PHO703 Week 6: Exhibitions

This week has been about thinking what an ‘exhibition’ really means and perhaps whether what we think of as an exhibition is really the best thing to be doing at all. In the end, one is offering one’s work to an audience and there are many ways of achieving that beyond the traditional gallery-style art exhibition. Installation art and participatory art are two of them, although the terms are double-edged. Is one going to allow the viewer to decide what the art is or is one going to impose an idea of art upon them?

I do agree with Brian O’Doherty (O’Doherty 1999) that the traditional gallery exhibition can be a trap. These spaces can impose an idea of what ‘art’ is and, in fact, their day may already have passed. In his words about these specialized and denuded places, ‘The ideal subtracts from the art work all cues that interfere with the fact that it is “art”. The work is isolated from everything that would detract from its own evaluation of itself. … Unshadowed, white, clean, artificial – the space is devoted to the technology of aesthetics. Works of art are mounted, hung, scattered for study. Their ungrubby surfaces are untouched by time and its vicissitudes. Art exists in a kind of eternity of display’ (O’Doherty 1999: 14-15).

And, one might say, in an eternity of boredom, as a visit with teenagers to a large gallery or museum will soon reveal. I suspect that audiences today want more than these traditional forms of ‘high art’ that fix what ‘art’ means in the definitions of 150 years ago. They want an experience and they want to be involved. Pictures on a wall offer neither to most visitors. That might well not have been true before the era of mass media. Today, however, one can visit any gallery anywhere and view any work of art online. So the question is, what does the real, physical version have to offer that is compellingly different?

One answer is suggested by Claire Bishop who emphasizes that installation art is an experience of being there and being in it, something than an online offering cannot match:

‘Installation art therefore differs from traditional media (sculpture, painting, photography, video) in that it addresses the viewer directly as a literal presence in the space. Rather than imagining the viewer as a pair of disembodied eyes that survey the work from a distance, installation art presupposes an embodied viewer whose senses of touch, smell and sound are as heightened as their sense of vision. This insistence on the literal presence of the viewer is arguably the key characteristic of installation art’ (Bishop 2005: 6).

Another aspect of installation art is that it is decentring: ‘fantasies of “centring” perpetuated by dominant ideology are masculinist, racist and conservative; this is because there is no one “right” way of looking at the world, nor any privileged place from which such judgements can be made. As a consequence, installation art’s multiple perspectives are seen to subvert the Renaissance perspective model’ (Bishop 2005: 13). I think the same would probably apply to participatory art, community art, events and happenings, and in most contexts in which the viewer’s involvement is integral to the nature of the artwork being offered. And in the era of Black Lives Matter and the yearning for true equality among peoples, an awareness of centring and decentring is more important than ever.

No doubt there are other ways of approaching photographic art and its display. Charlotte Cotton (Cotton 2014) looks at many contemporary artists whose work combines different media and is very far from the nature of a traditional print: a flat rectangle with a probably indexical image inside, against a bare white wall. As she says, ‘In combination with other media, photography becomes just one phrase in an overall statement, subjected to a consciously ambiguous but highly specified treatment’ (Cotton 2014: 229).

How might these ideas affect my practice? I am not yet sure. A conventional gallery-style exhibition of my work at Falmouth has never figured in my plans, largely because exhibitions here in Oxford are difficult and expensive due to lack of suitable venues. However, a participatory event or an off-gallery collaboration of some kind might be easier to arrange and sounds far more attractive and enjoyable. So, I am glad to have had these new ideas put before me.

I think the challenge is this: how to offer something that allows the viewer to make their own choices about the ‘art’ involved, that engages and involves the viewer as an experience, and that does not offer the traditionally indexical photographic image as the be-all and end-all of the affair. To sound a little cheesy, perhaps, how does one allow the viewer to fall in love with the experience and remember it as an event that was really worth turning up for?

References

BISHOP, Claire. 2005. ‘Introduction’. In Claire BISHOP (ed.). Installation Art: A Critical History. London: Tate, 6–13.

COTTON, Charlotte. 2014. ‘Chapter 8: Physical and Material’. In Charlotte COTTON (ed.). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 218–49.

O’DOHERTY, Brian. 1999. ‘Notes on the Gallery Space’. In Brian O’DOHERTY (ed.). Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 13–34.

PHO703 Week 5: Three ‘Surfaces’

I have spent most of this week preparing for the Landings exhibition and looking at commissioning a book dummy. I have also read Jörg Colberg’s Understanding Photobooks (Colberg 2017) and Ralph Rugoff’s ‘You Talking to Me? On Curating Group Shows that Give You a Chance to Join the Group’ (Rugoff 2006).

Both were really helpful, especially Colberg’s book. After 25 years working in commercial book publishing, I know from my own experience that his key points are spot on. The points that emerged for me are

  • Who is going to buy this book? Without a convincing case for an audience interested enough and large enough to support the work by buying it, one does not have a project.
  • Collaboration is very important. A book is a team effort in many respects. It is a collaboration between reader and photographer. It is also a collaboration among the design and production team. A good curatorial eye from, say, an experienced graphic designer is very important.
  • A photobook must be conceived from the start as exactly that. It is not just a book that happens to contain photographs.
  • Clarity of concept and intention are absolutely vital. Without them, one cannot make a coherent case to the market about ‘Why buy this book?’ or ‘What subject section should the book go into?’ One cannot tell a strong story either, nor make a convincing marketing campaign (and marketing is key to sales).
  • Good curation and sequencing are absolutely vital, too, and are a much more nuanced affair than one might think. Good curation is an art in itself. It takes time and it also takes standing back from one’s own images enough to make informed judgements about what works and what does not work in a sequence. This means that part of the skill of a good photobook is skill at elimination at the editing stage. Most of what one does as a photographer will end up being left out. Yes, one has to learn to kill off one’s own babies sometimes.
  • The photobook represents an entire body of work in its own world. It is a place, a venue, somewhere to welcome in the visitor and let them explore. This means close attention to every detail of the world of the book – design, paper, size, binding, the cover, et al.
  • Compromises are inevitable. One is not aiming for the ideal book but for the very best book that can be made in the circumstances. Budgets (particularly) and deadlines are part of those circumstances.
  • Know your strengths and your weaknesses. If what you are really good at is making the images, then concentrate on that and find or hire the best advice you can to cover all the things you don’t know about. Otherwise, you are likely to end up with a rather amateur effort and in commercial publishing, at least, the amateurs almost always end up being dished by the professionals.

Ralph Rugoff’s essay was sparky and very enjoyable (Rugoff 2006). I am not sure how useful his points will be for my work at Falmouth, but I can already see how useful they will be for my work with Oxford Photographers (the collective to which I belong) since we usually hold a joint exhibition each year as part of the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival. I love his emphasis on an exhibition as an experience, something we are in, respond to, move through. It is not just about pictures on a wall, devoid of all context – although that is what people often think of when they think of ‘art gallery’ or ‘museum’.

I particularly like Rugoff’s distinction between the story that an exhibition purports to tell – often its theme – and the story it actually tells which emerges from interactions among the works displayed and which might be quite different from the ostensible theme. In his words, ‘The best group shows thus take on some of the qualities of installation art: rather than a chance to contemplate isolated objects, they involve us in an implied yet elusive narrative that we end up putting together ourselves as we move through the exhibition. … Finally, and most importantly, good theme shows take risks in how they address their audiences’ (Rugoff 2006: 48).

So, overall, a week rich in new ideas.

References

COLBERG, Jörg. 2017. Understanding Photobooks: The Form and Content of the Photographic Book. New York: Routledge.

RUGOFF, Ralph. 2006. ‘Chapter 4: You Talking To Me? On Curating Group Shows That Give You a Chance to Join the Group’. In Paula MARINCOLA (ed.). What Makes a Great Exhibition? Philadelphia: Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage, 2006, 44–51.

PHO703 Week 4: Using the Apparatus

My experience of this week’s activities:

We were asked about our relationship with our chosen apparatus. I do not really have a relationship with my chosen apparatus. It is just an electronic box – pleasant to use and it mostly does what I want. I am sure a dozen other, similar camera systems would also be both. So, overall, I am not particularly fussy about what I use. It just needs to be competent for the task in hand.

For this week’s activity – making images with a totally unfamiliar apparatus – I chose an old Canon compact camera I have never used before and probably about 15 years old. To be frank, I though it was rubbish. It was poorly designed with very small and fiddly controls and the images it produced were crude in the extreme. Any modern smartphone would be better than this by an order of magnitude. The Japanese camera industry’s decline has roots long in the making.

I used to do a lot of ‘contemplative photography’ as part of a meditation programme. It was called Miksang which is Tibetan for ‘good eye’. The basic idea is to meditate for half an hour, then go out with a camera while trying to maintain the meditation but with a specific task in mind: for example, looking for a certain colour, looking for only dots or splashes of colour, looking for textures, looking for space (my favourite), and so forth. No photograph would be made unless there was a ‘flash’ of recognition and contact with something in the physical world. When that happened, the task was to use the photograph to express that moment of recognition, which is not necessarily the same as simply showing what is there. Andy Karr and Michael Wood organized these ideas into a programme and published them as a book (Karr and Wood 2011).

I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘contemplative photography’. As a mindfulness practice, it is somewhat based on the Zen idea that if the archer’s mind is clear and empty of all discursive thought (i.e. distractions) then the arrow has already hit the target before it is released. Or, the image has already been made (in the mind) before the shutter is pressed. These ideas do express a truth, in my view.

I can see this being a way towards the freedom that Flusser talks about (Flusser 2000: 81-2), because if the image has already been made in the mind then it is free of dependence on an apparatus. I should probably make more of these ideas in my practice, because I know from experience how useful they can be. I don’t think they are suitable for every circumstance but they probably tie in quite closely with my temperament and with my current project.

I made five images with the Canon compact, as requested. I also made a completely accidental ghosted exposure with my regular camera while having to move it a couple of times during a long exposure. The results are quite pleasing, in fact. I have experimented with the results in Photoshop, to see how they might look if expressed in other ways. However, the problem that soon arose is that experimentation is aimless without a clear intent. I do not have a clear intent so at present experimentation is just messing around. While that’s fine, I do not feel it is productive.

So for now I will leave these experiments and ideas and let them swirl around in my unconscious. Later, something new will probably emerge. I have to be patient.

References

FLUSSER, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion, 76–82.

KARR, Andy and Michael WOOD. 2011. The Practice of Contemplative Photography : Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes. 1st ed. Boston: Shambhala.

 

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Fig. 1: Mark Crean 2020. St Mary’s, Iffley, taken with an old Canon compact camera and the jpeg converted to black and white in Silver Efex.
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Fig. 2: Mark Crean 2020. St Mary’s, Iffley, This image was made by converting Fig. 1 above using Photoshop warp and paint filters and then applying a split tone using colours taken from a ‘blue’ sequence painting by Chris Ofili.
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Fig. 3: Mark Crean 2020. The Thames at Iffley – accidental image ghosting caused by moving the camera during a long exposure. This image was made with my regular Olympus camera.
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Fig. 4: Mark Crean 2020. The Thames at Iffley. This image was made by applying a Photoshop mosaic filter to Fig. 3 above, using colours taken from a ‘blue’ sequence painting by Chris Ofili.
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Fig. 5: Mark Crean 2020. The Thames at Iffley. This image was made by converting Fig. 3 above into a (digital) cyanotype using Photoshop.
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Fig. 6: Mark Crean 2020. The Thames at Iffley. This image was made by converting Fig. 3 above into a split tone using Photoshop. The key colours are taken from a ‘blue’ sequence painting by Chris Ofili.

Figures

Figure 1: Mark CREAN. 2020. St Mary’s, Iffley, taken with an old Canon compact camera and the jpeg converted to black and white in Silver Efex. Collection of the author.
Figure 2: Mark CREAN. 2020. St Mary’s, Iffley, This image was made by converting Fig. 1 above using Photoshop warp and paint filters and then applying a split tone using colours taken from a ‘blue’ sequence painting by Chris Ofili. Collection of the author.
Figure 3. Mark CREAN. 2020. The Thames at Iffley – accidental image ghosting caused by moving the camera during a long exposure. This image was made with my regular Olympus camera. Collection of the author.
Figure 4. Mark CREAN. 2020. The Thames at Iffley. This image was made by applying a Photoshop mosaic filter to Fig. 3 above, using colours taken from a ‘blue’ sequence painting by Chris Ofili. Collection of the author.
Figure 5. Mark CREAN. 2020. The Thames at Iffley. This image was made by converting Fig. 3 above into a (digital) cyanotype using Photoshop. Collection of the author.
Figure 6. Mark CREAN. 2020. The Thames at Iffley. This image was made by converting Fig. 3 above into a split tone using Photoshop. The key colours are taken from a ‘blue’ sequence painting by Chris Ofili. Collection of the author.

PHO703 Week 4: Post-photography

‘Post-photography’ is a huge and difficult topic that I am not sure I understand at all. My impression is that the baseline is Vilém Flusser’s definition of the photograph:

‘It is an image created and distributed automatically by programmed apparatuses in the course of a game necessarily based on chance, an image of a magic state of thinking whose symbols inform its receivers how to act in an improbable fashion’ (Flusser 2000: 76).

The photographic apparatus is therefore a dumb box that can only produce what it is programmed to produce. However, it is very easy for us then to mistake the output of the box as ‘real’ vision in some way, as if the box showed what we actually see. Soon, this can take on a much wider and unconscious cultural dimension as we automatically assume  – on a society-wide scale – that what the box shows is both how we see and what was there (an indexical relationship). Perhaps this is behind the expression ‘It looks just like a photograph’. We have learned how to read the codes, so to speak, and no longer even realize that what we are reading is a code and not reality itself. Much of Cindy Sherman’s work depends on this almost automatic misunderstanding, for example.

As Flusser and many others have pointed out, however, this is a trap. We have confined ourselves to a machine-made universe. Human vision is a much more complex affair (see Elkins 1997) and in any case we do not really see – we experience. Vision is just one part of the entire gestalt by which we experience the world. This involves all our senses and our mind. Furthermore, the traditional photograph is a fantasy to begin with. It is a two-dimensional object that depends on human imagination to create the missing third dimension and the gestalt of actually being there.

These problems innate to photography have long been known and are neatly summed up by Hans Belting: ‘Every technique looks old when its motives look old. Photography no longer shows us what the world is like, but what the world was like at a time when people still believed that they could possess it in the photograph’ (Belting 2014: 146).

The  core question has always remained the same, however: how to escape the trap of believing that what the apparatus reveals is real or true (indexical). In Flusser’s words: ‘Freedom is the strategy of making chance and necessity subordinate to human intention. Freedom is playing against the camera’ (Flusser 2000: 80).

Most of the artists I have looked at so far have taken three broad approaches to springing the trap. The first is to remove the photograph’s traditional (and indexical) relationship with place. This can be seen in the practice of Dafna Talmor who photographs real places but then slices up and recombines her negatives to created entirely new and imaginary places or ‘Constructed Landscapes’ (Talmor 2020).

The second approach is to remove the photograph’s relationship with time. This would seem to be a rejection of the ‘decisive moment’ doctrine, by which the image is fixed for all time at a single moment. But this imprisoning slice of time can be evaded if we are encouraged to apprehend the image presented to us right now, not as we imagine it might have been when it was made perhaps decades ago (or even hundreds of years ago in the case of a painting). Jorma Puranen and Brendan Fowler have both made use of this approach, combining images made at different times, among the many artists discussed by Robert Shore (Shore 2014). Every time we see an image in the present moment we are seeing a new image.

Robert Frank was well aware of the trap of time – that if his early work was fixed forever then his growth as an artist was stymied. He spent much of his career evading it. Thus some of his later work is about our meeting an image originally made long ago as, now, an object-image that has become part of something else (see Frank’s ‘Mabou’ of 1977). The process is well described by Hans Belting (Belting 2014: 164-8). Another approach to time is evident in the practice of Jeff Wall. Because they are entirely fictional, his tableaux allow him to combine the past, present and future of an event in a single image – as in his ‘Eviction Struggle’ of 1988.

The third approach is to encourage us to look at rather than through the image, so that texture and physicality are as much as part of the image as what it purports to show. The sheer physicality of the image interrupts our fantasies of what it might reveal and returns us to the fact of what it is. This might take the form of combining photographic images with sculptures or paintings, or simply of taking an image or parts of it and presenting it as something else according to the codes of another medium. This is largely the approach of Hockney in his playful (and wonderful) collages, or of some of Gerhard Richter’s work, or of several of the artists discussed by Robert Shore (Shore 2014) and Geoffrey Batchen (Batchen 2001).

In practice, artists often use all these methods (and no doubt many others) in combination. They reflect the now very porous boundaries between photography and other art forms as well as a general retreat from what Batchen calls the photograph’s ‘truth effect’ (Batchen 2001: 109). The point is, all are interventions to avoid Flusser’s trap: the machine-made universe.

Post-photography offers myriad exciting possibilities – we have not even got to digital manipulation yet. However, I have no real idea how these possibilities may affect my practice. I only know that they will. Normally, I need to allow an idea time and space to form and reform in my unconscious, until I feel that I really understand something. What I have to feel is that trying something different will result in a new and more expressive image, rather than an inferior one. Simply chopping up old images is not a positive – put like that. It is defacement for no obvious gain. What I need to do is allow these ideas to work on me for long enough for the positive to emerge. I am sure it will.

References

BATCHEN, Geoffrey. 2001. Each Wild Idea : Writing, Photography, History. Cambridge, M.A.: MIT Press, 108-127

BELTING, Hans and Thomas DUNLAP. 2014. An Anthropology of Images : Picture, Medium, Body. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

ELKINS, James. 1997. The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.

FLUSSER, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion, 76–82.

SHORE, Robert. 2014. ‘Post-photography: the Artist with a Camera’. In Robert SHORE (ed.). Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. London: Laurence King, 176–223.

TALMOR, Dafna. 2020. ‘Home’. Dafna Talmor [online]. Available at: http://www.dafnatalmor.co.uk/ [accessed 29 Jun 2020].

 

PHO703 Week 3: Zines

My part in the Great Zine Challenge was a collaboration with Mike and Marcel on the theme of objects found on the ground – lost, discarded, forgotten, whatever. First we went out and made some photographs. Then in online meetings we chose six images each, in square format, and agreed a page size, rough layouts and a running order of images. We then each produced our own version at home with our own twist to the basic scheme. I have called my version Foundlings.

If anyone is interested, a pdf of the full zine is here:

PHO703-Week3-zine

Below are a couple of images of the printed result and the assembly stage:

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Fig. 1: Mark Crean 2020. An accordion fold zine (A5 landscape format) by Mike, Marcel and Mark.
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Fig. 2: Mark Crean 2020. Printed and the pages cut to size, the zine is now ready for assembly into accordion folds.

I thank my team mates for a very enjoyable project!

Figures

Figure 1: Mark CREAN 2020. An accordion fold zine (A5 landscape format) by Mike, Marcel and Mark. Collection of the author.
Figure 2. Mark CREAN. 2020. Printed and the pages cut to size, the zine is now ready for assembly into accordion folds. Collection of the author.

PHO703 Week 3: Strategies of Sharing

I do understand that collaboration and participation are where many forms of art are now located, particularly new and cutting edge ideas. In some ways perhaps much of this derives from the artists’ manifestos of the last century whether Dada, Futurist or Situationist.

In the words of the Situationist Manifesto of 1960; ‘Against the spectacle, the realized situationist culture introduces total participation. … Against preserved art, it is the organization of the directly lived moment. … Against particularized art, it will be a global practice with a bearing, each moment, on all the usable elements. … Against unilateral art, situationist culture will be an art of dialogue, an art of interaction’ (Debord 1960).

This is heady stuff. However, I don’t think that what I am doing is particularly suited to it, so for now I will probably have to confine myself to what Ansel Adams reputedly observed: ‘There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.’

My project Hometown Nights involves photography after dark. Currently, I am intentionally making photographs of spaces without people. The reason is that when someone is in the photograph, its whole meaning changes and stories kick off. That is fine, of course, but it is not what I am trying to do at the moment which among other things is to suggest presence by absence (in respect of other people).

I have no plans to change my approach for the time being. I enjoy the evening solitude and would find other people a distraction. I do not think that urban night photography (in the way I am currently approaching it) is a good project for a collaborative, participatory or collectivist approach. Plenty of other subjects would work really well for this but in my case I think it would be a mistake.

What this week’s activities have caused me to reconsider most is the forms the output of my work might take. Here, more collaboration would be of benefit.

As I said in a previous post, the output of my work could change from a conventional fine arts photography book into a number of other things in addition to or instead of that. All of them would involve a greater degree of collaboration. These might include an exhibition (though cost might be an impediment where I live), zines, online collaborations on photography sites like Flickr and Instagram, photography walks, tutorials online and no doubt much besides.

I could also look at using for inspiration some classic night-time photographs, or paintings, much in the manner of Tom Hunter or from a more conceptual approach Jeff Wall. Some of Chris Ofili’s ‘blue period’ works come to mind too (Tate 2014, for example). Remixing is a form of collaboration. This would be very interesting and likely great fun as well as challenging. There are some pitfalls to be careful of when talking of sources of inspiration, however, such as clumsy appropriation or simply just channelling (in effect, copying) someone’s else’s work without being fully aware of it, so I am sure this is not as easy as it sounds.

References:

DEBORD, Guy. 1960. Situationist Manifesto. In Alex DANCHEV (ed.). 2011. 100 Artists’ Manifestos. London: Penguin, 357-60.

OFILI, Chris. 2014. ‘Blue Devils’. TATE [online]. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/ofili-blue-devils-t14031 [accessed 20 Jun 2020].

PHO703 Week 3: Collaboration or Participation?

This is what has struck me so far about collaboration or participation. But why confine oneself to just one term when there might be more enjoyment in having both? The great thing about collaboration is that one can just get down and do it instead of talking about it.

In order to avoid a long post, I will cover how I think the subject affects my own practice in a second post.

An example of collaboration (and also of participation) is an exhibition held last year here in Oxford at the Old Fire Station arts centre (Arts at the Old Fire Station 2019). It was called ICON and involved a professional photographer, Rory Carnegie, and a group of clients from Crisis Skylight Oxford (a charity which works with those facing homelessness and with people having a tough time). The aim was to recreate some of the most famous photographs of the past few decades using the clients as cast, crew and collaborators. The photographer was really just another member of the crew.

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Fig. 1: Rory Carnegie 2019. World Cup with Gavin, Doug, Wayne, Emma, Nick, Ryszard, Demelza, Anthony, George and Mark | after ‘England Victory, Wembley’, 1966.

I think this is a good example of collaboration, mainly, but also participation. There was an agreed shared aim around a defined project. Those who took part did so as fully equal members, i.e. they collaborated to create the whole project. And they were also participants in individual images, standing in as performers for the subjects in the original image. In this sense they were rather like the participants in Gillian Wearing’s Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say of 1992-3 (Wearing 2020).

The whole project strikes me as a development of the practice of Anthony Luvera (Luvera 2020), but this time a project with a more formal organisation and more people.

The result was a great success. All the details can be seen at the URL I have referenced. This includes an Exhibition Guide, which is really about the development and methodology of the project. There is also an Evaluation Report, a really useful document and an idea well worth keeping in mind as a way not only of monitoring results but improving methods and avoiding pitfalls the next time round.

A second example: I am a member of Oxford Photographers, a group of photographers local to Oxford (Oxford Photographers 2020). We could be described as a collective, because we share a common aim (the promotion and enjoyment of photography in and around Oxford). We hold regular meetings in venues, go on photowalks and the like. We all go along as participants. From time to time we collaborate on specific projects, usually exhibitions, in which everyone helps to formulate the project aims and takes part on an equal basis.  We also cooperate, sometimes in smaller groups, by pooling resources either without a shared objective (it could just be borrowing kit) or if the objective is shared then each participant approaches it independently in their own way and not under the single umbrella of a collaboration.

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Fig. 2: Oxford Photographers 2020. Exhibition Poster.

In practice I think a lot of these terms are pretty fluid and change as time and culture change. My references for the foregoing would be Maria Lind (Lind 2007), Ariella Azoulay (Azoulay 2016) and TATE Art Terms (TATE 2020). Interestingly, TATE Art Terms does not have an entry for collaboration. This suggests that the focus now seems to be more on process and outcomes, in terms the TATE does acknowledge such as Community Art, Social Turn, Socially Engaged Practice, Participatory Art, Activist Art and Relational Aesethetics. These ideas can overlap, too, especially in really large-scale projects which involve the coming together of many different people and organisations such as Deller’s Battle of Orgreave (Mellor 2011). The result is a much wider and more accommodating view of what we think Art is.

References

ARTS AT THE OLD FIRE STATION. 2019. ‘ICON: Arts at the Old Fire Station’. Exhibition [online]. Available at: https://oldfirestation.org.uk/project/icon/ [accessed 17 Jun 2020].

AZOULAY, Ariella. 2016. ‘Photography Consists of Collaboration: Susan Meiselas, Wendy Ewald, and Ariella Azoulay’. Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 31(1 91), [online], 187–201. Available at: http://cameraobscura.dukejournals.org.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/content/31/1_91/187.full.pdf+html [accessed 17 Jun 2020].

LIND, Maria. 2007. ‘The Collaborative Turn’. In Johanna BILLING, Maria LIND, and Lars NILSSON (eds.). Taking the Matter into Common Hands: On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices. London: Black Dog, 15–31.

LUVERA, Anthony. 2020. ‘Anthony Luvera – Artist, Writer, Educator’. [online]. Available at: http://www.luvera.com/ [accessed 18 Jun 2020].

MELLOR, David Alan. 2011. ‘Jeremy Deller Interviewed by David Alan Mellor’. Photoworks (17), 14–17 [online]. Available at: https://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&amp [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

OXFORD PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2020. ‘Oxford Photographers: A Group of Photographers Based in Oxfordshire’. [online]. Available at: https://oxfordphotographers.org/ [accessed 15 Apr 2020].

WEARING, Gillian. 2020. ‘”I’m Desperate”’. TATE [online]. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wearing-im-desperate-p78348 [accessed 17 Jun 2020].

TATE. 2020. ‘Art Terms’. [online]. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms [accessed 18 Jun 2020].

Figures

Figure 1: Rory CARNEGIE. 2019. World Cup with Gavin, Doug, Wayne, Emma, Nick, Ryszard, Demelza, Anthony, George and Mark | after ‘England Victory, Wembley’, 1966. From: Arts at the Old Fire Station. 2019. ‘ICON: Arts at the Old Fire Station’. Exhibition [online]. Available at: https://oldfirestation.org.uk/project/icon/ [accessed 17 Jun 2020].
Figure 2. OXFORD PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2020. Exhibition Poster. Collection of the author.

PHO703 Week 2: Strategies of Mediation

The best overall reference to mediation have found is Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation : Understanding New Media (Bolter and Grusin 2000). This sets out the ground and describes some of the basic terms.

Questions this subject raises for me are these:

What is and what is not a ‘photograph’? Can any photograph any longer said to be transparent and immediate? For Barthes, this was key to the photograph’s power: ‘More than other arts, Photography offers an immediate presence to the world’ (Barthes 2000: 84). However, as Bolter and Grusin point out, ‘Although Barthes does not discuss digital photography, clearly any reworked photograph can no longer enjoy this simple and powerful relationship to the past. It becomes instead an image of a second order, a comment on a photograph or on photography itself, and therefore a representation of the desire for immediacy’ (Bolter and Grusin 2000: 110).

Is any photograph (or any other work of art) ever finished? Appropriation and remixing by later artists gives almost any work or idea an indefinite life. Perhaps we are really dealing here not with images but with symbols that migrate across media over time: ‘the “content” of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph’ (McLuhan 1964: 23-24).

Are appropriation and remixing really ways of accommodating – and understanding – the past in the present? Time is essentially a mystery to us. ‘Appropriation then is about performing the unresolved by staging object, images or allegories that invoke the ghosts of unclosed histories in a way that allows them to appear as ghosts and reveal the nature of the ambiguous presence’ (Verwoert 2007: 7). The ambiguous presence of the past is very much what Tacita Dean seems to be expressing in Floh.

Can one any longer say there exists an ‘author’ of any work, and if there exists no author then can anything be said to original?  ‘ … it can be argued that in the contemporary world innovation is possible only within the framework of a practice of remix … Remix culture can therefore be seen as the final destination of that process of disintegration of the modernist myth of originality … It is therefore only in the remix culture that the originality, in its literal sense of something that exists from the beginning or something that is not copied or imitated, finally dies’ (Campanelli 2017: 77-78).

These ideas are something of a Wow! to take in all at once in one’s practice. So this is currently where I am:

Appropriation strikes me as a normal part of human history. There are ethical concerns around it and there are also copyright laws. The important thing for an artist, however, is to bring it off with some imagination and pizzazz.

The remixing I most enjoy is by artists such as Tom Hunter, Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson. I will single out here Tom Hunter’s series Persons Unknown, after Vermeer, a superb reinterpretation of another artist’s vision (Hunter 2020). It captures not only the aesthetic qualities of light but also Vermeer’s domestic settings, while adding some real social bite about equality in a society obsessed with private property. It is also a carefully considered work, as Hunter’s own essay on the project’s development shows (Hunter 2011).

tom hunter woman reading a possession order
Fig. 1: Tom Hunter 2011. Woman Reading a Possession Order.

Does it matter if everything has already been photographed? Not really, because nearly everything has not yet been photographed by me. That is all I worry about.

Am I doomed to the unoriginal unless I remix my work? I think that is the wrong question. I am not in this to be original but for self-expression. The challenge therefore is to find a mode of self-expression as free as possible of unconscious biases and repetitions. This is a Jungian project, in fact, to uncover and integrate the shadow (Hollis 2010). The result manifests in images.

Do I need to be the author of my own photographs, in the modernist sense of sole fabricator (and Romantic hero)? Yes, because the act of making a photograph is an intentional act, following Szarkowski’s ‘five things’ (Szarkowski 1980) or Berger’s view that ‘A photograph is a result of the photographer’s decision that it is worth recording that this particular event or this particular object has been seen’ (Trachtenberg 1980: 292).

Do I plan to remix images in my own project in the sense of combining images into collages or composites? No, I do not plan to do this.

Do I plan to remix images by acknowledging or appropriating some of the masterworks from the photographic canon? Yes, I am very open to this if I can find a way that is playful, original and relevant to contemporary concerns. I do not know how to do this at the present moment, but it is an important idea I would like to keep in mind. Likely it would not be difficult to re-stage of some the classic night-time shots of Brandt or Brassaï, for example even though, right now, my intent is different, concentrating on the unpeopled and uncanny.

Can I remix the outcome of my practice by presenting it as more than, say, a conventional fine art photography book? Yes, very much so. For example, I could collaborate with a writer as David George has done (Falconer and George 2015), or with a film-maker or any other artist. I could open an online gallery (and Instagram account) in which my images are only the starter for similar work by many others. The result would be a wider collaboration on night photography and probably much the stronger for it. This might be more of a proposition for a gallery curator than just one person’s work. And I can present my work in many different ways, for example through zines, postcards or videos on YouTube. I could even make it didactic, for example offering an online tutorial course on night photography skills using my images as the starting point.

The greatest remixes of all, I think, are Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures know as the ‘Prisoners’ or ‘Slaves’. The reason is that in order to free these forms from their imprisoning blocks, the viewer must remix what is seen purely as an act of his or her imagination. No viewer will ever free the prisoners in the same way. Ultimately, therefore, remixing is an act of imagination. It is all in the mind.

References

BARTHES, Roland. 2000. Camera Lucida : Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage.

BOLTER, J David and Richard A GRUSIN. 2000. Remediation : Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Massachusetts : MIT Press.

CAMPANELLI, Vito. 2017. ‘Toward a Remix Culture: An Existential Perspective’. In Eduardo NAVAS, Owen GALLAGHER, and Xtine BURROUGH (eds.). The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies. New York: Routledge, 68–82.

FALCONER, Karen and David GEORGE. 2015. Hackney by Night. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

HOLLIS, James. 2010. What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life. Reprint ed. New York: J. P. Tarcher/Penguin Putnam.

HUNTER, Tom. 2020. ‘Persons Unknown’. Tom Hunter [online]. Available at: http://www.tomhunter.org/persons-unknown/ [accessed 21 Jun 2020].

HUNTER, Tom. 2011. ‘Under the Influence’. Tom Hunter [online]. Available at: http://www.tomhunter.org/essay-under-the-influence/ [accessed 21 Jun 2020].

MCLUHAN, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media : The Extensions of Man. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

SZARKOWSKI, John. 1980. ‘Introduction [IN] The Photographer’s Eye’. In John SZARKOWSKI (ed.). The Photographer’s Eye. London: Secker and Warburg, 6–11.

TRACHTENBERG, Alan. 1980. Classic Essays on Photography. New Haven, Conn: Leete’s Island Books.

VERWOERT, Jan. 2007. ‘Apropos Appropriation: Why Stealing Images Today Feels Different’. Art & Research 1(2), [online]. Available at: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/verwoert.html [accessed 14 Jun 2020]

Figures

Figure 1. Tom HUNTER. 2011. Woman Reading a Possession Order. From: Tom Hunter. 2020. ‘Persons Unknown’. Tom Hunter [online]. Available at: http://www.tomhunter.org/persons-unknown/ [accessed 21 Jun 2020].

PHO703 Week 2: Mediation I

The activity for this week is to look at a remix or repurpose of some of my existing images. I have taken a different approach because I do not much care for remixing my images in any substantial way (I exclude simple things like crops or colour changes), though if others wish to they are welcome to. If I make a photograph of, for example, a wolf, I am also trying to respect a beautiful and dignified animal. My concern is that in the process of remixing, I will disrespect both those qualities. Changing one of my images from colour to monochrome, for example, is too quotidian to me to count as a remix and simply not very interesting.

My approach, therefore, has been to search through Google for everything associated with the word ‘Jericho’. Jericho is a district of Oxford I photographed during the last module. It is also, as Google reveals, the name of just about anything else one can think of: places from Ibadan to India, New Jersey to New Zealand, beers, rock bands, wrestlers, charities, hotels, tourist destinations, restaurants, books, firearms, films, antiquities, posters – the list goes on. Somewhere in all this there is the original place in the Middle East called Jericho, as in the Bible, but even that has vanished under a flood of other things. So, what, at the end of the day, is Jericho? Photographically, I suspect it is only a label without a meaning. Any meaning arises from the act of curation and re-assembly of a set of labels. So, while I am not remixing by combining images in Photoshop, I am remixing by changing and combining meanings and contexts. There is an element here of found photography placed out of context, as in Sultan and Mandel’s Evidence of 1977 (Sultan and Mandel 2003)

So I have put together a mash-up (assembled below as a pdf), including some of my own images, of what I discovered. All these images directly involve the name ‘Jericho’. I am not Tacita Dean (Dean and Ridgewell 2001), though I suppose like Dean I have been curating the (online) flea markets, and I make no claims to art or even to accuracy (this is Google, after all). The result is simply what happened.

Below is a link to a pdf:

PHO703-Week2-jericho

References

DEAN, Tacita and Martyn RIDGEWELL. 2001. Floh. Göttingen: Steidl.

SULTAN, Larry, Mike MANDEL and Sandra S PHILLIPS. 2003. Evidence. New ed. New York, NY: D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers.

PHO703 Week 1: Repeat Photography and Rephotography

What has emerged for me from this week’s topics of repeat photography and rephotography:

First, context is all. Without a powerful context or story line repeat photography – in the crude sense of then and now – does not strike me as very interesting. I am not sure it has really caught on. The Flickr Group ‘Looking into the Past’ cited by Jason Kalin (Kalin 2013: 172) has been moribund since 2016 and on Instagram the hashtag #rephotography has just 12,600 iterations.

The matter is very different with a context or story, however. Recently, before-and-after Covid-19 lockdown pictures of Venice or of smog-free views of the Himalayas from India have been hugely popular. Such images offer a visual record of a big and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime change.

Similarly effective was Now and Then, an exhibition of repeat photography by Daniel Meadows at the Bodleian Library last year in which portraits from the 1970s were shown next to re-photographs of the sitters two or three decades later (Crean 2019; Meadows 2019). The exhibition included audio recordings of the sitters describing their lives in deprived areas of northern England, and there were plenty of captions and background material including a talk and discussion with Meadows himself. In other words, this was not just the basic ‘then and now’ but a view into a story and into the lives of others.

Another recent exhibition, Shot in Soho, at the Photographers’ Gallery in London featured various photographers and their interpretations of the Soho area over the decades (Rodriguez 2019). The crucial distinction here is that each photographer offered a very clear story. A simple collection of images would not have been nearly so effective. Again, we were drawn into individual lives through the stories the photographers chose to tell.

Two more points I have picked up from this week.

First, I very much warm to the idea of repeat photography as a form of mnemonics, ‘a social practice for remembering, a particular orientation to memory, and thus a way of being in the world. Rephotography, rather than a representation of memory, suggests a practice of actively constructing and inhabiting memories and their times and places while also incorporating them into the present as active forces’ (Kalin 2013). This is very relevant because it is close to my current practice of urban photography.

Second is the perhaps unexpected conclusion that Mark Klett found emerging from his practice of rephotographing the landscapes of the early American Survey photographers such as Timothy O’Sullivan (Klett 2011). What emerged was that all subsequent photographers no matter how apparently different – whether Ansel Adams or Robert Adams – had employed the same world view without realising it. They had all seen nature and man as distinct and in opposition – there is the pristine wilderness and then man despoils it – but in reality they are not distinct. Man and nature are part of the same whole, a view instinctively understood by native peoples all over the world.

So, repeat photography can have some cultural surprises hiding inside it. Another good example is the history of Afghanistan drawn out by Simon Norfolk (Norfolk 2020) and his search for the photographic locations used by the nineteenth-century photographer John Burke: war after futile war, all driven by the almost exactly the same imperial delusions and all failing in almost exactly the same way. The images – both Norfolk’s and Burke’s – tell the story together, but just one or the other alone would not.

Distinct from repeat photography is rephotography, meaning the reinterpretation, re-creation or re-staging of the past. This strikes me as very different and much more creative and interesting. I do not have any particular thoughts about it right now but perhaps I will return to the subject. I liked the interview with Jeremy Deller (Mellor 2011), however, and this set me thinking about the place of rephotography in the practices of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson, artists I really like – so I have plenty of interesting connections to follow up.

The overall connection which emerges from the whole week, however, is one word: collaboration.

References

CREAN, Mark. 2019. ‘Predator or Collaborator?’. Critical Research Journal [online]. Available at: https://markcrean.photography/index.php/2019/10/19/predator-or-collaborator/ [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

KALIN, Jason. 2013. ‘Remembering with Rephotography: A Social Practice for the Inventions of Memories’. Visual Communication Quarterly 20(3), 168–79 [online]. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&amp. [accessed 04 June 2020].

KLETT, Mark. 2011. ‘Repeat Photography in Landscape Research’. In Eric MARGOLIS and L. PAUWELS (eds.). The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods. Los Angeles, Calif: SAGE, 114–31.

MEADOWS, Daniel. 2019. ‘Daniel Meadows: Now and Then’. Bodleian Libraries [online]. Available at: https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/display/daniel-meadows [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

MELLOR, David Alan. 2011. ‘Jeremy Deller Interviewed by David Alan Mellor’. Photoworks (17), 14–17 [online]. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&amp. [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

NORFOLK, Simon. 2020. ‘BURKE + NORFOLK’. Simon Norfolk [online]. Available at: https://www.simonnorfolk.com/burke-norfolk [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

RODRIGUEZ, Julian and Karen McQUAID. 2019. ‘Shot In Soho’. The Photographers’ Gallery [online]. Available at: https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/shot-soho [accessed 11 Jun 2020].