FMP Week 6 – Proposal feedback

I had my proposal feedback session with my tutor.  Some of the key points included:

  1. Thorough and detailed
  2. Showed excellent scholarship and communication
  3. Felt that I may be hedging my bets too much and that I need to adopt a clear stance
  4. Title is not strong enough yet
  5. Noted the significance of the Liz Wells quote – “… our relation to the environment in which find ourselves, and of which we form a part, is multiply constituted: the real, the imaginary, the symbolic, memory and experience, form a complex tapestry at the heart of our response to our environment, and, by extension, to landscape imagery.” (2011: 2)

 

The questions and suggestions that followed included:

How, why and if people are in this story then how can they be contextualised. E.g. how have people used and abused; political conflict, etc.?

It was suggested that I revisit Feldman’s 9-11 work and Mathieu Asselin’s Monsanto

It was also suggested that I research news clippings  and consider rephotographing those and the history of the development proposal.

WELLS, Liz. 2011. Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. London; New York: I.B. Tauris.

FMP Week 5 – Reflections and Progress

As I await the feedback on my proposal, I am continuing to explore narrative approaches to the project.  Recent political events have, in my mind, cast further doubt on the likelihood that development will be approved and that alters the calculus on a major element of the originally envisioned project.  On the other hand, underlying the subtle and not so subtle aspects of the controversy, most of which are not visible, lies the place, Coul Links, which goes on oblivious to the attempts to alter or preserve it.

So, I find myself asking; is the controversy about the potential development even important at this point or is it just noise hovering around the periphery of a more enduring story?  Or conversely; is the place only significant and on my radar because of the controversy of the potential development?  Would anyone notice or care truly about Coul Links had someone not proposed building a golf course there?  After all it has been a designated site for a quarter century, and no one really seemed to care that that the site was not being maintained as it was meant to be.  It is perhaps only because of the proposed development that anyone aside from local residents are even aware of the environmental designations assigned to the site.

And here is the crux of the issue with regard to FMP; which perspective to adopt and which chapter of the story to tell. I have begun the process of looking through all of my contact sheets and archives of the work done on the course and I have also started researching the print and on-line sources that addressed the Coul Links development. I can see potential narratives from several perspectives and yet I haven’t enough clarity or conviction to settle on one just yet.

I think perhaps the process of choosing photographs may help a narrative emerge.  Additionally, the archival research from the news coverage over the past 3 years will also support the narrative.  Time to get on with it.

FMP Research – Week 4

I travelled to the Netherlands and Belgium to visit museums and galleries in Rotterdam and Antwerp to further research how work was being exhibited and how those techniques might be applied to my work for FMP.  I also looked at many photobooks and had the benefit of the principal exhibition in the Fotomuseum Antwerp be about the history of Belgian Photobooks.

My first stop was Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. The main exhibit was a retrospective of the Dutch photographer Ed van der Elksen titled “Lust for Life.”  It was quite differently curated and hung than the Cas Oorthuis, “Dit is Cas” exhibition I saw last September, and I appreciated how the museum’s curatorial staff adapted their techniques to the suit the artist’s work so effectively. Several aspects stood out in the “Lust for Life” exhibition: 1) Simplicity of the photographic installation – edge to edge printing, no mounting except very thin backing board (Fig 1);

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Figure 1- Minimal mounting

2) How effective both solid white and solid black walls were in making the colour photos stand out with neither being more or less effective or detracting (Fig 2);

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Figure 2- Black and White Walls

3) The use of simply constructed temporary modules to augment fixed wall space and to direct flow (Figs 3-5). Simple, relatively inexpensive, but effective construction that served multiple purposes as display space and traffic director.  Being exposed also provided a contemporary and almost casual feel that suited Ed van der Elksen’s style and subject matter;

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Figure 3- Temporary Walls

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Figure 4 – Temporary Wall construction

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Figure 5 -Temporary construction

4) How effective projected images with either some narration or music were (Fig 6);

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Figure 6 – Projected Images with Temporary Construction

and 5) Perhaps my favourite part of the exhibition was a multi-screen projected  series of images set to music and introduced with text slides at the major transition points presented in a ‘living room’ setting with a mix of sofas and chairs randomly arranged (Fig 7).  Viewers were provided with headsets to listen to the music that accompanied the images and it made the viewing very intimate and personal.

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Figure 7 – Multi-Screen projected display

This images projected were in many cases the same as those shown in the main gallery upstairs as individual images on the walls, but I found this to be very engaging and dynamic as the images changed at different times on each of the screens and required the viewers eyes to move quickly between images in contrast to upstairs where one could linger with an image and study it in detail.  While upstairs didn’t promote a narrative and the photos were somewhat randomly arranged in terms of location and time frame, the downstairs projected version was far more narrative and organised in logical segments, topically or chronologically.

I can see this as a very viable approach to exhibiting my work if I can find the appropriate space and solve the technological aspects as it would allow a fast paced, coherent narrative approach while the still image prints in another section would allow the viewer to engage with specific images more fully.

Antwerp was the next stop and I took in several venues while there.  Fotomuseum Antwerp was largely between major exhibitions and was a flurry of activity preparing for 3 openings the following week.  However, the exhibit that was open was on the history of the photobook in Belgium. Figure 8 is an except from the exhibition introduction. It describes the significance of the photobook as a media form as well as the history of the place the photobook has held in Belgian history.

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Figure 8 – Photobook Belge Exhibition Introduction

Many of the books were understandably behind glass cases, but the curators used tablet computers with video of the books being turned page by page which I found a clever way of allowing the public to see inside these rare books.  There we also a number of books located throughout the exhibition that were available to the visitor to sit and look through selected books.  A large number of the books on exhibit were created during the colonial period and dealt with the African colonies and their inhabitants.  Many were propaganda and the curators addressed the notion of “colonial gaze” head on in the introduction to that section of the exhibit.

Mounted on one wall were pages from a 1911 book that chronicled a vegetation survey in the various districts of Belgium (Fig 9-10).  I found this interesting and relevant in its similarity to work I have been undertaking, but also in something that I have perhaps been remiss in recording in my work; latitude and longitude information.  That is an omission I intend to correct, particularly since the camera can be set to record that information in the metadata automatically.

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Figure 9 – 1911 Vegetation Survey Plate

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Figure 10 – 1911 Vegetation Survey Plate

The exhibition also touched on the inter-relationship between words and images.  I thought the introduction to this section displayed in Figures 11 and 12 summarised the issue well.

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Figure 11 – Photobook Belge exhibit section

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Figure 12 – Detail of above

So while the prints in the Nederlands Fotomuseum exhibition were unframed and uniform in size and placement, the Saul Lieter exhibition at Gallery FIFTY ONE and the exhibits in the Antwerp Museum of Contemporary Art (M HKA) were decidedly different.  While the Lieter photos were all mounted and framed in a similar way, they were not all the same size and they were hung quite differently on different walls.  Some were evenly spaced and set at uniform height, while others were arranged in patterns nearly symmetrical, but not quite (Fig 13).

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Figure 13- Lieter Exhibition at Gallery FIFTY ONE

I was unable to discern a reason for the arrangement and order in which these photos were hung, but it shows that it is not essential to have symmetry in a hanging plan.  Similarly at M HKA there were exhibits that demonstrated asymmetry, but also there were others that were more traditionally arranged (Figs 14-16).

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Figure 14 – M HKA asymmetry example 1

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Figure 15 – M HKA asymmetry example 2

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Figure 16 – M HKA symmetry example 1

As is evident in Figures 14-16 all the photos were mounted and framed in a similar way, however, in other areas, simple thin backing with edge to edge prints were used (Fig 17), and in another area bordered prints were pinned to the wall with no mounting at all (Fig 18).

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Figure 17 – M HKA thin backing, edge to edge print

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Figure 18 – M HKA pinned print

The final point from M HKA was an installation of newspaper clippings that occupied 4 walls in a large section of the gallery.  The clippings were seemingly each randomly mounted on coloured backing paper and then arranged according to the colour together on one wall (Fig 19).

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Figure 19 – M HKA Newspaper clippings

As I am considering using references to on-line and print media as part of my exhibition, this was informative.  I don’t believe I would choose to replicate this format, but it was interesting to see how current news was gathered and collated to create an art installation.

In summary, this research provided some valuable insights into the ways exhibitions can be staged and proof that there is no one correct way to stage a successful exhibition.  It also offered some stimulating ideas that I plan to explore further in coming weeks.

Photographer Research – Chrystel Lebas

While Ms. Lebas had been recommended to me earlier on the course and I had looked at her work, I didn’t find it as relevant to what I was doing at the time.  Now, as I move into FMP and the work of prior terms is coming together into a conceptual framework that brings together elements from each of my prior sets of work I find her work especially relevant and directly related to work I am doing.  I am particularly interested in her publications and exhibitions, but also how she has revisited places and used rephotography to show how those landscapes have changed over the intervening years.

Her website is Chrystel Lebas.

I am also interested in how she has incorporated video into her exhibit installations; something I believe is important to mine. Video provides a a perspective and is by its nature immersive, drawing the viewer into scenes they could not otherwise have experienced.

Another interesting element is now that my aesthetic has evolved over the course, I see similarities with much of her work.  When I first looked at it many months ago, I discounted it in part because the aesthetic and way she approached her subject matter was quite different than what I was doing and the way that I was doing it at the time.  Re-examining it now, Lebas’ work bears some commonality with that of Daniel Gustav Cramer with the slightly darker feel that I have evolved to embrace i much of my recent work.  I find it much more evocative and moody, and it encourages the viewer to linger a while in order to really see what is in the photo and feel what is in the scene.

Research – Exhibitions

Over the next week I will be visiting museums and galleries in Rotterdam, Antwerp, Liege and Brussels with an eye toward seeing different ways of exhibiting work that will help to inform the way that I will chose to exhibit my FMP.  I will be looking specifically for effective exhibition strategies, particularly with a series of work that includes a narrative sequence.  I want to see how artists and curators create a visual narrative and to see how much it depends on explanatory or accompanying text, or whether it can also be done without.

As I refine the theme of my FMP and begin to collect the work that will be required, I am also considering how it will be edited, curated and displayed. Among the ideas for my exhibition is a concept published in my FMP proposal and repeated below.

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I look forward to reporting on what I will have seen next week.

FMP Pecha Kucha

The first task for Final Major Project (FMP) was to create a Pecha Kucha presentation (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide) to explain briefly the project I intend to undertake as an introduction for the Module Leader and other students.  I spent much of the interim period since the end of the last module wrestling with how I was going to approach FMP.  The original intent of the Coul Links project was to show how the natural state of the site was affected by development.  Since the development decision is now not expected until late summer at the earliest the FMP project needed to take a different direction.

For more information, please have a look at the following link.

Week 12 – Final Thoughts on Informing Contexts

I found this module intellectually challenging, stimulating and frankly fun.  I struggled in the first module with the whole idea of critical theory, but having come to IC as the fourth module, the 15 months of added experience put me in a much better place to both enjoy and learn.  The more I read, the more practitioner’s work I reviewed, the more things began to make sense and I felt my confidence increasing with each passing week.  I believe I have come away from IC much more informed about photography in general and with a much better understanding of my practice and what I intended to accomplish.  It also gives me a clearer understanding of the paths ahead and where I might go in the next phase of my journey.

Technically and creatively I also gained confidence and my work reaped the benefits of both. I began to approach my work with ever increasing mindfulness and purpose.  It resulted in fewer, but much better photographs that required far less post processing.  I slowed down considerably, and even though shooting with a DSLR, I approached my work much more like I was shooting with film.  I became not only more adept at managing the exposure triangle, but more importantly managing the creative triangle; the relationship between me, the photographer, my subjects and potential viewers.  For this modules WIPP, I had my viewers in mind when I went out to take photographs.  I was shooting in a way that would result in photographs that challenged my viewers imaginations, stimulated their memories, and sparked their emotions. I was looking to create ambiguity, moderate abstraction and to take a time and place that was know to me and make it into a space my viewer could inhabit and populate with their own narratives.

I know the considerable effort I have put into these first 15 months of this course, but I must acknowledge the support of my peers within the Cromarty cohort.  The extraordinary give and take have been an invaluable contributor to the quality of learning for all of us.  I also particularly valued the interchange with the tutors and module leader in Informing Contexts.  I found the discussion and support constructive and stimulating.

Finally, I believe I am in a very good place to move into FMP and am looking forward to the challenges the next six months have to offer.

Week 12 – Reflections on the Author/ Viewer Conversation

In writing my Critical Review I used the phrase that my photographs were ‘the opening gambit in a dialogue with the viewer’.  I have already submitted my CR, but was looking to write a bit more on the never ending debate of art or not, and in researching references ran across a chapter in Fred Ritchin’s After Photography.  It begins:

“The real story becomes a conversation, in which the author/photographer is simply the most prominent participant.” (DiNucci, 1996 in Ritchin, 2009: 97)

Ritchin then goes on to make the point:

“Photographs in their ambiguity can provoke, motivating the reader to interrogate their meanings.  The photograph may create enough confusion and curiosity to stimulate the reader to solicit alternate voices, to peruse the accompanying text, or to click on the image and go to another screen.  Digital media, in turn, promises that the viewer can pursue certain ideas that come up in the looking and follow up on interests almost as if in a conversation.  The advantage of this form of exploration is how open-ended it is: the photograph stimulates multiple questions as much or more than it provides answers.  If not overly constricted by a caption or accompanying title, the photograph’s odd appropriation of a fractional second and a rectangular space may serve to engage the reader’s curiosity.” (Ritchin, 2009: 97)

While Ritchin is primarily addressing in this book the shift from print to digital media, the basic point stands and is equally relevant whether one is viewing my work on a wall or page, or as is increasing likely, in an on-line gallery of some sort.  There is an inevitable interplay between author and reader, and if I choose (as I have in my current work) not to constrain the reader with captions or accompanying text, the photograph is an open-ended question(s) that invites the reader to participate in the dialogue, each bringing their own interpretation.

There are indeed times when I as the photographer want to guide the reader; to give them some clue to the purpose or meaning of the photograph, but there are other times, particularly when the work is not intended to carry some specific information that I want there to be no guidance and to allow each reader the freedom to exercise their curiosity, indulge in the ambiguity and revel in the conclusions to which they arrive.

 

References

RITCHIN, Fred. 2009. After Photography. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

Week 12 – Reflections on Finalising my Critical Review and Work in Progress Portfolio

I began work on my Portfolio and Critical Review several weeks ahead of the deadlines for submissions and as a consequence completed the work well ahead of schedule. These are some of my thoughts now that I have completed and submitted that work.

Portfolio

While I made a lot of work during this module, I had decided early on what type of work I wanted to make and was therefore able to create photographs with a mindfulness and clarity of intention that I had not before achieved.  I took many more photos than ultimately ended up in the final edit and I frankly left some very good work out of the final submission.  However, one of the things I have learned through the first four modules of this MA is the need to create a visually consistent, coherent body of work for the WIPP submission.  I think I did not fully appreciate that fact in prior modules and as a consequence, the work submitted had a bit of a ‘this and that’ character that detracted slightly from the way the work was viewed.  I can attribute this failing in part to a lack of clarity in my intentions in the prior modules and the fact the project I was attempting to take on was massive and diverse.  It was too big to distil and attempting to ‘cover the waterfront’ I diluted the visual impact of my imagery; good as they were technically.

So for this module, I intentionally reduced the scope of what I was trying to include in the portfolio and was very disciplined in the editing process as I worked to get to a set of photos and videos that were consistent with my intentions and had a sufficiently consistent and harmonious thematic and visual character.  It was difficult initially to eliminate good photos and I went through several iterations before arriving at a final decision.  I did also choose to incorporate three video clips taken from the same vantage points as stills either before or after the videos in the sequence.  I had not done that before, but felt it important to realising my intentions and conveying some key contextual concepts about the dynamic and transient aspects of nature.

Another important decision in the editing process came when I realised the normal landscape format was not conveying the feeling I was trying to achieve with this body of work.  I have been resisting cropping in post-production for some time now and on the rare occasions that I did, I always retained the aspect ratio that I shot originally.  However, the landscape format was not constraining the image enough to evoke the response from a viewer I wanting to elicit.  As I experimented with cropping to square, the photos suddenly had much more impact.  Making them smaller, more constrained actually made them spatially bigger; more universal and more timeless.  It amplified the integrity of what was visible in the frame and in some cases created more ambiguity, but also added more mystery and intrigue as to what was just beyond the frame.  It was these things that I believe will result in the viewer becoming more engaged with the photographs.

Critical Review

I wrote the initial two drafts before I had really narrowed my portfolio selections sufficiently.  While not a waste of time by any means, the first drafts were not as focused as they needed to be.  It was only after bringing my WIPP to the near final edit state, that it became a much more straightforward process to write my Critical Review.  With the clarity of what I had chosen I was able to zero in on the clearest way to convey my intentions and determine which of my contextual references were indeed most relevant to the work I had completed.  I wanted the CR to be clear, concise, cogent, and coherent and most importantly to convey without any question that I had made this work with, and from, a critically informed position.  As I was finalising the CR I was able in parallel to make the final cuts for the WIPP so the two submissions were completely in sync and mutually supportive.

Final Thoughts

I read a great deal during this module and I had to be as discerning about contextual references as I was about photo selection.  I took much better notes as I was reading this term and, that proved helpful when recalling references, particularly on things I read early on in the module.  I intentionally did not read CRJs or CR submissions from students further on in the programme.  I felt quite confident that I could properly interpret the requirements of the assignments and the LOCs to create a document that met or exceeded the standards.  I wanted to do it on my own and not be tempted to follow someone else’s path, particularly not knowing whether their work was really good or just okay.

I also completed work early enough to seek input from trusted peers and tutors and I am appreciative of both groups.  While I didn’t get any huge redirects out of any of the reviews, the combination of little things and my own desire to write a very tight and focused CR that supported the choices I made in the WIPP drove me to a series of revisions that I am very satisfied result in a solid submission.