A quick note on sewing and pixels

I came across the following two books in the Whitechapel Gallery bookshop yesterday, which are worth noting.

http://www.javierhirschfeld.com/el-pixel-protector/

Moreno talks about how in the West, children tend to be protected in images to avoid the somewhat unlikely chance of the images being used for child pornography purposes, while this respect is not offered to African children. He therefore takes portraits of African youths and children, mainly in Senegal, and pixelates the faces, as a statement and protest about colonialism. Something to chase up later.

IMG_3857v2I noticed the second not for the subject, but for the cover, which combines two interest of mine, the idea of the red thread and sewing on images (or in this case, a book cover).

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Crewdson and Campany

Yesterday, my trusty wingman William and I visited two exhibitions in London –  Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines at the Photographers Gallery and David Campany’s A Handful of Dust at the Whitechapel Gallery.

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From Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral in the Pines

The Crewdson exhibition, Cathedral of the Pines is currently occupying three of the four exhibition floor at the Photographers Gallery. (The fourth has a fun interactive exhibition on photographing food, where we spent an additional happy 15 minutes.) All the Crewdson images were framed identically at double A1 size and were spread out through the exhibition space to give each one room to breathe. Each was labelled with a blindingly obvious caption, such as Woman at Window, which really did not tell us much at all. Together, all the images form a three stranded story, focusing on 1) a middle aged woman, 2) an older man and young girl, whose relationship remains opaque, and 3) some young people. They are caught in moments of stillness, which Crewdson likens to paintings, and the images themselves have a very painterly texture. Much has been written about the series elsewhere (see references below), so I will concentrate on our own impressions of the work.

There is a very strong sense of place in the series, a connectedness between the different images. One gets the impression of a story only part told – vignettes from a bigger tale that is just outside the viewer’s understanding, but which is somehow chilling.  Various props appear and reappear throughout the series, such as boxes, glasses of water, strange holes in the walls and floors, and prescription bottles. There is a strong sense of the male gaze – the women are often unclothed, while the men only occasionally and most of them have their faces turned away from the camera. It seems to be a series about women but by a man, and the effect of the male gaze is to make the women seem very vulnerable. Each person is caught in a moment of utter stillness, as in a freeze frame from a film, and in that stillness there is a sense of foreboding, loneliness and despair which pervades the whole production. We decided that the colour palette and cultural references were very reminiscent of Twin Peaks, which might have influenced this feeling. This stillness also encourages the viewer to form their own ideas about what the series means, rather than directing them.

“It’s a mystery, in the end, and I want it to remain so,” Crewdson adds. “That goes for everything: in life and art.” (Guardian, 2016)

We left feeling a little frustrated, and with the definite impression that we had been participating in a murder mystery play that we hadn’t solved. The pictures were technically very proficient, and the emotions they brought out were disconcerting, but curiously they seemed to lack “heart”.

After lunch, we went over to the Whitechapel Gallery in the pouring rain. I hadn’t visited this gallery before; my usual stomping ground includes the Tate Modern, Beetles & Huxley and the Photographers Gallery. It was much bigger that I had expected with an interesting range of exhibition spaces, and an excellent tearoom and bookshop. Our mission was to see A Handful of Dust, but we also took in ISelf Collection: Portrait as a Billygoat which was wonderfully “modern” in its craziness.

It had been suggested that I see A Handful of Dust by fellow students who have seen my project for the TVG exhibition on Time, and it was definitely worth going to. It is a curated exhibition by David Campany, working out from a single image of some dust on a piece of glass in Marcel Duchamp’s famously filthy studio, although it was later attributed in many different ways. A handful of Dust poster

Campany takes the idea of dust and works out in different directions, using a variety of historical images to make us consider the interplay between the dust under the bed at home right through to interstellar dust, with various diversions through the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, American dust storms, vandalism and fracking, amongst other subjects. It is difficult to pick out specific images that stood out, although I did like Louise Oates’ Notes on Hydraulic Fracking, the Desolate North East, and the film Hiroshima Mon Amour, Directed by Alain Resnais (1959). Campany’s decisions about what to include in the exhibition might seem somewhat random, but there is a clear thread underneath on the meaning of the photograph as document and as a record, but also of how everything is connected at a cosmic level. It was fascinating, so much so that I bought the exhibition catalogue. This turned out to be two books, one of the photographs and the other an extended essay by Campany which contextualises the works. I am looking forward to reading it over the next few days.

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Louise Oates’ Notes on Hydraulic Fracking, the Desolate North East

The presentation of the work was one area which I was not so enthused. The walls of the space are painted dark green, and text was printed onto it in black type which made it very difficult to read unless one was standing directly in front of it.

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Overall, we both preferred A Handful of Dust to Cathedral of the Pines, which was surprising, as I had expected the converse. And for future reference, the lady in the Whitechapel Gallery bookshop told me that the next big exhibition, when the Campany one is over will be Thomas Ruff, which will also be worth a visit.

References

http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/06/crewdson-cathedral/

http://aperture.org/shop/crewdson-cathedral-of-the-pines/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jun/08/a-handful-of-dust-whitechapel-photographers-show

http://aperture.org/blog/conversation-david-campany/

https://www.ft.com/content/70aec0e6-4583-11e7-8d27-59b4dd6296b8

 

 

 

Assignment 3 – personal reflections

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Technically, I am happy with all of the images, except as I mentioned in the assignment itself, the slightly yellow cast on the last image. I feel that numbers 1 and 3 are the best, and ideally I would like to revisit the other artists to make more similar pictures of their workspaces.

Quality of outcome

I would describe the quality of outcome as adequate. The images themselves are functional, but I believe that the contextualisation of them as being not only working spaces, but also expressions of their owners’ identities and their relationship with their partners brings another viewpoint. I enjoyed visiting the artists and we got on very well, so I see that aspect and the consequent possibilities of doing further work with them as being as much a part of the outcome as the images themselves.

Demonstration of creativity

I don’t believe that these images push the boundaries of creativity, but my interpretation of the assignment brief did not allow much room for experimentation. A review of the numerous blog posts which were the route to my finished assignment show that I tried various ideas, but did not feel they fitted the brief adequately.

Context

It has been some considerable time between the submission of this assignment and the previous one. During this time I have not been idle, as shown by the exhibition visits and personal research in the Research and Reflection section of my blog. This has been supplemented by a large amount of collected ideas and learning, particularly around the ideas of place and time which are kept in my two sketchbooks. Alongside this, I have also been working on a project on the concept of time, which I hope will go on show next year at the Thames Valley Group’s exhibition.

I have found the prescriptive nature of this assignment difficult to merge with the personal work, which is most probably the reason for the time it has taken to produce.

 

Background for assignment 3 – the female studio

 The syntax of the studio, from babble to murmur remains not only private, but hermeneutically opaque. Objects, images and texts congregate according to the artist’s esoteric taxonomy, redundant outside of the studio, salient for the artist only. (Pigrum, 2007).

My recent visits to a variety of different studios show how the women concerned have managed to carve out a personal space for themselves in the home environment which allows them to follow their passion. This illustrates the changing relationship between male and female understanding of the way that the home environment is divided alongside an acceptance that those women’s art is considered sufficiently important to justify its own space. In a fascinating research article Gendered Space? (2000) , which many women can relate to, Paula Townsend explains the history of how space in the home has traditionally been divided on gender lines, with women being assumed to have overall control of the space, but in coupled families having no actual space to call their own. The man has historically had his study and/or shed, to which he could retire when he wanted peace or privacy, while in recent times, children often have personal bedrooms which they use for similar purposes. Women, meanwhile, are assumed to have the kitchen as “their space”, despite it being open to all at any time of day or night, and this is a room which is unsuited to longer term hobbies and activities; the table is required three times a day for meals and so needs to be clear of materials regularly, thus limiting women’s artistic endeavours to work that is easy to tidy away and which is portable, i.e. knitting, sewing, drawing.

Women’s increasing presence in the formal workplace and the consequent financial authority this has brought has begun to allow women to demand the same amount of personal space within the home that men have always had, whether it be their own study for private contemplation or a larger space to explore artistic pursuits. It also brings into focus how women and their partners view the work that she does in “her” space. Allocating a specific, unique room for her creativity gives the undertaking  a legitimacy which has previously been absent in the gendered view of art pursuits.  The possession of a personal studio in the modern world takes art from being a plaything to being a serious undertaking which merits a specific space and indicates independence, respect and personal autonomy as well as money. This lack of respect for women’s artistic value still prevails, as exemplified in Team LPD’s (2015) piece Artists in their Studios, which includes thirty eight artists in their place of work, only three of whom are women. Those three are Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo and Tamara De Lempika.

Moving away from gender politics, there is also the question of whether a personal studio is a positive or negative aid to creativity. Women often prefer to work in collective groups, sharing spaces and being able to discuss their work in situ. This allows for collaboration and feedback and is popular in arts which require space and funds to house large pieces of equipment, such as furnaces. Others prefer a smaller space, close to the house, where they can work in peace while still being available to the family. And a third group are almost peripatetic, taking their tools with them as they move around. Each group has found a way of carving out a personal space which helps her with the process of making her work.

The studio itself has been a concept for several hundred years, originally appearing in Mediaeval times as the Atelier, where a craftsman would produce his work, accompanied by a series of apprentices, all male. As patronage became the defined way for artists to make a living, they were able to afford bigger studio areas and more assistants until by the 18th century, art was being produced to order on an almost factory scale. With the larger studios came the concept of the Bottega (the workroom) and the Studiolo (the study, a place for contemplation) and a division of thought from action (Wallace, 2014). In the 20th and 21st century, the concept of the art factory was extended ………..

The studio as metaphor

Over and over, references on the subject of studios refer to Pagrum’s excellent article (2007) The ontopology of the artist’s studio as workplace, which delves into the mythology and meaning of the studio.  The arrangement of equipment, the ideas boards and mementos that litter the walls and shelves – all serve as a fulcrum for the artist to visualise and plan her work; a messy amalgam of fleeting thoughts and concrete examples which are the influences that inform her own ideas. Bookshelves are particularly interesting as an expression of the work they enjoy and tables overflow with the tools of their trade. Pagrum argues that this heady mix of paraphernalia and tools with ideas and the artist’s experiences merge together to make the studio a shrine to creation, or at least the expectation of creation. This expectation has both positive and negative aspects; the artist retires to this creative space to make her work, but when inspiration is low, the studio can also seem like a prison, with its lowering threat of failure. At the same time, Bain (2005) refers to the need for an artist to construct an identity, and the place of the studio within the construct as a physical expression of that identity.

Each artist’s space tells us as much about them, their personality and their interests as it does about their work. As such, it has been a rich seam of subject matter for artists and photographers for centuries. The subject has been approached by photographers in many ways, and for example, Hossein Amirsadeghi’s (2012) work, Sanctuaries mixes images of people at work with more general portraits of artists in and around their studios.   Barbara Yoshida’s fascinating series of 100 studies of women artists (Frank, 2015) focuses on their relationships with their studios more than the space itself, while Kamala Walton’s Works in Progress is more of a personal response to the space and character of different studios in and around Bristol. The Gagosian Museum’s 2015 dual exhibition of how artists and photographers relate to their studios (Architectural Digest, 2015) is an excellent insight into the concept of creation and how different artists express its two sides, while Elina Brotherus’ series Artists at Work looks at the relationship between the subject (the model) and the artist.  However, one subject which seems to be lacking is examples of photographers in their studios. Maybe this is because one set of studio lights on a white background looks much like another, or because the modern day photographer’s place of work resembles a computer lab more than an atelier. Perhaps this is something to explore in a later piece of work.

Whichever line of research the author takes to examine the idea of the artist’s studio, it remains a place of mystery and awe, somewhere that is an expression of it’s maker’s personality and identity as well as being a functional space.

“For many years the studio has possessed an aura of glamour, of apartness from the outside world, a place of magic.” (Giles Waterfield, 2009)

References

Amirsadeghi, Hossein, (2012), Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and Their Studios, London: Thames & Hudson

Architectural Digest (2015) Two exhibitions explore artists’ and photographers’ portraits of their own studios. [online press release] At: http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/artists-photographers-studios-gagosian-article (Accessed on 27 July 2017)

Bain, Alison (2005) ‘Constructing an artistic identity’ Work, employment and society 19.1 (2005): 25-46.
Brotherus, Elina (2009) Artists at work. At: http://www.elinabrotherus.com/photography/#/artists-at-work/ (Accessed on 28 July 2017)
Pigrum, Derek (2007) The ‘ontopology’ of the artist’s studio as workplace: researching the artist’s studio and the art/design classroom, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 12:3, 291-307
Team LPD (2015) Famous Artists at Work in their Studios. [online blog] In: loveprintanddesign.com At: http://loveprintanddesign.com/famous-artists-at-work-in-their-studios/ (Accessed on 28 July 2017)
Townsend, Paula (2000) “Gendered Space? An Exploration of the Gendered Meaning and Experience of ‘Home’ in Contemporary British Society.” FORUM: eJournal for Postgraduate Studies in Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Vol. 3. No. 1. [online] At: http://research.ncl.ac.uk/forum/v3i1/gendered%20space.pdf
 (Accessed on 27 July 2017)
Visual Arts South West (n.d.) The artist’s studio. [online] At: http://www.vasw.org.uk/features/the-artist-s-studio.php (Accessed on 27 July 2017)
Wallace, Ian (2014) The Evolution of the Artist’s Studio: From Renaissance Bottega to Assembly Line. In: artspace.com 11.06.14 [online] At:  http://www.artspace.com/magazine/art_101/art_market/the-evolution-of-the-artists-studio-52374 (Accessed on 27 July 2017)

http://www.vasw.org.uk/features/the-artist-s-studio.php

Waterfield, Giles (2009) The Artist’s Studio, London: Hogarth Arts.

 

Assignment 3 – Home is Where the Art is

Assignment brief

Find out about a community that you don’t know much about and tell their story. What window into this world can you access through your role as photographer?

Introduction

Marlborough Open Studios is an annual collaborative event in which forty local artists open their homes and studios over four weekends to allow the public access to them and their work. It is a selling event, but the artists are all happy to talk about what they do without any commitment to buy. Over the course of two weekends, I was lucky enough to see the work of twenty two artists; two were photographers, and the others used a variety of media including printmaking, glasswork, sculpture and collographs. I have discounted the photographers from this project, as I did not feel comfortable about asking them if I could photograph their work. Men were also discounted, being in the minority (less than 30%) in what turned out to be a very female event. Other artists were happy for me to do so and were very willing to explain their techniques for me.

The background work which informed this assignment is outlined in the following posts:

https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/background-for-assignment-3-the-female-studio/

https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/yet-another-attempt-to-find-a-subject-for-assignment-3/

Assignment 3 – Home is Where the Art is

The 20th century rise in woman’s autonomy based on their increasing presence in the formal workplace, and the consequent financial authority this brought has begun to allow women to demand the same amount of personal space within the home that men have always had, whether it be their own study for private contemplation or a larger space to explore artistic pursuits. It also brings into focus how women and their partners view the work that she does in “her” space. Allocating a specific, unique room for her creativity gives the undertaking  a legitimacy which has previously been absent in the historically gendered view of art pursuits. As a woman, the possession of a personal studio in the modern world takes art from being a plaything to being a serious undertaking, which indicates independence and personal autonomy as well as financial stability. And for a woman, her own studio is a strong representation of her identity and the value of her work to herself and to her partner, if she has one.

This project  is based on a series of visits made under the umbrella of the Marlborough Open Studios Art Trail. Each artist in the Open Studios has been selected by her peer group as being worthy to be a part of a group which showcases the best of what North Wiltshire artists have to offer. My thanks go to the following artists who allowed me to photograph them and their work environment:

Photographs

Reflective commentary

The purpose of this assignment was to reveal either a mirror of a community one knows and how it affects the photographer personally, or a window onto a community that the photographer did not previously know. A review of my blog posts for this assignment reveals that I have struggled to settle on a subject for several months, and tried out several different options without success. My initial idea of using mirrors in the literal as well as metaphorical sense using photography en abyme is something I would like to return to later, but I was advised by fellow students that the next iteration using my village’s annual carnival was not working. Thanks are due to fellow student Kate 513940 for her suggestion that I look at the Open Studios for a more revealing subject, and something upon which I could base a windows project.

This was not a linear project, in which the order of the images was important. Of more interest to me was the question of whether to include some of the artworks or to focus purely on the spaces themselves. I decided on the latter because it was better reflective of my background research. My original plan had been to produce a series of diptychs, each showing the artist and one of her pieces, but this seemed too static , on reflection. I also looked at the possibility of showing the artists directly relating to me, the photographer, as the process of capturing the images was so voluble and enjoyable but did not have enough good quality images to produce a series. Like all events of this type, one is having to work “on the hoof” and allowing other visitors to speak to the artists, and so there was a limit to what could be achieved. However, the organiser of the event asked me if I would like to produce some photographs for next year’s catalogue, and suggested that it might be mutually beneficial for me to go back after the Open Studios was over and to spend some time watching and photographing individual artists at work. I may do this over the winter as part of my  rework for assessment.

Looking at the series I have produced, I have particular concerns about two images. No. 7 has a slightly yellow cast from being taken in artificial light and this does not fit the visual palette of the other images. Despite considerable effort, I cannot seem to remove this without losing detail in the image. The focus in no. 6 is not quite as sharp as I would have liked, but I think the image should be included as the composition and the artist’s expression are revealing. Conversely, I am pleased with nos 1, 2 and 4, which I feel capture the person as well as their environment. Regarding possible gaps, the inclusion of some painters would have added another element to the series, and I will try to achieve this over the winter.

The editorial process, again.

Further to my last post about the Marlborough Open Studios, I’ve selected some images for the contacts, and am now playing with them to see what works and what doesn’t. At present, there are three sets of images that I consider to be possibilities

  • Artists at work.

    2. Artists in their studios.

    3. A series of diptychs of artists and examples of their work, such as the example below.

    Other possibilities include:

  • studies of hands at work, though I don’t have enough for a comprehensive series.
  • studios and work, but no people (an interesting idea, though again I am not sure I have enough empty studios in my set).
  • tools of the trade and work, but no people again. An example is shown below. I am quite taken with this idea, and wonder whether to go with it. However, the single most important aspect of the whole venture was the people and how well many of us got on, so realistically I need to go with a variation of one of the numbered series above.

Yet another attempt to find a subject for Assignment 3

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been visiting artists who are exhibiting as part of the Marlborough Open Studios event over the last couple of weekends. Quite apart from my interest in seeing what they are producing was my desire to photograph them in their place of work. I had a wonderful time and the great majority of people I talked to were delighted to cooperate. I seem to have finished the photographing section of the project with two extra artworks in the house, but I’d have loved to take more. What seems to have appeared in the photos I took is a variety of casual portraits, images of people’s studios and examples of their work.  I feel the contacts show more coherence between the subjects and an overall theme which is specific to the group, unlike my last effort with the local carnival, which lacked anything to root it in a specific place.

My next job is to go through the attached contacts and pick out the ones I intend to edit and use. Fortunately, there is no question about whether they should be colour or monochrome – the colour is important for this series.Ass 3 - MOS contacts-1Ass 3 - MOS contacts-2Ass 3 - MOS contacts-3These images These Ass 3 - MOS contacts-4