PHO705 Week 9: Work in Progress

I had a very good meeting with my FMP supervisor this week and shared my current work in progress.

If anyone wants to see it, the link is here: Crean-Work-in-Progress-Week9

What emerged is that I need to divide my project into its various sub-themes, concentrate on a typology of each one, and see what emerges. This will be my focus for the next month.

It was suggested that I look at the work of several photographers, including Keith Arnatt and Susan Hiller (in her work ‘Judenstrasse’). I have now secured a copy of Arnatt’s book I’m a Real Photographer (Arnatt et al 2007), so that will be added to the coming month’s tasks.

The two important elements that remain to be decided are the question of colour versus black and white and the storyline I will follow. I think I may have found my story, but that will require some research and I will cover it another time. I am not so sure about colour versus black and white. I think I will use both together for a while and then see which one works best after I have assembled a few more credible images.

References

ARNATT, Keith, David HURN and Clare GRAFIK. 2007. I’m a Real Photographer. London: The Photographers’ Gallery.

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.

PHO705 Week 6: Portfolio Reviews I

Much of this week has been taken up with preparing for portfolio reviews. This has also doubled as a consideration of my work in progress since early January. It has been a very useful exercise, forcing me to think more carefully about my intent and where this project might go, since it is still in early days.

A pdf of my final portfolio (at web resolution) is below. It consists of the best of my work in progress on my Final Major Project to date.

Entropias-Portfolio-Reduced-060321

PHO705 Week 5: The Social Photo

I much enjoyed Nathan Jurgenson’s Guest Lecture in Week 4 (Jurgenson 2021) and have gone on to buy and read his book, The Social Photo (Jurgenson 2019).

This has changed my understanding of photography and social media, much for the better. I now see what drives it: that the image can be regarded as a kind of emoji and the smartphone as an eye in our pocket. On social media, we communicate in a visual language of forms. We are in the world of signs and symbols. Mythologies (Barthes 2009) was prescient.

As Jurgenson points out, this is very different from a traditional arts-based appreciation of photography with its emphasis on rules and tradition. ‘As a visual discourse, social photos are a means to express feelings, ideas and experiences in the moment, a means sometimes more important than the specific ends of a particular image’ (Jurgenson 2019: 18).

I particularly liked Jurgenson’s coverage of the interplay between permanent and ephemeral in the social photo and his examination of the use of augmented reality (such as photo filters) to create a nostalgia for the present that reifies experience and thereby makes it shareable. We cannot simply say something: we first have to dress it in clothes of spurious significance. The slightly alarming consequence is that we have turned ourselves into tourists of our own experience. In documenting our lives we turn our experiences into consumer items, available one by one on our media streams.

Jurgenson’s attempts to justify this new online world in the middle part of the book fall flat, in my reading. He defends social media and the internet generally against critics who either fail to understand that online is also a form of ‘real’ life or whose criticism conceals an agenda of regulation to suit political or commercial interests. The problem here is that while it is hard to disagree with Jurgenson, his book has been overtaken by the events of 2020. These have shown very clearly that social media is a beast that needs to be tamed. Two examples: the alarming rise in generalized anxiety disorder among young people during the pandemic (Co-Space 2021) and the shocking attempt to overthrow the results of the US presidential election. Social media and its empire of lies have propelled both.

The latter part of The Social Photo is a welcome updating of the pioneering work on photography of Barthes and Sontag. Notable is Jurgenson’s evisceration of Silicon Valley’s Big Data movement, ‘This long-held positivist fantasy of the complete account of the universe that is always just around the corner’, which is cynically used as ‘a moral mandate for ever more intrusive data collection’ (Jurgenson 2019: 108).

The most interesting part of The Social Photo for my own practice is what Jurgenson has to say about truth and knowledge: ‘If the history of the medium were boiled down to a single debate, it would be the constant insecurity around the “truth” of a photograph’ (Jurgenson 2019: 95). Photography’s slippery relationship with truth leads us on to the gap between knowing and not knowing that the best photographs inhabit. Jurgenson points out that Barthes said of the punctum, ‘what I can name cannot really prick me’ (Jurgenson 2019: 99). Facts alone cannot describe reality. Documentation is never all it seems. Following Georges Bataille and Jean Baudrillard, Jurgenson points us to ‘the essential and productive tension between visibility and invisibility, what is known and what is not’, that every instance of knowledge ‘is also an instance of nonknowledge, its opposite, what is unknown. … Nonknowledge, then, is the seductive and magical aspect of knowledge’ (Jurgenson 2019: 101-102).

This interplay is exactly what currently propels my own practice. I am photographing human presence largely in the form of its absence, and thus what the image knows is constantly undercut by what it does not know and cannot show.

The Social Photo has proved a welcome tonic to my studies. It will help me to improve the way I present myself and my work on social media.

References

BARTHES, Roland and Annette LAVERS. 2009. Mythologies. Revised ed. London: Vintage.

CO-SPACE. ‘Co-Space Study’. Co-Space [online]. Available at: http://cospaceoxford.org/ [accessed 20 Feb 2021].

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2019. The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media. London: Verso Books.

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2021. ‘Guest Lecture: Nathan Jurgenson’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/249/pages/guest-lecture-nathan-jurgenson-february-2021?module_item_id=49657 [accessed 18 Feb 2021].

PHO704 Week 11: Marketing and Objectives

My aim is not to become full-time commercial photographer. However, I would like to become a more professional photographer who can improve his practice using the skills and marketing disciplines of the commercial photography business. I would enjoy doing that and it might also allow me to take on some part-time work (whether paid or not) from time to time.

Instagram
I have covered Instagram already in this CRJ – see here and here.

Website
I need to continue to improve my portfolio site (Crean 2020 A) and boil it down to essentials, as a mini-portfolio that is always up to date. The assumption is that most viewers will pick up my work on Instagram first and only then consider my website.

Marketing
I have had some business cards printed, which is a small start, but I need to present myself as a brand with the focus, consistency and tight control of communications that entails. I need to approach things as if I were running my own business (Barnett 2020, Pritchard 2011).

Photobooks
I would like to become good at producing photobooks. There are several I could produce outside of this degree course. I have just taken one weekend workshop on creating and marketing photobooks with the Self Publish Be Happy group (Self Publish Be Happy 2020) and in a few days I am taking a second one with them that will concentrate more on the internal graphic design and layout of the photobook. The first weekend was very informative (and enjoyable) and has improved my confidence a lot.

Portfolios
It is clear that I need to assemble a proper printed portfolio. For this I need to assemble a bank of printed images that can be sequenced and changed depending on whom one is showing the portfolio to. Ensuring that a portfolio is relevant to the intended purpose is important.

To help with this, I need to apply for some portfolio reviews. The Association of Photographers (I am now a member) and the Photographers’ Gallery in London both offer this service, among others, and over the next few months I will book some slots.

Personal Projects
I have a personal project, Entropias (Crean 2020 B). The purpose of the project is to help me stay fresh and creative, but it is also something I could present as a zine, small book or other venture, either commercially or for charity.

Web Shop
I will be using White Bridge Arts as the brand name of a webshop on an art sales website called society6.com. I have already mentioned this in my CRJ here.  It should be fun.

Others
I usually participate in a joint local photography exhibition each year with ArtWeeks. If there is a proper ArtWeeks in 2021 (unknown at present because of the pandemic) then I will take part.

There are also magazines to approach, other new personal projects to consider, local newspapers, competitions, social media take-overs and so forth. However, I would prefer not to give the impression that I can take a degree and do all that at the same time, because my priorities in life are not those. Becoming a 24/7 photography bore is likely to kill not enhance my creativity.

References

BARNETT, Maximus. 2020. ‘Week 11: A Conversation with Maximus Barnett’. Falmouth Flexible Photography [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-11-presentation-a-conversation-with-maximus-barnett?module_item_id=43431 [accessed 4 Dec 2020].

CREAN, Mark. 2020 A. ‘Portfolio’. Mark Crean [online]. Available at: https://markcrean.myportfolio.com [accessed 8 Aug 2020].

CREAN, Mark. 2020 B. ‘Entropias’. Mark Crean [online]. Available at: https://markcrean.myportfolio.com/entropias [accessed 8 Aug 2020].

PRITCHARD, Lisa. 2011. ‘Marketing and Promotion’. In Lisa PRITCHARD (ed.). Setting up a Successful Photography Business. London: A. & C. Black, 72–86.

SELF PUBLISH BE HAPPY. 2020. ‘Education’. Self Publish, Be Happy [online]. Available at: https://shop.selfpublishbehappy.com/collections/education [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

PHO704 Week 10: The Digital – New Possbilities

This week’s coursework about the different digital media channels has been difficult, largely because although I use some of them I have little to no experience of using all of them. In addition, discussions tend to become dominated by Instagram but that is not the only channel available and for some people it may not be an appropriate one.

There are two different subjects here. First, there are the new digital media platforms available to artists in order to offer a new and often mixed media experience. And second there are the new digital media channels available on which to market one’s work – not the same thing at all.

I am very interested in what Anna-Maria Pfab said in her lecture about new digital platforms, in particular the New York Times virtual reality app launched in 2015, NYT VR (New York Times 2020, Pfab 2020). Although an app demands a great deal of time and investment capital, it is clear that, first, one can offer viewers a new experience combining both images and sound in many different ways, and second one can engage with an audience on smartphones massively larger than the audience on conventional PCs or photography websites. I am already looking at sound in my research project. Video takes it one stage further.

As for marketing one’s work using digital media, my feeling is that before one embarks on a digital media strategy it is important to have a very clear idea of what one wants to do, having already identified ways of measuring results and overall having already set some goals. Otherwise, one is exposing oneself to one of the dangers of digital media: investing a lot of time in something that is essentially fruitless and which is simply not paying its way.

So over the next six or so months may own ‘strategy’, if such it is, is likely to be this:

Instagram: I will continue to use my main account (it is a business account) but tweak it to give a better idea of whom I am, what I get up to and what I enjoy. I will only post work I would be happy to show my peers (i.e. not family snaps) but the overall intent will be to be interesting, relaxed and creative. A good example of how to do this is Tom Hunter’s Instagram feed (Hunter 2020).

Facebook, Twitter, TikTok. Facebook is strictly for family use in my case. I won’t use Twitter because I have serious concerns about the platform’s sanity and ethics. TikTok is up and coming but I am the wrong generation for its demographic.

Websites: I will maintain and keep current and tidy my portfolio website. However, it is clear that the focus for photographers has shifted to Instagram. A portfolio website may be needed as a showcase but the action is now elsewhere.

An Experiment

I have registered a new domain name for a brand I am devising called White Bridge Arts. This is for avowedly commercial material, in colour, quite distinct from my fine arts practice. My aim is to open a webshop on an Etsy-like sales site where I will offer images printed on mugs, T-shirts, cushion covers, duvets and other household items, as well as prints. Since all printing is on-demand by the owners of the site, the initial investment required is minimal (though the site’s commission on sales is quite high).

I will use this as a testbed and learning experience, and simply for some fun. Marketing will all be done under the White Bridge Arts brand, so if I decide to promote the shop on Instagram or elsewhere then I will open a new account under the brand name and use it purely for business. After six months I will take stock.  One tool I will use is Google Trends (Google 2020). As a free tool, it can be a very helpful way of noticing what is catching the public eye and what is fading from it.

And overall? I think my approach overall is a fair reflection of who I am. I love fine arts photography. However, I can’t stand snobbery or in-group thinking and I have a strong commercial streak. I do not want to become stuck and stale by hiding away in a single field.

References

GOOGLE. 2020. ‘Google Trends’. Google Trends [online]. Available at: https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=US [accessed 27 Nov 2020].

HUNTER, Tom. 2020. ‘Tom Hunter Photography’ [Instagram]. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/tomhunterphotography/ [accessed 27 Nov 2020].

NEW YORK TIMES. 2020. ‘Immersive (AR/VR)’. New York Times [online]. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/spotlight/augmented-reality [accessed 27 Nov 2020].

PFAB, Anna-Maria. 2020. ‘Live Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/1eb7c4fd28e98bd83a3a838e6bdfca0cc920f49f-1606328806458/capture/ [accessed 27 Nov 2020].