Monday, 26 October 2009

Outta Here!

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

Getting Stuck In

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

Back to Business?

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

Out and about - Competitions

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

Head above the Parapet

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!