There were eighteen prints that I produced for assignment one, I had to down-select to ten to fit the brief. Editing these down could have been made using quite a few different criteria, but given that the images were made up of images that I had taken – one camera/one lens as per the brief combined with images that were taken by Carl Gross I decided that Ann and Carl would make the final edit.
When I showed the images to the Thames Valley Group a number of comments were made, one being why not make them smaller, like holiday snaps, another that the ones that worked best – given my introduction to the work, were the ones that had either Ann or Carl in the frame.
Let me back track a little to provide some context to this piece of work. Ann and Carl Gross work a piece of land, actually three and a half allotments in the village where I live, about an acre. All of the produce of this piece of land is sold and all of the money raised is sent to Thailand in support of the Thai Children’s Trust. That they also work to raise funds by giving talks at any venue they can is not part of this work, in this assignment. They have been doing this for many years and the sale of the goods at the Deddington Farmer’s Market for as long as that has been in operation, it was founded in 2001. The Gross’ have been donating for longer than that, have ‘adopted’ children and they self fund annual trips to Thailand to see the work (money for the trips do not come from the sale of vegetables). They are committed.
That photographs can invoke memory is one facet of their value. I have recognized that power with my work at the Echoes Group, part of Artscape, which is within the Oxford Mental Health Trust. However I wasn’t expecting the force of the memoire that these photographs that I had produced would have on the Gross’ when I asked them to choose the ten for the assignment.
I asked them to choose because they are part of the pictures, these combination shots have Gross’ vested in them. And the comments that ensued through the process of choosing brought more context into the series and added to the narrative that I have gleaned from them so far.
So, how well did I think I did?
- Demonstration of technical skills, materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
- Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualization of thoughts, communication of ideas.
- Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.
- Context – reflection, research, critical thinking (learning logs, critical reviews and essays).
I am hopeless at reviewing my own work. I have a very low opinion of my capability and will find this difficult. However:
I think the technical expertise is competent, I’m assuming materials means the prints themselves, which I think are also competent. With regard to visual awareness the second series of images – at the market – seemed to provide the underlying imagery that I was looking for. Notably the open hand with coins, the area above the money changing hands, the option to ‘re-fill’ under the counter. The transplanting of orphan’s into the narrative.
If by “quality of outcome” that means, unlike technical skills, that the outcome did in fact provide the outcome that I was seeking, then I think the answer must be yes. That the ideas that I had envisaged for the shoot at the market especially benefitted from the learning curve at the allotment and the discussions at the Thames Valley meeting – all be they short discussions – suggested that the ideas had something going for them.
Overall I am happy with the outcome.
There are other thoughts however. I feel somewhat disingenuous in doing this exercise with the Gross’ over a short period of a month or so and then leaving them to get on with their lives. That they are neighbours isn’t the issue, of course I will see them from time to time, they have indicated strongly that they expect the images I have given them to be used within the charity and the talks they give, so in that sense the work continues. But this short interlude seems all too brief, my capacity to love ‘em and leave ‘em might have been easier if I hadn’t known them for the best part of forty years. However it isn’t the brevity of time that concerns me, it is the lack of depth that I haven’t got to that concerns me. I can see avenues of discovery into the depths of the issues that the Gross’ are working in, that are associated with their work, that, by picking away at the narrative of their work would provide many different seams to be worked. And I am planning to leave them to it because I think that the ‘Echoes Group’ will provide an even broader scope for investigation, both of a personal and public nature, and I wonder if that is not a selfish trait. That I am not prepared to ‘get in quick, dive deep, and get out’ leaving whatever residue behind, might be a limiting factor for how I develop as an artist.
These then are the ten that Ann and Carl decided upon, they discussed at some length which were going to make the cut. It has to be said that the first seven came very quickly, the eighth not much behind but the last two had some real discussions. It was these discussion that most interested me, for it re-contextualised the photograph, it brought back memories which helped them decide what image would best describe how they felt about the events that concerned them several thousand miles away.
Image One: Carl works the land, implanted into the Thai’ community. The connection with Carl’s familial heritage of farm work – though he is a teacher by profession – brings the world’s together. Carl from Michigan in the USA, this refugee camp near the Mekong river in North Western Thailand. Technically the biggest issue was to grow the foreground post by about a third to provide a dimensional quality to the introduction of Carl into the mid ground. Carl particularly likes this image and I think it is because of the clear focus of his efforts.Ann commented on the ‘closeness’ of the refugee.
Carl’s hand. Posed for me at the Farmer’s Market. They didn’t have any coppers in their cash box when I asked Carl to pose – so they are my coppers, the orphans are Burmese who, when they can find work it is in the new China factories and they get paid between $1 and $3 a day for a long day and a 13 day shift. No particular technical issues, some background visual distractions taken away in order to fully foreground the hand and it’s contents. It is simple visual construct and I am aware of it’s propensity to be cliched, but it has a more than an element of truth about it.
I wanted to obtain a shot that provide a view of the space under the counter. I wanted to provide a metaphorical view of the shelter that the Gross’ provide. That some of the children are clearly praying adds to the poignancy. Ann suggested, before I said what I had intended, that it looked as if the children were praying that the people brought all the goods so that they might eat. Technically the superimposition wasn’t difficult. I think it works quite well.
Rhubarb is generally selling at between two and three times this price, that the boy is watching the viewer is a strong compositional element I think. But also the people in the background are turn ing away from the scene, not wanting to be involved. No real difficulty here, the picture is Carl’s from his last trip, I simply posed it there behind the rhubarb and then emphasised it in some post processing.
Another purposeful shot. The base image of a commercial transaction taking place with space above it knowing that there would be plenty of emotional stock from Carl’s photographs to use to emphasise the issues they were dealing with. From a technical standpoint the young Burmese girl whose eyes are directed at the viewer fitted very nicely on the out of focus young girl eating very fancy cookies. The fantastical Burmese girl in traditional dress did provide some technical issues, but as soon as I found the attachment to her golden backcloth in the architecture of the stall the rest started to fall into place. It is important that she is looking directly at the financial transaction, almost blessing the exchange as a kind of deity which is emphasised by her garb. Angelic?
A complex image that I was glad that the Gross’ chose, though at the Thames Valley meeting it was suggested, and I take the point, that the Gross’ do not appear in the image. But this is how I read my construction. The central figure is a beast of burden walking away from the memento mori of the crosses behind her, urging the little girl ahead of her. This little girl looks back anxiously, clearly concerned over the welfare of the woman; is she looking back to the future? The young girl is a representation of the future both in her age but also in her apparel, the older woman represents the past, her traditional dress, the back-breaking toil, her age. This is amplified/echoed by the presence of the young boy looking on from above, almost as if ready to step into the young girls shoes when the old woman can’t make it anymore. That there isn’t anything growing in the area that the precession is coming from adds to the paucity of hope in the picture. Technically a difficult one to produce. I wanted to integrate the old woman in amongst the crosses, to have her directly connected with those symbols. I needed to emphasise the young girl’s face as her expression is important to the narrative. The aura of general bleakness was enabled by the addition of the allotment scene, which carried with it the crosses as nothing was growing and I removed as much greenery as I could from the scene.
Ann told me that the old lady was bringing material to re-cover the roof that her husband was repairing, a constant struggle. Ann commented that the young girl was looking in the direction of the cottages on the edge of the allotment – we all bring our experiences to the picture. The author is dead?
This young man has graduated from a student to a teacher in the academy (if that is what can be called) that taught him to be an electronic technician. I wasn’t aware of this when I made the image. I wanted to transplant him from the environment of a technician’s workshop in Thailand into the allotment in rural Oxfordshire. Though technically quite intricate, it works less well than others as the contextual references are few. That he is now planted into a field may seem odd, but then the viewer is likely to be an Other so maybe would take that visual aberration on the chin. That he is now sitting on Carl’s chair is known only to me, as I had to point that out to Carl. Not a failure but something to learn from.
Another that the Thames Valley group thought lacked the presence of the Gross’. That their allotment sheds are built with greater likelihood of longevity is seemingly lost on the viewer, and I agree. That these sheds are now sitting in a refugee camp that was first set up in 1963 and is home to some 45,000 people who have fled the tyranny of Burma isn’t apparent either, that the only running water is urine is also lost on the occasional viewer. Ann and Carl thought this image one of the stronger because they know these things, because they have and still witness the atrocious conditions in the camp, that they know what some of the refugees have had to cope with and still do on a daily basis. Some of the refugees have been resident in the camp for a decade or more, waiting, hoping for an exit into Thailand. That the police run the brothels, that the children are abused, are often infected with HIV. This is the failure of the picture, not to have delivered some of that narrative. The technical issues seem trivial besides the awful associations that Ann and Carl remember by witnessing the image re-imagined in this way. Bereft of people it provides no contextual narrative, it is empty of power without some form of indicators of what this terrible landscape has born witness to. Since the return to democracy (of sorts) in Burma the Thai’ authorities, quite naturally, want to repatriate these refugees; however not all want to return. The memories, the fact that they may not remember a life before the camp, there may not have been a life before the camp will all militate against a swift resolve to an ageing problem.
Another relatively straight forward image. Ann, wrapped up warm against the March cold (I know as I was there, bitter) working the land connected to the land that they bare witness to when in Thailand. It works. Technically another that was relatively straight forward; a couple of decisions to consider. Firstly about scale – should I try and place Ann within the frame at a scale that would be visually in keeping with the background image of the Thai’ countryside – I decided that to make her obvious, to ensure (force) the viewer to confront the enigma and question her presence. This was also the reason behind the other visual decision which was to not try and harmonise the colour temperature (or rather transfigure Ann into a warmer climate).
This was the first image I made after receiving the suggestion from my tutor that utilising images from Carl might be a way to ‘bring” Thailand to me. It is clearly of two men (one may be a lot younger than the other, but nevertheless working the land) in accord for the same purpose, the feeding of the orphans. Technically it was a very straightforward image to create, the base image of the allotment provides an anchor to the image and the Thai’ image seemed to just fall into place – almost glide into position without the need for scaling. The perspective seemed to harmonise very well. I think this image works very well, maybe because of it’s inherent simplicity?