Monday, 30 November 2009

Out And About

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

Trying It Out

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

Trying Out

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

Planning Ahead

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 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

Formations and Production

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

Back to Business

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.