Response to tutor’s comments on Assignment 3

My tutor was away for the whole of August, so I have only recently got the feedback on Assignment 3. It wasn’t as poor as I was expecting, for which I am thankful, but there are definitely some changes which will have to be made before it goes for assessment. Here is a link to the full feedback: 3.HollyWoodward. Going through it in detail, my tutor’s comments are in italics and my responses in plain type.

Overall comments

Overall you have submitted a sound assignment and provided really strong reflective research. Your critical engagement and subsequent analysis has provided the work with depth. The final images do require further interrogation as there is a variant within your composition and this affects the narrative. A little more consideration at the time of shooting and editing would help. I think though that it is a project that as you suggest you should continue with. You raise some interesting points about the role of the female artist and thus supply an interesting foundation for the project.

Good news that the concept was ok, and my tutor was clearly pleased with my background research and my contextualisation in terms of the changing role of the female artist. I agree with his suggestion that some more work is needed on the images, as I outlined in my own reflection on the project. It would have been helpful if I had had a clearer idea before I started on the narrative I was aiming for. I took loads of photographs, but relatively few were suitable for my final project. Fortunately, I have both the option to return and make more photographs of the subjects, and also to collect some new ones next weekend, as the rival Swindon Open Studios is currently taking place.

Feedback on assignment

Points to address:

Clearly you have had issues with your ability to find appropriate subjects. I think that maybe you should try and be less anxious in the future about what you photograph as this has clearly held up your progress. Your overall contextual input is great and it is really apparent that you are enjoying this journey of discovery. I guess it is the ‘fun’ part, taking the images that is harder for you! Remember that you are on a learning journey, you are expected to make mistakes but you will progress through your photography, problems and making images.

Fair point about worrying about it all too much. On the whole, I find not having regular set deadlines to be a positive incentive to my work, but it does leave my mind open to a degree of dithering and uncertainty which would not be possible if a shorter time frame for each assignment was required.

I think that maybe things you could have expanded upon is the location. I find it really interesting that it looks like their studios are within their domestic spaces – sheds in the gardens, rooms in the house etc. In some way you have presented a romantic version of the female artist and idyllic view of the English female craftsperson, it feels very middle class, be interesting to see how a mixed audience respond!

Yes, the studios are all in domestic spaces, which was a part of what I was trying to show. And those spaces are generally very plush, so the middle-class comment has validity too. I was most impressed at the size of the houses the shows took place in, and also their wonderful gardens, and actually asked whether having a lovely location was part of the requirement for inclusion in the event, but apparently not. Just serendipity, they said. However, Marlborough is a very middle class area, and I can imagine that some people might be put off entering because they felt tat the event was exclusively for people with lovely houses and gardens. Possibly not a deliberate bias, but one that has perhaps affected the overall fell of the event. It will be interesting to visit some of the Swindon studios, as I suspect they may show a wider range of studio types. For instance, I attended one yesterday in someone’s garage.

Composition on the whole isn’t an issue but I would say that there is a variation of the way that you deal with your subjects. Image 1 and 6 (yes focus is an issue, be aware and take more time at the time of shooting) have a different dynamic to the other images. Here the artists are directly looking at you, the other images depict the subjects engaged in their work, this is a very different perspective that affects the cohesion of the narrative. This is something that you should be reflecting upon and making more considered decisions at the time of the shoot and indeed during the edit.

I agree with this in retrospect, although at the time of shooting it did not seem to be an issue. My original idea had been to photograph the artists with a direct gaze, but my interest in how they go about doing their work became more important as time went on. I like image no 1 a lot, but perhaps it should be changed for something where the artist is at work. For me, no. 6 is the least successful, and I need to have a rethink about it.

With reference to image 6 you should concentrate on just trying to get the face the correct balance, mixing daylight and fluorescent will prove to be problematic due to the different spectrums of light balance. Again though, I would suggest taking more control at the time of shoot. You have that lovely big window to the side allowing for natural light, maybe with more planning you could have turned off the artificial light.

I think he means No 7 here, and I completely agree with the comments. I definitely plan to go back for another shoot with this lady, as the lighting just doesn’t work and I am sure I can do better. It will be easier without all the other people about who were visiting at the same time as me.

I think that you should continue with this project and reflect further upon your contextual input as it has got interesting connotations.

Ok, there’s still some work to do here before submission for assessment, but that is fine. I have the contacts to return and reshoot some of the images, and there are a couple of other artists of whom I was unable to get a reasonable image that I might add as well.

Suggested reading/viewing

Photographers etc to look at:

Barbara Yoshida: http://www.barbarayoshida.com/women-artistportraits/index.html#

Maurice Broomfield: http://mauricebroomfield.photography/industry/

Brian Griffin: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/a-lifein-portrait-brian-griffins-latest-collection-2093909.html

Something for another post.

Advertisements

First thought for Assignment 4

I have got so much going on at present that it is difficult to keep up with my blog, and I am falling behind. However, after an agonisingly long gestation period for assignment 3, I think this one will be a doddle. I took the photographs I wanted to use back in June and was waiting for the right assignment to use them. They are of an abandoned care home on my street which has been boarded up since 2007.  Since then, the place has gradually been going to rack and ruin, something that has been documented over time by the local urban explorer (Urbex) contingent. I have wanted to visit it for ages, but was nervous of doing so alone, so when my photographer son came to stay, we spent a morning poking around the place and making photos and video clips. Here is one as a taster.

P1610540-Editv2

For the last few days, I have been thinking about how to use some text to add another layer to the images, and last night I found myself singing an old music hall song that my grandmother taught me. Eureka! I am going to combine the images with the words from some songs to give a flavour of happier times at the home, when I imagine the residents gathered around the piano enjoying a singsong.

Finally, I am also wondering about whether to put together a short video of the images, with audio of one of the songs to accompany it.

Photo Oxford 2017 symposium

Yesterday, I attended this symposium at the Weston Library in Oxford. It was the opening event for this year’s Photo Oxford festival. I am planning to go back to see the individual exhibitions, so this post consist of more general thoughts on the symposium.

I attended the first festival three years ago, and wrote extensively but very naively about it in my TAOP blog. As a very recent starter on the degree course, most of the ideas discussed went straight over my head, and I really must go back and take another look at my notes to see whether I missed a great deal of the discussed ideas. That festival was quite large, with a programme of talks and lectures over several days and a large number of exhibitions. At the time, I thought that the speaking events were poorly attended, despite the high level speakers, and this obviously had an effect on what was possible for this, the second festival. In the opening remarks, the guest curators, Tim Clarke (Director and Editor-in-Chief at 1000 words, an online photography magazine), and Greg Hobson (lately Curator at the National Media Museum in Bradford and currently a freelance photography curator) explained that their original plan had been for a much larger event, but that funding had been difficult to achieve, and they had had to scale down the festival considerably to match the resources.

They gave a list of other photographers’ work that they would have liked to have included:

  • Laia Abril’s series On Abortion,
  • Joachim Schmid’s X Marks the Spot (about people who have their photo taken at the spot where JFK was assassinated)
  • Coralie Vogelaar’s Recognised/Not Recognised (which uses image recognition software to look at what makes some images go viral, and others not.
  • Peter Mann’s Amanda Knox: Innocent and Guilty (which considers how one story can be represented from two different viewpoints, using media photos)
  • Poulomi Basu’s work on ISIS mothers – those whose children have left Europe to fight for ISIS

They had also intended to produce a group exhibition, which would have included the following works:

What unites all of the above work is the concept Reveal/Conceal, and how photography links reality and perception in a way which can be played with, to make new meaning out of found and appropriated images and items. I will be discussing this concept in more detail in future posts, as there are moral and ethical considerations in this area of photographic work which are contentious and which require some consideration.

The curators described their festival as searching for some of history’s footnotes and based their concept on this quote by Dieter Roelstraete:

…art is, or at least can be, many things at many different points in time and space. Throughout its history—which is either long or short, depending on the definition agreed upon—it has assumed many different roles and been called upon to defend an equal number of different causes. Or, alternately—and this has turned out to be a much more appealing and rewarding tactic for most of the past century—it has been called upon to attack, question, and criticize any number of states of affairs. In the messianic sense of a “calling” or κλησις—a call to either change or preserve, for those are the only real options open to the messianic—we might locate both the roots of art’s historical contribution to the hallowed tradition of critique and the practice of critical thought, as well as its share in the business of shaping the future—preferably (and presumably) a different future from the one that we knowingly envision from the vantage point of “today.” (Roelstraete, 2009)

References

Roelstraete, D. (2009). The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art – Journal #4 March 2009 – e-flux. [online] E-flux.com. Available at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/04/68582/the-way-of-the-shovel-on-the-archeological-imaginary-in-art/ [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

 

Research Point 1 – Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image

Works of mass communication all combine, through diverse and diversely successful dialects, the fascination of a nature, that of story, diegesis (narrative), syntagm (an orderly combination of interacting signifiers, e.g. a sentence) and the intelligibility of a culture, withdrawn into a few, discontinuous symbols which men ‘decline’ in the shelter of their living speech. Barthes 1977, 162-3. (the purple words are mine)

panzani-preview

Panzani advert that illustrates Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image.

I’ve written a little before about the idea of anchor and relay in Context & Narrative, but looking back at what I said, it is only the bare bones. I did confirm though that I have read Rhetoric of the Image before. It is a pretty dense piece of writing, which requires full concentration and access to a dictionary and as always, Barthes used twenty abstruse words where five simple ones would do the same job, but I now think I have understood the gist of it.

I will talk relatively briefly about Anchor and Relay, as required for the Research Point, because I think there are more interesting ideas which are explained later in the essay.

Barthes opines that one can combine text and images in two different ways:

  • anchors – where the text  which accompanies an image is directive; it focuses the viewer’s understanding of the image down a particular pathway, thus limiting the image’s potential range of meanings.
  • relays – the text alters or advances the meaning, by adding other possible ways of reading an image. The resulting understanding might still be tied down, but it is much more open to interpretation than the anchoring text.

In the coursework lead-up to this exercise, we are referred to Scott’s break-down of the relationship, which is directional and orientational (both are anchors in Barthes’s terminology) and complementary, which equates to Barthes’ relay. I explained these terms, with examples, here. The notion of relaying text is very popular in current photography, with seemingly unrelated pieces of text co-located with images, in a completely undirected way which requires to viewer to derive his/her own meaning from the pieces. More of this later though.

Barthes then goes on to introduce another semiotic concept – connotive and denotive signs using an advertisement for spaghetti as a springboard for his theories. Connotive refers to the literal part of the image, in this case, a shopping bag which holds a number of cookery ingredients, while the denotive part of the image is the symbolic signs that are held within that image and which are what makes it an advert rather than simply an image of some shopping. He goes into some detail about how these are presented in the image, through signifiers and what they signify. A basic example is the various traffic signs that we see on our roads. The signs are simple but they hold larger messages about particular safety issues we should beware of, such as this below.

no right turn

Here, we “know” that the red circle with a line through it means Don’t Do Something, and the black arrow indicates what that Something is – No Right Turn.

That is simple, but one can apply the same concept to much more complicated situations, particularly when using text alongside an image. Barthes writes that the specific signifiers in an image are underlain by an infinite range of potential signifieds – the meanings that the signified might refer to. The idea that limits those signifieds are each person’s cultural and personal experiences, i.e. those things that lead the person to associate a particular object or sight with a specific idea. Naturally, there are some general ones which are widely understood, such as generic toilet signs, for instance, but surprisingly few are globally understood. With each person’s own experiential assumptions laid on top of this, it is clear that every person who looks at the same image may draw different conclusions about its meaning (See Death of the Author for more on this), and this is why advertising needs to be very general and directive in its signifiers – to avoid misunderstanding of the messages that the seller wants to say.

This is where we return to the idea of anchors and relays, as most usually text is used as an anchor, to tie down/limit/repress the potential signified meanings of the image, as in advertisements. However, by using a piece of text as relay instead, a much more open relationship with the image is produced, allowing and even encouraging the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions about what the artist means, and potentially producing a gap between the words and the image for the viewer to fill in with his/her own interpretation, based on a very personal understanding of the ideas and themes the artist is exploring.

There is considerably more to the article along the lines of how the photograph differs from all other art works as it simply records a scenario, rather than transforming it into a representation of the scene, but that is for another post. In the meantime, the course question asks us how this might help my own creative approach to working with text and images? I am actually quite comfortable with the idea of non-explanatory text alongside images, and my current project on nude photography and the gaze is using it. Fellow student Stefan513593 taught me a new word today which references my thinking about how the project is progressing – ekphrasic – a vivid, often dramatic verbal description of a visual work of art, real or imagined (Wikipedia, 2017), which in the case of my project, involves sewing words which have significant meanings upon the image to subvert our initial understanding of it as a signifier and to question the history behind it.  The current state of that work can be seen in this post here.

More important though is the idea that the connotators within the image are discontinuous, scattered traits, which hint at a lexicon, without detailing the whole of it. Barthes (1977)

diegesis – narrative

References

Barthes, Roland (1977) Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekphrasis (accessed on 20 August 2017)

Barbara Kruger, Sarah Sense and abstract layers of meaning

You know how it is – when something new and specific comes into your mind, then suddenly evidence of that thing seems to be everywhere. I recall that feeling when I was pregnant the first time, and evidence of pregnancy and babies that I had not noticed before suddenly came into sharp focus. I am having the same experience with the idea of Text and Images at present. It’s as if suddenly my eyes have been opened to the significance of something I’ve never thought about before.

The course text refers us to Barbara Kruger, as a photographer who uses advertising conventions to subvert their messages. Her work is political in nature and asks us to question prevailing thinking. Her images fit in well with the current zeitgeist and I notice that she has been using Trump in her work recently, reflecting the so-called “Fake Media” view of him. Her work fits in well with the low-level trolling and poking fun at the new American President which is aimed at needling him into making a fool of himself. (Go, Barbara! I’m right behind you. The man is a menace.)

For example, this image below is brilliant – funny, scathingly truthful and covertly taking a swipe at Trump and his alt-right fans.

Barbara Kruger 2

© Barbara Kruger

There are reminders of the work of other political photographers, such as Peter Kennard, whom I heard lecture back during TAOP. Both use collage and iconic images to make their points in clever, easy to grasp ways.

The interesting thing about Kruger’s work is that she takes a piece of text and pastes it over a seemingly entirely unconnected image, and the result is a space where the viewer has to work to fit the two messages together. The photographer provides clues, but the viewer has to join the dots, as it were. In the image above, we have the following elements:

  • an image of a person, who we assume is Hitler because of the moustache and uniform, although his eyes are covered.
  • two bits of text (well, three really, but the upper two are connected)
  • a message about mind control
  • another message about not believing internet trolls
  • a third message, which sits in the notional gap between text and image (not the physical gap) about Hitler’s use of psychological warfare and disinformation during WW2, and
  • a fourth message (also within the gap) warning people to beware of current re-use of those techniques to direct the population’s thinking via the internet. i.e. don’t believe everything you read on the internet, and attempts to direct our thinking may well be organised and coordinated. The small type point of the “If” at the beginning of the text also implies that the default position is that our minds are controlled, and only clear-thinking people can see above this to the wider point.

All this in one image. It is a very powerful way of making a point quickly that is much more complex to explain in words.

Our coursework text argues that there are three ways an image and some text can be related:

directional – the words are explanatory of the image. One thinks of basic reportage in this category, where the pictures are an illustration of the words, such as this below from today’s BBC website.         Directional text
The image illustrates the words and the words explain the image. I very much doubt whether anyone was commissioned to make the image. It was simply lifted from a stock photo library of happy, smiling girls. (Why is it always girls?)

orientational – the words give some general information about the image, such as the place it was taken, such as this image below, taken from the Landscape Photographer of the Year website. The text explains the location of the image and who it was by.

John Gibbs

complementary – the text and the image together produce a space into which a third idea is placed. Each of the elements has value on its own, but together they produce another idea altogether. That idea relies on the viewer taking enough time to work it out for his/herself, and it is a concept that is currently very popular in Art Photography.

Which brings me to Sarah Sense. I found her work while I was doing research for assignment 3 of Context & Narrative, and was struck by her method of deconstructing and reconstructing images to say something about her mixed heritage roots and in particular some of the symbolism used in basket-weaving by different groups. Yesterday, I returned to it, in relation to my post on Thomas Kellner, and discovered that she has move on since I last looked at her site. An example of her recent work is shown below, and it combines both the physical re-weaving of the image she is known for, but also integrated and external text. It is part of a series called Remember, which along with its predecessor Chocktaw Irish Relation, takes the words of her grandmother’s memoirs and reproduces them both within the image and as accompanying text, both handwritten. (Both can be viewed on her website here). The result gives a sense of her relationship with her grandmother, and their shared heritage through what are on first sight fairly straightforward landscape images. But like the Barbara Kruger image above, once can unpeel the ideas of the image like an onion, to find others beneath them which are more abstract.

Sarah Sense-Remembering

© Sarah Sense, 2016

From a personal standpoint, I am intrigued by the idea that one can use physical layers to produce abstract layers of meaning, and would like to try it out in some of my own work.

More thoughts on subverting the male gaze – NSFW

WARNING – this post contains images of nudity. NSFW

Several of my fellow students have been extremely helpful in sorting out how I should take the idea of working with a feminine or ungendered gaze on the nude male. My thanks to Stephanie, Micahel, Stefan, Kate and Gesa particularly and all the other poeple who have commented here on my blog and on the OCA Photography Students Facebook page – for me, the group feedback is a massive part of my thought distillation process and a part I could not do without. Their comments can mostly be seen under the Comments section in my previous post on the subject. The long and the short of it is that my original photos were actually quite traditional in their style and content, and that I needed to subvert them in some way to bring in the feminist perspective. Returning to my interest in C&N of using thread and cutting to alter images, I have been trying out a few different ideas and there is definitely something that I can work with here.

In the images below, I have firstly stitched the (Google Translated) Chinese word for womanly/obedient across the model’s rear and in the second, I have used a cross stich generator program to pixelate his genitals and then photoshopped the cross stitch colur chart in place of the real thing.

There is much research to do yet, on both the importance of tattoos (w/r to Image 1) and for both on the role of feminine arts such as sewing as acts of subversion to the genreally male-oriented artistic paradigm. (Note to self: look back at the concept of  Subversive Stitching as a political statement)

Additionally, it has been suggested that I consider using Greek or Latin rather than Chinese to stitch words on the model’s body, which would reference the Ancient World’s obsession with sculpting the naked male figure. So much to think about, but I am moving this work onto Preparation for Assignment 4 in Coursework, as I will almost certainly be using it for the Assignment itself.

Thomas Kellner – Fractured Architecture

Yesterday I met Kate 513284 at Lacock Abbey, for a catch up and to see Thomas Kellner’s exhibition called Fractured Architecture, Cubist Photographs, which is currently showing in the upstairs gallery. There is a short video here explaining his technique, but from a practical point of view, he re-images of well-known buildings by taking a series of images of the parts and putting them together. He does this by glueing his analogue negatives together to form a physical sequence, which he then make prints from. The whole process is initially like looking at the buildings through the reflection of a series of windows, but then you start to look closer and discover that the negatives are actually sequential, and so Kellner knew exactly the effect he wanted before he took a single shot.

At first glance, the images seem to fit into the genre of Cubist Decontstructivism, but Kellner has coined the phrase Radical Constructivism to describe his work, and he uses an artistic method he calls “visual analytical synthesis”. His aim is to take well-known viewpoints and reproduce them in a non-linear way – the way the eye flits around a view – rather than the basic two-dimensional view we are used to.

High res copies of most of the images we saw are shown in this Lenscratch article (2017) and a little more explanation of his technique is discussed here.

FL: You mention on your website that your work is all about playing with your viewers’ perceptions of what is real, landmarks that they consider to be constant and unchanging. Why is it that you think this is such an important message to spread?
“Kellner’s contact sheets give bodily form to our scattered, animated and animating act of viewing. In doing so, they reclaim the individual’s central position to the formation of image and building alike.” Pappas, Allison, MFA Houston in: Houston, we’ve had a problem! (The Hippo Collective, 2014)

One has to admire the precision and forethought that Killner uses to produce his work. It is startling and one inevitably gets drawn into thinking about how he made it. He says that initially he began nwith the idea of using a single 36 frame roll of film for each image, but that this has expanded now and he often uses two. For my own part, the image I liked best was one where he did not use the constraint of the rectangular format, but something a little looser in contruction.  IMG_3948v2

His work has echoes of that of Seung Hoon Park, David Hockney and Sarah Sense, both of whom I have reviewed before in Context & Narrative, but the techniques of deconstruction and reconstruction are all completely different. There’s plenty to think about in relation to my own work.

References

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village/features/fractured-architecture-cubist-photographs-by-thomas-kellner

http://lenscratch.com/2017/03/thomas-kellner/

http://www.mutantspace.com/thomas-kellner-photos-deconstructed-montages-iconic-structures/

https://www.thehippocollective.com/2014/10/20/thomas-kellner-interview/

https://susanspiritusgallery.com/artist/seung-hoon-park/

http://www.sarahsense.com/GalleryMain.asp?GalleryID=91121&AKey=L6DFM793