Monthly Archives: November 2014

Textbook Project–entering a new phase

Pages - the Cut

I have always expected, intended perhaps, that the direction of this project was likely to include a physical destruction of the book.  The most recent images have been complex, layered constructions, which appropriate diagrams – signifiers – from the book and re-present them in new ways that bear no apparent relation to their original meaning.  I blogged about one recent one here and another one here.  The most recent of all came in for some interesting discussion on Flickr here.  I haven’t necessarily exhausted the possibilities with that part of the project – far from it, actually – but it has felt like a good time to move things on to another phase.  (In order to keep options open for further constructions, I have, by the way, created a digital photographic copy of the entire book – 178 images of all double-page spreads, front/back covers, and so on.  It took me about half a day but I can extract and manipulate further elements, should I wish – and it also keeps open options to create a PDF version, slideshow etc, too.)

But, as I say, the physical destruction was always a possibility – likelihood, actually – and it has begun.  I ought to explore the motivation or intent behind this new part of the process.  It has various sources, actually.  One is, I must say, instinctive, emotional, intuitive – a kind of basic, natural desire to do it.  Contextual Studies might inform me that this comes from my unconscious – perhaps it does – my failed Chemistry O-level, still haunting me; some base, unacknowledged desire to see the victory of digital over analogue; or, worst of all, a destructive nature that was suppressed as I entered the Symbolic Order as an infant.  Whatever – I have felt an urge to ‘cut’ the book!  (So, no matter what I might now write about the intellectual context and justification; the influences of other artists; the metaphor for the demise of chemical photography; all will be meaningless because it’s really just a desire to destroy things!)

However, I am going to refer to some artistic influences – and they are genuine, as it happens.  Firstly, getting on for two years ago, I attended an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery called The First Cut.  Quoting from the page on that link “31 international artists who cut, sculpt and manipulate paper, transform this humble material into fantastical works of art for our stunning new exhibition”.  It’s one of the most inspiring exhibitions that I have ever seen – artists with amazing skill and craft but also with outstanding vision and creativity.  All were excellent and several of them ‘cut books’.  This was one of my favourites – Georgia Russell ‘The Story of Art’ – and hopefully some very loose connection with where my Textbook Project is going is clear.  A second influence is here, in the work of photographer, Abelardo Morell.  I came across his work during my Level Two Studies and, whilst it does not have the destructive characteristics that I’m demonstrating, I do like the aesthetics and the form of his book photography, and have sought to bring something of that to my own project.

And so, the following series of images may be a metaphor for the fate of chemical photography.  It may be my very crude response to the inspirations of Georgia Russell and Abe Morrell.  It may be some sort of apocalyptic exploration of the postmodern hyper-real.  And it may just be me satisfying a destructive nature that has (thank goodness!) remained buried in my unconscious since just before I first saw myself as the ‘other’ in a mirror image, way back in rural Lancashire in the early fifties …

Pages 45 FacingPages 247-248-FacingPages 262-263-1Pages 225-226-1Pages 59-90-Chapter 5Pages 151-160-1Pages 94-95Pages 123-124-FacingPages 190-191Pages 230-231-1

This is the more creative stage of this new phase.  I suspect that things are going to get messier!

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Portrait–in the style of …

A18640.jpg

Rembrandt van Rijn Self-Portrait 1659 National Gallery of Art, Washington

Last week, I saw the latest National Gallery ‘blockbuster’ exhibition, Rembrandt – the late works.  There were many fine works on display, of course, from collections all over the world; and the exhibition presented another of those ‘unique opportunities’, especially for someone of my age, to experience them together in a way that will certainly not happen again in my lifetime.  That ‘threat’ in the publicity for such events could sometimes prompt us to go to something we’re not actually that bothered about, but I was quite keen, in this case, for the chance to look first hand on some of his famous self-portraits.  Actually, Simon Schama had done quite a persuasive job; and I had also seen Rankin ‘recreating’ some of the portraits on TV, too; so there were a few influences.

In fact, the Rankin programme had given me an idea as to how I might resolve one of my own planned ‘self-portraits’ – the left-wing politician.  It had gone through various iterations in my mind – ex-Cabinet Minister photographed outside the London School of Economics; veteran back-bencher photographed in his study – but the programme prompted me towards a retiring local politician being photographed for a Town Hall portrait, in the style of a Rembrandt.  I noted that Rankin didn’t go the whole hog and try to create something that looked just like the paintings; more a case of ‘in the spirit of’ Rembrandt.  I researched some of the self-portraits online; and it soon becomes clear – not surprisingly –  that viewing online, or even in print, only gives a clue as to what the painting might look like, in terms of tones and colours; and then there is the question of surface, of course.  I had a go, anyway, with warm, subdued lighting, warm colours of clothing; a chair and pipe as props; a neutral but not plain background; dignified but human stance and gaze.  When I shared the portrait on Flickr – here – the response was good, with many people suggesting it was the ‘best’ of the portraits so far.  One comment, from Clive, suggested that it might look under-exposed, which it certainly does, out of context; but further clarification led to a feeling that it was its flatness that might be the issue.  To be fair, I hadn’t paid too much attention to the detail at that stage – because I was going to the exhibition and wanted to get a feel for what the paintings themselves looked like.  Recreating the exact feel of a painting is impossible, but I wanted to see the actual tones and colours and lighting.

The 1659 Self-portrait above – the very first painting in the exhibition – was the one that really attracted me and kept me looking.  It normally hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and there are notes about it here.  Rembrandt was 53 at the time and, seemingly, emerging from some tough times – financially, personally and professionally.  It is a deeply engaging image and I spent some time in that first room (which it shared with a group of other self-portraits).  This reproduction, from the NGA website, is a good one; and the portrait was nicely lit in the National Gallery, reproducing the quite warm front light from above, as in the painting itself.  The notes tell us that it went through restoration in 1992, and the light really glinted off the surface on the forehead and nose – little highlights and brushstrokes on the surface that ‘brought it to life’.  A photograph – whether presented on-screen or in the form of a high quality print – is never going to match that, as I have already said!  However, informed by the painting and by Clive’s comment, here is Councillor Stan’s portrait, adjusted slightly from the original ‘out-of-camera’ shot, ready to hang in the Town Hall.

Councillor Stan

My colours area little warmer than the version of the Rembrandt at the top – but I recall it looking a bit warmer than that when I saw it.  And I have the light at a slightly different angle – but it’s ‘in the style’’ of’, and it may get a bit more tinkering as time goes by.  How, though, could I dream of getting even remotely close to anything like the real thing?

Textbook Project–developing another image!

From this …

_DSC6285

 

… to this …

Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 5

Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 5 – Construct

To be clear on one thing … I don’t know what ‘Diffuse and Specular Density’ means!  I have looked in the ‘Textbook’ and read a few sentences, but they don’t make much sense to me and I don’t intend to look any further because I have no need of that knowledge and only a very passing interest in it.  As I have said before – this project involves deliberately appropriating ‘signifiers’ from one context and giving them a new ‘life’ elsewhere.  Jean Baudrillard would suggest that ‘capital’ does this all the time, presenting us with images that are significant in their own hyper-real context, but which mask the lack of a ‘real’.  Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 5 – Construct is certainly not a representation of anything ‘real’ – but it is, perhaps, seductive and interesting; certainly, to most people, more seductive and interesting than the diagram above it.  Yet it has no connection to anything other than its own ability to interest and seduce.  The diagram above it, though, if you understand what it signifies, has some potential to visually communicate a concept that has practical application in the process of traditional, film-based photographic image-making; so, on that basis, a lot more potential to be useful and of value than my construction!

It was a lengthy process, going from one to the other.  These are some of the steps:

Diffuse and Specular Density Diffuse and Specular Density Cropped

Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 3 Cropped

Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 3 Fabric Print

… and then printing onto fabric, creating a ‘still-life’ and re-photographing …

_DSC6706-Edit

… before constructing Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 5 – Construct , which has five layers – top and bottom being versions of the last pattern, with three ‘angled’ versions of this photograph between them – and various stages of delete/reveal.

All that work to create something that is more seductive and attractive but of less ‘use’ than the original! Makes you think! Why?  But then, that’s the point of the project …

Portraits–draft statement

Everyman Stan

 

In the last post, I said that I would produce a draft of an ‘Artist’s Statement’ for the Portraits series.  The Google search that I reported on there did help, by providing me with a ‘way in’; and some of those reflections helped to confirm what the series is ‘all about’.  So I did produce a ‘draft’, which I shared with some of my fellow students, via Flickr.  I did get a little bit of feedback, and I’ve subsequently left it to lie for a couple of weeks.  Going back to it today, I’ve felt that it is ‘fit for purpose’.  I made one minor amendment, but the version here is likely to form part of my Assignment Three submission.

I am conscious, on re-reading, that it poses an awful lot of questions and seems to range over a wide territory – but that’s how I feel about this Body of Work.  Above anything else, and this goes for the Studio Projects as well, my interest lies in the mysterious relationship between Photography and the Real.  My Contextual Studies – both theoretical and practical, taking in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis along the way – confirm that this remains mysterious, perhaps even more so, in the so-called ‘digital age’.  That is what I’m trying to explore through the Body of Work – but more along the lines of creating uncertainty in the mind of the viewer than suggesting that there might be answers.  I don’t know whether, come assessment, that might look like a ‘cop-out’ – but I am genuinely more interested in having viewers of my work feel puzzled than informed, uplifted, amused, etc.  Hence the form of the draft statement.