Portraits Project–Presentation?

The Stan Photo

I’ve almost certainly made all the images that I’m going to for the Portraits Project (need a title!) and so thoughts begin to turn to presentation.  There was an opportunity to try something out over the weekend, when I attended a ‘gathering’ of 14 current and prospective Level Three students (with two tutors) from OCA. ‘Crit sessions’ were very much part of the agenda and I took along some prints of the portraits plus, more significantly, a print of a mock ‘red-top’ tabloid newspaper called ‘The Stan’.  I’m not going to document the design and print process here (it’s written up in a notebook at the moment), but the photograph above shows the principle and there is a large PDF version of all four pages here – ‘The Stan’.  This was an experimental way of bringing all the images into one place, together with either the full ‘back story’ or an allusion to it.  My questions for the group were, essentially, ‘Does it work?’ and ‘Is the print quality acceptable?’.  The latter question arose because this particular newsprint version is certainly not of high aesthetic quality – but that doesn’t seem to have been an issue for those who saw it. ‘Cheap and nasty’ works as a tabloid aesthetic, I think.

More significant, though, is the question of whether it works as a culmination – perhaps the culmination – for the project.  Views inevitably varied, with there being at least one suggestion that one may need nothing else – just the newspaper as the final outcome presentation.  Another view, though, was that the project critiques a wide range of image styles and contexts, so perhaps the ‘tabloid’ wasn’t appropriate for an overarching presentation.  The project seeks to explore the way photographic images create fictions in the ‘real’ world, so maybe something (or more than one ‘thing’) is needed to bring my own fictions into the ‘real’.  It’s a valid point, but not an easy one to resolve.  It did lead me to reflect, in the ‘crit’ that perhaps one approach would be to drop this project as having gone as far as it can without some major piece of work that would be difficult to do this late in the course.  I haven’t resolved that question yet – rightly and understandably.  In my own mind, this project has been slightly ‘second string’ to the ‘Textbook’ project for a while; so that might be basis enough for making a decision between the two.  But on the other hand, the Portraits always produce a reaction in others; always make people think; certainly have an ‘audience’, which might be important at a later stage; and, as the person who was questioning the tabloid said, ‘have legs’ (literally!).  Although this project makes people laugh (a ‘good thing’; nothing wrong with humour in art, surely), it has a very serious side and enough depth of context and interpretation to stand on its own, if I chose to make it do so.

So I’m faced with further reflection about this, as I head towards submission of Assignment Four.  The project will definitely form part of that submission, whatever the final outcome.  The discussion at the weekend has led me to look back at a couple of other angles into this piece of work.  Firstly, I have been taking another look at the website I put together at the end of last year – www.wherenothingisreal.com.  I’m sure there are aspects that could be improved but, coming back to it after several months, I feel that it doesn’t work badly as a presentation of the project – though not as a way of bringing the images into the ‘real’.  Another angle that I’ve referred to a few times is the concept of a Google Search for an old school friend.  This is the first page of a search for ‘Stan Dickinson’, done yesterday afternoon:

Google 01

There are five of my Portraits in there – part of the ‘real’ world then, perhaps?  I tried a search for ‘Dick Stanley’ and, most appropriately, my own ‘Dick’ appears on page three:

Google 05

Maybe, as I say, these images are already out there in the ‘real’?

Much to reflect on further, after the weekend discussions, but the project will stay on its ‘legs’ for the time being.


17 thoughts on “Portraits Project–Presentation?

  1. schirgwin

    If the biblical-ness of the reference doesn’t mess things up, you could go with either “I am Legion”, or possibly just “Legion” or even “Legionnaires” or “Legionnaires’ Syndrome”

  2. jsumb

    I’ve been wondering if both of your projects are perhaps about the materialism of photography, especially now that your ‘portraits’ are appearing in Google searches? Clearly the deconstruction of the photographic chemistry book is a critique of photography, and I have found the imagery not only very compelling but with very clear commentary on the antecedency of digital photography? Interesting that Laura mentioned again her favour of film based imagery! But I wonder whether the lack of control over the ubiquity of digital, its lack of physicality, as Fontcuberta notes in his book Pandora’s Camera, is a kind of ‘handshake’ in the conversation you are having regarding the photographic image? As Flusser says, “all images are significant surfaces” and I suppose, for me, it is the superficiality of digital – remember the difference between the printed image and the projected image at the crit’ sessions recently? – that is at the heart of this debate?

    1. standickinson Post author

      Firstly, John, that you mention both Fontcuberta and Flusser in the context of my work is a) extrememly flattering [:-)] and b) quietly gratifying, since both feature significantly in my Contextual Studies essay (first draft submitted last week). Yes, I agree, this materiality issue is a significant element of the questions around presentation of the project. Putting the images into the ‘real’ is most likely to involve some form of digital superficiality; presenting them for Assessment, I might feel the need for something more material. You can probably guess that this is where the ‘tabloid’ idea came in. It may, by the way, be impossible to resolve all the images in this project with a single approach, or even with 2 or 3 approaches. Maybe they each find their appropriate contextual space – but that’s where it becomes the major piece of further work that daunts at this late(ish) stage! And even then, they need to come together for Assessment. I was thinking of asking the ‘Hangout Group’ to give some input/feedback, if people felt inclined to help – maybe to raise it as a topic for further discussion in a couple of weeks time?

      Is materialism common to both projects? Yes, to a degree; some of the Textbook images try to use a sense of materiality because I think it’s what we associate with the supposed ‘real’ (and surface is essential to that) – ‘significant surfaces’ as you/Flusser say. But I think Laura (and others’) favouring of film might be something different – since (I think) she was referring to image-making as much as image-presenting. She (and many of those others) studied in an environment that was predominantly analogue – even though we might feel that they are very young and should be creatures of the digital. Then there is the whole cultural fascination with ‘craft’ – the photographers experimenting with very old methodologies are, perhaps, part of the same phenomenon that drives the popularity of the Great British Bake-off and the British Sewing Bee? As part of my CS research, I asked a number of contemporary artists working with photography about their image-capture. The responding ‘population’ wasn’t a statistically significant one but it was about 50/50 between digital analogue methods; all use digital techniques at the output stage; and no one thought it made any difference to the sense of ‘reality’ in the images.

      1. jsumb

        I think the hangout group would be up for a considered conversation regarding your project – having seen it in the flesh, as it were. And the references are perhaps a reflection of a similar bookshelf perhaps. I have no idea what you are talking about with bake-offs and bees, having avoided them like the plague 🙂
        Part of what analogue is about is process of course, that ‘craftiness’ that implies and invokes a strategy that digital can only match in image quality. The process is therefore part of the Art! All this assumes the end position is a print of some sort, though an intellectually sound response (which I am unlikely ever to achieve) might have that that doesn’t matter either and that its all about intent.
        There can be no doubt in my mind that analogue is in its death throes and that the commercial and, dare I say it, the capitalist momentum behind digital will ultimately ‘win-out’. Laura’s experimentation with wet plate collodium and large format will leave her with excess capital equipment that will be ‘written-off’. However in the meantime it will provide her, and others, the ability to express themselves in ways that will be transparent to them. As Flusser notes: “in the act of photography the camera does the will of the photographer but the photographer has to will what the camera can do”. My fear is that there isn’t a person, let alone a photographer who comprehend what a digital camera can do, it has become a mystery.

      2. standickinson Post author

        As much of a mystery as chemistry is to me? Unlikely! 🙂 Maybe we have to let go of the idea that we can comprehend anything? Flusser frequently uses the word ‘magic’. This year, Charlotte Cotton has a new book coming out ‘Photography is Magic’!

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  4. Catherine

    I wasn’t able to have a look at the PDF of “The Stan” unfortunately. It’s a very good idea though. Did you feel different when you were photographing yourself as a different person?

    1. standickinson Post author

      It’s a very big file, I’m afraid – as required for the printing; haven’t had the chance to save in a smaller form.
      Did I feel different? Hard to say – there certainly had to be some element of performance and I had to create the ‘back stories’ so that I could be aware of a context.

      1. Catherine

        I was just thinking of how actors act into parts and it can affect them. Also remembering how in some respects, I started to take on the persona of ‘Paul” the young man I was pretending to be.

      2. standickinson

        I don’t think performing the roles changed me in any way, if that’s what you mean, Catherine. I might have temporarily thought myself into the character but I don’t think it went any further than that (fortunately, or I might be a bit of a confused soul!).

  5. paul490280

    I think that the Google search idea where you mix your Stan’s with others is really effective and begins to ask questions about the truth of the photograph, perception, and identity. I thought that John’s comments were really insightful but starts going down a philosophical and art culture pathway that I suspect you know a lot more about than I do and thus would struggle to critique further. I’m glad you are not giving up on this too quickly as its depth is where it’s quality comes from

    1. Stan Dickinson

      Thanks for the encouragement and input, Paul; much appreciated. I’ve certainly no intention of ditching the project completely.

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