I have now come to the end of Identity and Place. I have added my selection of work to the G-Drive. I have written up all the meetings I have attended while doing this course. While doing IAP I have thought long and hard about my identity and how it can be shown. I have thought about where I live, who my family is and my genetic background. Oddly enough I feel more settled in myself for doing this.
I have learnt some new techniques. How to make a video (although only a very basic one so far). How to upload to Vimeo and YouTube. How to search family archives and choose some out of a plethora of possibilities.
I have learnt something about how to approach people to ask to take their photograph, when it is ethical and fair to do so, and, just as important – when it is not. I know I am not good at directing people, but I am getting better at engaging with them to make an image that says something about their personality. Giving them (and me) time to relax works well, listening to their stories tells me what is important to them.
Am I a better photographer for this? That may depend on your definition of better. I am certainly more thoughtful. I actually take less images than before I started this whole pathway. I definitely take different ones.
I have read a lot. I have found I enjoy reading biographies of photographers. I also enjoy learning about art history and especially contemporary practice. Work that I would have previously looked at and thought “What on earth?” I now give more time. I may still not like/appreciate it but at least I have given it a chance. Slow looking. Experiencing the work not just glancing at it.
Most of IAP has been done under the restrictions of Covid and lockdown. This has undoubtedly limited my opportunities to go places, talk to people and visit galleries. It has increased my reading and thinking time. It has allowed me to see exhibitions on-line that I would never have seen, to listen to people talking about their work, to engage with my peers via zoom. To look at some of the work done by others during their time of isolation. Some positive outcomes to balance against the difficulties.
I will move on to Digital Image and Culture. Hopefully, I will take some of these lessons forward. With thanks to my tutor Chris Coekin – who pushed me well out of my comfort zone and the support of many of the other students at OCA – without which I would have probably given up
This work by Kawauchi was produced during lockdown and was one of the pieces of work discussed in our recent Zoom with Arpita Shar. It was the work I initially liked least – so I decided to give it a chance and look at it slowly (as suggested by Marta Grabowska) (Grabowska, 2020) and also examine it using the steps suggested in the book Ways of Looking by Ossian Ward (Ward, 2014).
Grabowska’s article is mainly about looking at art works in a museum – where there is a tendency (and I admit, one I am guilty of) to rush around looking at everything and seeing nothing. She talks about the book Seeing Slowly, looking at Modern Art by Michael Findlay which is now on my reading list. Her main point is to give the piece of work time. Look at it before you read about it. Ask yourself questions about it. Try and connect with the work in an emotional, spiritual and sensory way as well as an intellectual way.
Ward suggests looking at any contemporary work using a tabula rasa, a blank slate approach and gives this guide:
T = time – stand still and take stock for 5 breaths
A = association – can I relate to it personally?
B = background – is there a backstory, a clue in the title or where the artist comes from?
U = understand – what is the artist trying to tell you?
L = look again- what have you missed?
A = assessment – what do you now think?
So, using a combination of these methods what do I really think?
The work, as shown in the article, consists of 9 images. On first glance they are not linked in any way but on looking harder and for longer they are all about light and life. Some are downright odd. What is that grey shape against the trees? Is it dust? Is it water? Is it the spray from a fountain or someone watering plants? As I look at it, it changes. A polar bear pouncing on prey. A ghost of my cat (long dead). Another – a beam of light coming through the trees, split into multiple colours. A ray of beauty against the darkness. On looking at it for some time I am tempted to print it off and hang it over my desk to give me something to stare at when I am stressed and tired. A picture of a young girl walking away from you, taken against the light, or rather though the light. Mist, mystical, mysterious. Who is she? Where is she going?
Kawauchi is a Japanese photographer whose many books all talk about light. One is even called Illuminance (Kawauchi and Chandler, 2011). Like this short series it gives pictures that have no obvious explanation, bursts of light, ones that would be easy to discard as a ‘failed image’, a ‘mistake’. Others show odd details, the end of a lit cigarette. A fly. Others that expound life in its glory and mess – from a baby’s toes to the moon.
In her written explanation of Keeping the Fire Going she says ‘I clicked the shutter button when I felt inclined to; I didn’t have a particular theme in mind…..throughout history, calamities of various forms… have threatened us. But in spite of that history, here I stand, now. I have to keep this little fire in my chest going’ (Kawauchi, 2020).
So – I started by not liking/appreciating these images at all. By looking at them slowly, thinking about them, considering them in a sensory way, they have become the series that holds the most importance to me. The one I will look at again and again.
I listened to a talk by Dr. Praya Agarwal on unconscious bias which was based on her book –Sway (Agarwal, 2020) in which she talked clearly and extensively about the problems we have with even noticing bias. I took reams of notes which I have summarised below:
Racism often occurs in a subversive, insidious way
It is embedded in our structure
Everybody does not start from the same place
Social media and workplaces trap us into communities – so we often do not see what else is out there
Technology carries bias
One hand – levels field and allows access – but not all have access
Extroverted people have an advantage, others get left behind
Unconscious bias are the implicit produces embedded in our subconscious mind – which we are often simply not aware of
Children grow up in a gendered society from a very young age
Clothing/hair length etc
Boys are less likely to read a book or watch a film with a girl as the central character
Female authors are moe likely to be read by females
Girls form perceptions from early on about what they are likely to be good at – is that nurture or nature?
Biases can be ‘unlearnt’
Bias against black fathers – less nurturing – bias that black families are ‘broken’
Evolution developed the notions of in-groups and out-groups – because of limited resources
Still present – but nurture driven (no genetic basis)
You form a affinity with people like you – that extends to assumptions about their other qualities
There is a bias about status
More likely to trust people with a high/visible status
Based on fears/threat and concerns re own status
Fear is processed quickly via amygdala – often irrational
Leads to falling back onto instincts /first impressions rather than conscious thought
Fast v slow
Automatic (quick and often stereotyped) v controlled (via frontal cortex – thought about)
Effortless v effort filled
Associative v rule based
Gender view of emotion
There is an assumption that women are more emotional and do not handle pressure asa well
Influences decisions in hiring formats
Men are thought to be more aggressive/authoritarian
Women are often assumed to be more compassionate
Bias about skin colour starts very early ?age 3
Parents need to discuss racial heritage especially in mixed race families
Newspaper articles often foster increased bias especially around racism/sexism.
You cannot automatically believe what is written
Privilege allows avoidance of bias (sometimes)
Remember that some biases are positive! – but this can lead to putting people in boxes.
Steps to avoid /minimise bias:
This person, not all people
Avoid group thinking
Think twice and allow time for consideration
Look at things from a different perspective
Everybody always has biases but consciously reflecting on them can help retrain the brain. Social media can lead to extremism as people are afraid of not conforming and tend to join groups/get surrounded by people who agree with them. It is important to allow discussion and dissent or you only ever see what you already believe.
Interesting talk and well worth the time. I will add her book to my reading list.
Agarwal, P. (2020) Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias. London: Bloomsbury Sigma.
Arpita Shah gave us a talk on photographers who have produced work during the Covid pandemic. She (and we) looked at multiple genres and discussed the work done during lockdown across the world. Clearly some people have managed to use the time very productively. She showed us the work of 19 artists – all very different. Inevitably, some I enjoyed more than others. The theme of taking images though windows was recurring – inevitably in this situation, although one person – Robert Ormerod used a drone, and others worked with archives.
Rania Matar’s work – Across windows was one I really liked. She showed people though a pane of glass. The reflections and the surrounding windows took equal weight to the people. Many of them were looking away from her, past her gaze rather than overtly engaging. Some look trapped, others resigned. None are joyful. They are simply titled with the name of the person and the place. I have since looked at other series by Matar. Her main focus is on showing girls and women and their identity. She (Matar, s.d.) shows a series of portraits of women, usually outside, often half hidden by foliage. The clothing has been carefully matched to the surroundings – Alasia – in a white dress standing upright in a field of (I think) cotton, Lisa – with her hair echoing the colour of the wood panels she stands against. The images are taken either in the US (where she lives) or in the Middle East (where she comes from) and ‘explore the issues of personal and collective identity….to portray the raw beauty of their age….and the organic relationship they create with their environment’.() Most of the portraits are ¾ length, but not all, they include distant shots and close ups. Most are individuals, but some are pairs of girls. Many are looking away or are pictured from behind. This series is due to come out in book format next year. I will watch for it.
Lisa Sorgini (Hirve, s.d.) also has photographed people though glass. In this case the images are much darker. The reflection is important, but the window itself is rarely seen. She has concentrated on images of the mother and child. Often much of the body is lost in shadow, only partly seen. They remind me of the early Dutch paintings – although I am not sure why – I think the colouring and the density of the shadows. This work seems to be an extension of an earlier series Mother which again shows mother and child – although here in a much lighter setting.
Clara Leeming’s work – again though windows contrasts by being much more fun filled. The people are smiling, engaged with the fun of having their photos taken – maybe it is a bit of light relief in a day filled with sameness and boredom. This was taken in Britain, so the images are more instantly recognisable.
One of the series I most enjoyed was Neha Hirve – both your memories are birds – (Hirve, s.d.) where she , having moved to her to her childhood home in India just before lockdown, was staying with her elderly grandparents so took images if them, details such as their hands and the environment they were in. Most images are black and white, with sudden bursts of colour – a yellow Marigold glove, brilliant red flowers lit up in the dark. Simple and beautiful.
Other people took images to form a diary of what they were doing. There is a series of 3 photographers who were asked to take images of the lockdown for The New York Times and who produced 3 very different pieces of work. One (Devin Oktar Yalkin) said “This feels like the first time in my life where the immediacy of everything around me can be photographed all the time without worrying about anything else. There’s more clarity in being able to just look and watch things occur, especially in such a liminal space.” (Ruben and Webster, s.d.) () Elinor Carucci (Carucci, 2020) has focused on taking a very intimate series of images of her family – including a picture of hand-washing. Jocelyn Allen (Allen, s.d.) documented her pregnancy. Hard enough at any time – but now!
There’s were also several options where people showed how strange things had become. London at night without any people (Jan Enkelmann), social distancing while queuing (Agnese Sanvito).
Amy Elkins has been taking a series of self portraits and posting them on Instagram. She usages o variety of methods, cyanotypes, inverted black and whites (leaving her looking like a ghost). The discipline to take and post a daily image is awesome. On one of her posts she comments ‘Trying to wear gratitude like a cloak…. I’ve never been this challenged in my life’ (Elkins, s.d.) – is that about the photographs ? Or about life in general?
The piece of work I liked least was that by Rinko Kawauchi –Keeping the fire going (Kawauchi, 2020) which is odd because I usually enjoy her work. For some reason these did not ‘click’ for me. I am practicing slow looking with them – leaving the series on my screen and seeing what happens. I may well come back to this in more detail.
We also looked at 2 OCA students work in some detail. These were interesting to discuss and showed that it was definitely possible to make work under the present circumstances. Thanks to Emma and Sarah for sharing.
I attended one of Angela Norrington’s informative talks. For once my notes were legible. – so rather than retyping them I will append them as scans.
One part I found particularly interesting was the discussion about black and white versus colour. In spite of a general swing to colour plenty of photography is still done with B/W. It allows for concentration on the formal aspects of the image: shapes, texture, tone, form. Plenty of photographers switch between depending on what sort of work they are doing. Jeffrey’s quote on colour reducing to an idea less readily than B/W is interesting. Colour is specific – that place – not any place, that person – not any person. If you are planning a black and white image you need to be in the correct mindset. Take the pictures in black and white – not just convert to B/W. Sudden blobs of colour may really stand out – but the same area may hardly show in B/W. Mixing the two needs to be carefully thought through – and may not work in a small series.
Think about your outcome format. Experiment to see what works best. Try prints, zines, handmade books. Check, check and check again!
This was an interesting whole OCA discussion arranged by Helen Rosemier. Much of the discussion was coloured by the impending assessment and people’s fears about that. (Including my own).
Beverly gave an interesting talk where she started by describing her own work and talked about how far it had changed over time from painting to working with dust to make items. She had done (among other things) an endoscopy on her vacuum cleaner! She made several helpful points:
The importance of experimentation – this leads on to thinkings about alternative ideas, which may not come to fruition for years – experiments are seedlings.
Write up all experiments and research
Don’t be afraid to shift your practice – just make a strong rationale for it
Explain why you have shifted and, if possible, where you are going
Develop a dedicated studio space – so you don’t have to constantly put things away half done, room to spread out and think of ideas
Enter open calls – allows engagement with the real world, improves confidence
Write about your work and practice, also think about related artists
Research leads to enhanced work, gives ideas
Maximise the benefits of contact with your tutor – get things asa far as you can before looking for feedback
Look for engagement with other students to get things going
Edit, edit, edit – show your strongest work
Signpost how you want things to be seen – maybe send in photos of how it should be displayed
Keep your learning log up to date – write things up when they happen
Allow plenty of time between last assignment and assessment
Kate talked about UVC and how she felt it had been critical to developing her work and understanding. She discussed her concerns re assessment:
The discrepancy between guidelines and the coursework
Understanding the learning outcomes
Fear of not making an optimum selection
Feeling unsupported and alone – worsened by Covid.
The need to be proactive about asking for help – student services, other students, course leaders if needed
Need to analyse your blog
STOP when you have done enough
Good habits to develop
Careful essay structure
Thorough referencing – but all sources into a referencing system
Be clear about word count
Be familiar with LO’s – from the beginning
Be aware you wont always understand things from the first time through
Look outside textbooks to get more information
Blog about what you don’t understand as well as what your do
Remember to document the obvious things
Make personal work as well
Alan said he had struggled to get though course because of personal issues but that lead on to home as very personal piece of work
He looked at relationships and medical issues
Think about ‘mistakes’ and serendipity
Note issues and once identified think about how you can resolve them.
A mistake may lead you to a more holistic series
Don’t always automatically delete a ‘bad’ image – as it may be just what you need to spark a project
Use moments of boredom to make experimental pieces
Take creative risks
Think – about ethics, what is happening
Remember to show process and thinking
Think about the reverse side of photographs – think of them as an object.
General points discussed:
Each assignment/course builds on previous ones.
Review your work, try and think like a tutor
Reflect on why things work – and why they don’t. Make notes on it.
Remember all art is subjective
How much of yourself are you putting in
Remember to look at others work
Overall, this was a well worth attending meeting. There are also note available on G-Drive made by Lynda with very useful advice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Initial video – using my images to show the emotions i felt ta hearing her words
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.
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!