Seeing versus Looking

Angela Norrington gave us a very interesting tutorial on the subject of seeing and looking. She utilised a lot of quotes from other authors and clips from films which I am working my way through following up.

The basic premise of the talk was ‘it’s not what you look at – it’s what you actually see that is important’. It is a skill that needs exercised, an active attempt at understanding and can be equated to listening rather than just hearing.

She quoted from Maria Gainza Optic Nerve (Gainza, 2019) about Stendhal Syndrome. I have now read the entire book and found it fascinating, well worth reading with access to the internet at hand to look up the various artists she talks about.

Angela suggested having a regular place or subject you returned to, as you will see something different each time as gradually get a deeper appreciation of it. She also reminded us that looking quickly at everything available means you never truly see anything.  This is something I have found a potential problem in lockdown. There are so many talks/lectures/zooms/museum showings available to look at that I have become overwhelmed and cannot really remember the important parts of anything, or often, even to watch what I wanted to. (Remember 30 second reports- on what you have seen). I need to add Letters from Tove (Jannson, 2019) to my reading list!

Responding to things (images, art, pictures, places) with emotion is critical – what is it about something you have seen that stirs the emotion  – if you can replicate that you have a picture that is ‘peculiar to you’ – from David Suchet.

We also discussed the art of slow photography and slow looking – worth investigating further, and the book Photographs Not Taken (Steacy, 2012) where photographers talk about the images that they missed, the lost shot, where something else got in the way. I have started reading this and it is fascinating- makes you think about what an image is.

The whole talk is available at: https://oca.padlet.org/andreanorrington/laq2kvhc5mpg

References:

Gainza, M. (2019) Optic Nerve. London: Harvil Secker.

Jannson, T. (2019) Letters from Tove. Translated by Death, S. United Kingdom: Sort of Books.

Steacy, W. (ed.) (2012) Photographs not taken: a collection of photographers’ essays. Hillsborough, US: Daylight Community Arts Foundation.

Learning Outcome 2

Learning outcome 2 is about translating ideas into visual outcomes. The assignment I did which best realised this was Assignment 5 – A Very Private Lady. This assignment built on assignment 4 and my initial work with archives is shown there and in Exercise 4.5 – My Mother’s Memories where I first experimented with video.

Assignment 5 tell the story of my mother’s early life. It was a difficult piece of work to do because of the emotional difficulties of working with an archive and the words of someone who has died recently.

The research was important, both to inform what I was doing and to give me the impetus to take it forward. The most valuable piece was reading Annette Kuhn Family Secrets (Kuhn, 2002) as it made me think about the past and memories in a different way.

My original plan was a photobook, this changed to a video and then I made a supplementary photobook following on from discussion with my peers Further Reflection on Assignment 5 with Added Book – My Mother’s Story. The final piece remains a video. 

Reference:

Kuhn, A. (2002) Family secrets: acts of memory and imagination. (New ed) London; New York: Verso.

Assignment 5 – A Very Private Lady

Assignment 5 is the final piece of work for Identity and Place and is a self-directed assignment.  Identity and Place as a unit is about thinking about how to tell stories of people, their lives and how the place they come from effects that.

While I was working on the unit my mother died and I found myself going though all her belongings. She never threw anything away. I found a massive collection of photographs from her childhood on, together with ones of her family, friends and all the places she had been to.  Most of these I had never seen before. They were collected in the traditional manner- not filed or sorted in any way but left in old print envelopes and stored in shoeboxes. Very few were labelled (and of the labelled envelopes some were clearly wrong – presumably reused). There was one early album that had a few of the people named that went up to about 1945.  Mixed in with the photographs were postcards, cuttings from newspapers, tickets, bills of sale for every house she had lived in and letters. I also found a written story of her and her family’s life up to the end of WWII that had partly been written by her and partly by one of her brothers and  a copy of a dissertation done by my cousin which told the hidden story of the treatment of Germans in America in WWII and the internment of many of them which included quotes from my mother and her family.

My mother had always been very reluctant to talk about her past life and I knew very little of it. In the final months of her life she had agreed to talk a little and we recorded what she said.

Assignment 5 is made up of some of her verbal story, 7 minutes cut from 2 hours of recording, together with a small fraction of the vast archive of pictures and memorabilia she had collected. Some of the photographs are captioned with explanations from her written story.

This piece leads directly on from the video I made for Exercise 4.5 – My Mother’s Memories. In that case I was interpreting my emotions about her words though my own images, while here I am using her own archives to tell the story more directly. It is more factual, more telling and I find it almost unbearable to watch.

Research:

Much of the research for this comes from the work done earlier in IAP and is described in Assignment 4. I have also looked at archival work and read the fascinating essay on it by Thinking about Archives by Susan Breakell. To some extent I approached this as a curator/archivist and so found the discussion I attended on this type of work by Susan Bright (see: Susan Bright Lecture) helpful for background knowledge. I have found several photographers work fed directly into my thoughts on how to present work that is essentially a memory piece and a tribute.  Murmurs by Martina Lindqvist talks about what is important at the end of life. Mother by Paul Graham (Graham, 2019) I find almost unbearably poignant. Larry Sultan in Pictures from Home (Sultan, 2017) was inspiring in its mix of found snapshots, storytelling and new photography. Deborah Orloff in Elusive Memory (Orloff, s.d.) talks about the connection between photographs and memory as do both Marianne Hirsch – Family Frames (Hirsch, 2012) and Annette Kuhn – Family secrets (Kuhn, 2002).

I have also done some research into the ways other people have used familial archives to produce pieces of work. Michael Abrams – Welcome to Springfield (Abrams, 2012)invented a whole story about a fictional town.  Daniel Meadows – Digital Stories (Meadows, s.d.)used his own memories and archive photos to produce short videos. Jim Goldberg – Gene (Goldberg, 2018) used the archive and story of an elderly man in Gene to tell about life and memories at old age, not dissimilar to the work of Julian Germain in  For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness (Germain and Snelling, 2011). Alexia Webster – Tracing Lives (Webster, 2020) and Catherine Panebianco (Panebianco, s.d.) both repurposed family images and mixed them with present day images to tell their personal stories.

Planning:

I considered two ways of showing this

  • A video
  • A photobook with short quotes from her words
  • I eventually decided on a video because I felt that actually hearing her talk about her experiences was important, as her voice echoes her emotions.
  • Following discussion and feedback from the online IAP support network I have also made a photobook (a work in progress) from the images and others to form a lasting record for our family (see: Further Reflection on Assignment 5 with Added Book – My Mother’s Story)

Practice:

  • I did a written transcript of all the recordings, then ordered them in time and tried to pick out the most important pieces. This was difficult and the recording could have easily lasted 20 minutes or more to give the details.
  • The level of her voice varies, partly I think due to how tired she was at any given moment, but also to how difficult she was finding telling some parts of the story.
  • I then went through all her collected memorabilia and found the photographs and cuttings that were relevant to this time period.
  • I made a version on a black background and on a white one. I eventually chose the black as it seemed to be clearer and fit the subject matter better.
  • The video was uploaded to Vimeo
  • Following feedback from my tutor I added a slightly more personal touch at the beginning and end of the original video.

Video:

Learning Points:

  • Looking though archives takes a long time, and you need to be ruthless about choosing images/memorabilia to use
  • This might have been a better project to do when I had achieved some emotional distance
  • It is very difficult to decide what is of more general interest against specific family interest
  • Small and old snapshots are hard to enlarge successfully as every mark shows
    • But – are the marks actually part of the story?
  • I need to start to archive (note use of the noun archive as a verb) my own work more carefully with more tags and names attached to people
  • Feedback from both peers and tutor really helps to make a more coherent piece of work.

Summary:

This was a difficult piece of work to do and I am not convinced I have done it justice. I may yet rework it in the future. When reading the latest aperture I came across this quote ‘The archive is one of the spaces where that exchange takes place, where the living go to encounter the dead. It’s a strange business, summoning ghosts. For the most part the work is repetitive, an orderly, laborious process of logging and transcribing. But every once in a while, something happens. You look down, and beneath the surface someone looks back’ (Laing, 2020).

References:

Abrams, M. (2012) Welcome to Springfield. Washington, D.C.: Loosestrife Editions.

Germain, J. and Snelling, C. (2011) For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness: portrait of an elderly gentleman. (Second edition) London: Mack.

Goldberg (2018) Jim Goldberg’s New Book is a Tender Portrait of Old Age • Magnum Photos. At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/society-arts-culture/jim-goldberg-gene/ (Accessed 09/09/2020).

Graham, P. (2019) Mother. London: MACK.

Hirsch, M. (2012) Family frames: photography, narrative, and postmemory. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Kuhn, A. (2002) Family secrets: acts of memory and imagination. (New ed) London; New York: Verso.

Laing, O. (2020) ‘A Fold in Time’ In: aperture 239 p.95

Meadows, D. (s.d.) Digital Stories on Vimeo. At: https://vimeo.com/showcase/5268983 (Accessed 10/09/2020).

Orloff, D. (s.d.) Deborah Orloff. At: http://deborahorloff.com/ (Accessed 10/08/2020).

Panebianco, C. (s.d.) catherine panebianco. At: http://www.catherinepanebianco.com (Accessed 09/09/2020).

Sultan, L. (ed.) (2017) Pictures from home – Larry Sultan. London: Mack.

Webster, A. (2020) ‘Tracing lives: a visual response to coronavirus’ In: The Guardian 26/06/2020 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jun/26/tracing-lives-visual-response-to-coronavirus (Accessed 30/08/2020).

Reflections on IAP

Identity and Place is aimed at making you think; about who a person is, what they are, where they are, and how these three things link together. Then how it can be shown by photography. The images might stand alone or be associated with words (yours or that of others) or recordings. When I started IAP I was extremely apprehensive about taking images of people as I had never taken many portrait images in the past. This was despite my eventual goal to to take images of people with autism and tell their story.

I have thought about this at some length, below is a description of the work and some of my thoughts, with the main learning points bulleted and illustrated.

The first part involved taking pictures of people who were unaware of you and also of of aware strangers. I experimented with taking pictures of ‘the unaware’ by going to the Edinburgh Festival and walking the streets. Most people were so involved with what they were doing that they simply did not notice me.  Although the exercise was successful, I do have ongoing concerns about the ethics as in that situation it was impossible to gain model releases. I went on to approach strangers in my street and asked them to allow me to take images.

  • I need to take more control of a photo shoot without losing spontaneity.
  • Think about ethics – how much is the story worth; how can you get model releases.
Edinburgh Festival – totally unaware of anthing other than her phone – nomodel release – an ethical dilemma
The Social Worker – a stranger who gave her time to help me, shows my lack of control over my model

For part two I worked with two sets of people with autism. In the first set I tried to take more control of the people I was photographing – but this had the downside of leading to some stiff and unnatural images. The other session where I simply chatted and took images when they, and I , were relaxed was much more successful.

  • Engagement with people makes for a better image, allowing me to come up with images that are more personal and tell more about them.
Reflective Sam – the individual image worked – but the series lacked coherency. The background is too complicayed and does not add anything
Rich – still looking away – but a much mproved take on his personality

In part three I looked at narrative, telling stories of people and groups. I joined a group of people at a club over 3 months, the individual images were successful and the people at the club loved them – but the final story did not hang together well.  I also spent some time with friends who run a guest house and who are immensely proud of their garden. This went together much better and I produced a newspaper for them.

  • Think about narrative, and plan what images you need – in a long-term project you have time.
  • Think about alternative ways of showing things, a single print, a book, a newspaper.

By parts 4 and 5 lockdown was in full swing so I started to work with archives. My mother had recently died, and I had a huge number of her images, keepsakes and writing to look at, all unsorted. I experimented with using images of her put into small, still life set-ups to tell her story.  For this I had to work on how to re-photograph old images, removing them from glassed frames and picking items that complemented the images. I also started experimenting with video, using some of her recorded words and initially putting them with my own images to express both what she was saying and my emotional response to those words and then combining her archival images and keepsakes with her words.

  • Video work is a completely different skill set from photography and takes a long time.
  • Working with archives is fascinating but can take an emotional toll.
Choosing the words give an underlying pattern to the final images

Initial video – using my images to show the emotions i felt ta hearing her words

Summary:

Overall, this was a fascinating course.

  • I did a massive amount of research into other photographers, old and new, well known and less so. I love research into how other people tell stories – but am easily led down ‘rabbit holes’ and can spend too much time on this. I need to learn to use the research to better inform my own photography.
  • I discovered that taking pictures of people is not as frightening as I thought it would be but relaxing and putting them at ease is crucial. My directorial skill needs improvement.

I found two quotes to take forward – ‘You’ve got to take responsibility for yourself, the way you see yourself, and the way you see the world. That’s a tantilizing and scary thing, but that’s what identifies people as artists’(Heiferman and Perez, 2020) and ‘The archive is one of the spaces…. where the living go to encounter the dead’ (Laing, 2020). This is what I need to remember.

References:

Heiferman, M. and Perez, E. (2020) ‘The Original Ballad’ In: aperture 239 p.56.

Laing, O. (2020) ‘A Fold in Time’ In: aperture 239 p.95

Response to Tutor Feedback for Assignment 5

I had a helpful hangout with my tutor about the work for assignment 5.

He was happy with my research and input into the exercises.

We spent most of the time discussing assignment 5. His main comment / criticism was that I had not explained why I had made the video, what precipitated making it and how I felt about it.  He, like me, thought it was a little long but agreed that this was probably unavoidable. He suggested that I alter the beginning and the end of the video to to give a more personal connection to it, possibly including images of the piles of photos that I was faced with! I am working on this at present. I also need to think of a title.

My tutor also suggested that I should look at references to use of archives within the work up of the video. He gave me 3 helpful references which I have looked at; Michael Abrams – Welcome to SpringfieldDaniel Meadows – Digital Stories and Jim Goldberg – Gene. I have managed to find 2 other photographers that have used family archives in their work; Alexia Webster – Tracing Lives and  Catherine Panebianco .

We then discussed the assessment process and he gave advice about keeping everything concise and making a clear reflection/ artists statement.

With thanks to Chris for his helpful input over the extended time of IAP.

Michael Abrams – Welcome to Springfield

Michael Abrams book Welcome to Springfield uses collected photographs, vernacular images , to tell the story of a fictional place in America.The images look as though they come from a family album (and probably do) – just not the album of one family, black and white, colour, full bleed and small inserts. Images of wallpaper (I think). Some people look happy, others terrifying.  Pictures of rooms are followed by a woman in a red basque, looking out at us seductively. The book can be viewed on vimeo at https://vimeo.com/50823967.  Colberg (Colberg, s.d.) describes it as showing ‘the good American life, where the states of undress and awkward are never that far’. Like many books it is now on my reading/viewing list!

© Michael Abrams – from Welcome to Springfield

Reference:

Colberg (s.d.) Conscientious | Review: Welcome to Springfield by Michael Abrams. At: http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2012/11/review_welcome_to_springfield_by_michael_abrams/ (Accessed 10/09/2020).

Daniel Meadows – Digital Stories

I have looked at Daniel Meadows work before – see Daniel Meadows – however had not come across his digital stories. Meadows has produced three short videos based on pictures from his family albums which he describes as ‘First-person scripted stories about the families I come from. Pictures and voice-over, told with feeling’ (Meadows, s.d.). In each he shows images with voice over to tell the story. They are short, funny, and engaging.

Polyfoto uses polyfotos (48 small square images in sepia) of his mother and father, to enable him to tell how his parents met, and his mother’s illness.  Scissors was made as a training video to show what could be done with pictures, transitions, and crossovers. The voiceover is accompanied by subtitles. The story leaves you wondering what happened. Young Shavers tells about his grandfather. The words of Meadows are played against a background of someone singing. The images bounce in and out.  New (or at least newer) images of Meadows as a child overlaid on images from his grandmother’s photo albums of her time in India in the Raj.

All three videos use different techniques for using archival family images to tell a short story.  I wish I had seen them before I made one. However, they will be useful for further exploration of video making and for adding in the personalising beginning and end of mine.

Reference:

Meadows, D. (s.d.) Digital Stories on Vimeo. At: https://vimeo.com/showcase/5268983 (Accessed 10/09/2020).

Jim Goldberg – Gene

In Gene Goldberg tells the story of an elderly man who has gone into an assisted living facility. The book includes many of Gene’s old family photos, often surrounded by handwritten comments. The pictures were selected by Gene together with Goldberg and Nolan Calish, and one of the images simply shows piles of images marked GENE’S REJECTS and JIM + NOLAN’S REJECTS.  I immediately start wondering what is in those piles, and what is not being shown. The book goes on to show Gene as he is now, at his chair in the home. The calendar that shows the events he might (or might not) attend. Pictures of Gene with headphones – listening to I music – I wonder what. Goldberg says, ‘He goes somewhere else when he listens to music – a luminal state that knows no age and is timeless’(Goldberg, 2018) . The images that I can see online are limited.  They make me want to see more – but most of all, I want to see those hidden images in the rejects pile. See the rest of the story.

© Jim Goldberg – from Gene

Reference:

Goldberg (2018) Jim Goldberg’s New Book is a Tender Portrait of Old Age • Magnum Photos. At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/society-arts-culture/jim-goldberg-gene/ (Accessed 09/09/2020).

Catherine Panebianco

Courtesy of the artist – from the series No Memory is Ever Alone – © Catherine Panebianco

Catherine Panebianco is a visual artist who uses her images to show memories and dreams. Connecting the present and the past. Looking at memory and grief. Searching for herself.

Catherine Panebianco’s latest series No Memory Is Ever Alone consists of reusing a series of slides taken by her father and putting them against her current environment to ‘create …not only a connection between his life and mine, but a trail of memories’ (Panebianco, s.d.). She did this by carefully exploring her own environment, her own place, and finding locations that matched her father’s slides. She says, ‘I placed my dad’s slides in my current environment (my house, yard, city). I wanted the past memory placed inside a current memory. So no, I did not go back to the original place. I looked for backgrounds that would seamless blend as much as possible in my current environment with the slide’ (Panebianco, 2020) (personal communication). The present images show her hand, holding the old slide against a new background. The matches are subtle, accurate to the point I cross checked with her to see if she had returned to the original setting.  The images are vibrant, the colours match those of the old Kodachrome slides, everything is hyper real. Her previous work Benny was a Good Boy tells of her memories of her dog and her sorrow in losing him. These images are shown as diptychs, an image of her (or a shadow of her) against one of Benny.  She says ‘I found that you never really lose something, you always have the memories’. In this series the black and white images are hazy, full of grain, echoing loss, grief, and memory.  Other work – The Whole Body of Things explores her search for a sense of belonging, an emotional home.

Courtesy of the artist – from the series Benny was a Good Dog – © Catherine Panebianco

References:

Panebianco, C. (2020) No Memory is ever alone. [30/08/2020].

Panebianco, C. (s.d.) catherine panebianco. At: http://www.catherinepanebianco.com (Accessed 09/09/2020).

Alexia Webster – Tracing Lives

Alexia Webster is a South African photographer who usually specialises in documentary images, telling the stories of communities and families through portraits of the people. During lockdown she found herself, not at her own home in New York but in Johannesburg, her childhood home. She talks about this time in a fascinating article for the Guardian saying, ‘Suddenly I was forced to sit still. I felt a familiar unsettledness, similar to the anxious uncertainty of my early childhood growing up during apartheid’ (Webster, 2020). So she spent the time interviewing her parents about their early lives and searching though ‘giant, chaotic, dusty piles of family photos’. Out of that she has made a work Tracing Lives which she describes as ‘an incomplete portrait of my parents…. a small glimpse into the quiet violences and small triumphs of life’. This series includes early images from portrait studios of her parents and grandparents, her story of her parents’ early lives, and images where she has overlaid old images to give a ghost like effect. It ends with a looped video of two people, I presume her parents, dancing, fading in and out – just as their memories do.

The article and the images are fascinating, both as a different way of using old family images and for the story she tells. It tells about apartheid. About family traumas.  About moments of joy. It is well worth reading.

Reference:

Webster, A. (2020) ‘Tracing lives: a visual response to coronavirus’ In: The Guardian 26/06/2020 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jun/26/tracing-lives-visual-response-to-coronavirus (Accessed 30/08/2020).

A Learning Log by Zoe