Work for the Thames Valley Group project

I’m currently working on the scattergun principle – too many projects heading off in different directions. So, to make some space in my head, I am putting this here, and would welcome any comments. As background, the Thames Valley Group is putting together an exhibition to encourage students to start thinking about making a Body of Work. The theme of the exhibition will be Time. I have lots of ideas for this, but what is interesting me at present is the idea of representing the concept of Now.

I am lucky enough to have access to a range of old photographs of my house and the area around it, as some of the previous occupants were newsworthy in their time. Whether or not I will refer directly to their story remains to be seen, but I have started out by merging two images of the same spot  from the 1920s and the present in various ways to see how they look. See below.

For the purposes of this work, number 3 seems to work best, although I like the contextualisation of number 2 as well.

I also used Photoshop to merge a couple of images of the house’s interior in Photoshop. These are simply test shots, so please ignore the plastic bag and knitting in the second one. The older images in this case were from some estate agent’s details for the house in the early 1960s.

Purely by chance I then happened to come across a series in Lensculture by the Albarrán Cabrera team, whom I follow on Instagram @albarrancabrera . The Series, Kairos looks at how we might visualise the concept of “Now” in a not dissimilar way to the work I did back in C&N assignment 5, but uses gold leaf to separate two images of the same subject, taken at different times. They say that “the images are a metaphor for the fact that the past and the future are not real, just a human invention“. A concept that is right up my street!

As a result I am now revisiting the idea of sewing that I looked at in C&N. I have tried adding a gold thread to one of the images above, but it is not clear enough, so I need to explore other ways of showing “the gap which Now occupies”.


Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate Modern

I attended the study visit on Saturday, which was led by Jayne Taylor, the tutor who regularly attends the Thames Valley Forum meetings. It was a popular visit, with a large group of students, mostly somewhere in the middle of their course. During the exhibition and the subsequent discussion, I wrote copious notes, but a couple of days later, I am still trying to work out how to interpret Tillman’s work. The best way I can think of to describe how his work appears to me is as one of those neural network images, with thousands of strands joining at random nodes, like the one below.

neuron-network-in-the-human-brain-computer-artwork-E7TP8AI have read the suggested reviews of the work, and watched some of the YouTube clips, but the explanation that accords with my own thoughts best is the post by fellow student, Kate, linked here.

Tillmans says that he sees linkages everywhere between seemingly unrelated subjects. The exhibition is set out in a series of 14 rooms, each with a general theme, and some of these are more easy to comprehend than others. He photographs everything from the mundane to the very exotic, and the print size varies from tiny 6×4″ ones to room length. They are all presented together in what appears to be a chaotic manner, but in reality Tillmans has put considerable thought into their placing and colocation with each other. One of the videos shows that he is a big fan of scale models and sets his exhibitions out with absolute precision, according to a system which is opaque to all but himself.

He says his aim is to look at everything, new or familiar, with a fresh eye – not particularly unusual in its own right, but the subjects that attract him tend to be different from other people – weeds, excess, decay, transition. These are mixed with his clear activist ideals into jumbles of loosely related images and a lot of papers and books as well. Subjects that interest him include different understandings of “truth” and the backfire effect, whereby we categorise any proof that does not accord with our understanding of a subject as ill-informed and wrong; fake news as it were.

I could go on for several more paragraphs about the different media he works in, including video, music and sculpture, but the exhibition is so vast and complex that it is impossible on a single visit to appreciate everything fully. I therefore want to mention two aspects that struck me particularly as I moved around the rooms. Firstly, Tillmans homosexuality is referenced throughout, and I was very touched at the affectionate and tender way he portrays his friends and lovers. A host of images feature them, either in portrait form, or as snippets of their bodies which caught his attention, such as the nape of a neck, or a sliver of skin between jeans and t-shirt.

The second area that attracted me was his experiments with the process of making photographs. Not so much the folder single colour prints, but the large scale images he has drawn from dirty printers and his use of non-standard print processes which look at colour grading. These include several images taken from the windows of planes (a subject very close to my own heart), and which produced beautiful modernist abstracts.

Finally, and just for fun, I took a series of several photos in his installation Instrument 2015, where he juxtaposes two video loops, one of himself from behind, dressed only in underpants and dancing while facing the wall, and other which might just be another version of the same, but which is really his shadow on the wall at a totally separate place and time. These rather mundane but mesmerising loops are accompanied by a weird electronic sound, which is apparently synthesised from the noise his feet made while he was filming. The total effect is bizarrely addictive, and the point he is making is that we want the two films to be of the same thing, even when they are not. In any case, my high speed shots of what I was seeing revealed bizarre coloration changes, which I enjoyed making. Jayne said it was something to do with my camera’s rendering of the work.  So here, below, I have shown what the eye saw, along with a few of my camera’s interpretations of the same.


Finally, it needs to be reiterated that this exhibition cannot possibly be fully appreciated in one viewing. There is just too much to take in, and Tillman’s thinking is too opaque. It is abundantly clear that he is an excellent photographer and that it all means something, but divining what that meaning might be is a substantial undertaking. As Jayne, said during our discussion after the show, “There’s only room in art photography for one Wolfgang Tillmans.”

Made You Look exhibition, Photographers’ Gallery

Yesterday I visited two exhibitions with fellow student Lynda Kuit, who was visiting from Canada. We started with the Made You Look exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery, and then moved on to An Ideal for Living at Beetles & Huxley. This post is mostly concerned with the former.

I will say right away that I struggled with the Made You Look exhibition. There is clearly a significant background text about how black men are defined by white society and how they choose to respond to the white gaze and I felt my lack of knowledge about this hampered my ability to understand the images. The books section of the exhibition included several tomes on the subject of black dandyism, which I felt might be required reading before one could make a sensible judgement of some of the images. In a nutshell though, it seems that a section of the black male population uses extreme fashion as a way of making themselves visible on the world stage, and that “dandyism deliberately flouts conventional notions of class, taste, gender and sexuality” as a means of rebelling against their perceived cultural status. (Eshun, 2016)

However, a variety of photographers from across the world were represented, and the ones that stood out for me were as follows. Colin Jones’ 1970s series The Black House, on young men who lived at a London hostel for people who struggled with abuse and alienation from society was one. So very, very different from my own upbringing at the same age. Interestingly, Jones also had images on show in the Beetles & Huxley show, which I will come to later.


I saw the Dandy Lion Project several weeks later at the Brighton Biennale, which included some of the same photographers, and felt that it was much more explanatory, although, admittedly, it did feature many more works which helped.

Finishing this post a couple of months later, I can honestly say that I can’t recall much at all about the Beetles & Huxley exhibition, except that it seemed much more accessible than this one. This is interesting, as perhaps it showed that it is the work which falls outside one’s comfort range that stays with you, not what is familiar and easily understood. Something to think about for the future.

Exhibitions in the Blue Mountains, Australia

I have been off-radar over the last month on a road trip through the heartland of Australia. There will probably be other blog posts about my experiences but I will start with reviews of two exhibitions I saw while on a day trip to the Blue Mountains. My first stop (in poor weather) was to the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba, where I serendipitously stopped to escape the rain and saw a series by Australian photographer Nicole Welch called Wildēornes Land, while I waited for the weather to clear up. A link to the exhibition is here.

The show was surprisingly modernistic for a tiny town with an old -fashioned high street and the exhibition space is wonderfully large and open. Like most places in Australia, there is just more space, which allows for museums and galleries to give plenty of room for their subjects to breathe.

Welch’s multimedia show/installation uses images, sculpture, sound and film to investigate the Blue Mountains wilderness from a historical, cultural and ecological viewpoint. The exhibition draws upon archival records that illuminate early European’s romantic notions of Australian wilderness juxtaposed with contemporary ideas and concerns that reflect the inherent loss and uncertainty we now face for our natural environment. (BMCS website)

Particularly striking was her use of a Victorian Chantilly lace mourning shawl in locations of historical significance, which references the gap between past and present. Alongside this were enormous video screens where one could see one’s shadow imprinted on the work, as if the viewer was part of the scene itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, and especially the shawl images, which were delicate, evocative and beautiful, yet filled with meaning and sadness for a way of life that is disappearing.

After leaving this exhibition when the rain stopped, I walked the mile or so to the Scenic World Park, which billed itself as an exploration through a temperate rain forest via the steepest railway n the world. The park is more attractive than all the modern hurly burly of concession stands and gift shops at the top indicates, and I enjoyed a walk through the forest on an elevated boardwalk. A current addition to this is a fabulous sculpture trail, using various media from string to items of rubbish. Here are a few of my images from it. The string work was the most successful, I thought, although the crazy installations of garish pictures will stick in my mind for a long time. (Apologies for the gloomy quality of the images, but they were all taken in fairly low light because of the heavy tree canopy. Also, there was no information leaflet for the trail, as far as I could see, so unfortunately I cannot reference the artists).

Both of these exhibitions used objects in the landscape to make their point and this is an area I would like to explore further, later in my degree.



A change of plan – photography ‘en abyme’

As part of the feedback I received at the recent Thames Valley Group meeting, our tutor Jayne suggested I read Craig Owens’ essay Photography “en abyme”. This was, I realised later,  a response to my photograph of the cut-out figures shown below.


Fortunately the essay is available to download and the link is here: It is not the easiest of reads, and my summary also relies on the explanation to be found in Chapter 5 of Gelder & Westgeest’s Photography Theory in Historical Perspective.

Owens uses the image below, Bal des Quatre Saisons by Brassaï as the starting point for his argument.

Bal des Quatre Saisons by BressaÏ

At a superficial reading, it appears to be a standard image of a party scene, but as one looks at it in more detail, the viewer becomes aware that

a complex web of internal reduplications deflects attention away from that which, despite the status of photographs as imprints of the real, remain external to the image: the reality it depicts. Psychological and sociological details are thus displaces by the network of internal relationships between subject, mirror and other, which structures the image. Owens, 1978, 73

The image shows two couples and three other people. At first glance, it appears the two couples might be the same, but slowly the realisation  dawns that the pair in the mirror are sitting opposite the three people at the front of the image and are only visible in the mirror’s reflection. I had originally considered whether the mirror was in fact a window, through which one can see into another room, but this is not the case. The two couples seem to mirror each other’s positioning in a way that Desmond Morris (see refs) would find interesting, while the other people in the image are a separate but integral part of the scene. The girl on the left appears to be looking at someone outside the frame, while the woman at the back is looking directly at the photographer, albeit through the mirror. So, the photographer is part of the image, despite not being visible.

The strange duplications and reflected connections extend much further than this, but only add detail to the argument. The point is that the mirror references the analogical definition of the photograph as a mirror of reality.

Because the mirror image doubles the subjects – which is exactly what the photograph itself does – it functions as a reduced internal image of the photograph. The mirror reflects not only the subject depicted, but also the entire photograph. It tells us in a photograph what a photograph is – en abyme. Owens, 1978, 75)

In simple terms, en abyme is a term from literary theory, which refers to a small part of a text that reproduces the whole thing in miniature, in this case an internal mirror that provides an explanation for the whole scene. However, there is more to it than that. The Youtube lecture by Prof. Michael Paraskos below posits the notion that an idea mise en abyme can offer the viewer the possibility of seeing an alternative reality, one that is not imprisoned by our current cultural norms. Paraskos uses the concepts of mirrors and windows, as has been outlined in the course materials, but rather than “windows”, he explains the idea as a “looking glass”, (from Lewis Carroll) in which one can see the possibility of a different reality, unrelated to our current world, and not bound by any underlying assumptions that we take for granted. He theorises that in this zone, there is the possibility of producing new, creative art. It is a complex lecture, and I probably do not need to go into more detail than that for the purposes of this post. Where it is relevant is that the en abyme concept can be used to describe “mirrors and windows” in a different way to that suggested in our coursework.

This theory above is where I would like to place my assignment, and my idea is to use the concept mise en abyme to consider whether what we see through a mirror is reality or something different. Thus, although the assignment will use mirrors as props for the work, the overall result is a study of the windows concept, or the looking glass which Paraskos describes.

(Incidentally, I am left wondering whether Bressai’s photograph was deliberately set up to make a point set up or whether the photographer took advantage of a scene already in place.)

In my next post, I will look at some photographers who use mirrors in this way, and consider the test images I have taken so far.


Morris, Desmond. (xxxx


Gelder & Westgeest’s Photography Theory in Historical Perspective.






Something a bit different

Yesterday, another OCA student and I attended an exhibition in Marlborough; not photography, for a change. Jane Corbett is a multi-media artist and sometime milliner and works in a variety of materials ranging from felt through to concrete. Her inspirations come from nature, in particular lichens, seedheads and sea animals and vegetables and one can easily imagine how it crosses over into millinary. Many of the works use thread and pins and there is a strong focus on spheres and circles.

Jane was at the gallery and Kate and I had a chat with her about how she makes her work. She is a great fan of the circle and the square, which featured throughout the exhibit. I have posted a few examples of what we saw below, followed by a shot of her inspiration wall, of which I was very jealous.


It’s been a while since I visited any non-photography exhibitions and I found it very refreshing. Two elements  of her work particularly interested me. One is her use of natural materials and how plants and lichens inspire it, and the other is a feature of the exhibition settings itself. I was very taken with the acrylic cubes in which the exhibits were displayed. Many of them were spherical and thus difficult to place securely on the surfaces, and the cubes both contained them for safety and isolates them. As I was taking photographs of them, I was fascinated by the reflections they produced and the extra dimension the added to the work. Since then I have been thinking about how I could incorporate this idea into my current assignment, which now has a focus on reflections. More on this in another post)

Many thanks are due to Jane for allowing us to photograph her work. It was a most enjoyable afternoon. Her work can be seen on Instagram at, and her use of split images is also of interest.

New considerations about assignment 3



Holly Woodward, 2017

I’ve been rethinking what I want to do for assignment 3, after realising that my previous proposal about people who are missing from the current visual narrative might be a bit easy and too similar in visual content to the previous assignments, and therefore a cop-out. So, the need to look elsewhere for ideas has led to the idea of mindfulness and transience, about which I have been thinking a lot lately, and there is a project niggling away there that I have yet to full pin down. It has to do with the flashes of understanding about the experience of “Now” that come to us suddenly, and unbidden and all too infrequently in our busy modern lives. Having recently watched Guillaume Néry’s wonderful TED talk about the experience of free diving, a phrase he used strongly resonated for me – the journey between two breaths.

One could interpret this in two ways. Either the journey from birth to death and how transient our lives really are, OR as the gaps/flashes of understanding that come unbidden, such as Guillaume Nery describes. The latter is dependent on taking the time to experience life on a fully present, moment by moment basis. I have referred to this previously in this post: and it has been a feature of my photography approach from the beginning.

Alongside this, there has recently been a thread on the OCA Facebook page about how our work for the OCA may differ totally from what we choose to photograph and to print for framing in our non-OCA lives, and my own feeling is that I want to combine the two, rather than keeping OCA work separate in its content and style. While I was happy with the subject and outcome of my last assignment (no. 2), I did not feel it reflected “me” in any way at all.

So, I’ve been mindmapping and researching photographers who work in the style I prefer and there is a link to the mindmap below


At present, the three photographers whose work I need to look at in more detail are Uta Barth, Emanuella de Ruiter and Cassandra Kapsos and I think I would like to do this through a series of semi-abstracts, possibly of light through the day or the coming growth of spring. My first idea was a series on the water of the River Ray from its source to its junction with the Thames viewed in a contemplative way, but after the mindmap exercise, I realised that I want to work with the idea of transience as an inner journey of the mind, rather than something physical. There will/may be time for that if I do the Landscape module. However, I also want to review work by people such as Paul Kenny, who uses natural found materials to express the idea of Now.

The references below have been parked here as they aided my decision making process. They may or may not feature in the finished assignment.

Roni Horn – Still water

Not the right idea, as she is talking about the Thames in terms of looking for something that she knows is there, but needs more time to find. I’m approaching from the opposite point of view – what is there is what is important now. – this one is important – so is this – and this. Most of her work is relevent – serendipity of damaged images saying more than the originals – multimedia event – good blog article