Week 2 – Business Planning

Preamble

I have no plans at this point to necessarily start a “traditional” photography business, however, I recognise that if I sell my work I am a professional photographer and I am running a business.  While those statements may seem at odds, and perhaps they are to a degree, I think they are clear enough to articulate my intentions. I am 65 years old and in the enviable position of not needing to use my photographic practise to pay the bills.  I have managed large organisations with multi-million $ budgets in the past and have started and owned two businesses, so I am familiar with the requirements of running a going concern.

Mission

I plan to photograph when I want to and what I want to, and I reserve to right to photograph something some one else asks me to photograph if I have the time and the interest in pursuing that work.  For my personal work, I will pursue subjects and projects that interest me, and I expect the output to take the form of books and work for sale locally.  I will always endeavour to produce a high standard of work, whether for personal projects or clients, that is technically and aesthetically worthy of the time and effort I invest.  I will always approach my work ethically and with sensitivity towards my subjects and will never intentionally create work that is harmful or demeaning to individuals or the environment.  I will use photography as a tool to express my creativity and interests, and to show others the world through my eyes if they wish to see it.

Product

I produce photographs and books for my personal projects, and for my client work will deliver aerial or terrestrial photographic work in the format they need for their specific project.  My personal project work has mostly local interest though it appeals to tourists visiting the area as well.  My wildlife work, birds and macro work in particular, is strong and my North of Scotland country life regularly generates interest.

Market

I have already one shop/gallery that is exhibiting my work for sale and have had several sales resulting from my August exhibition.  Books are available online and in local shops.  My market is at this point is predominantly local, however, when I move toward monetising my website I believe there will be an opportunity to sell prints further afield.  Word of mouth has resulted in several new commissions.

 

Week 12 -Wrapping Up Surfaces and Strategies

As I have said in prior posts this module has helped me to evolve in a number of ways.  It has definitely helped my confidence soar in my ability to create work and show my work.  It has deepened my understanding of photography overall, and is beginning to help me understand my place in the world of photographers.  I have miles to go on the journey, but I am well down the road and on the right path I think.  More time to read and more exposure to other practitioners is part of what has been building the foundation of understanding.  Being pushed to make work in ways I have never done, or in ways I had not been comfortable has taught more about my craft and open my eyes to other possibilities for work and ways of accomplishing that work.

I have in the past looked upon my work as quite solitary as I had been making work for years, but never sharing it.  I now find myself interacting with others on a daily basis about my work whether it is sharing it with friends or strangers, or interacting in mutual support with my wonderful cohort mates.  They have been an invaluable source of advice, support, humour, fun and without them this would have been a very different experience and not nearly so rich and rewarding.  So thank you in particular to Mick, Gem, Danny, but also to the other in Cromarty who frequent our chat group.

It feels quite good to have the assignments done and dusted.  I feel as though I made a pretty good job of it on the whole, though the assessors may not agree.  I know I have made progress and I know I will continue to do so.  I know too there are some areas that need additional focus and effort.  I am getting more attuned to research, but I need to be more disciplined  about documenting it as it occurs.  I tend to take a while to integrate what I have read and then don’t always get back t write about it.  It is there informing my work, but isn’t always adequately documented.

The parting shot from the module leader was one last assignment to create a self portrait that was reflective of the time spent in the Surfaces and Strategies module.  I have to say I enjoyed this module far more than the first for a number of reasons.  It seems only fitting that as the final task in Surfaces and Strategies that I should do something unconventional and completely different from my normal work..  At first glance you may miss it, but trust me, my image is there on a surface and in a way you might not expect to find me.  Truth is I am something of a motorhead and I had an unfortunately brief opportunity to photograph some pretty cool classics last Saturday.  This particular Austin had been once owned by King Farouk.

 

Austin Self Portrait small-8626.jpg

Week 11- Do too many cooks spoil the broth?

Perhaps the same is true with tutors, or not.  I have simmered this stew for a couple of weeks now as when I initially conceived it I was reeling from all the completely different flavours that had seemingly been dumped into my pot.  It seemed everyone had a different view of my work and not always did I get a clear understanding of how it might be made better; only that it wasn’t right.  There were exceptions thankfully, like when Cemre took several of my proposed WIP photos and arranged them in a particular sequence in a horizontal grid and then explained why she thought that worked.  In other cases, one tutor would like a particular photo while the next thought it was rubbish, and in other cases, I was told what I was trying to communicate wasn’t clear but without much more in the way of explanation of why or what sort of things might make it better, other than try arranging them differently.

To be honest I felt confused and lost, and even at moments a bit angry.  It was clear something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to fix it.  With advise sometimes so diametrically opposed, I didn’t know which direction to go.  I had to in the end, step back, lose the emotional attachment to my work and reaction to the criticism and figure out how to sort through the various comments to determine if there were any common elements among them, discard the outlying and off the wall remarks (there were some doozies) and integrate what was left to something I felt I could action in curating and editing my portfolio.

The first insight I was able to distill was that what I was showing was too diverse and divergent in theme and aesthetic.  It was said in different ways and it took some time to understand that “I can’t read your visual language” was similar in meaning to “the macro work is distracting and disconnected from the larger scale work”, or “photos in this series have a very different feeling.”  I had to admit, I didn’t really know what I was trying to “say” with my photos.  My project is big, maybe too big, and it contains a number of different aspects at this point.  I have so much to say that I ended up saying nothing because the breadth of this story from a final project perspective (and yes, we are a long way from that point) cannot be told in 18 photographs that I have now.  At the end of the FMP, it may be possible to tell this story in a relatively small number of carefully curated photographs.

I also had been “hung up” by the fact that I got into this programme as a natural history photographer, even though it has never been the only thing I have done, and it is not the only thing I want to do.  It was clouding my judgement in curating my portfolio.  It is somewhat ironic, because I have always hated labels and I have spent my life defying norms and expectations.  Why should I allow myself to be pigeon-holed now?  So once again something else to let go of.

I did finally work it out on my own I think.  At least I took a decision, cut away a lot to arrive at a portfolio that is I hope worthy of submission.  It is a few paragraphs in a chapter of what might eventually become a novel or perhaps a short poem, but it seems to be coherent and cogent.  That I got there is a testament to the progress I have made thus far in the course.  I couldn’t have even had this discussion several months ago.  When I felt I had the pot on with no recipe, thankfully Cemre slipped me a couple of key ingredients that allowed me to decipher the rest.  Photography, like cooking after all is art and the flavor combinations are limited only by one’s imagination.  Baking is science and there isn’t much latitude in the recipe. I didn’t want tutors to hand me a recipe after all.

Do too many tutors spoil the broth?  At first, I thought so, but each was bringing their favourite spice to the kitchen and in the end it was up to me to understand the implications of using that particular spice and make a decision whether or not it belonged in my stew.  There were times when they made it tough to get around the kitchen to be sure, but once I cleared them out, and some of the inappropriate spices in my cupboard, I was able to put together a pretty tasty offering.

Work in Progress Portfolio

My work in progress portfolio took quite a lot of editing and went through several incarnations before it came to its final version.  I began working to compile the portfolio several weeks ago reviewing the hundreds of photos I took during the module; both those that were direct project work and those that were not.  I undertook several side projects that included field trips to other places for wildlife photography, a commissioned project for a breeder of dressage horse, projects that were prompted by the curriculum, and projects related to organisations I support.  I undertook experimentation particularly in macro and super macro work as a way of capturing the smaller inhabitants of Coul Links.  I also began trying to become more comfortable photographing people as I have come to realise that my project work will ultimately require it.

The first iterations were organised around a conceptual framework that included looking at the land from a bird’s eye perspective, a human’s eye perspective and then a bug’s eye perspective.  The idea was using a very broad views from above, flatter views from the ground and then very close up views of the world beneath my feet.  I also tested a Powers of Ten type concept where I had photographed the same view with increasingly longer lenses and narrowing perspective intending again to ultimately get to the world beneath my feet since I had spent a fair amount of effort on the macro work during the term.

I had also continued my repeat photographic work at Coul Links throughout the term and there were discernible changes in the landscape, however, I was struggling with a way to condense a sizable amount of work over 4 months into something meaningful in 18 or fewer photos.  So the second iterations attempted to show some of the landscape work intermixed with some of the normal wildlife and macro work.  When I showed those compilations to tutors and peers, there was almost universal agreement in one form or another that the breadth of perspectives was not communicating a clear story or a consistent visual aesthetic.

Along the way late in the term, I tested a concept showing a golfer “playing” the proposed routing of the new course as it is today.  I had the idea that I would desaturate those images to give a historical feel to them.  That concept got both good and bad reviews and, in the end, I decided the desaturation was too heavy handed and essentially a trope that wasn’t setting the groundwork for my ultimate story.  Tutorial comments and some additional research into social landscape photography that led me again to Dorothea Lange’s work revealed to me though that my project needed something more than just the natural history approach I had been taking.  I realised that what was being argued and what was at stake for the future of Coul Links is about how people have and will interact with this land.  That caused me to pour back through my aggregated work again and find those few photos where I had managed to incidentally capture people on the links.  At this point I still had some wildlife photos in the mix.

My project is complex with a number of different elements that in the end could potentially comprise distinct independent stories, or could be combined in different ways to create one or several stories.  However, all that complexity and diversity in the type of images I am capturing makes creating an interim portfolio that stands on its own thematically and aesthetically a challenge.  I had to overcome the inclination to try to show it all, because I was ending up showing nothing.  I had to let go of emotional attachments to my work and any pre-conceived notions about what type of genre(s) I fit in as a photographer.  I had to begin looking at my work in a completely different way than I ever had prior to this course.  Fortunately, the critical theory readings that seemed in many ways beyond my understanding during Positions and Practice when augmented by the many additional readings during this term had somehow begun to coalesce into something comprehensible and even useful. I was moving in the correct direction, but I still wasn’t there as I learned when reviewing drafts of my portfolio with tutors.  While I had come closer on selection of work there was still a sense that it was not yet organised and displayed in a way that communicated effectively.  My last one-to-one with Michelle left me utterly confused at first and feeling lost as to how to proceed.  I was limited by the structure of my SquareSpace website that wouldn’t allow me to organise my photos in grids or groupings and I didn’t know at first how I was going to overcome that limitation.  Ultimately, I found my way back to Abobe Spark as it allowed me the flexibility to create a layout that would allow me to communicate more effectively.

The final iteration integrated elements of the repeat photography with a twist, and was also intended to introduce the exploration of how people are interacting with the land.  The twist was packaging work that looked at the same areas of the landscape but from different perspectives rather than the traditional repeat photography approach of identical perspectives, and which included photos made in different months.  I did do the classic repeat photography work taking all the identical perspectives at different times, but chose not to show them that way.  I also made a conscious decision to not include wildlife in this portfolio.  I have shown the quality of that work in past submissions and was able to show examples of what I had done in the Oral Presentation.  It was time to do something different.  I hoped that approaching the portfolio this way would begin to show how the landscape changes in subtle ways throughout the year, would illustrate my various methods of image production while at the same time carrying an aesthetic that was cohesive and introduce ideas about how I might move forward in showing how various people use this land now and might use it in the future.

My portfolio can be found at the following link:

S&S WIP_Coul Links Perspectives

Week 11 – Breakthrough

During last week’s webinar with Cemre Yesil, she noted how the photos I showed her as part of my WIP portfolio that included people were more powerful.  Now several days later after working through the selections for my portfolio and exhibitions and trying to find the story, it suddenly occurred to me that I may have been approaching this story from the wrong angle entirely.  I started this journey thinking of the Coul Links project as principally a natural history project and that I would observe and document how the landscape and its inhabitants changed due to natural and in response to anthropogenic changes.  And there is some merit in that yet, but that approach doesn’t speak to the root of the controversy that has dogged the site and the planning application for development over the course of the last three years.

As I thought about Cemre’s comments and looked at hundreds of photos, I realised the crux of the controversy is a difference in opinion about how the land should be used and by whom it should be used.  This land has seen many uses over time.  It was home to the Dornoch Light Railway for many years.

Skelbo Crossig Gatehouse 1950 12304

Until 1989 it was a fully working farm when the displenishment sale relegated it to grazing land and haylage harvest.

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It had a tree plantation which was harvested many years ago and the remnants of which can still be seen today.

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It has been used by the landowners to hunt deer and waterfowl, though under the proposed development that will cease.  The abandoned light railway bed is a walking path, and myraid path and trails from the village of Embo are frequented by walkers and their dogs.  The beach ahead of the foredune is spectacular and draws locals and the many visitors who stay in the caravan park just to the south of Coul Links. The northern end of the property along the Loch Fleet estuary is home to tens of thousands of wintering birds.

Sanderling-0947

So it is clear that this land has seen many uses over the centuries.  Now there are many who would see the landscape altered slightly to allow yet another use as a golf course without denying the current uses, except for the hunting.  The developers intend to preserve and enhance access for walkers and nature enthusiasts.  The wintering bird populations will not be impacted as the golf course will close in October and not reopen until April each year and the majority of the birds are not actually on Coul Links proper in any case.  Grazing will continue.  The opposition groups however fear the introduction of a golf course on a small fraction of the total acreage will irreparably harm the site and I believe they are also afraid non-golfers will be excluded from the site as they have been at the Trump golf course in Aberdeenshire.

First Fairway Bunker-8228.jpg

So, though I am somewhat surprised to admit, the heart of this story is actually about people and their interactions with this land.    Yes the landscape will change with the seasons, the weather, climate change and inevitably with some form of man-made change.  Wildlife, flora and fauna, will be affected by natural and anthropogenic change in any case and it is only a matter of degree as to when and how much, but they will adapt in almost all cases.  Natural succession is evident across the landscape and land ungrazed quickly returns to wild and overgrown state.  There will still be those interested in seeing the bird populations that will use the land.  At the end of the day though, who uses it and how will it be used in the future is where the broader interest in the story lies.

So while it is a bit too late to alter what I have done for this module, I will be shifting my approach somewhat going forward to capture more of the aspects of how people are currently using the land and how that changes along with the landscape in the future.

Week 10 – Finalising Exhibitions

There was a bit of wrinkle in the plans for the local exhibition at Grace of Dornoch Deli and Cafe and we have had to delay the opening one week.  There was a misunderstanding on the original dates and there was a conflict with another artist to whom the owner had committed.

So no real bother.  All the work for the exhibit is mounted and ready to hang.  I will be allocated space in three principal areas as previously discussed and it will show along with the other artist’s work that will be installed in the prior week.  The owner’s were very keen on my work when I first approached them and even more so when I brought in the mounted work that would comprise the exhibit.  We are planning an opening reception on 27 August and the exhibit will run for at least a week, though the owners have expressed and interest in having some of my work on a longer term basis.

Social media announcements will go out shortly on the venue’s Facebook page as well as mine.  Word of mouth has also been generating some excitement and I believe the opening and exhibit will be well attended.

My selections and preparation for the Landings online exhibition were completed just in the nick of time as it went live a few days earlier than I had expected.  I found myself wrestling with different ways to order and organise the photos I selected.  Originally I had some of the macro work in the selection for both the Landings exhibition and my WIP portfolio, but last week’s webinar with Cemre and peers strongly suggested that those photos detracted from the rest of the work I selected and was not consistent enough in style to hang together with the rest of the work.  Though I spent a good bit of time this term on the macro work I understood the comments and took them to heart.  It is still solid work and can stand alone, but it didn’t mix well with the bigger landscape and wildlife work.

It is challenging to step back from one’s work and look at it with a dispassionate eye and think about how differently viewers will see the work, and how the selections are both meant to be read and likely to be read by viewers.  I found that the story I hope to tell is both early in its evolution and not fully formed in my own mind.  And at the same time it is a big and complicated story that is not necessarily easy to tell.  “A lot of us go about our work and feel like we have nothing to show at the end of the day. But whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way.  In fact, sharing your process might actually be most valuable if the products of your work aren’t easily shared, if you’re still in the apprentice stage of your work, if you can’t just slap up a portfolio and call it a day, or if your process doesn’t necessarily lead to tangible finished products.” (Kleon, 2014)

I believe that not trying to determine the outcome before sufficient data are collected can be in part attributed to my training in science and perhaps personal proclivity, but that adds to the challenge of trying to make a narrative hang together at this point.  I hope I have chosen well enough to give some sense of scale, process and context to the beginning of the story and at least pique the interests of people enough to cause them to look forward as I do to seeing the remainder of the story unfold over time.

I am fortunate to have talented peers in this course and they have been very helpful in the process of choosing what and in what order to show my work.  Despite taking photographs for over 50 years I rarely showed my work and never before exhibited or published until beginning this course.  The feedback from peers and tutors has been invaluable in helping me to begin to understand how others see, often differently, than I do.  I have much to learn yet about editing, curating and presenting my work, but it is a path down which I have begun to journey and one I look forward to continuing.

I have a third opportunity coming up as I have been asked by the local chapter of the Scottish Women’s Institute to come speak and display my work on 18 September.  They are expecting me to speak for about 45 minutes so there will need to be some extensive curation to fill that amount of time.  That push will have to wait until after the assignments for this term are complete.

Kleon, A. (2014). Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. New York: Workman Publishing Company.

 

Week 9 – Preparation for Exhibition

A considerable amount of my time this week was spent arranging for and making decisions about what photographs to include in my local exhibition.  Of course, that was tied closely to which photographs I would be including in my Work in Progress portfolio, my Oral Presentation and the Landings on-line exhibition.  I was successful in obtaining space in a local cafe/ deli which is also about to begin exhibiting another local artist’s work.  Her artwork is Scottish themed and tends toward the abstract, but her subject matter and palette are somewhat similar to the work I proposed to exhibit.  The owner’s of Grace Deli were quite excited by my work and were also keen on keeping some on after the exhibition period.  My work would be allocated wall space in and around that of the other artist in three main areas.  The idea behind my exhibition is Coul Links:  From Above, Beneath My Feet and In Between thematically breaks nicely into the three areas.  Final placement and choice will depend on the other artist’s installation which is supposed to happen later this week and I have selected a mix of A3 and A4 sized prints to allow for some flexibility in final placement.

I met with a local framer who will be mounting my work on backing with simple white matting. We decided simplicity and uniformity for this short exhibition was prudent.  Works to be left after the exhibition for sale will be framed and mounted with matting that is specifically appropriate to the individual piece.

With quite a lot of photographs from which to choose, I had to consider several aspects.

  1. How much space would I have?
  2. How would that space and the things around it affect the perception and context of my work?
  3. What would appeal to the owner’s and clients of the café given there is at present a high level of tourist trade as well as local clientele, and how can the presence of my work be beneficial to the owners?
  4. Since the Coul Links story is yet largely unwritten, which pieces of my work would indicate the direction it is heading and showcase the quality of my work to date?
  5. What could I get done in the short amount of time using only local and personal resources without losing sight of the other requirements of this module that must be completed by 24 August?

I hope I have chosen well, but that is what this experience will be about: going through the process, evaluating the outcomes and being better prepared for the next time.  This is relatively unplowed ground for me as it is only since beginning this course that I have been showing my work and contextualizing it in various ways.  I don’t expect this one to be perfect and I do expect to learn from it.  I also hope to have a bit of fun along the way.

The exhibition will begin with an opening reception on the evening of 16 August and run from 17 to 24 August at the Grace Deli in High Street, Dornoch.  I extend my gratitude to the the owner’s, Donald and Lorraine Goldsmith, for their support and generosity in offering their establishment to me.

Week 9 – Guest Lecture with Welby Ings

I have attended or listened to the majority of the guest lectures during the MA to date and I have to say I found Welby’s lecture to be the most relevant, informative and practically useful one to date.  His discourse on methodology and methods backed up with tangible examples in his work made for a very well spent hour that helped me make more sense of what I am doing and how to proceed with further enquiry.  Some of my notes follow.

What is a thesis?

  • To position an idea.
  • A practice led thesis could be non-written work.
    • It cannot be objective because we are central to it and it is therefore subjective

Method vs Methodology

  • Research Methodology
    • Must show basis for moving knowledge beyond current state of your practice
      • Task completion vs. real research
      • Quality of research
    • Research Methods are merely your tools while methodology is the toolbox and how you use the tools
    • Practice led research is qualitative (action) research
      • Histiography
      • Narrative inquiry
      • Ethnography
      • Auto-Enthnography
      • Heuristic inquiry
        • Discover/ find using accrued knowledge to find your way through uncharted territory through trial and error. Relies on tacit knowledge. *Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (1967) and work by Clark Moustakas
        • Methods of heuristic inquiry
          • Observation and notation
          • Experimentation in materials and processes
          • Reflection in and on action
          • Critical feedback
          • Organizational and analytical matrices from the social sciences

In the end he encouraged us each to find the inherent research potential in ourselves.  It was an inspiring lecture and one I am very pleased I did not miss.

 

 

Week 7 – Publications

This week’s course work had a number of tasks.  First we were to look at our personal libraries or pilebraries as the case may be and share an image with our classmates.  It was interesting to see people’s varied interests reflected in the books in their collections and how and where they kept them.  My collection here in Scotland is relatively small as most of my books are still in the U.S., but the ones I have clearly reflect my interests and the books I have been reading as part of the MA.

The second task for the week was to amass “all” of the work made to date and put it “on the wall”.  That proved to be a tall order given I have a huge number of photos related to my project and the time and expense were prohibitive.  Furthermore the repeat photography elements, while they show subtle changes in the landscape do not yet in my opinion have enough context in just a few months to tell the story I hope to tell.  However, there was enough demonstrable change to print and arrange some examples that show where the story might be headed.  I also printed a good many examples of the the other categories of photos that fit the themes of Coul Links; From Above, Below and In Between.  From this collection we were to curate and organise into something that could be become a publication in some form.

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The final task of the week was to create a “dummy” publication.  This was admittedly a bit of rushed attempt, and what started as a concept for a Zine type publication of an exhibition guide began to look as though it could well be the beginnings of one or more bigger publications.  Having decided to do a local exhibition I likely will publish a small exhibition guide using the only the photos I am exhibiting.  This exercise though helped to coalesce concepts that will be more relevant as I move closer to my FMP and the outputs I envision as my project progresses both during and after the MA.

I created the book just with A4 printer paper bound with a few stitches of thread.  It was organised around the themes mentioned above and used the cyanotypes I did a few weeks ago as section breaks.  It is conceptual at this point and requires refinement into a final form or forms and there would be words to accompany either an exhibition guide or a larger book.  Once the dummy was assembled, we were to video it and share it in preparation for the week’s webinar.  Here is the link and password.

Dummy Book video

Password:  Falmouth