Category Archives: Assignment Two

Assignment Two–Feedback

I have received my feedback for Assignment Two and the message seems to be broadly along the lines of ‘Young Mr Grace’ from “Are Your Being Served?”, who used to visit the Grace Bros store with his voluptuous (not sure if that word is acceptable these days!!) nurse and announce “You’re all doing very well!”.  Not that I would compare Clive with ‘Young Mr Grace’, of course!

A little more seriously, the feedback is that I seem to be heading in the right direction so keep on with it.  I’m happy with that and also agree with the more significant point from the feedback, which is that I will, eventually, need to be able to present and explain a more direct and coherent link with the theoretical context in Contextual Studies.  I am beginning to see some broad direction in that but it needs more focus and some drilling down into how it specifically links with my projects.  Those reflections are, however, for elsewhere.

One point worth recording here is that I am beginning to sense that the two broad project areas – loosely defined as the Self-Portraits and the Studio Work – are actually not so different from each other, and might turn out to be closely related aspects of the same overall project.  Photography seems to work in creative spaces that are ideal for subversion and avant-gard questioning of the ‘norms’ associated with visual art and culture.  Digital developments make the ground beneath those norms seem even less secure.  All the images that I have been producing seem to work in this (good grief, I am about to borrow a phrase from the world of cricket! Geoffrey Boycott no less!) ‘corridor of uncertainty’.  Images that may evoke the ‘real’, that may quote from the familiar forms of cultural representation, which may tempt the viewer to look and reflect, but which, fundamentally, have no meaning.  At this stage, I don’t want to go any further than those general observations.  I have some notions of where this is taking me but it is through more reading and reflection in my Contextual Studies that I may hope to progress.

At which point, quietly congratulating myself on managing to quote from “Are You Being Served?” and “Test Match Special” in one short blog post, I will get my nose into some books!

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Studio Work–Tapes and other work–Update

I wrote about a mini-series of studio images that I called ‘Tapes’ in this blog post – here. Looking back, I feel less enthusiastic about the notion of ‘meaning’ than I did in that post; but I do think that some/all of the images ‘work’ as part of this overall Studio Work Project that I am developing. These three, for example:

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They have some positive aesthetic qualities and are likely to pose questions in the viewer’s mind. I could see them as part of a gallery exhibition or within a sequence of these studio images, in book form. I did some more work with my green & yellow ‘earth tape’. He (what was I saying about meaning!) appeared in another studio ‘still-life’, for example:

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Here he’s working with some more ‘trash’ – an old piece of wrapping paper and two ‘cut-offs’ from transparent curtain poles. I suppose that I am exploring a still-life aesthetic here that is frequently used in the world of advertising – careful lighting and composition designed to glorify an expensive perfume brand, some jewellery or a leather handbag. Applying that same approach to various pieces of rubbish that are lying around on my shelves is a way of undermining the notion of brand prestige. In a way that is similar to the creation of identity in my self-portraits, I am creating spectacle from nothing – using simple lighting and the magical powers of photographic image-making.

One of the plastic cut-offs and the wrapping paper came together in this heavily Photoshopped spectacle. And another discarded metal curtain pole, with a very humble bit of plastic packaging met under seductive lighting in this image.

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Another idea in my mind, in this context, is the importance of ‘spaces’. It occurred to me that in setting up some of these studio projects I am, in effect, creating spaces in which some form of photographic action is deemed to take place. The image below came about as a result of that idea – the old cardboard box is the empty space (stage?) into which I place the ‘players’ with a view to making an interesting (if meaningless?) assemblage.

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That has set me thinking about the potential to collect ‘spaces’ from the outside world, into which I can place my scenes. I photographed an innocent-looking space outside York Minster, into which some familiar characters emerged, back ‘in the studio’.

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And then, a special opportunity arose to capture a famous ‘space’ at the Tate Modern – the Turbine Hall. It was empty, apart from three ‘expectant’ viewers – so I have given them something to look at.

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I feel that there is some potential in this idea of collecting ‘spaces’, particularly this empty exhibition space. Thinking, contextually, about the importance of the curatorial influences in art; about some of the contextual essays that I’ve been looking at in Contextual Studies – Solomon-Godeau, Crimp etc; not sure whether this can go further as part of the Studio Projects or whether it is a separate project of its own, or even whether it is worth pursuing at all.

So, the experimentation continues. I must admit to a degree of uncertainty, though. I enjoy the work – both the making and some of the outcomes – but I have a concern about what, if anything, it means to anybody else. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of focus to it – spurts of ideas that produce a few interesting images and then on to something else which may or may not extend from what I had been doing before. Part of me feels that, providing I keep going with it, there will be something worthwhile emerging at the end; but another part feels that I might just be ‘playing at it’ and would do well to change tack to something more straightforward. My next step is to put together an assignment submission, which will include my self-portraits and the ‘best’ of what is emerging from these studio projects. That process will, in itself, help with my thinking – and there will be Clive’s feedback, of course.

Studio Work–‘Textbook Project’–An Update

I have already written about the beginnings of this project here; and about some contextual considerations for it here. However, it has moved forward, with images that have become increasingly layered and complex as I’ve tried to push the ideas further. What I am doing here is to use the book, a 1963 publication entitled “A Textbook of Photographic Chemistry”, which I acquired in a local second had book shop, as a trigger from which to experiment with digital photography and transformation. I have written before that the book reads like a foreign (and perhaps ‘dead’) language to me; so bringing the material into a contemporary digital image-making context is like lifting its signs and signification from its original purpose – appropriating it – to create new significance. Some recent work starts with this diagrammatical representation of the process of solarization in film photography.

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It is a term that crops up in digital contexts, of course – but as a standard Photoshop filter that seeks to imitate the analogue effect. It is also associated with Surrealist experimentation with photographic processes, notably by Man Ray. However, nothing of that is of any consequence to the way that I have sought to use it. I decided to explore the potential in the shapes in the graph itself; resulting in the following transformations:

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The colourisation has been done in Photoshop, with the colour choices being entirely ‘instinctive’! I found the resulting form interesting and could see potential to go a step further by creating a repeating pattern. The process took me back to junior school days and printing patterns with cut-out potatoes. Wonder whether people still do it! After a few iterations, this was the outcome. I have to admit that I was delighted with it – reminded me of some sort of fabric print for cushions and curtains in the 1950s/1960s.

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I printed it out at about 28cm x 28cm and used it as the basis for another piece of experimentation. I’ve been thinking about the flat surface of photographic prints and whether I could use some of the ‘cutting’ that I’ve applied elsewhere to create a third dimension. So I went to work on the blue shape, transforming its size and dimensions then printing and cutting multiple copies that I could layer onto the surface. The result, applied to one part of the pattern, is visible in this image:

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I’ve also re-introduced the original solarization theme by adding a copy of another appropriated image from the book, to which I have applied the standard Photoshop solarization filter. It’s crude and unsophisticated, deliberately printed onto ordinary paper and curled, to retain this contrast between old and new – and, if I admit the truth, to confuse and subvert the whole process of image-making! I find this process of applying layers of manipulation and development interesting and I enjoy the complex and sometimes challenging nature of the outcomes.

Picking up, then, on the idea that this pattern reminded me of a mid-twentieth century interior design fabric, I went on to print the pattern onto a piece of fabric (using some fabric that is specially designed for use with inkjet printers – a process used by quilters to incorporate photographs into quilts). The fabric was a pretty basic piece of cotton and it soon began to fray at the edges, which added a new and unexpected element! The following image combines this fabric version with the original paper print – and the very diagram from which this process started.

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The composition is laid on a piece of black velvet so that it seems to float in a kind of surreal manner, but with simple ‘still-life’-like side lighting. But I’ve then taken the fabric print on to another stage of transformation – re-photographing it, extracting it from its background and making it the top layer of a new image in Photoshop, beneath which I’ve layered copies of the original digital pattern and copies of the original graphical shape, which are then ‘revealed’ with some crude use of the Photoshop eraser.

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This is certainly a strange image, designed to confuse the eye and confound analysis. The strange process of experimentation that has led to this point is, I feel, in a long line of such experimentation – by Surrealist photographic artists in the first half of the 20th C and by the contemporary photographic artists such as those I have quoted before (and who have been recently featured in the latest edition of Foam magazine – see here).

I find the process fascinating, and I want to continue to push these ideas. I am somewhat unsure as to the reaction from other people. Can viewers see any value or interest? Is anyone, other than me, remotely interested in this form of exploration? I have no idea! I wouldn’t say ‘… and I don’t care …’ because I do, actually, but taking some risks and experimenting with what feels interesting is a crucial part of the creative process, I think. No idea where this is all going, but I just read a reassuring quote in Hotshoe magazine – Roe Etheridge is quoting something that one of his influences, Jim Jarmusch said to him … “It’s hard to get lost when you don’t know where you’re going.”

Self Portrait Project Update

As of today, I have five self-portraits that are at, or close to, what I would regard as a finished form.  That isn’t to say any/all of them couldn’t be improved and maybe even re-shot, but my feeling is that any of them could, with a little ‘tweaking’, be presented as part of a final project. The form of that presentation is some way off, of course, and might be a consideration, but these are mainly large enough files to allow for a sizeable print, were that to be the outcome.  I’m hoping to submit a second assignment in the next couple of weeks, and these images will form part of it; so today’s blog post is a way of bringing them together, with a few thoughts about each and some reflections on where we go from here.

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Bailey’s Old Mate

The ‘back story’ to this one is that this version of Stan was a student in London in the late sixties. He was interested in photography and eventually left his course to work as an assistant to David Bailey. He went on to make a living as a photographer, back in the North, though never made it ‘big’. He remained good friends with Bailey and, on a visit to Stan’s home in Yorkshire, Bailey made a series of portraits of Stan, of which this is the chosen one. (They shot two rolls of 35mm film over a couple of afternoons.)  I have found it necessary, for my own purposes, to have some form of ‘back story’ in my mind when creating these images.  The fact that I was working alone, with a D800 on a tripod, remote control for the shutter, and two lights, in my makeshift studio, is neither here nor there.  If the portrait is to work, I have to begin with a context in my own mind. This is a re-shot version, with greater depth of field and a cleaner background. There is a question to be raised about the use of text, to which I’ll return later, but for now I’m supplying image, title, and back-story.  I’m reasonable happy that this is a passable version of a Bailey portrait that he might have made of an old ‘mate’.

 

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Bishop Stanley Dickinson

Partly inspired by the number of ‘Newsbook’ entries that referred to ‘going to church on Sunday’, this is Stan who went into the Church of England and has risen to the rank of ‘Bishop’. He is photographed by portrait photographer Nadav Kander for a magazine article about the Bishop’s strong views on the irresponsibility of the modern media. Although shot in the Kander style (the edge lighting with a low light to the subject’s left, for example, and a gaze off screen), the Bishop seems to have resisted the open-mouthed stare that characterise some such portraits.  There are some comparable examples at these links: Morrissey; Mark Rylance; Barrack Obama.

 

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Dick Stanley – actor

Dick, popular British comedy actor, is photographed for the Radio Times, which is celebrating his 40 years as a ‘star’. He made his name in British-made films, specifically in 1970’s sex-comedies, the first of which was ‘He Was Only a Joiner But …’, re-enacted for this portrait. It was the first of a series (compare ‘Confessions of a …’!). The style of the image appropriates a popular magazine format, with plain background and a hint of (false) shadow at the feet.  Not the easiest of self portraits to make (!), this one seeks to use the very artificial, set-up aesthetic of an obviously studio-based image, obviously manufactured pose, and slightly ‘over-the-top’ expression to portray a character who is not reticent about being photographed, even in a state of undress.  (One of the toughest tasks was learning to appear at least a little relaxed whilst operating the remote shutter release concealed behind the plank! No jokes, please!)

 

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Farmer Stan

This also appropriates another popular magazine-style, using fill-flash to create sharp distinction between foreground and background lighting that produces a slightly surreal, almost studio-like look to the image. It also, frequently results in a slightly startled look in the subject. So here we have Stan apparently caught in the act of going about his business and seeming a little unsure about whether he really wants to have his photograph taken for this magazine – an ordinary guy who has spent the last fifty years working in agriculture has his moment of ‘fame’.  This is the same image that I used as an illustrative example for Assignment One.  I feel that it works well and stands up with the others that have either been re-shot or produced with intent for final submission.  I could, perhaps, re-shoot something similar on location in the village where I grew up, but at this stage, I’m not sure how much it would actually add.

 

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Old Stan

Things weren’t going too badly for Stan until he lost his engineering job in the mid-eighties. But he found it hard to deal with redundancy and, increasingly, sought solace in the bottle. He still has family and friends around who try to keep an eye on him – but he sometimes goes off for days and can regularly be found in a corner of the local church grounds. A second year photography student (Stan’s niece) shot this for her Social Documentary course, using an old 35mm film camera to try and capture something of the feel of Richard Billingham’s ‘Rays a Laugh’ series about his parents.

I actually shot a series of ‘Old Stan’ images with the D80 first, using a 24-85mm zoom lens at 29mm & ISO 400 to match up with the 28mm lens and ASA 400 film that I was planning to use on an old Praktica 35mm film camera that I bought in a charity shop some years ago. Selecting what I judged to be the best version, to achieve a kind of hopeless, semi-engaged but largely out-of-it look, I posted this one in the OCA Flickr group, looking for any reaction. (I wasn’t going to have the film versions for a few days.)

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The response was largely positive, but there was a suggestion that the look was a bit ‘clean’ for a homeless guy. I wasn’t actually looking for ‘homeless’, so that didn’t trouble me too much, though there was a suggestion that the presence of cardboard might signify ‘homeless’ – which does make sense and might, ultimately, cause me to re-shoot this one. However, as well as perhaps being a little over-exposed, this is very much a ‘digital slr’ photograph – sharp, low on noise, etc – and whilst the look of the subject matches purpose, there could be a sense in which the aesthetic doesn’t.

When the scanned film versions arrived, I was immediately ‘seduced’ by their grainy, dirty aesthetic – and I also liked the extra touch of aggression and engagement in the one above. Posting that on Flickr, I again got a largely positive response – but engagement with one fellow student led me to question whether those qualities could actually be re-produced in the digital version. That, with some encouragement from John, the colleague concerned, who had had a go at re-processing my original Flickr upload, led me to produce this version.

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Correcting the over-exposure, increasing the contrast, and adding grain through a Photoshop filter, begins to get closer to the film aesthetic. This now leads to a question as to whether my preference for the film version stems from a perceived authenticity of ‘process’ – or shall we say a matching of process to subject and context. And there is also, of course, my awareness of the ‘back story’ and my invented context of the student project. There is something to unravel here. I haven’t felt it necessary to match process to appropriated style in the Bailey or Bishop images, for example, so am I just doing so in this case ‘because I can’ i.e. because I can, with little effort, lay my hands on an old 35mm film camera whereas hiring a medium format digital set-up to reproduce the Kander/Bishop image would be a very different situation. I don’t have answer, and it may not be crucial to the project, but it is something to consider as I move forward.

Another factor that will need to be resolved is the relationship between these images and any supporting ‘text’. Is it my intention that the portraits should ‘stand alone’, titled ‘Portrait 1’, ‘Portrait 2’ etc? Or do I title them ‘Bailey’s Old Mate’, ‘Bishop Stanley Dickinson’ etc ? In which case, some, such as ‘Bailey’s Old Mate’, will begin to indicate what is my intention. And, possibly, should I go the whole hog and support each with the ‘back story’ in a short paragraph? Barthes’ ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ essay gives me some theoretical background to the dilemma – but I don’t intend to resolve it just now, merely flag the fact that a decision will be necessary at some stage. It has actually occurred to me that, in some form, this issue might turn out to be an active part of the eventual presentation of the images – something that encourages a viewer to consider the visual/linguistic aspects of identity in popular 21st century culture.

So, I have five portraits to submit as part of my second assignment and I think the project is off to a good start.  I have other ideas in mind already and would hope to have a similar number ready by the time I get to a third assignment – and can incorporate any suggestions emerging from the feedback on this assignment.  I don’t have set ideas about the eventual outcome – in terms of either numbers or form of presentation, but I feel I am likely to be looking in the region of 20+ portraits, if the project is to have credibility.  Might be ambitious, but that’s what I have in mind at this stage.

Semiotics and the ‘Textbook’ Project

 

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I attended an OCA Lecture day in Leeds at the weekend – delivered by OCA Art History & Visual Studies Tutor, Gerald Deslandes. Reflections on the day, which was devoted to the origins and development of Modernism & Postmodernism, are better suited to Contextual Studies but, as I said to Gerald as I was leaving, much of what he covered helped me to feel more confident about some of the work I’m doing in Body of Work.  I’m not sure that it was the lectures, specifically, that made me think afresh about my ‘Textbook’ project this morning, only partially I suspect, but something has led me to what feels like a better understanding of what this project is about.

In my previous post about it – here – I put it in the context of Analogue and Digital photographic processes, and that is certainly valid, but I realised this morning that it is also – more so, maybe – about Language and Signs.  The words, diagrams and images from this 1963 publication have lost, for me, their original meaning.  They do not signify what the writers intended.  For me, they signify an unintelligible, dead, language.  But, rather than approaching them like an archaeologist, seeking to decipher their original meaning, I appropriate them as unattached signifiers.  I construct something new, something whose ‘meaning’, for me, is the investigation and expression of my own creative use of digital methods, and which is an expression of the ‘ambiguity’ I discussed here.

The image above is a good example – and includes a ‘text’ based element, too.  Reading the image, as it is presented here, one might start with a formal analysis.  It is, clearly and obviously, a construction.  There is a ‘cut-out’ image in the foreground and some other ‘cut-outs’ in the background, with a slight background difference between the top third of the frame and the lower two-thirds, which together seem to suggest that this is a representation of a ‘landscape’.  the colour of the background (and the image of a polar bear in the foreground) appear to be specifically representing a ‘polar’ landscape, further confirmed by the suggestion of what appears to be snow around the boots of the two men in that foreground ‘cut-out’ image.  This foreground image seems to have been cut from an old photograph, its surface suggests the graininess of such an origin, and the dress of the two men also seems to signify the early part of the 20th century.  Each man is holding a rifle at his side, resting the butt on the floor and grasping the barrel.  They stand, slightly apart from each other, looking down at what must be a dead polar bear – and we almost certainly reach the conclusion that they shot it.  Two men, in the early part of the 20th century, shot a polar bear in a polar landscape!  They were photographed with the carcass, and I have now chosen, in the early part of the 21st century, to cut out their images from an old print of some nature!

Then we come to the other cut-outs, in the background.  There are four triangular shapes, each with a kind of bulge on the side. Three, positioned right at the back of the ‘landscape’ and to the left, are coloured light blue, with their ‘bulges’ in purple; the fourth, a little closer and larger, is coloured purple, with a black bulge.  They look as though they have been cut out from a printed source; each has a thin black outline and there are black spots printed inside each triangle.  Some also have other printed symbols – plusses and minuses, and arrows, in one case.  They have a diagrammatic look about them, though there is nothing to suggest what they might represent.  One of the blue triangles also has symbols outside its cut out shape – arrows pointing down to its left hand side and minus signs around its purple bulge.  All four of the triangles are slightly out of focus – though the arrows and minuses just identified are quite sharply defined.  Although the colours and diagrammatic qualities of these four triangles does not support such a conclusion, one might suppose that they have been placed to loosely suggest mountains in the polar landscape.  The ‘trained’ eye might read these diagrams as having some scientific significance, but there is little or nothing to explain what that might be.

Finally, within the frame of the image, there is a printed ‘caption’, which reads ‘Fig. 24. Stability of the latent image’.  The ‘content’ and the style of presentation of this text would seem to suggest that the image is either from, or we’re asked to consider that it might be from, a book, maybe an academically oriented book, given the use of ‘Fig. 24.’ and the specific nature of the language of the text.  All these symbolic elements – the foreground cut-out; the four triangle cut-outs; the ‘landscape’ background; and the caption – have been deliberately brought together for some purpose.  The ‘formal’ analysis of the image doesn’t necessarily lead to a clear conclusion and probably raises as many questions as it answers.  Contextually, presented as ‘art’, the image would probably be identified as having characteristics of the postmodern, and so the questions are about the artist and his purpose.  In any other context, the image is likely to be seen as curious and/or meaningless.  Printed large on a gallery wall, it would invite a close examination of its aesthetic qualities, which would (hopefully) lend it some ‘art-context’ credibility – the signification associated with a large, high-quality print and curatorial support.  As one of a series of images in a gallery (with supporting ‘artist statement’ and curatorial text) or, similarly, in a book of images, all based around some linking theme (perhaps all images made from the ‘Textbook’ for example) and with supporting text, it may begin to have some ‘significance’ in the analogue/digital context.

Fundamentally, though, it is a somewhat ambiguous collection of signifiers that are unlikely, without further information or context, to communicate much beyond the fact that I, the artist, chose to put them together and create this image.  Those who look at it – tutor and fellow students, for example – may be sufficiently drawn to begin speculating about my purpose/process and the origins of the individual parts of the image – but they will probably have to construct their own conclusions because there is little in the image itself to help.  Hence my own conclusion that I am appropriating these unattached signifiers and presenting them in a construction that has no significance beyond its own construct!  Interestingly, though, because I do know exactly where these individual elements of the image came from, I also know that they are not quite so unconnected as they may seem.  The triangular diagrams (which were not coloured in their original form) represent crystals of silver bromide, each with a speck of silver sulphide attached, and the sequence represents the process of formation of a ‘latent image’.  The foreground image was taken on a fatal polar expedition in 1897 but the exposed film lay in the icy environment for 33 years before being discovered and developed; that’s why it was included in a section of the book entitled ‘The Stability of the Latent Image’.  There, I’ve spoiled it now!

Through ambiguity to seeing more clearly

An Image Without Meaning

Image without meaning

I have reflected positively before in here about the ‘thinking with’ approach that appears in the module notes.  The notes also encourage the use of a notebook in which to write regular thoughts and get rid of the “boring stream of consciousness” (which I have always done anyway).  It also says “Please don’t put all the boring stuff on your blogs!”.  Spoken from the heart of a tutor/assessor, I think.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those ‘stream of consciousness’ sessions; it came out of a ‘what the hell am I doing?’ moment; and I did grab a piece of paper and write on it – before stuffing it into the notebook and forgetting about it.  Today, coincidentally, I took it out and re-read it a few moments after I had been re-reading Chapter 8 of ‘Visual Culture’’’ by Howells and Negreiros, for Contextual Studies.  It’s a chapter on Photography and, amongst other things, it looks at the relationship between photography &reality and runs through the arguments around photography as art.

So, here, in summary, is what was in my notebook reflections from a few weeks ago:

What am I doing?

I am constructing images (maybe not photographs?).

My images may …

  • attract attention;
  • invite further investigation;
  • provoke questions;
  • encourage thought and speculation;
  • seem to promise meaning and truth;
  • entertain;
  • please;
  • frustrate.

But, like all images (maybe) …

  • lack substance;
  • hold no answers;
  • provide no solutions;
  • be ‘unreal’;
  • fail to satisfy.

Ambiguity – I am creating ambiguity.

There was more, but I’ll adhere to the module author’s request!

As I said, the Howells & Negreiros chapter looks at the photograph’s relationship with reality.  Personally, I long since abandoned any notion that photography presents truth and/or reality; and I recognise the need to question the meaning and relevance of those two concepts – certainly to recognise that they are open to interpretation.  However, the chapter does acknowledge that but argues, even accepting what I’ve just suggested, that photography does have a “special relationship” with reality.  They suggest that the photograph manages to be an “… hallucination which is also a fact …”.  That idea certainly is important and relevant – the potential for a photograph to be read as real, or as a representation of the real, or to seem/feel real when it isn’t; the possibility of knowing that it isn’t what it seems to be yet being drawn to look and read and take something from the process – even just speculation about intent or process.

So, I combine a dip into my own stream of consciousness with a spot of contextual reading and seem to feel that something significant has been distilled out of the process.  I was right – I am creating ambiguity.

Textbook–starting out on another studio project

Textbook 01

I’ve had a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the apparent prominence of ‘film-based’ analogue capture of images by photographic artists – including several of those mentioned in my earlier post here.  I ‘stirred the pot’ some weeks ago, in the OCA Flickr Group, resulting in this discussion; and there have been others in that forum, including this one.  Of course, artists will work within the medium which, in terms of process and outcome, delivers work that satisfies their creative objectives – I have no concern about that, why should I.  Naturally, many of the artists whose work populates the gallery walls began their practice before digital capture was either available or affordable, and that work is already created, so would represent the pre-digital approach (though there does seem to be a strong trend toward digital print methods).  That ‘bee buzz’ has more to do with the question of why there doesn’t seem, as far as I can tell, to be some stronger indication that young, up-and-coming photographic artists are working extensively with digital capture and exploring the creative possibilities that digital methods can offer.  It’s an open question; but also one that concerns me personally, in that I work wholly with digital methods and have no intention of doing otherwise.  I do also sense a wider struggle to come to terms (understandably) with what the digital/internet age ‘means’ for ‘photography’.  I might just be missing it, but is there extensive critical discussion of the question?

So – here is a topic that interests me – and, whilst browsing a local second-hand bookshop, I came upon this publication from 1963, which might just act as a medium for some photographic ‘thinking-with’.  Much of this book reads like a foreign language, to me. (Brief pause, here, to confess that I have failed two exams in my life, one of which was Chemistry – and the other was an equally foreign language, Latin.)  Consequently, I find myself looking at it, and through it, rather like a historical artefact – something from another age.  It occurred to me that I might approach it as a subject for a studio project, seeing it as a kind of metaphor for the whole of film/analogue/traditional photographic practice.  It might be a ‘taking apart’, a ‘deconstructing’, maybe a ‘subverting’, or even a ‘glorifying’ – I even had the idea that I might, eventually, literally take it apart bit-by-bit and photograph the process.  And, without jumping too far ahead, I could envisage an ultimate outcome in book form, perhaps as a part of my final Body of Work.  So, I have begun the process and here is a selection from the images produced so far.

 

Textbook 03

I found the references to “photographic theory” on the book jacket interesting – the use of the word ‘coherence’ and the reference to theory as “… a good servant but a bad master …”.  We, students of Photography in 2014, are likely to read that rather differently than it would have been read 50 years ago.

 

Textbook 05Textbook 04

The physical characteristics of the book itself, photographed in a kind of forensic manner, reveal signs of age, mysteriously-shaped stains that suggest chemical reactions over time – rather like the chemically-based process that is its subject; odd scribbles that must have meant something to someone in the past – shades of the photographic archive.

 

Textbook 07

The process doesn’t have to be restricted to ‘taking photographs’; this page spread has been scanned into a PDF, which has been opened on the PC and a ‘screen-shot’ taken – thinking about the ways in which the scope of current technology compares with that of 50 years ago.

 

Textbook 12

But then taking that whole process even further, manipulating and re-presenting material; adding elements that both emphasise the ‘gulf’ between these approaches and ‘enhance’ the visual impression, but also applying the deliberately clumsy ‘Photoshop’ methods that I’ve used before.

 

Textbook 11

And/or going in a different direction by using a deliberately ‘modernist’ aesthetic to present the subject; believe it or not, I had in mind Ansel Adams & the Yosemite National Park when I made this one.

This work, plus the images of ‘Tapes’, and some work I’m doing on the Self-portraits, is beginning to move me towards a second assignment submission in the next few weeks – hopefully.