Yesterday I attended the OCA Thames Valley meeting for the first time in a while as I have generally been busy with work on previous dates. It was good to see old faces again and to meet new ones too. As always, there was a lot of incredibly creative work which was inspiring, and it also broadened my horizons. I’m going to talk about a few of the presentations although not all, and some only very briefly indeed, as well as the work I presented.
David Fletcher (I think that is his name! Apologies if it’s incorrect.) Technically, David’s image of his family in a pool room all absorbed in their own worlds with their screens, utterly separated from each other as we are all so accustomed to seeing people nowadays, is utterly incredible! It’s really, really really good. I am envious of his skills. He clearly knows what he is doing with lighting and camera work. It is wide frame and captures a lot of detail, crisp as you can image and beautifully lit. The subject matter is interesting. It’s topical and relevant and worthy of study/art. It’s an amazing submission. However, and I hope I don’t offend David (which I may especially as I don’t even know if I’ve got his name right!!) this seems like Crewdson’s voice because it appears so closely mimicked. It is a flipping amazing homage to Crewdson and what’s more, David did it with a fraction of the budget Crewdson uses, making me question Crewdson’s methodology even more than I already have done. I think it is good to copy people. It’s a way to learn about what we want to do and say. It’s good to pick up skills and to stretch ourselves and realise we have access to this visual language too – and I think David will benefit enormously from this experiment. But if he is to find his own voice he will need to break free from merely copying work exceptionally well and, in much the same way I always need to, to take some risks that aren’t about emulating someone else really, really, impressively well. One thing that is different, Crewdson didn’t use people he knew until the latest exhibition which I discussed the other day. And Richard is focused on his family. I think this is a useful place to remind myself of the difference between style and voice. The other work he showed was some documentary images about rounding up the ponies in the New Forest. The same old argument about colour vs. mono came up and he was visually irked by it but in my view these particular images were so beautiful in colour I asked why would anyone want to remove it? There seemed like lots of potential for a lovely tale about this very old tradition and showing it in colour further emphasises the fact there is so much history linked to the activity which continues today in our technologically advanced world, where colour photography is the norm.
Kate Aston – I will speak briefly about Kate’s work – just to say it was a pleasure to see it in the flesh rather than just on-screen as it is so idiosyncratic and original. I know she has had some difficulties paring it down following feedback from her tutor but it is immensely interesting work that steps outside the box. I wish her the best with her submission.
Richard Down – I was just gobsmacked by how beautiful the books Richard had made for his landscape submission. One would need to consider the photography, as Richard himself said when we chatted via FB earlier, being it is that which will be marked in the main. And I did not look at it closely enough since we as a group felt it best not to hand the books around and risk damaging them or getting finger prints on the pages. However, from afar it is sublime in the greatest sense. Nevertheless, the presentation will have a big impact and Richard has done a truly beautiful and impressive job. He is submitting two books, both of which he has made himself from scratch. The first is a landscape black and white edition which details a walk that he made in honour of poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) across the countryside, and who wrote about the same landscape. Richard has included words from poems by Thomas on the left hand side of the facing page for each image. The images are beautifully printed and the result is touching and seems deeply contemplative. Richard told us during his presentation that he used to do the walk with his late wife and Jayne mentioned that this added a whole new level to his work, and I think she was implying he might have made something of that fact in the book (I’m not sure if he did or not). I wonder about this. Perhaps just in a dedication page, but any more than that would not have been Richard’s personality and while I see that students are often encouraged to scrape their emotional insides out for the sake of their work, I think there are times when it is effective and times when it isn’t. In this case the immense care and attention to detail tells us all we need to know, I think. It signifies there is something much deeper than pretty pictures of the woods and some words by a soldier some of us have not heard of, although I am reliably informed was quite famous and is according to Catherine Banks the epitome of talent wasted in war waged by old men utilising young men (2017), who died before his time, going on. All of these things together seem to me an obvious indication that the books has deeper meaning. Baring our souls in a more obvious way is the trend in culture , high and low, but it is just that – a trend. Richard’s second book is a record of Deception Island. Again it is just so beautifully made, the same binding as before but with overlays of maps indicating where the image was taken. Here I wonder if he could have made more of the semiotics surrounding the word deception to give it more depth, or is that too obvious? I wonder what secrets are held inside the making of the book, as I suspect they will be there, but would need more time with it. It’s a wonderful object regardless, and I really think that someone other than a few OCA tutors should take a look at it.
Dawn Langley – I am always interested in Dawn’s work since she is often highly creative and has presented some interesting projects in the past. I am intrigued by her Graphic Design module. Not only has the step away from photography influenced her image-making, she has also learned to use other software which seems infinitely useful. (I dipped into InDesign this morning and although managed to do the very simple thing I was attempting, it was a challenge.) Learning how to use as much technology as possible does seem like an advantageous route to take nowadays. Dawn had to create covers for a series of books about aspects of graphic design such as typology and colour. The pages she showed us were so interesting, I actually wanted to buy the book she was proposing. I am envious of her new-found design skills and wish I could do such a course too. Dawn, like me, wished she might change pathways but the options were not available for what she wanted to do.
Some thoughts about studying – Dawn’s predicament seems to be a common theme for adult learners I have chatted to with the OCA. I wonder if undergraduate degree pathways for people who have already done degrees and/or have quite a lot of experience in work might be a bit limiting? I’m not sure. On one hand perhaps I am being greedy wanting to learn everything I see and need to focus in one direction in order to have any hope of achieving the levels I wish to, on the other, I really feel under pressure to earn a proper living and panicked that I am currently incapable of doing so. I can’t help thinking having as many strings to my bow as possible would make that more likely. Although a scatter gun approach of course isn’t always that helpful. Dawn, unlike me who chose to concentrate on child-rearing until I divorced and was forced into making some decisions about being self-employed, already has a job though and has not been out of the workplace for 15 years. For me a ‘job’ feels like a foreign land, but I do from time to time think about trying to get one since the money I earn from photography is not enough, and is unreliable and unpredictable. Ideally I would be able to work as a photographer and have some more reliable, regular work to supplement it but then studies might have to take a back seat. I have some teaching experience and so it makes sense to aim for that in the medium to long term but I will only realise that goal if I stick at the studies and also try to move a bit faster. I digress but it is something that is on my mind a lot and yesterday when we were discussing the course fees I started to think about what it is I’m paying for. I need to balance out affordability with possible end results, sadly, as I wish I were in a position to focus on learning for the sake of learning. But as my youngest boy gets older, this all begins to seem like more and more of a luxury that I can’t afford unless I can be more certain it will lead to paid work. In which case, perhaps this method, protracted long distance learning, is not the best way forward.
Which leads me to my own presentation:
I showed some images for the Nexus exhibition I am working on with John Umney and Keith Greenough. I took these images earlier this week and then did another shoot on Friday (which I’ll discuss in a moment.) I wanted to suss out two things – would this work be suitable for Self & Other? And did the images convey what I hoped they would.
Second question first – I foolishly read out the temporary/draft statement I posted on my website at the end of presentation. Jayne said it was very helpful, implying I think it was hard her to make sense of the images without. You can read it here. In this case, context is therefore incredibly important (and I am not sure how I feel about that).
Some points that came from others including Keith who was there, which was helpful, and who showed his images too.
- (Keith) How will I bring the images together as the colours are different in various rooms? I am thinking about grouping them and presenting them as acts – this is a performance after all.
- (Keith again) The images where you can’t see Honor’s face make her figure more representative of her generation, rather than an individual. This is a good point. I am not sure if out of the many images I’ve taken we have enough but it is something I will consider as I edit. She is young and trained, through dance, to look out so I often said, don’t look at me and try not not smile all the time.
- Kate said she could imagine Honor leaping from my images into Keith’s empty spaces, which I rather liked.
- Jayne advised me to be very, very strict when editing and choose carefully, not allowing anything in that shouldn’t be there. I hope I can grab another hour with Honor, before the end of the month when really I cannot take any more images, as there is one set up I want to repeat. Although I have as always taken too many images I don’t know at this point if I will have all I’m looking for. I was frustrated by my efforts on Friday. In my words, I’ve cocked up too many and need to think about what I do to correct that. I have some that will work from Monday for sure. I need to think about things and have very little time left. It’s scary.
- Micheal thought Keith’s work and mine worked well together. John was not there but I have echoed his work too in mine so hopefully it will all fit.
- People were generally positive. We will see …
Secondly Sue said yes, she thinks I could submit this work for A2 and I agree. It might be suitable due to the questions I ask with it. I am also planning (if there is time) to interview Honor and her mother and put the audio against the images in a sideshow with links to relevant thinkers on the subject of education. I’ve been keeping notes on my linked blog in case I wished to do this. But I am a bit wary. Wendy will obliged to tell me what to do to stretch it, by which time it will be too late to make changes for Oxford House which might make me feel truly hideous (not that that is a real reason to avoid doing so). I have had a response from the prison too which I was thinking about for this assignment but it may work for future one if that went ahead. For the record, A2 asks: Produce a story with a social theme. Your project should combine portraits, objects and spaces, to describe your subject matter. You should produce a between 8-12 images to demonstrate an ethical practice. The last sentence would have been the only sticking point since I had intended to include strangers in street images – some of whom agreed to join and some who had no idea although they are mostly a blur. In fact there is only one such image I like or am comfortable with. I could always do a different edit though. In the meatime I must get on with the exercises which I have started to look at.
There was so much good stuff to see yesterday; Catherine’s experiments which she termed a “Catalogue of Disasters” may have led no-where for her but were inspiring for their risk taking and original approach. Holly’s urbex images were interesting and she has some super found images to begin exploring. Steven’s plans for his next course are influenced by Emily AllChurch and look fascinating. And seeing Micheal’s ongoing Body of Work looking at torture of the gay people in Nazi Germany was as impressive as ever.
Finally, my new mantra must be – use a smaller aperture, use a smaller aperture, use a smaller aperture. I must say this to myself as often as possible until it gets in to my thick skull!!! Aaaargh!
Banks, C, 2017. Private conversation on FB Messenger