OCA SW Meeting Paignton 14.7.18

A smaller meeting than in Bristol, we were lucky to have tutor Steven Monger give the group a talk on work done by his students in Graphic Design, Photography and Design as well as his own work.  The main thrust of the talk was the shifting boundaries in practice so that one definition does not cover what we can actually do.  His personal work includes box scans and photographs of models that are so detailed that it took a close look to see that they were not just architectural images.  Clues were in the lack of background detail but they were fascinating to look at, from the hours taken to construct them to the finished effect.

The group then looked at putting together a manifesto that could define what the group was about.  There were several questions and we were give time to think about them individually then bring all ideas together as a group.  There was lively discussion among the group and opinions divided over some parts but eventually the bones were put in place. It was definitely food for thought and something that will carry on beyond this meeting.

There were presentations of work with Steven giving thoughtful and insightful feedback on each student’s work. I had only just started down the route for my final assignment so I had put together some demo images to test the water.  The feedback from other students was positive and Steven suggested some further points of research before going further.  He thought that I was possibly wanting to jump to the finished image too quickly but I explained that this was just the beginning and wanted to gauge reactions to see if it was worth pursuing further.  As it was, after the meeting I bumped into a friend who’s family has a commemorative bench in Paignton so I jumped in and had a conversation about his motivations.  Nothing like acting on advice quickly and easily.

I have been very fortunate to have been able to get involved with this group over the past year and going to meetings has helped when I feel I am going round in circles.  It is good to meet other students and see what they are doing and what they struggle with too.  I have also benefitted from meeting some tutors and hearing talks by artists; Helen Sear and David Hurn.

David Hurn at Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol 30.6.18

The day was in two parts: see the exhibition of ‘swaps’ that David Hurn had accumulated over many years with an accompanying talk by Hurn followed by a tour of the Foundation then after lunch, a session where students presented work and asked for guidance/feedback on it.

I was unaware of Hurn’s work before signing up for the day and was surprised by how much work he did with stars of stage and screen.  The documentary that was suggested in advance of the day was interesting in that I saw that he used natural available light only, he didn’t use flash to light his subjects.  I asked him about this in Bristol and he was quite open that he had never really mastered flash photography so did not bother with it, he was happy to use what light was available at the time.  To be fair, taking stills on a film set would be well lit anyway and get round the problem of low levels of light affecting the outcome as it does with a music studio for example.

The exhibition was smaller that I anticipated but well laid out and interesting to see which photographs were swopped together.  There could be one of Hurn’s photographs displayed with two or three other people’s work, all linked with black lines.  There were some well known images alongside Hurn’s but most I did not know so it was good to look at other photographers and their work.  Hurn’s talk was also interesting, on how he started the swop project and having the courage to actually ask famous photographers to do this with him.  As time went on, it obviously got easier as he was a well known photographer.  His advice was to just get out there and ask!

The tour of the Foundation was led by a young intern who showed us the wide range of books in the library, many of them Parr’s own books.  There were some that were worth thousands of pounds and we were all reluctant to handle them, some were huge and others tiny but there was a huge range of books and titles on the shelves.  Round the back was the engine room where they keep copies of Parr’s books as well as some of the many contact sheets and other interesting items such as the handmade books for preprinting by some well known photographers.  Unfortunately I didn’t write any names down as I was more interested in being there and absorbing the experience rather than cataloguing it. I learned from that one.  However, there were lots of things that were eye catching and interesting and colourful.  Afterwards, I looked up Parr’s books on the Black Country and Scotland as they were two places that were of relevance personally.  I am not particularly a fan of Parr’s work as I find the people aspect too much but some of the portraits for these two books are more sensitively done.  It would be good to see real copies of both books rather than web pages to get a closer look at the images.  This is what I took away from this – the handmade book by the photographer in comparison to the printed version and how they differed.  The handmade book had a presence that the printed one didn’t, maybe it was the actual photographs rather than prints as part of a page that made it more real and tactile.

The afternoon session was filled with a diverse range of photographic practice from students at all levels, from basic photo books to playing with chemical reactions to obtain different results that could still be seen as ‘landscape’.  I did not present any work but was still happy to see what other students do and their approaches.  I was in between assignments and at a point of being at a brick wall so to let go and look at other students’ work was a way of getting my brain to take another route to inspiration.  It all informs what we do and may suggest another way of looking at the same subject. There are some creative people out there and sometimes I feel that I am way down the ladder in those stakes!

I found it a very informative day and I always enjoy looking at proper prints up close.  There is something about seeing a proper print, as I have already commented on with the handmade book.  The other bonus of a study day is the interaction with other students to talk about work we are doing, have done, approaches to assignments and a way of feeling not so isolated in our studies.

The Shape of Light – Tate Modern 11.5.18

I was lucky enough to get to London to see this exhibition at Tate Modern recently.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from it but went with an open mind hoping to find something that would hook me in.  I was struck by how many of the artists in the first few rooms that I had heard of through other studies – Maholy-Nagy, Kandinsky and others.  It is a good thing to be familiar with other artists and to see their work up close and it is often not easy to get to London to see the bigger exhibitions.  I often think that I don;t know enough about other artists but at least this exhibition showed me that I do at least know some of the important ones.

The majority of the initial rooms were filled with black and white images that drew you to look closer to see what they were.  They were also compared to paintings to see where the inspiration could come from, with shapes and patterns being recreated in the photogram.  One that struck me was the pairing of the Wassily Kandinsky painting, Swinging, 1925 (https://www.wassilykandinsky.net/work-251.php) that was up beside a photogram by Marta Hoepffner Homage to Kandinsky, 1937.


The former is a riot of colour and abstraction in shapes from circles to squares and ovals.  The latter is more measured and an interesting compilation of similar shapes.  The lack of colour makes you concentrate on the shapes that it presents rather than any colour.  It may be that I was drawn to this pairing because I am aware of Kandisnky and like his work exactly for the colour he uses.

With the photograms, I got closer and closer just to be able to see how they produced the shapes on them.  The range of abstract objects was varied but some of my favourites were a gramophone record (I think it was Maholy-Nagy), curls of paper and light trails.  After a while though, it was almost overwhelming with the sheer number of exhibits and we found ourselves gliding through some rooms that began to seem familiar.  The final rooms were a relief to see some colour and the abstraction that can be achieved with  more modern techniques in photography.

It’s a short appraisal of this exhibition and it is one that could be visited several times in order to fully appreciate the work that is on display.  I really liked it and found it fascinating that it is possible to produce something that requires positioning of objects that are then left to  blank out light.  It seems so easy and simple but really requires a lot of thought and input to make something as interesting as some of these works.  I have tried doing scanning of objects and while you think it will be a case of putting objects on the scanner bed, there is a lot more thought about how to place them.  In effect, you have to think upside down to create something meaningful. What was really good about the exhibition was the pairing of painting work alongside photography work to see the influences from other artists and mediums, and to see how they took the ideas of abstraction to push the photography further away from straight more conventional work.  It takes thought and working out to produce some of the very precise work on show.



Marta Hoepffner Firebird, 1940.  I appreciated the musical references, as it looks like a keyboard.  Another one of her images was:


Marta Hoepffner, Homage to de Falla, 1937, references the shape of a guitar.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/30/shape-of-light-100-years-of-photography-and-abstract-art-review-tate-modern-london  Guardian review.  He felt the same about the sheer number of works in the rooms that became almost too much, but would be worth visiting again.  There is so much detail in them that you need to be able to concentrate but can’t do so for so many of them.

Exhibition: Picasso at Tate Modern

Picasso: The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy


 25th April 2018

 I managed to squeeze in a trip to see this exhibition on a flying day trip to London and while it is paintings rather than photography, Picasso has been such an influential person in the art world that it is relevant to include this.

 I am not usually drawn to paintings but I am aware of the debt that photography owes to art with the use of colour and how artists like Picasso bent the conventions to make something different.  The exhibition was a riot of colour and the theme of love was very much at the forefront. I had forgotten how something painted looks up close.  I’m not sure that I liked the way the female form was abstracted  but they were interesting to look at an examine closely.  That’s the beauty of an exhibition – you can get close to things and see it in a way that you never can do online.  The colours that dominated were pink, white and blue.

 Once I got over the usual stumbling block of seeing paint on canvas, I was able to concentrate on the subject matter and how he had represented the woman of his life.  His abstraction of the female form takes on some interesting shapes and I could appreciate the way that he portrayed the same woman over and over again.  I am aware that I constantly try to arrange the features to make it ‘right’ but I also know that to do this sort of painting takes great skill, something that Picasso had, and it is good to allow yourself to consider a different version of reality.

 One that caught my eye and imagination was Girl Before a Mirror, Paris, March 1932The description is of two sides of the same person and the idea of vanity as she looks in the mirror.  In addition, the MoMA description is also of the girl on the left : “Perhaps the painting suggests both Walter’s day-self and her night-self, both her tranquillity and her vitality, but also the transition from an innocent girl to a worldly woman aware of her own sexuality.”.  The painting is of two sides to the story, something that we covered in Context and Narrative (PH4CAN) that of a young girl looking in the mirror and seeing someone else staring back at her.  Who is this person and why has he painted her in this way? It is very pertinent to Identity and Place as we constantly scrutinise our external selfs to see what is there, if anything. Again, MoMA says that is: “a complex variant on the traditional Vanity—the image of a woman confronting her mortality in a mirror, which reflects her as a death’s head.”

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78311   (accessed 1.5.18)

There was a variety of paintings and sculptures that cover this one year in Picasso’s life, as well as some photographs of the French house where he created them.  It was an interesting look at his work, with the colour and textures of paint on canvas.  I was intrigued by the abstraction of the human forms that ran through the work with consistency.  I liked the idea of having two faces in one face. He used this in Nude Woman in a Red Armchair (Femme nue dans un fauteuil rouge), 1932

(http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/picasso-nude-woman-in-a-red-armchair-n06205 ) and Tate Modern explain that the “face is a double or metamorphic image: the right side can also be seen as the face of a lover in profile, kissing her on the lips.” (http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/ey-exhibition-picasso-1932-love-fame-tragedy/exhibition-guide).

Overall it was an interesting insight into the work of one man over a relatively short period.  I’m still not a great fan of paintings but I am always interested to see them up close to see how they were put together and how the while tells a story.  I’m looking forward to see the complementary exhibition to this which will be the Abstract Photography on beginning in May.


Meeting in Taunton 14.4.2018

OCA SW Meeting Study Day and Drawing Workshop

The meeting was a drawing workshop then discussion over students’ work in the afternoon.  It was led by Doug Burton, Creative Arts lead Tutor who took us through the ways of seeing and describing as we made marks on paper using a variety of materials.  The afternoon session involved going outside into the yard of the venue and really looking to make a mental image of part of it in order to recreate it in whatever way we felt was best.

As a photographer, my drawing skills are very limited and I am very used to using a camera to record what I see in front of me.  Going back to basics and making marks on paper was a bit like going back to school and sitting there wondering if I was doing it right.  It felt quite strange to me to be getting dirty using pastels, drawing in any way possible and I was conscious that I was almost ‘trying too hard’.  The exercise where we worked in pairs, one drawing while not seeing the object, the other describing the object to them, I was better at describing than drawing, and the picture that Alessandra produced was an interesting response to my description, in an abstract way being almost like fireworks.

Going outside to look round the yard was much more interesting and I clicked into ‘image’ mode which is natural, picking up the colours and objects as they were parked or left lying around.  Recreating that small piece of land turned out to be a very flat, straight and frankly boring piece of work.  I am really NOT a drawing artist! Other students did really different approaches, some with very defined marks. One was interesting because I had seen the back of the truck and thought I would go back afterwards to take a photo.  Here it was in pastels.


Moving on to the work of other students was really interesting and I enjoy seeing what other students are doing, even if they make me feel that I am not creative at all.  I am amazed at the depth and breadth of what other disciplines involve in the work from painting to illustration to textiles, the one I always think encompasses nearly everything in one course.  The work they do in this group is stunning and artistic, and I am sure that I would never be able to do what they do.  The discussions were lively and stimulating, and while I was not in a position to present any work having just finished an assignment, it was still possible to come away with ideas and hints for future projects just from seeing other work.

Doug then led the final Q&A session and we covered a lot of topics.  It was really nice to finally meet a live tutor from the OCA and one who worked so hard to include all of us in the drawing, even me the least artistic artist of the group. I always come away with admiration for the students on OCA courses who work so hard to come up with good ideas and then execute them.  They are supportive and encouraging to others.  It is worth attending them just to feel that I am not alone in this.



Helen Sears at the OCA Southwest Group Meeting 10.2.18

As published in the SW Group newsletter.

Helen was introduced by Patricia Howe who gave a bio of Helen’s background of study and work, starting at Reading University and the Slade School, UCL. Helen then gave an informative and interesting talk about her work, starting with the installation “Between Us” at the Chapter Arts Centre in London in 1985. Much of her early practice was a combination of 3D and 2D work, using transparencies and slide projectors along with other solid objects. She spent some time making images using dioramas of animals and birds from a museum that were overlaid with vivid colours to disrupt the viewers approach. Colour has been very important to her, influenced by her surgeon father who kept photographs of his operations and used her and her brother as academic models. Green and red have featured prominently in her work, often in a very saturated and prominent manner.

She took us through various projects that she had done and there was discussion about all of them. “Grounded” uses a combination of images of animal backs and prominent skylines. At first look, they appear to be normal landscapes but closer inspection reveals the land to be a fur covered animal. “Spot” is a project from an 18-month residency at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, using stuffed birds from the collection photographed against painted backdrops and then a flat spot of colour obscuring the eye. Normally the viewer will connect with the subject through the eyes, but by losing that connection the viewer has to look more into the frame and what is beyond. The project that most of us found fascinating was the “Inside View” series. Again, she disrupts the normal view in that each one shows the back of a head looking into a landscape rather than seeing a person against a background. She digitally merged two images and then painstakingly blended them so that parts of the background stood out, most being brightly coloured flowers. They is a painterly feeling to them with fine lines all over them where the brush moved to remove the top image to reveal the second one below.

Overall, there was a lot to take from her work from the subtle ways that she makes the viewer look again beyond what is going on in the frame. She combines photographs to make new versions and started with transparency film before moving on to do this digitally. There is a theme of eyes and obscuring the eyes in order to make the viewer look beyond the obvious and then make new connections. It was an engaging and interesting walk through her practice and her approach to her photography and it was a shame that we ran out of time. There was plenty of interaction between Helen and the group, and there was exchanging of opinions and ideas between everyone. I am sure that many of us came away inspired by her use of colour and techniques.

Helen Sear has an exhibition at Hestercombe Gallery in Taunton from July to October 2018.

Grayson Perry at Arnolfini, Bristol

Since being pointed in his direction through this course, I have really liked Perry and his work.  It’s a refreshing change and is made doubly interesting by the television programmes that he has made that explain the context of the work.  I recently watched Britain Divided, on a plane journey of all places, and was interested in seeing the two pots that he had made in response to the views and opinions of the opposing parties of the Brexit question.  Holly Woodward, another OCA student, wrote a blog post about visiting this exhibition and her reaction to it, and since Bristol is close by it was a golden opportunity to visit and see his works up close.

I went to visit the Arnolfini just before Christmas last year and just in time, as the exhibition closed on the following Sunday.  It was busy with plenty of people circling around the exhibits, reading the information and talking about them.  Again, it was refreshing to be somewhere where it was a mix of ages with children as well as adults, it wasn’t quiet as people discussed the work and the ability to take photos on my phone without feeling like I was stealing something.  The overall impression of the exhibition was of colour – the work was varied in bright colours and the tapestries were huge and full of colour and detail.  The pots are covered in lots of tiny detail and I would have liked some more time to fully go round each one.  Like Holly, I was interested by the gold motifs that adorned most of the pots.  They looked arabic in some way, perhaps religious symbols? They were small but stood out against the backgrounds so attracted my attention.  The pots are about Britain and what people value about it, and yet this “foreign” symbol was on it too so perhaps he was commenting on the wide range of faiths that make Britain unique.

The tapestries were attention grabbing, not least because they often took up most of a wall.  One was a deep red and looked like a map, and it was set on a backdrop of tower blocks.  The places and street names were all ‘buzz words’ that are in current everyday use, and I found this amusing because they are the sort of words and expressions that can irritate me or make me laugh when used all the time.  This piece struck me as being very much of the here and now a comment on society and how we use language.

Grayson Perry, Red Carpet, 2017

It also reminded me of the opening scene from Eastenders with the map of the loop of London and the Thames.  However, it could be anywhere.

The pots are fascinating and full of comments on certain situations.  One was on how those with money can see good causes as being good for the CV or because they are told it is a good thing.


I got the impression that he is poking fun at The Establishment, at set views and things that we believe because we are told to do so.  Is it possible then that we are enjoying the exhibition because he makes it light hearted, almost not serious and therefore more accessible.  The descriptions accompanying the exhibits were all written by him in an easy to read style, and you could almost hear him talking about them.  I believe that this is what makes him popular, it is the accessibility of him and his work made more so by television appearances.  Having said that, I took my husband and he knows only Perry’s name not his work and he enjoyed it even without any prior knowledge.

From a photography point of view, there is a lot going on and shows how images can be used in several ways.  The pots used transfers of personal photographs and other things from advertising, all merged together in telling the story.  There is a lot to look at in all the works on display, there is colour, there is size and there is humour.  The work is clever without being highbrow, accessible with or without any knowledge and I found that to be a positive change from other exhibitions that I have seen.  I often feel disconnected from the work and this is made more so by the atmosphere of galleries.  Art needs to be discussed whatever your opinion and sometimes it doesn’t matter if you miss the meaning as long as you get something from it.  This exhibition made me want to be more creative in the way that I approach my own photography

Sergey Ponomarev’s ‘A Lens on Syria’

Sergey Ponomarev’s A Lens on Syria at The Imperial War Museum

On a brief trip to London, I went to the Imperial War Museum to see the exhibitions on Syria.  One was Syria: Story of a Conflict, a collection of objects, personal stories and a video installation that gives an idea of how the country became ruined by the conflict going on between Government forces and the retaliation of rebels.  The other was A Lens on Syria by Russian photographer Sergey Ponomarev, again in two parts with a series of images, Assad’s Syria, and a slide show film The Exodus that illustrates the lengths that people went to to escape the regime and try to get a better life for their families in Europe.

The Syrian conflict began in 2011 and although we are aware through news reports that many thousands have fled to other parts of Europe, many have stayed behind in Syria whether in the cities or in camps outside the cities.  The devastation of buildings is immense and some of them were thousands of years old, part of all of our heritage and irreplaceable.  I had not realized how many people have died over there – nearly half a million – or how many have been displaced – millions rather than thousands.

Syria: Story of a Conflict was a film installation that had clips of news footage that tried to tell both sides of the story as well as the history.  Around the walls were photographs of Syrian people and their stories.

A Lens on Syria was a more direct approach to the issue with large vividly coloured images of the devastating effect that the conflict has had on the cities in Syria, particularly Homs.  I admit that I have a tentative personal connection here in that my uncle is Syrian and is from Homs.  His family were flour millers and owned a mill that provided income and a living for them.  He left the family business to live in Beirut in Lebanon with my aunt, but had to leave there in the 1970s through conflict, ending up in Canada where they still live.  I was interested to see if seeing photographs of the aftereffects of the conflict would open my eye, understand better or simply be an exercise in looking at clear photographs.

I have seen other photographs of some of the destruction (see 3) but this was also concerned with the effect on the people and how they still go about their lives amid rubble and fires.  The size of the images is big enough to grab the attention but not to overwhelm it.  They are vivid in colour which is to be expected given that they are about war and destruction, but also because the skies he shoots under are sunset, twilight or sunrise so adds a softer quality to them.  There is a pathos but also a dignity of the people.  There is little of the sky and at times they can feel a little claustrophobic as they are in cramped areas where there is rubble, or in a prison or street, or at night.

Sergey Ponomarev

The photographs tell a story of carrying on in spite of the damage and the bombings.  My uncle’s family moved a few miles out of Homs, there is no running water and sporadic electricity but they stay because it is their home and they would prefer to stay there rather than leave altogether.  I reacted to them through the slight knowledge that I have but also because they present an alternative view of what is going on rather than the one we are always resented with through the media. In addition, they are very clear and the viewer can spend time searching the whole frame for other things and look to the horizon.

Sergey Ponomarev

The one that particularly caught my eye is of a burnt out, partially destroyed building that still  has a poster of President Assad attached to it.  The pale orange sky of sunrise emphasises the pale concrete of the building and on closer inspection, it is a myriad of bits of metal with the sattelite dish to the top left hand corner standing out.  There is a symmetry with two halves of the building but then one collapses downwards and draws the eye away from it.  The poster is in stark contrast to the building as though it is stamp claiming it for the President.  Maybe it is.

Homs, Syria, 15 June 2014, from the series ‘Assad’s Syria’ © Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times


In contrast Exodus, the video is quite an emotional watch.  It has no soundtrack, just a looping slideshow of photographs taken of refugees as they travel on their way to what they believe will be a better, safer life.  There are heart wrenching images of desperate people in their thousands, walking in long columns (reminiscent of scenes of WWII when people had to leave their homes or of prisoners or, worse, of the Jews being led to their deaths), in boats, standing crying on the shore when they reach safety after trips in overloaded boats and clashes with security at borders.  The viewer is drawn in to the unfolding story while looking on from the safety of the room.

Having been to all these places, does Ponomarev think photography can change the world? “No,” he says. “We are now so overwhelmed with visual information, it’s always around us.” However, he does think his pictures might “disturb people from living in their normal, cosy lives and probably encourage them to take action”. This could be making a donation or volunteering.’ The Guardian.

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There is a sense that this is an impossible task to resolve while being amazed at the resilience of the human spirit, but wondering how long it can keep going. I also felt a bit hopeless, that there is nothing that I can do to change any of it, help these people.  But maybe that is what he is aiming at in that by seeing that these are people, men woman and children who see Europe as being the place that they will be safe, that we will be spurred on to doing something even if it is only buying a blanket to keep them warm in the winter.

It was a sobering exhibition while also being one that captured my imagination and interest.


  1. http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/04/on-show-sergey-ponomarevs-a-lens-on-syria/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/apr/02/syria-photographs-sergey-ponomarev-imperial-war-museum
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/26/syria-heritage-in-ruins-before-and-after-pictures




Face2Face at Torre Abbey, Torquay

From the website advertising the exhibition.

Having recently met two other OCA students that live in Torbay, we met up to look at this exhibition and talk about the works together.  Alongside the usual works of art that hang in the Abbey, there were 30 mainly photographic works on display and scattered throughout the rooms.  It made an interesting discussion as to the curating of the work, where to put them and the decisions that had been made as to why certain works were in seemingly strange locations.  This is where the interaction with other students was helpful as they offered alternative ideas to mine, and while we can’t be certain our theories were correct, it made sense when looking again at the images in question.

There were works by people I had heard of and a lot that I hadn’t but then I vaguely recognised when seeing the images.  There were very large prints and some smaller frameless prints, some on acrylic, some black and white.  It was a treasure hunt trying to track them down among the permanent collection and some were in places that made you wonder why they had put them there.  There were three colour photographs that were quite small in size, all placed close to the ceiling in a room that had very high ceilings so the viewer has to crane their necks to be able to see them.  They were placed in a dining room decorated in late 19th century style while the images were modern – Sue Tilley posing in Lucien Freud’s Studio by Bruce Bernard being one of them.

At a time when I am studying about portraits and different ways of setting them up, this exhibition drew on ideas of self-portrait in work by Sarah Lucas and the family members by Richard Billingham caught seemingly unaware of the photographer, to Chris Killip and his black and white portraits of everyday work and people.  There were also some portraits of punks by Steve Johnston that I really liked as to me they set a time and place that could only be the late 1970s, early 1980s with the clothing hair and makeup.  We had a discussion about how strongly we could identify the period and how shocking the look was at the time, and how it still appears quite radical today in an era of highly sexualised and ‘one look’ that many young people adopt.  In one image of two girls, one was wearing fishnet tights and a jacket with spiky black hair and the harsh heavy makeup of the era.  There was a political message in the approach that I remember as being a way of sticking up two fingers to the establishment, it was anti-establishment, not-conforming to previous ideals and a way of shocking the older generation.  In another, a young man wears a swastika armband that would have been definitely something offensive to the generation that had fought in WWII, and even today appears as something that has connotations of something evil.  Interestingly, this image was in the same setting as another one called Our limit is that of the desire and imagination of the human mind (1996) by Michael Landy.  It is of a refuse worker dressed totally in red with black boots picking up paper people: “It was the artist’s response to the then government’s approach to the homeless and jobless in society, but coincided also with the wide emergence of the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the context of the war in the Balkans”. (from the accompanying bio on the wall)  Our thoughts were that the colouring in the photograph of red suit, black boots on a white background had connotations of the swastika colouring as well as having general suggestions that that colouring often suggests power.  The link between the actions of the Nazis in 1940s Germany and those of the Bosnians in the Balkans could also be read into the pairing of these two.  It’s possible that we overthought the whole thing but it was interesting just to discuss ideas.

Sarah Lucas’s work was not known to me but I was intrigued by it.  They were spread throughout the exhibition but the one that struck me most was Fighting Fire with Fire (1996) in which she has a defiant look that is very masculine as she smokes a cigarette.  However, she claims “she had one clear idea for this work, which was ‘to get a long ash’, rather than trying to look ‘defiant’ she wanted to convey a more natural look.”  It is an interesting take on the gaze that looks straight at the camera.  I found it amusing that her aim was to smoke the cigarette to a long ash and reminded me of my childhood where my friend’s mum used to permanently have a long ash on her cigarette. It explained the look that could be seen as defiant when maybe she was just concentrating really hard.  Two of her other works from this series were also on display: Eating a Banana (1990) and Human Toilet Revisited (1998).  These are two different images with the first being another stare at the camera in tough stance and the latter being a more unguarded moment, relaxed, contemplative in nature.  She appears to be thinking while sitting on the toilet seat lid in an unglamorous location of the bathroom.  She is an interesting artist and I will be looking more at her work.

There was one photograph that really caught my eye, a black and white image of a young man with tattoos on his face by Derek Ridgers.  I tried tracking it down online and it came up as a colour image which really changed it.  The black and white image had a beauty in the design of the tattoo that covered his face; the colour added a more aggressive feel to it as it was clearer that he was a skinhead.  I believe it was called Bonner, Kings Road Chelsea, 1982.

He has the barest hint of a smile and looks directly into the lens, which changes the feeling and softens it but the black and white one doesn’t show this so clearly.  The artistry of the tattoo is intricate and he has ‘skinhead‘ tattooed on his neck yet wears a paisley patterned scarf round his neck which I think is more allied with the Mods movement.  Maybe that is the point of punk, to take bits and pieces from other places and build it into a new identity and meaning.

Overall it was a good look at different styles of portraits and by different artists.  It helped having other students to talk to about the work and to make connections about what we like or dislike in photography. The siting of the images was a bit strange, being mixed in with paintings from other eras rather than the traditional gathering of all images in one place on white walls and subdued lighting.  It worked in one way but missed on another as it was quite hard to find them.  It also made a really nice change not having to fork out for the train fare to London to see it.







Seeing Exhibitions

Exhibitions of photography generally don’t come to the south west and so I need to travel to catch big well known exhibitions, something that has not been possible in the past.  Back in February I went to The Radical Eye at Tate Modern in London as well as the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the same place.  I was finishing off my work for Context and Narrative, and it was a welcome change from seeing images in books or on television. Radical Eye had been open for some time and it was fairly quiet so there was plenty of time and space to consider the exhibits there.  Dorothea Lange was on show and having spent some time studying her in previous modules, it was interesting to see the photograph up close.  I also liked the portraits by Irving Penn and Edward Steichen, and the work of Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) and Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971).  All in black and white, there was pathos and beauty in the work that stood out.   Overall though, I felt that I couldn’t really connect with the way that it was presented, low tones and subdued lighting were overwhelming but I understand the reason for the lights in order to preserve the prints.

The Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition was completely different in terms of light, space, framing, hanging and approach.  The first time that I saw it was a few days after it had opened and it was busy with lots of people of all ages packing the rooms.  In contrast to the hushed reverence of The Radical Eye, there was a lot of chatter and conversation as people looked at the exhibits and discussed what they were seeing.  I enjoyed wandering around and looking at the images, from huge prints hanging from bulldog clips to tiny prints apparently blu-tacked onto the wall.   Photography was allowed in these rooms and I snapped some of the ones that appealed to me most with my phone camera, more of an aid to memory than to put on a wall or in an album.  The one below caught my eye because of the striking colours of the orange umbrella against the muddy brown water and bright green lily leaves.  This image was, I would think, a 6×4 print as it was tiny on the huge wall and dwarfed by other images with there was a lot of space around it.

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Leaf for Architects, (2013). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York.

I was interested by the tables of information in the middle rooms with the juxtaposition of printed sheets, sheets torn out of newspapers or printed out, and the almost confusing linkage of the items together.  The ‘fake news’ stuff was really interesting and Tillmans commenting on the human psyche through this made me think more about the theme.

I revisited again last week, just before it closed, and had another look at the work this time without the crowds and noise.  It changed the feel of the exhibition for me as though somehow it is meant to be viewed surrounded by lots of people in order to make it more relevant.  This time, I also read the accompanying booklet which is something I often don’t do as I prefer to look first and think about it afterwards, or get an explanation for something in particular.  I was interested in seeing whether the same images stood out for me as last time, given that I had more time and space to see them and I think that I consciously looked for a couple.  The image of the car below, Fespa Car (2012) was one of the large prints, and I was drawn to it because of the colours – red, yellow, orange – as well as the black of the plastic. There is movement in the background of it and gives more of a sense of where the car is (at an exhibition, in a showroom?).  This time, I was more drawn to the Headlight (2012) but I believe it’s probably because it was referred to in the booklet.  The up close and personal view of the light was predatory, like a large eye watching you, especially with the red paintwork like a warning.

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    Fespa Car (2012) Wolfgang Tillmans
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Headlight (2012) Wolfgang Tillmans

However, I still liked the very large prints of abstract things – the dirt from the printer rollers on exposed paper, the folds of paper, and the sky images at the very end of the exhibition.  The printer ones tied in with the images of his office, and printer in pieces and touches on the production of photographs in that they go from something he sees to something printed on paper, but it can be changed by dirty rollers, incorrect settings and so on.

“What exactly are photographs? That’s a question that preoccupies David Hockney and there are signs that it intrigues Tillmans too. The darkroom equipment and materials can be used to do almost anything.”(https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/03/coolly-contemporary-especially-in-its-muddle-wolfgang-tillmans-at-the-tate-reviewed/)  This rings true because I went to the Hockney exhibition in April and was intrigued by his paintings and especially the montages of multiple images of the same thing to make up a whole that can be seen when you stand further away.  Usually I want to get closer to see parts of the whole but in this instance I stood back to get the overall picture before getting really close and seeing what he had captured in each individual one.

So that’s my take on two exhibitions.  I have been fortunate enough to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Tate Britain, Giacometti at Tate Modern, Wolfgang Tillmans twice at Tate Modern, The Radical Eye at Tate Modern and the Pink Floyd “Their Mortal Remains” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Quite different but all interesting in their own rights.