Monday, 30 March 2009

Away From The Flock

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 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!

Hard Nose The Highway

And now its starting to get a little crunchy.  This coming week we have to present some hard copy...prints that show how the assignment is shaping up.  Last week I managed two more shooting sessions and unfortunately the next three are not going to happen before tomorrow.  So I have been working with what I have now.  

Fortunately one of the sessions produced - at last! - what I think may be a workable image in terms of the final selection.  I certainly hope so as its going to be hard to get another full round of sessions with all subjects in time for the submission dates so really I have to settle now on what I want  to show and of course that means deciding primarily on what I'm trying to say.

So far I've been fiddling around the idea of how these 'professionals' interact with the context in which they normally most cases at a desk.  Visually this isn't that dynamic (how can it be) but more importantly it makes in tough to engender a sense of their own embodied image of themselves and is also distracting and fussy in terms of a true portrait of an individual.  In this most recent session I moved the subject, a Dance Centre Director, into the deserted auditorium he presides over and placed him, a little uncomfortably for him I think, right in the centre of it.  By luck rather than judgment (although I am making some progress with the technical stuff) I got the lighting right - an even flash light that the darkness around the subject swallowed up - and focussed in on the full figure.  The combination of the various elements works for me at least and I feel confident enough in the outcome to want to try and work  with my other subjects in the same manner.

This will - I hope - say more about the aspect of vulnerability that those with high profile 'presence' exhibit in their professional capacity...something I'm acutely conscious of as I divest myself of those trappings as well produce a coherent set of visually striking images that I can stand behind.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Harvey Jones Principle

Unless you go back a bit you won't remember the management guru, Sir John Harvey Jones, ex ICI Chief who became one of the first tellie pundits.  I have always liked one of his maxims...not least because I've never quite understood its meaning...and I paraphrase...
"Planning is an unnatural process, and the beauty of not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and despair."

So goes my first practical project for this course. And I still don't know whether I'm falling one side or the other of this.  I have now got (and as of tomorrow will have more) very nearly enough subjects for the 'professional engagements' idea and have made first shoots with most of them.  The results are hardly promising and what I am trying to get across still isn't entirely clear to me.  There are plenty of images, 'straight' portraits from a variety of angles including the initially favoured high vantage, wide angle shot based (very loosely) on the Degas portrait. In addition I've shot close ups of hands and one or two other 'ideas' (for which read just trying out other possible poses etc.).  Nothing is really getting to the heart of what I had planned and more importantly the pictures simply don't 'engage'.

So there is much pondering to do over the next six days before the eve of Easter crit where we need to put images on the table.  Meanwhile fortunately I had no prep for this week's session as I've just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable fve days in Barcelona (a short honeymoon trip) where I was able to take some pictures - just for fun - including the above.

Oh and Daisy does it again...Cake File...something really delicious that she "just threw together with what was around" - now if I could only make a set of pictures as good using the same methodology!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Other Fish

Given that I re-married last Saturday its a wonder that I'm able to post at all from last week to this.  However as we don't leave for Barcelona until Thursday I have a moment or two to reflect on the week past.  Our lecturer for the week was artist, photographer and lecturer, Wiebke Leister.  It may be just my prejudice at work but her talk was substantially based on her work for a practice based PhD, how we came up with this as an academic community I can't entirely remember (though I was there at the time!), but I have considerable reservations about it as a generator of worthwhile outcomes in terms of aesthetic product.  I say this despite being a reasonably experienced supervisor myself - and I do know of quite a few practitioners who have negotiated this tricky business, including (or so I'd like to think) several of my own students.  Wiebke's project 'Unjoyful Laughter and the Non-Likeness of Photographic Portraiture' was of interest to me given my own project but I found it hard to move beyond the theoretical construct she had devised and into the images themselves.  Not that these were uninteresting (or that the theory didn't have some merit) but just that I struggled to fully engage.  So much so that I unintentionally unnerved our speaker by my quizzical looks!  I was simply trying hard to focus on the theoretical construct and marry it to the images presented.  A good deal of the construct centred around the grimace as the further shore of the laugh...and this image was used to 'anchor' the others selected.  I think she was on to something with this but I confess that I couldn't concentrate sufficiently on the work visually to take me beyond my initial prejudice.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Fallow Period...

What with one thing and another I haven't managed to post since ahead of last week's session - and it's very nearly time for another.  Last week was one of the most interesting sessions since we started.  Both Greg Lucas and Paul Hill did presentations and there was much to ponder.  Greg introduced me to one or two artists I've previously ignored, Andreas Slominski being one of them.  He was focussing on the subject of narration and sequencing and gave an interesting and eclectic range of sources we could consider drawing upon, how pertinent this will be to many of us I'm none too sure - it made me think hard about how limited my ambition for my project might be - but it was very informative as well as entertaining, though Greg is always at the very least entertaining!  Paul took us through his back catalogue in a thoughtful and provoking manner and brought us up to date with some of his current work and preoccupations including work that draws upon some difficult areas of loss and grief.  It was a real privilege to have access not only to the work but to the very direct and honest commentary that Paul provided.  The ability to connect simply and honestly into the thinking process behind images is not something that widely available, but Paul Hill has it in spades - worth the entrance money alone!

Cake File - Daisy is in overdrive now...this week's cake had everything going for it...she just can't stop baking. 

Monday, 2 March 2009

Thinking Through the Subject

Here is one of the pictures from my latest session - I now have five completed and am beginning to get a 'feel' for how to go about the process.  Firstly I get in quick and get set up fast...start shooting quickly and accept that the first dozen or so are likely to be 'loss leaders'.  Talk through the subject and listen to their responses, trying to get them animated.  I am now thinking that I will take them out of their immediate desk surroundings and into environments that are both comfortable to them and visually interesting to me.  Having established a very formal and restrictive arrangement I'm realizing - doh! - that such a straitjacket is both condensing and unnecessary.   SP is the Chair of the Board of an Arts Centre I'm a member of, and is herself a Director of another Centre.  The desk element of her role is but one aspect of it and so on this occasion I moved the shoot out of the office and into the Gallery - and its one of those images I'm most taken with at the present.  I'm also thinking that I need to shoot in bursts to get the facial expressions I require, another thing to consider alongside the compositional stuff (don't forget the edges!) and the lighting and the props and everything else!!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Time Out and...17 and a half out of 66...

This week I missed out on a session, so cannot reflect on what I wasn't party to.  Its only the second that I've missed,the first before Xmas through illness, and this time with a work commitment I couldn't avoid.  I did feel that that something was missing from my week and intend not to lose another week this semester if at all possible.

Progress on the project has been fairly slow too.  I have done two further sessions but the results are nowhere near good enough to use.  Maybe that isn't critical yet (there's time to go back) but I'd like to feel that I was getting somewhere with those aspects of the images that I'm particularly interested in...and at the moment it doesn't feel like it.  I need to step back from the composition of the image and reflect on it - but my desire to get pictures taken without too much fuss is getting in the way of this...and also not allowing me sufficient time to check all the technical issues.  I've printed one or two images as well...but I really don't want  to sidetrack myself into issues around making prints, just having something to look at on paper is what's useful...quality is not the issue as yet.  

I have another session fixed for tomorrow so at least I'm getting a raft of images under my belt now.  And the issue of whether or not to have the feet in....
Well I have been looking at Wolfgang Tillmans' portraits...and counted 17 and a half feet out of 66 maybe not so important as other considerations after all!