week 15; 4th - 10th February, 2019

Project-wise the week started with several visits to existing and potential collaborators on London Road. I’ve decided not to follow-up on the two Thornton Heath proprietors as that part of Croydon is too far away from my Brighton-London Road narrative axis.

I’ve updated my project plan, building it on Microsoft Project 2000. A little dated, it was purchased in 1999 as an upgrade and need an even earlier copy to validate it before it could be used. Fortunately although the original floppy disk this came on has ceased to be readable, a copy disk still works. My initial project plan is below:

Current timeline of key activities supporting my Final Major Project on distinctive Croydon shopkeepers (as of 9th February)

It’s quite some years since i used this application and there’s a little bit more re-learning needed to make it easy to follow. The most obvious aspect is that the key activity now is to finalise a questionnaire to use when interviewing my collaborators.

Early in the week the FMP cohort were given a presentation by the book designer, Victoria Forrest. This was a follow-on from an earlier presentation she’d given in October. While some of the material quoted was the same this presentation was less on technical detail and more about how the narrative evolves with the design with images being chosen or re-shot accordingly. There was also a lot more about Vistoria’s relationship with her clieants and a degree of insight into their differing approaches and needs.

Four reasonably different book examples that Victoria had worked on were discussed: Victoria started by stressing that ‘linear’ doesn’t specify direction, nor linear sequencing a physical constraint. Images don’t have to follow a linear sequence to support a narrative. This was sort of the same point made by Hayedn White in his ‘The Value of Narrativity in the representation of reality article that I’d studied for the Aily Nash workshop the weekend before. Just put in far fewer words.

Victoria felt that the book design is the bridge between the images and the narrative. Aiding the viewer see the image in the context of the ongoing narrative. She quoted Edmund Clark’s Guantanomo and Paul Graham’s books as examples of this approach.

It will be interesting to gain further insight from Victoria at the workshop she will bevery kindly holding next week.

Charlotte Jansen

Charlotte Jansen

More contemporary insight followed a couple of days later when I attended an excellent panel discussion of three young photographers in Dalston chaired by Charlotte Jansen, arts and colutre journalist and editor-at-large for the Elephantmagazine. This event had been advertised by the Photo London organizing committee as one of the last of their 'taster’ events before PhotoLondon 2019 in May.

The panel consisted of the 2018 Talor Wessing portrait prizewinner Alice Mann, a South African, Jojo Sonubi, the founder of the renowned Black in the Day archive of family imagery who grew up in Tottenham and Sam Wright, a documentary photographer who grew up near the area I come from in Sheffield.

Sam Wright, Alice Mann and Jojo Sonubi on the stage at SET, Dalston. 7th February, 2019

Charlotte chaired the meeting well. Each photographer saying something about both their background, reasons for their interest in the projects they’ve taken up and something about the projects themselves. Very content-rich as i like to say. It also gave you a degree of insight into their differing personalities. All had been influenced by their collaborators, and also their childhood experience.

Jojo Sonubi

In 2016 Jojo had wanted to follow a black history theme. He’d decided to use his parents lives. Postings on WhatsApp took off, which he then branded and it became bigger still. He made the comment that to him growing up black was about joy, not trauma. He supported a point made by Alice that his work helped fill gaps in people’s knowledge. He did howver find the curation of the 800 donated images in his expanding archive hard. Whilst it covered a lot of ground he felt there were still gaps as the timescale covered different generations.

As well as being the creative force behind his project s is a graphic designer and still finds time to run an event brand called recess, apparantly renowned for their day parties and club nights.

Alice Mann

Alice Mann

Alice seemed a much quieter individual. Now based in London her series project was based in her South African homeland to help the community. alice described trying to show part reality through images. Establishing relationships through photography. She liked working with “people of colour” and found a universality and beauty in these relationships.

Alice said that she found collaboration shapes ideas but the role of images is complex. Often the response formed is to a pre-existing idea. She saw documentary as a contruct with many subjective positions, describing photography as a ‘construction tool’.

In response to a question on their use of social media she said she tried to avoid it. If she does she likes captions to try and put images within a context, finding the image alone insufficient. Alice tries to target her readership in her posts and tries to respect others work. She did add that she finds instagram inspiring, her saved section of images is precious to her. But she is quite careful in the dissemination of her own imagery. She likes exhibitions but a ‘considered space’ is key. Everything is better in print.

Her final comment was in response to someone saying that surely the photo-community is the best audience to appreciate work. She disagreed saying that being simply trained in visual language is key.

Sam Wright

Sam Wright

Sam was brought up in Sheffield and as a teenager enjoyed photographing punk gigs in pub basements and various Sheffield clubs. Described as always interested in discovering people’s stories.

DRAFT - IN PROGRESS

Week 14: 28th January - 3rd February, 2019

The week started more positively with a discussion with several of my peers about where we currently are in our projects. Some radically differing positions, but I wasn’t alone in considering changing project stream at a late stage. This sharing of difficult positions helped. I resolved to go forward with the Croydon Shopkeepers project as suggested by my FMP tutor and finally give up on thoughts regarding the reflective self-portraiture.

This was discussed with my FMP tutor at the scheduled 1-2-1 a couple of days later. I agreed that I needed to work to a much more defined project plan and get things rolling. I want to add greater narrative to my project through audio or audio-video interview. To do this i need a suitable questionnaire.

Later in the week i spent a number of hours at London College of Communications well equipped library. Unlike Central Saint Martin’s I didn’t need to book a slot several days in advance to gain access as a SCONUL registered student..

Library study area, London College of Communication, Elephant & Castle (31st January, 2019)

There were a number of pertinent books. I was able to borrow two; ‘Psychoanalysis and Ethics' in Documentary Film’ by Agnieska Piotrowaska and ‘Video Documentary making’ by Mark Patterson. I picked the former as it was covering ground I’d not considered before, and was a text that wan’t easy to identify relevant pages to make photo-copies of. The latter is a 1993 BBC Television Training book that seems now to be long out of print, but nonetheless full of extremely sensible points and suggestions.

One book that initially seemed useful for my purposes; ‘Doing Interviews’ by Steinar Kvale wasn’t. Similar conclusion with ‘Cognitive Interviewing’ by Gordon Willis. ‘Interviewing Techniques for Writers & Researchers’ by Susan Dunne did seem relevant and I photocopied a number of the pages, as I also did with ‘Research Interviewing’ by Bill Gillham. Whilst ‘Documentary; Witness and self-revelation’ by John Ellis had some interesting observations, they weren’t particularly relevant to the needs of the moment.

I also followed up on my FMP tutor’s suggestion and spent a couple of hurs looking through various photobooks of Gillian Wearing’s work. I was easy to see why she had been recommended. Inventive and very direct. The description of her approach by Dominic Molon for the book on her ‘Mass Observation’ project was particularly illuminating. Sadly I was already at my borrowing limit so I contented myself with a few more photocopies inexpensively captured by my mobile phone.

Towards the end of the week I received by e-mail low resolution scanned positives of the developed negatives from the Photofusion large format portraiture workshop I’d attended at the end of last week. They were on the whole a bit stronger than I’d remembered. Probably because it’s difficult to take the image in well looking through the slightly diffuse screen o the 5 x 4 studio cameras we’d been using. Here are the images that were captured. The first three were taken on a Sinar P with LED lighting, the latter group on a Sinar F with a stronger fluorescent light.

Only the first image was taken with the film back and the lens board in a vertical format. Initially varying degrees of tilt had been tried, resulting in some interesting out of focus effects. Quite different to what you get simply by using a narrow depth of field like my earlier portraiture project with a f/8 500mm full frame reflex lens close-up or my more recent foray into the studio with an 85mm full frame f1.8 lens opened wide. The last two seemed the most satisfying, maybe we were getting better at it.

This make me re-consider just how I should approach the taking of 5 x 4 images of my collaborators in the next phase of my environmental portraiture shots. The temptation is to leave well alone however, as their background should be an integral part of the image, assuming I don’t change course and shoot that separately.

Aily Nash

The final part of the week was a two day workshop called ‘The operative image’ led by a New-York based curator, Aily Nash. This had been organised by LUX, a charitable Arts group supporting and promoting artists working with the moving image. The first day was in a very cold screening room at the institute of contemporary arts on the Mall. The second day in a smaller but much warmer screening room at LUX’s building near Highgate.

My fellow attendees were largely videographic fine arts MA students with a couple of photographers, a several graduates and two studying for a PhD with Goldsmiths’ Centre for Research Architecture.

This was my first experience of this type of workshop, quite different to any photographic workshop I’ve attended to date. A process of watching a number of short films chosen by Aily and then dissected afterwards by ourselves with aily’s guidance and background comment. A slow but effective process it forced my to recognize the importance of a number of aspects in moving image work that I’d not really appreciated, as well as a view tricks in adding mood and tension.

Most of the Operative Image workshop group in the screening room of the ICA during a break (Graham Land, 2nd February, 2018)

We’d been asked to critically assess two supplied texts before the workshop, using extracts from these texts in our comments on the film material we’d been shown. The oldest text was by Hayden White entitled' ‘The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality’. On the face the article was comparing a chronological/histiographic approach to describing past events to one termed annalist. More of a listing of certain events with odd inclusions and exclusions. I didn’t think the basis of the thesis put forward was that substantial, but had to agree with a number of the points made, particularly with Haydens White’s concusions on the last page.

The newer article was chapter 5 of a book entitled ‘Precarious Life; The Powers of mourning and violence’ by Judith Butler. A heavy but quite interesting discussion on the notion of ‘face’, as put forward by Emmanuel Levinas, applies to media coverage of the Iraq war.

Entrance to LUX, Waterlow Park Centre, Dartmouth Park Hill (3rd February, 2019)

It was a lot to take in but it did promote some interesting ideas on my own proposed moving image work. More about these in my next blog.

REFERENCES QUOTED

to be added

Week 13; 21st -27th January 2019

Whilst still set this very strong bout of depression have finally got myself to be active.

On Tuesday I went to a presentation by Dr. Susan Bright. I was interested as she had given a very open and insightful presentation to the Falmouth Flexible students back in October, see my earlier week blog for details. I’d since become aware of her excellent ‘Autofocus’ book on contemporary self-portraiture so I felt this was an excellent opportunity to find out more. This took place at The Photographers Gallery who have been partnering London College of Communication’s photography programme to which Susan is a contributor.

Entitled ‘Collaboration and Creative Practice it was very much Susan’s own story about her experience of collaboration and how it has evolved and changed with each project. Happily there was only a little overlap with the talk she gave to my Falmouth group, whilst both covered her curatorial career the October presentation had given much more focus on the detail of the curatorial process through three recent projects.

The presentation began with a little biography and some quite personal observations on the after-effects of undertaking a PhD in 2017. (Home Truths: Photography and Motherhood). Susan’s expressed the view that the experience had been too insular and had left her feeling both negative and a little burnt out, ‘Gallery needs and academe don’t align’. .

Susan quickly moved on to make a number of pithy observations on how the status of curating has changed and could be improved. She felt that the title of ‘curator’ had become an elastic term to the extent at which the title was ‘useless’ and noted the term ‘super-curator’ had come into being in the photographic world. On the positive side she noted that though the role had changed the status had risen driven by social media connectivity.

Susan then moved on to her feelings about curating and collaboration based on her her experience and the lessons learned along the way. She felt she was best described as a feminist curator, 90% of her collaborators have been women. Susan expressed the view there were too many organizing committees composed of middle-aged men.

Each project that resulted in an exhibition would seem to have been different. Susan also questioned whether ‘the lone photographer’ really exists, as in practice photographic work often involves working with communities and networks. One of her examples provided was the studio of of Nadar were his assistants often took the photographs bearing his name.

Susan had great praise for designers she has worked with, describing their input as ‘designer magic’.

On the next day I made a scheduled trip to visit Central Saint Martins Library to return the two self-portraiture books by Friedlander and have a final look over some of the many other self-portrait imagery byvarious photographers before going back to those books that touched on environmental portraiture. One of the best still seemed to be the work of August Sander, and to remind myself of his work I took out the book on him by Gerd Sander of the August Sander Foundation. An exhibition catalogue published in 1996.

The week ended with a one day workshop run by Paul Ellis at PhotoFusion on large format portraiture photography. It was very rewarding. A degree of theory was communicated with most of the time spent gaining hands-on experience with two studio 4 x 5 cameras. Paul also imparted considerable insight on the equipment to be considered and what accessories Paul regarded as vital.

There were only four of us and most of the time was working in pairs with a camera, loading our own dark slides. and using either ourselves as subject or a female model. We had two slightly different monorail 5 x 4 cameras to work with; a Sinar P and a Sinar F. It was explained to us that the Sinar P is a camera designed primarily for studio use with both the lens board movements and that of the dark-slide mount maneuverable through geared controls whereas the Sinar P is more of a compromise with some geared movements and the ability to be broken down easily for assembly on location. We didn’t get to use a large format field camera, though the compromises in designing an easily transportable and quick to assemble large format camera were explained.

I was working with a fellow course-member, an Arts teacher who wanted to know more than the basic functions, so after making a couple of simple ‘straight’ portraits with the film plane parallel to that of the lens we experimented on tilting. Starting with just the lens board to then going for maximum effect on plane of focus by tilting the rear standard that holds the dark slide the opposite way. More about the results of this in a later blog, we had to wait for a week before the negatives were developed and scanned so we could the results of our experimentation.

What was immediately clear from the course was that I would benefit from a better loupe than the one for transparencies that I was planning to use with my recently acquired Wista 5x4 field camera, as well as a better means of loading my slides than the simple Paterson changing bag that I was currently using.

It was sadly also clear from Paul’s comment that my choice of a mint rosewood camera might not have been the best. The more expensive metal ones, such as those made by Linhof. The best ones in current productions were said to be made by Chamonix, a combination of wood, stainless steel and carbon fibre.

On a more positive note Paul mentioned the recent work of Alys Tominson, in particular her Ex-voto series where Alys re-visited Lourdes and made a number of large format black and white images. Alys spent two days with Paul learning large format technique and had recently invested in a Chamonix large format camera. Her ex-voto work will be available in March as a book ‘Ex-Voto’ , funded by a successful kick starter campaign and created with the assistance of the designer Stu Smith.

The value of working with a book designer has been outlined in several of the recent web presentations to the Falmouth Flexible cohort, the main issue in applying it to my Final Major Project activities is cost.

.

Week 7; The Falmouth University's Paris workshop and my first visit to Paris Photo 2018

DRAFT IN PROGRESS

The week began with a reasonably interesting wet of member presentations at Photofusion, the Brixton based photographic facility I’ve recently joined in order to conduct some printing of film enlargements.

On the Tuesday I conducted another ‘at home’ photoshoot, this time producing a reflective image of myself in a device I use very regularly. a kitchen toaster. I’m getting increasingly fussy and it took a while to get a set of shots that I was happy with. Here are the better images of this set:

The next day was a reasonably early start to get to St. Pancreas for a journey on the Paris Eurostar. The start of five days in Paris that had distinctly positive and negative aspects.

Before I leave commenting on this busy period I’d like to give a short review of a Falmouth University Photography Hub presentation by David Chancellor that I was able to take part in.

Week 6 of FMP: Moving on (27th Oct. - 2nd Nov. 2018)

DRAFT - More to be added

The week began with a visit to a photographic exhibition, ‘Cameraworld 2018’. Decribed as London’s largest photographic exhibition I’d beg to differ. The free to the public trade exhibition hosted during ‘The Societies’ annual convention in London is much bigger. There were a number of talks and whilst I went to a couple, the content was a trifle pointed to supporting manufacturer’s and of too short a duration to really gain much knowledge.

I began the working week with an early afternoon repeat journey to London Bridge to have a second attempt at getting some reasonable self-portraiture imagery on the train. This time I made greater effort to avoid the sun and made much greater use of a large speedlight. Below is a selection of the better images created:

Later in the week I was able to participate in a group critique with an FMP assisting tutor, showing a selection of my work to-date. The work was quite well received and I was encouraged by all those taking part to stay with my self-portraiture theme.

The next evening I went to the ‘Offspring’ photomeet at Print Space in Shoreditch.

I had my bimonthly haircut and dared raise the possibility of taking some self-portraiture shots during the cut. This proved much too difficult, my hairdresser, who I’ve frequented for over thirty years, was too rushed. It was also clear a remote trigger would be needed to do this at all properly, far too many windows to consider. Something to be attempted another day, at a quieter time if possible.

Week 5 of FMP: Unexpected feedback and a very photographic week (20-26th Oct. 2018)

The week began mainly occupied on non-photographic matters. However on the Monday I received notice of the assessed mark given for my FMP submission. It was quite a bit lower than I’d been hoping.

However, ‘onwards and upwards’. The next day I conducted a number of photoshoots in my home. Two were using reflective surfaces in my lounge, the last was a more simple direct photograph. All were taken via a tripod and the assistance of either LED or speedlight lighting.

Here are some samples of the three situations shot:

Research Proposal-wise my depression wasn’t lifted on Wednesday morning when I logged on to my PC to find a request for a 1-2-1 meeting with the FMP module leader for later that same morning. I did already have a 1-2-1 scheduled for Tuesday specifically for FMP proposal feedback, but thought best to get it over with. Whether that was a wise decision I later queried to myself.

The meeting went reasonably. I’d clearly misunderstood the marking scheme and had put far too much emphasis on describing other’s work and not enough on what I intended and the description of my rationale/supporting narrative was possibly too weak or woolly.

 I was encouraged to consider going back to my earlier project on ‘Croydon Shopkeepers of Distinction’. This troubled me a lot as while there was more that I could add to my approach; add video interviews, written narrative, different means of showing the images and use of 5x4 field camera for larger prints, it was my new,more challenging self-portrait project that I felt i was getting the greater personal reward from.

Afterwards I decided I’d been focussing too much on the background to my project and had not gone at all forward on new imagery until this week. This may also have lessened my research proposal. A lot to think about.

On the Friday, the end of week 5, I attempted some self-portraiture out of doors. First I found myself a realtively empty ‘stopping’ train from my local station in Croydon to London Bridge Station, via a number of stations in-between. This gave me time to set up a tripod on a facing seat and experiment with the settings. In was a cold and sunny day and proved to be quite tricky. Here are a few of the images that resulted. I resolved to try again at a similarly quiet time of day during the next week, probably making greater use of a speedlight to lighten my face a tad..

At the London Bridge Terminus I made my way the short distance to the river where I first tried taking some reflective images in the dark marble of a couple of large egg-ish shaped statues near London’s City Hall. The results were interesting, but the lack of face illumination tended to produce more of a silhouette with limited facial detail.

Moving to City Hall itelf I made use of some overlapping glass windows to try and capture myself. The camera was held in my hand, closer to the technique of Vivian Maier and Lee Friedlander.

Finally I tried to use an electronic public information board as a surface. This was probably the least effective. The text, as well as being distractive, has no pertinence to any aspect of myself. weakening any attempt at portraying a narrative.

Here are some examples from the different settings:

The  same evening I went to the opening of the ‘London Photo Show’ at the building, part of the Oxo Tower development. Covering three floors there were a number of rooms being used for the presentation of photographs, including a small one that hosted a recent Falmouth University graduate MA’s work; ‘Chicken Shack’ by Simon Fremont. The video projected in HD format was one of the most effective uses of video I’ve seen in an exhibition this year, excepting the wonderful videos in Alex Prager’s exhibition at The Photographers Gallery that is, the quality of which are in a league of their own.

My tutor had suggested that it would be good to do some slef-portraiture in environments outside my home. So

The final photographic event was on the same day as my first venture into taking self-portraits out of doors. Before returning I popped into the ‘Pic-up prints event in Shoreditch, partly to see the images presented, partly because I’d noticed that one of the participating artists was my tutor in the previous module, Stella Baraklianou. As well as seeing the three prints of Stella I was fortunate to meet the good lady herself and get some interesting background on the three images she was presenting.

Graham Land; Early evening of the first day of Photo Pic 2018, Shoreditch (2018)

Graham Land; Suraya Peart, 2018

I must have been a bit trigger happy from my photography earlier that day as I finished with a small impromptu shoot with a BA photography student, Suraya Peart, who had been chosen to present one of her pieces as part of the ‘Camberwell Photography’ group.

To the right is one of my images of Suraya, in pretty much the pose she had when I first noticed her, the lighting was very tricky.

Below is a copy of Suraya’s presented work, a form of self-portraiture. The image is of a chair, shot with and without Suraya sat upon it. The detail of her presence removed via Photoshop. Taken in an hotel environment it is unlikely to reflect the Suraya’s personality, but it is certainly a way of showing an anonymous presence.

Suraya Peart; There is (was) somebody here, 2018

Finally I was able to get back to Croydon just in time to receive feedback from a submission I’d made to my local camera club, the first of their print competitions this season. Two of my three submitted prints received comments much as I’d expected. However, I was a bit depressingly surprised at the negative view of what I’d thought was one of my best portraits taken during London Fashion Week. The view was that it was not engaged, I had recognized the eyes weren’t pointing at me, but had thought it conveyed a moment of wistfulness. So much is in the eye of the viewer.

During the week I was fortunate to be a participant in an extremely open presentation by a lunchtime guest lecture, Laura Hynd. I’ve  written below much more from my notes than I normally write as little of her pre-2009 biography seems to be documented elsewhere and to me it’s a story worth hearing.

Laura Hynd  Screen grab from 24th October, 2018 presentation

Laura Hynd Screen grab from 24th October, 2018 presentation

Laura began with a description of how after graduating in Graphic Design from Leeds Metropolitan University she’d began work as a creative designer. Out of the blue she’d had a call from a London picture desk asking if she’d be interested in working with them, she’d been recommended by one of her Leeds tutor’s.

She upped sticks (my words) and moved to join her sister already working in London and started, initially in a very menial role , but went on to become a full-time picture researcher. It is in this period that Laura describes rekindling an early interest in photography. Whilst she finds some photographer’s ‘too brash’ she became aware of photographers with what Laura describes as a ‘true voice’ who’s work she found aesthetically pleasing. In this period she built up a ‘Foundation of Knowledge’ that has become the basis of her photographic education. Due to certain issues and the development of RSI she took up voluntary redundancy in 2005 and bought a 6x6cm film format Hasselblad as she wanted to move away from her previous SLR camera as she found the images taken with these ‘snaps’ and ‘too surface’.

Initially her favourite work was plant images and was very influenced by the work of Sarah Moons and generally in the representation of texture. She gained access to Kew Gardens ‘Spirit Collection’ on the preservation of plants in formalin (a noxious but potent preservative).

Her photographic career really took off in 2007 when she was funded to photograph a small farm in Massachusetts that gave it’s produce to the homeless. Taking lots of photographs she found it much cheaper to process her film in New York and stayed there to process and edit her work. Presenting it as 15 sheets of A4 contact sheets (60 images?) to NY magazines before moving back to the UK and doing the same in London where Cheryl Newman at the Daily Telegraph commissioned her to take  photographs in Tuscany on a biodynamics theme. As part of this commission she photographed a man on a balcony as an add-on. Whilst this commission didn’t make her much money it did lead to lots of portraiture commissions.  

However, this was not what she’d planned or wanted to do. She  feels part of the reason her portraiture work took off was her calmness when working with what others found ‘difficult’ people. Though she was taking pictures of top celebrities, like Tom Stoppard, she knew little about lighting at that time. She took a number of images of naked women for a colour magazine feature and found working with these subjects interesting, questioning why they all had such low self-esteem.

She felt too much of her time was being spent on someone else’s brief and this led her to start her own projects. Laure described herself as creatively frustrated and coupled with some unsettling events in her personal life this led to her being diagnosed with clinical depression.

She felt a fraud due to her only having studied photography as A level and attended a number of workshops, one with Antoine d’Agata, a Magnum photographer, was particularly helpful. Her first project she entitled ‘Letting Go’, a project that she doesn’t feel has really ended. As well as wanting to push herself photographically Laura felt she needed to build up new relationships. So she started collaborating, swapping images with other photographers, leading to a joint exhibition with three others in a space called oblong 2010 and her first solo exhibition in 2011.

 We were then given a private link to her short video piece from this exhibition; ‘The Letting Go’.

 A compilation of a number of her images, possibly her creative portfolio of that time, with quite an intriguing choice of film track that fitted really well. Not a lot of times since it was uploaded in 2011. I understand the Portishead music was chosen as it was a group she often listened to as she worked.

Laura’s next project was ‘Lady into Hut’ came almost immediately afterwards. Her Grandfather was a film maker and had met the woman who’d become his wife and Laura’s Grandmother when he filmed her when she was only 16 for an early project in 1947, Laura still has this  film and used it, combined with her childhood experience of family holidays in a hut built by her Grandfather.  Again, Laura had created a fascinating video-collage with an equally appropriate sound track. See

Finally we were privileged to see her 2017 video piece ‘Hynd_blip’, a documentation of ‘a broken camera and a broken relationship’ (private link, so not posting). 

2017 brought Laura her biggest commission to-date, filming behind the scenes of a film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Originally 10 days of well-paid work with restricted access her early output was very well received and led to an additional 5 days with access to both the actors and the Director. In face she ended up featuring in the film herself taking a photograph with her Hasselblad on it’s trip.

She has recently moved  away from just using her trusty Hasselblad, buying a 5x4 field camera for a new project. Otherwise almost all Laura’s output has been via the Hasselblad, though it sometimes suffers it is easily repaired.

Along the way Laura gave us a view of several photobooks she’s created for herself of her different projects, all in the same square Hasselblad take format with a facing blank page.

Laura now has a child and her current conundrum is to balance financially rewarding but unfulfilling commissions with more fulfilling artistic work. She’s now thinking more long-term and is teaching two days a week, which may increase.

Week 4 of FMP: Proposal and preparation (13-19th Oct. 2018)

The proposal has gone forward for review and will hear feedback on this assignment at the end of the month in my next 1 to 1 with my FMP tutor. Apart from belated recognition that I’d confused myself in a reference as to which book an interview I’d quoted belonged, it seemed to go ok, I will soon find out.

Otherwise it has been a relatively quiet week. Unfortunateely there were several photogprahic events I’d have liked to have gone to on the same two evenings. In the end I decided to go to the opening of an exhibition opening entitled ‘Human Factors’ at the Watermans Gallery, Brentford. It was a small exhibition of just five exhibits, but was I felt worth going to as it was an opportunity to speak to artists who’s work touched on self-identity.

Hanna Haaslati, the Finnish artist/organizer who led the exhibition hosted a participatory installation ‘Captured’ that consisted of taking a rapid facial scan of a participant and then mapping their features to a digital creation involving several avatars in bullying scenes. At the same time the sex of the person being bullied was female, regardless of the sex of the face mapped to that avatar.

Hannah Haaslahti , taken by Graham Land, 17th October, 2018

Hannah Haaslahti, taken by Graham Land, 17th October, 2018

I was able to speak to Hannah and found the installation had been done in collaboration with five others, two of which were present at the opening. Hannah introduced me to her key collaborator, the American creative technologist Tyler Henry, who coded the scene and assisted in the technology applied. Quite an involved and time-consuming process.

A participant in from of the scanning unit, Graham Land, 17th October, 2018

The image opposite shows one of the participant taking their photograph just after they had been scanned. There is one strong light above the scanning unit and a second below. This is done deliberately to produce strong shadows that are easier to visualise using the limited resolution of the coded-mapped face. The eyes and nose are used as reference points to ensure that the image of the participants face is appropriately mapped correctly on to the head f the 3-D avatar. This is done very quickly so there is little risk of movement spoiling the capture.

As more participants are scanned the several figures involved in the bullying and subjugation scenario populated in turn.

I understand the scenario was created from old photographs of actual scenes from Fascist Austria. The main change was changing all the avatar bodies to obviously female ones. This is of course a form of self-portrayal, at least as far as the face is concerned. However, once you’ve taken part you realise to have more impact some sort of a strong expression needs to be made. So quite quickly the participants themselves are becoming actors within the portrayed scenario.

Interesting, it did make me wonder a little further what I might do as a self-portraiture booth at my proposed exhibition. At the same time clearly many hours of quite expert labour and thought had gone into creating this exhibit. It would be very brave/foolish to attempt anything on these lines without significant external support.

The other exhibit that interested me was one called ‘Monitor Man by the Visual Artist Yassine Khaled, a Moroccan living in Helsinki. His exhibit was a helmet that he has designed and used to stimulate live conversation in across countries and cultures. Here’s a link to some examples on his website. Not really linked to my self-portraiture project but nonetheless stimulating. It didn’’t happen overnight of course and in fact his project is still evolving.

Kazuma Obara giving a presentation on the 18th October, 2018 . Taken by Graham Land

Kazuma Obara giving a presentation on the 18th October, 2018. Taken by Graham Land

The next evening, of the three talks I could have gone to I picked one recommended by a previous tutor, Kazuma Obara. His talk was entitled ‘Beyond Fukushima: capturing untold stories of nuclear disasters’. and covered three separate projects. The first was in 2011 where Kazuma had been the first photographer to gain access to the Fukushima nuclear power facility after it suffered catastrophic damage after the 2011 tsunami took out it’s electricity supply. The fascinating project centred on the staff working to repair the dame inside the plant and resulted in a book; ‘Reset Beyond Fukushima’.

Graham’s copy of ‘Exposure’ ‘signed’ by the author, Kazuma Obara

Kazuma didn’t say very much on his next project on World War II bombing survivors, which resulted in his ‘Silent Histories’ book, but he did describe his next nuclear project, a 2016 visit to the town of Pripyat. Pripyat is of course the ghost town where the workers and families of the Chernobyl power plant used to live. He was able to buy 10 unused rolls of 120 Russian film that had been made at about the same time or before the Chernobyl disaster and he used these for a number of his shots. Unfortunately he’d had poor advice on what exposure to use on such old film which resulted in many shots being drastically overexposed. However, he was able to make use of a number of images by simply digitally scanning the negative.

Kazuma has included a number of inclusions in his latest book ‘Exposure’, quite a complex form of presentation. I bought a copy. Like the 120 film it has a paper binding that has to be cut to access the cardboard bound book.

Kazuma has continued his study into what he describes as nuclear labour issues and has an ongoing project documenting a number of Bikini Atol islanders who’s lives have been blighted by the extensively use of their island for atomic bomb tests in the 1950’s. Kazuma also mentioned his successful one year of study for an MA at London College of Communication in 2015.

Otherwise my main photographic activity has been reading up on the use of 5x4 camera’s, in particular the vitally important loading the use aspect. Not too difficult to get it disastrously wrong.

Week 3 of FMP; Mapping out the months ahead and other things (6-12th October, 2018)

The main theme of this week is writing tp my 2,500 word research proposal for submission by Monday, 15th October.

Given I was only the second person in my cohort to have my 1 to 1 with my course tutor I really should have advanced this already, but I never seem to find it so easy to do until the deadline is looming. It’s a motivational trait that has been with me since school.

One of my first completed activities supporting the proposal was mapping out my timescale as follows:

Timeline

Oct 16th-Nov 7th – Film & Digital experimentation, decide/secure exhib. space.

Nov 9-11th - Paris Face to Face

Nov 12th-Jan 29th Follow-up development.

Nov 25th & Dec 2nd - PhotoFusion darkroom workshops

Jan (or Feb) – Present portfolio at a Photographer Gallery’s ‘Folio Friday’ workshop

Jan 30th – Key 1 to 1 discussion with Tutor to decide final approach

(BACK-UP DECISION MILESTONE; Stay with project?)

Feb – Final shoots and portfolio preparation and initial publicity feeds.

March 4-10th – Falmouth Face/face portfolio review

and developing/scanning/enlargement work

March 11-31st – Last-minute shooting/edit

and finalisation of plans, printing, publicity etc.

April 1st - Exhibition set-up (Sunday)

April 3-7th - Exhibition + Launch (Wed-Sun)

April 7th - Exhibition take-down

April 8t – 2nd May – Follow-up activities and general write-up completion

April 14th- 28th – Easter break (Limits any opportunity for final feedback?)

May 3rd, 2019 – Assignment Deadline

I was in truth a little surprised to recognize just how tight the schedule becomes once the next academic period kicks off in late January next year. So whilst in some ways I seem to a have plenty of time at present to try different approaches and experiment. I feel I need to have to aim to have a suitable portfolio for assessment by early January latest. At the same time the project that is not described above, my Croydon Shopkeepers work, needs to be reasonably progressed within the same period. Just in case it is needed as a back-up at the milestone decision point. That is my scheduled 30th January 1 to 1 30 minute meeting with my Tutor.

This may of course change.There is the old adage that ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’, attributed to the Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Mokte the Elder and paraphrased in this form by my old favourite war historian, Correlli Barnett.

However, the design of this FMP stage is that I have to document the results of the public exposure of my work by the 3rd May. This means the exhibition, and any other publicity, needs to be in hand well before this date.

So best to be busy.

_______________

The week began with my participation in the monthly meeting of a group of Photofusion members, where no more than four or five present ongoing work for discussion and feedback. Organised by Kim Shaw and supported, at least critique-wise, by Anthony Luvera, Principal Lecturer and Course Director of MA Photography and Collaboration at Coventry University. I understand Anthony was part of the team that validated my own Flexible MA course.

Foolishly I volunteered to be scribe for most of the meeting, the note to be given to the relevant speaker, so this write-up may appear a little excessive. The presenters full names I will leave out as it is a very informal event with about thirty participants and the material shown was generally at quite an early stage.

The first presentation was almost too early for comment. A selection of images from travel that whilst some had quite a timeless quality, others were far too close to the standard tourist/holidaymaker snapshot to be easily commented on.

The second was much more advanced. Presented by a gentleman who’s ‘day-job' is has a fashion photographer he presented a number of outstanding large black and white prints of the nude torsos of a number of older woman, who apparently model regularly for life-class portraiture. In all cases the head or face was not shown. Tim’s project is to create a larger body of work that could lead to an eventual book publication.

Roberto presenting to PhotoFusion members, Graham Land, 6th October, 2018

One reviewer did point out that whilst the quality was excellent one image didn’t fit as in that case the neck could be clearly seen. The prints had been made with a platinum process, which everyone seemed to admire.

The main discussion wasn’t so much on the photography but on why they’d been done and whether there was a risk they could be seen as objectifying women. He was asked ‘Is it male gaze?’. The presenter didn’t think so. It was suggested that he picked images that supported that position to avoid criticism of those that several females in the audience thought did In particular the droopy nature of some of the folds of skin portrayed was felt to reinforce the view of older women and perhaps exaggerated their aging. The choice of black and white in this case may not be helpful as too close to historic portrayals.

The presenter’s response was that he was trying to portray that women have a tougher journey than men. It was suggested that he involves the women models in the choice of final image. He said that these are all shot in a studio with a tethered digital camera and that he does always let the model see their captured image.

There was quite a lot of comments, mainly from female members of the audience. The presence of relaxed hands in a number of the images was felt to help avoid objectification but a number felt there were too many assumptions. It was also felt by some that the women portrayed all came across as mothers, which not all are of course.

His closing comments were that he felt he needed to stress that he allowed the model to do their own direction. He views the male body as having a different journey. It started as a Masters project but he now wants the work to be a more personal project. So far he has about 40 images in this project portfolio and appreciated the feedback.

I found it both an interesting and alarming discussion. As a male who often takes portraits and fashion images of women it was clear that one could easily be perceived of communicating a secondary narrative that was negative in some way to womanhood. Whilst this doesn’t impact on my current project work, it’s certainly something to be aware of. The other observation was the visual impact of those platinum process black and whlte prints, definitely something to be considered as a potential means of illustrating my self-portraiture work.

The next project presentation was by Fran on a very different theme, images taken of the course of the River Esk from the coast to the source in the North Yorkshire moors. It was at quite an early stage, using colour images captured during two long walks, conducted at different times of the year. She was still learning about the area and enjoyed associated map ephemera..

Fran presenting to PhotoFusion members, Graham Land, 6th October, 2018

The presenter had studied ‘A’ level photography at school, but was only just returning to photography after graduating and starting a curatorial job at a major institution in London. She liked analogue/film and had just started working in colour. Re-familiarizing herself with technique etc.

A number of other projects were quoted by the members of the audience: Paul Gaffney, Bobby Mills, Iain Sinclair were given particular attention. Derek Henderson was also mentioned as a good examples of combining portraiture with landscape. Similar Stevan Vaughan and Alec Soth.received praise.

After a discussion on the interaction with landowners the road-trip work of Paul Graham and the account of encountered animals by Fay Godwin was mentioned, particularly her British Landscape project.

I guess the biggest lesson for here was the extensive knowledge base possessed by other practitioners. It would be a very useful venue for presenting my own project during it’s course, the feedback could be valuable.

The fourth presentation was different again. This was by Tim, a professional Australian ethnographer on a project based on the documentation of an isolated community in Australia, 40 miles East of Alice Springs. The photographic work results from his interaction with this community in the course of his funded research into the meaning and value of sport to such aboriginal communities. He’s been involved in this research for the last eight years, working with football focused younger members of that community,.

Tim presenting to PhotoFusion members, Graham Land, 6th October, 2018

Tim presenting to PhotoFusion members, Graham Land, 6th October, 2018

Whilst it his fairly easy to obtain funds for his current research he would like to escape the ‘funding envelope’ that prescribes his approach. The photographic imagery of crowds and sport currently is there to support this research, he’d like to move to it being a more personal photography only project. He want to work with the local community th capture the joy that represents sport in this community. Portraying their ‘lived’ experience. He feels at the moment his pictures say more about him than them.

As well as escaping his current ethnographic academic pressure he want to pursue a photography oriented theme, helping raise funds for their local sport in the process. He’s writing a book which will contain about 20 images, he doesn’t want a ‘coffee table type photobook but would happily consider some form of zine. This did generate the comment that as yet no zines have made significant money to speak of.

There was an immediate mention of the very colourful images of Patrick Waterhouse portrayed in the current October issue of the British Journal of Photography, Entitled ‘Restricted Images’ is documents the Australian Northern Territory’s Waliri People, artistic post processing being applied to mix aboriginal art with his photography.

The comment was made that this sounded similar to work done documenting Brazilian Favela communities by Julian Germain. The work of Wendy Ewald was also mentioned, (on a number of projects has ‘worked with’ children, families and teachers in those communities to document themselves using her equipment). Anthony Luvera elt it was a social engagement project waiting to happen.

The last question was that his images seemed to show the isolation of that community well. His repsonse was that he didn’t want to show their isolation, more important to him was the richness of their community. It was that he wanted to portray.

My own view of his project was that whilst there was already a substantial base to build on, in re-framing the purpose of his project perhaps it might in some ways be simpler to start afresh, if this in practice is truly possible.

But he did come across as very capable of making it happen.

___________________

Sissel Thastum, Webcam snapshot captured during the 9th October, 2018 presentation

Sissel Thastum, Webcam snapshot captured during the 9th October, 2018 presentation

A few days later we had another Falmouth photography hub web-based presentation. This was by the Danish photographer Sissel Thastum, hosted by Catarina Foutoura. A Danish Jutlander she described a long-running project ‘I am here when you are here’ that started originally in support of her BA studies. Describing visually her relationship with her Mother. and taking an unusual path for such a documentary project with very few images taken within the home. At the same time it seems an intensely personal project.

Untitled image of her Mother and Father, Sissel Thastum, date not stated

Intimately exploring her relationship with her Mother Sissel said that now the act of taking a photograph of her Mother produces feelings of nostalgia. Whilst she said that the project stressed the fragility of life as it made her recognize that her Mother and father won’t always be there. To me it seems strange that in her imagery her father only seems to feature once in a very intimate shot of both her parents together naked.

Not that all of Sissel’s images have her Mother featured either. Some are very moody shots of what I understand is the pinewood environment that surrounds her family’s home.

Untitles, an image of her Mother by Sissel Thastum, date not stated

Untitles, an image of her Mother by Sissel Thastum, date not stated

One of the images that stood out for a number of us in the presentation was one of her Mother on the coastline with a strong wind blowing her hair. Whilst grainy the image seems to exemplify the meaning that she communicates so consistently in this project. Words do not seem necessary.

Sissel than said a little about her current project entitled ‘Thela’. This project stems from a recent residency in Portugal and looks at humans influence of the planet. Collaborating with others she found worries about timing predominated her thinking at the start. She now sees this as part of her artistic development. So whilst she found the freedom provided byher open-ended residency eliminated worry about the end-product, it did make her feel insecure.

Her methodology has evelved and she now simply always carries a camera. Most of her photos involve and entrance of a path, her basic theme is closeness to nature. She has taken may images but hass yet to decide what to do with them. This links with her first project.

But she has felt print is too distant and this prompted her to try video. Sissel described her previous project, a video soundscape created with the musician and sounds artist Alexander Holm, entitled: ‘No you without the Mountains, without Sun, without Sky’. Providing a private link to view the video it is a subtle composition, both by audio and visual presentations are highly subdued. Blending from close-up what my be a sunlit frogspawn coated pool to evening moving clouds and finally a desert mountain panorama. Based on the Native American Wintu people of Northern California it’s very restrained, but extremely mood provoking.

Sissel described it as a means to allow the viewer to meditate and a counter-reaction to what she feels is the anthropocentric worldview driven by capitalistic ideals.

Her current work is research based, but very flexible and she said she’s starting to build bridges from one projet to another. Caternina quoted Stephen Shore’s comment of finding your own voice to communicate.

She added at the end that it was in her experience tricky to get your work curated. In her last project she was both a producer and curator, curating her collaborators work as well as her own. She did encourage anyone who’s work crosses border to look actively into those possible connections. For her photography on it’s own is too limiting.

__________________

DRAFT - A little more to be added

Week 2 of FMP: Recovery and preparation (29th Sep - 5th Oct)

The week began on a low, the bug that had developed in the last week reached it’s climax, somehow I managed to deliver to the Shoreditch gallery the print that had been accepted into the London Independent Photography (LIP) group’s annual exhibition. Quite a narrow Sunday evening time slot on a day where the key London Overground line was only partly working.

_______

I was not much better when we had the opportunity to hear the book designer Victoria Forrest give a web presentation. The talk was very informative, covering three books that she had been commissioned to design and arrange the production of.

Victoria stressed the importance of accompanying text, alongside the photoedit to pick the most appropriate good looking images to go with that text. The cover material for the book is vitally important. Need to gives the right kind of feel to the buyer. Cloth is very good, but hard to print on. Therefore paper better, but as paper is not durable it has to be laminated. Can have cloth underneath and paper cover. Trade preference to do this.

Interestingly each book she covered had a very different approach. Clearly the photographer’s view came first.

She normally first sets a format with the agreement of the photogpraher. i.e. Description-place-date-country. The use of a graphic device to present the beginning is good. Best to set the atmosphere first, don’t rush to the images. She felt each chapter should be supported by text in some way, the use of text is alway best judged by the photographer. The photograph should however come before text.

The first book, ‘Ili’ by Thomas Hafalla made great use of space and was very minimalistic in design. Possibly a little hard on those with poor eyesight, the text accompanying the images was quite small, but very stylishly began. She introduced me to a word I was totally unfamiliar with; ‘Colophon’. Which apparently is a technical description of how the book has been put together. From looking it up afterwards it’s common in older books, not so often seen in contemporary publications.

The second book, ‘Guantanomo if the light goes out’ by Edmund Clark was less minimalist with much more text. Again, not perhaps the biggest of fonts that might have been used, but still very stylish. It even used different paper in certain sections to add extra discrimination to then meaning of that page. Bleed very important. Means using 3mm round the edges. Always gutter loss if an image spans two pages.

The third book Victoria reviewed the making of was ‘Santa Muerte’ by Angus Fraser. This had much less text and no image captions. Like Clark’s book it did contain a poem to support the narrative and did contain an essay contextualizing that narrative.

Victoria felt the key aspects were:

  1. What is your story?

  2. What MUST you say?

  3. Do your images support this?

She also added that there were two type of book image, the showstopper and the less-dramatic. The latter are often needed to fully support the narrative, making the point it’s a photo-essay. Important to be as objective as possible.

Victoria said that in some cases it’s necessary to conduct more shoots, to get the type of image that fits a missing gap. Though she also added much depends on the subject, if it’s event or time that’s gone by then that’s clearly not possible. In her experience 20-30% of the books she’s designed have needed additional shooting.

I asked Victoria how important she felt referencing was,, I’ve often had difficulties with images in certain book saying where that image could be found. (Photogpraphy-archive websites references generally more certain). She did say that it was important for Galleies to be able to find the plates, but I don’t think she felt it that important compared to how the book looks to the reader-viewer. I guess the answer is the major audience isn’t planning to cite the images they see in the books they’ve bought, there’s always little strips of sticky yellow paper after all.

She also added that dealing directly with printers is always difficult. Important is feld-publishing to avoid large print runs, only print what you expect to shift in a year. Slip covers are a luxury, and can be annoying. Attention to detail vital, important to have close contact with the printer, though British printers are not so good and number of European ones are. She uses a Verona printing house, as does the publisher Dewi Lewis.

She finished with her view that silk surfaces were to be avoided. Go either gloss or matt.

____________

The next day we I was fortunate to have another Falmouth web-presentation. Dr, Susan Bright on her experience as a curator and author. Susan remarked that curating has changed since she started working within the Arts twenty years ago. It is now much more acceptable as a middle-class profession. She is also much happier curating than writing.

Dr. Susan Bright - Web-screenshot 3rd October, 2018 presentation to Falmouth Flexible MA students

Dr. Susan Bright - Web-screenshot 3rd October, 2018 presentation to Falmouth Flexible MA students

She tends to work with Museums that lack someone with her specialty skills. She likes the dynamic learning aspect of curation, particularly the exchange of ideas. At the same time she did not think it was easy, you are forced to be nimble, crisis management is always a need. She felt the two key aspects were:

  1. Deciding how it will function - Display - Aesthetics. Has to be more than just pictures on a wall.

  2. HAS to be entertaining. The architecture mustn’t get in the way, design considerations paramount. It must keep people interested

Susan compared writing to a ‘blood-letting process’. She tries to write intuitively.

Currently based in Paris she discussed how she designed and installed a recent exhibition entitled playground / leikkikenttä, showing work by Elina Brotherus at a Finnish museum, Serlachius Museum Gustaf in the North of Finland. Working with a designer she desrcibed the process of moving from a maquette model to the final hang.

She felt the curating tasks with the greatest complexity is group work. More thematic in nature she sent into some detail on a ‘Motherhood and Identity exhibition at the Photographers Gallery that also resulted in a book, Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood’.

Susan then described a related exhibition at she set up at The Foundling Museum. The small space available making this much more difficult, which she then made smaller by adding a video piece. But it did add humour and movement to what otherwise was a rather sad exhibition.

The resulting book was much larger than either exhibition in terms of content. She described editing as a harsh process, adding that it had to be. But at the same time certain work HAS to be in.

Moving on to a very different book on how food has been depicted through the ages; ‘Feast for the Eyes’, Susan gave a brief appraisal of this vast project. Describing how the book is a much longer process that the exhibition, and as is typical in exhibitions that accompany a book there were items that missed the book’s deadlines that were included in the exhibition. Pointing out i guess that generally books are already a little dated by the time they reach the shelves. Certainly true in my old area of Science anyways.

Susan concluded with a new book, co-authored, aimed at BA students it is based on her long teaching career and covers ten large topics. To be published next year. In response to a question on whether age can be a basrrier to bcoming known Susan said not. She felt it was much more important to keep putting material into the public domain. She did however query whether exhibitions on-line are successful. She felt there should bea place, but had yet to come across one that she felt worked. She finished with the point that ideas gel through a collaborative process.

________

On Thursday I attended the evening opening event of the LIP exhibition. Here is a shot of where I found my mounted print had been hung. As is usual with this group the general quality of the prints exhibited was high. I had to regard myself as fortunate for one of my images to be included, several of my friends who are also members of the group hadn’t had any of there submissions accepted for hanging.

My print was hung immediately adjacent the bar of the opening night, good for attention that evening, maybe not on the other days of the exhibition.

My print was hung immediately adjacent the bar of the opening night, good for attention that evening, maybe not on the other days of the exhibition.

The same evening I made my way from Shoreditch to the British Journal of Photography (BJP)building, close to the Northern entrance of the Blackwall tunnel, to see an exhibition of prints and a display of the wares of a new start up company, Intrepid Camera Company, developing and selling large format cameras, and enlargers.

The exhibition of large black and white prints was probably the least interesting part of the event for me, there weren’t many images and those that were exhibited were a bit too deadpan for my liking. It was interesting to see their cameras and whilst I didn’t regret picking my 5x4 Wisnta Field Camera, it was good to see this physical expression of resurgence in large format photography. It was also good to talk to yet more photographers.

This was my second visit to this building, I’d been there for the launch of the BJP’s ‘Portrait of Britain’ book that had been published by Hoxton Mini Press. I’d mentioned in my week-3 blog that I’d been able to get quite a decent photo of a fellow photographer in a corridor of the building. It was the corridor that led to the toilets. In the much quieter event it was easily possible to photograph the location:

Corridor used for the taking of the Emmanuel Cole photo, taken 10th October, 2018

Corridor used for the taking of the Emmanuel Cole photo, taken 10th October, 2018

As can be seen, there were actually two overhead light sources. The Security lady in the image did ask why I was interested. Resulted in me trying to reproduce the effect with a portrait of her in roughly the same position using her mobile phone. Nothing like as good as the result with my Fuji with it’s 85mm equivalent lens, but she was happy with the result. A bit of a surreal experience.

Week 1 Final Major Project (FMP): Forward with the self-portraiture project (22-28th Sep)

The first week of the final period of my MA studies, culminating in a final critical review of practice assignment submission on the 10th April next year.

We’d been given notice in an informal 1 to 1 meeting with our FMP tutor that we would need to prepare a ‘PechaKucha’ presentation to outline the nature of the topic that we would like to go forward with as out Final Major Project and our reasoning behind this choice. Sure enough, our first activity was to prepare a twenty-slide PechaKucha’ style20 seconds a slide presentation with an audio track of our presentation, showing this to our module peers for comment. This to be presented to the Course Tutor on the Tuesday of week 1 or week 2.

However, as is typical of me I had confined my preparation to looking up more background on what a PechaKucha presentation was and thinking of a few images that could be included. Partly due to some IT glitches it wasn’t possible to book until the Tuesday. In inquiring about the IT difficulty I’d inadvertently given the impression that I was ready to present. So when the course Tutor expedited things along I found myself waking up Tuesday morning to find I had my PechaKucha booked for 10am.

I decided to go ahead anyway, I was quite clear on what I wanted to do. The original concept of the PechaKucha (Katakana; ぺちゃくちゃ), as implemented in Tokyo by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham to to attract people to an event for the exchange of creative ideas, was to give simply speak over whatever was presented. So whilst I ran out of time preparing a video with an unscripted voice-over I decided, with the assent of my course tutor, to proceed with just a live audio presentation of the powerpoint video.

So I simply spoke directly to the tutor. I did record this live and shortly afterwards spliced the audio recording with the existing Powerpoint mp4. Posting this a little belatedly on to the general discussion board for peer comment. Here is that video with unedited ‘live’ audio:

Although I’d set up the powerpoint to show each slide for twenty seconds, the actual time was a tad less. Otherwise all seemed to go well. I’d mentioned that I planned to use my more mature project on certain Croydon Shopkeepers, that was the subject of my ‘Distinctively Different’ exhibition, as a potential back-up. My tutor thought this was a sensible strategy, and felt that i should carry on further progressing this project at the same time as my Self-Portraiture series. She did also suggest that I did not confine myself as I’m currently doing to images of myself reflected on some suitable surface but broadened out in both location and means.

So the next step is the preparation of the formal FMP proposal, to be submitted by the 15th October. To support this I booked myself later this week into the library at Central Saint Martins. The visit proved useful,coming back with three borrowed books and the copies of a number of pages from several other useful books. From this and previous searching it was also very clear it was a much bigger genre in painting, drawing and sculpture than it was in photography, where it is often used in support of training budding artists representational technique. Much to read, a lot to think about.

__________________________

To broaden my experience a little after my library visit I also went to the opening reception for the new Institute of asian Performing Arts. The exhibition accompanying it covered works from 1960s and 1970s Japan and Korea, including a number of images by Murai Tokuji and Minoru Hirata. There was also a live re-creation of a 1974 performance event by the Korean performance artist, Kim Ku Lim. Although there was a photographer taking still shots I decided out of curiosity to record the live performance with video, stopping a couple of time to take still shots. the latter was an error because I missed the unexpected conclusion. Here is that video, slightly edited with a couple of my still shots added.

I posted a link via his daughter Jessica, who’s a Goldsmith’s art student, to Kim Ku Lim. I understand he was pleased.

______________________

The week had began with participation at a Royal Photographic Society (RPS) South East group special day long event at Tonbridge, a 30 minute drive from where I live. My primary reason was to make touch with on of the presenters; Harry Borden, a renowned portrait photographer who kindly let me interview him for a weekly task in the Spring of this year. vent. In fact there were several presentations that were of interest.

Catherine Trojano, Assistant Curator of Photographs, Word & Image at the V&A (London) gave an interesting insight into the creation of a new exhibition space for the RPS photographic archive that is now held by the V&A. Utilising an area that was in fact previously used in the 1900s to present photographic imagery it will be opened om the 12th October this year as the ‘Photographic Centre’. This will double the space that is currently used at the V&A to present photography. A short video clip is shown below.

The V&A has been collecting photographs since 1856, the year the Museum was founded, and it was one of the first museums to present photography exhibitions. Since then the collection has grown to be one of the largest and most important in the world, comprising around 500,000 images.

Interestingly a shot was shown of the new exhibtion space in the same hall as used in the 1900s. The very obvious difference was the density of imagery shown. It looked as though 3-4 times the number of images were shown in it’s 1900 guise as a presentation space for photographs compared to the single line of photographic prints to be shown in the new gallery areas.

Another member of the audience made the same observation. The answer was that all of the pictures held can be viewed at the V&A relatively easily upon request. In my mind it questions whether the current fashion for showing images in no more than a single line along a wall is truly the best way of communicating a large collection of work. Whilst it gives maximum exposure to those images shown, it also excludes different imagery that the visiting public may well be totally unaware of the existence of. I doubt that many will be delving into the collection to see the alternative approaches not displayed.

Of course presentation of scanned photographic images can offset this. There was a quite impressive demonstration of a way of viewing such an archive earlier in the year at PhotoLondon in the West wing of Somerset House. The International Center of Photography presented an immersive multimedia installation called ‘Unwavering Vision’. Below is a short demonstration video. The way you could quickly roam through a large collection of images was very impressive.

Using the specially created interactive touchscreen interface shown large scale images were projected onto the installation screen. More than 5,000 images spanning the history of photography were available; included audio segments, film clips, and biographies.

There was also a really interesting stereoscopic presentation by Denis Pellerin called ‘The Historian and the Stereoscope’. The distributed glasses were tailored to the exact two wavelengths used to present the stereoscopic material and was very effective. Denis described the huge fashion in stereoscopy in Victorian times and how there has been repeated waves of interest in odd periods since. His description of how Victorian ‘carte de visit’ machines that produced a number of photographs for cards using a bank of cameras. Where multiple copies of such cards still exist it has been possible to create a seteroscopic image of the viewer from appropriately spaced cards, Quite fascinating.

Some of the most impressive examples were ones created of first world war trenches.

Whether this type of image will regain popularity isn’t clear. I think the greatest hurdle is the need to wear glasses. Maybe the use of virtual reality headsets to play games and watch movies will encourage it’s return? However, I forked out £20 for a viewer that would enable me to present suitable taken paired images on my mobile phone stereoscopically. When I get round to trying it out.

________________________

I almost forgot to mention in this hectic first week an interesting presentation given via the Falmouth photography hub by Max Ferguson; founding editor of Splash & Grab Magazine, the Director of Photography of Port Magazine and Port Creative and a freelance photo editor at the Financial Times Weekend Magazine. Hosted by Anna-Maria Pfab.

Max Ferguson talking via a web-cam, screen grab of live talk on the 25th September, 2018

Max Ferguson talking via a web-cam, screen grab of live talk on the 25th September, 2018

Max began with pointing out that he does not earn income from ‘Spash and Grab’. His paid work is has a freelance. In the case of his FT work he large initiates commissions work from other photographers on the basis of their personal projects. Much more so than examples from their commercial work.

He quoted as a case-study how he came to commission the Irish-Nigerian photographer Cian Oba-Smith for a magazine piece. He thought the most important means was content, as shown in your website and communicated in social media. In Cian’s case he was particularly impressed by the ‘Bike life’ project that Cian had done at college. He said he likes the intimacy of ‘close projects’.

He thought the fundamental issue for a working photographer was that day rates are generally insufficient to live on. The reason for this he put down to the now overwhelming use of transnational e-media such as Facebook and Google for advertising. On the plus side he thought magazines are adapting and they are beginning to offer higher base rates in order to gain better output. Later Anna-Maria stressed how important instagram was in gaining the attention of commissioning editors and galleries.

He also gave a little insight into one of his own photographic projects; Burning the caterpillars’, a project on images obtained during travel, showing stasis more than movement. He likes photographing people ‘really close-up’.

In the Q&A that followed he mentioned photo-meet as a useful means of networking and that giving low-resolution pdf’s to communicate portfolios can be useful. He also felt it was worth looking at his own publishers, Antenne Books as a means to publish work.

He was not so positive about agencies, saying that generally they will take 60% of the income that they find for you. Only top photographers could negotiate lower commissions with the likes of Getty Images, otherwise best avoided. He didn’t feel the use of print was likely to diminish anytime soon.

When approached by a new photographer he wants initially to see a small number of very good images, then with their shoot expects to see much more, but all should be of good quality.

He also mentioned that in the case of ‘Splash and grab’ they would normally use anything from 3-10 images from one photographer, but it would be they who decided which images, not the photographer. They expected to work with a much larger number and then pick those they felt most suitable. He felt that whilst instagram was initially important in attracting attention. It was the website that cemented that contact. The more interesting things should be there.

He felt definitions of what sort of photographer you are were getting less and less important, now much more blurred. On the other hand only a few publications, such as the British Journal of Photography, show all types of photography, the trend current is towards niche.

__________________________

The final activity of the week was printing and arranging the mounting of an image that had been accepted for the annual exhibition of the London Independent Photography (LIP) group. More of that in my next blog. .

Week -1; The last break before the Final Major Project (FMP)

Whilst the week began with visits to several of the London Fashion week venues on the Sunday and Monday, the rest of the week was spent on a number of non-photographic duties. My last week before beginning the Final Major Project Stage of my Falmouth Photography MA.

Apart from meeting a number of interesting people the highlight of my time at London Fashion Week was being able to join a number of other photographers in the ‘pit’ at the end of the catwalk at Fashion Scout’s Free Masons hall venue for three of their SS19 collection shows. As a newcomer I didn’t have the ideal position looking directly down the catwalk.

For some of the shots I copies those around me and moved the setting of my DSLR to ‘continuous shooting’, a setting I normally rarely use. While this probably helps slightly framing-wise, I’m not convinced the many images captured really assist in getting the best shot. The main virtue was at the end as the model faced the photographer’s and then turned to go back. Situated to the edge of the pack this moment of turning gave the greatest opportunity of capturing a less-side on image. What it certainly did was dramatically increase the number of shots taken in total.

Technically I decided to shoot in raw and adjust the colour temperature later. A fellow photographer had advised shooting at a certain quite cool colour temperature. My experience on processing the images later was that this was pretty close.

These are from the first collection I shot, the Farzeneh H Christensen collection.

With hindsight the lessons learned where:

  • Didn’t need to shoot at quite as fast a speed as I did; typically 1/1500 with my 70-200 mm f/2.8 stabilised lens. A slightly slower speed could have meant a better iso or increased depth of field.

  • Do not rely on auto-focus. The lens I used has a very good AF function, but I suspect the reflections in the low light for a number of the garments led it astray.

  • Whilst the 70-200mm is almost perfect for the hall environment of a catwalk shoot, it might have been good to be able to quickly move to a body with a wider lens, but little time in practice to do this. Certainly helpful for the closing part where the designer often walks on escorted by models.

  • Don’t go in too close zoom-wise. Too easy to crop of an elbow etc.

  • I could have set up the colour temperature in advance, though my adjusted colour result are not too bad. Very important if I’d been relying on jpeg for rapid image dissemination, as some photographer’s were.

Friday evening found conducting my first paid commission for video work, covering a gig by the Status Quo tribute band, Statin Quo, at a South London venue. One of my shopkeeper collaborators, Carl Nielsen, had asked if I could use my hand-held stabilized camera rig to shoot video of his band, which he helped found. (Carl is a long time next door neighbour and good friend of Quo founder member Francis Rossi). Originally it was to be when they were rehearsing but in the end it was whilst they were performing to an audience. Here’s a link to one of the many numbers recorded that evening.

I’d not charged a lot, it was very much a learning exercise, though I did underestimate the total amount of effort needed to cover a full gig and the degree of time needed to re-process from the raw video file afterwards. It did not include splicing to their master mix. The sound heard here is that directly recorded by the Rode Stereo shotgun mike attached to the camera.

The group were however quite happy with the result and Carl would like me to capture further video and other gigs.

Week -2; The break before the Final Major Project (FMP)

The exhibition is now concluded, taken down at the end of the closing day. The Landings 2018 web-page will continue to be posted until Falmouth University’s Flexible Photography MA’s collection; ‘The Landings 2019’ take place next year. The project itself will continue to be built on, and though to decision has yet been made it will probably not be the basis of my final project. More on this in the next two posts.

Thw beginning of the week was mainly concerned with non-photographic activity. I did go to a reasonably interesting talk by a photographer called Louis Quail at a meeting of the Lenses of Croydon group that I’m associated with. The talk was largely about his ‘Big Brother project. A project on life with his schizophrenic older brother which culminated in a book of the same name published earlier this year by Dewi Lewis.

The focus of his talk was much more on various aspects of his brother’s life with this condition with some critical observations on how social/healthcare services have handled his brother’s care, with certain insights into his brother’s interactions with others. He captured all of the images in this challenging project with a medium format film camera.

He finished with reference to an earlier project on the aftermath of the Afghan War from the perspective of British military families and a little on his more commercial work for various UK magazines.

My photographic interest resumed on the Friday when I had my first experience of shooting video at a live music event. One of the shopkeepers of my ‘Distinctively Different project has a ‘tribute’ band called Staten Quo, playing some of the music of the 60’s rock band Status Quo amongst others. My collaborator looks not a little like Rick Parfitt, a brilliant guitarist/song-writer and member of the original group, now deceased. He had kindly participated in one of my video pieces for the Distinctively Different’ project and later had asked me if I’d be willing to be commissioned to do a shoot at one of their gigs.

I did warn that I had no experience at all in this area, but he was keen for me to do it so I agreed. All adds to experience. Their gig was in a large hall space in Sutton, a few miles from Croydon. I shot video with both my Nikon D810 DSLR, mounted high on a tripod behind the audience, with the main material being shot on my much lighter Fuji T20 using the same gimbal stabilizer i used for my Croydon project shoots.

The main difference was that as I had plent of space, unlike the project where I sometimes had to cope with a crowded pavement and was generally opening doors I used a two handle mount accessory. This was critical in allowing me to carry the video rig for the two plus hours of shooting required. The results of this I have to report on later. The footage is still to be edited as I don’t yet have access to the audio recording tracks that were made by the sound-mixer for the gig. A quick visual look indicates there’s plenty of content to work with.

I will post a link from this post when the material becomes available.

My other photographic activity was visits to a couple of the London Fashion week venues over the weekend and the following Monday. My first day was largely portrait shots of various visitors though I did manage to conduct a couple of collaboration shoots during the day. These are some of the better examples of the images captured on the first day I attended.

More on this in my next posting; I did get the opportunity for the first time to join a number of other photographer’s in ‘the pit’ at the end of the catwalk for several of Fashion Scout’s SS19 shows at their Free Masons Hall venue.

Week -3; The break before commencing work on the Final Project

This week was largely occupied with the ‘Distinctly Different’ exhibition. Some minor adjustments were made after the opening night. As well as an A3+ sheet outlining the collaborators names and shop address in terms of a numbered hung image an additional sheet was added giving the photographic details of each shot.

This was possible need was identified as certain folk from my local Croydon camera club asking me about such detail. Copies of these explanatory sheets are shown below. Note that The image number 11 in the actual hang was on the adjacent short corner-wall. just above these two A3 sheets. In this schematic it’sroughly in the place that the TV showing the video pieces was situated.

I belatedly recognized that in setting the times and duration I hadn’t questioned whether the owner would always be present. In practice I had to spend quite a few hours over a number of days there. The lesson was that a shorted duration would have been a much more effective use of my time. I’d previously thought three days was a bit short for an exhibition. I now recognize that if it involves a significant degree of commitment to ensure that the venue is always staffed a short-duration has a lot going for it. I assumed much about the owners time there and should have checked on the detail.

I did manage to squeeze in a photoshoot with a street fashion collaborator that will be leaving to go home to her native Nigeria later in the month. We tried using my the stabiliser to shoot some video of her in a reasonably attractive street-cafe location in Clapham Common. It seemed to go reasonably well for a first-time activity. Planning exactly what we would do ahead for the movement helped reduce the number of takes. An example of what is probably the best of the three takes is shown below:

Photoshoot with Liz Okereke - 2nd take of getting up from table and walking between chairs

Sound was left out, that is one aspect of my video that needs greater understanding and probably more kit.

Launch of ‘Portrait of Britain’ book, taken facing the entrance to the ‘Import’ building, London E14 (home of the BJP)

Towards the end of the week I had an invitation to the Hoxton mini-Press book launch of the ‘Portrait of Britain’, a book formed of the 200 shortlisted and final images from the British Journal of Photography’s (BJP) annual competition, now in it’s third year. Held at the BJP’s offices in a distinctly modern part of East London over 70% of the photographers who’s images are in the book were present at this crowded event.

Whilst I didn’t get a chance to speak to all of the shortlisted photographer’s present that I know, I did get a chance to renew my acquaintance with several, plus a number of other’s I’d never met before.Altogether I had a number of very interesting conversations, getting some quite useful background on other portrait photographer’s approach and interests.

The highlight of my evening was grabbing the opportunity to take quite a reasonable portrait of a fellow photographer, Emmanuel Cole, in a dark corridor of the BJP building. For some reason the fact it was taken hand-held under tricky lighting in the BJP’s building really amused me, especially as it resulted in one on my best totally untouched images.

The photographer Emmanuel Cole

So the week ended well.

Week -4: The break before commencing the Final Project

I spent most of last week putting together my ‘Distinctly Different’ Exhibition, which is now running until Saturday 8th September at La Zaris Art Gallery, Thornton Heath, Croydon (do pop in if not seen it).

This involved forcing me to make a final decision on my choice of prints and hanging design. The board had been already chosen; Snow White. An off-white shade which broke up the image from the La Zaris white wall without clashing. The paper took more thought and a little experimentation, but in the end I decided to go with Permajet Portrait White. This is a none textured matte fine art paper that retained the fine detail I wanted and presented a reasonable depth of colour without having to resort to a more reflective lustre or gloss paper.

At my workshop I had put forward a more elaborate hanging system of one main image with hinged board supporting two additional images for each subject. While this wasn't negatively received by any of my workshop collaborators I decided in the end in the time scale available too likely to come out shoddily and in the context of the space at La Zaris might seem too cluttered and the basic message of the uniqueness of the twelve shopkeepers lost in the multiplicity of 36 images.

I decided to go the more traditional way and keep it simple, one large-ish image per collaborator. I did produce a hanging design before I set the exhibition up a few days before opening. But as soon as the first image went up I decided to change the design to that seen below. The four 1x1 format environmental portraits were placed symetrically on the outside of the main group. All of the other prints were 5x4 landscape crops. A board below titling the images and providing the address should any visitor with to see the shop themselves. the layout can be seen in the image below.

Hanging layout of Distinctly Different exhibition - Graham Land, 3rd September, 2018

Hanging layout of Distinctly Different exhibition - Graham Land, 3rd September, 2018

The TV set was set up to show a sequence of the videos taken of seven of my collaborators street and shop environment. This proved to be trickier than expected. I could only find one format, a DVD type, that the TV's USB slot could work with. While it's not showing the 1920x1080 HD at 50 fps that the video was shot with, it has proved good enough for my visitors to relate to.

I also produced a publicity leaflet which I printed using two sided matte Permajet paper that I had recently come across. A number of copies were handed out to my collaborators and the local library. I also used a pdf version for my website and various groups facebook pages and other forums. The effort spent on describing how to get there was worthwhile, even some Croydonians are unfamiliar with the part of Croydon La Zaris is situated in.

The leaflet was produced with Adobe's InDesign, An application I hadn't used before but who's virtues had been explained at the recent Falmouth University Photoshop course I'd taken and passed. It is indeed very good and given it's obvious complexity not too difficult to get beginner results with. At the moment I don't plan to stay with the full Adobe package that I'm currently subscribed to on their student rate. But, much depends on need as well as cost.

The opening was on a very summery Sunday evening, a day that did not encourage the number of visitors expected. With hindsight I'd give the following recomendations to myself in putting on a further exhibition:

  1. Advertise at least two weeks earlier

  2. Use personal invitations, don't rely on passive advertising

  3. Avoid a weekend opening

  4. Open for a shorter duration, it needs constant attendance.

  5. Pick a more central/easier to get to location.

That said there were a number of pluses. Those that have seen the exhibition have all given quite positive feedback, and not all have been people I already now and am friends with.

It was a very good learning exercise.