PHO705 Weeks 6-7: Portfolio Reviews II

I participated in two portofolio reviews in Week 6 of this module. The first was with John Duncan. What emerged from his feedback is this:

  • I should look closely at Jem Southam’s The Red River (Southam 1989), at Keith Arnatt’s Miss Grace’s Lane (Arnatt 2021) and at the practices of Willie Doherty (Doherty 2021) and John Gossage, particularly Gossage’s The Pond (Gossage 2010). I have subsequently started looking at these works and the suggestions are very helpful, particularly the practice of John Gossage and Arnatt’s use of Palmeresque lighting in Miss Grace’s Lane (there being no shortage of detritus to photograph here).
  • The writings of Jonathan Meades are an example of how ideas and themes can be put together imaginatively in order to explore a particular subject.
  • I need to think harder about distance in my images. Some can be too close in and some too wide and placing the results side by side can be disorientating.
  • Landscape can be seen as a metaphor for many different things, for example illness and archaeology, or politics and power. How much have I thought about that? John Duncan cited Helen Chadwick’s The Viral Landscape (Chadwick 2020) as an example.
  • I need to work harder to avoid the obvious and anything that could find a place in a typical advertisement. I need to be more aware of photographic clichés and well-worn tropes and stay away. Originality and working hard to make an image my unique vision of a subject is crucial.
  • It is important to know what other photographers and artists are currently doing in the same sphere and position one’s work accordingly. That is why keeping oneself informed of wider contemporary practice matters.
  • Installations quickly become dull if they only show a row of images all of the same size and mount. People are looking for more imaginative approaches these days.
  • Keep any initial pitch to a single short paragraph and make sure that you begin by summing up your project in a single sentence.
  • As always, I need to be more ruthless at culling my ‘darlings’ and reducing my edit to a tighter selection of images.

This was an extremely helpful experience with a lot of important ideas. The emphasis overall was that the best creative achievements are the result of very careful thought, a refusal to compromise with clichés, and very hard work. I am so grateful that John Duncan told it straight.

My second review two days later was with John Angerson. This too was a very valuable, relaxed experience. The points that emerged from this review are these:

  • I need to pull back a bit and show more context in my images.
  • I need to tidy up some of my images, meaning more care in composition and post processing.
  • Some images might benefit from using a higher viewpoint. Perhaps I should consider a portable stepladder? This strikes me as an excellent idea.
  • With a landscape project, involving people does not have to mean portraiture. For example, it could instead mean including old and interesting images from generations ago – for example, the grandparents or great-grandparents of those who work the land today and the implements of the time. This can add a whole other dimension to a project. Try to look beyond the rather obvious idea that ‘a few portraits might help’. I should look at the work of James Ravilious on rural life and farming from earlier decades (Ravilious 2021).
  • Photography books are changing. Books that consist only of photographs are rarely enough anymore. A book today needs layers. We all need to think much more widely about other things that can become part of a book as well about the physical format, design and materials of a book.
  • Collaboration can turn a stalled project around and make all the difference. Stay open to it.
  • Write down 5–6 things that really interest you but that have absolutely nothing to do with photography. Think carefully about why you are drawn to them. Then think carefully about what you photograph and where you photograph it. See if there are points in common. These may just be emotions or states of mind, but pay attention to them. With any project, one is always trying to reach the core idea at its heart but sometimes this can be difficult to express and bring to awareness. Exercises like this can help. John Angerson called it ‘mind mapping’ and suggested that when one’s core idea is finally in the open, then one will start to take images with a coherent personal vision.

Taken together, these two portfolio reviews were among the most useful, challenging and still enjoyable photography experiences I have had in a long time.

References

ARNATT, Keith. 2021. ‘Miss Grace’s Lane 1986–87, Selection’. Keith Arnatt Estate [online]. Available at: http://www.keitharnattestate.com/works/w53.html [accessed 9 Mar 2021].

CHADWICK, Helen. 2020. ‘Helen Chadwick’s Viral Landscapes in 1989’. Modern Art Oxford [online]. Available at: https://www.modernartoxford.org.uk/mao-archive-helen-chadwicks-viral-landscapes-1989/ [accessed 8 Mar 2021].

DOHERTY, Willie. 2021. ‘Willie Doherty at the Kerlin Gallery’. Kerlin Gallery [online]. Available at: https://www.kerlingallery.com/artists/willie-doherty [accessed 8 Mar 2021].

GOSSAGE, John R. and Gerry BADGER. 2010. The Pond. Second edition. New York, N.Y.: London: Aperture .

RAVILIOUS, James. 2021. ‘James Ravilious – Photographer of Rural Life 1939–1999’. James Ravilious [online]. Available at: http://www.jamesravilious.com/ [accessed 7 Mar 2021].

SOUTHAM, Jem, D. M. THOMAS, F. A. TURK and Jan RUHRMUND. 1989. The Red River. Manchester: Cornerhouse.