This short series of images was made ‘in the studio’, last week; beginning as an experiment in lighting but, perhaps, ending as a series ‘with meaning’. The process developed something of a life of its own and went from a set of mini-tableaux still-lifes of mundane objects lying around the store to a set of images that might, I think, have potential for multiple readings. Of course, all images have that potential, but what causes me to reflect on this set is the fact that it seemed to come out of nowhere, seemingly without me directing it (though I obviously did!). I am reluctant to start expressing too much about my own readings but, almost as soon as I put the stripey tape under the plastic box for Tapes-1 and it rolled forward to the front, I got a sense of some human emotions such as shyness and vulnerability, but also maybe, curiosity and a degree of questioning. I just recently re-viewed this short film of Lucas Blalock making his ‘99c store still-life’ images (Lucas Blalock), in which he says that he sometimes feels that the objects were standing in for something else that might have been in the images. My series progressed as follows:
What is interesting, perhaps, is the question of ‘meaning’ as created through the photographic transformation of inanimate and insignificant objects; particularly the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of this transformation. Lighting is a significant factor here – and that was, as I’ve said, the starting point for the work. The very first image is not lit in a simple manner. I was initially trying to create a sense of something happening outside the frame – which does happen here, in some of the images, especially Tapes-4 for example. And that first images poses a question, maybe, which is explored and developed through a kind of narrative as the little series develops. In the end, it’s just six pictures of junk, and I certainly don’t want to make more of it than is appropriate, but I suppose I have to admit that I quite like them. Allowing the experiment to take its own course has resulted in something that almost feels to have come about separate from me – like the characters in a novel taking over the narrative from the writer.
Ideally, these would be large-scale prints on a gallery wall! Then I speculate about critical reviews. There would be the one that said: “It is hard to understand why the gallery believes that Dickinson’s photographs of junk should be of any significance to the art world – pretty and well-printed as they might be!” And then another that opened: “Lit like a series of dramatic stage sets, Dickinson’s images trace a surprising range of emotions and sensations, considering the prosaic subject matter, raising questions about identity, personality, relationships, maybe even gender and sexuality.” Well … in another world!
… where nothing is real.”
Well, very little, anyway! This is a section of the wall of my study, bedecked with some inspirational images by a host of brilliant, mostly young, artists working with photography, photographs, collage, still-life, digital processing, and a few other things that I don’t even understand! They’re mainly based in North America, but there are a few European artists in there, too, and they explore the boundaries of what a digital photographic image might be – in 2014 & beyond. It’s a selection – there are several more who might have been in there. I’ve spent a fair bit of my time this week building up some inspirational sources – quite a few of whom I already knew from previous research but some of whom are new to me. This was the best way I could think of to keep their work in my mind as I look to move on with my own studio projects.
For example, there is:
- Dutch artist couple Scheltens-Abbenes who produce commissioned still-life constructs for some high-end commercial brands but who also explore personal projects using ‘cut-outs’ to create immaculately presented images that attract and confuse at the same time. I’d love to see some of their work in large prints! I like the way that they are prepared to leave clues about the nature of their constructs and the way they sometimes use ordinary materials – like a cardboard box.
- New York-based artist Artie Vierkant, who certainly began studying Photography but whose work has truly moved towards the proverbial ‘cutting edge’. His images start as digital files, which are then printed onto an aluminium composite material – dibond – which can be cut and formed to develop sculptural qualities. Documented as photographic images ‘in situ’ on the ‘gallery wall’, that documentation becomes a separate work in its own right, changing and evolving as it is distributed via the internet. He is one of a group exploring what he calls ‘post internet’ art and issues such as ‘ubiquitous authorship’, ‘the collapse of physical space in networked culture’, and the ‘infinite reproducibility and mutability of digital materials’. I don’t claim to understand all of it, but I admire and respect the way in which it operates in the ‘now’.
- Daniel Gordon’s work has featured in Hotshoe and BJP of late. He appropriates found images – usually from the internet – then cuts and forms them, in a deliberately raw manner, to create brightly coloured still-life and portrait images, which he then photographs to produce the final work. Some are delightfully simple and some are fascinatingly complex, but they all raise questions. How does this ‘junk’ (his word!) turn into something so beautiful (my word!) and interesting? My answer – that’s the fascination of the artistic process!
- And many others such as Jordan Tate; Jessica Eaton; Fleur Van Dodewaard; and Delphine Burtin – to name but a few.
As planned in my last post, this was about returning to research on other artists operating in the fields of studio experimentation, still-life, digital manipulation etc – as a source of inspiration and ideas to progress my own work. There is plenty to go at! It is reassuring to find so many artists doing so much that is interesting – though a little daunting at the same time. Not for the first time, I reflect that so many young photographers/artists are drawn to their studio to experiment with ideas that are essentially focused on the medium itself, and its processes. It isn’t a new phenomenon, of course, but it must reflect a degree of unrest, uncertainty, change and challenge – which is a positive phenomenon. There is a strong sense of ‘play’, but relatively little evidence of any attempts to create work that is designed to change anything or move anyone. That makes me reflect on my own images the ‘respond to events’. I can’t quite decide whether it encourages me to explore them with greater enthusiasm or drop the idea altogether! It certainly suggests that there are not large numbers of people out there doing something similar – or I haven’t found any, at least.
Time for a bit of planning and structure, I think, after completing the first Assignment. How do I move things on from this point?
Let’s start from where I’m at right now:
The broad directions for my Body of Work are defined and agreed;
I know that there is more than enough to challenge/extend and to enable me to satisfy assessment criteria.
So, what are the next objectives?:
Assignment Two should be the next ‘landmark’ and I believe that it should comprise:
- at least 6 studio-based images, ideally more, which a) move the experimentation forward, and b) are at or very close to, a completed standard;
- at least 2, preferably 3 or more, self-portraits, which are also at, or near to, completed standard.
Assignment Two should be submitted by mid-May/end-May at the very latest.
How do I get to that point?
I’d assess that it requires a different approach for each of the two main strands of work – being more open-ended, the studio work could be progressed in all sorts of ways, whereas the self-portraits are more focused can be more easily planned.
- could usefully be informed by looking at and reflecting on the relevant work of some other contemporary photographers;
- and, in parallel, further ‘thinking with’, but in an informed and directed manner.
- select, say, 3 or 4 on which to concentrate;
- plan what is required to deliver each one;
- research/organise as necessary;
- produce 3 or 4 portraits for submission.
Time to cast off!
I received Clive’s feedback on Assignment One yesterday, which is positive and supportive, so now it’s a case of onwards and upwards with the various strands of my Body of Work. The feedback on my key question of scope is to maintain this breadth, which has the potential to ensure I fulfil requirements, then maybe narrow things later as time/interest develops.
Within the Studio Projects, I’ll continue to look at all the various strands with which I’ve been experimenting. Clive seems to have picked up on the provocative/subversive aspects, noting that using Photoshop crudely is “… in direct opposition to the accepted polite ‘application’ …”, which can make it “… problematic for people to accept.” He also points me in the direction of Elad Lassry, who certainly seems to approach photography in a provocative manner e.g. in this interview – The Photographic Problem. That short piece certainly poses some challenging questions, which are worthy of further thought.
The Self-portraits are also fully supported. On further reading of the feedback just prior to writing this note, I have picked up a reference to a ‘form of return’ (read, in addition, ‘to the past’) and there is a comparison to autobiography. I understand where that comes from, but it makes me reflect that, whilst I have in mind to use the old Newsbook as a kind of prompt, I do not see the project as in any way ‘looking back’, and certainly not as autobiographical. I regard it as a work of fiction that is perhaps closer to Cindy Sherman’s images of ‘Self’ – photographically constructed versions of fictional persona, which just happen to feature my body. Of course, I also recognise that it is difficult to imagine that there can be no ‘me’ in the Body of Work; just as one could argue that there is Cindy Sherman, the artist, in her work. But that is, maybe, something of a truism and doesn’t say anything helpful about the work itself. Food for thought, also.