Study Break – Adventures in Somalia

It’s been nearly a year since my last learning (b)log entry. In May last year I was ‘warned off’ for a deployment to Somalia which led to me taking a study break so that I could concentrate fully on the task in hand. The past few months have not been a complete loss in terms of photography. My camera came with me and I’ve posted a selection of the images below. To add some context:

In Sep 2015, the then Prime Minister pledged more UK military support to UN missions, particularly in Somalia and South Sudan. To that end, a composite sub-unit of soldiers from various Combat Support and Combat Service Support areas of expertise, was put together to deploy to Somalia to support the UN and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with Advice, Training and Mentoring. I deployed as a Counter Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) advisor and as the units Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM).

Having returned to the UK nearly 2 weeks ago, I’m keen to get back to my studies, and time is short! I need to have C&N finished by 22 Jun and must complete level 1 by 8 Jan 18 which will be a push! I left midway through Assignment 4, and will be picking up where I left off with my research tomorrow.

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Study Visit: The rhubarb triangle and other stories – Martin Parr

From the 4 Feb – 12 Jun 16, the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield is exhibiting work by Martin Parr than spans over 4 decades. At the centre of the exhibition is a body of work recently commissioned by the Hepworth about the local Rhubarb Triangle. The OCA organised a study visit to on 12 Mar 15 led by Tutor Derek Trillo and attended by about 14 students all studying at either level 1 or 2. As with all study visits, it was great to meet some fellow students and to discuss the work with like-minded people, with the added experience and views of a tutor.

Having never been to Wakefield before, I was quite impressed at the size and sculptural architecture of the Hepworth. It is quite a magnificent gallery space, slightly out-of-place amongst the ageing and derelict post-industrial buildings that surround it.

The Rhubarb Triangle.

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The rhubarb triangle. 2014-2016. Info sheet

The first thing to strike me on viewing this work was the method of installation. The photographs are unframed and are pinned to the wall. There are no captions or titles, other than those on an accompanying sheet. The titles/captions offer nothing other than a place-name or the names of the people in the photographs. It gives the work a very temporary feel, which is in contrast to the trade being depicted and the length of the exhibition. I can only imagine that it is a cost cutting measure. The photographs are Documentary in nature, with a linear narrative that culminates in the ‘end product’ which really gives structure to the work and emphasises the toil of the workers. The set is very diverse, with a mixture of landscapes, portraits and action shots. Despite the diversity in technique and layout, the images are still recognisably part of the same set thanks to a common style and colouring that is stereotypically Parr.

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The rhubarb triangle. 2014-2016. Installation view.

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The rhubarb triangle. 2014-2016. Installation view.

From AUTOPORTRAIT.

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From AUTOPORTRAIT, ongoing. 1991-2012. Info Sheet.

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From AUTOPORTRAIT, Ongoing. 1991-2012. Installation view.

I’d seen some of this work during Part 3 whilst looking at Self Portraiture. As the Info sheet states, these images are largely quite funny, but they tell us an awful lot about the cultural identity of the nation where these photographs were taken as well as the perceptions of tourists. The fact that the same subject can be represented so many ways was very interesting and made for quite captivating viewing.

Work and Leisure.

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Work and Leisure. 1986-2015. Info Sheet.

Given the sheer breadth of work that these photographs have been selected from, there is a real diversity to them. Splitting the exhibition in two helps to add impact in each area. The standard Parr humour is evident in each photo with many being  quite satirical, but despite this, they portray a bleak view of the world through consumerism. There is a definite subjectivity to these photographs that I didn’t find evident in the Rhubarb Triangle.

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Work and Leisure. 1986-2015. Installation View.

Common Sense.

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Common sense. 1995-1999. Info Sheet.

The densely packed images, most of which are tightly cropped make for a display that is ‘in your face’. The viewer feels saturated and gluttonous which I guess goes hand in hand with the point that Parr is trying to make. We are consumed by consumerism. The Brightly saturated colours together with the image contents, all combine to denote/connate Parr’s message.

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Common Sense. 1995-1999. Installation view.

The Cost of Living.

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The cost of living, 1986-1989. Info Sheet.

This installation was quite refreshing as it was properly framed which gave it a quality feel, which in turn commanded attention. I found this body of work to be one of the more interesting on display because the photographs were not brash or obvious. Some time and effort was required to read the photographs, picking away at the subtle expressions and interactions between the middle classes. There is a subtle story-telling at play and these photographs highlight Parr’s exceptional observational skills.

The last resort.

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The last resort. 1983-1985. Info Sheet.

I’d seen some of these images online during my previous module, but seeing them in large print was great. I think that this is some of Parr’s best work. It is highly observational and politically charged without being overtly so. It portrays a sense of ‘Britishness’ amongst the working classes and humanises them at a time when the North of England suffered under Thatcherism. I couldn’t help but feel that the set is also a little exploitative. Parr’s humour is evident and many of his photographs are taken at that ‘decisive moment’. Coupled with a strong subjectivity, many of the subjects can appear to be the butt of the joke when we view this work in the context of the gallery.

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The last resort. 1983-1985. Installation View.

The non-conformists.

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The non-conformists. 1975-1980. Info Sheet.

In stark contrast to The Last Resort, this body of work appears to be very sympathetic its subject(s). I first saw some of this work at the NMM alongside the work of Tony Ray Jones who had a strong influence on Parr. Again, the work is documentary in nature and it conveys a sense of pride as well as sorrow and grief. I wonder if some of this is due to looking at these images in retrospect? Given the ageing population of the village and the rate of progress in recent years, one can’t help but feel sorrowful for what has disappeared since these photographs were made.

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The non-conformists. 1975-1980. Installation view.

There was an awful lot of Parr’s work on display and it was great to see the power of both subjectivity and objectivity in photography. It was also helpful to see how Parr’s work has developed and changed over the years as well as to discuss the context of such photographs over the years. With such a wide range of work, it was difficult to take it all in, but on the flip side, it made the trip really worth while.

Assignment 3 – Feedback and reflection

It has taken a little longer than usual, but at last I have received my Tutor Feedback for Assignment 3. This is my first feedback under new tutor David Wyatt, and I have to say that it’s the most detailed feedback that I’ve received during my studies with OCA. I get a strong sense that David has really taken the time to read and understand the context behind this work, and for that, I am very grateful. As usual, I’ve ‘cut & paste’ my feedback below with my own reflective thoughts in Red.

 Formative feedback

Formative feedback Student name Adam Newsome  Student number 512403 
Course/Unit C&N  Assignment number
Type of tutorial Written

Overall Comments 

Overall this was a good submission for assignment 3. I was impressed that you tackled an uncomfortable and personal subject. This is not always easy, but by photographing yourself it will become easier to empathise with others who you are asking to pose for your camera. There was little for me to add technically about the photographs as they were all fine –what was more interesting was the thinking going on behind the camera, and this of course is what the Context and Narrative module is all about.

Very positive opening remarks, not a lot more for me to say here really. 

Feedback on assignment 

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity 

I found the approach here effective for your goals. The sequencing of the images is important, separating the food and drink from the body images, and I think this works well. You could certainly add more in your self-reflection. You might consider introducing some discussion of semiotics, but that may be a bit much at level 4. If you are interested in pursuing this further I would suggest starting by reading Roland Barthes’, ‘Camera Lucida’. At a basic level, this would allow you to analyse your work to show that the photographs are signifiers for your self-image (the signified). We (in western society) understand that the junk food is what makes you overweight because they are signs that we associate, through a complex series of social constructs, with being overweight. This however ignores a different social construct –that your body in its present condition is bad. Who says it is? What is it that makes you feel negative about your body image? There has been an awful lot written about this in regards to women, especially looking at advertising and women’s magazines, but the same forces apply to men. This could be an interesting avenue for you to pursue in the essay for assignment 4.

I hadn’t considered using the ‘Self-Assessment’ as a means to deconstruct and critique my own photographs. Perhaps the use of some reflective practice prior to submission is required which will help to demonstrate my theoretical understanding and perhaps improve the overall effect of the images. Semiotics is still a relatively new concept to me, and I have just started exploring Deconstruction for Part 4. I like the idea of continuing with this theme for Assignment 4, which my help to further my own cause.

As you have presented the work here as a book, have you thought about how to present it at assessment? Will you print the book or keep it online? I would avoid services such as Blurb, so your best bet is to print and bind it yourself or use a Zine printing company –either a local printers or a specialist such as Ex Why Zed. If you want to print it yourself and hand bind it let me know and I will forward some resources (I also tutor on a book design module). There are some excellent books on the subject and, once you have the basic gear (i.e. an awl, some waxed thread, some bulldog clips and a needle), it’s a straightforward process.

I’m undecided at the moment. My gut is telling me to go for a Blog Only submission as I did for AoP. That said, I believe the whole submission process has changed significantly, and this may not even be an option anymore. My concern with Zine printing companies is the cost, given my relatively few pages. I’ll think about this over the next few months, especially given that I want to follow-up the assignment with the ending. I am however very grateful for my tutors offer of assistance in this area. I may well take him up on it.

Coursework 

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity 

I read through the exercises and feel you have been approaching them well. I actually agree with your answer to the question, “Can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication?” As photography is a method of communication, even if that discussion is between one person at different times (think of record photographs for weight loss that no one else will ever see), there is still a level of communication happening.

A good point that I’d not considered. Thank you.

Research 

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis 

Your independent research touched nearly every base I was going to add to the suggested reading so well done, you have even found one I wasn’t familiar with –Charles Latham. I read through some of the posts and they are all examples of good practice so all I will say is keep doing what you are doing.

This is very encouraging, and makes me think that I’m on the right track. I’ll do just that.

Learning Log 

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis 

It was good to see you networking with another student and visiting an exhibition. I recommend taking part in as many of the organized study visits as you can. These provide you with a structured session looking at work with your fellow students. I would also recommend networking with students not only from your module but other levels and modules, and even other disciplines. This can help you understand different approaches to ideas and how different practices operate.

I’m currently booked on the Martin Parr study visit at the Hepworth in March.

Suggested reading/viewing 

Context 

You have covered most of the obvious bases in your research posts. One photographer you might like to investigate is Jo Spence. Spence used her camera to document her illness so is a little different, but is still using the camera to explore her identity through self-portraiture. http://www.jospence.org/

The next assignment calls for you to write a short essay. There is an excellent framework for analyzing a single image in Wells, L. 2004. (3rd edn) Photography: a Critical Introduction. London: Routledge. In the 3rd edition it is on page 37, but this is likely to be different in more recent versions. It is within the first chapter, ‘Thinking about Photography’, authored by Wells along with Derrick Price. The framework features a case study looking at Dorothea Lange’s famous ‘Migrant Mother’ picture.

It might be interesting to continue the thread of this project, writing specifically about body image in men. As you will have noticed this is an underdeveloped area so might prove interesting. 1000 words is very short so you shouldn’t have a problem with a lack of appropriate material on which to base your argument, in fact, keeping the paper down to 1000 words is likely to be the hardest task.

Make sure you reference the paper appropriately –the OCA uses the Harvard referencing system. It is good practice to maintain a database of all of your reading materials and quotes. Personally I use Endnote but there are other options. The key thing is to record details of quotes and books as you read them because, and I speak from experience here, it is almost impossible to find a specific quote 5 years after you initially read something.

If you need advice on this or on more general essay structure feel free to get in touch. If I can’t offer a specific answer I do know of several very good books on academic writing.

All excellent pointers that will help to ignite my research into Assignment 4.

Pointers for the next assignment

Think about what you want to write about in advance, and then create a basic series of points that cover the structure of the essay.

Try to identify at least 3 different sources for any facts you present as this shows good academic rigor.

Consider exploring male body image within the paper, or at least a specific example of it. This would fit in well with your work here, and keep it on your mind as you try to change your habits.

Tutor name David Wyatt
Date 27/2/16
Next assignment due 10/4/16

Overall, I think my tutor is relatively pleased with this assignment and the study leading up to it. There are certainly no negative comments (or even any real critique) to speak of that would make me think otherwise. It’s fair to say that I’m very pleased with my tutors feedback.

Reflection: Reading Photographs

During the Intro to part 4 of the course (Reading Photographs) we are asked:

“Can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication? Blog about them.”

Having spent a few days pondering the question, the simple answer is No.

Not every person with a camera has a desire to express themselves through photography, i.e. not all photographers are artists. But every photograph is taken for a reason. Even if taken accidentally, the photograph still has a subject and no matter how vernacular or banal, it can tell us something about that subject or the context in which the photograph was taken.

I’ve tried to consider each and every genre of photography in answering this question, from the family/holiday snap, right through to advertising, portraiture, landscape, evidential/forensic, architectural, abstract and scientific. Whether the photo simply communicates what the subject looks like, or a more profound narrative expression, each and every photograph says something. Doesn’t it?

Assignment 3 – Self Assessment

This post forms the Self Assessment to accompany Assignment 3 and is broken down into 3 parts:

1. Performance against the Assessment Criteria.

2. Performance against the Course Outcomes.

3. Moving forward.

The Assessment Criteria

1. Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills

Technically, I drew some inspiration for this assignment from TAOP Assignment 4, using lighting to create depth, form, texture and colour. I have purposefully used negative space and significant use of a simple black background to give emphasis to the subject so that it is ‘in your face’ and uncomfortable. By use of technical and visual skills I have attempted to create a sense of isolation and negative connotations

2. Quality of Outcome

I believe I’ve met the criteria of the assignment brief, and, given my self imposed Intent, my Assignment achieves its objective on a personal level. It is difficult to quantify the Quality of Outcome, as the photographs are very personal in nature. My idea of their quality will vary from that of others who may find them uncomfortable to view. I have applied the concepts taught in this phase of the course and have conceptualised my idea through a process of research which is evidenced in this log. I believe the work is coherent and works well as a set, however, I’m not sure about my chosen method of presentation on my blog (pages in a book).

3. Demonstration of Creativity

Although not wholly original as a concept, I have demonstrated a creative process through brainstorming and research, evidenced in this learning log, which has resulted in work that is personally motivating, and which is open-ended in terms of narrative, providing a great opportunity to follow this up at a later date.

4. Context

As for all assignments, my research, critical thinking and reflection (to follow from tutors feedback) is all documented here in my Learning Log. This assignment has been long overdue, but I have kept up to my studies with Gallery Visits, reflection on books that are part of the Essential Reading List, and as much as possible, it has been relevant to this assignment.

The Course Outcomes

1. How have I demonstrated a practical and conceptual understanding of the appropriate use of techniques in creating my images?

The conceptual understanding has been demonstrated in the exercises leading up to this assignment, along with research and reflection on contemporary artists and their practice in this genre. The images produced demonstrate the practical understanding and appropriate use of these techniques.

2. How have I demonstrated an emerging critical awareness and ability to translate ideas into imagery?

The posts detailing the development of this assignment demonstrate the ability to translate ideas into imagery through analysis of what I want to achieve and how I will achieve it. This is most obvious through the use of a diary that was kept for this assignment, followed by subsequent development of an idea along a theme from said diary. My emerging critical awareness is demonstrated by applying what I’ve learnt and read to the creative process, as well as demonstrating an understanding of contemporary practice and how I can apply the same techniques to achieve an effect.

3. How did I conduct research, development and production in response to the themes raised in this course?

Much of the research that I have conducted has been directed by the course material as exercises. On top of this, I have been making my way through the essential reading list which is documented in this log. For this assignment, my research has predominantly been web-based, along with developmental stages where ideas have been refined.

4. How have I shown a critical understanding of contemporary imagery in relation to historical practice and theory?

I have looked at both historical and contemporary images and their authors as part of my research for this assignment. I am beginning to see how historical practice has influenced contemporary practice and can identify where photography theory has played a part in the development of contemporary photography, particularly in relation to topics such as Semiotics, and how we read images. This is documented in the research posts and in the discussions of books on the essential reading list.

Moving Forward

1. Strengths and Weaknesses

What I feel is my biggest weakness is documented in part by this assignment, and that is poor motivation and drive to do ‘academic’ photography. Since Assignment 2, I have engaged a lot more with the student community which is helping. I am determined to pick up the pace and to finish C&N in the near future in order to progress onto bigger and better things. My strengths are my technical knowledge and perseverance.

2. What would I do differently?

I’m not sure this question applies to this assignment, given the personal nature of the subject I chose. If the Assignment works to keep me motivated, then the answer will be “Nothing”. If it fails, I will have to revisit it and ask “Why” before I decide what I would need to change.

3. What have I learned which I’ll take forward?

This part of the course has taught me that Self Portraiture takes many forms, and that there are a number of ways of communicating meaning through simple subject matter. Specifically, this assignment has taught me that we can look inwardly for interesting narratives as well as looking outwardly. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from my tutor feedback before moving forward.

Exhibition: 100 Leading Ladies

Having recently moved to Yorkshire, I jumped at the opportunity to accompany fellow student Andrew Fitzgibbon on an impromptu visit to Bradford’s civic art gallery, Cartwright Hall, to see the exhibition 100 Leading Ladies by Nancy Honey.

Discussing the work with another student, especially one who is studying the same module, was invaluable as it stimulated thought and opened discussion about aspects of the work that I alone alone may not have considered, so I would like to thank Andrew for his company and his insights.

Keen to get an understanding of the context prior to the visit, I watched a video interview with the artist (link in references below). In short, Honey has set out with the aim of bringing lots of mature, highly successful and influential female non-celebrities to the attention of this generations young women. With a generation of young girls who may relate success to being a reality TV star, Honey is offering them alternative role-models.

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Honey, N (no date). 100 Leading Ladies, Installation View.

The project took 3 years to complete and has been exhibited at a number of galleries across the UK. It also takes the form of a book in which each image is accompanied by an interview of the subject by writer and journalist, Hattie Garlik. The gallery installation does not include the interviews, but a copy of the book was available to read. Honey makes it very apparent that each photograph was a collaboration, with each subject choosing the location for the shoot, a location in which each subject finds their inspiration, or which holds significance to them.

Honey, N (no date). 100 Leading Ladies, Installation View.

Honey, N (no date). 100 Leading Ladies, Installation View.

Below each set of photographs is a small card with the subjects Name/Title and a very brief description of their profession or achievements. The photo’s are relatively small for portraits, approx A4 size, which is probably a limitation imposed by logistics and exhibition space, but in my view this doesn’t detract from the exhibition. The photo’s appear to be arranged or grouped by similar colours (which is easy on the eye), with a mish-mash of landscape and portrait orientations (which creates interest and variety). It wasn’t until perusing the book at the end of the exhibition that one realises the pictures are hung in the same order as they are presented in the book.

Honey, N (no date). 100 Leading Ladies, Installation View.

Honey, N (no date). 100 Leading Ladies, Installation View.

Despite there being a whopping 100 portraits, there is an awful lot of variety. I never got bored with looking at the portraits, and found all of them to be interesting and stimulating (there was the odd exception). I think that this level of variation is thanks in part to the authorial control of some of the subjects. There is a real sense that some of the subjects have had more control over the final outcome than others. Also, the women come from all walks of life and the backdrops play an important part of each portrait, often being more revealing than the subject alone. Although we know that the setting was decided by the subject, what we don’t know is who decided on the pose. Again, there is huge variation, from the stoic, confrontational stare at the viewer, to almost hysterical laughter, to nonchalance. The body of work really highlights just how telling a pose can be, and how all the elements of a portrait, from the pose to the props, clothes, animals or backgrounds all work together to reveal intricate details about the subject and the photographer.

Some of the most thought provoking images:

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Honey, N (no date). Professor the Baroness Haleh Afshar OBE, from the Series 100 Leading Ladies (no date)

This is the first photo in the series, and the only one in which the subject is so small in the frame. The setting is quite magnificent, and the image would be far less interesting had it had a closer crop. This is one instance in which I wonder about exactly how much authorial control Honey had. Faced with a decision by the subject to use this location, I feel that Honey may have had little choice but to compose the image in this manner. We are still drawn to the subject who has been nicely framed. Unlike some of her other photo’s, Honey has chosen not to blow out the window light, but to expose for the view, which leads me be to believe that it has some significance to the subject.

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Honey, N (no date). Pauline Clare CBE, from the Series 100 Leading Ladies (no date)

I particularly liked this photo as it’s a great example of how text can add value, but still leave enough room for the viewer to come to their own conclusions. At first glance, I was left wondering how this evidently successful woman found inspiration in this setting. I almost immediately assumed that she must have had humble beginnings on an east London estate. The sub-title below her name simply reads “First female Chief Constable”. Armed with this snippet of information, we have a better understanding of how and why this may be a source of inspiration to her, and of who she is.

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Honey, N (no date). Professor the Germaine Greer, from the Series 100 Leading Ladies (no date)

Germaine Greer is one of the very few women in this series that I am  familiar with. As far a portraiture goes, this photograph has worked well to show a side of Greer that most of the public will be unfamiliar with. Having spent a lot of time in the public eye, I again wonder who’s decision it was to present us with this more considered, relaxed, feminine character?

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Honey, N (no date). Maggi Hambling CBE, from the Series 100 Leading Ladies (no date).

My favourite portrait of the set. The crop is a traditional 3/4 length portrait, yet the pose is anything but ordinary in comparison to the remainder of the set. I feel that it is the most telling and insightful photograph, allowing us a real glimpse Hambling’s character. As potential role-models, I find it odd that the artist has permitted the inclusion of the cigarette which seems a little contradictory. I also feel that the image is a little stereotypical. You don’t need any text to guess that Hambling is a contemporary artist.

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Honey, N (no date). Deborah Mattinson, from the Series 100 Leading Ladies (no date)

In this photograph I feel that Mattinson is quite stoic, and has chosen a very bland backdrop. I’m very impressed by the way the artist has used clever composition, leading lines and a colour accent to make a visually arresting portrait.

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Honey, N (no date). Frances O’Grady, from the Series 100 Leading Ladies (no date)

Amongst all the portraits, this one immediately caught my eye because of its imperfections. The whole image appears uneven and I feel that the subject is about to slide out of the picture. The pose feels awkward and uncomfortable, but the similar colours work well. I’m left wondering if the photographer has created this tension purposefully as a means of portraying the subject. The clock, the awkward pose that the subject seems to have little time for, and the dynamism of the slant; Are they all signifiers of a busy/hectic schedule? Or, as a photography student, have I been conditioned to read into all the details to find meaning, when actually, it’s just imperfect? Perhaps I’ll get an opportunity to ask the Artist, as she is scheduled to conduct a lunchtime presentation at the exhibition on 13 March 16.

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Honey, N (no date). Carole Plant, from the Series 100 Leading Ladies (no date)

This portrait of Plant sits adjacent to the photo of O’Grady, but is in stark contrast in terms of style, being technically perfect. This photo could almost be from an advertising campaign, or a Film Still. Given the vast difference, it again poses the question as to who had the most control over the concept and final outcome.

It was a very interesting exhibition to view, and the discussion it generated added to the learning value. I will strongly consider re-visiting the venue on 13 March when Honey is due to visit to talk about the work. I am left with some questions about the context of the work, particularly when it comes to her original intent. In my experience, there are not many young women (generally speaking) that visit Art galleries. The book is out there but at a cost of £30, and it is marketed at fans of Art Photography/portraiture. How then does Honey intend to reach her target audience? Without an understanding of how and why the work was created wouldn’t the meaning be lost on an audience of young women who did visit the gallery? Wouldn’t they just see a load of pictures of mature women? Surely, in the context of the gallery, an understanding of Art is required to understand the work? I can’t help but feel that if Honey really intended this work to be inspirational to this generation’s young women, it should be on display in school assembly halls, in an affordable book in school libraries, or perhaps school visits should be taking place at the galleries where this work is on display, otherwise it’s a lost cause.

References:
100 leading ladies: A portrait of influential senior women in Britain by Nancy Honey – Bradford museums and galleries (no date) Available at: http://www.bradfordmuseums.org/whats-on/100-leading-ladies-a-portrait-of-influential-senior-women-in-britain-by-nancy-honey (Accessed: 31 January 2016).
Portraits & interviews of Britain’s influential women (no date) Available at: http://www.100leadingladies.com (Accessed: 31 January 2016).
Fitzgibbon, A. (2016) 100 leading ladies – Andrew Fitzgibbon (513879). Available at: http://fitzgibbonphotography.com/100-leading-ladies/ (Accessed: 1 February 2016).

Study Visit: East London Photography Festival

On Saturday 24 Oct 15 I embarked on an OCA study visit to take in several exhibitions that were a part of the East London Photography Festival.  The study visit was led by OCA tutors Robert Bloomfield and Simon Barber.

After meeting up with some of my fellow students and the tutors at 1115hrs, we split into 2 groups and my group headed off to the Town House Gallery in Spitalfields for the Lifting The Curtain¹ exhibition.

The Town House Gallery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

The Town House Gallery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

Of the 3 exhibitions I saw that day, Lifting the Curtain was by far the best, not least because the artist, Keith Greenough, an OCA student in his final year, was on hand to talk in-depth about his work and processes, as well as answer any questions that we could throw at him.

Greenhough’s work is presented as a gallery exhibition, a book and as a website¹. Having already seen the work online, I was instantly struck by the difference that seeing the work in-print makes. Each image seemed a lot more vibrant, with added depth, and given it’s size it felt a lot more encompassing and inviting. Proof if it were needed, that prints still have a valuable place in our digital age.

On his website, the text is presented before each image and in the book, the text sits to the right of each image. The reasoning behind this is that Greenhough wants us to read the text first. The texts, taken from Booths original work act in relay with the images. As viewers, we are invited to superimpose or project the past onto the image of the present, exploring social concerns. There is sufficient narrative in each text to generate thought in line with the image without directing us to a specific conclusion, allowing each viewer to form their own narratives and derive meaning.

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Lifting the Curtain, Installation view, Town House Gallery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

Greenhough’s affection for this area of East London is evident throughout both his work and his methodology. The exhibition location itself is consistent with the subject matter, being an old Victorian surgery, and the proceeds of his work are all going to a local charity. Knowing that this connection exists adds a ‘human’ dimension to the context of the work from which I can draw future inspiration.

As a whole, I find that the work transcends a number of genre’s. It is urban Landscape, Narrative and Documentary, with overtones of Late Photography. Greenhough cites the likes of Simon Norfolk as a contextual influence. I particularly like the absence of any people, which not only gives the work an otherworldly feel, it focuses our attention on the environment and prevents us from focusing too much on the ‘modern’ which is Greenhough’s intention. This is also heightened by a lack of vehicles. Each image is colourful and vivid, which bucks the current ‘deadpan’ trend in contemporary photography. The work is aesthetically pleasing and visually arresting, whilst conveying meaning, raising social concerns, generating thought and educating the viewer. There are subtle signifiers in the images, such as billboard messages, adverts or even shop names which work with the images or Booths texts to further generate meaning. The use of shadows can signify the past, and the theatrical lighting works with the title Lifting the Curtain, which in turn comes from Booths view that “East London lay hidden behind a curtain on which terrible pictures were painted”.

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Lifting the Curtain, Installation view, Town House Gallery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

As well it being great to see Greenhough’s work in the context of the gallery, it was also very useful to hear how he conceptualised the work and the process he went through from planning the images to presenting them. It was interesting to hear that he suffered several false starts, which highlights the importance of perseverance. Ultimately, the project stemmed from his interest in the history of East London which led him to Booths work. His use of tools such as Google Street View to recce sites was interesting as was his use of a phone camera and apps to gain an idea of how images may look as he wandered around London in the day time. The photographs were then taken using long exposures on a medium format camera using tilt-shift lenses to ensure that the verticals of the buildings remained vertical.

In terms of presentation, I’ve already mentioned the book, which is a hard-back limited edition. There was also a catalogue, and limited edition prints for sale. Within the gallery, the installation had to be geared around how Greenhough wanted his images to be viewed, but there were also some practical considerations. Firstly, the gallery space is very small and intimate. secondly there is the cost of printing and the size of the images to consider which not only affects layout, but print sales. To that end, the larger, more expensive prints were hung on the wall directly opposite the entrance in order to strike and envelop the viewer, with the smaller prints on the flanking walls. Greenhough was quite adamant that he did not want the texts to be seen as captions. To achieve this, each text was presented as a leaf from a book in an original font, framed below the photograph to create a diptych which worked very well.

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The artist Keith Greenhough taking questions during his exhibition, Lifting the Curtain at the Town House Gallery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

Next on the agenda was the Drift Exhibition² at the Truman Brewery, which was just a short walk away.

As a gallery space, I wasn’t all that enthused. The work of 11 photographers was on show as an exploration of contemporary urban environments, but on the whole, I found the exhibition quite disjointed. Perhaps this was the aim, being representative of the urban environment? However I felt that this was because I’d just left a very polished and succinct exhibition where the quality of presentation was excellent. Here the work on display did not appear to be ‘gallery’ quality. As for the other exhibitions, I’d done some research beforehand in order to get the most out of the day. I was thankful for this because there was no supporting literature for any of the work in this exhibition. In one sense, this was quite refreshing as it allowed me to view the work without any other influence, but on the other hand, it caused me to be a little dismissive if I found an image difficult to read.

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Drift, Installation view, Truman Brewery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

I found several of the works very interesting:

  1. Javier Charbadjian’s Southbank buskers: A case study, was an interesting and contemplative narrative told in a linear form by the use of 4 photographs. The real interest comes from the final image which is devoid of the human presence and destruction which is now turned handed over to nature. It asks about the nature of these performers and their art which is destined to be destroyed. although a linear story, there is the sense that the story continues and that the cycle will continue. I particularly like the way that each image was framed and composed in exactly the same manner, adding a film strip quality to the set.
  2. Tanya Houghton’s A Migrants Tale, used a series of triptychs to explore the identity of migrants. It wasn’t the portraits or the texts which caught my attention, but the precisely arranged foodstuffs in the top images which got me thinking. Here the ingredients were arranged or displayed like gallery items which made a statement of “this is me”. It could also be said that the items were arranged forensically, providing evidence of the individuals identity.

    A Migrants Tale, Installation View, Drift Exhibition, Truman Brewery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

    A Migrants Tale, Installation View, Drift Exhibition, Truman Brewery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

  3. Carlo Navato’s Spaces of Otherness uses large prints to immerse the viewer in these otherworldly spaces. The 4 x square format images, arranged 2 x 2 focus the viewer on the centre of the image and add a sense of tension to these otherwise wide open and peaceful spaces. Each image is devoid of life and uses very simple composition making them easy to look at. The colour temperature, mixed with the snow, is a signifier for the cold war or the bitterness of conflict (for me at least). Only the elements are present/remain: Wind, Fog and Snow, which adds a sense of foreboding as does the use of Shadow in the image of the bunker’s entrance.

    Spaces of Otherness, Installation View, Drift, Truman Brewery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

    Spaces of Otherness, Installation View, Drift, Truman Brewery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

  4. Bas Losekoot’s In Company of Strangers immediately made me think of Henri Cartier Bresson and his famous term “the decisive moment”. Each image seems to be timed to perfection. I find people to be the most interesting subject, and have always struggled photographing strangers, so I find this work very inspirational. His use of natural light is fantastic, using it to put the subject in the spotlight. From discussion with  fellow students, the consensus is that he must have identified the locations/lighting first, then waited for the subjects. The use of the city as a backdrop tells a story of how we interact (or don’t in this case) with each other. All walks of life are captured and people, or elements of the body, are juxtaposed with each other or elements of the urban landscape to reveal notions of human nature. Because the subjects are unaware, there is a gritty realism and photojournalistic feel to the work.

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    In Company of Strangers, Installation View, Drift, Truman Brewery, Spitalfields, London, 24 Oct 2015

On leaving the Drift Exhibition, it was off to Spitalfields Market for some lunch, which gave us the opportunity to mingle with each other and reflect on the work we’d seen. This is the closest it gets to a classroom environment when distance learning and so is invaluable. It was great to chat with other students who are all at varying levels of study, but whom all share a passion for photography. Most interesting is listening to others thoughts or interpretations on a piece of work, which can open up new trains of thought or expand my own understanding. Over the course of the day, through casual dialogue, we discussed sources of influence/inspiration, ways of seeing or viewing work, had in-depth discussions as to what makes a photograph ‘Art’ and I was given some good pointers in terms of further reading or research.

The 3rd and last exhibition of the day was Autograph ABP’s exhibition of Syd Shelton’s work: Rock against Racism³ at Rivington Place in Shoreditch.

Rivington Place is a stereotypical gallery building, with multiple large white-wall gallery spaces and an overly expensive ‘arty-farty’ cafe. Rock against Racism featured an Information Wall at the entrance to the gallery space, providing some historical context to the work. In the centre of the space was a low display which featured many of the orignal flyers and posters for various gigs adding another level of context. It was also of interest to see some of Sheltons contact sheets and working prints.

Rock against Racism, Installation view, Rivington Place, Shoreditch, London, 24 Oct 2015

Rock against Racism, Installation view, Rivington Place, Shoreditch, London, 24 Oct 2015

A lot of Shelton’s work from the period was displayed around the perimeter of the gallery. It was all of a consistent size and print, but notably featured a mixture of posed Portraits and documentary images which created an interplay between the events being documented and the people involved in them.  All of the characters within the narrative were represented, whether fascists/racists, anti-fascists, and every gender, age and ethnic group were included. The famous performers, the audiences and the police are all photographed.

On the whole, the images support the aims of Rock against Racism, which demonstrates the subjective ability of photography. Shelton has been careful to show mixed ethnic groups enjoying the music and just having a good time alongside one another. In other images, particularly of conflict, he stresses the absurdity of racism through the lack of any conclusion, or by showing the perpetrators as minorities.

Text and captions are used to anchor meaning, giving the images a photojournalistic and authoritative feel.

I found that the quantity of images and the diversity of them helped to get across the scale of the problem at that time in history.

Rock against Racism, Installation View, Rivington Place, Shoreditch, London, 24 Oct 2015

Rock against Racism, Installation View, Rivington Place, Shoreditch, London, 24 Oct 2015

After this final exhibition, we retired to the cafe for an overpriced coffee and chewed the fat for a while. I was very impressed by the difference between all 3 exhibitions, but felt that I’d definitely seen enough for the day. I was at risk of becoming over-saturated. Like many of the other students, I highly value the study visits, and with an impending move to the North of England, made a resolution to not let the distance prevent me from attending more of them. Yes, there are galleries throughout the UK, but London definitely has a lot to offer.

References:

¹http://www.liftingthecurtain.net [accessed 25/10/15]

²http://www.driftexhibition.com [accessed 25/10/15]

³http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/rock-against-racism [accessed 25/10/15]