Assignment 4 – Tutor Feedback and Reflection

4.KarenAllen

The feedback for Assignment 4 was very encouraging and has given me plenty to think about as I approach the final part of Identity and Place.  The theme of the assignment was more interesting than previous ones as, to a certain extent, it was back on familiar territory from previous modules.  I have always responded positively to words and pictures, and am often inspired by music with songs and lyrics.  What was particularly encouraging was the he reacted positively to the way that I attempted to break out of the usual pattern of my assignments, and try something a little different.  He said that I “produced an assignment that feels like you have taken more ownership” and “pushed your conceptual input, which is a big step”.  For me, breaking away from straight up photographs is something that I have wanted to do but not been brave enough to have a go for an assignment. Here was my chance, and it was a good chance. I felt that I had actually pushed past something in me that had been holding back.  I did enjoy the assignment in the end, and it was a strong idea that stuck early on but the enhancement into something different is what I found satisfying and the fact that my tutor was positive about it too meant a lot to me.

His recommendations are very valid. He has suggested that I make more images to present, and incorporate the threads more into teach one. “This would also allow you to push the idea of the thread further, entwining it deeper into your photographs as you have with, The Sea 4. I really like the way that you have used the thread to work with the image, wrapping around the handrail, twisted wood on the beach and the woman. I feel that I would like to see more of this process, working with your other photographs, weaving in and out of the objects/seascapes, providing a link between each location and story. “  I think that this is something that I will pursue once I have finished as I would like to have a break from the intensity of this assignment to give me a bit of distance, and get on with the final one before returning to it later.  There is more work to be done on all of them, but distance in time works well for me and I can achieve some clarity.

Interestingly, not long after I had submitted my work, the Magnum newsletter came up and on it was an article on a photographer who used the Shopping Forecast to inspire his work. Mark Power :

https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/society-arts-culture/mark-power-the-shipping-forecast/

It tells how he was inspired over the course of four years to travel to each of the areas on the forecast to make images that reflect the sense of being a ‘landlubber’ rather than the sea going people.  The images are all black and white and have wide ranging themes, each is captioned by the shipping forecast for that area on that day. It is an interesting idea and project, and while he captures mainly people my feeling is that I would have approached the whole thing from the point of view of places. That is what makes us all different I suppose.

Overall, it feels as though I have taken a step forward to a different place of thinking about photography and while I was apprehensive in submitting the work that I had done, it is good to know that I am on the right track away from the norm for me.  I am planning to incorporate the changes that Chris Coekin has suggested and I look forward to doing that in due course.

Tutor Suggested Research:

1 Hiroshi Sugimoto

“Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.”  Seascapes. 

This website has several of his work series, and what I found fascinating is the way that they are all very alike, in the way that they are presented.  He present three images from each series, black and white image, side by side and they are all broadly the same ie Seascapes  is a series of three black and white image where the sea takes up half of the frame and the sky the other half.  Being in black and white there are varying shades of grey in there and how bright they are: one is very bright, one is very dark and one is almost blurred.  Yet they all connect as a group.

https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/seascapes-1 – I thought that it looked like the U2 cover No Line On The Horizon, and wondered if it had been done by him, or perhaps Inspired by him? Yes! It is a Sugimoto photograph that they used on the cover.  Although it cause controversy when another artist claimed that they ad taken their idea, and while Sugimoto had given them usage of the photograph for free and endorsed the band, U2 had just paid for it which devalues the original.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/jan/20/u2-album-cover-hiroshi-sugimoto

The other one that struck me was on architecture, even more relevant now that I am doing Part 5 and there is a section on buildings and architecture.  He deliberately blurs the buildings to see is they stand the test that it is possible to identify them even if they are just blurred outlines.

https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/new-page-5  the Eiffel tower blurred, ‘erosion-testing’ the limit to which it can be blurred and still be recognisable.  He questions how many of our building today will be as identifiable in the future?

I thought his work was really interesting in its simplicity and straightforwardness.  There was no angle to it and while it is simple, there is a strong theme that ties them all together.  It is this that the exercises in Part 5 of I&P are aiming to address, to have uniformity in the work that is about the work rather than the person doing the work.

2. Julie Cockburn

She machine sews over the top of found photographs.  Again, this links back to another artist he suggested John Stezaker who used montage using old photographs and vintage postcards to subvert the meaning.  She can change the meaning by sewing intricate patterns over the faces of the sitters, sometimes obscuring them completely. I found it interesting, but preferred the ones that looked more like scribbles and less measured.  This image: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/28/embroidered-vintage-portrait-photography-julie-cockburn#img-7 reminded me of another album cover, this time Disclosure who’s album Settle and subsequent photos and covers feature a drawn image over the top of photographs of the band members and other animals.  Likened this to Disclosure: https://store.disclosureofficial.com/*/*/Settle-br-CD-Album/2J6J0000000.  I was interested to see that this idea had been fully explained by the design company https://www.studiomoross.com/casestudy/disclosure-art-direction/ but again there were claims of plagiarism by another artist at them using his idea.  Maybe nothing is unique anymore.

3. Thomas Joshua-Cooper

I looked at his work but was not as engaged with this as the other two artists suggested.  I found the images too pale and there was nothing that caught my attention when looking at them, apart from one.  http://www.inglebygallery.com/artists/thomas-joshua-cooper/

Twilight – Rapids on the River Ness, The Weir, Dochgarroch, Inverness, Inverness-shire, Scotland, 2002-2014.

This was more abstract as it was a reflection of light on water but took more looking at it to fully appreciate the patterns and the tones in the image.  As part of a series, it worked alright but I was not engaged with the whole series and moved on quite quickly.

Interesting as all this stemmed from me sewing three photographs together and my tutor suggested looking at these as alternative viewpoints on the sea and the practice of sewing photographs.

 

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Assignment 4 – Words and Pictures

Create a series of work (aim for 7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation.

You may be inspired by a poem, song or a novel or decide to write your own fictive piece. You may draw upon other people’s words via eavesdropping or another source or use extracts from journals. You might find interesting textual accounts in archives in libraries that could inform this assignment. Allow your creativity to be spurred on by spending time with these words and reflecting on them.

The theme that I chose for this assignment is based on a feeling of homesickness, loneliness, love and loss.  It came about from a conversation with a close friend who was feeling homesick for the seaside now that she had moved inland, only about 20 minutes away by car but she felt cut off.  We were neighbours in Torquay and up until three years ago, I had a sea view and could walk to the coast in less than five minutes.  I now live a 15 minute walk away and have no sea view.  There is a need to see the sea each day and I often take the long route so that I can get a glimpse. When I come home from travelling, I always take the road home that gives the best view over Torbay.  She felt the same and we were walking partners, talking over life while briskly walking along the seafront and back.  It got me thinking about the way that the sea is part of who I am, where I live and what it means to me.  There is a sense of loneliness sometimes as it is so vast – where does it end when you look out to the horizon – but then it is so familiar – the changing tides, the power it has to destroy but then soothe and how it reflects light that changes throughout the day and the seasons.

In addition to the ongoing conversations about this with my friend, I also had in mind the song Staring at the Sea  by The Blow Monkeys (from the album Staring at the Sea, Nova Sales & Distribution (UK) Ltd, 2011). In particular, a couple of lines:

You’re the future I won’t know, I just learned to live without you                                       You’re the past I can’t let go, somewhere deep inside my soul

The words refer to so many emotions and situations as well as suggesting several different situations in which to use them, and truly “I could spend each and every day/ staring at the sea”.

I narrowed down the images to ten that fitted my idea, including a sunrise, a sunset and full daylight so that it captures the passage of time that we have during a day, a week, a year and so on.  There are few people in them and if there are then they are a minimal presence except for one of Julie sitting on the beach where she grew up.  She features because she began the exploration of the idea of love and loss, and homesickness for something intangible.  The other people are secondary to the landscape and actually it is their absence that accentuates the feeling of space and longing.  Many benches around the bay have flowers attached to them – it is common for people to buy the benches in memory of a loved one passed on to the next life, and the flowers are there to commemorate the days and dates that matter to them.  I used a wide aperture in order to blur the background and reduce the focus to the flowers on the bench but it is still possible to get an idea of location.  This is another sense of nostalgia, of yearning for a person now gone but still living in our minds. Monika Takvam talks about nostalgia in her introduction to a longer paper on the subject: “Over time, the use of the word has progressively evolved to describe a desire to return to another time.  Significantly, it is now characterized by yearning and distance (both in time and space); it is the desire to return, when returning is no longer possible”.(Takvam, M. and Vale, S., Introduction to Nostalgias: Visualising Longing special issue, Pages 99-102 | Published online: 21 Oct 2016).  When people pass away, the people left behind feel their loss in an almost physical way.  This is what is bound up with memories of Torquay for Julie, whose husband died about fifteen years ago leaving her with two small children. Part of her mourning for the sea is mourning for the life that she lost when he died.

I chose to keep the colours rich and deep.  In a way, that is how I see my surroundings.  Once I had chosen the ten images, I then started thinking about locating them and brought in the maps with the basic idea of pinning photos to it and tying cotton between pins.  It reminded me of how I would decorate walls of my student room with pictures and photos, and it seemed fitting to build up the total image as though it was done over time.  It felt wrong destroying the perfection of a printed photograph but once I started, it was ok.  I bent them, tore them and scrunched them up as a way of making them look as though they had been picked up several times then moved.  Sticky tape, masking tape and drawing pins helped to make it look like a project.  I had cut up smaller versions of the photographs in order to try this out on a smaller scale, and had inadvertently cut out some blanks at the same time.  I used these to write some of the lyrics and pin them to the board too; it personalises it through having handwritten words.  I then photographed close-ups of parts of it to make up the set of images.  The map is of where I live, the places around me and underlines how important the sea is to those who live here.  I took a photograph of Julie and sewed some fine ropes around her that attach her to the beach and then over to Torquay. They are not holding her tight, they are caressing her and holding her safe.  This came from looking at the work of Annegret Soltau, suggested by my tutor as a reference point after my last assignment.  This was written about her practice in an article promoting an exhibition: “The thread that she uses in her performances and self-portraits encompasses faces and bodies like a safe cocoon; hidden and distorted but also flexible. The thread used for sewing over the photographs can also be understood as an element of drawing. However, it also frees the photographs from their purely visual experience and transports them into a haptic reality.”  Sewing white thread onto a photograph subtly alters the meaning and makes the viewer think about what they are and why they are there.

I have included the original images as well as part of the work as a reference point.  They flow well as a set but I was interested in where they took me when I related them to the map and the bigger picture.  This assignment picks up the theme of the sea and how it affects people. It can induce a sense of belonging that is hard to ignore when not near the coast, and the may different versions that it can create every day through light and weather.  I hope I have captured this in these images.

 

This final quote fits well with my thinking when walking round photographing the seashore, by Hanya Yanagihara.

“But if there is a cure for the invisibility of loneliness, it is this. It is why, depending on who you are, that click of the camera’s shutter is a sound that evokes either anxiety or relief. Click: I see you. Click: I see you. Click: I see you. You are not alone.”

 

 Song: Staring at the Sea, Blow Monkeys, 2011

 

Staring at the Sea

By Robert Howard and The Blow Monkeys

Sunlight sparkles on the bay, sailboats drift upon the breeze
I could spend each and every day, staring at the sea
I remember all the times and all those things you used to say
“Only wise men play the fool”, and “every dog will  have its day”
And I never felt so free, and I never felt so wanted
They were days just you and me, staring at the sea
You’re the future I won’t know, I just learned to live without you
You’re the past I can’t let go, somewhere deep inside my soul
Just as far as you can see, it’s three miles to the horizon
Feels just like eternity, staring at the sea
Staring at the sea, staring at the sea…..

 

References:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/loneliness-belongs-to-the-photographer

Yanagihara, H., Loneliness Belongs to the Photographer, The New Yorker online edition, July 10, 2016  (accessed 5 April 2018)

https://wsimag.com/art/23956-annegret-soltau

Article in Wall Street International Magazine, Promoting an exhibition by Annegret Soltau, 9 Feb — 18 Mar 2017 at the Galerie Anita Beckers in Frankfurt am Main, Germany28 February 2017 accessed 12.12.2017)

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17514517.2016.1209928

Takvam, M. and Vale, S., Introduction to Nostalgias: Visualising Longing special issue, Pages 99-102 | Published online: 21 Oct 2016, (accessed 12.4.18)

 

 

 

Assignment 4 – Adding Text to Images

As an alternative to images standing on their own, I went through adding text to the photographs that I had chosen for the assignment, just to see if I could make it work.  I tried various styles from typed text using different fonts, to handwriting with a stylus using PhotoShop and also handwriting onto clear acetate sheets that I laid over the top of the photo.  Some worked adequately but none of them stood out as being ‘right’ and sometimes I think that I was in danger of being too literal.

SATS v2
Three Miles

The words from the song had echoed in my mind all the time that I was shooting what I thought were images that could fit my idea.  When it came to writing the words onto the images, it was hard to decide whether handwriting had any significance or whether typed words made it more impersonal, or did it change the feeling and meaning of the words? Writing with a stylus was a knack that did not flow easily and I was often frustrated by the fact that it was like my writing but not my writing.

During this assignment I also became fascinated by the weather forecast, having visited Cromarty in Scotland which is one of the areas.  I wondered whether I should go for snippets from the shipping forecast as my words, and investigated some of them but in the end while I loved them, they just didn’t quite fit.  However, I found a song “Pharaohs” by Tears for Fears and put it over the top of a slideshow of the original images as they were, without any words.  It is an instrumental track based on another of their songs (Everybody Wants to Rule the World) that has been slowed down and played over the sound of the shipping forecast being read out.  If I could have got permission to use it, that would have made my assignment.

 

 

In the end I decided to leave the images alone and I went off down another track completely, still using the words to Staring at the Sea and the original images but in a different form.

Assignment 4 – Contact Sheets

Here are some of the images that I sifted through (a fraction of the ones that I shot) to narrow down for the assignment.  There were several shooting days on different beaches and in different weather conditions.  Sunrise, sunset, dreary weather and clear weather, sunshine and cloud. There were more images but these are the main ones that I looked at while considering the final selection.

 

Assignment 4 Analysis of Outcome

  1. Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills

The map is made up of ten images that I chose to fit the words that had been instrumental in bringing the idea to  life. There is a variety of light situations from early morning to late evening and in between which is better than I usually manage to achieve.  It helped that starting this assignment in Spring meant longer days and different light conditions.  There is a warmth to the contributing images that lends well to the feeling of wistfulness and loneliness.  The colours are deep and strong that gives the overall map a depth, adding to the blue colour on the map itself and backed by the dark of the paper. The placing of the images on the map was part random and part thought out.  The three images that are tied together had to go over by the part of Torbay and near to the beaches that I had used as background.  Julie is connected to Torquay and Elbury personally and emotionally and it was important to attach her threads to these parts.  My connection with her is Torquay so another reason for her to be sewn in at that point.

The images are of two sizes, although this was more from having two sets – the large set printed to see how they came out and the small set to move and place in sequence.  The smaller ones were used in the first setup of the map then I moved them onto the larger map once I decided that I was going to go with that idea rather than a straight run through of images.  From a distance, the colours are the things that stand out with the deep blues, oranges and reds of sun, sea and sky.  This connects the images together to make the set.  The map grew out of montage of large and small images on a bigger background map with another torn out map on top.  It was like something that we do as teenagers to make our world outside come inside, and help us remember places and times.

  1. Quality of Outcome

I have a tendency to mull over ideas for some time and discard things along the way.  Once I had decided on Staring at the Sea as the theme, it was easy to keep it in mind.  The images are not simply seascapes, they are linked to each other and suggest a passing of time.  There is a feeling of solitude and a little sadness, that is the idea of nostalgia for people and places that are out of our reach.  The map creation came out of wanting to develop the idea a little further having experimented with the song lyrics on the photographs and to link them in a more physical way than just a slideshow.  My aim was to produce something that was more of a story than I have before, and although it was prompted by my friend’s homesickness, it is also quite personal to me as I could emote with that feeling.  We both acknowledged that it felt ridiculous being homesick for something that is always there and more so for me because I only moved a couple of miles further away, but at times it feels like it could be a hundred  miles.  This map was a way of tying all those elements together.

  1. Demonstration of Creativity

The overall map is a montage of ten photographs along with small rectangles with words written on them in blue marker pen.  They are all connected to the map that lies underneath them.  I chose to focus on smaller parts of the map in the submitted images as a way of bringing pertinent parts to attention.  My thinking was driven by how I approach items on display in galleries – I go up close to look at a smaller part to see what is written, painted or photographed and then stand back to admire the whole in order to see how all the elements connect up. The images take the viewer round the whole map and the words, then shows them the whole thing.

  1. Context

The course is dealing with the idea of who we are and how we fit into the world around us, how we react to our surroundings.  This map is of my home area and the big thing that affects whoever lives here – the sea.  It borders the land and while we can look out to the horizon (exactly how far is that?), it means that we are constrained by it and on the edge with no way round. For example, if the seafront road is damaged in a storm as it was a few years ago, it is difficult to reroute traffic including buses through a residential area with narrow roads and, more importantly, steep hills.  The sea allows space and moving away from it can carry a homesickness or nostalgia for being beside it.

The images are from the area and different times of day.  The underlying theme is of love, loss and a homesickness so there are few people in the images that make up the map.

  1. Overall

I feel that this assignment flows better than previous ones and the images that make up the map are linked better in how they look.  The song Staring at the Sea suggested the feeling of love and loss and this is where I started with building up a set of images.  A conversation with a friend about leaving Torbay and how we felt bereft at not having a sea view or the proximity to it carried on the feeling of wistfulness that permeates the images.  The map brings them all together and ties them physically as well as emotionally to the area, through thread and drawing pins to sewing on images.  I wanted to progress from creating a slideshow which is my natural inclination and to develop the idea beyond the safe confines that I operate within.  To take printed photographs and effectively destroy them always is difficult but it gave me freedom to change them and personalise them in some ways.  I felt that changing the textures of them tapped into the way that we no longer hold prints in high regard despite taking more photographs than ever.  How often do I print them out? Rarely nowadays and it was actually really good to see them printed out and to be able to examine them, be tactile with the print and then change it.  I remember treasured photos that became dog eared with wear and tear, and I think that this was behind making some of them look used, tired, worn to give them a character.  I have fulfilled the brief of using words to inspire me, and I have connected the images that I have made with ideas of identity and place that we have studied.

Assignment 4 Preliminary Thoughts

It’s taken a long time to pull all this together and now I am almost there.  I am one of those people that fixate on one idea for ages and build the assignment round it then change my mind at the last minute, while still incorporating elements of the original idea.  It is no different this time!   I thought that I had it a couple of weeks ago, then started looking at alternative ways of presenting the images that I had chosen including ripping, tearing, burning and sewing through them, all inspired by other students and other photographers studied in this section.  I think I have been trying to do something different to just presenting images, personalise them in some way to tie them to me. Time always is the limiting factor and in some ways it feels not a waste of time as such, more a luxury to go off down other roads to see where they lead.  I wouldn’t think twice about exploring out in the woods or the roads round where I live so why not do the same by taking a bunch of photos and doing something different.  It might work, it might not, but at least I am flexing that something that drives me on.