This blog was originally created as my MA Critical Research Journal in conjunction with an accredited educational programme – MA Photography with Falmouth University. It is being continued as resource for discussing photography and projects in which I am interested and engaged.
Unfinished Stories: Cambodia from Genocide to Hope by photographer Mick Yates opened this week at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Society.
It is not an exhibition of ‘dark tourism’ and avoids the tropes commonly associated with stories about genocides. Rather one is confronted with a series of indexical infrared landscape photographs whose indexicality reveals exactly nothing of the story to the point that they almost become abstractions. It would be quite easy to dismiss them as “just another landscape photo”, but that would be a mistake. They are each, on the surface, stunning beautiful images. They completely belie the fact that beneath the surface of both the image and the place itself horrific things have happened. The incongruity is arresting. The viewer is pulled between the abstractness of the imagery and the concreteness of the accompanying Khmer and English words, which too are non sequiturs having nothing whatever to do with the photograph itself.
The photographer, through his long involvement with Cambodia and people like Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth involved in the rebuilding of the education system there, has captured in his imagery a metaphor of the situation in Cambodia today. On the surface it is a beautiful and vibrant place, but just beneath the surface lurk and linger remnants of the horrors of the past, not only for those who were fortunate enough to have survived the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and for whom the memories are all too real, but for generations that have come since who had no first-hand experience. It sits like the skeleton in the cupboard everyone is too afraid to open. It is like a filter that cannot be removed from the Cambodian lens and it still colours day to day life in palpable but mostly unspoken ways.
Yates’ interviews with long time friends, colleagues and survivors who now after more than 40 years are telling their stories for the first time allow us to begin to understand the horrors and the aftereffects of the genocide on Cambodia and its people. It allows us to begin to make sense of the non-sequiturs in the images and accompanying words.
This is an extensively researched project and the history placards and displayed ephemera help to contextualise the exhibition. The book delves into even more depth on the history of the genocide, and its impacts on specific people as related through their stories of survival and the work they have undertaken since to rebuild an education system that was a principal target of the Khmer Rouge genocide. It is a beautifully designed and printed book which, while written in English, was printed in Cambodia as an important element of Yates’ overall project.
The final incongruity involves the venue itself, decorated for the Festive season while displaying an exhibition about the Cambodian Khmer Rouge genocide and its aftermath. Yet perhaps it too can be viewed through a metaphorical lens in that this season represents rebirth and renewal and is itself a great symbol of hope. Hope is what Yates, his family and Cambodian friends and colleagues like Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth have been trying to build for the past 20 years and that work continues.
One of the top priorities for my FMP exhibition was to create an immersive environment that engaged the senses and the imaginations of my viewers. To achieve this goal would require the right space combined with the right technology both married to a carefully curated collection of images and sounds presented/ displayed in just the right way.
The path to this goal began with capturing images, moving and still, that would support the final vision. It also entailed recording hours of the sounds of the natural environment that could then be mixed and added to the video footage.
Upon entering the darkened hall, the visitor immediately encounters the sounds of Coul Links playing throughout the hall; surf, wind, birds, and sheep. The large display fixtures stand between the doorway and the far end of the hall mostly blocking the view of the large cinema screen. On each side of every fixture are photographs, individually placed and lit so that the viewer is presented with only the one image at eye level and of a size that evokes a sense of being in situ at Coul Links. The fixtures are set in a diamond pattern requiring the viewer to make their way around the perimeters of each unit and the installation as a whole. On three walls, purposefully placed to emulate a random encounter, are the miniature collages of fauna and flora which draw the viewer in close to examine what they have found. These miniatures seem in scale with the larger landscapes as if they belong together. The outer perimeter of the installation has photographs with views one would see from the perimeters of Coul Links just in the way that most people encounter the place. On the inner walls of the installation are photographs of places unfamiliar and unidentified on the interior of Coul Links that few people would know or would have encountered.
After reaching the far end of the display fixtures, the visitor is presented with a large cinema screen on which video taken from a drone across and around the entire expanse of Coul Links is playing. Sofas and tables and chairs invite the viewer to sit and relax while watching the videos and feel as though they are floating along above the links.
By creating an exhibition environment that stimulated visual, aural and proprioceptive senses, the immersive experience was achieved.
During the two day Dornoch exhibition a comment book was available for visitors to record their thoughts after seeing the exhibition. Here are a selection of the comments received.
“The essence of Coul Links is captured in every sense.” Mike H.
“Totally worthwhile historical document of a treasured spot in this area. Love the smaller collages of the wildlife against the larger landscape pictures.” Matthew Harris, Professional Photographer
“From someone who knows Coul Links intimately, you have done the most wonderful job of capturing its unique essence.” Viki M.
“What an amazing exhibition.” Lynne Mahoney, Curator – History Links Museum
“Thankyou for breathing life into Coul Links! You have seen its hidden magic…” Jenny T.
“What a great exhibition! I applaud your efforts to widen folk’s perceptions both specifically of Coul Links and more broadly about the whole concept of ‘sense of place’.” John Alderson, Chairman – East Sutherland Camera Club
“An incredibly well thought out and presented exhibition” Mike T.
“I loved the way you presented your photographs, it made them appear so real, like you’re actually there.” Alex D.
“A wonderful exhibition giving a unique insight into the flora, fauna and dunes which goes largely unobserved.” Anonymous
“You have revealed the unsung beauty of an otherwise ‘unknown’ landscape.” Alison D.
“An excellent display. Having been shown around the proposed golf course, your video has given me a new dimension to contemplate the development. I look forward to seeing your further work on this wonderful site.” Barry K.
“Great set of images of a complex area giving me lots of food for thought on its future ecology.” Stan H.
Additionally, a couple of people took the time to write more extensive reviews about the show.
Patrick Argyle an avid local amateur photographer wrote the following review.
“I think there were two aspects of this exhibition that came together to make it work so well: the quality of the work on display; the way the work was presented. I greatly admired and appreciated the quality of the work, especially the still photographs. The images were beautiful and beautifully printed and presented. The use of images of different sizes and presenting them either individually or in groups was very effective. The layout of the displays throughout the room was done in such a way that I could spend time studying each individual section before being led on to the next in a natural and relaxed way. There was a real flow from one area to the next. I felt the use of different media to present material was handled very cleverly, exploiting the strong point of each:
a small screen video presentation on entering the gallery gave an excellent overview and background and history of to Coul Links;
photos arranged to great effect, some large scale showing wide areas of landscaped conveying the atmosphere of the location, other large ones of small areas of the links showing detail of the land and it’s contents;
other walls displayed boards on which were presented multiple miniature photos on certain topics such as flora and fauna;
a projection wall divided in to quadrants, onto each of which was projected, simultaneously aerial film taken by drone of the land showing it in the four seasons of the year.
Overall, I found the exhibition much more interesting than I had expected and you showed me beauty in Coul Links I did not expect to see.”
Matt Sillars – Lecturer in Photography University of Highlands and Islands & Chair, FLOW Photofest
Reflections on ‘Beyond the Noise’
This body of work takes an anti-essentialist perspective. It refuses to walk the easy path and set out opposing positions, in relation to the development of the links, by defining the characteristics of each and placing them in opposition to each other – and then simply photographing the stereotype. The artificial construction of identity, as ‘developer’ and ‘environmentalist’, is deliberately disrupted and the links are presented as a complex space with a complex set of uses by individuals, rather than by ‘bodies’ of people who are ideological positioned in a debate.
Seeing the links as a historical space and not simply as a contested contemporary site, reveals its relationship to people over time and acknowledges that it is not, and never has been, a space easily defined by the broad brush strokes of heritage studies. In the photographs are evidence of human intervention, from the buildings, fence posts and pathways, to the plantations, monuments and open ground. Each indexical of people engaged in labour, industry and lives lived. Although seemingly passive landscapes sculpted by the elements, they evoke a range of paradigms which privilege people over nature and speak of the dynamic relationship between land and people – the definition of ‘place’.
Foucault discusses heterotopias as places which exist in the world, but which are connected in ways to other places and spaces, by ritual, by use, by assemblage. The photographs of the links inscribe hetertopias of time and space. Time, where the landscape has collected the past and represents it in snippets and glimpses. Thus, the past is always present in a natural museum, whose rooms and glass cases are the dunes, grasses, embankments and plantations. Space, where the fragments glimpsed are of different uses, are different spaces – of industry, or leisure, or travel, of work.
The body of work challenges the normative view of the ‘environment in need of protection’, and through the use of video and drones, plays with understandings of reality in a vein similar to Baudrillard’s hyperreality, where the difference between fiction and reality is blurred. Understanding is mediated by drone and digital technologies and the links are artificially reproduced in ways that play with the internet mediated campaign instigated to ‘save’ them. ‘Beyond the Noise’ references not just the ideological noise, but the digital noise of hyperreality and conspicuous environmentalism, which has almost replaced conspicuous consumption as the ‘right’ of the middle classes.
The body of work, quite bravely, argues that the essentialist nature of the debate is irrelevant and actually unworthy of the links, which have a heritage and have a future regardless of the slice of reality we are confronting today, now.
All comments and reviews published with permission.
When it became apparent I needed to have display fixtures that would enhance the viewing of my photographs and contribute to the immersive experience that I was trying to create, I had to determine what would be necessary, create a design and then either find someone who could fabricate them for me or a place where I could build them. I also had to work out the lighting requirements and then source and purchase suitable fixtures as a well as a way to mount them.
Obviously, the size of the venue and the space available was a limiting factor in the size and placement of the fixtures. I also wanted to produce large format prints at least A1 and potentially A0 which meant the faces of the display units needed to be at least 1 metre wide and for the lighting to be effective and safely out of viewers way the top of the need to be at least 2 metres high and optimally 2.4 metres high which would allow the photos to be further isolated from the surroundings in the viewer’s perspective, and would also minimise cuts since the stock size for ply panels is 2.4 metres by 1.2 metres.
Building these fixtures for the 13 large format prints and 3 collages of miniatures plus the video trailer that would be playing on a monitor as the first element of the exhibit would require a substantial amount of material, time and expense to construct so I didn’t want them to be a one-off use and needed to design them to be reconfigurable, transportable, and reusable. They also needed to be stable when erected so as not to create any health or safety issues and cost had to be a consideration.
I created design sketches and detailed dimensions as a basis for discussing the project with area joiners. I quickly discovered that many of the areas joiners are flush with work and not available to take on my project and it also became apparent that only a joiner with a workshop could produce them with he consistency that would be required to assemble the panel configurations flexibly. Fortunately, I did find a joinery firm that would take on the work and which would allow me to participate in the construction.
The design consisted of 36 1m x 1.2m panels, 2 of which would be fixed together along the 1m side by a piano hinge to allow the panels to fold when not in use and unfold to the full 2.4m height by 1m width when in use. This facilitated transport, handling and storage. The original design had the panels then joined together in venue assembly with a series of loose pin hinges that would connect one panel to the next and allow for various configurations. Unfortunately the variation in the wood and the tolerances required to mount the hinges so that any panel could fix to any other panel proved insurmountable and an alternative had to be derived. I amended the design to use 45 x 45mm blocks from the same material used to construct the frames and bolt the panels together. I resulted in limiting the future configurations to either 90 degree or 180 degree assemblies, but that shouldn’t be too limiting.
Once the panels were assembled, they had to be painted. I chose to use a matte black paint to isolate the photo and minimise any glare from the lights. I was able to source 5w LED spotlights that fixed with spring clamps. I calculated that if they were mounted at the top of the 2.4m panel and extended out 750mm they would cast the correct amount of light on each photo without blowing out the surrounding area. Each fixture would have a photo on each side necessitating 4 lights per fixture. Each light had only a 1m cord so I still had to work out how to get mains power to fixtures. Fortunately, the Dornoch Social Club had a number of overhead switched outlet that had been intended to service stage lighting at one time and with the help of a local electrician we were able to wire flex cable from power strips to the switch outlets.
Once the fixtures were assembled at the venue and tested it was time to hang photos and get on with the show.
The choice of venue was a critical determinant in the in the design and curation of the exhibition. There were two underlying factors that were key to and a number of secondary and tertiary factors that would weigh in on the final choice.
First, I felt strongly that the venue had to be reasonably local because the subject was principally one with strong local interest and those whose interests were most vested in the outcomes should have both first and easiest access to seeing the work. Second, the venue had to support the creation of the immersive experience I hoped to create.
With those as the initial primary criteria, three possible venues were candidates; the Dornoch Social Club in the centre of Dornoch, The Embo Old School 3 miles to the north and immediately adjacent to Coul Links, and the Carnegie Hall in Clashmore 3 miles to the south which was also the site of the Government’s Enquiry Hearings in February and March of this year.
Additional evaluation criteria
Capacity for 100 people
Ability to be darkened sufficient for video
Wall space suitable for hanging
Audio and visual equipment installed on-site
Lighting conducive to exhibit
Distance from most likely visitors
Marginal but most could walk
Entry flow control
Kitchen/ Catering capacity
All of these spaces are community assets and as such are heavily scheduled on a continuing basis for a variety of uses. Scheduling was going to be a challenge at all of them.
Embo was recently renovated but the space was too small, was largely glass walls with no ability to darken the space, and video would have only been possible on the large television.
Clashmore is a lovely hall and certainly large enough to have allowed flexibility in the exhibition design. It would have required hiring audio visual equipment and the colour of the walls in the hall plays havoc with the way the photographs would be seen. It was also the furthest from the target audiences and would have required everyone to drive to a place with limited parking.
Based on the considerations above it was clear that no place was perfect, but the Dornoch Social Club was the best choice for a number of reasons. Having cinema grade projection and sound systems and the ability to darken the hall was a key factor as was its location relative to most visitors and for me. It was a space with which I was very familiar and because of my involvement with the organisation that administers it and the cinema club, I had virtually unlimited access to the DSC as required to measure, plan, and test video whenever the hall was not otherwise occupied. It also had an entry foyer adjacent which led into the hall at the end opposite the cinema screen which allowed me to apportion the space and control the flow into the exhibition. However, lack of suitable wall space and poor lighting dictated that I would have to construct bespoke display fixtures and lighting to control how the work was viewed and to create the immersive experience I was seeking.
The size of the space was only just large enough to accommodate the display fixtures without interfering with the cinema projector, so planning had to be thorough and precise as dis the design and construction of the fixtures. More detail on that process can be found in a subsequent post on the Design and Construction of the displays.
In the end, the venue decision proved a good one and the extensive planning and subsequent execution resulted in a very successful event. It was unfortunate the venue was only available for two days, but subsequent to the Dornoch exhibition, the Embo venue asked me to bring the exhibition there. It required a different approach and resulted in a more traditional gallery type exhibition, but it did get the work exposed to an additional number of people over the 2+ weeks it was on display.
At the opening night of my exhibition, I wanted to talk to my guests for a few minutes about my work, its motivations and my intentions both for the work completed and that yet to be done. I wrote several pages of text that were organised into 8 topical areas, but it was never my intent to read a speech on the night. I used the written speech to organise my thoughts and the order in which I wanted to convey them, and to be used on the night as a reminder, a basic road map of what I wanted to say. Then on the night, I spoke extemporaneously, only referring occasionally to my notes as I shifted to the next topic.
I received a great deal of positive feedback on the talk and it was interesting how much the discussion of “place” resonated with people. The background on my work and how it was presented was also cited as helping people to better appreciate the exhibition.
I am posting here the link to the edited video as well as the original “script” I drafted. The talk clearly follows the intent of the script, but is by no means verbatim.
Thank you for coming tonight. I am honoured that so many of you have taken time to come see my work and, am humbled by the support of you and many others this community we have come to feel is our home.
I am very pleased to be able to share with you some of the work I have been doing. And for those of you who are wondering, 13 photos and a movie: Is that all she’s done in 2 years? I can assure you it is not, and you don’t want to see the hundreds and hundreds of photos and videos I have amassed in the last 2 years. Perhaps later when this story has an ending there will be an opportunity to tell it in full, but for now…
Most of you know of me as a golfer, a former Naval Aviator and as a photographer, and as someone who is passionate about Dornoch and the Highlands, but probably not too many of you know that my undergraduate degree was in Biology. It is precisely this confluence of experience and interests that led me to focus my MA work on Coul Links.
When I began the MA programme, the timing of the decision process was such that had the original approval stood there would have been a body of work showing how Coul Links adapts to both natural and man-made or anthropogenic forces. As the decision was significantly delayed it became apparent that my project would not reach an ending concurrent with the completion of my MA and while I intend to continue until there is a proper ending to be written, my MA project was going to have to find a way to tell the story “so far”, and so I have spent a great deal of time getting to know and observing Coul Links from a perspective that not too many others have.
At its most fundamental, I have undertaken a study of a place and have been in a sense surveilling it regularly for the past two years. I have done my best to observe and document from an objective point of view; to look past the controversy and to get to know Coul Links as it is. We live in a world that seems increasingly bent on hyperbole. I believe, however, that things are rarely ever as bad or as good as they first seem, or as opposing sides would argue. When I looked Beyond the Noise what seemed certain is that Coul Links exist today despite the controversy and it will change with or without development. And the truth is none of us can know to what degree the concerns or hopes will be realised until sometime well into the future. Coul Links are ever changing and like most natural environments adapt constantly. Nature has a remarkable capacity to respond to and overcome the most severe impositions and yet we live in a time where the cumulative effects of human impositions are stressing our planet.
Along the way I made some interesting observations and discoveries and came across some research that had relevance to my work, and without getting too academic I want to spend a few minutes to discuss the concept of place.Place is more than physical existence and it has anthropological and sociological significance. In our busy, ever more mobile world, a phenomenon has been observed that we move through many spaces without really registering where we are. Marc Auge introduced the concept of “non-places”, spaces we transit, like railway platforms, airport transit halls, shopping malls etc. while physically being somewhere, they are spaces to which we pay little attention and about which we often are not aware. Jim Brogden takes a slightly different view and ascribes non-place status to abandoned or neglected urban areas, the voids amidst the inhabited and used areas.Coul Links was a largely unknown space, even to local people, and it was only after a development was proposed that it gained significance and went from being a non-place to a place. For most of the 90,000 people who signed a petition, they will never visit or know Coul Links as a place. It is an interesting reversal of the phenomenon, where a non-place has become a place.
The more time I spent at Coul Links and the more I came to know it the more significance it held for me personally. I observed how people approach and use Coul Links and in truth how few people use it. And most of those who do approach it only from the perimeters and limited probing from the south. Very rarely did I observe anyone inside the perimeter zones, and as a consequence, my observations and points of view provide perspectives most will not have seen before. I flew a drone on a regular basis with pre-planned mission profiles that allowed for photographs and video of the same places from the same vantage points month on month providing a basis for comparison. I walked and explored areas that most others will not have gone and discovered places that were fascinating to observe and photograph.You may have noticed that the exhibition reflects these aspects. The outer walls of the columns are photographs from the perimeters, recognisable as being Coul Links, while the square format photos on the interior walls are intimate landscapes that do not necessarily reveal their location as Coul Links though in fact they are. The aerial videos provide a unique perspective that reveals the complexity of Coul Links and shows how dramatically the landscape changes from season to season and year to year.But it is important to acknowledge that for those that know and use Coul Links, each will attribute their own significance and have a unique relationship with Coul Links. This place has been many things over the centuries, and it has held significance of different sorts to different people over that time. It is wild, but not pristine and untouched. Just as it has been a battlefield, grazing land, a shooting ground, had a railway pass through it, been used as a tip, a tree plantation, a place for dog-walking, bird watching and quiet contemplation, and it may have even had golf played upon the links ground hundreds of years ago, I believe it can and will continue to accommodate multiple uses and hold significance for people who truly come to know it.
I would be remiss without acknowledging people who have helped make this night and this journey possible. Richard MacKenzie helped me and turned me loose in his workshop to build these wonderful display fixtures. Jim Campbell turned up early this morning to help work out the electrical distribution for the lighting of the displays. Scotty Atchison and the Royal Dornoch Golf Club for the use of space in the Greenkeeper’s Shed to paint the displays. John McNaught at Highland Print Studio printed and mounted the large format photographs on display tonight. Thanks to the Dornoch Cinema club for the use of their equipment and to Carol Mackay and her team from the Courthouse Café for the refreshments and service this evening. I also need to thank my classmates, one of whom, Mick Yates came up all the way from Bath to be here, for their unending support and encouragement throughout the programme.And most importantly, my husband Jerry Horak who has been my most ardent supporter and assistant regardless of what “cunning plans” I concoct. He has schlepped camera kit, put up with my long days and late nights studying and the impact that had on our golf and every other aspect of our lives together, and done everything possible to support me and make my life easier over not only the past 2 years but the past 16 years.
And I want to thank you all again for coming tonight. I am really pleased to have you here and hope you enjoy the evening.
For my Exhibition Beyond the Noise: Coul Links I believed it was necessary to create a statement of intent that would be among the first things visitor’s to the exhibition would encounter as they entered the space. This statement needed to be concise, and clearly set the stage for why they were about to see what they were going to see. It also needed to be accessible, written in language that did not obfuscate but rather in terms that could be understood by anyone who visited.
BEYOND THE NOISE
My work over the past two years is first and foremost an exploration of place. The intent was to look past all of the on-going controversy to get to know “photographically” this place known as Coul Links. I have used my cameras to record what constitutes Coul Links today and how it changes in response to natural forces. It is just the beginning of a longer-term project to study how Coul Links adapts to whatever changes it sees in the future.
“Place” is a rather more complex concept than just physical existence. Think of the old question, “If a tree falls in a forest on a deserted island, does it make a sound?” If you don’t know it exists, is it a place, or is it only when significance is attached that a space becomes a place? A house becomes a home because someone lives there. Our increased mobility and the never-ending onslaught of information that takes our attention results in us all being faced with more and more “non-places” in our everyday lives; spaces we pass through or spaces of which we are not even aware.
Coul Links was a largely unknown space until a proposal surfaced to use it in yet another way than it had been used over the centuries of its existence. The number of people who actually knew of Coul Links beforehand was quite small, and there are still a significant number of local people who have never been on Coul Links. As for the 90,000 people, most of whom from well out of the area, who signed a petition opposing the development, Coul Links remains for most of them just a space or “non-place” to which they have no real connection or likelihood of ever establishing one. It is just another in the long list of non-places for most of these people.
For those who know Coul Links and who have established their connection to this place, that connection takes different forms. Coul Links has been many things over the years and remains many things to those for whom it holds some significance. For me it has been a slow courtship that over the past two years has led me to an intimate understanding of and connection to Coul Links. I have discovered things and places that I suspect few people know and I have watched and documented with great interest how this magnificent landscape changes and adapts to the forces which act upon it. It remains and will continue to remain in its ever-changing forms Beyond the Noise.
I believed it was important to hold my exhibition locally because the subject of my work is of significant interest to the people in the local area. However, the choices of venues are extremely limited and because all the suitably large spaces are multi-use facilities that have a variety of regular activities and events booked in them throughout the year, availabilities of even a couple of contiguous days were extremely limited. That created a multitude of planning and logistical challenges that had to be managed in order to have a successful exhibition. In order to organise and execute a major exhibition in a venue that is not optimised as a gallery and with no help from on-site staff or curators a significant amount of planning and investment was necessary.
The lack of suitable wall space and lighting demanded an exhibition design that created a proper backdrop to highlight the work and lighting to complement it. It had to accommodate A0 or A1 prints which meant the fixtures needed large faces of at least a metre across. Since lighting had to be incorporated into the display fixture it had to be of sufficient height to ensure the light was both far enough away from the photo to spread and cast the correct amount of light, and high enough to not interfere with even the tallest visitors. Another consideration was because I intended to use the fixed cinema projector, screen and surround sound system in the venue hall I had to manage the footprint of the display system such that it would not interrupt the projector beam. That set the maximum distance at which the furthest display unit could be set from the entrance and their needed to be enough space to accommodate the other three units and allow adequate space for people to move unobstructed between them and to have sufficient space to stand back and see the large format prints. I also wanted the fixtures to be re-usable and re-configurable for different venues in the future as building them would be a sizable investment in time and money.
The Checklist of items that needed to be completed for a successful exhibition follows. They are organised by category and tasks. The categories not in a necessarily fixed sequential order but the tasks are generally dependent on the predecessor.
Survey local venues for suitability and availability
Access to power
Ability to accommodate still and moving image displays
Determine exact measurements and restrictions in the venue space
Determine which photos are to be shown in what size
Choose a print house to print and mount
Produce test strips to calibrate printer
Print and mount all large format photos
Print miniatures in house and mount
Establish Hang plan
Establish the size and number of display fixtures required to accommodate photo selection
Build scale models and test concepts
Establish lighting requirements
Purchase and prepare mounting hardware
Prepare detailed design drawing as requirements
Determine materials and quantities required
Find and contract a joiner to assist in the building of the fixtures
Build first unit and validate design
Build remaining units
Move to paint facility
Paint all panels matte black
Move to exhibition venue
Touch up paint as required
Connect to mains
Qualified electrician to construct custom cabling from light fixtures to mains
Mount photographs in accordance with hang plan in 2e above
Edit and create videos
Burn to BluRay
Test with venue projector and sound system
Calibrate projector colour as required
Establish requirements for entry wall video monitor to play trailer slide show
Purchase mounting system
Install after Display Requirements item 9 above
Provide access for cable from laptop to the video monitor and mains power for both
Design and print posters for distribution in Dornoch, Embo, Golspie and Brora
Hang poster 3 weeks prior to event
Publish Facebook and Instagram announcements of event 3 weeks prior with weekly updates
Newspaper article published in the local paper
Get announcement published in the weekly Royal Dornoch Golf Club newsletter
Use Falmouth Flexible Photo Instagram account to announce event
Promote word of mouth communications about the event
Determine guest list and send invitations
Monitor RSVPs to establish catering requirements
Survey and select caterer
Choose menu items
Buy wine and soft drinks
Purchase guest comment book
Signage for directions within venue
Prepare and practice artist’s talk
Arrange to video and record artist’s talk
Artist talk video
In the end, because I had my venue for only 2 days and had to set up on the day of opening and tear down after the second day, meticulous planning and attention to detail was required. I had no ability to dry run the installation nor did I have the luxury of several days of set up to work out any kinks. It had to be right the first time and there was almost no margin for error or for having forgotten something in the planning phase.
I am pleased to report the planning and preparation led to a near flawless execution and a successful event.
All photos by Ashley Rose unless otherwise annotated. Thanks to Mick Yates for attending the reception and taking photos of the event.
Fresh off the critique of last week it seemed I had my work cut out for me. I had to rework both the videos I had completed and rethink completely my approach to including some wildlife photos in the exhibit. I tried a few approaches to the intro video eliminating the photos completely, but it seemed too much to lack context. I then tried leaving some photos and reducing the number of words. I used animation effects to bring the key words in and out with a select group of photos and it had the effect of reducing the overall time to less than 2 minutes and serving as a perfect trailer to introduce the key themes of my work without telling the whole story. I plan to set this up at the exhibition entrance so it is the first thing people see when they enter the space and it will be positioned next to the artist’ statement.
The second video to be reworked was the Changing Faces piece that had already been through several iterations. I took the suggestion to consider using synchronous view in PowerPoint and the result was quite effective. Rather than requiring a viewer to stand and wait for the next sequence and either ‘forget’ the prior comparators or get bored and walk away before seeing what I would like them to see, the synchronous view allows four separate seasons to be viewed simultaneously. The message of change is unmissable and it has the advantage of keeping the eyes moving from frame to frame looking for comparisons. It also has the advantage of three of the four frames being essentially identical in their perspective and timing. There are slight variations due to wind and other flight affecting factors but they are close enough so as not to be a distraction. The fourth frame was a video created before I had pre-planned mission profiles that provided the repeatability of the other three videos and while it starts off differently than the other three it synchs up rather closely toward the middle section where the differences in the four scenes are the most dramatic. The changing perspective of the first frame also contributes to the need for the viewer to keep their eyes moving between frames and creates attention holding interest that causes the 8 minutes to go by rather quicker than realised.
I also did a revision to my Artist’s Statement to put it into first person rather than third person narrative. I did create some new aerial work, still images and sound recording to augment the final video expect to capture next week with the new mission profile I created that overflies all of Coul Links perimeter of the proposed development area capturing video rather than the still images of the typical profile.
For the wildlife photos, I created on A3 paper a 4 x 5 grid of images and printed three sheets (60 images) that are 5 x 6.5 cm and are sufficiently large to be able to see what they are if one gets close enough. I considered different ways of displaying these images ranging from mounting them all on one large board with windows in the top mounting board to mounting on one board with a slight stand off to create some additional dimensionality. In the end I decided to mount them individually on foam core board and distribute them randomly around the exhibit including suspending some so they ‘floated’ in space. This approach does two things. First, the scale of the landscape to wildlife in actuality is more closely approximated by the scales of the landscape to wildlife photos. The birds occupy a very small segment of the landscape and are constantly moving with in it. Which leads to the second point and that is the random distribution of the small wildlife photos is again a metaphor for how they exist in nature. One never knows exactly what one might encounter and when.
Another week with significant tangible progress. Next week the large format printing and mounting will be done along with one more new capture video showing the overview of Coul Links. I hope to have the exhibition layout completed next week and all of the technical issues sorted with respect to projecting the video imagery in conjunction with the still images in the exhibition space.
I finally caught a break with some good weather at the right time of day and was able to make some new work with which I am very pleased and some additional sound recording. In fact I am so pleased with the new work that two have been added to the edit of large format photos that I will be printing the first week of October.
The first part of the week was also spent doing proof prints after recalibrating the computer, both monitors and the printers. Lots of prints with different print profiles were made to determine the most faithful rendition of what I see on my screens. After about 10 prints of the same photo that had a particularly rich set of colours, I arrived at best my printer could produce and began the proof prints in A4. I would be taking them to Amsterdam for the portfolio review. The multimedia files were also refined some more and in the case of “The Changing Faces of Coul Links” reworked completely after some peer feedback. I leave for Amsterdam feeling pretty good about the work so far, and am anxious for some tutor feedback on how I can make it better.
The opening exercise Gary McCleod conceived was very engaging and interesting and served as a great way to get to know some of the other MA students who were attending as well as facilitate some critical thinking about one’s own work and that of others through an interrogatory process.
An afternoon visit to Huis Marseilles, brought me my first exposure to the brilliance of Berenice Abbott. As was not uncommon in that time here work spanned several genres, but that she was a woman pushing boundaries was. Her portrait work had a way of feeling as though she captured the personality of her subjects, but her architectural and science work were fascinating.
I did a review of my FMP work with Gary McCleod and Paul Clements the first evening since I was commuting from outside Rotterdam and was hoping to not have to come in Sunday just for a portfolio review. And a solo review turned out to be exactly what I needed since a group review would not have allowed the time to get to the depth we did.
There was no question about the quality of the work, but there were many questions about how I was presenting it and whether I had a clear narrative. Gary specifically noted that I needed to be bold and radical and elevate the sophistication of the exhibition. While some of the ideas they suggested seemed quite radical redirects, they insisted they were only refinements. Some specifics were:
The Beyond the Noise video that I was thinking about as the centrepiece that set the tone for the exhibition Gary thought I should remove all of the images and just use the words. He suggested that it might be better placed as an introduction and that I should revisit the video considering the images and the pacing. It would require some extra thinking and experimentation next week.
When I explained I would be doing the principal photos in large format A1 or A0 and some of the wildlife photos small in A4, I was informed that A4 is not small and rather these were ‘too loud’ in the overall context and that they were confusing the story. They suggested ‘small’ so people would stop and look so that too would require some rethinking, but I quickly warmed to the concept and have several ideas on how to execute.
On the Changing Faces video which I had reworked several times, Gary suggested I try synchronous view in PowerPoint; a feature of which I had not been aware. It is something I wanted to do but wasn’t able to make it happen with Adobe Premiere so far. Again back to the computer to see what I can make because this approach solves a couple of the nagging reservations I had about this particular video which I believe is important to my narrative, but needs to be captivating as it is shown.
The last major point Gary had for me was to think about the experience from the viewer’s perspective. Take them on a journey and don’t be tempted to spoon feed them along the way. This was the essence behind his suggestion of removing the photos from the Beyond the Noise video. He also enjoined me to be sure what was the ‘main meal’ I was serving and to not let the story get muddled with the fact that I am using various media to communicate it.
On Saturday, I visited the Unseen Exhibition and found it much more enjoyable than last year’s show. While there were quite a number of cyanotypes, they were different enough so as not feel like a trope and the rest of the work was sufficiently diverse to really keep my interest. I thought there was a much better mix of genres this year than last and was happy to see landscapes represented.
I also took in the exhibit that was on at FOAM. We had some intense and interesting discussions about the non-photographic work, but I found the Brassai work again quite interesting and was particularly amazed that there was a sharpness of focus that was not always common among his contemporaries using the large format cameras. His night time Paris work is an especially good example.
My last event of the day was a super visit with Liz Halls and Addie Elliot at the Elliot Halls Gallery. Liz was very generous with her time and we had a lovely discussion about the work they had on exhibit and even a bit about how my worked related to it and Matthew Murray’s work. I was very excited to find they had copies of Saddleworth as I had been looking for nearly a year for one.