Wednesday, 30 December 2009
I've only ever seen a part of it but my wife says that the current crop of images are a bit 'Blairwitch'. I steer clear of horror flicks myself and 'The Blairwitch Project' with its archly arty handheld handy cam technique was particularly dreary to me so it's not a connection I'm especially keen to foster as regards my project! Anyway I very much doubt I shall 'blog' again in 2009 so if you do happen along here's a picture of a nice half of lager on top the Simplon pass a couple months back...cheers and here's to 2010!
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Today is rather a good day as far as I'm concerned - I've nothing against the Christmas break but four days of it ought to be enough for anyone. So today, a reasonably 'normal' working day, is better for me now. I'm reviewing my images and deciding on the final form of the submission that has to comprise circa 12-15 'original' photographs. Whilst I still have real doubts about the validity of the work I'm just getting on with it for now - and plotting what I think will be the way forward over the coming months.
What exactly will be made of the pictures that will go into the portfolio (and that too at this point is moot) I cannot imagine - I doubt there will be a great deal of excitement - but maybe it's best just to do it and see. At this point it would, in any case, be rather difficult to justify a complete change of direction and/or subject matter, not least as all my 'academic' endeavour (the reading I've been undertaking) would become superfluous and create a real headache in terms of the text that has to accompany the portfolio.
So the process of selection, post-production and printing begins in earnest over the next couple of days.
Sunday, 27 December 2009
It must be something to do with what a dear friend of mine (sadly no longer with us) called 'the festive jollities' but I find myself back at the computer with horrifically deep doubts about the project I am working on. Maybe I just need to push on with it rather than spending too great a time reflecting on the material, then again maybe I need to junk it all and start over. Whatever I do always seems to end up in this quandary - I suspect my perverse inability to see through a body of work, to be so dissatisfied with it that it doesn't achieve completion, accounts for my total failure to create anything worthwhile!
On another tack entirely - isn't wildlife photography really rather hard? I don't think I'd given it a great deal of thought until I met up with Simon but since meeting someone who is very committed to it I have started to give it more attention. Not least as I spend a fair amount of time out in the great outdoors and just occasionally I catch a glimpse of something as it darts from view - a fox the other day and a few weeks back a creature (not sure what) that slipped off the bank and into the brook running through the Dimminsdale site. But I'm never fast enought to get a shot of it. On the other hand sometimes it is really under your nose - like this robin...but I doubt Simon or any other wildlife photographer has anything to fear just yet!!
Monday, 21 December 2009
Another chance to get some good shots yesterday (today too for that matter except I am busy pretty much the whole day). I now probably have enough RAW material to work with (upwards of 1200 shots!) and really need to get down to post production and selection. I'm really pleased with the newer 'abstract' material...so most of the final submission of 12 to 15 prints will come from the later material...and maybe, if we keep getting light like this, from shoots yet to happen over the festive period. As my friend Simon says, a good time to work in these outdoor locations whilst others are tucked up indoors!
Thursday, 17 December 2009
On the crit yesterday. It was encouraging to see that there was a fair bit of work floating around and the atmosphere had picked up a little. A sense of gritty determination to pull something worthwhile out of the bag was evident and some of the results were quite startling. I showed a number of contact sheets with a wide variety of pictures on them from half a dozen sessions on site and quite a lot of post production work. Inevitably the more recent efforts seemed to attract the most interest and they are the most 'abstract' of the work to date. I'm mildly resistant to this - I started out wanting to engage the medium in a 'purer' form but on one level it makes sense to use what I know so I'm putting aside my initial thinking and trying to work with, rather than against, the grain.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
I occasionally wonder...however as it's getting on towards Christmas...I'm posting the ecard here that I'm sending out to one and all. Professor Paul Hill, our Course leader reckons it was taken in Alsop en le Dale and if anyone should know he should. I don't think anyone can have tramped the Peak around there more than Paul. Off in a moment to the last crit before Xmas and, more significantly in terms of this blog, the hand in point for the first semester of this second year.
I think, I hope, that I am making some progress towards something coherent in terms of a submission. I'm pretty settled on format and draft contents - I even have chosen at least three of the images for inclusion. Beyond that I simply need to focus, visually and conceptually, to ensure I can present something both visually intriguing and intellectually clear. Simple! or not...
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
I'm struggling to put together a coherent text to accompany the pictures I have been making since September (well actually before that even...) so today I have been prevaricating. At least it was sort of to a purpose...a mail arrived requesting 'hard copy' for next week's final crit of 2009...so that is what I have been doing. However at our last session it was recommended that I produce some contact sheets so that is what I have done.
And glory be it's been something of a revelation! Normally I select down to individual pictures and print them off, I guess I'm something of a secretive bugger really (years of working alone in the studio), but this is helpful and shows a little more of the process going on. In fact it shows a real sense of the development of the idea and maybe, just maybe, will feed into the commentary in a very positive manner. So now I have no excuses left and will reluctantly leave this forum and address the blank screen that is currently the commentary... Here's one of the 'try out' images...a long exposure at twilight...that looks way too much like so many other current photographer's so thats a direction ruled out!
Thursday, 3 December 2009
Is it good or bad that everyone seemed just a tad in the doldrums at yesterday's session? I guess that this point in the semester, the calendar year and the season it might be expected. It certainly isn't a particularly enervating time to be shooting in the great outdoors - which is precisely what a number of us are doing. Even the guest speaker - our first of this year - the inestimable Brian Griffin, who usually does a pretty lively, rather funny and scatological gig seemed to have taken a rather wistful turn of mind for the occasion (I think it might have been the 'academic' context!).
It's also getting to that time when you really do have to decide what you are trying to do with the work for the first hand in time only a few days into 2010. And I guess that is weighing on all our minds. Reflecting on it afterwards I feel it's a measure of the quality within the cohort that there is such a strong sense of want amongst us in terms of saying something distinctive, if not (whisper it), original, that is keeping us from resolution. A long winded way of saying we are not easily pleased. Given the number of young students I've seen over the years who seem very happy to run with their first, slightest idea this is actually pretty healthy!
So; time to knuckle down and get stuck into some serious thinking, action and revisionism...
Monday, 30 November 2009
Following on from a trip to Saltaire, to see the Hockney material there, I spent a couple days hosting an old friend on a visit to our home at the weekend. It was good to take a few steps back from the immediacy of taking and processing images from the woods. Although that said, the Hockney material gave an opportunity to think about my subject matter from a much more direct visual perspective that will be helpful as I move forward with the final construction of the 12 to 15 images that the course demands of us for January. It is frightening how swiftly the time slips away in this second year of the programme - if anyone who comes after me and wants to take any pointers ever reads this - be very aware that you need to hit the ground running in the September if you are to progress effectively!
Today I took more time away from the development of the project and as I drove north up the Derwent Valley I reflected ruefully that it seems at present that every time I do so the light that day seems especially beneficial. Today was no exception and the clarity of light as I drove towards the Peak was truly marvellous, but no matter I was off to the East Midlands Arts in Rural Areas Network Conference at the Level Centre in Rowsley. Given my current interests in terms of my photographic practice this seemed very much like the kind of event I ought to be at. In the event several presentations did give me good opportunities to both reflect on the work I am doing and to network with others who might either be interested in collaborations and/or exploitation of the outcomes. Two speakers in particular - John Newling and John Fox, although coming at the issues from very different perspectives (and utilising quite polarised means) both touched upon the pivotal big questions that face us all now and that - albeit in a way that is different again from either of them - I hope my project can similarly address in its final conception. So a day that very much was not at all wasted albeit that the light suggested I be elsewhere!
On another tack I am increasingly drawn towards utilising video as a component in the body of work that will eventually result - in part this is a reflection of the viewing of several video works that were on display at the Venice Biennale earlier this year and also those that the artist David Claerbout showed in London this past summer (and that I have written about here before). Some ideas simply beg to be subjected to the temporal - something a couple of my colleagues have been playing with (using Powerpoint and Animation) - and this snippet from a piece by the Australian artist Shaun Gladwell ties together aspects of my own current concerns and those expressed at the EMARAN event earlier today...
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
I've been over to the wood earlier this week to try out my filter stick. It's a handsome object if I say so myself - fashioned from the finest offcuts lying around the house and lovingly 'clarted' together with cheap screws and a few tacks topped up with lashings of some old sadolin I found in the garage! At the moment I'm using some cheap acetate that was accidently flashed through a photocopier back in the nineties as the inserts - it gives a curious flared quality to the images that have resulted. I wanted a device that would in a manner distance the viewer from the images and make them less overly indexical. Marrying this to the strong compositional thrust that I am now being far less coy about using I'm thinking they ain't turned out too bad... So I'm printing up several of the cropped results - I'm booking a tutorial for next week to see how the tutors feel about these pictures and I'm putting one up here too.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
It sometimes occurs to me that the only way of resolving work is trying out ideas and permutations for real. I know that many creative people rehearse their concepts over and over in their heads before committing them to paper, canvas or whatever - and that some of them have the clarity of vision to enable them to pull off a success in a seemingly effortless way. American artists often convey a little of this approach though whether it's genuinely the case or not who knows? I was reminded of this earlier this week when the eminent photo historian Mark Haworth-Booth gave a lecture at Uni (for the new MA in Photographic History) that by agreement those of us on the Photo course were also invited to attend. His excellent presentation was focussed on the relatively little regarded French photographer Camille Silvy. Part of his talk made mention of taking the American photographer Stephen Shore to a spot where Silvy's most famous picture was taken and that MHB was surprised at how quickly Shore made his image. It seems to confirm my suspicion - I imagined a contemporary English photographer, say Jem Southam, taking the same shot. Though to counter my thesis think of Thomas Joshua Cooper doing the same thing...
However at our most recent session for our course we had a workcheck afternoon and this relaxed and informal opportunity to share work in progress initially prompted me to try out several 'idea' containers for selections of pictures made at my chosen location. Besides some reasonably decent images from the late spring in 2005, until this summer I had not taken any serious photos of Dimminsdale but since early June I have amassed over 1000 images. Quite a few are unusable for a variety of reasons but even so there are perhaps now 200 to 300 pretty solid pictures to work with - and over the next 6 or 7 weeks more will be taken. From what is currently to hand I had tried out three thematic containers - and produced A3 prints to exemplify these. The review threw up some strong responses. In particular a brief but illuminating discussion with the Course leader made me realise, fleetingly at the time, but resonating with me over the hours that have followed, that I have to draw on my background and experience as a painter. That might seem obvious to others but I have, until now, unconsciously been denying myself this - indeed looking back now I feel that I have actually been avoiding the conventions of my practice, particularly as regards form and colour, in favour of a fiercely indexical, formalist approach to photographic recording. Where I have toyed with the use of other media interventions these have more often been allied to the photograph rather than more straightforwardly incorporating them into the photograph.
Coming back from the session and thinking ahead I now realise more clearly what I need to do now to progress the initial investigation. Firstly taken the best of the images selected to date, secondly revisit the totality of what I have and select those images where my innate and learned painterly vision did intrude on the choices I made when shooting (paradoxically probably those moments when I stopped thinking about making a photograph and reverted to simply looking and shooting) and finally reshaping and cropping images that reinforce my perspectives on the subject to strengthen the selection.
I am also resolved to hold back on the use of my filtering device until after the first semester submission - maybe it will come into play in the final push towards the major project alongside the cast objects - but for now I want to try and discipline myself in using only the direct photographic record, albeit filtered through my own vision as described, and perhaps with the briefest addition of text. This last element also resolved in discussion at the session. I had tried out a notion of an 'Annunciation' and also one of 'the Humours' both I suspect as a way of trying to reference back to historical impulses? I'm not clear what - and that was bluntly pointed out! So I am returning to my initial notion of a journey, utilising verb titles (Entering, Wandering, Leaving) but underpinned by two other temporal 'journeys' through the day and the seasons. Taken together - the reassertion of my formal painterly understandings of the picture making and the notion of these journeys - I hope to be able to assemble the resolution of the project brief for this current negotiated study over the coming few weeks.
The picture here is the one that I produced as 'Sanguine' from The Humours - and that seemed to be the more popular of those that I had printed up for the crit.
Monday, 16 November 2009
One aspect of the work for the next semester is already being put in place. I want to experiment with real and manufactured objects in the landscape. So I have arranged for two tree branches I found on site to be cast in bronze. In part this is a reaction to the history of the place...one of the first sites of the industrial revolution it is likely that, in it's heyday, Dimminsdale would have seen metal casting, not least as material for the processes was being quarried onsite. On another tack I am very interested in how we perceive the objects that are represented by the photographic especially in the digital age. A further resonance is created by the use of cast metal objects - that harks back to the arte povera movement of the late sixties/seventies and particularly the work of the artist Guiseppe Penone - who has a really important place in my interests and understanding of the landscape idea.
The work is being done at a location called Burnt Stump...that seemed to be a good omen for the casting of branches of trees! And strangely it shares a site with The Park Hospital - where my heart operation took place, and which led fairly directly to me being in a position to take up the MA in the first place - surely some serendipity here!
Saturday, 14 November 2009
As I progress my current project, sending off a second selection of images to create another book (I am making these as a means of having actual pictures to look at and help me select from) I am musing on the proliferation of material out there. For example I checked out the tag 'Dimminsdale' on Flickr and found some seventy images - and amongst them some fairly accomplished ones at that. Not that it matters nor that in itself it is a bad thing that we nowadays have so much access to so much material but it does make think hard about how one presents work to signpost people to it and to put your ideas and feelings embodied in the work to the fore in a crowded world of pictures.
Perhaps because of my background in Fine Art practice the physicality of the work is vitally important to me and the manner and means by which the finally selected images are presented is crucial. So I am already giving thought to this...both as regards what is handed in for assessment and - and more problematically - what will be exhibited in the final exhibition. For the assessment I am pretty certain that I will print myself...on A3 Hanhemulhe German Etching Paper and present the portfolio in an archive box. I did want to commission someone locally to do this but I am coming up short on anyone who can do this sort of work - so I am seriously considering the 'rolls royce' of conservation boxes for museums - the Solander by G. Ryder as being the closest I'll get to what I had envisaged.
Selecting down the images and deciding exactly the context in which they will be presented is still very much at the experimental stage - though I am narrowing down the range of ideas and adopting a clearer approach to the process as I go. Two important elements of my ideas formation are being put in place right now. Firstly I've joined and made contact with the Leics & Rutland Wildlife Trust to begin to strengthen my understanding of the history and geography of the site and secondly I am off to the marvellously named Burnt Stump on Monday coming to arrange the casting of my chosen 'Golden Bough' that I am fairly certain is going to feature in the project as it develops next semester (the first potential 'model' for it is pictured here!). I have also completed my 'filter stick' - a device that I have probably laboured over for far too long but that also is likely to play a significant role in the final project...
Thursday, 12 November 2009
What with the trip to Italy and yesterday a very enjoyable day out in London it has taken me until now to get back to the business at hand - the current MA project. 'In The Demon's Wood' is a detailed and in-depth study of a small piece of managed woodland straddling the Leics/Derbys border at one end of the Staunton Harold reservoir. The site is known as 'Dimminsdale Wood' and this is believed to be a possible corruption of 'Demon's Wood' - hence the title. Its a site I have visited three or four times over the years and now I'm regularly up there with the camera. Taking this site as the locus for my major project fits well with some early advice we were given last year by photographer (and previous graduate) Nick Lockett - to take a subject that was both accessible and familiar. The fact that I have already over five hundred shots of the woods from as far back as 2003 and across the spring and summer months is most helpful though the recent shoots over the early autumn and those to come through the winter ahead and as we move into springtime again will be the core of the work.
This is a rich site that exemplifies one of my key objectives with this work, that is drawing heavily on the core thesis contained within Simon Schama's book Landscape & Memory. He puts it clearly and concisely himself - "a way of looking: of discovering what we already have, but which somehow eludes our recognition and appreciation." Like Schama I am not seeking to offer solutions to the dilemma of "wanting both to repair environmental abuse and to preserve liberty" but simply pointing to the ways in which nature often defeats and reclaims territory merely by being. How the photographic recording of the site will achieve this I have yet to figure out in any detail. Initially I am trying to stay true to a straightforward recording of what one can see as one walks the trail. Later I hope and expect to use a variety of strategies, metaphors and interactions (always of a non-intrusive nature) to try to prise deeper meaning out of the work. To help me literally visualise the work as it progresses I have initiated a series of books (shooting digitally this provides a relatively inexpensive way forward, although I have some doubts about the quality of the object) and started to create a new website where images can be viewed - once this is up and running I'll post a link to it from here.
As always it is difficult containing the flood of initial thoughts and ideas around a project and shaping them into the necessary constraints of the academic process but somehow that has to be done. As before I'm hoping that this record will help me achieve this.
Friday, 6 November 2009
I've tried to avoid missing sessions on the course but this past week I simply couldn't get back from Italy soon enough to be there. This is not at all good, not least as I missed out on feedback on my proposal, and the first tutorial on the progress with the project to date. The fact that sessions are fortnightly this year means a whole month elapses before the chance to catch up with everyone. Nonetheless the trip abroad was an opportunity to get some winter sun and to reflect on the ideas I am trying to work with. A first book of images arrived just as I left to go away and at the least provided some early indicators as to where it might go over the coming weeks.
Meanwhile the trip to the south provided another opportunity to check out some research provided by my good friend Simon. With a small b&w image to work with he had pinpointed a spot in the Rhone valley that was a potential site for a photo taken in the late 1950's - no mean feat when you look at the picture. I was amazed, as was my travelling companion, that he had very nearly got it right down to the exact spot! Although this was a scouting mission for a more comprehensive later outing I can't resist an early 'cheap shot' comparison if only to show how exact the location details were.
Monday, 26 October 2009
I haven;t managed to blog since the second session of this semester last Wednesday and now I'm off (in about 6 hours) to Italy until Friday week. The trip should be eventful - in part trying to recreate a journey made by my father-in-law in the fifties - and otherwise taking a variety of items and materials to a friend's house in Northern Tuscany. The trip involved a car and trailer with a BRM racing car on board going from the Midlands to Monza (outside Milan) - a trip that was quite a hike back then. I have only 13 b&w photos to go on, some are relatively easy to spot (the top of the Simplon pass for example) others are tougher. One my friend Simon has done some excellent detective work on and I'm hoping to prove him correct in his deductions. The illustration here is on route over the Simplon pass---will I find the exact spot? Uummm.!
Meanwhile my first photo book documenting my work in the woods has arrived - another is in production asap I return from Italy. More images need processing and my project proposal is with the academic staff - so, all in all, that seems reasonably on course. Whilst in Italy I shall be seeking out a suitable piece of woodland for comparative purposes!
Monday, 19 October 2009
As I sift through the pictures I have taken over the past few sessions in the wood I find myself dwelling on the issue of intentionality. I want to find ways of creating a veil or barrier between the viewer and the image as a device within the pictures to 'distance' them from a direct reading of the pictured. Of course there are many ways of doing this and I want to explore both analogue and digital. I have tried experimenting in subtle ways with the tools in Photoshop and to an extent these do 'work' with the final images. I'm developing a repertoire of devices that will create actual barriers between the lens and the subject - and it will be interesting to see how these work out. But one of the simplest ways of doing so is to simply choose 'bad' (at least technically so) pictures from amongst all those that one shoots in a session. For me that usually means at the very least a couple hundred from which there are always around 10 to 15 percent that have technical 'issues'. Most of these are hopeless but just occasionally there's one that stands out for some reason (little understood but more a gut reaction) and demands my attention (the one here is just such a picture). My problem is that there was no intentionality in my taking that image - I chose it, and maybe thats enough? - but I didn't set out to make it and that is uneasy for me.
Thursday, 15 October 2009
The good thing about a project in which you are genuinely excited is that once started it takes over everything. 'In The Demon's Wood' is now an obsessive idea - taking pictures in all kinds of conditions, reviewing and post production work, ideas for ways in which I can bring out the richness of the environment, learning more about the place and much more besides. I am hopeful it will start feeding into my painting practice far more directly too so that the work in the studio can become a part of the whole process. I must take a few moments to write up the processes into the 'project proposal' for the course so that it can be unpicked as I go but to be honest that's one of the less exciting parts of the project - important nonetheless!
Here I've put two of the earliest experiments with the images taken to date. I'm planning to show them (or more worked up versions) side by side as Enterin' & Leavin' the Demon's Wood when we take a selection of current work from our studios in Long Eaton to the Supermarket Art Fair in Stockholm next February. What I want to do is start to create a kind of narrative journey across and into the site, not only as a physical activity but a psychological, historical and scientific enterprise with metaphorical and occasionally surreal overtones! Some ambition but its always good to overreach a little...
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Last Wednesday was the first session of the new Academic Year. Half way through the MA and sensibly enough time to take stock. Higher Education places a deal of importance on evaluation and reflection so that was much of the task. Like many others I found this a difficult business given the distance between the production of the main project and now. It seems a long time ago it was springtime! Maybe we didn't get the balance quite right as the first tentative steps towards our focus for the year ahead - the negotiated study that will be the springboard for the major project after Christmas - came rather late in the afternoon when energy levels start to flag.
Never mind, though given that sessions will be fewer and farther apart - this week its Wednesday again and it feels strange not to be headed towards Leicester - to have kicked off with a little more pizass would have been good. Yesterday I was up early and out to the site that I have suggested I will choose for the project. In the round room discussion of what we were planning I gave out a location, a broad sense of the 'idea' and, more for fun than with any degree of seriousness, a 'methodology' - one provided by Italo Calvino's excellent Mr. Palomar (a great source of wisdom). My focus is on a small site of Special Scientific Interest that straddles the border of Leicestershire & Derbyshire, nr. Staunton Harold reservoir called Dimminsdale Wood. So that was where I was at 7am yesterday (damn early for me though I know other photographers, well one anyway! who would call that late in the day...) and I started shooting. This time out I'm shooting first and asking myself the questions later - its self directed study after all!
Monday, 5 October 2009
can be very difficult sometimes! I'm still prevaricating over the project proposal for the second year - with the first session looming in a couple days... Nothing I seem to think of has sufficient resonance for me and this is coupled with a rather depressed state of mind regarding the value of just about all the activity I'm currently engaged in. Not a good combination.
I find myself looking at a lot of current landscape photography with a rather flat feeling of 'so what' - though its quite tough and costly I still have a feeling that simply going to a distant photogenic location (the Artic for example) with an 8x10 plate camera and taking an image really isn't either so difficult or onerous as it once might have been, nor is it in these technologically advanced times that sumptuous to look at. In short the absence of a transformative element to my mind straightforwardly doesn't elevate the activity to the status of art.
By the same token where a transformative act has been applied the results can seem very pretentious - and a good deal of recent art practice falls into that trap. Maybe there is somewhere in between that can create something with genuine meaning and resonance but I'm not seeing it! How (and whether) I can build this into a worthwhile proposal is yet to be seen. I seem to be staring at a blank wall rather like this one I photographed in Portugal a few years back...
Saturday, 3 October 2009
I have been very hit and miss at entering competitions over the years - usually missing the deadlines despite best intentions. However as I now have less professional commitments elsewhere I'm making a better effort. First up this autumn is the Derby Open and this painting from last autumn - Secret Garden, Oil on Canvas 48x48 inches - made it into the show. I entered three works but given their size doubted they would all make the cut - and also given that they were very experimental, out of the 'normal' run of my work - more explicit imagery, more paint handling, I was interested to see whether they would be accepted at all. So to have ne on the walls is pleasing. I am still hesitent about entering any of the photographic work - 'straight' or manipulated but I maybe will put something of this kind forward to either Leicester or Nottingham (both coming up shortly).
Friday, 2 October 2009
I raised the issue of a final exhibition of the MA cohort earlier in the year and set numerous hares running! You wouldn't believe the acrimony than results from an innocent enquiry. I imagine that the exhibition issue is more important to those who have never done it before than those of us who have been involved in (as well as wholly responsible for) shows since the mid 1960's! Nonethless as 'responsible' adults we ought to be able to sort out one small modest MA event easily enough. So risking the wrath of all I have put my head above the parapet once more with a draft proposal that if accepted has the benefit of both securing a decent venue at a time of our choosing and allowing a decent interval for securing the necessary funds to put the thing on with a degree (excuse the pun) of professionalism. I guess we'll see - last time the mere mention of the idea caused an avalanche of email traffic...
Over the summer there was so much of interest going on this blog couldn't possibly keep up with it. One thing that sticks in my mind was the Derby Feste - a three day extravaganza of entertainment. On the Saturday a French performance group entranced everyone with their drumming and their elevation into the air above the Market Square - the photos here hardly does it justice (it really was a case of 'you had to be there') - raised up like a Calder mobile over the top of the Clock Tower, the QUAD and the Assembly Rooms. Magnifique!
Sunday, 27 September 2009
What with one thing and another (a trip to Venice, Sarah's stint on 'the fourth plinth' and my coffee morning in case of Macmillan Cancer Support) it's been a fair while since I last posted anything here. I do wonder what the purpose is...after all at best a handful of people view it...all of whom I could easily have a decent conversation with! Nonetheless I shall try and rachet up the postings as I move into the second year of the MA. We have been given our initial materials for the upcoming semester that include the pro forma of the 'learning contract' which we should have completed in draft form by Wednesday week (our first session of AY 09/10). A daunting prospect - even for someone like myself who started drafting these things around 15 years ago when a colleague and myself established an MA by project and felt we ought to have a means of benchmarking the student's progress over a major project against some sensibly articulated document setting out what they intended to do.
Of course now the boot is on the other foot and I am the student I'm bristling at the impudence of lecturers trying to tie down my unfettered creativity in advance of making the work! Still it's a good discipline to have and exactly why I signed up to the programme - though I am determined to keep the document hazy and provisional for as long as I can get away with it!
Over the past few weeks I have been mulling over the final project and now I have to write up a draft it seems so...banal...methinks. But whenever I try to think of something more exciting, dynamic or - goodness - original I simply blank out.
Anyway more of that later - for now here's an image of my 'Andy Warhol says give peace a chance' - made in 1972 to accompany a 'sound piece' and performance - and resurrected for my Macmillan Coffee Morning event!
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Have had some time to reflect on participation in the 'Ostrale 09' in Dresden and also on some of the other work featured in the show. For example the photography (of which there was a fair bit) was a mixture of what might be expected in a German dominated exhibition and work that very definitely isn't at all related to the 'Dusseldorf' school. I am posting a few examples but as I can never work out how they get ordered on the blog you may have to work out what's what for yourself!
I guess Goran Gnaudschun's portraits might have been what was expected - their frontality, naturalism and formality is evident but they also had a wistfulness to them. Ingo Wilhelm's black and white portraits shot from outside the windows of public transport were especially moving. Sven Alexander Heine had experimented with photo emulsion on concrete but I felt the images themselves were insufficiently strong to carry the metaphorical weight of the form. I very much liked Astrid Korntheuer's inkjet prints of forest and fields - but then it's not surprising as they were in territory similar to that I want to work!
It's been a hectic few weeks that culminated in my wife's exhibition opening at the City Gallery in Leicester earlier in the week. I'm now off to my studio on what is pretty much the first quiet, uninterrupted day for nearly a month! I have quite a lot of catching up to do on a number of fronts...the painting activity is underway and quite a few canvasses require resolution before I start in seriously on some new work loosely based around an imagined garden that will be mainly conducted on a large scale. On the photography front I want to experiment further with the ideas I am kicking around for my major project for the second year of the Masters and that will mean more visits to site and more research of a detailed kind into the relevant flora in the area under consideration. I'm planning to merge several images into one another, with the scale of the various natural matter oscillating wildly on the picture surface and then print them a larger scale. A first effort - purely for initial interest - is posted here.
Friday, 21 August 2009
from travels across Germany - its a big country when you travel from the western border with Luxembourg to the eastern boarder with the Czech republic! Still we visited both Weimar and Dresden that (apart from Berlin) are my first forays into the old east. Both of them in their own way very beautiful cities. The show in Dresden was fascinating - a mix of ultra professional and student shindig - and all taking place in the old slaughterhouse buildings (as immortalised by Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse 5). My work got a small room in the Direktoren Villa to itself and I was pleased with it! See the photo...the rooms had been left pretty much as they were creating an interesting tension between the marks on the canvas, deliberated but seemingly random and those on the 'distressed' walls, random but now seemingly deliberate! I'd taken a last minute decision (chicken maybe?) to show paintings rather than photos and/or manipulated digital works but in the context (of over 130 artists exhibiting) where there was a predominance of such work I was glad I had. In fact I am increasingly worried that the photography 'experiment' is proving to be a bridge too far for me in terms of my passion for the handmade. But maybe I can (as my friend Simon hinted at recently) bring the two closer together over the coming months?
Friday, 31 July 2009
Over the past few weeks I've been taking a break and thinking about what next. Along the way stuff comes up - so 'for one week only' actually only until next Thursday...6th August - I'm showing with a number of other artists in an enterprising exhibition set up by Alyn Mulholland at the Angel Row Gallery in Nottingham. The three collages from the "Le Pays Minervois" series look good on a proper gallery wall and suggest to me that I may have to reconsider my final project - maybe bringing some of the fine art practice into the photographic side. I also feel that this may enable me to bring into the work some of my thinking around the uses to which we put the natural world and our depictions of it.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
Dublin is as always bright and blustery, even in summer. I'm a great fan of Jack Butler Yeats and the sky above the city reminds me of his paintings greatly. Its a few days of immersion in contemporary (or recentish) painting with visits to the Hugh Lane Gallery and IMMA. The Hugh Lane is now surely one of the most handsome galleries just about anywhere...with the added bonus of the re-creation of Francis Bacon's studio and now the Sean Scully room (see picture). Alongside its selection of leading Irish artists and other bits and bobs (this time a delightful room of mixed landscapes across three centuries plus a striking show of four leading mid career painters) the place is a fabulous triumph of recent painting. The Yinka Shonibere work that dominated the foyer space was also a really magnificent tour de force.
At IMMA the main attraction is a ten year retrospective of the paintings of American artist Terry Winters (see picture). Winters is a bit hit and miss to be truthful - his obsessive interest in form and the endless variations around those he chooses make his drawings a real feast but the paintings sometimes suggest a less than thoroughly convincing engagement with colour and a cack handed roughness (not that in itself this is a bad thing) that occasionally overwhelms the image. At least thats my view - what cannot be gainsaid is his industry - the work on show being but a part of his output over the period.
Thursday, 9 July 2009
I have pretty much spent my day arranging travel. My wife and I are off to Dublin next week. The painter Terry Winters has a big retrospective taking place at IMMA and besides she hasn't seen the recreation of Francis Bacon's studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery. As a long time admirer of his it will be a treat. On top of that we are off to Dresden in August to view our own work in a big art jamboree titled 'Ostrale 09' - a rare opportunity to be seen in the context of a wide ranging survey of international work. Getting to Dresden reasonably cheaply and comfortably not that easy! In addition we are off to Venice in September and then in Italy again in October. All good fun but quite a bit of organisation.
I'm also tidying up my departure from University life having decided to resign from my post at Derby - dangerously scary stuff but right for me now. In part it will help me focus in on the MA, create space for my wider practice and - hopefully - allow for new projects and ideas to emerge. One of my recent series of artworks - 'Le Pays Minervois' a set of digital collages needs more work on as it looks possible they may feature in a research journal this winter...hopefully other similarly interesting possibilities will come up as I move forward.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
It's proving difficult to find the need to post...not helped either by a stinking cold that laid me low for a week or so. Although it's been a busy period - sorting out work to go off to a major show in Dresden in a few weeks time alongside submissions to competitions and so forth - the real reason for not posting is that I haven't either been taking pictures or really giving much thought to the taking of pictures.
I have made a couple more trips into Dimminsdale Woods where its looking likely I'll set my major project but I'm trying to keep an open mind on the subject for the moment - and finding it pretty easy to do so!
I'm venturing into the competitions simply to get myself used to the idea of submitting my photographs for consideration - not because of any illusions as to their worth. The landscapes are proving tough to find something new to say.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
There was a good deal of critical commentary towards the millennium around the idea of 'beauty' spurred on, in part, by the crisis in confidence in the then rapidly diminishing returns from the YBA and subsequent generations mining the legacies of Marcel Duchamp. Quite how the discussions, often centred around the margins of post structuralist philosophy (and particularly focussed on post feminist texts, entirely misappropriated), turned out I am not at all sure. Part of this is down to my dwindling interest in keeping up with the current chatter in the art mags and part - I suspect - to a confusion about exactly what contemporary art activity can be as we dig into the century for real.
The place of photography in all this is even more vexing - I have written before about the barely contained horror of one or two of my fellow students as regards sunsets! - where the cliche is hard to avoid if one moves into certain subject areas. But why can't we consider weddings or sunsets as suitable subjects for 'art photography'? Are they simply to be excluded because of their ubiquity and staus as 'known' material - after all Avedon, for just one example, mined the frontal, b&w, portrait to the point of exhaustion - Tom Cooper and Sugimoto the oceans and so on and on.
These thoughts occurred to me as I shot endless frames from a friend's terrace recently and cropped up again when I took snaps at her son's wedding - along with everyone else naturally. At least its a change of pace and problematics from the MA for a few weeks! In The Inhuman by Jean-Francois Lyotard there's a quote that resonates with me - "The pleasure procured by the beautiful is not the object of research, it happens or it doesn't".
Monday, 8 June 2009
Following on from the semester just passed I began, last week, to start agonizing over the 'major' project for the year ahead, I bored my friend Simon with my crazy ramblings about whether it should be this or that whilst we were 'taking the air' and started to get quite het up about it.
Over the last day or so I have tried to calm down a little and take a step back. Whilst it's true that given that it's a year from now when whatever it is will have been submitted - and that therefore if you want an image taken in May/June then it has to have been now - maybe that isn't an absolute in terms of a good idea for a project anyway. So I'm taking a week or two off and intend just taking some pictures for enjoyments sake. The stripped bark of the tree above caught my attention and gave me an excuse to take the picture here. Sometimes a simple visual moment is enough.
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
A trip down to London - primarily to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart on their take of 'Waiting For Godot' - gave the chance to think about photography and what it really means as an artform. Outside of any immediate concerns with the MA and away from my own practice, it's easier to reflect on what the medium really has to offer.
An early stop at the Haunch Of Venison gave an opportunity to view the latest work from Thomas Joshua Cooper. I have been a long time admirer of his landscapes, and am the proud owner of both "Dreaming The Gokstadt' and 'Some Rivers, Some Trees, Some Rocks, Some Seas'. On this occasion though I was a little more quizzical about the work. Not least because the images have been blown up in scale and for me at least lose some mystery as a result. They also, dare one say it? and does it matter? looked a little old fashioned - or maybe I simply mean had less to say to us nowadays? I am also troubled, presently, by the issue of colour. By chance I happened upon some recent colour prints by Dan Gustav Cramer in the excellent Maddox Gallery show 'Terra Nihilus' that were in my mind far more satisfactory landscape works. A case for more reflection on my part I think.
In another place - Hauser & Wirth - David Claerbout was showing three new video works. One of my fellow students is a Claerbout fan - as am I - and these latest works did not disappoint. One in particular, up in the top of the building - in the room it was made - entitled The American Room (1st movement) was a marvellous piece of work with so much to say about time and place and photography as a medium and its relationship to film. It had a powerful poetic quality that is impossible to describe - a must see in my judgment!
Friday, 22 May 2009
Well its all over for a week or two. The work is submitted, the group dispersed after a drink at the pub round the corner. Was I alone in feeling - Is That It? But I guess that feeling of deflation is inevitable. I, for one, and I suspect I'm not alone, am keenly awaiting the information with regard to the next assignment. Of course we know roughly what's expected, the handbook tells us that, but one always has the feeling that the current info is needed before you start piling into the project.
I think I know what I want to do - but have sneeking feelings for one or two other ideas as well. I am showing some prints in Germany in August and got quite a wry response to the idea that one of the pictures might be a sunset... Its interesting how some subjects and treatments are so cliched that an honest response to them is virtually impossible? I have looked at other work where what could easily be dismissed as hackneyed is lauded... Context is o course everything I guess but nonetheless there are strange perspectives at work in the contemporary art environment.
Monday, 18 May 2009
Thats it! The project is complete...though I didn't quite make it with every one of my favoured subjects I did have thirteen from which to make the selection of ten. Although I still feel dissatisfied - when is it otherwise? - I do think I've made quite a personal journey. I now have some understanding of portraiture and a feeling for coherence in terms of a portfolio of images. Some progress too with the use of equipment and processes that necessarily go with it.
I may even push on with the idea - not in terms of my studies on the MA, where I'm firmly thinking around landscape - but simply as a personal project. Pushing onwards into other locations and subjects...who knows what might emerge from it.
For now though that blessed relief and euphoria when something is put to rest and one can move on! This photograph is one of those that didn't make the final selection.
Friday, 8 May 2009
I'm trying hard to keep some focus on my studies at a really difficult time. I have taken a decision to leave my current role at the University of Derby and in part, at least, return to self-employment. The upside of this ought to be more time to devote to my MA, the downside, for now, is that I'm working harder than ever. There's just so much to do at present. Yesterday however I did pull in two more sessions and so theoretically have enough material now to make a submission. I am clinging onto the notion that focus in the essay will result from the production of the final images!
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
In trying to complete a task I'm a terrible prevaricator - added to which a variety of other pressures to get things done - and the project that has to be completed and handed in exactly two weeks today is still a way off. I'm shooting more subjects this week...and trying to set up several more for next. Leaving a few days to make the prints and the final selection...oh, and the small matter of an essay that still consists of 70% unedited notes.
Ah well...best not to worry or panic. The materials for printing and submitting are now to hand. There is at the least some clarity in the conception of the pictures and if I could just settle to it the essay should be relatively straightforward. Though goodness knows what feedback I'll receive from the really rough draft I submitted last week.
So why was I in the painting studio this past Friday, Saturday, Sunday? Because I needed to distance myself from the other - as well as complete the move from my previous space within the studio complex to the larger space I now inhabit. I tend to work on a number of parallel themes/projects simultaneously and moving across allows me to do this more easily. One project is a series of roughly 50x40 cms paintings on panels - entitled the 'Ivanhoe' series and each image (though they are entirely non-referential) named after a town/village/hamlet in North West Leicestershire - which used to style itself 'Ivanhoe Country' for tourism purposes! This body of work had stalled in around 2006 when I had a period of enforced inactivity due to heart surgery and its only been this past weekend I've been able to stretch out and start work on these pictures again. This one is no. 14 in the series (and its a bit weird that the project stalled at 13 images if you like that sort of coincidence!) - which place it will be named after is yet to be decided...
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Feeling strangely and unnaturally deflated today. I ran out of road with the draft of the essay and had to leave a large section of 'untreated' notes at the heart of it - not that this matters especially at this stage. But somehow I feel I'm falling short with the project as a whole with the text in such a state. I am also keen to pull in at least four more sittings before finally deciding on the selection and sequence of prints. At present there are eleven subjects - if I can make that 15 I can discard around a third in making the final group. So all's well then except it seemed as if others had achieved clarity over the project as a whole and could in consequence have a near completed text...hence my discomfort...pitiful really!
I need to be a little more bullish about the pictures maybe. Maybe, they arn't as incoherent as I suspect. Only time will tell. What I have discovered is that there is a reason that portraiture hasn't been on my radar previously...I simply don't have the passion for it. My interests are in landscapes, increasingly local landscapes as well as more exotic ones (as in the accompanying picture to this entry), and our relationship to it. In the past I'd thought this was simply because it informed my painting activity but I now feel it may be deeper than that.
Anyway - Cake File: this week a cornucopia of delights...cakes (lemon and chocolate), a lemon pie, apple pie and - although they were all nice - the highlight - scones and clotted cream with homemade jam - it must have been Daisy's doing!
This morning is a real pinch point in my MA. Today a draft of the essay to contextualize the practice project has to be submitted. There is a collection of random thoughts and observations sitting on the very computer I'm typing this into but turning that into a coherent and meaningful commentary is really tough going. I've advised quite a few of my PhD candidates to do this stuff but actually putting it into practice oneself! The biggest bugbear is that the creative process doesn't lend itself to a conventional narrative nor to extensive textual analysis insofar as visual work is concerned. This is I believe doubly the case in photography rather than painting, for example, because the actual moments of production, the point at which the shutter is clicked or the printer button pushed, i.e. the moment of decision taken is instantaneous. Of course digitisation has drawn these practices closer together again...the use of photoshop alone, much less the technical advantages of RAW file manipulation, suggest something more akin to 'traditional' studio painting practice, but the decisions taken in the complex interaction between photographer, sitter and situation - constituting a deal of the 'content' are so critical to outcomes.
Of course this ought to be finding its way into the text I'm writing (it probably will as I'm using these posts as an aide memoire) but only if I get on with the job rather than using this as a diversion tactic! Oh to be back in Athens on a fine spring evening with a cold glass of Retzina...
Saturday, 25 April 2009
Yesterday saw the opening of a clutch of new shows and Derby Museum & Art Gallery. We went along and were particularly keen to see a selection of the Museum's landscapes mixed in with a small selection of work by local artists who focus on this subject matter. Amongst the works were two pictures of Peak District landmarks by Nick Lockett who came along to talk to us last semester. They looked extremely good - not least contrasted with some eighteen century topographical sketches (with annotations) of the Derbyshire Peak - in their own way both artists with a strong, almost obsessive, desire to capture the detail in the peak albeit through very different means. The whole show reminded me that, when push comes to shove, this is where my own passion in making art (be it paintings or photographs) lies and where I'm sure my major project will rest.
Nonetheless I'm now working with over twelve subjects in my current portrait project and have had my first request from someone to be added into the equation! This chuffed me to bits! I still lack any confidence in the photographs but feel I have to see it through as the project now...I've a text and a dozen pictures after all and there simply isn't time to change tack again. So there it rests. The picture today is of one of the most recent of the portrait shots.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Today I have completely focussed on my project for hand in at the end of this semester. A substantive rewrite of the text accompanied by a first stab at printing out seven of the 'final' images. 'Final' in that the prints always reveal certain small issues that simply never appeared on screen (even allowing for the arcane mysteries of the printing process itself) and suggest tweaks and changes, especially the more of the chosen images you have in front of you.
Another aspect of the process that infuriates is the requirement to write the accompanying text in the third person, one understands the need for 'critical distance' in the writing up of commentary and the importance of not simply saying "i did this and that' etc., but inevitably the journey travelled is a (the?) vital part of any body of work and is easier for being a first person narrative.
Nonetheless the reflection on the conceptual, formal and procedural aspects of producing a coherent body of work is exactly what will give it coherence in the end. Though this too requires a curious discipline in that the creative journey continues of course well beyond the point of the writing process that in any event is taking place right now whilst the production of images, much less prints, is inevitably on-going. No way round it of course, but slightly unreal! Meanwhile another image from the series that I now think I may call (though it be everso corny) 'Masters Of Arts'...
Saturday, 18 April 2009
It's amazing what a week in sunshine does for the spirits! I returned yesterday with a crazy schedule of new portraits to complete - five sessions in a single day...exhausting for someone who nowadays shies away from hard work...
However I now have, for better or worse, a clear methodology and a clearer concept to work with and a very finite timescale in which to complete. By next Wednesday evening I will have a complete set of pictures and the broad outline for the text. Putting me hopefully in the right place for the following Wednesday when we return to the programme (with a draft essay in hand).
I've not yet studied yesterday's images but at least the project now 'feels' right - my gut instinct is that the images look stronger and more coherent when I look down the lens. And a bonus is that the niggling details...positioning, edges, sitters movements and gestures, expressions and so on can be concentrated upon because the basic compositional format has been resolved.
In addition my strongest impulse, to formalize the composition and unclutter the frame, fits with my natural inclinations as an artist. Despite the indexical nature of the photograph, inspite of it, I'm making the pictures bend to my way of seeing. So at least I'm happier with the outcomes...though whether the markers will remains to be seen.
And as an illustration - a holiday landscape, 'them thar hills', Apuane Alps, to be exact...with a few drops of rain amongst glorious sunshine!
Monday, 6 April 2009
I pushed a week or so back for the group to start thinking about what we might do by way of a show etc. to mark the end of our course. Given my background in the 'art business' I felt I owed it to everyone to impart at least one sensible recommendation - that we start sorting out our thoughts now given the necessary lead in times to successful shows, websites, publications etc.
As the erudite will know Pandora opened a large clay pot rather than a 'box' out of which poured all the world's ills etc! I seem to have done much the same...the email traffic has been voluminous and the range of ideas substantial...no matter as hopefully like Pandora, we may find hope at the very bottom of the jar....
Saturday, 4 April 2009
Yesterday and very early this morning I have been wrestling with the project and exactly how it will turn out. This past week's crit was useful even though it confirmed how far off the mark what I'd done to date was. Of course there were divergent opinions and ideas but it gave me an opportunity to distance myself from the pictures and the underlying impulses behind them. When I came back to considering the outcomes on Friday I was still troubled. However with a deal of cogitation over the day, a night sleeping on it and some conversation with my number one 'critical friend' (NOCF) early today I'm settled (for better or worse) on it.
I shall contrast desk bound shots with contextual images within the 'arena' that the subjects operate. This will follow on from the Dance Centre Director images - those I feel best about to date. I think that pushing the subject back into the context (wherever possible a 'clean' environment) gives me a clearer sense of articulation of the individual and their ambit and - importantly - my relation to it. In some ways (and as two people have pointed out) this pushes the pictures formally back into a place I'm emphathetic to, they even look a little like some of Edgar Martins photographs!
So I'm pushing on now with new subjects (more of those people who work in arts contexts) and with a defined idea of what the images must look like. Hopefully I can assemble enough to fulfill the project brief now in the time left. Whether it will totally hold together, conceptually or visually, will be for others to decide - at least I'll be prepared to stand behind the finished brief.
In the spirit of looking forward NOCF and I discussed the 'major' project as well...in part stimulated by reflection on the current process, in part by remarks of Nick Lockett's in his talk last semester that one should be planning now. I have an idea now of what it will be...more of that to come but the image here is a clue to the thinking.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
The most recent shoot I did coupled with the prep for the upcoming crit later today has given me pause for thought. I'm also writing up the critical commentary that has to accompany the body of work we submit. This too has provoked some fresh thinking around the subject and whether I'm getting it right at present.
My thoughts are that my subject group is actually too diverse, what does it say about me? and is that at all interesting or significant. One of my colleagues pointed this out a week or two ago and its been at the back of my mind since. My impulse in taking these pictures is nowhere near as clearcut as I have been thinking...
So it's a period of reflection today and tomorrow before throwing myself back into whatever it is that is going to constitute the final submission! Kidnapped by my own ruminations!
Monday, 30 March 2009
Between the last two sessions of the MA, two weeks of seminar presentations, I was out of the UK in Barcelona (see obligatory "stranger asked to take photo in Park Guell). Ostensibly we were there for our honeymoon but, both being artists, still couldn't resist visiting a few shows. In truth we didn't see a lot we liked...except one truly stonking show that was quite outstanding and revelatory. The show was by Kiki Smith. If you've just followed the link you'll have got a flavour of it - in the galleries it was truly sensational. Not least for the centrality it gave to the drawing process, as much as for the intensity of the content. In amongst everything else (drawing, sculpture, installation) were three excellent photographic portraits, intense blackness barely revealing the subject but saying so much with seemingly so little. It inspired and cowered me in equal measure.
The seminars were interesting, although in truth they sometimes lost their way...especially in week two when the time control went awry and there wasn't the focus that we were instructed to keep to (we are supposed to have a strict 15 minutes per colleague). It may be that the whole group size makes it tough to fully engage and I'll hold my hand up that - just occasionally - my full attention drifts in and out. I suspect I may not be alone. Perhaps consideration could be given to splitting up the group (we did that previously) into two...seven people can have a conversation of sorts - 16 or 17 really can't.
I'm amazed at how diverse the projects are turning out to be and in awe of several of the others who have a level of innate ability in terms of both clarity of ideas and technical execution. I feel quite vulnerable having yet to achieve either!
Cake File: I ate some lovely cake, in fact three slices, but am blowed if I know what it was...I think Daisy made it again...she makes a fair few cakes and - blow me - has even photographed herself doing so!