Weeks 6 and 7: Reflections

Weeks 6 and 7 have flown by largely because my time was taken up with preparing the oral presentation and that has left me quite tired.

The coursework introduced some big subjects – chance, surrealism, psychogeography, subjective versus arbitrary, creative strategies – which will take a long time to digest.

Psychogeography is something I have probably done without realizing it. For example, in 2017 and 2018 I made regular trips to London in order to photograph the Regent’s Canal section by section. Typically, I would choose a nearby walk from an excellent series of guidebooks, London’s Hidden Walks, and concentrate on that and the nearby section of canal. So, London and the canal explored neighbourhood by neighbourhood, fitted into an afternoon stroll with a camera. It would not be hard to make a more formal extension of that into full-on psychogeography. It’s also something I have in mind to redo, this time as a proper project.

Chance, serendipity, surrealism and photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson are close to my heart so I warmed to that part of the coursework. However, I suspect there are a couple of potential traps here.

The first trap is that one cannot copy someone else’s sense of the surreal; it is unique to them. Attempts to emulate Cartier-Bresson will fail, in my view; he was completely sui generis. We each have to find our own path on that journey or we risk ending up like Robert Doisneau with too many sugary and faked (because set up and posed) images in the catalogue.

The second trap is thinking that it’s all about becoming some super-strength auteur with an eye so unerring it is almost snap and go. Notwithstanding William Eggleston saying “I only ever take one picture of one thing. Literally. Never two”, it’s clear that many other photographers do not work in this way. One can see it instantly in, for example, Magnum Contact Sheets where one can watch the photographer taking frame after frame, circling round, trying this and that, zeroing in on the image that eventually defines the set when curated later. So for many of us (and certainly for me) getting those 50 images I am happy with probably means making around 5000 images, 4950 of which will hit the bit bucket. Even in the days of film this would still have meant a couple of rolls not a couple of frames.

I liked the reading about John Baldessari but I am unsure about how much arbitrariness I really want in my practice. It’s very important to stay open and open-minded, but it strikes me that imposing arbitrariness, which is what Baldessari often did, is no less an act of control freakery than manipulating the finest detail. It’s a mirror image but not radically different. And there was something quite cold and unemotional about the results which didn’t attract me.

I enjoyed the micro-project which in my case was the brief “Upside Down”. There is almost too much subject matter in this town. The frustration – I suppose my perfectionism – is that it was tough to fit it into a couple of hours give or take. I append the results at the end of this post.

I have done some study for my development project in the past two weeks but that will follow in a separate post.

LUBBEN, Kristen. 2017. Magnum Contact Sheets. London: Thames & Hudson.

MILLAR, Stephen. 2014. London’s Hidden Walks. 3 vols. London: Metro Publications.

TUCKER, Marcia. 2010. ‘John Baldessari: Pursuing the Unpredictable’. In Margaret IVERSEN and Whitechapel Art GALLERY (eds.). Chance. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 137–9.

Micro-project: Upside Down
Mark Crean (2019): Results of the Weeks 6-7 micro-project to the brief of Upside Down.