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.
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.
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.
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.