Saturday, 20 December 2008

Struck Down...

I have a theory...if I get a cold before Christmas I keep getting them right through the I'm in for a bad time then.  I missed this last week and cannot report back on the MA.  Hopefully the written feedback (that has been very thorough) will suffice in the rewrite of my essay.  I am now thinking hard about the next phase of the programme when we get started on a practical project.  My first task is to decide on an appropriate camera format for whatever the project is.  That raises the vexed question of the topic...something outside of my comfort zone is required - and I'm thinking possibly portraiture.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Seminar Process

Now we have been through the full seminar process time for a few reflections.  Firstly in broad terms they went pretty well.  That said there was very variable time keeping and commentary.  In particular it is hard to sustain a decent level of engagement across such a diverse and lengthy process, made longer the week before last by the insertion of a PhD transfer talk half way through.  I don't think it benefitted either the candidate, the staff or us as consumers, though the content was strong and in other circumstances interesting.  Inevitably perhaps the range of topics and the approaches vary a good deal.  You learn a lot from such variety, although inevitably just as you get into something it is time to pass onto the next topic.

What do I remember from them without recourse to my notes?  Well I didn't know of Claude Cahon until A raised her in that that was interesting - for me a comparison with - say - Cindy Sherman might have been more fruitful that Francesca Woodman.  However one could see the reasoning.  Woodman strikes me as something of a photography equivalent of Nick Drake in contemporary music.  Its a great body of work but their early deaths mean that the relative size of the output is small and highly focussed upon as a result.  would it be the same had they lived to produce a good deal more...of course we'll never know.

Until SM told us about him O. Winston Link was just a name and a few pictures to he fascinates me.  Again my take is that contrary to the received wisdom the trains are just the hook on which he pegs his real focus...a detailed and fascinating reading of 'the american dream' or 'amerikana' in general...I feel he's the photography equivalent of Andrew Wyeth, Grant Wood and Edward Hopper.

Another two 'names' I'd never looked at in detail were DS's interest in Alex Soth and I's in Stephen Gill...both now photographers I want to look at and think about in greater detail.  DT's interest in Miroslaw Tichy is also interesting!

No Cake file this cake...let's hope we get it together (maybe I should) for next week.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Cafe file and Seminars

I've slightly lost track of the weeks...I guess yesterday was Week 10...which frankly seems fairly unbelievable!  First Up: Cake File!  Ingrid produced three very fine cakes this week...Ginger, Honey & Almond was up first...delicious.  Then Lemon and finally Chocolate Marble - both equally fine.  This cake malarky is getting out of hand...but they are very nice.

This week we started the first of two weeks of fifteen minute seminar presentations by each of us.  These are intended to act as an introduction to the first drafts of our first essay that also had to be handed in yesterday.  The unlucky eight of us who had to get it all finished and to hand for the day included myself.  Then again at least next week we simply have to sit back and watch the other half of the cohort perform.

Inevitably some of us have fairly reasonably resolved texts, others are still finding their way...nothing I saw on the day couldn't be reasonably easily turned into something pretty decent with a little application...handing in the first draft now is good - we get them back ahead of Christmas so have time after that (some time into January) to react to what's said and make the inevitable changes.  I thought that, just once or twice, some slightly harsh things were said about the state of play given that, for some colleagues, this is probably the first time they have tackled anything like this in their lives!

I had a bit of fun with my comparative essay between Richard Misrach's early night desert pictures and Edgar Martins' 'Accidental Theorist' project...finding myself in my kitchen at six am I remembered being struck by the close visual similarity between one or two of Mark Rothko's late paintings and Edgar Martins pictures...having a few cacti to hand (they sit on the windowsill) I made a couple Misrach/Martins by way of here they are.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Getting Down To Writing...

I'm sure some of my colleagues may be finding this even tougher than I am...its not so much that I cannot write generally.  I've plenty of experience of that.  But most of my writing on art is journalistic, impressionistic, without much specific a word...flip.  Obviously I can draw on quite a lot of background in fine art including photography (although I'm rapidly discovering that I know a lot lot less than I thought I did...) and that helps but sitting down to construct a well researched and well reasoned 3000 word essay is a lot harder than I imagined.  Not that I had thought too hard about this aspect of the course before I started it!

I think I have at least chosen reasonably well - I started with the idea of comparing three photographers but have pared it down to two.  Taking up some of the advice given I've gone with two artists whose work I really enjoy.  The early night desert landscapes of Richard Misrach contrasted with the night beachscapes of Edgar Martins with an objective of understanding both the images and their impulses to construct such images.  I also want to explore how they (at least in my judgment) avoid the cliches associated with night landscapes...examples of which are littered all over nowadays.

So I'm now in avoidance tactics - writing about writing about these two...  maybe I'd better get back to the task...

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Cake File

Is this week seven...I think so...anyway this week Dave S created the most delicious chocolate cookies kidding!  A plate of fantastic cranberry flapjacks and some lovely pear and ginger that somebody!  and I'm thinking it will soon be my turn to do the baking...

Photography has a meaning only if it exhausts all possible images

Excellent words from the wonderful Italo Calvino seemed right in starting this belated installment of my latest entry.  It's been a difficult week, professionally and domestically - hence the delay in posting anything.  Last week was virtually the mid point of the first semester of this course.  Time to take stock...the inputs have been terrific.  This past week Greg Lucas regaled us with the contents of his "Lost Student box', a collection of discarded negs by students from their college darkrooms over the years.  If they were all genuine (and as a died in the wool cynic I'm still not sure!) then amongst the endless dross there were real gems.  We saw images that somehow defy description or context, you couldn't invent narratives around some of them!  As before Greg wove these pictures into an entertaining and erudite narrative of his own that somehow served to encourage our own exploration of image making on the one hand and frighten the  pants off us clicking a shutter at all on the other...

Monday, 10 November 2008

Week Six and the terrors of taking an image...

Week Six already and more substantive input from Henry Iddon and Andy Greaves.  I think Henry is ex-DMU and Andy is currently in his second year of the MA.  You can check both of them out at their sites as highlighted.  I rated Henry's Spots of Time project pretty highly - I've been doing detailed research into nocturnal images of the land for my first essay (a comparison of Misrach and Martins, more to follow on this) - and he genuinely has done something different with this approach.  I especially love those images where the moonlight casts a really solid light on the land but the distant various light sources reveal the timing of the images and create a really uncanny 'newness' to scenes that might otherwise seem pedestrian and cliched.  His commitment and persistence to getting the pictures is something that is becoming increasingly clear - bodies of strong, thoughtful and novel work don't simply 'happen' but have to be worked at.  Henry said something that Andy also emphasized - start thinking through a final project right now...i.e. six weeks into a two year course!

Cake File...if there was cake it must have been I arrived a little late and there was no sign!

Andy showed a strong body of images stretching back over quite a few years - he's been taking serious photographs for ages and also has a very developed practice.  He's tackling 'Englishness' as a subject for his...and already has a fair few images and associated ideas to hand.  It was good to see and hear someone who is still putting together his project as well as those who've done the finished product.

Still one thing that's coming through now is that quite a few of us in the current year  are feeling a little removed from the making of images at the moment - or maybe it's just me?  We have been listening a lot, and now starting to talk a little, about photography.  However that's very much been the focus...and I'm beginning to feel a kind of creeping tyranny around actually taking a picture.  I'm looking at such a lot of work...not all uniformly good, let alone great, but enough of sufficient quality to make me feel pretty inadequate.  It's underlined my initial thoughts that I'm a painter who takes a few snaps...but I guess that's why I'm doing what I'm doing.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Stop making Sense...

The most terrifying thing that I've discovered through my research on the MA is the massive, exponential increase in 'creative' activity that is contemporary photography.  I am sure that other disciplines reveal a similar story though if I take painting as one such I'm fairly sure there is a little less available than the photography medium.  It is rapidly becoming a rather intimidating activity, wanting to get a handleon it all but knowing full well that its an impossibility.  I guess we simply have to retreat inside ourselves and try and make some sense of it from our personal perspective...but its hard to do that when one is - inevitably - being encouraged to be inquisitive.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Oops...Cake File

Week Five - Cake File  Ian and two magnificent home baked cakes - a chocolate job that went completely and a lovely Victoria Sponge, exquisitely dusted with icing sugar!

Another Week

This past week has been far less hectic for me...though I am only now catching up with my thoughts on how its all going.  Another interesting and extremely varied lecture this week from Mike Hiley.  Mike comes at photography from a humanities perspective.  I think the medium is - pretty obviously I guess - one that attracts academics in this field particularly those in areas of history, american studies and so forth.  The lecture drew my attention in particular to the National Archives at Kew...I think I'd heard of them before but I knew nowt about them.  So this education lark is really paying off!  In the course of examining a lot of material some simple, though by no means obvious, themes were stated and emphasised.  It was very enjoyable and I thought we were remiss in not picking up the questioning at the end of the talk (I hate it when students do that to me!).  Not least as Mike suggested towards the finale - perhaps deliberately to be a little provocative - that photography has a "directness unmatched by painting".  How I let that one go I really don't know...

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Finding The Time...and how much time?

I am beginning to think that this MA business might be harder even than I imagined it might be.  I realise that some colleagues are having to fit their studies into timeframes much tighter than my own nonetheless I underestimated the amount of reading that even the relatively simple first assignment requires.  Keeping a focus is - as has been suggested to us - the key but this is tougher than one might assume.  Over the past weekend I have had various other tasks that take me away from this and get in the way of making progress.  Hopefully the clash that a heavy business schedule combined with a heavy studio schedule and domestic issues to deal with won't be the same every week...or the studies will be the worse for it.  Over the weekend we held Studio Open Days that took some organising!  I've added a picture of the work on show.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Back On Line!

If anyone actually reads this they might be forgiven for thinking I had abandoned it.  However a combination of things have prevented posting over the past few days and it's only now that I can start reflecting on the experiences of Week Four.  I don't envy those of my fellow students with full time jobs (I work half time and still find it hard to keep on track).
This week's guest speaker, Roger taylor, gave us a fulsome account of his photographic research history.  His main focus was the extremely influential and very significant - fifteen years in the making! - research into the early British Calotypes that led to a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  this underlined, if we needed it doing so, the importance of serious application in the interests of high level research and Roger's commitment to the cause is something most of us can only admire from a distance...his rigour and tenacity is truly inspirational.  He also discussed his research into the photography of Lewis Carroll that was equally fascinating...though I am still personally unconvinced about his argument (supported it must be said by several other sources) around Carroll's interest in children.  There's just something about the images thats a wee bit creepy even when seen in context.

This was also the week in which we took our first tentative steps in revealing our own research interests in the cause of our initial assignment.  A comparative study of two or more photographers or images in 3000 words is what we have to aim at and this week started the process with half of the group presenting in individual seminars - including myself.  I guess its the luck of the draw but it must be a bit comforting to be going in the week least you know what the 'form' is...though to be fair Mike's fulsome notes contained much good advice on both what we had to do and how to go about it.

It was terrific to start getting a feel for the passions and directions of one another and to get into some real discussion around the medium.  The variety of interests is considerable and will doubtless lead us all into a heady brew of discussion and debate over the coming months.

Cake File...Darryl's Chocolate brownies and Sponge.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A Fellow Blogger!

The first - at least as far as I know - of my fellow student's to start a blog - is Mr. Simon Marchini.  Simon is a retired Police Inspector with a fine line in nature photography particularly of Leicestershire.  It's good that someone else is getting into this too.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

For Comparative Purposes...

I made a mistake of thinking that amongst the early Richard Misrach pictures I'd been looking at - in preparation for my Research Methods paper - I'd seen a standing stone in Derbyshire.  I feel a wee bit foolish now when I've realised, in part as a result of getting good digital images from his gallery (thank you Dan Cheek), that I was actually looking at Stonehenge!

Just so I don't seem entirely dim I'm presenting here - a picture from Nick Lockett's project, The Portway with one of the nocturnal images Misrach took at the Henge.  Hey, one rock much like another eh?  Maybe I'll take a closer look at the background in future...

Raise The Bar High!

I was given a composite text of George Dubya's remarks a couple year's ago, a kind of 'cod' poem composed of phrases from his speeches.  Titled "Raise the Bar High" - a line I guess that comes from somewhere/body else.  It came to mind this week when our guest lecturer was Nick Lockett, who completed his MA at DMU last year (or maybe the year before).  It probably helped that Nick was a very experienced and accomplished photography long before he fetched up at DMU, not only technically but with a sophisticated understanding of what makes the medium tick.  He'd done a long stint as a picture editor amongst other things and reminded me in manner and outlook of two other photographers of distinction I've seen over the years, Eamonn McCabe and John Reardon.  

Nick talked us through the MA experience and showed two bodies of work he had made whilst studying with Paul and Mike (Hill and Simmons, our course leaders).  He was also kind enough (or maybe cruel enough!) to give insights into his processes, ideas formulation and to let us examine his written texts as well as actually handling the book that had constituted his final project.  It was an object lesson in how seriously and thoughtfully we need to go about the business of study in the medium if we want to produce something with authenticity and lasting resonance.

Earlier we had done the library induction, which, though unremarkable, was clear and concise and genuinely helpful with a 'hands on' session to end.  I had some trouble logging on so went off the IT helpdesk.  Neil, our Subject Librarian, had told us that the staff were always on hand and was the first test of that!  It's pleasing to report - passed with flying colours - though I had to wait a few minutes, I was apologised for being kept so and the IT guy took delivery of my problem, in a couple minutes sorted it, so that within a few minutes after that the problem was solved. 

I have a habit of opening my mouth without engaging brain on a pretty regular basis...and have already done so on this course.  During the Q&A with Nick I mentioned the early B&W work of Richard Misrach and suggested that he had taken some images in the Derbyshire turns out that the pictures I'd seen were of another, lesser known UK site (irony) called Stonehenge!  Oops...just the first clanger I'll drop in what will likely become a deafening crescendo...

Cakefile Reprise: Week Two - Daisy & her Chocolate Brownies

This week's Cakefile: - Jennifer & her Dolly Mixtures Victoria Sponge

Monday, 13 October 2008


Try looking Up Weisner at:

Something of the Night About Me

I've been giving thought to the first essay we have been set.  It's to ease us in - reasonably gently - to the world of research and get us thinking about photographs, then putting those thoughts into words.  I think I've chosen a topic... it sits quite close to my personal passions in photography (something we were advised to think carefully about) but slightly to one side.

My pleasure in looking at the medium is primarily in the landscape image - the more expansive and glorious the better.  I love the work of the early americans, the work of those 70's UK based artists, Paul Hill (one half of the programme team here at DMU) amongst others like Blakemore/Cooper/Davies et al, and other more recent practitioners, Richard Misrach, Edward Burtynsky and others.  Night landscapes have  a fascination and that's what I'm looking at...or at least that's my plan as it is today...  

Interestingly just as I was formulating this idea I found myself visiting the annual Nottingham Open at the Castle Museum.  Last year's winner was the photographer Rosalie Wiesner and she was back with two whole bodies of work - 'Tales Of Other Spaces' and 'It's Almost Always Fiction In The End'.  Her use of light to punctuate the garden spaces she favours is curious, sometimes accentuating the natural sources, at others seeming to deny them.  I didn't overly enjoy the rather arch use of props, balloons and the like but the strength of the intimacy in the spaces she pictures is compelling.

The pictures I am thinking of writing about are pretty far removed, conceptually and corporeally from Wiesner's but it did seem, serendipitously, to be a validation of the idea...we'll see.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Yves Klein's leap into the had to be there!

Week Two

Still fresh in my mind! After the warm up this week was much fuller on... I for one found it both highly stimulating and not a little scary.

Greg Lucas gave a blistering tour de force of a lecture...that combined his personal approach to photographic practice with some idiosyncratic observations on research methodology, an introduction to the world of Joseph Cooper, why Jackson Pollock mugged Yves Klein and much more besides. Confused - you should be! Even though I have a background in fine art I was struggling to keep up with the intensity of the presentation. Greg is simply one of the most interesting and amusing speakers in the contemporary art environment and even though he 'reeled it in' a little for a 'proper' academic lecture all his hallmark humour was still on display. Its a priviledge to be on a course that can give us that kind of access to talent.

Paul Hill and Mike Simmons took a slightly more measured approach to help ease us into the idea of critical reflection and initial research and Mike in particular walked us through the first steps towards the methodologies we need to employ. I was struck by the strength of their conviction that the approach to the written components would serve us well in the making of our images. I have always been rather arrogant in my conviction that the creative act doesn't require that kind of explication...I often quote the painter Barnett Newman's "Theory is to the artist what ornithology is to the birds"...but I suspect I may find myself utterly discredited by the time we finish our first two modules.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

My Choices

The Don Jackson photograph I chose (I will try to get an image up on this site) is one I've had in my collection for over twenty years now.  It is probably the best known of all his work.  A b&w print with strong contrasts showing a tree with its roots exposed on the side of cliffs taken in Kielder Forest, I love it for the simple, graphic quality it possesses and the strong hints of the sublime qualities that the natural world expresses in us.  It reminds me too of my earliest interest in photography as an art - before the time I saw this work (up to and including my studies in painting at college) I never really considered the photographic print as a stand alone art object.  In fact, as a painter I had been quite dismissive of photography, good only as a tool towards the creation of more lasting durable images.  Seeing Don's work lead me onto the photographers that inspired (and taught) him - artists such as John Blakemore, Paul Hill, Thomas Joshua Cooper and others.  Hence its totemic importance to me.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Stand 32 - The Soar near Kegworth

The First Steps

Yesterday was induction day for the new MA students at DMU on the MA Photography course.  An extremely diverse group of, around 16, individuals fetched up in the Portland Building for lunch and began the long journey across 24 months towards a Masters in this medium.

Personally it was a strange feeling being a student once again, after a period of 32 years...for others it must have been stranger still, having several colleagues who had never previously studied at this level.

The warm up exercise 'Desert Island Pics' revealed a little about our interests, motivations and predilections!  We were each asked to choose two images, one our own, one by another photographer.

My choices were fairly predictable and even more conservative.  A landscape, taken on a route I travel often, at a spot I've taken a snap many times.  And an image of Kielder Burn into Northumberland by Don Jackson.