sink, social realist piece however, the imagery is both beautiful, oppressive and evocative of the 1980s – I could almost feel the cigarette smoke on me when I left the cinema. Billingham states: “I tried to avoid the tropes and clichés and generalisations of working-class portrayals. I shot as much as possible from lived experience to give it a different perspective on that British story. If it’s all shot from lived experience, you do tend to avoid the clichés.” (Scovell, 2019) The film is shot on 16mm, a deliberate decision which evokes the “analogue past” of the time – Billingham believes that using digital would have undermined the memories he was trying to present. The 4:3 aspect ratio has an obvious link to the standard shape of television sets at the time, and Billingham described it is a format that helps the camera focus on details – something that he found difficult to achieve with a panoramic crop. Elaborating on this he described everything in life at the time being in this ratio, even down to the floor plan of the tower block where the family lived. Asked about influences he cited the films of Terence Davies, the work of Jeff Wall, and specifically, Robert Bresson’s ‘A Man Escaped’ (1956), a film that is entirely set in a prison cell – a particular reference point for the scenes of Ray existing in his bedroom that bookend the film.
I left ‘Ray & Liz’ surprised by how different the film was to my expectations – this is not a continuation or sequel to ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ – there is no Hollywood story arc of redemption, in fact, what we learn about the Billingham family by the end is as uncertain as it was at the beginning. This ambiguity however, is the films key strength and the reason the film has stayed with me since I first viewed it. Ray and Liz remain the complex individuals that are shown in the photographs – neither victim nor villain, the neglect they show their children, particularly the youngest son Jason, is disgusting, and yet, they are not judged – the reality of the situation is shown warts and all but there is a tenderness and affection that remains. The full complexity of life and individuals is shown here in a way that is true to the real world where no one individual is either saint or sinner. At the end of the Q&A, Billingham was asked how he feels about his childhood looking back. He answered in a way that would probably surprise many, that both he and Jason have grown up to be happy well adjusted adults and that they both look back fondly to their upbringing. For Billingham personally, he believes he may not have become an artist if he had not had the freedom to do what he wanted – while Ray and Liz never told him what to do, they also never told him what not to do.
I like to start each course with some thoughts about what I hope to gain from my study. My initial reaction to reading through the course material for Digital Image and Culture is that I have definitely made the right choice – there is much in the content that interests me and it looks like there is plenty of scope for interpreting the material. Here are my initial aspirations for what I want out of the course:
Complete in no more than 18 months:
My last course, Documentary, was the first that I managed to complete without needing an extension, although I did go right to the wire with it. Something that I reflect on as a success with that course is that I managed to work at a constant, regular pace rather than in fits and starts with periods of intense activity. However, I spent too much time on activities that did not progress me and too little time actually taking photographs. Research has become a comfort zone for me and I need to be break that cycle.
As an added incentive, I have received notification from OCA that I have until 2nd September 2020 to complete this course which is just a little over 18 months. I am hoping to gain some momentum and am going to try to completed in a year – hopefully this will keep me well within my 18 months target.
Experiment more, take more photographs:
Following on from the point I make above – I need to spend more time taking photographs. A possible strategy is to work on assignments all the way through a section and experiment with different approaches rather than completing the exercises and then focusing on the assignment. Something I was inspired by at the last OCA North study group I attended was the experimentation that goes into the sketchbooks of students from other disciplines. It struck me that I DO actually experiment in a similar way, but never show this part of the process.
Use the learning log more effectively:
My process of publishing to my blog is quite considered and can often lack immediacy. I realised towards the end of Documentary that I often lacked showing my personal response to something I had come across or experienced. For this course I want to make more regular, personal posts where I can explore how I am feeling about the course and what I am coming across.
Continue reaching out to the student community:
I made some progress with this during Documentary by attending regular hangouts which I found beneficial and helped with the isolating nature of distance learning. I had some interaction on the forums but these can easily become a distraction so I do not feel I engaged fully. A particular success was making contact with students and meeting up for exhibition/event visits and also being involved in setting up a new OCA North group, three meetings of which have taken place so far. At the last meeting I shared work for critique for the first time which was a large leap of faith, but ultimately positive experience for me. I need to continue with these initiatives and look at others to be involved with. For example, there is interest in starting a hangout group for DI&C which I would like to be involved with, I have attended some of the Forum Live hangouts facilitated by tutor Clive White and found these to be motivational so need to try harder to attend these, and I am aware of a regular hangout for level 3 students, feedback from which seems positive. I have also noted that some students I have been in contact with in the past are enrolled on DI&C and have taken the opportunity to reconnect with these.
Decide where my practice is going:
As this is my last course before level 3 I need to be mindful of the direction I need/want to take so I can hit the ground running when I get there. My understanding of the final level is that it is mainly self directed and at the minute this would be something I would really struggle with, through experimentation and exploring my interests through personal work I can hopefully move towards a self sustaining practice.