Create a short series (6-10) of environmental portraits of people in places that provide the context for us to understand them. Pose and details are important.
PDF of the assignment in book format- Others (Otherscompletecover)
Please note: The cover on this version is different to the one I sent via email to WM, due to crop I noticed after emailing it.
It will be helpful to look at the book before reading further.
Two months ago I created a survey which can be found here. I was not sure if I would use the results for the exercises or the assignment or both. In the end they influenced all the work but perhaps it is only obviously visible in the assignment.
I received 86 replies to the survey. I chose 6 to work with. I condensed their words into short descriptions of people.
- #34 Female, English, lives in Kent, dress style – “sticks to monochrome”. High thin-heeled stilettoes, feels an affinity with industrial chrome and steel. Home is a modern 3-bed, built to look like a barn, decorated in industrial style, sleek modern furniture. Grew up in France. Has experienced devastating grief.
- #83 Female, Welsh, lives in Saudi Arabia. Wears full-length black abaya, with shorts, vest and flip-flops underneath. Home is considered a ‘beautiful bay in Pembrokeshire’ – misses it very much and compares where she is now unfavourably. Was a highly qualified professional when lived in the UK, no longer allowed to work. Signified by a pair of designer sunglasses.
- #82 Female, Arab, French but lives in London. Favourite colour red, signified by cigarettes, high-waisted everything, red lipstick, and big smile. Lives with 2 flatmates in Hoxton and although rented, the flat feels like home.
- #27 Describes gender as Other, Nordic, and lives on a hill in the woods between the sea and suburb. Struggling and fat. Lives in an old fashioned home that looks like a museum, which feels good. Signified by a tall walking stick. Wishes could tolerate ordinary people more.
- #61 Male, British, lives in Nottingham. Feels he is signified best by work trousers. Was changed deeply by death of best friend when he was 18 and grandmother within a few days of each other. Adult but wears superhero PJs. Ideal self is an international playboy, garden designer.
- #50 Male, British and lives in London; owns a large comfortable Victorian home, which he loves. Wears a cardigan, which he fiddles with as he did when he was a child with his comfort blanket. Knows he’s very lucky and tries hard not ‘to be a dick’.
I asked people whose work is about representing others to work with me creating a response to these descriptions. The result is the short photography book, Others.
Thoughts at the end the process
I have been quite surprised by the way the course is set out. To me, it feels extremely prescriptive and I had imagined that it would be less so than landscape or documentary, which despite knowing that both those terms can be interpreted in many ways, I avoided, because I wanted to look at things within a wider context. The terms self and other might be fairly broad, interpreted in several ways but the module feels as if it is extremely focused in the documentary tradition, for now at any rate. (Perhaps I am completely wrong, it would not be the first time and I don’t doubt that writing such a course presents many challenges – I can’t even begin to imagine where one would begin.) I wanted to avoid documentary. As a result of feeling potentially pushed into a corner I didn’t want to be in, from the start of the module I have felt compelled to question the trustworthiness of portraits – why am I being asked to do this, I wondered, it won’t tell anyone anything at all? As well, each time we were asked to make work I felt frustrated by the fact that I was being asked to inspect my prejudices and hang them out in public. We are all riddled with preconceptions and assumptions about others. It’s how we operate. Rather than head down that path I felt compelled to explore the fact that we do project and come up against counter-transference too. I conceived the idea of the survey, which was really a reaction against the photographic object. Once I had done that I then felt trapped into making work with it and wished I’d been less prescriptive myself. I also wanted to work collaboratively to suggest my belief that the terms self and other are not as clear-cut as we might imagine.
Because of the concerns addressed above, I have spent a lot of my time lately wondering if I have chosen the right module and/or am on the right course for me.
About the work
In a sense the project is a failure as I was not able to work as I initially wanted to. I could not gather enough people on the same day or days, although I am extremely grateful to Melanie Ingram who so generously offered her time and commitment should we have been able to. Instead, I had to either abandon that idea or work with people individually. At the same time I suddenly became exceptionally busy with work and life which I had not expected. So each shoot felt done under pressure.
Did I work collaboratively? (It might be useful to read my reflection about the term collaboration) With some people I did and with others less so. Melanie Teall (dancer and choreographer) and I were able to sit and talk one evening and share ideas. The rest of the time, although we only were able to grab a few minutes here and there at pick up time at school, we threw ideas around and decided for or against certain things; hence, the image I have used from our shoot is a genuine collaboration between the two of us. Melanie took my intial ideas and came to me with hers in response. She really brought herself into the work (and was very brave too). She understood precisely what I was hoping to explore and felt strongly it connected with work she’d been thinking about for a time. This is a result of those conversations
I asked artists to get involved because I was interested in the process of using drawing marks (good or bad drawing, writing, automatic writing) to illicit unconscious connections. Had I been able to go with the group work we’d have certainly used drawing in the preparation process. I feel that the images of Lottie are also a genuine collaboration. Perhaps I played a ‘producer’s’ role but, even though our conversations were brief, the images of Lottie required her to trust me, which she generously did as she gave me her work and self to incorporate. I could have chosen a number of images from the shoot with Lottie and went with the one that fitted in relation to the others.
I work often with Trudi Jackson as you can see here.
We have an on ongoing unspoken collaboration that comes from being very long standing and close friends; her career fits well with this project and the fact we have worked and lived together in the past helps. I would work with Trudi again and again and read that Giacometti preferred to work with the same people repeatedly too, as I think many artists do. These others that we know well are perhaps the most interesting ones often. In a film I watched at the Tate exhibition on him, Giacometti talks about recognition getting further and further away the more he works and the closer to someone’s inner life he gets. I think it would be useful to really look at his work in-depth.
The person I felt most bad about is Stefan Schaffeld who put so much into the collaboration but I was not able to do as much with his contribution as he may have deserved. You can read his excellent notes here. I could not work out how to incorporate his work effectively. I did not want to layer our work together because I’d not done that with anyone else. But he was too far away to appear in the images. I thought about photographing him on a Skype call talking to me about his work, which is perhaps the way I should have gone but finding the time to talk at all was impossible as both he and I are so stretched for time. In the end I don’t think it was only about location, but perhaps this shows that collaboration is not a simply matter of sharing ideas but of being able to work with and accept them. Stefan has in fact made some interesting work with images I sent him which you can see on his blog.
Finally this work looks at the issue of copyright too, which is being questioned by some now – do we need it especially in the new digital reality where everything is downloadable and people make ‘collabs’ all the time (my sons are always talking about Youtubers who do ‘collabs’. How does this old world view of ownership fit in with a changing cultural landscape where sampling and sharing online are so prevalent? So in essence it explores issues surrounding the fixed sign and the changing relationship we have with those signs as language and social structures transform.
I see this as exploratory work rather than a final series, perhaps like a proposal.
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skill
I was trying new things and working in ways I don’t usually so all the little niggles in my skill set loomed large. I don’t like using a zoom for non-commercial work but I wasn’t sure what I wanted so did but it’s less controlled and too easy to zoom in or out and not think about why. I could have used images that had slanty lines etc and justified it with the mention of creating an oneiric atmosphere but this is something to consider more in future. The final six images I’ve used are technically sound, if not a little dark in places – which is perhaps down to my enjoyment of working with deep shadows. The Blurb online book making software may not be good enough for future books and maybe I will need to try out their downloadable package or something else.
Quality of Outcome, Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, with discernment. Conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
The idea and execution aren’t quite where I was aiming but it nevertheless communicates the ideas incorporated into the work and images . Some images are stronger than others. I think the edit is probably decent enough considering the images I ended up with and how I had to fit them together. The book is better than the video because of importance of text, so I was right to go with that, although a video could have those words spoken over images. Some of the images don’t work as well as others with the full bleed and the compromise is not ideal in those, but I’ve stick with full bleed across the book for now. Something to consider when framing a series of shots that are aimed at a book format – not that I was certain here how I’d present them. I also hope I got the balance right in the book with context – enough but not too much. I think there are probably too many quotes in the lead up to the images especially considering there are only 6 images – you must be thinking, get on with it. And should I have provided a page here with the images alone outside of a book format too for evaluating? Perhaps….
Demonstration of Creativity, Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.
This work may not be to everybody’s taste and in fact I can see it quite irritating some people but it is creative. I deliberately didn’t want to make the same images and present them in the same way as we are used to seeing. I took risks. I don’t know if those risks always worked but at this juncture I think that is a good thing to be doing. I would hope to be encouraged to take risks and to take even more going forward. I wasn’t sure while working I would end up with anything at all and if any of it would have any of ‘me’, my voice, in it – but in the end, the final draft does seem to have a strong sense of my developing voice, despite contributions from a variety of people.
Context, Reflection, research (evidenced in learning logs). Critical thinking (evidenced in critical review).
Doing UVC was such a useful course. It has helped me to look at everything more analytically and better yet, to be able to write it down. As always I have written reams and reams in preparation. I do it more for me and working out how I feel and think about things, but I appreciate it’s hard to wade through it all so I do hope I’ve laid out the blog well enough. I find non-photogprahy but relevant aspects deeply interesting and compelling, and since starting with the OCA I have read widely, albeit not always quite what has been prescribed. I have referenced many, many books and articles throughout this section. I must admit I only just noticed the reading list (although it is not in the folder and online only). I will get on to it but it is safe to say I have been reading plenty of useful and relevant material.