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 Week 8: Online Exhibitions

While we are still in lockdown I have been experimenting with an online 3D exhibition using a system developed by Kunstmatrix in Germany (Kunstmatrix 2021). They call it ‘Augmented Reality’.

This is an experiment, so in order to become familiar with their system I have assembled some images from my previous main project Silent City, a walk through my hometown of Oxford after dark (Crean 2021). The virtual gallery space and setting it up works quite well but as always with these matters the key is publicity and getting people in through the virtual ‘door’. I will try various methods over the next few weeks and monitor the results. If they are favourable, then I will know that I have a potential outlet for my Final Major Project.

Below is an embedded version of the exhibition. Click on it to be taken to the full site. You can wander round using a mouse (or finger) or the arrow keys on your keyboard, but in practice I have found that taking the guided tour is likely the easiest way for a first visit.

The Kunstmatrix system looks to be in fairly early days. Plenty of other artists and organizations have mounted exhibitions on the platform but there are a few rough edges and the help files are brief. I would hope that the owners are encouraged by enough popularity to take their platform further. The pandemic has spurred much more interest in these possibilities while bricks-and-mortar spaces are off limits.

References

CREAN, Mark. 2021. ‘Silent City – 3D Virtual Exhibition’. KUNSTMATRIX [online]. Available at: https://artspaces.kunstmatrix.com/en/exhibition/5199174/silent-city [accessed 17 Mar 2021].

KUNSTMATRIX. 2021. ‘Organize and Present Your Art Online’. KUNSTMATRIX [online]. Available at: https://www.kunstmatrix.com/en [accessed 7 Mar 2021].

 

 

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 4: Output and Audience

Writing up my Final Major Project ProposaI for Entropias has made me think more carefully about how I could publish my project and connect with an audience. At the moment I am thinking of these:

Photobook
A photobook, perhaps 10” x 8” or so in portrait format. The staff of Self Publish, Be Happy said at a workshop last year that a regular size in portrait format is a good and popular one, easy to sell and not too costly to produce (Self Publish, Be Happy 2020). They considered it superior to a landscape-format book. Looking at the lists of companies like Hoxton Mini-Press or Setanta, I agree.

A likely printer is ExWhyZed. I had not heard of them until the estimable Sean Tucker said that ExWhyZed are the printer he uses (Tucker 2021). Certainly their website and other work seem pretty good. I will need to research this complex field properly but I can put ExWhyZed towards the top of a provisional list.

Cost is a dominant factor here, and as former career book publisher I know than ‘vanity publishing’ is a huge trap and one to be very careful of. I do not want to go there and suspect that if the whole thing becomes a cash-fuelled ego-trip then the quality of the final book will suffer a lot. I am thinking of only a very short initial print run, although I should be able to place a few copies in local bookshops such as Blackwells in Oxford.

A Video
YouTube/Vimeo: video- and sound-scapes overlaid with still images. I am attracted to this format because it takes still images into a more fluid audio-visual and experimental field. It is also a way of avoiding the traditional static website whose day is waning, I suspect. The action now is on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo and others. The idea is not mine but comes from an essay by Grant Scott, ‘What is the Future for the Photographic Exhibition?’ (Scott 2020). The pandemic has made people start to think far beyond simply replicating a formal gallery show as a static gallery on a website. Instead, why not turn the experience into a film?

The reach of sites like YouTube and Instagram is truly vast, so with careful marketing it is possible that a ‘show’ on these platforms will attract more visitors than a static website could manage.

A Website with an Online Gallery
This is the traditional default option. I don’t think this format is particularly interesting or original but it is likely necessary as a project anchor. Other formats can refer back to the website which can provide contact details, an artist’s statement, online sales, a fuller portfolio and so on. A website, if well made, is a way of demonstrating professionalism and bona fides. The trick is to structure it so that it looks fresh and interesting but does not require frequent updating (updates being on one’s image stream on Instagram and other platforms).

A Conventional Gallery Exhibition
This would be lovely but for now this is more likely in 2022 than in 2021. I suspect the pandemic will have to be well and truly over for a full range of venues to unlock and visitors to start appearing.

There is a fairly difficult cost factor here, at least for me. Venues in Oxford are few and normally costly, long a bugbear for all local photographers, and quality prints and frames are costly too. It is possible that a joint exhibition will be more feasible. Again, I am just not very interested in an ego-trip and I am sceptical of the cost-benefit effect of a solo exhibition.

Oxfordshire Artweeks 2021
I can show my work in progress during Oxfordshire Artweeks in May 2021, albeit the festival this year is online. For several years now I have done this jointly with the local cooperative I belong to, Oxford Photographers. In 2022 we will very probably be able to return to a proper venue and a much more ambitious exhibition.

Marketing Campaign
Easy to leave out but I think this part is very important. I need to list goals, appropriate media to approach (locally and nationally) and costs, and then form a plan of action and budget in order to publicize my project. If left until the last minute the result would be haphazard and ineffective, so an early start is important. Besides, some media have long lead times.

A part of this will be entering my images in open calls, competitions and so forth. This will build confidence, put my project around a bit and generally establish myself. If I can say I have been doing this then I will look more credible to editors and commissioners.

Local Business
There is the possibility of persuading local businesses to offer my work (for example, Manor Farm at Hampton Gay and Willowbrook Farm run online shops and both are on my patch).

Social Media
I would use social media – Instagram, Facebook, Flickr – as a feeder and marketing tool for all of the above.

Cards, Gifts and Print Sales
I enjoy being openly commercial. I think it is an important discipline. I will look at photocards and similar gift items which could have a sale in local shops and in bookshops such as Blackwells in Oxford. I will also look at product applications such as printed cushion covers, T-shirts, mugs and so forth. Print sales can be offered from a website. One contender here is an online shop on Society6.

I would not do most of this under my own name but under the branding of White Bridge Arts (I have registered the domain name). I think it is perfectly possible to keep a more formal Fine Arts practice separate from a commercial one providing one keeps the ‘brands’ distinct and resists the temptation to mix things up.

References

SCOTT, Grant. 2020. ‘What Is the Future for the Photographic Exhibition?’ The United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2020/10/03/what-is-the-future-for-the-photographic-exhibition/ [accessed 14 Nov 2020].

SELF PUBLISH, BE HAPPY. 2020. ‘Education – SPBH Editions’. Self Publish, Be Happy [online]. Available at: https://shop.selfpublishbehappy.com/collections/education [accessed 4 Dec 2020].

TUCKER, Sean. 2021. ‘How I Self-Publish My Photography Zines/Books (Printing, Selling, Sequencing and Design)’. YouTube video [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDV5QjbDuNA [accessed 17 Jan 2021].

 

PHO705 Week 3: Work in Progress

I have been progessing my new project Entropias. At the moment, much of this consists of simply walking the land and gradually taking it in. I need a feel for what I am doing, intellectually, emotionally and creatively. Thus to a degree I am making images I am not sure of and I don’t exactly know where this may lead. However, at this stage I think I need to follow my gut instinct and see what my subconscious is trying to tell me. Themes will emerge from the portfolio, I believe, if I resist the impulse to control outcomes and let things go, at least for now.

What I am trying to keep in mind when I raise the camera is the way in which photography itself introduces themes and complexities to the image. I am not making postcards or snapshots but trying for a richer and more complex story. Among the ideas the act of photography introduces are these:

  • ‘Landscape photography’ exists only as a concept, a cultural artefact.
  • Photography is an act of seeing that in itself alters our relationship to nature and our ideas of what ‘nature’ actually means (see the superb Natural Order,  Burtynsky 2020).
  • Photography alters our experience through visual and temporal manipulations (whether the that-has-been of Barthes or the rephotography of Mark Klett).
  • A man-made landscape is a place that cannot be politically neutral, an image of it thus also being a political statement (Bright 1992).
  • The photographer is part of the story and in the landscape. Ecological concerns are now too pressing to indulge the fantasy of the photographer as an objective observer who merely records and reports (see Monsanto, Asselin 2021).
  • Photography involves a complex relationship between truth and the photographer’s ‘For me, what makes photography such an exciting and troubling artform in general is the deception and tension hard-wired into it, the difficulty of defining its slippery relationship to truth’ (Gregory Halpern, in Bourgeios-Vignon 2018).

I am also reading Todd Hido on landscape photography (Hido 2014) and he adds yet more ideas to the mix. I think I need to write down the most relevant ideas and keep them in my pocket as a reference when I go out to shoot. They are all ways of encouraging me to pause and consider why I am choosing to make a particular image. Without that, there is really no intent at all.

Figs 1-8: Mark Crean 2020. Entropias. Various images of work in progress from around the land on my patch. Click on an image for a larger, lightbox view.

References

ASSELIN, Mathieu. 2021. ‘Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation’. Mathieu Asselin [online]. Available at: https://www.mathieuasselin.com/monsanto [accessed 2 Feb 2021].

BOURGEOIS-VIGNON, Anne. 2018. ‘Power and the Camera: Gregory Halpern Talks Intuition, Reflection and Representation’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: https://www. magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/gregory-halpern-profile-intuition-representation/ [accessed 26 Oct 2020].

BRIGHT, Deborah. 1992. ‘The Machine in the Garden Revisited: American Environmentalism and Photographic Aesthetics’. Art Journal (New York. 1960) 51(2), 60–71.

BURTYNSKY, Edward. 2020. Natural Order. Göttingen: Steidl.

HIDO, Todd and Greg HALPERN. 2014. Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. New York, N.Y.: Aperture Foundation.

Figures

Figures 1-8. Mark CREAN. 2021. From: Entropias. Work in Progress. Collection of the author.

PHO705 Week 2: Research and Influences

Since my Final Major Project Entropias is a brand-new one I have much research still to do. I plan to break it down as follows:

Methodology
I intend to tell my story by dividing this project into the following subject areas, mainly to allow a shooting schedule that will cover the whole area and its many activities. I will approach land and place as

  • Culture: the picturesque, the patriarchal gaze
  • Liminal, edgeland
  • Disposable, a dumping ground
  • Commodity, agribusiness
  • Workplace
  • Community and ownership
  • Heritage and Tourism
  • Sustainable resource
  • Eerie, weird and poetic places

This division would be a trap if adhered to rigidly. A different methodology will emerge naturally. For example, William Ewing (Ewing 2014) offers as themes Artefacts, Rupture, Playground, Scar, Control, Enigma, Hallucination and Reverie. There are many, more creative typologies than my initial choice.

The History of Land and Place
I will need to study landscape historians and writers such as W. G. Hoskins, Oliver Rackham, John Lewis-Stempel and Robert Macfarlane, and whatever is available from historical records online such as the The Victoria History of the County of Oxford (Page et al 1907) which itemizes my patch in minute detail for a thousand years.

The Land as Art and Culture
Cultural, aesthetic and photographic history from writers such as Simon Schama, David Campany, J. A. P. Alexander, Robert Adams, John Taylor, W. J. T. Mitchell and Liz Wells, and whatever these volumes lead me towards. Growing familiarity with the history of the painting of place will be as important as that of photography.

Photographers
I can only start with those I know and work outwards. This means the practice of photographers such as Robert Adams (and his New Topographics peers), Richard Misrach, Mark Power, Paul Seawright, Nadav Kander, Michael Kenna, Paul Graham, Chrystel Lebas, Mathieu Asselin, Gregory Halpern, Matt Black, Fay Godwin, Edward Burtynksy, Thomas Struth and more.

I have been able to secure new or second-hand copies of books by some of the above and I am now reading them.

References

EWING, William A. 2014. Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photography. London: Thames & Hudson.

PAGE, William, L. F. SALZMAN, H. E. SALTER, M. D. LOBEL, Alan CROSSLEY and Simon TOWNLEY. 1907. The Victoria History of the County of Oxford. London: Archibald Constable: Published for University of London Institute of Historical Research by Oxford University Press. Available at: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/search/series/vch–oxon [accessed: 16 Jan 2021].

PHO705 Week 1: Entropias

I am starting a new project for my FMP. My old project Silent City – Oxford after dark – has served me well for a year but current lockdown restrictions make it impossible to pursue. I will take it up again later when the pandemic has abated, but for now, time for a change.

Entropias is about the impact of man on the land, specifically on the small parcel of nine or ten square miles in Oxfordshire where I live (see Fig. 1 below).

My project is a blend of geography, autobiography and metaphor in the terms used by the photographer Robert Adams (Adams 1981: 14). An analogue would be landscape, longing and desire (Bate 2016: 134).

This area has a long history. The Romano-British built a villa here. All four settlements on my patch were already established agricultural communities at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086. Hampton Gay had a much larger population two hundred years ago than it does today (Page et al 1907: vol. 6, 152–159). Medieval village fields of ridge-and-furrow strips are still in evidence, as is their pasture. Sanfoin, for fodder, was grown here hundreds of years ago. The same fields today are home to an organic, grass-fed beef farm, although many hedgerows date from the enclosures of 1750–1850.

Google Maps Screenshot
Fig. 1: Google Maps 2021. Kidlington, Hampton Poyle, Hampton Gay and Thrupp, Oxfordshire. The area is about three miles across and is bisected by the River Cherwell and (on the left) the Oxford Canal

However, the centuries have come with huge differences all of which mean that the land here is under pressure as never before. The primary causes are the vast growth in human population and in the waste and detritus this produces, the introduction of chemically dependent ‘agribusiness’ farming which depletes the soil and drives out wildlife, invasive pests like ash dieback and Dutch elm diseases, and a sea change in our cultural lenses.

We no longer see land as home and part of a whole of which we are only one element. What we see is a commodity, a consumable, a scene. We are all tourists and consumers now.

The essential contrast and tension here is between the culturally conditioned conceptions about place and nature we all have and the sometimes tough day-to-day reality of lived life in a man-made environment. A good recent example in book form is Small Town Inertia (Mortram 2017), though that is portraiture whereas my focus is environment. It is the difference between what we actually experience and nature as spectacle in an Attenborough TV programme or the ‘Automotive Sublime’ beloved of the advertising industry.

I am at an early, experimental stage with this project and still feeling my way into it. But I am excited!

References

ADAMS, Robert. 1981. Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values. New York, NY: Aperture.

BATE, David. 2016. Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

MORTRAM, J. A. 2017. Small Town Inertia. Liverpool, UK: Bluecoat Press.

PAGE, William, L. F. SALZMAN, H. E. SALTER, M. D. LOBEL, Alan CROSSLEY and Simon TOWNLEY. 1907. The Victoria History of the County of Oxford. London: Archibald Constable: Published for University of London Institute of Historical Research by Oxford University Press. Available at: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/search/series/vch–oxon [accessed: 16 Jan 2021].

Figures

Figure 1. GOOGLE MAPS. 2021. Kidlington, Hampton Poyle, Hampton Gay and Thrupp, Oxfordshire. The area is about three miles across and is bisected by the River Cherwell and (on the left) the Oxford Canal. From: Google Maps. 2021. Avaialble at: https://www.google.co.uk/ maps/@51.836753,-1.2927486,2431m/data=!3m1!1e3 [accessed 16 Jan 2021].