Category Archives: Portraits

Tutor Feedback on Assignment Five–and what remains …

I was pleased to get positive feedback, last Friday, on my final assignment submission of the module.  The work was described as a “progressive journey”, as “contributing to contemporary cultural discourses around the challenges and implications of digital identity”, and also as having “interrogated the transformation of the medium itself as a result of digital technology” – all good to read, and satisfying after nearly two years work.  He also feels that it has a lot of potential for further exploration – which is great, but also makes me reflect on whether, by pursuing two projects, I have been in danger of never quite drilling down into either.  Should I have done more contextual work on identity, for example, in support of the ‘Portraits’ project?  Too late now, anyway, and the feedback is good all round on both this module and CS, so I’m probably just fretting!

I submitted some A4 prints of the ‘Portraits’ and various examples from ‘Textbook’ – the first time I’ve sent prints throughout the module.  These were my own prints, so I was pleased to get positive feedback on those, too.  Interesting to look back two years, when I was about to submit the last of my L2 modules for assessment.  I had been producing my own prints but began ‘fretting’ then, too; about whether I should be getting professional prints done.  I did, in the end, but never felt quite as happy with them as I’d been with my own.  I thought I was playing safe, in a way; that by sending in professionally produced and mounted (at my then tutors suggestion) prints, I must be on solid ground.  I reflected in my last post here on the development of ‘confidence’ through BoW.  With the confirmation of this recent feedback, I feel confident that I know what I’m doing with my own prints of my own work – so that’s the plan for assessment.

Which brings me to ‘what remains …’ – lots still to be done, actually, to get everything ready for assessment in the next two and half months:

  • ‘Textbook will be submitted in book form, with some selected, supporting, large prints, representative of what might be used for an exhibition.  I have sourced what I hope will be an appropriate paper (less heavy) for the final  version (due for delivery today), but I may still have to alter the way I structure the ‘signatures’ to enable it to be bound properly.  I didn’t get any detailed feedback on the sequencing and editing I had presented.  I could take that as a positive, but I’m wondering whether to ask the ‘hangout’ group to also take a look at it for me in the next couple of weeks.  Then there’s the little matter of producing it!! [Some inspiration from a gallery visit on Saturday, though – Bank Street, Sheffield has had a show of 200 artists’ books, selected from 450+ entries for their bi-annual book competition.  Saturday was the last day, but just managed to get to see it.  There was some truly wonderful work – all of which one was permitted to pick and browse, a very special experience.]
  • The presentation of ‘Portraits’ is still a little uncertain, a view for which I got tutor support in the feedback.  Prints at A3 or A3+ will be the main form of presentation, but I do need to direct the assessor towards the wider context in which the images are presented.  One suggestion from my tutor was to get the assessor to do a Google Images search and see some of them online at first hand.  Then I also have the ‘Stanley Quest’ website and ‘The Stan’ tabloid.  It needs some reflection – how to get across the breadth of what I’ve done without overwhelming the assessor!
  • My Introductory Notes and Evaluation both got a ‘thumbs up’, too.  They’ll need a little bit of refinement, but more or less done.

So, still a fair bit to do, but I’m genuinely into the final straight!

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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.

Assignment Four Feedback

Councillor Stan Framed Typical Characteristic Curve 02

I had a tutorial conversation with Clive on Friday, regarding my submission for Assignment Four.  That submission included the tabloid version of ‘Portraits’, the Google search outcomes for that project, the ‘wherenothingisreal’ website, the sequenced slideshow version of ‘Textbook’, plus a set of pdf notes bringing it all together and discussing the choices I seem to be facing just now.  The outcome wasn’t quite as I’d expected.  I had thought we would probably discuss the pros and cons of continuing with both projects or concentrating on, say, ‘Textbook’.  Actually, even allowing for due modesty, I have to say that he seems so enthusiastic about ‘Portraits’ that it’s hard to see how I could even consider side-lining it.  Indeed, it might even be argued that he would favour ‘Portraits’ over ‘Textbook’!  Really good to have enthusiastic support and positive feedback, flattering even, but it leaves me with, maybe, an even more difficult situation regarding assessment submission.  There’s  a fair bit of time, of course, but potentially a lot to do as well.  And I don’t want to fall into the trap of submitting so much that it’s hard for the assessor to look at it in enough depth to really appreciate the work that’s been done.

We certainly spent quite some time on the complications of presenting ‘Portraits’.  Clive really likes ‘The Stan’ tabloid and wouldn’t change anything about it.  He also feels that some/all of these images should be presented as large-scale prints – and I agree.  But neither of those formats can do justice to the broader ‘virtual’ context in which the images exist and, in some ways, come into their own.  They are ‘out there’ as, potentially, ‘real’ identities, so how do we do justice to that aspect in bringing the work to Assessment.  I do have an idea for another website that might do the trick, but it’s going to require more work to put it together.  The ‘wherenothingisreal’ website doesn’t do the job – but I have in mind a more ‘conceptual’ idea that would build on some of its content.

Clive didn’t have too much to say about ‘Textbook’.  I’m not sure it appeals to him quite so much – which is fair enough – and he did raise, again, the question of copyright and appropriation; which I’ve mentioned before myself and which would certainly have to be considered in the Sustaining Your Practice module.  We didn’t get into the editing of this work at all.

And mention of Sustaining Your Practice brings me to a final reflection that I should make here.  I think it’s time for me to enrol on that final element.  In fact, it occurs to me that the issues I’m struggling with are precisely those that should best be resolved within that module.  Of course, I’m thinking through the question of Assessment Submission format for BoW, but this is also bound up with ‘How do I take this work to the outside world?’.  A significant part of that module is about networking and seeking feedback on the work and perhaps it’s that wider feedback I’m in need of if I’m to resolve everything in a meaningful fashion.

So – fantastic to receive positive and supportive comments on my work from Clive, but a lot to do to resolve it for the various audiences and I may have to go looking for advice on a broader basis.

Linking Body of Work & Contextual Studies

CS essay front

A few weeks ago, I submitted the first draft of my Contextual Studies extended essay – part of the front cover, including the title, appears above.  I’ve had positive feedback; the essay needs a little more editing and my tutor posed a few questions for me to think about but, in essence, the essay is written.  Apart from being a great relief (!), this also presents a good opportunity (and my CS tutor encouraged it) to reflect in this journal on the linking and mutual support of the two modules.  There is no doubt at all in my mind that the research and writing has helped significantly in contextualising the work I have been producing here; and the making of the work has also influenced and informed my understanding of the contemporary art context in the essay.  Summarising the conclusion of the essay, it says that:

· The particular relationship of the photographic image with something perceived as reality survives today – whatever the context of the making and the viewing.

· The origin of that relationship may be cultural, psychological, even scientific; but it resides, even through the torrent of digital images pouring across the internet.

· The existence of this relationship is fundamental to photography’s significance in contemporary art; and through the exploitation, extension, and also subversion, of the medium, the contemporary artist can create meaning in a viewer’s perception, and provoke questions.

· Digital technology does not replace or undermine this significance, but it offers scope for continuing experimentation and exploitation of the photography/reality relationship.

Both of the projects that have progressed to this stage in my Body of Work have relevance within, and/or owe their relevance to, this context. The ‘Portraits’ project makes use of the perceived ‘reality’ of a photograph to create ‘believable’ images of ‘Stan’ identities that have never and will never exist. Yet they appear in Google image searches with apparent credibility alongside ‘real’ images of ‘real’ people – so potentially questioning the role of the photographic image as a representation of identity and, perhaps, the whole manner in which we perceive ‘self’ and identity. The ‘Textbook’ project constructs a seductive series of images that hover between something ‘real’ and something ‘virtual’, inviting the viewer to look for meaning and narrative, perhaps even to see significance for the photographic medium itself. Yet they are constructs, empty tableaux made from detached signifiers, strung together with no ‘meaning’ other than that they were made – in common, perhaps, with so many of the images through which we seek to construct ‘reality’ in the 21st century.

That seems to be quite a brief reflection, but I don’t think there’s anything else to say about it.  The two modules have come together successfully in my own mind.  I feel confident that I can talk about the context of this Body of Work and I hope my contextualising has the credibility to make sense to those who read/hear it and who look at my work.  “Job done”, so far!  Assignment Four of BoW should go to my tutor in the next couple of days; I hope to enrol on Sustaining Your Practice shortly, too; get BoW and CS into an ‘assessable” form over the next 2/3 months (though they won’t be assessed until March); then ‘onwards and upwards’!

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.

Duchamp’s Ghost

Self Portrait as Reclining Nude - Nat Essdee - 1982

Marcel Duchamp has put in a number of ghostly appearances in my reading of late; no great surprise, I suppose, since he haunts so many corners of contemporary art.  His ghost is in this image, my latest in the Portraits series; but I’ll come back to that.

One of his manifestations was in a two article series in Hotshoe magazine (Autumn and Winter 2014) by A. D. Coleman, on Photography and Performance Art.  Coleman discusses the photographic documentation of performance art and staged or directorial photography, and he questions whether there is much, if any, distinction any more.  He moves on to include the idea of ‘performance’ in life and/or the ‘amateur’ creation of photographic/film records of ‘performances’ – raising the question of how we distinguish between artists and non-artists.  He makes the comment that performance of the self has become a staple of contemporary art (which, unsurprisingly, struck a chord in the context of my own work), as has the theatricalising of just about everything.  It’s at this point that Marcel makes his appearance.  Coleman says that both these, we could say, “spring from Duchamp” – his refusal to paint representing symbolic action and a heightened awareness of self as actor in the field of ideas in art.  I wondered, briefly, about the theatricality of my self-portraits here, when writing about Thomas Demand, and Coleman makes me wonder again. Are these actually photographic records of my performances in the roles of particular characters?  At one level, the answer to that question must be ‘yes’, because that is, technically and in ‘reality’ what they are.  It’s back to intentionality.  The images, at a base level, record only that I took a photograph of myself playing a particular role.  In a series, though, supported with text, presented in an ‘art’ context, they may have new significance.

Which brings me to a second Duchampian haunting.  Rosalind Krauss’ Notes on the Index were written in 1977 and were reflections on American art of the seventies; but her consideration of indexicality discusses photography, and Duchamp lurks everywhere.  The ‘empty sign, or ‘shifter’ requires a physical relationship to establish meaning.  She uses the example of pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘you’, which have no meaning unless used in relation to, say, a particular speaker or object of speech.  This is the category of sign termed the index, and it includes cast shadows, for example.  So she discusses the cast shadows of ‘ready-mades’ in Duchamp’s “Tu M’ “.  The ‘ready-mades’ themselves were signs arbitrarily extracted from their Symbolic significance and given new meaning by Duchamp; and in that painting, their shadows are the indexical signs – except that they aren’t, because it’s a painting, so they’re actually representations. Krauss credits Duchamp as being the first to establish a connection between the index and the photograph (including work with Man Ray, for example), and we get the assertion that every photograph has an indexical relation with its object.  But this is more than a technical issue based on the marks left by light on a sensitive surface.  The photograph isn’t the object it shows; it’s an empty sign detached from that object, symbolic only of the photographer’s act until the viewer is ‘pricked’ by something that goes beyond the merely Symbolic and enters the Imaginary, touches the Real.

OK – a lot of theoretical, psychoanalytical stuff there!  Blame goes to Contextual Studies!  Actually, it’s another declaration of how CS informs and supports what I’m doing in this Body of Work.  There are many strands in those last paragraphs which can be applied to both of my projects.  And, as I’ve already said, there is the spirit of Duchamp in so much of it.  Which brings me to the latest ‘self-portrait’.  It’s entitled “Self Portrait as Reclining Nude 1982 Nat Essdee.  The ‘back story’ is this:

The only evidence of this work by the late American artist Nat Essdee is a scanned version of a photograph taken by his partner, British photographer Stan Dickinson.  Essdee died of an AIDs related illness in 1989 and it was never clear whether the work was lost, destroyed or sold to a private collector. Dickinson, who died two years later, had claimed that the piece was his idea and was actually a portrait of him.  The only surviving print of the photo is owned by the Dickinson family, who have allowed Tate Modern to scan and use it in publicity for their forthcoming Essdee retrospective.

So, there is a nod to Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades’ in the use of sieve, nuts and bolt; reference to the photograph as evidence; a question about authorship; and maybe even a small observation about the workings of the art market.  And that is to say nothing of the mingling of traditional photographic methods with digital images, implied by the scan of the print – presented digitally, here, of course.  A bit ambitious, perhaps, thinking I can get all of that into a single image!!  It’s what comes of so much background reading and study!  The brain becomes soaked in all that theory and creativity; hardly surprising that it seeps into the output.  (It is a scan of a print, by the way! Must have an authentic process.)

Putting it out there–tentatively!

A fellow OCA student, Tanya Ahmed, based in New York, sent me some information, a few weeks ago, about a call for exhibition entries by the Colorado Photographic Arts Centre.  In their 2015 Month of Photography, they have a theme of ‘Role Play’, emphasising self-portraits by artists who “embrace themes related to transformation of self; the exploration of social traits; race and gender identity issues; or simply for play.”  Firstly, many thanks to Tanya for passing it on and for spotting the connection with my own series of portraits.  Secondly, close as the fit might be, this was always going to be a very, very long shot!!  However, I did decide that it was an opportunity to put my work out there; to go through the process of entering something; to make myself think about presenting the work in some coherent way.  Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t successful.  They had 100+ submissions and have chosen eight artists, about half of whom were pre-selected anyway; and no great surprise that the majority are USA based.  There is information about the exhibition here – CPAC Role Play – I wish them well.  Wouldn’t that have been something – ‘Blackpool Stan’ and ‘Dick Stanley’ in Denver Colorado?

One outcome has been that the process made me think about an online way of presenting the work – so I have produced a website, using Weebly.  It was put together very rapidly over the Christmas period but could potentially form part of the final submission of the project, perhaps with a little refinement.  It is here:

where nothing is real

Thanks, again, to Tanya for thinking of me.