Notes from the Thames Valley Forum, 3 September

I was official note-taker for the meeting, so this will also be published on the OCASA website as a record of the event.

This was first Thames Valley Forum meeting after the summer, and attendance was high, with thirteen students and Jayne, our tutor. While the majority of the students were doing photography modules, the group also included two people doing Understanding Visual Culture and one doing Graphic Design and a graduate who was no longer a student. There were two new members, Anne Bryson and Perry Tatman.

The day divided into three parts. In the first, we had a general discussion about the value of sketch/log/work books (depending on what each person wanted to call their one), and looked at various examples that students had brought along. They varied greatly in content and purpose and several people including the two Level 3+ students reported that they did not use physical notebooks at all. Jayne advised that finding the correct format of notebook for ourselves was important and we had to feel comfortable using them on a regular basis. Among the group, most people were using a variety of different solid notebooks, but one student showed us her A4 binders, where she files all the scraps of information she collects, and then sorts them out at the end of the assignment. We discussed how the workbook can be used as a resource library of our own interests, likes and dislikes and that we should be aiming to include information that we might find valuable for future projects as well as in our present assignment work. We looked at the reference book Photographers’ Sketchbooks (2014), and considered how photographers’ workbooks were becoming an interesting new element of exhibitions, which added value to our understanding of the photographer’s thought processes.

The second session of the day was a consideration of the BBC film Century of the Self, Part 1 (2002), an Adam Curtis documentary which reviewed how psychoanalysis and public relations have shaped the Western world in the last 100 years. There was some discussion about the very one-sided viewpoint that Adam Curtis, the programme maker took, and also about the coherence and clarity of the narrative. We were asked to consider how the history of visual culture informs and affects our reading of any image at an almost subliminal level. Jayne suggested that an understanding of the theories of Freud and Lacan would help us progress in our own work.

Finally, we looked at the current work of seven students:-

Anna showed us the work she was doing for Assignment 2 of Digital Image & Culture. She was exploring Tim Ingold’s notion of the life of lines and had collected 40 images of people holding newspaper headlines from all over the world on 23 June, the day the Brexit result was announced. Of particular interest was the format for display that she had chosen – a Japanese style orihon folding book, with the images and text printed on inkjet tracing paper. There’s a video of Ingold’s theories at https://vimeo.com/97117540.

Teresa had just submitted Assignment 1 of Identity & Place, which was about photographing five strangers and talked about how difficult the work had been for her. She felt the problem related to her dislike of approaching people she did not know, and her concern about making a connection with them before she felt able to represent them. We looked at both her assignment work, which was on staff at a local chemist’s shop and the previous exercise on four friends, about which she had felt more comfortable.

Holly had just completed the same assignment, but had approached it very differently. She had chosen to photograph flyer distributors at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in a street style. There was some discussion about how much information about the subject should or could be included in a typological study, and also the concept of the smile and other forms of body language as masks for the subjects. It was suggested we look at the work of Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

Keith, who has now finished his degree, talked about how his work had progressed since completion. He discussed how his project on East London had expanded and how he now saw himself as a social documentary photographer who worked with the charity sector to raise funds and awareness. He also showed us some of his preparatory work for the [(6)] Photography Collective workshop in Oxford, which involves photographing Oxford shopfronts through a pinhole camera, and printing them in the style of architectural drawings. He has been experimenting to find a print and framing combination that complements his interest in merging the old and new in this work. (Keith’s prints were lovely, and he apparently uses Hahnemühle German Etching paper.)

Sarah-Jane talked about how her Girlhood project was progressing, and how the work now seemed to be honing in on pre-teenage girls photographed looking directly at the camera. She felt this was part of her ongoing exploration of how she perceived herself, and that the focus was gradually changing as previously she had avoided the direct gaze.

Richard D is doing the Landscape module and showed us his work for Assignment 3, which he had called Space to Place. It was about coastal erosion at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex and the effect this was having on the local community. Having just submitted it to his tutor and had the feedback, there was much discussion about why his tutor had suggested he remove all traces of human intervention from the series, given that its purpose was to show the futility of humans attempting to hold back the sea.

Finally, Dawn showed us the work she has been doing for Assignment 1 of Graphic Design, in which she was asked to present five postcards explaining who she was. She is using the idea of the Johari Window as a means of exploring self-awareness. We discussed how design is about distilling the essence of an idea into a visual representation and how she is using photography, and particularly collage, as a basis for some of her experimentation.

As ever, it was a stimulating and enlightening day. We finished by discussing a request for funding from OCASA to continue the same format next year. Our next group meeting is on 19th November, as most of the regular participants will be attending the Brighton Biennale on the third weekend in October.

References 

The Century of the Self, Episode 1 [television programme online] Pres. Curtis. BBC UK (2002)

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ3RzGoQC4s (Accessed: 4 September 2016).

 McLaren, S. & Formhals, B. (2014) Photographers’ Sketchbooks. London: Thames & Hudson.

Editied to add:

Regarding my own assignment, I need to look at the idea of masks in portraiture, and also how our perceptions of portraits are mediated through our knowledge of the person involved. Also look at the Smile and why typologies are often take with a straight face. What does this add or take away from an image?

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