Two shows: Uncertain States annual exhibition in Whitechapel and the John Goto show at Art Jericho, Oxford.

 

What connects these twin exhibitions is Goto’s work Lewisham which appears to have had their first outings at these events and that leads me to consider the effect of context, of the artwork in a situation, but I’ll come to that later.

Uncertain States is ‘a lens based, artist led collective Releasing a quarterly newspaper we attempt to expand a critical dialogue and promote visual imagery. The work reflects some key social and political concerns and challenges how perception is formed in a society like ours, on issues as diverse as politics, religion and personal identity.

In a time where the proliferation of imagery is rendering itself insignificant and meaningless, the artists in Uncertain States are concerned with the intention of the work. All the work published is made to be viewed with consideration and concerned with the meaning and reading of the photograph.

Uncertain States aims to showcase both established and emerging artists also through our exhibitions and web based publications. We include work from all photographic genres. Releasing a quarterly newspaper we attempt to expand a critical dialogue and promote visual imagery. The work reflects some key social and political concerns and challenges how perception is formed in a society like ours, on issues as diverse as politics, religion and personal identity.

In a time where the proliferation of imagery is rendering itself insignificant and meaningless, the artists in Uncertain States are concerned with the intention of the work. All the work published is made to be viewed with consideration and concerned with the meaning and reading of the photograph.

Uncertain States aims to showcase both established and emerging artists also through our exhibitions and web based publications. We include work from all photographic genres.’ Website here

The catalogue for the show lists nearly thirty artists with, perhaps notably, Kennard Phillips, Tom Hunter and  Roy Mehta amongst them. Most of the work has a price tag, indicating a selling show. I had arranged this visit with Fiona Yaron-Field with whom I had contacted after visiting the Taylor Wessing 2013 show where she had been selected for her image ‘Becoming Annalie’. Fiona spent some time discussing the work with us, I was joined by two fellow students: Catherine Banks and Keith Greenough and her generosity was very helpful as we discussed the work and the artists behind them.

My overall impression of this ‘Group’ show is how difficult it was for me to comprehend the diversity, the inclusiveness of all the works on show. Spencer Rowell’s physically layered work that used dimensionality as part of it’s aesthetic explored the notion of self portrait from many perspectives, the layers of narrative matched by the application of layers of substance. The context of the work – which also interested me because of its use of text as a vital component – anchored in the written word became cogent only after Fiona provided the circumstance of the work and that opening to the work was extremely important to my comprehension – at least partways. Julian Benjamin’s ‘experiments in social fiction’ interested me in its use of a fictive narrative to develop ideas – in this case – as he says: “These are not pictures of things, these are pictures of ideas. I’m not saying this thing happened, I’m saying this idea happened.

And this is the photograph to prove it.”

But, as Benjamin says in the catalogue, he uses digital manipulation to create fantastic events, the photograph is evidence of it’s own truth and therefore is a self depiction of the real.

Frederica Landi’s examination of the transient marks on the human skin initially made me think of scarification but when I contemplated further I saw that these marks – the crumpling of skin, the marks of hair and the pressing of clothing to the skin’s surface were all transient marks, these marks reminded me of some work I have planned to explore about love and to which I hope to think about about starting soon.

Fiona Yaron-Field’s work continued her exploration of Down’s Syndrome condition.Ophir, her daughter, was born with is and I have written about it previously here and here. This new work looks at women – the 2% of expectant mothers who know they are carrying a child with this condition but who choose, for many different reasons, to carry the baby to term. It maybe the end of the project for this artist, but her discussion surrounding the work, her motivations were very interesting to hear in the context of the gallery.

So to John Goto’s work Lewisham. The artist spent some time in the 1970’s photographing young black people either singularly or as couples in front of a very makeshift backcloth before he left for Paris and a photographic scholarship that resulted in another work called Belleville. The Lewisham series were represented in Whitechapel by three images which were denoted as being printed by Micro piezo printing. Initially I wondered whether this technology was related to Piezography which I used in it’s very early introduction to the UK as a carbon based pigment ink system. It turns out that Goto was using he term as it relates to every inkjet printer and so I now wonder why, what I thought must have been an aesthetic choice that I couldn’t fathom is perhaps instead a simple issue of technical incompetence – which I can’t understand at all. These Lewisham Lover’s Rock series all have colour casts that I found distract from the observation of the subject. It may be that this colour casting is a deliberate ploy to add a tension to the image and in my lack of comprehension I gave up wondering and asked the artist himself. He very kindly provided me with other information but to the question of colour he hasn’t yet responded.

Now, whilst I am perplexed about the Lewisham series, which have a notion of Sidibe’s work about them his other work Belleville is another aesthetic altogether. These are moderately sized images one achieves a 20” x 16” size, but most are smaller, printed on Agfa Record Rapid with Neutol WA, these are works of beauty in and of themselves. Their consistency of tonal structure is at great odds with the digital prints, their stillness as images are though very similar. What I found myself thinking about is how now through a perspective of nearly forty years hence both sets of images are about memory. The instant generation of memory by the recording of these youngsters in Lewisham and the old architectural studies of Paris which were already steeped in memory as they were photographed.

The Belleville studies were of shop windows, old streets and doorways, old pictures in dilapidated condition, these images were layered in patina after patina of echoing and aching memory, marked by the presence of the jetsam of life and, as in a few images, the depiction of peoples long forgotten in old photographs. These images were still, marking the passing of a time and now, printed as they are in a process and on a paper that no linger exists they are images of something that is no more, just as much as the fleeting capture of the Lewisham Lovers Rock portraits are of a people and a place no longer there – though the genre of Lovers Rock is making something of a comeback – perhaps that is why these images turned up at the gallery in Whitechapel and not the ones that had been selected by the artist originally?

Which leaves me considering the way in which these prints were created. The wider expansive digital prints, from scanned negatives with clear and apparent digital artefacts about them and the gorgeously toned lustrous warm tine, moderately sized prints, printed to express the images in the best possible light. I am confused. Goto kindly provided a link to a Photomonitor article where he suggested I might find the answers to the questions I posed to him earlier today. I’ve read it a couple of times and this question of aesthetic still eludes me.

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More on words and pictures, and a study visit to Westminster University

The University of Westminster is conveniently situated for me, a mere five minute walk from the Marylebone terminus, an hour or less from my local station, which when as a boy and couldn’t afford the bus fare, was about the journey time to school on Shanks’ Pony. The train was packed and I had to stand all the way to the study visit  but it was worth the aggravation. Four speakers ostensibly offering diverse perspectives on the dissemination of photographs in an interconnected age gave me, and I suspect the other attendees, a great deal to ponder other than the specifics of their individual presentations. I have already had some thoughts on the interconnected age, something that Dr Alexandra Moschovi‘s talk made me comment on the WeAreOCA site here and whilst her thoughts filled me with some concerns over the future, it wasn’t the future of photography that concerned me, rather how we, as part of humankind, respond to the technological changes attached to image making and sharing, and the supposed primacy of images over text that concerned me more. Roger Hargreaves dwelt on the use of social media and how it was harnessed to the campaign to elect Obama as the US President (the first time around), and whilst I found his talk interesting, what I found most intriguing wasn’t the recognition that without that yoking of Facebook et al to the election cause, the course of history may have been different, rather what I found fascinating was how the choice of images that Hargreaves curated for his talk seemed culled from an informed and educated eye; these images seemingly extracted from the internet and social networking sites were, when presented in a lecture theatre by a someone studied in the history of the medium, to sublimate the images above the mundane. I saw extensive visual references to ‘The Americans’, the images when presented on the wall of the lecture theatre became pieces of art despite their innocuous pedigree. “Dr Loplop is a London-based cat photographer and internet celebrity. He is best known as the originator of the Somebody Else’s Cat phenomenon, and is an administrator of the eponymous Flickr group” according to the introduction for the day as advertised. And whilst I feel there may be some serious theory underpinning what, on the surface appeared to be an attempt to be light and amusing – as the last slot of the day’s proceedings; my contemporaneous notes leave me as confused as I was then about what was the message behind this particular medium.

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , courtesy of University of Westminster

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , University of Westminster

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , courtesy of University of Westminster

Which leaves a couple of things that I found extremely inspiring that of Jason Evans’ talk and the exhibition of Victor Burgin in the P3 Gallery – in the basement at the University of Westminster. I’m not entirely sure about what it was about Evans’ talk that I found so appealing, it rambled and skirted around the issue of dissemination. There were a lot of jibes at the ‘industry’ that surrounds the artist and similarly there were many disparaging comments about education, but the images and the reasons that inspired him to create those images were inspiring. Who hasn’t looked at that magical light on a Wednesday afternoon at about 4pm? Who hasn’t found that magical space in a photograph, not a punctum or studium, though he did have some interesting things to say about set texts in the canon of photography studies apropos in student education, but I’ll leave that there; but that area on a photograph that often defies description, that pulls the emotive eye towards it. I recognised both those things. Evans wants to photograph things that are beautiful, which I think is different, in his view, to making things beautiful by photographing them. And that need to make beautiful images has been a troubling notion for me for sometime. Whatever his motivations I found myself drawn to his troubled delivery, and whilst I wouldn’t want to misconstrue anything from this, but I felt he delivered a very honest account of what he was about.

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , courtesy of University of Westminster

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , courtesy of University of Westminster

The other of inspiration came from visiting the Victor Burgin exhibition in the University’s own gallery. I guess about thirty or more large black and white prints, from film and three or four video installations. I was particularly drawn to these works as they all tended to have a combination of image and text, something I am very interested in at the moment. Famed for his early conceptual work and a leader in its practice I found these images, for the most part, very engaging and I would have welcomed spending more time with them. Unfortunately the show finishes on December 1st and I won’t get to it. However these images here reflect the sort of work that I currently aspire to, that disjuncture between image and text that opens a discourse between the spectator and the image.

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , courtesy of University of Westminster

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , courtesy of University of Westminster

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , courtesy of University of Westminster

Victor Burgin at the P3 Gallery , courtesy of University of Westminster

As study days go this was right up there as a really valuable excursion and this event co-run by the RPS and the University of Westminster, under the expert Chairmanship of Andy Golding – Head of Photography at the University, happens every other year and which should be a model of the sort of study day that the OCA should try and foster. There was plenty of opportunity to discuss amongst peers as well as listen to mature artists and practitioners. Excellent.

Somewhere in the middle

The current seemed ok to begin with, didn’t seem overly deep either; one of those streams where you can’t quite see the bottom but you feel it is probably okay to venture in a little further. Six months later the flow was much fiercer, I felt as if I was no longer treading water and looking for a place to land, to find my feet again; the banks having withdrawn there didn’t seem any way back that made any sense.

Occasional islands of sanctuary let me breathe more easily, but all the while knowing that there was only one thing to do and that was to jump right back in. Sometimes the flow works with me, my head bobbing above the water, my legs propelling me in a direction of my choice. Sometimes the water is so choppy that I am under the waves as much as I am surfacing for air and light, alighting again and again in a new place not envisioned before, my head spinning from the unrecognisable jetsam surrounding me wherever I find myself beached.

I’m on an island at the moment, navigationally I estimate about half the prescribed journey still to encounter; hoping that when I get there I’m not there at all, but only half-way again. More things have happened on this passage than I could have imagined. I do feel somewhat loosed from the security of tenure of where I was in control; bounded by a frame of comprehension, largely devised by myself to provide a frontier, a perimeter within which I wanted to explore, no to go too far beyond and examine.

What I am finding is a different sense of self that reminds me of someone I knew forty or fifty years ago; someone who wanted to jump right in off the top board, find the fastest current and dive deeper into the pools. I am conscious that time, one of the backcloths that situates itself in everything I encounter, is working both for and agin’ me, but mostly it reminds me of the little there is left of it. Fifty years is half a century; half a score left to find out what to say and articulate it? Maybe.

There are so many new tributaries that seem to continue to appear and when I first started noticing them I wanted to navigate those new channels; now, as the breadth of the channel gets broader I seem to either get swept past some or make conscious decisions to leave them uncharted. But still I don’t know where the flow will take me. I’ve been on excursions into territories that have demanded my attention, some that have been foisted on me by the demands of the course of the course, but mostly there has been a need driven from within to try and make sense of things.

As I waded into the water at the beginning of the journey I thought that maybe it was all about pictures, about how a photograph might proffer, of itself, a substantiation of increased comprehension of the subject; what I increasingly thought was that the photograph would not suffice by itself, that it was a component – an index possibly – of the underscoring chronicling of the narrative. I then came to another sojourn that wrested that notion away, transplanting it with photographs, a series, that allowed perspective nuancing. And now, at the midway-point, the realization that both the images and the series are a by-product of my intent. That this intention has also drifted with the tide; should I know or have a sense of where I am going or should I cast-off being prepared to acknowledge and welcome the intrusions and obstacles on the way? A sense of the outcome now seems more preferable than the accomplishment of a pre-visualised confirmation; having the temerity to launch without a full set of navigational aids now seems about right. With the distance behind me seemingly half the expanse before me is now a welcome panorama; I’m not at the delta yet , though I am starting to feel that my water treading skills are helping me to stay afloat for longer periods.