PHO702 Week 10: Reflections

Two things stood out for me this week. First, the huge variety of approach and subject matter among my own MA cohort and of course more widely in photography generally. There is very little people aren’t interested in or which photography cannot cover. And second, the sheer energy fizzing away in both my cohort’s projects and presentations and in the work of practitioners elsewhere.

I picked up several things from the readings, background material and forum posts, particularly the really good presentation by Mandy Jandrell on how she researched and created ‘The Blue Hour’ (Jandrell 2018). All three of Peter Fraser, Uta Barth and Mandy Jandrell emphasize how important it is to ‘see fresh’ by dropping assumptions and stripping things down to their essentials. As Uta Barth says, ‘ … the process of making photographs forced me to learn how to truly see, to see the light, to study how things in an image relate to the edge, how to crop and frame the most mundane and incidental subject matter into a compelling image. I remember a teacher talking about the difference of making an engaging photograph of an ordinary thing versus making an ordinary photograph of an engaging thing’ (Mirlesse 2012).

So if we begin by asking ourselves how does human vision actually work, then what do we go on to photograph? I really liked Peter Fraser’s statement in his Tate Shots video, that it is about ‘ … seeing situations I’ve never ever seen before. And it’s in that moment that a certain kind of intensity, a flash of recognition … takes place. It’s got everything to do with the fact that I’ve never ever seen that scene before’ (Tate Shots 2013). For me this ties in closely with Uta Barth noting that Zen ‘asks us to engage deeply in every moment’ and, in the case of Barth’s own practice, that we are asked to absorb ourselves in the moment but are given ‘no central subject that will distract you’ (Mirlesse 2012). The result is very effective.

So the power of intent, concentration and solid research are very important. The other thing this week has helped me to appreciate is to be much more aware of how others might react to my work. Again, Fraser, Barth and Jandrell all talk about it. As Fraser said of his exhibition, ‘I am confronted with a physical expression of my own unconscious mind, and the mysteriousness and scope and range of the unconscious’ (Tate Shots 2013).

I am wary of conventional exhibitions, largely for the reasons covered by critics like Emma Barker in Week 9: that galleries and museums are ‘cultures of display’ where everything becomes Art with a capital A and one has to deal with slippery and perhaps rather superior curators (Barker 1999). These places can distance us, patronize us, perhaps even bore us and take us further away from why we are there: an intimate 1:1 encounter between artist and viewer. ‘The strange power of the experience of looking, the experience of being absorbed [by it]’ (Hodgson 2011 on an encounter with the practice of Thomas Struth).

In this respect Mandy Jandrell’s multimedia work, and how she creates it, were a massive tonic and really interested me. It opens up the possibilities of making an exhibition of my own work, but this does not have to be the conventional pictures on a long wall. I have no idea what may transpire but the point is that I do feel it has lit a spark and I can feel open to more to possibilities than I thought. This is particularly the case with regard to collaboration with other artists, whether words, sound or images.

This connects a little to another point Barth makes: ‘I think serious artists repeatedly engage the same central questions, but this should not be confused with a consistent style. I am always excited when a change of signature style opens new doors for exploring a core idea’ (Mirlesse 2012). This is both freeing and intimidating at the same time. For now, I will take the point: do not get stuck in a rut and do not be afraid to experiment. Creativity is experiment.

At the moment, I would define my own work by saying that I am practising in a long tradition of Fine Arts photography, in the genre of night photography. But this sounds terribly terribly dull put like that. The question therefore is how to open it all up, stretch oneself, be creative, make things more exciting. You don’t invite an audience to be bored. My impression from the forum this week is that everyone felt like that. We have all got to where we are right now. The question is where we would love to be and how to get there in a year’s time.

BARKER, Emma. 1999. ‘Introduction’. In Emma BARKER and Open UNIVERSITY (eds.). Contemporary Cultures of Display. New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the Open University, 8–21.

HODGSON, Francis. 2011. ‘Thomas Struth: An Objective Photographer?’ Financial Times 8 Jul [online]. Available at: https://www.ft.com/video/634f1212-a5ba-3859-a61c-618d87ed6e9a [accessed 23 Jan 2020].

JANDRELL, Mandy. 2018. ‘The Blue Hour’. Vimeo [online]. Available at: https://vimeo.com/269862769 [accessed 1 Apr 2020].

MIRLESSE, Sabine. 2012. ‘Light, Looking: Uta Barth’. BOMB Magazine [online]. Available at: https://bombmagazine.org/articles/light-looking-uta-barth/ [accessed 9 Apr 2020].

TATE SHOTS. 2013. ‘Peter Fraser’. Tate Shots [online]. Available at: https://youtu.be/F8glmAtCnnU [accessed 10 Apr 2020].