The feedback for Assignment 5 was positive but with the familiar feel that I had not quite gone far enough and there is a need to further refine the whole to finish it off. I knew this when I submitted the final selection of images to my Tutor as I had got to the point with it that I was effectively playing with them while not making any progress forwards.
The main point he raised was concerning the digital threads that I had drawn onto each photograph using Photoshop. He felt that they were crude in comparison to the real threads added to the images as I sewed them into the book.
“My main issue is how you have implemented the thread. The idea to bind and link the series is fine and how this connects to the book makes sense. However, I feel that at the moment the drawn thread has a negative impact upon the final aesthetic. To be honest, it feels a little crude and detracts away from the sentiment of the work. The way that you have applied it doesn’t feel very accomplished, I think it is because it isn’t a real thread, it’s digitally produced.”
I can see his point although on a personal level I think they work and I found that the process engaged me with the image more than leaving them out. But I am willing to try them without the digital threads and will look at adding the binds as a physical thread rather than a digital thread. He elaborated on his reasoning:
“This point is also enforced when combined within your physical book. The book is a nice idea; I like the physicality of it and how you have incorporated the physical thread (although obviously I’m looking at it online). I feel that you need to review and re consider the juxtaposition of the real and digital thread in order to gain the full potential of the series. Maybe, you could consider using real thread rather than the digitally produced thread? I’d suggest more experimenting with the final image.”
The book is also a contention for me for while I like the idea of connecting the images together in one place in a physical location, I felt that I had ‘overdone’ it a bit and I wonder whether the images can be combined together in a better way There is the factor of sewing ties onto the images and pages, and redoing the whole thing but I need to investigate a better way of doing that.
He raised the question of the inclusion of the photographs:
“Another point that I think that you should reflect upon is the inclusion of the archive image from a moral perspective. You have chosen to include an archive image not related to the person whose memorial bench you are depicting. I have no issue with mixing fact and fiction within work; it’s embedded within photographic practice and the history of photographic representation. But, it would be good if you took a little more time to reflect upon this within your critical analysis and evaluation.”
When I first started thinking about the benches and the plaques, I was struck by the fact that these are just names and dates to most people as well as being of people who have been away for a long time. Who were they, where are their families, does anyone remember them, what kind of people were they? Some are for children both young and older so that seems a little more tragic than the ones who passed on at a good age. In building the layers of each image, the flowers and the plaques felt impersonal and more like an extension of the bench already there. It was this that prompted the threads and then a photograph of someone to take the place of the name. Both my parents passed away over the past few years and I am still aware of the feelings of loss and remembrance surrounding the death of a close relative. I wanted to personalise these people, make them real again but because I don’t know them I had to use other photographs. I considered the match carefully based on the name, gender and age so that it was not just a random pairing but carefully considered. I also used photographs from the family archive, which could be seen to reference the exercise earlier in the course when we had to raid the archives and make groupings that may not have been seen before. The old black and white photographs were of my parents and grandparents and friends of my mother. I also chose a photo of the kids my boys grew up from years ago as well as a photo of an old school friend of mine. For me, it tied the past to the present and gave meaning to the names and dates. They were someone’s parent, husband, wife, child or sibling and they were allowed a face to make them relevant. Maybe it was too personal to include my own parents but it felt right to do so at the time. Is it any different to some of the artists that I have looked at who use found or orphan photographs or postcards and blend them together to offer a new meaning to an image? He had pointed me to John Stezaker after Assignment 2. Adding an old photograph fitted with some of the dates and gave it more meaning and personalisation.
I am now ready to take another look at this assignment to see how I can polish it and make it appear completed. This will involve removing the digital ties and reprinting the images so that I can then add physical threads. The final binding may change too to make it cleaner, less cluttered and more streamlined so that the flow of images works better.
Research and Looking at suggested artists:
Research relevant to the subject – Once I had decided on the subject, I found it difficult to find relevant artists who had done anything similar. Chris Coekin advised me to investigate still life painting and photography as well as the idea of vanitas which has a relevance to my assignment. The definition of vanitas: “A still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the worthlessness of worldly good and pleasures. “ Tate Modern version. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/v/vanitas
“Common vanitas symbols include skulls, which are a reminder of the certainty of death; rotten fruit (decay); bubbles (the brevity of life and suddenness of death); smoke, watches, and hourglasses (the brevity of life); and musical instruments (brevity and the ephemeral nature of life).” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanitas
Still life includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on. Still life can be a celebration of material pleasures such as food and wine, or often a warning of the ephemerality of these pleasures and of the brevity of human life (see memento mori). (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/still-life)
I can see the relevance of this but I did not think of it as a depiction of death, it was more the feeling of trying to hang on to a person after they have gone and the memories that they created. The creation of plaques on benches is a way to remind us of someone but I also questioned for how long it can be relevant, fifty years, a hundred years, does anyone alive still know who some of these people are? It is a transitory way of remembering, just as we are transitory so maybe it is Vanitas after all, reminding us that we are here for a fragment of time and then we are gone, possible forgotten.
My tutor suggested looking at the tradition of Dutch and Spanish still life paintings, and I found several articles that link the tradition to the vanitas paintings. This article:
talks about the influence of artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Edward Weston, both from different parts of the 20th century but still influential in doing still life photographs that echo the Dutch masters. I visited the Tillmans exhibition at the Tate Modern last year and saw his wide variety of images, large and small, that could fulfil the description of still life. They were of normal everyday items rather than carefully constructed images, but maybe they were constructed as he took photographs of items such as the parts of a printer. I tend to think that my images are more in this vein as I took several normal things and merged them into one image. The layers each have a meaning on their own but combine to make a different whole.
I had also researched Edward Weston in Assignment 3 when I was considering his images of vegetables as part of the investigation into my bodybuilder project, with an idea of merging vegetables with a posing bodybuilder. The images are clean and simple with strongly contrasting blacks and whites. They are so different to Tillmans’ images yet both are still in the tradition of arranging objects and photographing them. I am nowhere near being in that calibre but it does influence my thinking of objects.
The article states: “Is this how a photographer should approach still life? Should you be looking for metaphysical bananas, or arranging dead butterflies on a table to take an artistic picture of death? Is the still life, as some might say, essentially a vanitas, or emblem of mortality? Should you put a skull beside that array of nice food?” I put decaying flowers beside photographs of memorial plaques on benches and photographs of people then bound them together in an image along with physical ties in the form of sewing threads. It suggests that these images are still life and vanitas as I am pointing to the mortality of a person, and this is all that is left after they are gone as there are no physical remains and they no longer have any possessions. The flowers could be symbols of death although I am not sure that I consciously had this in mind. I did strongly feel that the flowers should decay and be changed in some way as the images progress, from fresh in one to dried and dying in others.
I found this photographer a few years ago while studying another OCA photography course, and was very drawn to the simplicity of the images that she made using flowers that were past their best. In addition, the flowers were from florists so not the usual everyday flowers that we are familiar with. The stark white or black backgrounds contrasted with the colour that still remained in the flower heads,
“Rachel LEVY photographs flowers almost faded. It is a limit state, an in-between, because for the gardener or the florist it is the moment when he has to cut off the stem and to get rid of the flower. The flower just starts to decay, so most people keep it. This moment crystallizes the ongoing metamorphosis. An obvious daintiness emanates from it.
In a way, we are almost facing a photographic herbarium, a collection of floral photos patiently gathered by Rachel LEVY. However, unlike herbariums, pictures became portraits, the plants are humanized thanks to a subtle work of removal. We can note the leaves are always subtracted from the stems, giving the impression the plant is standing. Therefore, Rachel LEVY emphasizes the living being present in each plant.”
These are still life portraits and focus on the flower head as its’ life drains away. There is such a beauty and stillness n the simplicity of the image, that I have in the past tried doing something similar. In some ways, I had this in mind when photographing the flowers to use with the plaques as adding flowers to tributes gives a sense of passing of time, while can remind us of the person that has passed. For example, there were a lot of hydrangea bushes in my parents’ garden and when my mother passed away in the care home, they put one of these flowers in her hand without knowing the significance of it. Every time I see them, they remind me of her.
He also suggests that the images need refining, and I am in agreement. When I submitted them to him, I felt I had gone as far as I could with them at that point and had got to the point of playing with them. There did not appear to be a stopping point when they were ‘finished’. His issue with them revolves mainly around the added digital threads and has suggested reconsidering these, while maybe replacing them with real thread. Part of my thinking behind the digital threads were that they were my input to the images, my way of putting my mark on them and threading them in a way that I was not sure I could in real life. While personally I like them, I can see his point and I am considering redoing the images without the digital thread but attaching real threads. I admit that there is a reluctance because the images need to be reprinted then resewn into the book so I will need to look again at the total presentation of them, something that I knew I would have to revisit. I had got to the stage that I was actually sick of looking at them and going round in circles so a good break from them will have been beneficial.
Another photography student at the OCA looking at setting up still life arrangements, and the discussion on it. An interesting article as I had spent time during other assignments setting up shoots with inanimate objects and it is harder than it looks. For this assignment, i had to shoot photos of the flowers from when they were fresh through to dried out in the sunlight. I ended up using a lot of natural light rather than artificial, mainly because it summer and the light was strong and clear.