University for the Creative Arts, Farnham
Fine Art Degree Show 2011
I visited the Exhibition on 11th June, with two fellow OCA students. The Farnham Campus was originally an Art College but is now part of the University for the Creative Arts. Their website informed me that they have over 2,000 students studying a wide range of creative arts subjects, including fine art, photography, textiles, crafts, film, graphics, journalism and advertising. It was a good opportunity to go along and see some Degree work first-hand.
There was also an Open Day running when we went so there were a large number of young people and their parents being given group talks by staff at various points throughout the College.
Many of the students were exhibiting in a large ground floor hall.
As to be expected, there were a variety of themes depicted. There isn’t space to describe all of them here but I’ll mention some which I found eye-catching.
Emmie Thorstenson is Swedish and she had put together a series of black and white images titled “On the Verge of Adulthood”, which were beautifully exposed, sharp and clear. I’m mentioning her nationality because her images, somehow, reminded me of what I imagine her country is like. I saw that she is also exhibiting at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, London and I think she will be a photographer to watch for in the future.
Chris Spackman had a series “Unstill Life” in memory of a friend of his who had died from cancer.
The above doesn’t capture the quality of his work but his website link is below. The images are the outcome of continuous exposures of up to three weeks.
From the main hall we wandered the corridors finding exhibitions of other Degree work and also Foundation and Access students.
There were ceramics and glass, including this piece by Emma Clench which was a glowing orange.
One exhibit from Sally Rowe was of cutouts placed in front of a mirror
the information on her website says that her work is concerned with identity, both as a visual construct and as narrative.
There was also one section which, at first sight, purported to be a museum exhibition of work by ornithologists. Paintings and drawings and various artefacts. It was a clever illusion created by Jose Nieves. I didn’t take a photograph (I should have done) but his website link is below.
In the Fine art section there was a wonderful piece of mixed media created by Natasha Caine from found objects.
It was titled “Carosellas” which were apparently the Spanish entymology of carousels, and were spinning mechanisms for battle training/tournaments.
We also had opportunity to see some fashion designs
There were several sketchbook/working logs that were pieces of art in themselves. I’ve seen some on the OCA site of course but they are so much better in reality.
It was, of course, a different experience from visiting the London exhibitions of famous photographers and artists, but so good to see a wide range of work and appreciate the imagination and creativity of the students. The more informal atmosphere helped me feel nearer to the work as well. This made it less daunting because I could imagine that, if I complete the Degree, I might one day be able to reach their standards. Because it is a University and I saw several young students visiting on the Open Day I formed an assumption that contributors to the Exhibition were all young adults. However, I’m probably wrong.
Overall it was very useful to see how the prints were being exhibited – framed, unframed, in box-frames and also on aluminium. Some of the students had also produced photo-books of varying sizes (including Blurb books) to accompany their images.
11th June 2011
Farnham Campus of UCA: http://ucreative.ac.uk/farnham
University for the Creative Arts: http://www.ucreative.ac.uk/
Chris Spackman : http://www.i-spy-with-my-little-eye.com/Pages/Unstill%20Life.htm
Emma Clench: www.wix.com/emcha88 (although couldn’t access it)
Emmie Thorstenson: http://www.emmiethorstenson.se/galleri.html
Jose Nieves: http://www.josenievesart.co.uk/
Sally Rowe: http://www.sallyrowe.co.uk/SallyRowe/Work.html#3
genii loci – The Photographic Work of Karen Knorr,
Campany, D, et al (2002), Black Dog Publishing Ltd, London.
I hadn’t heard of Karen Knorr until my husband brought to my attention a short piece in one of our photography magazines because he thought this was about one of the staff of OCA. However, she is Professor of Photography at the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham and had won the Pilar Citoler International Prize for Contemporary Photography (and 15,00 Euros). The photograph which won the prize, ‘Flight to Freedom’ was one of a series of pictures featuring animals in northern India.
I live near to Farnham (in Surrey) and had originally looked at the Farnham University website when I was thinking of doing a photography course. Out of curiosity, I decided to look up the information about Karen Knorr , both on the University website and her own (http://www.karenknorr.com/about/). Her photography looked very interesting and I ordered a book from Amazon. I have been intending to record my thoughts on the book for a few months now and a visit yesterday to the Degree Exhibition at Farnham University has prompted me.
Here is the synopsis which I’m including because it gives the information in a much better way than I ever could:-
“Including essays and an interview with Karen Knorr, this extensively illustrated text is a comprehensive overview of the photographer’s work from the 1990s to 2002. Knorr’s photographs explore with wit and humour the patronage and heritage that informs our ideas of art and national identity, with images taken at historical art collections and stately homes, and new developments using sound, installation and video. Knorr has been making photographs since the early 1980s, using a documentary style that recalls earlier traditions of portraiture and painting”
There are three main sections in the book which are preceded by a scholarly overview from one of the three authors. In the first section Antonio Guzman begins with an analysis of the Connoisseurs series of photographs (1986-1989) which he believes marks the distinction between the origins of Knorr’s work and her approach today. In Connoisseurs she, ”….abandons the abstract formalism of black and white photography and undertakes the exclusive practice of colour” (p.9), with a further change of format and object. The square format replaces the rectangular and the work is referenced to painting rather than printed photography of published image. Overall, the phraseology is reverential in tone and I have to admit that, at this stage of my photographic journey, I found it rather hard to read. I still do!
What seems clear though is that Knorr is a very literate photographer and she uses classical allegory and metaphor in her work. The prose was illustrated at various points with almost thumbprint images on the whole and it was with relief that I moved on to look at the full page colour photographs which are rich and striking
I’m not going to describe all of them, just the ones which particularly struck me and where possible will give links.
The Analysis of Beauty:
Depicts two men in a salon/gallery, surrounded by ornate pictures and looking at them through telescopes.
to me this is about the scrutiny of works of art, putting them under the microscope to determine their constituents and meanings. It also reminded me of how often photographers (meaning me!) go round with their camera in front of their noses when they are surrounded by beautiful scenes which are just waiting to be absorbed.
There is also a whole series of images which include stuffed animals in stately houses as if they are visitors.
Where Have All the Sparrows Gone?
Is this a comment on the way we preserve our art treasures but ignore endangered species?
Having looked at the book again, I still find the commentary almost akin to hagiography and, in many respects, it makes me feel distanced from the images. However, the photographs are beautifully presented and some of them are of ‘ordinary’ subjects, such as dogs. Karen Knoor obviously has the prestige which enables her to set up the artistic images in stately surroundings and it was interesting for me to note yesterday, her other working environment – a suburban University in a small town in Surrey.
12th June 2011
Campany, D, et al , genii loci – The Photographic Work of Karen Knorr 2002, Black Dog Publishing Ltd, London.
Paul Graham: Photographs 1981–2006
Exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London
I was pleased that I was able to visit the Exhibition on 21st May along with other students from the OCA, with Gareth Dent to lead us. I downloaded information from the Whitechapel Gallery website but didn’t read it before visiting. I’ll give my impressions and then see how these relate to the information that I read later.
The Gallery is a bright spacious place to visit and a lot of space has been given to this exhibition of Paul Graham’s work from 1981 to 2006 on the various floors. We had a member of the Gallery staff as a guide but had time later to wander on our own. That was helpful because there was a lot to take in all at once so it was good to be able to go back to review.
The information leaflet described the exhibition as a comprehensive survey demonstrating Graham”s “innovative approach to documentary, reinventing traditional genres of photography to create a unique visual language.” One of the first things I learned was that Paul Graham was amongst the first photographers to use colour in documentary photography which was a radical step. I find it difficult now to appreciate that because I’m used to seeing colour and that fits with our guide’s comment that we review them on the basis of the picture not the colour. I don’t agree with that entirely because I did judge some of the photographs on the basis of the colour.
The sets of images were grouped according to series and I was interested to note how the framing changed and how different size images were put together in the same series. The chronology is divided into three time periods – 1981-1986; 1988-1996 and 1996-2006 but, I think, with concurrent rather than consecutive explorations in photography.
The earliest ones were the most striking for me. “Beyond Caring” (1984-85) takes us into various unemployment offices in England. I spent quite a bit of time there accompanying unemployed people and the series does capture that sense of endless hanging around waiting for your number to come up, although it doesn’t capture the underlying frustrations which could sometimes erupt! In this series there is evidence of ‘shooting from the hip’ photography in the angles and slightly tilted lines.
At first sight, and from a distance, the “Troubled Land’ series (1985-86) looks like fairly ordinary , often urban, landscapes. However, this is Northern Ireland, and it was only when I moved closer that small details took on more significance (http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/troubledland.html#a). The Gallery information refers to the fusion of traditional landscape with war reportage – the soldier moving across the roundabout; posters on tops of lampposts. To me, once noticed, they seemed like sharp pinpricks pointing to the everyday reality of this constant state of tension. Graham returned there in 1994 and chose a more abstract view in “Ceasefire”. I have to say that the series of clouded skies didn’t have the same impact for me at all. If I hadn’t been told I wouldn’t have been able to name the country.
The later photographs record travels further afield Europe; Japan, the United States where he now lives. One of the series, “A Shimmer of Possibility” (2004-2006) mirrors his early travels up the Great North Road and records travels across America. Some of them reminded me of the exercises in my Workbook – a sequence of composition. In those exercises we were asked to move around and see what caught our attention and here Graham does the same. He follows a woman with a younger man (her son?) carrying their shopping home. There’s no sense of timescale but they’re obviously moving because the scenery changes, but very slightly. Another set of images is of a man mowing the lawn http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/possibility.html. I’ve now read a transcript of an interview with Richard Woodward in June 2007 (http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/interviews.html) which is based around books written by Graham, each of which is described as “a filmic haiku”. In the interview Graham says that his source was Chekhov’s short stories and the critical essays around them. There isn’t much happens in the stories and they are dealing with simple, everyday things. In this case I think that Graham achieved his aim because there certainly isn’t really very much happening at all, what Graham describes as “isolating a small rivulet of time”! The Roundabout in Belfast in 19484 also showed a snapshot in time but it is so different. For me Graham moved from the complex to the banal but then, we all have our own unique reality at any given moment in time don’t we.
The interview is interesting because it reveals more about Graham’s, influences experience and thoughts on photography today. One thought I had going around the Exhibition was about the sense of Paul Graham being an observer – standing back – so that for me there was a sense of unconnectedness with his subjects. Richard Woodward makes this point about Graham being clearly an outsider and we never learn much about the people and Paul Graham’s response is to say, “I don’t want to feign being intimate with somebody I met 5 minutes ago. I accept and embrace that so much in life is “ships passing in the dark”. It was honest o f him to say that but, maybe, that’s why, for me, there wasn’t anything exuberant or joyful in his work, or moving either. For that to happen I think that a photographer needs to feel some kind of emotional connection, to be able to think, “That could be me”.
London Study Day 15th April 2011
After the visit to the Museum of London, we went on in the afternoon to the Photographers’ Gallery Ambika P3, the University of Westminster, to see the contenders for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2011. This is an annual prize of £30,000 which rewards a living photographer, of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution to photography in Europe between 1st October 2009 and 30th September 2010. I’ve just added a comment to the discussion about the Study Day on We Are OCA:-
“The Street Photography Exhibition seemed, to me, a straightforward depiction of the evolution of this type of photography. There was nothing particularly controversial there and I was aware when writing it up for my blog that I was mainly focussing upon images which had particularly attracted me for a variety of reasons. Why was nothing there particularly controversial? Maybe due to the selection available in the Museum’s archives or because I have probably already seen some of the modern photographs several times over and become de-sensitised to their impact.
My immediate response to the very different images in the Deutsche Börse Prize was a kind of puzzlement and not being sure what I was supposed to think. Maybe it’s because I was feeling tired by then and also the atmosphere was so different from the Museum of London. The entry to the Deutsche Börse Prize is at the side of Westminster University and through a rather grotty outside area before descended in a cavernous space which houses the exhibition. Jim Goldberg’s multi-dimensional presentation takes up the most space. Jose describes Goldberg’s embedded stories as compelling and demanding to be heard. Yes, they are. There is an immediacy about the polaroids and the writing on them which brings his subjects into the room. There are so many of them that the voices are loud and compelling. The ‘rescuer’ in me wanted to know what is happening to these people now and how were they affected by writing something of their story. I found myself questioning Goldberg’s purpose. Is he just drawing attention and leaving it at that or is he using his photography in an attempt to change what’s happening. Was he turning me into a voyeur of other peoples’ suffering?
There was a startling change awaiting just around the corner. Vivid colour but no depth. Clever photographers showing off their technical skills and playing around with images or am I being too critical. Ethridge portrays affluence in Thanksgiving and decay with his rotten fruit (presented beautifully) and homage to Caravaggio. Lassry’s man with shifting eyes reminded me of Rene Magritte (and also a recent exercise in TAOP on the relationship between points!). A few of us spent some time pondering over Burmese Cat. How had this been processed; it looked slightly cartoonish; had Lassry used fractalius software?
Well I’ve read now that The Photographers’ Gallery has had criticisms in previous years for its ‘very narrow definition of photography’. There’s certainly two extremes here now – from the documentary to the conceptual. This set me thinking. Could Ethridge and Lassry carry out the same style and approach as Goldberg and vice versa? Certainly, John Thomson moved from documenting the lives of the London poor (and writing about them) to being a Society photographer but maybe that’s not such a great leap. Going back to Jim Goldberg. I’ve also been wondered whether my criticism of his methods is too harsh. Perhaps I’ve been projecting my anger at what has been done to his subjects onto him because he’s more immediately available.”
I didn’t mention Thomas Demand and his very large photograph of the three-dimensional paper model he constructed of an open air church organ erected in Bavaria in 1939. Apparently his method is to begin with a “found’ photograph and then construct a life-size 3D replica sculpture in paper and card which he lights, rephotographs and then dismantles and destroys. There is a whole series of such images in his Prize presentation but this is the only one he chose for the London Exhibition which I think is a shame because we are only getting a ‘snapshot’ of his body of work. It would also have been good to have seen at least a video of the making of the models.
I’ll certainly be interested to see who wins the prize. I won’t place any bets but I have a feeling it might be Goldberg!
London Street Photography Exhibition at the Museum of London
OCA Study Day – 15th April 2011
I was already planning to visit the Exhibition and it was a nice surprise when the OCA newsletter arrived giving the information about the planned study visit.
We all met up at the entrance to the Museum to be welcomed by Jose Navarro and Clive White, OCA tutors. Jose explained the format of the morning – relatively informal, for us to view the Exhibition however we wished, being joined at various points by either himself or Clive to share thoughts/views. We would have around an hour and a quarter and then meet in the Museum café for lunch (provided by OCA which was another nice surprise).
My first impression on arriving at the bottom of the stairs into the Exhibition area was of it being rather gloomy, with low lighting. The explanation was that a lot of photographs were old original prints which could be damaged by too much light. Even so the low lighting made it harder to see the older photographs and I noticed that others as well were craning forwards to be able to read the descriptions.
I made brief notes as I went round, also noting particular photographs which interested me for one reason or another so that I could do further research later. The following are just my initial, snapshot impressions.
1860 – 1890 Origins
The early cameras required long exposures and the small format photographs were mainly of buildings. These sometimes included people who were either posing for the camera or self-posed. In these early photographs I particularly noticed how the photographers were utilizing perspective, lines, diagonals and shapes and was thinking how much they had been influenced by architectural principles.
The first series of photographs was “Street Life in London’ in 1877 produced by John Thomson. One of these is ‘Hookey Alf”
‘But in the fore-ground the camera has chronicled the most touching episode. A little girl, not too young, however, to ignore the fatal consequences of drink, has penetrated boldly into the group, as if about to reclaim some relation in danger, and drag him away from evil companionship. There is no sight to be seen in the streets of London more pathetic than this oft-repeated story- the little child leading home a drunken parent. Well may those little faces early bear the stamp of the anxiety that destroys their youthfulness, and saddens all who have the heart to study such scenes. Inured to a life crowded with episodes of this description, the pot-boy stands in the back-ground with immoveable countenance, while at his side a well-to-do tradesman has an expression of sleek contentment, which renders him superior to the misery around.’
The above was taken from a web site about the publication
The description in the Exhibition is that it provides, ‘a compelling image of childhood’. Personally I can’t see this. To me, the girl looks clean, reasonably well cared-for and not unhappy.
Some photographs have a 3D effect and are stereophonic. Jose explained that the effect was gained by having 2 lenses on the one camera. An example of this was ‘Temple Bar’ taken by Valentine Blanchard. (more information on http://www.billjayonphotography.com/ValentineBlanchard.pdf )
Blanchard used a small-format stereophonic camera, utilising a cab as a darkroom so that he could process the film instantly.
I was then drawn to ‘Bishops Court’ 1882 by Arthur Ephraim Eason.
You can see the effect of the light in blown-out highlights in the sky. The perspective leads to a triangle. My eyes were immediately drawn to the slightly off-centre cart and I could see the little boy sitting at the bottom with white knees drawn up. For me this made the picture and he was my focal point. I had a discussion with Jose about this. He couldn’t see the boy as quickly as I had and wondered whether Eason had actually noticed the boy when he took the photograph. I think it possible that Eason could have unconsciously noticed it flash across his peripheral vision but we’ll never know now.
Technical developments in this period led to the first hand held multi-shots; off-guard photographs and then a growing number of amateur photographers due to Kodak. An ‘anonymous’ photograph of a toy seller taken around 1920 attracts me due to the short depth of field and bokeh effect which I hadn’t noticed so far.
‘Derby Day’ c1910: Large profile view of a woman with a cigarette. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/london-street-photography-museum-of-london-2238534.html
“There is a photograph by Horace Nicholls at the Museum of London’s excellent London Street Photography that neatly encapsulates the elusive magic of street photography. It was taken at the Epsom Derby in 1910 and features a well-dressed lady in her thirties, who sits slumped at a table resting her head in her hands with a cigarette in mouth, lost in thought. But what thought? Street photography can capture a fleeting moment in a stranger’s life for eternity, but it will never tell you what they were thinking. That’s for the viewer to ponder.”
She is large in the frame and actually reminded me of a photograph my husband took in France of a back view of a lady sitting at a table and smoking. I am obviously looking for reference points, continuity and similarities in styles.
1930-1945 : Observing the street
This period saw the Weekly Illustrated (1934 onwards) and Picture Post (1938 onwards). At this time there was an influx of émigré photographers from Central and Eastern Europe who held up a critical mirror documenting London’s social contrasts. Felix H. Man (1893-1985) was one of the pioneers of modern photojournalism, introducing picture stories such as “A Day in the Life” and methods of working only with natural light. I enjoyed a misty image of a foggy Cambridge Circus on Charing Cross Road (Wolfgang Suschitzky b1912)
George Rodger (1908019950 who co-founded Magnum in 1947, was a World war Two photojournalist and one of the first photographers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2008/02/06/060208_george_rodger_feature.shtml
He also wanted to show the lives of ordinary people and how they coped with the vicissitudes of war. “Painting an Oxford Street Shop front” 1940, shows an attractive young woman in turban and overalls perched on a ladder.
1946-1979 Capturing the Street
Henry Grant’s photograph “Trafalgar Square” taken around 1955, shows a woman absolutely surrounded by pigeons.
It reminded me very much of a 1992 photograph “Lola in Central Park with birds and snow” by Bruce Davidson which I saw on the Magnum website.
When I mentioned this to Clive, he told me that this was a particular genre. I’ve obviously followed it (as have others) having taken two photographs of people and pigeons in St, Mark’s Square, Venice last year.
As I’d been walking around I’d realised that I was less interested in the photographs taken during the period when I was an adolescent/young adult. Probably because they were of scenes I could see every day then and also I probably saw them at the time so they are not new to me. When I mentioned this to Clive he took me to see some photographs by Lutz Dillie (1922-2008) explaining that these were American style which are more contrasty and manipulated –
This was taken in 1961 and I could see how this and others were composed more close-up/”in your face” – well at least to me.
“The Whisperers’ John Benton-Harris (b. 1939 and UK based) caught my eye. A dual portrait! Quite close-up with two older ladies wearing headscarves whispering together, whilst there are two policemen wearing helmets, talking together at the back.
1980-2010 Reclaiming the street
By this point in the Exhibition there was more colour and the influence of digital photography and web-sharing was referred to. My husband had also gone to the Exhibition but walked round separately. I talked with him briefly and he was commenting how little colour there had been so far and did this type of photography need colour anyway. I mentioned this to Jose and he took me to a colourful panorama of a London street by Mike Seabourne. It shows both sides of the tree with the sensation of pedestrians and traffic rushing towards the viewer. Red is a predominant colour. I discussed this with Jose, and what it would look like in black and white or even what it would look like if it was de-saturated and then the red put back. I wasn’t sure it would look good in black and white
Further search informed that Mike Seaborne is Senior Curator of Photographs and Curator of the Exhibition. I think he’s done an excellent job here.
There was a lot to take in in the relatively short period of time there. And I’ve only referred to a few of the many photographs. I found it very interesting to see the development of street photography in London and also to see how similar themes continue – ordinary people doing both ordinary and extraordinary things and contrasts between wealth and poverty. I will go again before the Exhibition closes in September so that I can absorb more.
17th April 2011
Learning from Lao Tzu
I went to a landscape photography workshop day last Saturday down in East Sussex. I set off well-armed with two downloaded maps from Google and Bing, garlanded with my own hieroglyphics which convinced me that I knew the route. Thankfully I had my satnav as well which came in useful when I got lost near Brighton!
It was a good day and the weather stayed fine. Mind you it was windy on top of those white cliffs, not to mention scary with no fence between solid ground and mid air. I came back having learned a lot but feeling exhausted, and thinking mournfully that maybe landscape photography wasn’t for me after all, with all that walking up hills and lugging equipment around. I feel better now though and the photographs are looking quite good.
Even so I still keep going through the stages of grumbling to myself about all these exercises I have to do and how impossible it is to find two points isolated in a frame which are separate from each other and in a neutral background. Whoever wrote these exercises didn’t realise that I live opposite a Common where you can’t see the wood for the trees, plus the weather is cold and windy and anyone interesting is staying indoors.
I think I’m going through the chrysalis stage not knowing quite how to burst out of the cocoon and what I want to become when I do. I know I’m not on my own, because there has been a continuing theme about stumbling blocks on the discussion threads. With southliving (a Course colleague) in mind, my thoughts turned to China because that’s where he lives at the moment.
Many years ago a colleague of mine gave me the I-Ching to read and, a couple of years ago, one of my sons gave me a Christmas present of “Change your thoughts change your life – Living the Wisdom of the Tao”, (Dr Wayne W Dyer, 2007). The idea of the book was to read a verse a day and be open to what happens. I have to confess that I didn’t exactly follow it through to the end but one of the verses has always stayed with me.
Chapter III Verse 10: “Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail.” The basic principle of Taoism, that order results from inaction, while disorder results from action. I think that can sometimes apply, especially in moments of confusion, uncertainty or trying to absorb new learning.
In 2005 I decided that I wanted to do a sponsored trek on the Great Wall of China to raise money for the Charity I’m involved with. Around the same time I had also been asked if I could run a training day at the University. I had to say no because of the trek but I was relieved as well because I have a fear of public speaking which manifests itself as anxiety about my incipient stammer.
I started to train regularly for the trek, going to the gym and walking with the aim of building-up my strength and endurance. To begin with I walked along the canal from Woking to West Byfleet, which is about 3 miles, and then walked back. I was doing quite well until, one day, a stone flew at me from out of nowhere and hit me on the arm, causing a very large, painful bruise. It must have been thrown from the other side because there was only me and the canal around at the time. I was lucky because it could have hit me on the head. I finished my walk but the incident unnerved me and that, combined with my realization that I probably wasn’t going to have enough physical endurance to undertake the trek, led me to drop out.
I didn’t feel good about it despite joining our fund-raising group where we organised a golf day which brought in a nice sum for the Charity. There was no longer a reason not to run the training day at the University and I decided to meet the challenge and get some help along the way from an NLP practitioner. I won’t go into that now, although it was fascinating in itself, but one of the things that I came out with, from doing something called a timeline, was to find myself saying, “Well, it isn’t exactly a life or death situation is it!” I just hadn’t realised that that was my core belief about public speaking of any kind. I subsequently ran the training day. It seemed to go well and I quite enjoyed it because my interest and enthusiasm for the topic stayed as energy instead of turning into fear.
Strangely enough I did actually go to China, on a tour with my husband, in 2007 and, yes, I walked on the Great Wall. It was a wonderful experience and I felt as if I could have walked on and on.
I’m beginning to think that I’m rambling too much around the topic now, but the point I’m wanting to make to myself is that it can be good to let go of self-assumptions and performance anxieties and just stay with the moment. I only had a small camera when I went to China so the technical quality isn’t that great, but here are my lessons to myself:-
Sometimes it’s just good to go with the flow:-
and fly high,
so that you can follow your dream,
feel the energy and come out fighting,
Maybe one day I’ll go back to China and walk the wall again and even do this
Not me I hasten to add, although it could be, couldn’t it! Well – at least there’s a wall there, unlike the white cliffs in East Sussex.
I feel refreshed now and can get back to looking at the relationship between points.
1st April 2011
In general, I’ve been feeling over-saturated with ideas, information and (non)activity recently. I know why – it’s because there are so many possible figures of interest emerging that I’m like a butterfly flitting from one to the other and never settling. I’ve also been waiting for feedback on Assignment 1 so that has contributed to some extent because I haven’t felt able to move on. My tutor emailed me feedback yesterday so I feel a little clearer now. It was mainly positive with also some suggestions for alternative images and further reading/exploration. I’ll write in more detail on a separate post when I have absorbed it all.
I thought that now would be a good time to survey the ground and look back for a while at how I’m doing, or at least how I think I’m doing. Read the rest of this entry »
The weather has turned colder and wetter over the last two days and it’s made my bones ache. Also I seem to have come to a bit of a halt photography wise. It’s happened since I sent off my first Assignment for feedback. There are exercises to work on and I’ve had ideas for mini projects but I can’t seem to get going on them. Maybe I’ll feel more enthusiastic when my assignment comes back – then again maybe not!
It seems I’m not on my own at this point because this morning a discussion started on the OCA Flickr site about what to do when feeling un-motivated. My left-brain response was to start a list of things I needed to do (work not photography) because at least then I could tick things off and feel more positive. One bit of advice was to go out and just take a photograph of something silly and without having to think it should be perfect. I did contemplate that for a while – thought I might even go out and buy a funny toy and photograph that – but I just didn’t have the energy.
I started to think about rain and then had an inspiration. I would find a poem about rain. Straight away, ‘Hawk in the Rain’ came to mind – the poem by Ted Hughes. I did a creative writing course many years ago and can still remember my tutor putting on a recording of a poet reading his own poetry. His voice immediately took me back to Yorkshire and I felt at home. Having decided to find the poem I then thought back to an email from one of my contacts who lives in the States. He’d sent me a link to his website and mentioned some photos of a balloon ride. I remembered my own balloon ride in December 2005. I was on holiday in Egypt, and asked our local guide about balloon rides because a friend had told me about them. I’m not a very brave person and the idea of going up in one of those wouldn’t normally cross my mind. However, I found myself asking our guide about them and then signing up to a dawn ride over the Valley of the Queens. It was definitely an uplifting experience! I went back amongst my old photos and found these two.
Taken with a previous compact camera so not the best but I worked on them in Photoshop a bit. and the colours are warming and cheerful. I can remember the day, the air of excitement and all the children rushing around to help. I wonder how all those people are now in the midst of recent events. I really liked the Egyptian people. There is a lot of poverty there but the people I met were lively and energetic despite it all; and also very proud of their country. I had wanted to go to Egypt for a long time because my father was in the army there after the 2nd World War and he sent me letters which I still have because my mother saved them for me. He travelled with me in a way because everywhere I went I wondered if my father had been there and tried to imagine him all those years ago – young, black-haired and handsome with his flashing brown eyes and wide smile.
I then found the poem, “The Hawk in the Rain”. It actually paints quite a violent picture but I like the assonance and alliteration. Here’s an extract
While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,
Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs
The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner’s endurance:…
I can imagine Ted Hughes striding on the Yorkshire Moors in the rain and creating these words in his head.
I normally pass over all those tips and hints on thinking positively like, ‘before you go to sleep think of 3 things that went well during the day’, but I think it is true that when you’re having negative thoughts you mainly only remember miserable things that happened in the past and what went wrong. It can be hard to pull yourself out of them. I’m not talking here about bone-deep depression, because that’s something else entirely, but those days when life seems to have lost its sparkle a little. I’m glad I found the balloon and the hawk in the rain.
28th February 2011
I remember watching the TV series in the 70s and finding it very interesting. My memory is of lavish colour shots but maybe I was wrong. I borrowed the book from the library and was really surprised. It’s a paperback and very small and thin with only black and white pictures inside.I was also immediately struck by the font (monophoto univers), which I don’t remember seeing before. It’s very black and square somehow. Also the book itself has very narrow margins, so the whole impression was of words leaping out at me from the page.
A note to the reader states that the book was made ‘ by five of us’ (the five men, including John Berger, who created the television programme.). It consists of seven numbered essays but there is no mention as to whether each of them wrote an essay or if it was a combined creation. Whichever it was the tone of the book seems didactic to me as it makes statements rather than inviting a dialogue between author and reader, even though the note also states, “Our principal aim has been to start a process of questioning”. The very fact that they are ‘essays’ makes this more of an academic treatise.
The television series was mainly about art but I want to pick out as much as I can which also relates to photography. The first essay establishes that , “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled” (p.7). We see before we know and speak and, “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe” (p.8). Additionally, “ We are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves”. So, the culture into which we’re born and the world we experience, affects how we view anything. In relation to photography, the point is made that the photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject just as the painter’s way of seeing is reconstituted into marks on paper..
Berger et al also make the point that cultural assumptions about art include a mystification of the past and so works of art are made unnecessarily remote. I think they’re taking a political standpoint as well in stating that this mystification occurs because a privileged minority is, , ‘striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling classes’. A later essay expands upon this point.
There is a comparison between art and photography which hadn’t occurred to me before and that is concerned with perspective. According to the authors, the convention of perspective in European art centres everything on the eye of the beholder , so that the eye becomes the centre of the visible world and there is no visual reciprocity.
This changed with the introduction of the camera. They quote from an article by Dziga Vertov, Soviet film director in 1923 (see p. 17), where he writes of the camera as being an eye in constant movement, and so leading to a fresh perception of the world. Drawing or paintings which use perspective proposed that the spectator was the unique centre of the world, whereas the camera, particularly the movie camera, demonstrated that there was no centre. To me that seems a very general statement and I’m not sure I can agree with it. If I am standing in my own house and looking at painting of another house, then I know that the other house is in a different place. A film engages me more because, I think, my imagination comes more into the forefront and, if it’s a good film and I’m enjoying it, I become a part of the action so that it becomes my world.
Another comparison is made between a painting and photography. Although a painting is transportable it can never be seen in two places at the same time,. If a camera reproduces a painting it destroys the uniqueness of the its image and its meaning multiplies and fragments into many meanings. There is something in that for me. I’ve often found that the original painting can be so different from its reproductions. In fact it is often smaller and so its impact can be diminished somehow, especially when it appears amongst many other painting which all compete for my attention. Not to mention the fact that I’m unable to hold it in my hand and examine it more closely.
The second essay is a series of images of women – photographs, reproductions of paintings and a statuette – which focus on their bodies and the next essay puts the view that women are seen as objects which are owned by men. “The ideal spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the women is designed to flatter him.” (p. 64). This made me think of “Portrait of my British Wife” the photograph of his wife by Panayiotis Lamprou, which came second in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. There was something for me about – she is mine, you can look but not touch. (see other post), The authors also suggest an experiment – choose an image of a traditional nude from the book, transform the woman into a man and, “notice the violence which that transformation does”. For me, the reverse happened. The photograph that won first prize in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize was of a beautiful young huntress. I don’t think it would have had the same impact upon me if it had been of a young man.
Another essay (No. 5) p. 83) discusses the fact that oil paintings often depict things which are buyable and if you buy a painting you also buy the look of the thing it represents. Transfer that to photographs and all the lifestyle magazines that contain them. Essay No. 7 (p.129) compares paintings with modern publicity images and provides illustrations of similarities that show a continuing use of historical, mythological and poetic references. The essay also states that the invention of cheap colour photography, “ can reproduce the colour texture and tangibility of objects as only oil paint had been able to do before” (p. 140). Whereas an oil painting showed what a person already owned, publicity images make you want what you don’t currently own.
23rd February 2011
Phil and Me’ – Amanda Tetrault
(Tetrault, Amanda, Phil and Me, Trolley Ltd, GB, 2004)
In a previous post I described my visit, at the end of January, to ‘Ways of Seeing’ an Exhibition at the Lightbox, Gallery and Museum in Woking. I ended by reflecting upon the use of photography as therapy and stating that I wanted to explore this further. A couple of weeks later I was reading the latest edition of Marie Claire magazine when I came upon an article about Amanda Tetrault who is a photographer in Montreal, Canada. It described her relationship with her father; the photographs she had taken of him and the book that had been published in 2004.
Amanda’s father, Philip Tetrault, suffers from schizophrenia. He didn’t take medication for many years and Amanda’s mother, Natalie, left him when Amanda was three because she couldn’t live with him anymore. Philip lived a life on the streets, they kept in touch and he visited occasionally. His behaviour was very frightening at times though, and when Amanda was 12 she and her mother moved away without giving him an address. His own mother continued to keep in touch though and when she died c2000, Natalie decided to keep on doing this in his mother’s memory so that he became a part of their lives again, although never coming into the house.
An internet search led me to Amanda’s website and also an August 2004 article, ‘Father dear father’, in The Guardian newspaper. Amanda writes that her father never really worked as such but has always written poetry. He lives a different world, and they meet together and walk around Montreal. She also refers to the shame of having a father with schizophrenia and that she didn’t tell anyone the truth about him until she was 19. One of the ways in which she dealt with her feelings about her father was to take photographs of him and this started around the time she was 19 as well. I wanted to see the photographs and bought the book.
The cover of the book is illustrated by a collage of small photos (some coloured) and the book itself is mainly photographs, in black and white, but with some extracts from letters, and poetry handwritten by Philip over the years. I felt sad when looking at the photographs, which document the passing of time and the obvious deterioration in Philip’s condition. Some photos are from early years and taken in booths, but others are taken by Amanda.
There is a letter from Amanda to Phil in the early pages (there are no page numbers), where she writes about the effect of his illness upon her, “When I was a girl and you became sick you were a monster to me. When I was a teenager and at my most self-conscious, you and schizophrenia were my biggest secrets”. Amanda apologises for running away from him, forgives him for being the way he was and, finally, thanks him, “..for trying hard anyway…for showing me the street, the squirrels and the crows and for making me see so many other sides.
In the Guardian article Amanda writes that the photographs were very much about getting rid of the shame that surrounds having a father with schizophrenia and about seeing the beauty as well. I was also pleased to read that his illness is not as bad and he’s taking his medication.
It seems to me that, at the age of 19, when Amanda began to tell people about her father and also take photographs of him she was both acknowledging that that was the way he was and, in some respects, becoming more able to distance herself from her fear of him as a child. I have worked as a counsellor in the past and one method of helping people was to ask them to describe an event as if they were watching it on a television screen. I would imagine that holding a photograph enabled Amanda to really look at her father in a safer emotional space.
I hadn’t thought of photography as therapy until I went to the Ways of seeing Exhibition and, having looked at Amanda Tetrault’s book, I’ve now done an Internet search. It seems that phototherapy techniques have begun to be more widely used in recent years. One US website distinguishes PhotoTherapy (an interrelated system of photo-based counseling techniques, from Therapeutic Photography (self-conducted activities) which is what I think Amanda Tetrault used for herself. I have also looked at a critical paper for a Masters Degree in the UK.
22nd February 2011
Postscript to “Phil and Me”
I still had Philip Tetrault in mind and, in an idle moment, did an internet search. There were quite a few links (a bit of a shock as well to see a link to my blog amongst them!). Anyway I was really interested to see that there had been a documentary film about him which won the 2006 C.B.C. Newsworld Award for Best Documentary in the Independent Film and Video Festival.
The film was called “The Beggars Description” and was made in 2005 by Pierre Tetrault (a playwright, actor and stage director) who is Philip’s brother. One of the reports said that the most stirring moments of the documentary featured “the three most influential women in Philip’s life” – his mother, the mother of his daughter and his daughter. Here’s a link to the film description
There is another site called “Heck of a Guy’ a blog by a someone who calls himself DrHGuy and is a fan of Leonard Cohen. It’s a well put together blog and interesting reading if you like Leonard Cohen.
Leonard Cohen met Philip Tetrault years ago and has kept in touch with him. The site gives video links to two clips from the film. One is called, ‘Picnic in the Park’ and is Philip and Leonard sitting on a bench talking together. They reminisce about when they first met. Leonard Cohen couldn’t remember but Philip could. Leonard shows Philip how to thumb wrestle and also reads a poem from Philip’s privately published book of poetry The other clip is of Philip reciting his poems in Montreal in 2006.Having read Amanda’s story it was good for me to see another view of her father, Philip. I was also touched by something written by DrHGuy which I think is very apt and worth taking on board:-
“Finally, I cannot let this opportunity to dispute a still powerful myth pass. Phil Tetrault can write excellent poetry in spite of schizophrenia, not because of it, and Leonard Cohen was able to write novel, poems, and songs in spite of the depression that afflicted him for years, not because of it. The romantic notion that psychiatric disorders somehow put artists in touch with an inner world not otherwise available is fallacious and, from my perspective, an insult to the artists with those diagnoses.”
I have to confess that I too have accepted that ‘myth’ in the past. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the opposite view but it’s worth exploring.
27th February 2011
http://www.kimbromleytherapy.co.uk/ Critical paper for Masters degree specialising in therapeutic photography