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
The Lightbox, Woking : Ways of Seeing Exhibition
The Lightbox is a gallery and museum built by the side of the Basingstoke Canal and almost in the centre of Woking. It was designed by Marks Barfield Architects who were also responsible for the London Eye. The Lightbox has two galleries, which host a range of various types of exhibitions, and it also has an interactive museum of the town’s history.
I’ve been several times but, on this occasion, (22nd January 2011) went to see ‘Ways of Seeing’ an exhibition curated by a group of people with mental health problems. The brochure informs us that two years was spent working on this project. The group visited a number of museums and galleries to learn how exhibitions are curated. They then spent months looking at items from the Ingram Collection of C20th Art and deciding which of them they would like to respond to. A further six months were then spent working with artists in a range of workshop sessions, to produce their own responses to the chosen works. A selection of their new works is exhibited alongside the pieces by the major artists, together with a number of short videos of the process by the film-maker Lee Cavaliere.
The group members had produced paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints, providing new interpretations of the pieces and I thought there was some really talented work on show. The brochure contains quotes from some of the members and photography featured for many of them in their daily life. I was a little disappointed, therefore, that there were no new photographs in the Exhibition. I suppose there is something extra in the act of just sitting down with others, discussing and engaging with a piece of art in a more tactile way. It’s just occurred to me that maybe more creative areas of the brain are in operation through this as well. I’ll have to do some research on that.
I worked in the mental health field for several years and ‘art therapy’ has been around for a long time but this seemed a much more holistic way of engaging people. It must have been really satisfying for these particular group members to see a project through like this.
Afterwards I went to have another look in the small museum. It’s in different sections and really well put together through a multi-dimensional approach. Many of the people of Woking contributed their personal photographs and mementoes and also recorded narratives of what life used to be like for them. The records are accessed by picking up various old telephones which are dotted around. There are brochures and photographs of Brookwood Cemetery from 1900 onwards; film and photographs of the opening of the Shah Jehan Mosque (the first in Britain). There is also memorabilia from Brookwood Hospital, a large psychiatric institution opened in 1867 and closed not so long ago to make way for expensive new houses and apartments. This particular part of the museum has models of the mind and early definitions of mental disorder. There are also various objects such as wrist locks and neck collars and a scale model of a special type of whirling chair which appeared to have the same effect as electric shock treatment. There are photographs of staff and patients (some of them in art therapy groups) and what looks like members of the Friends of the Hospital enjoying a dinner and dance.
I left thinking about the use of photographs as images of record and for advertising purposes – “a wonderful new garden cemetery”. I also had this query in my mind concerning photography as therapy which I want to explore further.
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2010 – National Portrait Gallery.
I included my first thoughts on this in an earlier more general post (Reflections) but recent feedback from my tutor has made me realise realised that I should have given it a more distinct category. Here it is again. Read the rest of this entry »
8.1.11 It feels like Spring might be coming!
I went to bed last night feeling rather depressed because I seem to have taken backward steps somehow and my photographs aren’t turning out the way I would like them to. I also keep having lots of thought around photography and its meaning for me but I never seem to get down to putting words on paper (or on blog).
This morning it was bright and sunny so I got up early (for me) and went to do some shopping. Hobbycraft first for some bits and pieces and then to the local garden centre to buy some flowers. I took my camera into the garden centre with me and took a few quick shots of flowers then bought some snowdrops and primulas. Back home I decided to spend some time doing macro shots and, maybe, practise with the Lensbaby as I haven’t touched it for ages. Read the rest of this entry »
I feel a little more confident in travelling around WordPress but not happy with how the theme layout (Fusion) looks and spent some time experimenting. Fusion looks more organised and uncluttered to me but I’ll lose the Flickrstream link. Is it really necessary? It’s as if Flickr is, somehow, a lifeline to me as a photographer linking me with other enthusiasts. Thinking about it, having a nice clear blog layout seems more important to me at the moment. In any case I’m already on the OCA discussion groups and there are so many linkages that it can be quite confusing! Settled for Fusion theme and I can do without the link, but I have asked for any feedback on it from OCA Flickr members who might have a look. Read the rest of this entry »