Week 9 – Curating an Exhibition

I had the opportunity to curate the hanging of the exhibition of the East Sutherland Camera Club (ESCC) at the Grace of Dornoch Café and Deli.  The photo collection was comprised of the regular contest winners in the three categories of colour, monochrome, and creative (altered reality), along with the club’s selected entries for the Highland Challenge, an annual interclub competition among a half dozen or so camera clubs in the Highland’s.

While in the past ESCC has only shown their work in the Brora Library during the month of August, the committee (of which I am part) was convinced to exhibit in other communities to promote the club and showcase the excellent work of local photographers.  As I had done an exhibition of my own work last August at the Grace Café I was able to secure the space again this year for the ESCC show.  In the past, the exhibition was always hung in the 4 categories in conventionally oriented fashion without necessarily considered visual or topical continuity. For the Grace exhibit I was given free rein to organise the show as I saw fit, so I chose to group the work differently and to arrange it with an eye to visual continuities and transitions.

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At the extreme right are a group of portraits.  At the center is a puffin, while surrounding are 4 portraits of people arranged such that their gaze is directed a the puffin.  To the left of that grouping are the landscapes with the upper row arranged such that there is a gradual transition through the colour palette and the horizons are roughly aligned.  The lower row is slightly more eclectic mix of photos in the landscape category that include colour, monochrome and some altered reality photos.

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One next wall to the left are a grouping that are based around a theme of circular forms and next that grouping another of more linear geometric forms.

The two photos that did not fit into any of these other groupings, an owl and a highly manipulated image of a boy gazing at the sea each got their own space on a smaller section of wall.

 

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I am pleased to say the exhibit was generating a good bit of interest and discussion among café customers on the opening day and hopefully will continue to generate footfall as the word of mouth and the social media advertising take hold.

I believe these opportunities to think critically about how work should be exhibited and viewed to develop a hang plan as well as the logistics involved with securing locations, planning the use of space and the actual logistics and process of getting work on the wall are valuable bits of education and experience that will continue to serve me well in future.

 

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 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.

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Week 10 – Daniel Gustav Cramer Trilogy (2003/2013)

I first encountered Cramer’s work some months back and was taken with it then.  I found it was quite similar in overall character and aesthetic to work I hade begun pursuing in the winter.  It reminded me of the work of Axel Hutte, about whom I had written extensively in past modules.  I also think Cramer’s Trilogy work bears resemblance to that of Risaku Suzuki.    Thomas Struth’s Haptic Green also bears some resemblance the Woodlands portion of Cramer’s Trilogy, but it seems to be much more intensely about colour while Cramer’s work is more about form.

We were asked to comment on the edits Cramer choose and whether we would have done it differently.  I happen to like the photos he included and while some may be stronger than others it is important to have some distinctions.  Also, I am certain those that I might think strong are not necessarily the ones someone else might choose.  And that is I think one o f the key points of Cramer’s work, as well of that of Hutte and Suzuki, that there is no intent to dictate the narrative to the viewer.  The mystery, masking of location and even to an extent subject, force the viewer to engage with the photograph to figure out what it is, where it might be, what is in the frame and what might be just out of the frame.  So, to that end, and because there is no real overall intention to Cramer’s work beyond the three broad categories, the photographs are not intended to hang together in a linear fashion to create a narrative and therefore can be viewed in any order as standalone images, each waiting for the viewer to create their own story.

Darwent noted of Cramer’s work they are “images shot through with story and place, but which demand we ignore both place and story. This is what we are, they say, but what are we?” (Darwent, 2007) Cramer’s images are tantalising, looking familiar and foreign at the same time, clearly of something almost recognisable, but what. He presents the viewer with a puzzle to which the solution will be based in the knowledge and cultural experiences of each viewer.  For example, the underwater photos were to me as a scuba diver immediately recognisable as such, but to someone who had never dived, may have been quite confusing and disorienting.  The woodland photos were likely more familiar territory for many, and I liked how Cramer choose to include a mix of photos, some of which seem to invite the viewer in and others that seemed to want to hold the viewer out.

It is very moody and atmospheric work.  It defies time and place merging both into the space of heady dreams and fantasy.  I wish it had been published as a book as it is one I would enjoy owning.

 

References

DARWENT, Charles. 2007. ‘Weblet Importer’. [online]. Available at: http://danielgustavcramer.com/infotxt.html [accessed 1 Apr 2019].

 

Week 7 – Thoughts on Work to be Accomplished

Following the portfolio critiques of last week and recognising there was interest and possibility in the work I had shown from the glades at Coul Links, I now need to go back and continue that work to capture them in different light and as they change with the coming of Spring.  There are one or two other glades that I will also explore to see if they have sufficient visual interest.  Among the approaches I want to pursue is low light/ night work augmented by flash and/or hand-held lights to see what kind of effects are possible.  I hope to be able to shoot in the rain if it can be done safely.

I also need to reconnoitre the local area for additional Abandonment and Reclamation prospects.  I know of a few already, so I will need to get out and photograph them as soon as possible.  One of the things Cemre picked up on was the way that the lower edge of the buildings in two of my existing photos lined up perfectly across two separate locations.  This is something I need to be mindful of in capture so I leave myself some latitude in post processing to adjust the frame to get similar placement.

Week 2- Forum: Representation or Authentication

Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida wrote “From a phenomenological standpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation.”  (Barthes 1981: 89)

The questions posed for this week’s forum were:

  • What Roland Barthes means and whether or not you agree.
  • The difference between ‘authentication’ and ‘representation’.
  • How the context in which we view photographs potentially impacts upon notions of authentication and representation.
  • How this impacts your own practice.

Last week I wrote a fairly lengthy post on Barthes’ Camera Lucida  which can be found at https://chasingthewildlife.blog/2019/02/01/key-writers-roland-barthes-camera-lucida/

I agree with Barthes on this point.  First, Barthes explains;

“I call ‘photographic referent’ not the optionally real thing to which an image or sign refers but the necessarily real thing which has been placed before the lens, and without which there would be no photograph.” “…in Photography I can never deny that the thing has been there. There is a superimposition here: of reality and of the past. And since this constraint exists only for Photography, we must consider it, by reduction, as the very essence, the noeme of Photography. What I intentionalize in a photograph is neither Art nor Communication, it is Reference, which is the founding order of Photography.” “The name of Photography’s noeme will therefore be: ‘That-has-been,’ or again: the Intractable.” (Barthes 1981: 76-77)

 

I believe Barthes notion of ‘intractability’ refers to the authentication of the existence of what was once in front of the lens.  Whether it communicates or is judged to be artistic is in the power of the viewer not the photographer and that is the element of representation.

Flusser speaks of distribution channels and how they affect interpretation (representation).

“The essential thing is that the photograph, with each switch-over to another channel, takes on a new significance…  The distribution apparatuses impregnate the photograph with the decisive significance for its reception.” (Flusser, 1983: 54)

Sontag likewise points out that photographs are mere fragments, and the context in which they are viewed changes them. Each context “…suggests a different use for the photograph but none can secure their meaning- the meaning is the use…”  (Sontag: 1979: 106)

Szarkowski discusses the idea that photography is not successful at narrative and then goes on to refer to Matthew Brady’s work during the Civil War by saying: “The function of these pictures was not to make the story clear, it was to make it real.” (Szarkowski, 1966: 9)  I think this relates to the discussion arguing that these photographs authenticated the horrors of the war; they were in front of the lens and the photographs brought that validation to those who viewed them.  However, how those photos were interpreted, that is what did they represent, would likely be quite different depending on whether one was from the North or the South, whether one fought in the war, or whether someone close was killed in the conflict.

Each of these suggest that representation is conditional upon who is looking and where they are looking.  However, authentication, existence at one time of what was photographed does not change even though interpretations on the significance and meaning of what was photographed will vary with every viewer.

Again Barthes; “…it is not impossible to perceive the photographic signifier, but it requires a secondary action of knowledge or of reflection.” (Barthes, 1981: 5) and “…the Photograph’s essence is to ratify what it represents. … No writing can give me this certainty.  It is the misfortune…of language not to be able to authenticate itself. …but the Photograph is indifferent to all intermediaries: it does not invent; it is authentication itself;…” (Barthes 1981: 85-87)

I have come to terms with the reality that I cannot control how my photographs are ultimately interpreted or judged, especially any single photograph.  I can influence a reading of a body of work to a small degree by how I choose to edit and curate a collection of work and where it is shown, but again the ultimate power to determine what that work represents lies in the hands of each and every consumer.

I am in control of what I photograph and when I photograph.  I am in control over the choices I make during that process and I can only hope that what I think and feel when taking that photograph is somehow revealed in the product in a way that it elicits a similar reaction in a viewer, but those reactions are beyond my control and therefore beyond the bounds of that which I can or should worry over.

References:

FLUSSER, Vilém. 1983. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. English. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

SONTAG, Susan. 1977. On Photography. Hammondsworth, UK: Penguin Books Ltd.

SZARKOWSKI, John. 1966. The Photographer’s Eye. 7th printi. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

BARTHES, Roland. 1981. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang.