Monthly Archives: September 2015

Les Rencontres d’Arles 2015–some reflections

Arles Rencontres 01

Interior – Parc des Ateliers, Arles

I spent last week in Arles, during the latter stages of the annual photographic festival.  Some of the exhibitions closed at the end of August; others on 6th September; but the majority remain open until the coming weekend.  Outside of the holiday season and in the context of these reductions, one might assume it would be quiet.  Broadly speaking, it was, but since the schools are back, there were occasional tides of young people, one of which beached itself for some time across the floor of the Lisa Barnard exhibition in the Prix Découverte, having a full class conducted by their teacher!  The peace was also disturbed later in the week by the Feria du Riz which, despite the name, has more to do with bull-fighting than rice.  Bulls being driven through the streets by Les Guardians (Camargue cowboys) and stunningly loud music across the town centre until the early hours – but, actually, a wonderful little old city, with some serious (and expanding) cultural activities.  It was a marvellous week.

… and so to some highlights from the exhibitions; and a few critical views as well.  Looking for highlights, it’s hard to get past the two big US photographers on show – Walker Evans and Stephen Shore.  The former was a slightly different take on Evans, partly curated by David Campany, and focusing principally on his magazine work.  Many of the classic Evans images/series were for magazines, of course, and here they were displayed in the original magazines, also in many cases as prints, but most interestingly, also as ‘blown-up’ versions of the magazine pages, unframed, in high-contrast, pasted on the walls.  It worked really well – for me anyway – the full-bleed, high-contrast, pasted presentation made for a poster-like temporariness that linked well to their original purpose; but it also gave them an added presence (aura?) and had the practical benefit that lots of people could look/read at the same time.  One was reminded that Evans did just about everything, photographically, that there is to do.  The accompanying text in the articles, often his own, was ‘of its time’, the great modernist American vision, but I detected occasional signs that his tongue might have been in his cheek, at times.  Not when he was railing against modern design it wasn’t, though.

The Stephen Shore was a major retrospective that is touring the world over the next eighteen months to two years.  A wide-ranging show, it included work from his early teens to a recent series in Winslow Arizona, from 2013, incorporating (I think) all of American Surfaces and Uncommon Places (and some workbooks from the latter).  Just seeing the whole range was interesting in itself, but the show was well-presented, with supporting curatorial notes that were informative but not over-bearing or excessively prescriptive.  The movement from black and white to colour, to black and white, then back to colour (digital) was neatly explained – largely, Shore feeling he’d done that and wanted to do something else, which makes good sense.  Seeing all the work together emphatically brings home his sensitivity to, and experimentation with, the camera’s particular ways of ‘seeing’.  I liked the last two sentences of the note below, which accompanied the most recent Winslow series.  Shore has been working extensively with digital cameras and these notes seem to strongly refute the idea that this has to mean the photographer must automatically be working quickly and not in the thoughtful and contemplative manner some think is only achievable with film!

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Whatever the camera/process, the artist/photographer is the one determining how the image is made. Speaking of which, here is another artist who works slowly and painstakingly with digital processes.

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Facades, Markus Brunetti, Arles 2015

Markus Brunetti has been working exclusively, for ten years, on a series of huge images of the facades of prominent European religious buildings.  Clearly influenced by the Bechers, Gursky etc, he (with his partner) has carefully photographed and re-photographed, piece by piece, compiling monumentally-sized digital images, which have been ‘cleaned’ of all traces of wear and tear, bird droppings, graffiti, and whatever else might get in the way of a hyper-real outcome that presents the buildings with a perspective and a presence that no one has ever actually seen except in these images.  It’s a superb demonstration of the photographic images ability to play on the unconscious eye, so that there is a sense in which this is what the buildings ‘really’ look like – yet they never have and never will!  I really enjoyed them.  They are very seductive, beautifully printed, so that the viewer is drawn into the detail, all of which is there, as if the stones and carvings had just been placed there yesterday.  Yet at another level, they are utterly meaningless!  They only really tell us that Brunetti (and his team) have spent days and days making them; they have no other purpose than the spectacle of their own ‘madeness’!  Now, where have I made those kind of comments before? Here, of course, when I was looking at the work of Thomas Demand.  There is a video about the work here.

Moving on to something that left a less positive impression but could be interpreted as comment on the effectiveness of the photographic image – Heavens, by Paulo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti.

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This is about tax havens and their significance in the global economy.  There is a good video of Woods talking about the show here.  Before I launch into my ‘critique’, let me stress that I am no fan of tax havens, global capitalism, or the blatant exploitation of the ‘have-nots’ by the ‘haves’.  Nor do I have any problem with the extensive piece of investigative journalism that these two have undertaken.  I do have reservations, though, about its effectiveness as a photographic/art exhibition and, to an extent, with its presence in this important international festival – in the form it takes.  Is it a piece of good documentary photography?  I would say ‘possibly not’!  These are – as Woods says in the video – glossy, large-scale images, making use of the aesthetic of the global corporation, often featuring prominent bankers, government officials etc.  And if you just look at the images, that’s what you see (again, as Woods says).  It’s only when you read the detailed captions at the side of the image that you understand what’s going on.  So, one might argue, what is the point of the images?  What do they add to the message?  So one might interpret the show as a critique of the documentary image and it’s effectiveness in the 21st century.  Though I don’t think that was the intention!  I’m tempted to copy their caption style with something along the lines of:

Two contemporary documentary photographers travel the world, visiting remote tax havens where the wealthy and the corporate deposit and structure their finances so as to avoid or minimise the tax they pay.  They create large-scale glossy portraits of some of the key ‘players’ in their playgrounds, print them very big, and present them at an international photography festival in the South of France.  They are on show there for two months, seen by thousands, and in the meantime, nothing changes!

OK, not entirely fair, perhaps, but that was my reaction to the show.  Without the text, it was meaningless; without the images, it might still have worked!

I saw much more – interesting ‘emerging’ artists and the ‘dummy’ books, too.  But this will suffice for a main post on the subject.  I’ll return to the books later, in the context of the Textbook project.

‘Textbook’–early book planning

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At present, I am expecting a book to form some part of the submission of the ‘Textbook Project’ for Assignment 5/Assessment.  One possibility is that I do a hand-made book, bound into the original cover of the old Textbook of Photographic Chemistry, where it all began.  I still have the cover, as illustrated below, though I probably wouldn’t use the paper outer sheet.  My idea would be to print one of the ‘patterns’ onto a man-made/nonwoven fabric that I have sourced and create a jacket from that – but, not to get ahead of myself!

Textbook Project JPEG Slideshow-82

I have been doing a bit of research on design and on bookbinding.  Regarding the former, it isn’t something I’ve ever studied and I don’t propose to turn myself into a graphic designer overnight, but, just to get a feel for the ‘basics, I have been reading Graphic Design School.  It covers a lot of ground, in a clear, readable and (as you would hope!) visually well-presented format.  It isn’t that I expect to use that much of what I’ve read, just that I wanted to have some general idea of what a designer would be thinking about.  On the bookbinding side, I came across some excellent video tutorials on YouTube, here Crafty Loops Tutorials.  I haven’t tried to put any of it into practice yet, but it doesn’t seem beyond ones capabilities, with a bit of care and planning.  I had already figured out that these book sections, called ‘signatures’ are formed from eight folded sheets, creating 16 page faces in total.  The original book had 20 of them, printed on thin book paper, of course.  I’ve tried making 8 of the right size using drawing paper and I reckon that, with printed images attached, that won’t be far off filling the book – and it broadly fits with the number of images I have from the project.  A final version might have photographic paper bound into it – but my plan, at this stage, is to maybe produce a mock-up that will form part of the Assignment 5 submission.

The graphic design book encourages the preparation of a planned layout of pages for brochures, booklets etc, which makes good sense.  As illustrated at the top of the post, I’ve made a start.  The image shows one of three A2 sheets that I’ve divided up with the correct number of properly-proportioned pages.  The images stuck onto them are not in proportion to each other or the proposed book – it’s just a way of working on the sequencing.  The larger images do, however, represent the points at which I would plan to insert a double page spread.  Eagle eyes might spot the occasional pink ‘x’ – that’s where the signatures would join together.

That is a far as I’ve got with it at the moment – a principle to work to and a rough ‘first shot’ at a sequence.  I’m going to be at the Rencontres d’Arles next week, at which there has been a competition/exhibition for mock-up books; so a good opportunity for some further research.

Portraits–‘The Stanley Quest’

Stanley Quest Page

I have done some work on another method of ‘presenting’ the Portraits Project; another potential way of bringing these images ‘into the real’.  I discussed the issue a few weeks ago – here.  I mentioned in another post that I had some thoughts for another ‘virtual’, web-based way to present the work and I have had a shot at it.  It’s here – The Stanley Quest.

I shared an earlier version with some of my fellow students on an L3 Hangout, and made some minor changes following their feedback.  It isn’t the ‘finished article’ by any means.  Some of the concerns expressed were 1) too wordy for a visual arts degree (which I understand, though it has to work in its own context as well); 2) is the ‘voice’ quite right for the supposed, fictional author (I’ve made a few changes, but it could take more work, should I choose to pursue it further); 3)in a similar vein, who is this author and why is she doing it (again, understood and partially but not entirely addressed in this version).

My feeling is that the concept – a ‘third party’ who has found and is writing about the fictional images I’ve created – works OK.  Making it web-based, in as ‘natural’ and realistic a way as possible, might almost take it into the (highly topical!) realms of post-internet art – art created in the context of, but certainly not about, the internet.  I’m still not quite sure … might it be better as a ‘blog’ for example?  Would I need to really strengthen the context? I can think of plenty of questions and plenty of ways that it could be further developed – but 1)does the work warrant it? 2)would I actually be any closer to resolving the presentation issue for this project? 3)do I have the time to do that and develop the Textbook Project (which has also been coming under my scrutiny as well – and which is, seemingly, much liked by my new tutor for SYP)?

Not seeking to resolve those questions for the time being – primarily, I’m just recording another step in the progress of this module.

Getting over some frustration … and moving on!

This post is just intended as a record of some frustration that has impacted on me and my work over the last few weeks – stemming from some bad communications by OCA, I’m afraid.  Back in June, at the L3 weekend event in Barnsley, some significant changes to assessment procedures were communicated, with an indication that they would apply to all L3 students and would begin on 1st September 2015.  Now, I missed part of the session and might have had a slightly less than clear picture; plus it happened to catch me exactly at the point (Ass 4 going towards Ass 5) where I was trying to get my assessment plans organised; and, I may, through a desire to get things right, have got overly concerned about matters – so I’m prepared to acknowledge those aspects.  However, that I and a fellow student had the change confirmed to us just three or so weeks ago, only for there to be an announcement, ten days ago, that a decision not to change had actually been made back in June, but not fully communicated – that isn’t excusable.  However, apart from recording that it doesn’t help one’s planning (or motivation), enough said and time to move on!

I have submitted my final Contextual Studies Assignment; I have enrolled on Sustaining Your Practice; and I have been working on some ideas for BoW submissions – of which more later.