Category Archives: Textbook

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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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 …

Nice one, Joan!

Surface Charge Theory 4

Surface Charge Theory 4

As the tumbleweed rolls across the screen of this blog and I peer through the cobwebs …!

It is almost two months since I last posted on here.  It has not been an unproductive period; there is progress on some further portraits and more studio-based work has emerged, including the image above.  But it has also been a period of mental struggle; primarily with Contextual Studies and how to articulate some meaningful connection between what I have read/studied and the work I am producing.  It isn’t that I haven’t been able to deal with what I’ve read/studied (though it can certainly be demanding at times); and it isn’t that I can’t feel a connection with my Body of Work (I certainly can feel it, and quite powerfully at times).  It is the structuring and articulation that has been a problem – and remains so, to an extent.  I can identify any number of reasons – the differences between the two broad strands of my BoW, which might fit differently into a theoretical/critical context; an excessive concern with the clarity of articulation when, in a creative context, such issues are inevitably far from clear; a tussle with moving from the general to the specific in a complex situation; plain old muddled thinking, maybe (or maybe not …)!  Whatever the reason (or reasons), it has been heavy going at times, but I am making some progress.

Which brings me to Joan Fontcuberta.  A few weeks ago, I bought the new translation of his book of essays Pandora’s Camera, and I’ve just finished an initial read through.  I had sensed that it might help with my contextual struggles, partly because of Fontcuberta’s oeuvre, which frequently operates within the spaces in and around photography and fiction, but especially because these essays deal with the digital technological shift and, as the title suggests, explore the extent to which it spells calamity for some and liberation for others.  (I have not, as yet, been able to see ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ at the Science Museum, but it is coming up to Bradford eventually.)

This post is prompted, primarily, by the last essay in the book, entitled ‘Why do we call it love when we mean sex?’.  It has nothing to do with either love or sex, of course, but (having got our attention!) it does focus on the challenges/opportunities for photography today – and it seems to link effectively with some of my other reading/studies, so helping to confirm and clarify where I am going.  For, as he puts it, “… artists and other toilers in the vineyard of the image …”, photography, at its birth, could be seen as a pure translation of visual reality onto a surface, in an instant, extraneous to the human will (beyond a ‘superintendent’ role performed by the photographer).  The history since that point has not, Fontcuberta asserts, been well-written – notably in its apparent failure to successfully integrate pictorialism into a coherent narrative.  Photography has retained its documentary association.  The hybridisation of image-making in the postmodern context in the 70’s/80’s provided a new challenge to that old association but it is the introduction of digital technology and image processing software that has “… transformed the original paradigm …”.

The essay compares the pixels to a painter’s brush-strokes and suggests a return to “… the iconic structure of painting and writing …”.  Indeed, he goes a step further and asserts that “… analogue photography is inscribed and digital photography is written …” – inscription and writing being two stages of epistemological competence, from description to story.  Hence, he says, the crisis of the documentary in photography.  The essay has opened with a provocative quote from artist Christian Boltanski, addressing a meeting at an Arles Photo Festival – “Photography is photojournalism; everything else is painting”.  So, at his conclusion, Fontcuberta accepts that we may be ‘post photography’ and that (for once) finding the right nomenclature for what follows could be important.  But, until an angel appears to give us the answer, he wonders why we insist on calling it love when we mean sex!

The notion that digital image manipulation has much in common with painting compares directly with another article – Lucas Blalock, writing in Foam Magazine, in the Spring of this year, where he compares his work to drawing.  It’s why I put Surface Charge Theory 4 at the top of this article.  This image pushes my appropriation and manipulation of material from A Textbook of Photographic Chemistry to another level, so that it begins to look more like a Bridget Riley painting than a photograph.  It may yet go through further stages of development that bring it back into the still-life/photographic/realism space – but these creative processes, like those of Blalock and others, are concerned with the very edges of what is ‘photography’.

It seems possible that, as I had hoped, Joan Fontcuberta has helped bridge the gap.  I have Hal Foster in The Return of the Real explaining the recurring role of the avant-garde in shifting art into new directions;  I have Vilem Flusser in Towards a Philosophy of Photography extolling the role of the ‘experimental photographer’ who is “… playing against the camera …”;  I have Fontcuberta confirming that the original paradigm has been transformed; I have Charlotte Cotton (in that same Spring edition of Foam magazine) writing that the works of Lucas Blalock and others “… are active contemplations of the role of the artist and the meaning of the photographic within the evolution of our visual and cultural climate …” (and also referring to signs of human mark-making and painterly gestures when describing the work).  I am, perhaps, beginning to find relevant contexts through which to articulate what I am doing and where I am going with my Body of Work.

I can still, however, express a word or two of caution – such as whether this is still all too general to work effectively in Contextual Studies (though that should be for consideration elsewhere, of course) and whether my portrait work does really sit comfortably in the context described.  But the very fact that I am articulating something in the ‘public domain’ is progress.

Whoof … there go a few more cobwebs!

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.

image

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:

image    image

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.

image

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:

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.”

Semiotics and the ‘Textbook’ Project

 

Stability-of-the-latent-image.jpg

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!

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.