Week 13 of FMP; Getting back the positive (21st -27th January 2019)

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

In the last week I’ve been exploring possible venue for my planned FMP exhibition. For my self-portraiture workshop I’d been thinking of somewhere in Shoreditch. The value is that there are a number of photographic exhibitions on within a relatively tight area. It’s not off the beaten map, which is how I feel many other Londoners feel about travel to Croydon.

On the other hand if I’m going back to my Croydon Shopkeepers project and further developing that project then a central Croydon venue has a lot going for it. It seems wrong to have my collaborators travel any distance, and the Croydon community itself is part of my target audience.. Searching for a new title. Retail with a difference’ or ‘Only the Brave’ has been suggested. Maybe..

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.