Thoughts on feedback to assignment three

I am very happy with the outcome and my tutor’s comments. The reflections provided on the individual photographs and how they work, both as a narrative and individually, I tend to agree with. The different aesthetics I had tried, all linked to the assignment were very beneficial to me in the way they were considered and commented on by my tutor. And one lesson in particular I think I have learnt and that is to apply the notion of time to the assignment. I instinctively felt that my narrative structure had some validity to it, what I think I failed to do – something I will comment on later – is that I allowed myself to become a trifle too involved in the image, after all it was a personal discourse that I overlaid into the narrative, which I think is perfectly valid, but not I think necessary or at least well explained for this assignment.

My tutor has mentioned ‘OPEN text’ a few times in relation to my work, and by this I understand to mean not providing all the information, allowing a discourse to evolve between spectator and image (or series of images). I think that by providing two sets of images both with and without a secondary narrative device allowed that thought to appear when it might not have done otherwise. But that is conjecture and I do think that, perhaps better to say, know that, there was obviously the potential for two distinct narrative devices being played with one set of images whilst the other only really offered one. Some lessons learned.

I have been using my personal archive a lot recently and I think that may be coming to an end, there are a lot of things that I want to think about with my art and for that purpose I think I will leave one aspect of my person out of the  narrative loop. My tutor reflects that other artists who use archives use them to investigate their own vision and pay less heed to the personal content of the image, rather letting the image portray a sense of narrative within a wider context. I am aware that I have strayed into an area that mixes narratives – which I think is ok in itself, but maybe not in a visual way until I have better understood both what it is I want to say and become a trifle more detached from what the images mean to me??

The relatively recent excursion into non-fiction for me is starting to have it’s toll and more and more I am considering re-entering into the fictive world as a means to investigate my thoughts. A while ago I started to investigate, with words, something that I wanted develop and express. It is shelved at the moment, though not the narrative context which I know I shall return to either before the end of this set of studies or after I complete this degree pathway.

Just wanted to share

It’s been a less ordinary week.
On Monday I spent some time writing up my feelings on the Current Conflicts study visit, nothing extraordinary about that, but sort of pleased with what I’d done. I seem to be able to settle on what I understand about artwork now, easier in myself about expressing what it is that I see and feel; no longer over concerned about incomprehension.
Tuesday took me to my mother’s and revisiting old memories. I had an idea, a concept even, about what I wanted to try and achieve. Mother was very accommodating, the shooting went as well as I could have hoped for, the sense of the work that I captured seemed to be very close to what I had hoped it would be. Remarkable I thought, by the end of Tuesday night.
Wednesday morning at four a.m. found me reworking the set and feeling stronger about them and soon after that re-edit had finished, I went to a couple of exhibitions in Oxford, some really interesting work, interesting aesthetics, I feel I could write extensively about those works as well – time is starting to run short. Later on again I get confirmation that the dancer project will happen.
Thursday morning I met with the artist whose work I am making prints for – she is very happy about the quality of the work and suggesting that there will be more to do, she’s hoping to sell them at an art fair in Windsor in November. She also agrees the format of the artist project as well, I will be taking her portrait sometime next week.
Later I meet with the dancer who has agreed to not only work with me, but also to find the other dancers as well. First session this Sunday – I’m really looking forward to what I think will be a really challenging project. And after that I attend a meeting with Artscape, who run the Echoes Group. The group will start again, the project director won’t be there as he is off to do an MA, but they want me to document their work and maybe participate in some presentations regarding the clinical benefits of this type of therapy. It starts on the 24th September and will run until Christmas. They also confirm that my “memories’ project will be hung, at the very least in the Warneford permanent space, and maybe in the Fusion Arts Centre as well.
Started to read “The Cruel Radiance’ by Susie Linfield, which appears as a counter to Rosler, a sideswipe at Sontag and a kicking at Tagg! Can’t wait to get to the Abu Ghraib chapter……….
Tomorrow I will be meeting another of the artists for the ‘Artists’ project. I’ll also be doing the grocery shopping.

A Narrative – looking back

Pulling some images together for the assignment. These are taken to develop a set of images that create a reflective narrative:

40 Hindburn

40 Hindburn

Midland Road Station

Midland Road Station

72 Kimbolton Road

72 Kimbolton Road

Site of Bedford North Wing Hospital

Site of Bedford North Wing Maternity Hospital

36 Bamford Road

36 Bamford Road

36 Bamford Road

36 Bamford Road

20 Duchess Road

20 Duchess Road

The notion of this narrative is one of reflection, looking back and assessing. The two main portraits are deliberately posed behind glass, the reflection in the glass was designed to add a layer to the image, a patina of thought, impossible to denote for the viewer, but adding a thin veil. I was lucky to have a kind of chiaroscuro light to help frame the subject in the image, my mother.

I wanted the opening image of my mother to be frontal, open to the viewer, but not connecting, looking away in a reflective pose; initially I wanted the window open to remove any distance between the viewer and the subject. However I feel that the additional interference of the reflection brings a tension that adds to the narrative. My concept then was to take my mother to all of the significant places in her home town. Arriving at Bedford train station after her wedding, she lived for a very short time at 72 Kimbolton Road, a bed-sit on the first floor until her twins were born. Bedford North Wing was the maternity hospital, where I was born, and where two of my sisters were born – and incidentally where my two sons were born. After a short while my parents moved to a brand new council house in Bamford Road. Five years later, and two more children later a move to a slightly larger three bedroom house at 20 Duchess Road. Mother now lives at 40 Hindburn.

The process was quite simple I asked her to stand in front of the house and I photographed her regarding the former home. For both of us I suspect there were a lot of memories, we spoke a lot about my father of course but also of my sisters and my brother – their partners, their children. Where they are, what they are doing. The reason to have my mother looking away from the lens was to bring the notion of looking back directly to the frame, though I do have one image at the cemetery with her face on, though not to the camera; this pose serves another purpose. I’m not sure about how the narrative should start, at the moment I like the notion of bookending with the two portraits, each facing into the narrative, containing the story held between them.

I think both of the portraits work well for the purpose I intended, the first image is reflective/pensive, looking out. The last one has more content, with the reflections, seemingly, for me at any rate, to suggest what might be going on between the first image and the last, private thoughts maybe….

I’ll think about it some more. The session went quite well I think.

Current Conflicts

“Yet despite the perceived tranquillity there is a feeling of unease, for there remains indelibly ingrained in the fabric of this landscape, echoes from the histories of war. It is though the land itself is unwittingly offering forth traces of reference and suggestion from an archive of confrontation.”

Christopher Down, introduction to his “Visions from Arcadia” link here

‘Current Conflicts – Six artists respond to modern warfare through the medium of photography’ at the Space 2 Gallery, Watford Museum.

If the idea of the term ‘war’ is to describe the state of affairs between conflicted nation states, between ideologies then the impression I gained from this exhibition was that it didn’t achieve it’s mission. There seemed to be no discourse on the confliction of nationhood, nor, as the essay provided as research directed, was there any sense of economic or political grandstanding. No shock, no awe. But other, more personal conflicts, I found aplenty.

Arresting perhaps, the images by Richard Monje of spent bullets; retrieved by British servicemen, these 5.56mm rounds of ammunition that have, apparently, failed to hit their target and were brought back by serving soldiers to be involved in the project. These abstracting images, magnified and exulted to reveal the twisted forms of their misguided flight are depicted in beautiful tones, lit to re-present their form sometimes sensuously, other times less so. I wondered about the titular oxymoron, the bullets were tourists to Afghanistan, their purpose only to inflict death and destruction, shock and awe maybe? They were not Afghan bullets but from another country, Germany, Switzerland, the United States or maybe the UK. Their country of origin might not matter, their effect surely does, and to attribute them to the country to which they are causing the greatest damage seems an interesting choice.

These retrieved/found objects presented on black backgrounds behind glass presented to me both the impression of memento mori, that inescapable presaging of death, that these objects are designed for. And for how the artist considers that these bullets are uniquely altered by their experience. If, by allowing the anthropomorphic possibility to an inanimate object one might wonder, whether it might be disappointed not to have been exploited for its intended purpose.

Atlanta airport is a major air transport hub in the southern state of Georgia, and like many similar focal points of its kind will frequently temporarily house US servicemen in transit either to or from the many overseas adventures that the American foreign policy demands of it’s troops. Jamie Simonds series of images of these servicemen exemplified the directive power of the edit (for this exhibition – and additionally the presentation method) and the statement of (post) intent. The full series can be found here .

The statement reads: “The soldiers, all from the Southern states, mostly appeared relaxed but their pensive eyes and posture gave away their anxiety…”. The images were all presented at around 5X7, so quite small, difficult to engage with those anxious eyes. All in army fatigues, in an airport and going back to “the theatres of war in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

“From the Forest” a series very dark landscapes of an area is used by RAF service personnel in survival training. I suspect the aesthetic was chosen to depict a certain impression of the psychological effect that these exercises might have on the those being trained, bleak, dangerous, full of the concept of the unknown. Les Monaghan suggests that he is maybe subconsciously developing a self portrait, given his familial background in the RAF, his father and his father before him. Monaghan talks of his continuing investigation into how and why he feels as he does, this is a work in progress.

Olivia Hollamby’s partner is a serving soldier and asked that he bring back images of the banal from his tour of duty, to which she would her images of her time when he was away. His images comprised of bullets, and army paraphernalia, hers, the everyday images of absence – both had the same image of the two of them together – in an embrace and posed for the camera. The series is edited into a book thus controlling, as much as is possible, the reading of the images, the narrative being as controlled as possible. The sense of the one without the other is palpable.

Mimesis, the overarching project title – if I heard correctly – is the mimicry, or representation of the real. Interestingly the artist Matthew Andrew presented Fenton’s much discussed image of the Crimean landscape (the one with the cannon balls as opposed to the one devoid of the iron munitions), thereby introducing two tropes with one starting point, mimesis and the notion of truth. Andrew is interested in how spaces, landscapes can (re)build a representation of warfare space. How the medium of photography can be used to restructure the simulacra of a landscape in turmoil, though always, it seems, denuded of the means by which turmoil visits these ‘scapes, that of inhabitants and the protagonists of war. We are presented with both the imagery of war, through for example video game imagery or the land where those armed visitors have been, altering it, scarring it with their presence and echoing the Fenton image.

And then Christopher Down’s “Visions from Arcadia”. Visually referencing ancient and classical literature to present “..individual soldiers to step outside their engagement with contemporary conflict and its subsequent potential for traumatic consequence…”. I wondered about the Edenic reference, these soldiers going to war with a nation whose vision of paradise is situated in a similar place, claimed by all the Abrahamic religions, then the secular reference to Arcadia and how we had one beautiful portrait of an iconic western man with camouflage paint on his face, eyes uplifted to the heavens. In God we trust.

It was an interesting journey. The study research essay had my expectations set to expect a narrative (my thoughts on it are here), the introduction from Les Monaghan led me to change those thoughts significantly and my reflections post the study took me slightly further. The notes for the exhibition state “Six artists respond to modern warfare through the medium of photography”, which of course, because the backdrop to all the work is national conflict, cannot be denied; and similarly, these are personal responses, all be they exhibited collectively, statements that denote the artists personal responses with the notion of war as the binding element.

It is though the conflictions of the self that I came to realise, that for me, was the poignancy of the exhibition. I seemed to be able to detect the anxiety in Simonds’ soldier shots, certainly in the exhibition edit, that depicted more of the anxiety of the artist rather than the subjects. An inner conflict being far away from home, in a foreign country, awful weather, newly found responsibilities. Monaghan’s conflict of self, on the one hand rejecting the expectations laid on his shoulders and on the other finding, perhaps to his frustration, a sense of self in the landscapes he found himself in and capturing. Andrew’s notion of truth, that perennial conflict of so many artists, how the imagery of war which has so many visual conundrums, so many different masks of uncertainty that to provide revelation, no matter what the size of the means of capture, is and likely to be elusive. Hallamby’s personal conflict was much more visceral to me, the need to witness by the absence of her loved one, equaled by the same notion from her partner abroad; seeing him in the unopened letters, the lack of a place setting the touch of him still lingering on the car ignition keys, still here but away. Down’s work though seemed to have more conflicts, more discussions, more layers. I wrote on the day ‘“The construct of a pastoral English landscape” (I think this quote came from the book, or maybe the artist’s introduction to the work) is just that, a fabrication, a narrative construction to situate the piece within. The appearance is provided by the edit, by the means provided to deliver the message.’ This bucolic vision, perhaps Blakesian is conflated through the text with an Arcadian view to a ‘lost Utopia’ but in a land that has been in an almost continuing state of conflict. The land hasn’t of course, but the people have. Invasionary forces have been repelled for many centuries, but that isn’t the conflict that Down’s seems to be struggling with, or at least how I interpret it, unless the land and the people are as one, a political overtone which I’m not sure was intended. It seems to be about how the artist would wish the land to revert to a time where conflict hadn’t appeared or to a time when it had ended, to a place in time where man might rest at one with that land, adopting another stance to both neighbour and nature alike. This notion of a paradise, of Jannah is perhaps where the Edenic reference becomes more relevant. Asking for bigger things from a higher authority perhaps.

I felt that this day allowed me to consider how personal art can be, not that it necessarily should do, but the discussions, those sadly lacking conversations have helped me to think about what it is that I want to convey. I’m not overly troubled about whether I have read the intentions of these artists as they had intended them, I am more interested in how my reactions to the work have opened a discourse with my own intentions. And at this time it was sorely needed.