Category Archives: Personal reflections

Final Thoughts on Identity & Place

So here I am. The third module of the degree finished and sent off for assessment, and it is time to review this module and where I plan to go to next.

Identity & Place has taken me nearly two years to complete, and I really struggled over the early assignments. Portrait photography is not my genre of choice, and I doubt I had taken a single deliberate portrait before I started this unit, which was why I signed up for it. However, once I had grasped the nettle and pulled, I began to enjoy some, if not all, of the potential for learning that I&P offered. As I was packing my images for posting, it is blindingly obvious that my technical and printing skills have improved significantly, although I would argue that there is still a long way to go, particularly with composition and lighting.

I would say I am happier with the quality of assignments 4 and 5 than the previous ones, and have been thinking about why that is. Assignment 4 had no people in it, being an exploration of a derelict building, while in assignment 5 the figure is only shown in silhouette, and so remains faceless, so neither get up close and personal with their subjects.

Two events were pivotal in stimulating a move forward in my work. The first was a bookmaking course I attended at the SW OCA group, and which was led by OCA tutor Polly Harvey. I have felt much more creative since taking that course, and have expanded my work beyond straight vanilla photographs towards something which explores the physical reality and materiality of the image and how it is presented. The second was the result of a chance post on Facebook that I happened to see, and which led to me to the POZERS Camera Club, a local group of women photographers who meet at a member’s studio and explore the potential of studio photography. Many hours of fun and learning have taken place there, and most of my personal favourite images of 2017. I had never previously considered that I might enjoy studio photography, with its connotations of ‘art nude’ (female, of course) and family portraits. However, this group is full of creativity and we are led by Alley, the studio owner, who has a background as a make-up artist and costume designer, and no end of whacky ideas, and I love it. Together these events have enabled me to step away from straight photography and to explore the medium in a more craft-based way.

Alongside the coursework, I have visited a variety of exhibitions ranging from Grayson Perry at the Arnolfini in Bristol to Joel Sternfeld, William Eggleston and Thomas Ruff in London, amongst others. Of particular interest has been those exhibitions such as Perry’s and Jane Corbett’s in Marlborough, which use media other than photography. The overlap of ideas and the potentially different ways in which those ideas can be made into artwork is myriad, and very inspiring.

At the end of the module,  I feel much more comfortable about finding my voice. That voice is almost certainly going to come from exploring the ways in which the image can be manipulated physically and digitally, and how different art forms can be brought together to make objects that have elements of each, and crucially, which are unique, as in one-off. Producing something material that is not easily replicable is the almost inevitable result of mixing photography with bookmaking, sewing, knitting, patchwork etc. and it seems to provide a fairly clear pathway forward for me, especially when womens’ arts and feminism are added to the mix. The other area I would like to explore further is the archive, and how it can be set up to provide a pool of primary research material into which I can dip a toe here and there to consider why we make photographs. So the obvious next module for me to do is Digital Image and Culture, which I will be starting very shortly. The new blog can be found here: https://hollyocadic.wordpress.com/ .

In the meantime, I am involved in two OCA related collaborative projects:-

  • the Thames Valley group exhibition on the theme of Time, which will be shown in February 2019
  • a notebooks project to provide ideas and inspiration with the South West OCA group

I have also contributed to MA student Mathew Arnold’s project Grey Matters and forged some interesting links with local artists through the Marlborough open Studios event. Overall, I am very pleased with how much I have progressed during this module and look forward to seeing where the next one will take me.

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A few thoughts about the family archive

This is more of a place holder than anything, as it is something I want to consider during my next module. I have been charged with sorting out my Father-in-Law’s many, many photo albums, and whittling them down to a size which might actually be appreciated as a memento for the family. He was a keen photographer in his middle years, although not particularly artistic in his composition and framing, nor technique. Having gone through about ten albums now, a definite theme is appearing. He liked taking photographs of the places he visited on holiday and also the flowers and trees around where he lived (he still does live there, but is now staying in a care home). However, looking at them from the point of view of either his children or a friend, the number of images that have any value is extremely limited. I have pulled out hundreds of photos of various holiday destinations in the UK and Europe, and am concentrating on keeping the ones with family and friends in them, and also images of the local area which might be of historic interest outside the immediate family.

It has made me think again about why we take the photographs we do, and how many of my 50,000 odd images my own family might be interested in keeping. Probably not very many, and if they are anything like me, the ones which they will want to keep are the images of loved ones. And after a couple of generations, even these will be of only passing interest as records of the facial appearance of our ancestors. Not a very happy thought.

However, just to make use of some of the discarded ones, I am keeping them and in due course will use them for collage pieces, possibly in the style of Joe Rudko, who treats old photos as the raw materials for beautiful patchwork style collages. In the same way that women in the past kept old clothes to make patchwork quilts, I will use the old photos to make something new. It seems fitting, bearing in mind all the work and expense my FIL went to in making his records.

I am in love with an app

From I was introduced to the iPhone app Procam yesterday, and I think I am in love. The app itself purports to turn the iPhone into a fully functional RAW camera, and one can alter the f-stop, shutter speed and ISO to suit the conditions. However, the bit that I love is its filters section, and in particular the set of five different kaleidoscope effects. Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by the idea of using the pixels within an image to alter it while retaining the substance of the original, and this app is fantastic for doing that. The number of different patterns is almost infinite, as every slight adjustment one makes alters it completely (a bit like an old-fashioned kaleidoscope). Here are a couple of examples below.

From a tapestry wall hanging at the Bristol Grayson Perry exhibition

 From one of my test images for assignment 5

My plan is to print some of these entirely unique patterns and to use them as book covers for the associated pieces of work. I may also try printing them on fabric to see how they come out, with the possible aim of having fabric book covers as an alternative. My recent purchase of Charlotte Rivers’ (2014) Little Book of Book Making has simple instructions for this, using only household items.

Edited to add.

Further to this idea, I am also investigating ways of making handmade boxes for my assignments, particularly no. 5, which will be delicate and would benefit from some protection in transit to Barnsley. I only mention this here, as I printed out one of my patterns onto washi paper and covered some card with which to make the cover of the box. The end result is too flimsy, but the idea is sound. (I subsequently tried it with packing cardboard, which was too lumpy, and finally settled on using mount board, which has the required strength, as well as being made in several layers, which can be folded if cut correctly.) Anyway, here’s how the paper looked on the first box – not bad, at all, I think.

IMG_4547v2

References

Rivers, Charlotte (2014) Little Book of Book Making. New York, Random House.

Implied spaces, part 2

The third area of experimentation relates to a more esoteric idea, and uses some of my original understanding of the term, and what the blog I refer to at the beginning is looking at. I would characterise it as implied places – where one might layer an image in a collage effect to say more about the places and their meaning to a person or group.

My Photoshop skills are still fairly slow, so it has taken me all afternoon to produce this collage below. It includes some title deeds for the house, an image I took a couple of years back and also a photo of some of the historical inhabitants, and uses a Photoshop Mask template.

Untitled-1v2

I am hoping that with more practise, I can achieve a similar effect to that of patchwork, but using images rather than fabric squares. So, this work continues…..

The notion of ‘implied spaces’, part 1

I came across this term as a result of following the blog of the same name: here. It was the photographs that originally attracted me, with their multiple layers and mixed subject matter, but I subsequently became intrigued by the idea of an implied space. When I reviewed the work I did for assignment 4, and before I looked into the meaning of the term, I had concluded that the images in the work had an element of implied space, as in they and their contents hinted at what had gone before without making it obvious. We look at the chaos and imagine what the rooms looked like when they were in use.

However, after a bit of digging around, I found that the term is actually one that is used in art and architecture, and it has a different meaning. In simple terms, Art1011 defines it as the illusion of created depth in a 2 dimensional work, but here are a couple of more complex explanation, using literature and theatre as well as art for examples.

http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~vzubarev/Class_Readings/WEEK_IX.pdf

https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/elements-of-art-space

So, in essence, in an image, an implied space is one where the position of figures and implied leading lines suggests a depth of perspective rather than a flat, two-dimensional space. Let’s take a couple of examples from my own work. Both of these images were taken earlier this year in Nice. The first gives no clue of three dimensionality at all (quite deliberately) while the second has implied lines of perspective, making it seem more three dimensional.

I’d like to now explore this concept in three different ways. Firstly, there is the idea of creating that three dimensionality by other ways than perspective, one of which I have been playing with and which fellow student Catherine is also looking at: producing a 3D images using Photoshop layers. My first attempt was blogged in a previous post, and it was surprisingly successful, but I am interested in trying to produce the same effect in a part of an image rather than the whole thing. Lo and behold, it also works!

P1550471

I suspect that 3D photography might lead me down a bit of a blind alley, but there is no doubt it is fun. (Must look up to see whether any art photographers use this technique in their work. Thomas Ruff does, but is there anyone else?)

The second idea is to produce the idea of perspective in a way that refers to the concept of foreground, middle ground and background through actual layers, rather than implied layers. I am thinking of the way that Thomas Ruff’s interest in examining various qualities and elements of the image rather than the overall effect here.  Here are two examples from my work this year. The first uses actual layers within the frame while the second is a created piece, using Photoshop layers.

To be continued……

Back to the explorations of colour

Now that my assignment has been sent off, I can get back to my explorations into colour and place. The mandalas are fun but don’t have a deeper meaning than what you see, at least not so far as I have divined so far. Today, I cam across a photographer who looks at the same concepts, but from a different angle.

Niall Benvie is a nature photographer with a wide range of interest, and his work caught my attention on http://www.naturephotoblog.com/. Niall has devised a process he calls Colour Transects, where he samples the colours of an image according to a set grid pattern. This produces a palette of colours which represent the image, but which also function as a device to encourage the viewer to move back and forth between the colour swatches and the images to find out where each colour swatch originated. He also titles the images with a latitude marker, as he’s interested in how the natural colour palette changes from south to north away from the Equator. His website is at https://niallbenvie.photoshelter.com/index.

I’ve been trying out his technique and here’s a screenshot of my first effort.

My colour transect 1

I think there is some potential here, not simply as a way of creating colour maps. Benvie’s concept of colours changing as one moves north or south is what has been niggling at the back of my mind. The colour palette of Australia is totally different from that of, for example, England or Iceland. Certain colours are strongly associated with the natural environment in each – ochres and very pale greens in outback Australia, bright greens and browns in England and blacks, whites and red in Iceland. My thinking on this is that it must be possible to capture a colour palette for each place which is definitive.

Some experiments in homage to Albarran Cabrera

Let’s not beat about the bush here. I love the work of Spanish duo Albarran Cabrera, and in particular the way it combines unusual media, a laser sharp focus on the Moment, the Japanese influences and the way they have taught themselves photography by reading (a lot) and just trying things out. There’s a very helpful video on their website about how they work, as well as an excellent article explaining the theory behind several of their recent series here.

I’ve written briefly before about their series Kairos, in which they use gold leaf to produce a visual divide between one moment and the next, using the Japanese idea of kintsukuroi (see below).

23716615ad68c9180dafd348a80f52ad--japanese-art-japanese-design

A subsequent series, which is currently being shown on Instagram is called The Mouth of Krishna, and references the same idea that David Campany’s recent exhibition A Handful of Dust does, i.e. that everything is ultimately made of he same stardust. It is how we choose to see it that matters.

In any part of the universe there is a whole universe – Hamlet saw infinite space in a nutshell; William Blake saw a world in a grain of sand, a heaven in a wild flower, and eternity in an hour.
— Albarrán Cabrera

Most of the newer series are silver and platinum prints, some of which are toned with tea, but there are a few that are made with a different process, one they describe as Pigment print over gold leaf on Japanese paper.  An example can be seen here, but there are also a regular supply of new ones on their Instagram feed at https://www.instagram.com/albarrancabrera/. These are gorgeous, and I wanted to have a go at trying to replicate the technique on a domestic basis. I don’t know how they produce their pieces on a large scale, but I can certainly do so on a very small scale, as I happen to have both gold leaf and Japanese washi paper in my supplies cupboard.

First up was an attempt to add a gold leaf join to a torn print (using an old regular print that I don’t need any more). I found this extremely tricky and messy to do, and feel there must be an easier method than dabbing gold leaf onto glue, but the results have promise.

P1640382v2

Then I tried the idea of making a black and white print on very thin washi paper  (Awagami – Murakomo Kozo Select) and then applying gold leaf to the back.  First result was messy – too much glue, although I really like the almost painterly feeling that it shows in close-up.

A second attempt was more successful, although I will have to make sure that I keep bits of pesky leaf off the front of the photo. I like the fact that one can just see the gold leaf peeping out from the edges on this one.

P1640384v2

And finally, I tried it with a colour image. Albarran Cabrera mostly use yellows and reds as their colour palette, but my first attempt used greens, and was possibly too dark. (I have attached the original standard print alongside for comparison.

So, where do we go from here? I intend to use this technique for my next exercise , which is about illustrating five separate words. Just need to choose the words now! And I am also going to try it out with aluminium foil as the backing.