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.

Thoughts on the feedback on Assignment Two

Pondering on the feedback from Assignment two.

Overall reaction: Probably better than I expected, but an insightful set of comments and recommendations that I find interesting and challenging.

The closing statement reads:

“Ask yourself what is the journey that all this research with the Gross’ is taking you on. All your writing and other works have been about you in some way – memories. I wonder what the connection is here? This may take you in a completely different direction. That’s fine.”

I don’t plan to directly quote from the report any more in this reflection, but these few last sentences seem to reverberate quite loudly and I’m sure I’ll return to them shortly.

Making any sort of statement in a personal blog is like talking to oneself; but because it is public and my tutor has remarked on it I want to make something very clear. And it is about how I feel about Ann and Carl Gross, their work and the children/charities they support. Put simply I am in awe of what they do, by what they have achieved and their continuing ‘givingness’. This may all be informed by their spiritual beliefs – which are at odds with my own lack of any faith whatsoever – or that they are just built that way, to continue to pour out love to those who seem often bereft of it.

I am concerned, in that it does concern me, by the possible view of equating these orphans simply as some kind of commodity. And it was pointed out that some of my work, through these first two assignments, could be confused as representing the orphans as such in the way that these charities present them (and by the means, I suspect of how I re-present them). That I was experimenting with describing my own feelings towards these children and what they represent, both to me and how I see them being represented to the world as a whole, is something that I can rightly be accused of. There was a definite intent in the expression of equivalence, the purposeful balancing of the fiscal value with the implied worth of the child, and I accept it may have been too blunt with the possible effect of implying that the work I was documenting had a similar trope to mine. I meant no disservice to their work through my experimentation.

There was something though in the report that did strike a chord, in that if anything, I did want to make an effort to help in some way, to make a difference, however pompous that may sound. I appreciate that to do so would have been hugely ambitious, and extremely unlikely that it could ever happen. But there it is.

I do though now have a conundrum to solve, which is how to move forward with assignment three. The brief is straightforward, and could literally be done in a host of different ways, but my objective would be to try and thread these assignments together with a conceptual cord that develops an idea, maybe even a consistent narrative through the course that I feel has investigated a few ideas and presented some responses to it. I don’t expect any major eureka moments, but I instinctively feel that by wrestling with a singular track of thought I will likely confront more intellectual obstacles than if I dart about with trying to fit the brief in a literal way. I want the work that I do to inform the assignment briefs rather than the other way round. I want the work to continue a conversation that may or may not find a response to the first argument raised in assignment one, but allowing the discourse to develop and follow a natural extension of development.

I am therefore, as I stated earlier, pondering. I have an abiding notion that all work is a self-portrait and so I am exercised by the earlier statement from my tutor about memories. Memories are fictions I think, mediated through time of course, through perspectives. An assignment based on memories would be a break completely from how the work has progressed so far, focusing as it has on the plight of these orphans as relayed by the Gross’ – though that of course is a work based on reminiscence. But aren’t all photographs memories? History? As Barthes says “memento mori”? So any project is work mediated already by memory and is therefore a memory project?

Perhaps I need to think it out again.

Of course I could just spring into memory, because that’s where the course has led me! The memories project I did with the Echoes Group, under the auspices of Gesture and Meaning, will of course inform me – why wouldn’t it? So things are leading me towards memory, however I have no idea what, or where, those junctions might lead to, let alone what they may comprise of in terms of narrative, context or subject. Perhaps the long train journey to and from Arles might help release something.

One of the comments that my tutor made was about how the visual language, or perhaps as I understand the comment, vernacular, of marketing might be employed better in my imagery – to draw people in for the ‘sucker punch’. How the tropes of advertising could then perhaps be subverted in order to put my message across. Well herein lies the rub. I have studiously avoided all, or at least as much as I am able to, connections with my previous life in business. Whilst I am fully aware that I am what I am; built up from decades of existence and experience, and to deny any of it would be to deny part of myself. The thought of exploiting an area of me that had, for most of those previous decades, sought to manipulate, coerce, position and, yes sometimes, exploit, is one that I have resisted. I have used words, both written and spoken to ‘develop’ business most of my professional life. I have an innate understanding that I can, and have, as I say, move people around because that is what I did. I feel distinctly uncomfortable in doing this with my art.

But then there is fiction! I am in favour of fiction. The tale can develop an idea much clearer than non-fiction can deliver a truth and I now fully realize that all work is based on a fiction. All Art, all creation is at the very least an embellishment of a reality. For just as the photograph struggles with the truth due to it’s unhappy connection with a single viewpoint , narrow perspective and four square walls; the truth is just as likely to masked in a veil of happenstance somewhere out of reach of veracity.

I am now wondering whether I should investigate the truth with lies, fact through fiction. These children’s lives through the shutter and lens; just as maybe, Frank did with his journey through America, as Hunter did in Hackney and the National Gallery. How McCullin does in the Somerset levels. How Cohen did with Songs of Love and Hate, how Brahms did with either of his Cello Concertos and and, and and.

An Armenian archive

It is curious how things turn up. The memories project that I’m running at the ‘Echoes Group’ has the attendees searching for photographs and 3D objects that be be placed into a photomontage that presents (hopefully) a singular narrative. Mine will be a memory of my family, my work and if I can get time travel. The ‘Users’ are focussing mainly on family – weddings, loved ones, military service and it is really inspiring to see them bring faded memories to the fore and tell, quite excitedly, stories from their past.

I hope to use these memories as part of the investigation into ‘Identity’, how I can portray individuals by not showing their physical presence, but bring a real sense of a part of them to the fore by telling a story that is strongly linked to them. The project has only just started and will take until the middle of July before it gets finished. There is a prospect to involve a textile artist to perhaps use the photo montage narratives as the basis for a 3D object – but that is in early thoughts.

However something else has turned up. One of the users who, I think, was a professor in the University here in Oxford has an archive of 4000 prints of turn of the century Armenian life. This archive came into his possession more than a score or more years ago whilst the owner, and one of the people in the archive, was still alive. Another in the archive was, apparently, Calouste Gulbenkian, whose foundation was approached to provide funding to help preserve this archive, to which the foundation granted the request. The original prints in a large number of albums were all re-photographed and the process of annotating them was begun by a ‘mature student’ at the University, the photographer did the work, there exists a negative and re-print of all 4000 prints, however the annotation had to be abandoned after 300 prints as the lady passed away. I was approached with this archive to see what I thought, and I suppose I am slightly overwhelmed, but extremely interested in working with the user to find a way to place this archive into a domain that provides value to historians, anthropologists, historians as well as investigating it as part of an installation. The user is planning a weeks study at the British Library later this month and will also seek the possibility of more funding to develop the work.

From the sample of prints that I have seen so far – see below for an even smaller selection – the archive splits into two broad categories (I am fully prepared that they may be more categories) of family oriented images and images of the social environment.

img100 img102 img103 img104 img105 img106

I have about twenty prints here, but will take (temporary) possession of two or three boxes of prints and negatives next week. I have no idea where this project may take me, nor what it might mean to either me or my studies. I have though an expectation that there would be a enormous amount of work to try and make sense of the 4000 prints.

Memories session two

Window light

Window light

I’m not sure if I should know where I am going with this project, but I don’t. I have perhaps more of a notion that the work will provide/produce something that has a resonance for the users at the sessions. I certainly hope that someone else, other than me, will find something out about themselves by creating a small, but definite portrait of a facet of themselves with photographs collected into some kind of narrative.

The memories project that I’m running with the Echoes Group had its second session today; last week I briefed those present about the project; this week most of the users brought things to show (mostly old photographs) and tell. I had an enthusiastic comment from one of the clinical staff who wasn’t at last week’s event but had heard how engaged the ‘ward users’ had been about the session – unfortunately they couldn’t be here this week due to staffing issues.

I was there early, I’m either going to be early or late owing to the vagaries of the bus system in Oxford city centre, and was a bit concerned that the naked white walls of last week were covered by a new installation, thereby reducing the overall light in the room which might have hampered the photography – in the end it turned ok.

Window light and textile installation at Fusion Arts

Window light and textile installation at Fusion Arts

As with last week, the notion of looking back helped free the users to open up and talk, this week they nearly all had mementos to use to illustrate their narratives. Liz, has an identical twin sister and brought along some gifts from her, this twin has been in America since 1976 and it is clear that she misses her, born ten minutes later than Liz. We took some pictures of some gifts and I will scan some images that she brought in. Liz’s husband, a milkman, also featured in her memories, he was clearly a good milkman as she had a picture of some gifts that he received from his customers when he retired.

John brought along a set of pictures of his wife Pat, declaring them to be a portrait of his wife including the telegram that she sent to her mother when she qualified as a doctor. Richard had some interesting photographs that were doubly interesting because of the text on the reverse of the photographs. Graham tried to find a wedding album from 55 years ago, but has failed but he did bring some very early twentieth century photographs which he will bring again next week for me to scan. Tom, the Artscape leader, brought in some of his memorabilia including some of his degree work from Brighton where he graduated in Fine Arts – I’d like to see more of this work.

There was perhaps too much discussion. Tom felt that the day was a bit haphazard and gave me some advice about how to structure next week’s session – to have the users do some practical work on their own, to give them a little focus for at least 30 – 45 minutes. I have an idea about what that might be.

Below are two images that I created as part of what will be one of my memories:



3rd April 1976

3rd April 1976


Memories – Day One

The Memories Project – day one.


The concept: To create a piece of work that portrays a “portrait” of an aspect of a life. Through the use of existing objects, which might include photographs, to develop a short narrative piece that might display an emotional connection to a time, a place, people(s). This work will then be made into a single two dimensional print for display at the permanent gallery space at the Warneford hospital.


There hadn’t been any communication with the Group prior to the meeting, so the session was about communicating the concepts of the project. I had taken along a variety of objects and photographs that covered family, holidays and work.

Overall there were some very interesting conversations, but given that a few users could not attend the discussions were slightly slanted by one or two individuals. There were several attempts to veer the talks towards some of the quieter users – some are naturally quieter than others in any case. I was particularly pleased that one of the users, an in patient at the Warneford, felt inspired to engage with the ideas in a way that he hadn’t previously at, which was very encouraging – he said “if you had of asked me about my life sixty years ago before I got here today I wouldn’t have had a clue, but now I can remember it” I paraphrase. He recalled a conversation with the Queen, and another time when in the Army being put on a charge for winking at Prince Philip – “I only did it because he did it to me!”.

I asked if the group could bring in some objects either suggested by the samples I had brought in, or anything that has a personal connection for them. I have provided some mount board off cuts to, either re-photograph their photographs, or objects they have an attachment to.

I was asked if I could find some examples of the finished pieces that I could ‘show and tell” which I will do for next week.

“Memories Project” at Echoes

Fusion Arts

Fusion Arts

The memories project at “Echoes”

I have to admit that I am slightly nervous about the impending project, which I am about to lead. It starts on Tuesday and whilst I have thought about it quite a lot, the prospect of the first session in two days has me wondering whether I will be able to cope, to be able to inspire the users of the Group enough to keep their attention, to work with them to create meaningful pieces of work that uses the time they invest in the Group in a valuable way…..

The current schedule proposal – from the Artscape Leader (Tom) is:

Summer Term time Dates:

1. 16th April – John Umney Project, supported by Tom

2. 23rd April – John Umney Project, supported by Tom

(Claire ward visit Oxfordshire Dementia Information Services Coordinator)

3. 30th April – John Umney Project, supported by Tom

4. 7th May – John Umney Project

5. 14th May – John Umney Project

6. 21st May – John Umney Project

28th May – Half term – no session

7. 4th June – John Umney Project

8. 11th June – John Umney Project

9. 18th June – Fusion Project

  1. 25th June – Fusion project
  2. 2nd July – Fusion Project
  3. 9th July

16th July

This schedule is likely to change, but as it is two months I am wondering whether to use it as an assignment – either 1 or 2. I will need to discuss with my tutor. I plan to stay with this Group as long as they will have me, and also integrate myself into the ‘Artscape’ project as widely as possible. I have ben offered an Honorary Contract (which binds both parties to certain obligations – chiefly on part about confidentiality etc.), the CRB checks are now being carried out (or at least I have filled the forms in and passed them over a couple of weeks ago), and a bunch of other forms have been signed, witnessed and countersigned….

What hasn’t been arranged thus far is how the final work will be exhibited, as I understand things these projects have a conclusion, an outcome that is viewable by the outside world – even if it is on the walls of the Fusion Arts building where the Group is hosted; we shall see.

This was how I described the project before I went on holiday in an email to Tom:

My thoughts/inspiration on this project came from what I perceived of the two previous projects the ‘Masks’ – which I only saw as end pieces – and the tile project. I really liked both projects but from slightly different perspectives and combining these I thought about how I could work with the group on a notion of the ‘Self”. The masks were, I think, modelled on the creator of the mask, so became, in effect, a reflective self portrait and whilst I wouldn’t want to derive too much from them I was very interested to compare the created item with the individual. That John’s mask seemed to be angry, whereas he is very mild mannered, and Richard’s ‘dual’ mask might be an expression of how he feels about himself…… as I said I wouldn’t want to delve too deeply, but interesting nonetheless. And the ’tile’ project combined elements of the past and recreated them in the present – the artifacts that were excavated in the local community, using clays that were similar to that of the found objects and then the users bringing a current perspective to them by manufacturing their own version.

With the photo project I would like to have the users develop a portrayal of themselves – a kind of self portrait perhaps – that uses elements from their past to express a ‘vision’ of themselves today. I appreciate that this ‘vision’ will only be a narrow view, but nevertheless if they bring to the portrait items that are of meaning to them then it will bring the past into the present in some small way and present a ‘vision’ of themselves.

Some of the themes I thought about were family related – holidays, weddings, childhood et. Or it could be something to with work – as sometimes work can be as important as family life. I thought about old family photographs, I have some jewellery passed down to me that I could photograph, some flowers from our son’s wedding – lots of holiday photos of course. It might be objets d’arts like a paper weight or a christening spoon, things that have a special place in their memories that either remind them of a person or a place that was, and maybe still is, special to them.

As I said I can bring some stuff to the first meeting and maybe if Dipti could ask them to bring the oldest photograph they can find – doesn’t matter if it’s black and white or colour, crumpled up and creased, stained or pristine – so long as it has a meaning to them. We can then talk about my stuff, and maybe your stuff as well and then try and develop a conversation about the pictures they have brought which will help them reflect about what they might choose to bring to be re-photographed during the project. As I said previously negatives are ok as I can scan them, and if they want to use original photos in the piece of work that’s ok or I can scan them as well. I would like the group to write a few words about each piece they bring if possible – nothing much, maybe just to say ‘this is me and mum’, but if they wanted to say anything more then that’s fine also and then append these words/label to the items as it appears on the final piece of work. We can set up a ‘photo-studio’ much like I did with the tile project with a camera and tripod for which I would make prints and bring in the following week; I would expect that the users took most of the pictures, with some assistance from us.

The work, as I see it at the moment, will be individual prints (though it could be a collage) with a personal narrative set by the user and guided a bit by us.

I am happy to have conversations with them, though I appreciate that I’m a novice with the group and will value support from the ‘professionals’. I’ll try and think of ‘plan B’s” before we kick-off, but having worked with the group for a few weeks I am starting to get a sense of the dynamics and have enjoyed it immensely so far – so again, thanks for the opportunity.

I hope this answers most of your concerns, let me know if you have any further issues and I will try and answer them. I will be flying off on Monday so will try and get the forms sorted out by then.

Otherwise have a good Easter break and I look forward to meeting up on the 16th.


So, to Tuesday’s events: I plan to introduce the project to the “users”. I will bring a number of artifacts which will include:

A photograph of my parents wedding, my fathers signet ring – this is very thin and has a cut where it removed from him after he had died and was passed to me. Some cuff-links that my Grandfather gave me for my twenty first birthday – these were originally a present I gave him with my first wages as a “Saturday Boy” at the CO-OP when I was fourteen. A wooden carving of Ganesh that we had commissioned in India some years ago – Ganesh, amongst about a thousand other responsibilities, is the God of memory and time. Some chop-sticks from California, A passport… I made a list here:


There is a concomitant danger that as I participate in the activity that in my ‘self-portrait’ I start to reveal too much about myself than I really want to see…

I plan to post about the progress of the project, on a weekly basis I hope and record the participants through their work as their portraits begin to appear.