Thursday, 9 October 2014

The last post....

For my course submission I sent prints along with hard copies of the five assignment submissions. Below are the thoughts I included in a covering letter to the assessors which explain some of the feelings I have in completing the course. I felt a great sense of relief taking my box of prints to the post office, I have thought more than once that I would not complete DPP and in the end I am glad that I did. Some of the lessons I have learned are detailed below, only time will tell if I am able to use the self awareness I have gained going forward or slip back into old bad habits. All I can say is that today I feel positive and motivated to face future challenges head on, I will try to remember this when old doubts slip into my mind. 

A note on completing the course:

I have found studying this course to be extremely challenging as it has coincided with me hitting a crossroad in my photographic development. As you will see from my assignment submissions, I have frequently been racked with self doubt and a feeling of being 'blocked' during the course. This affected me to such an extent that I strongly considered cutting my losses with the course and trying something different. I am pleased I managed to persevere and complete DPP and grateful that OCA extended my deadline so I was able to do this. Ironically, a tightly managed 6 week extension for the submission of each assignment really helped to focus my mind on producing work rather than worrying that I may fail. I found myself taking a great deal more risks than I would have normally, culminating in assignment 5 which was a huge leap of faith for me. I am grateful to my tutor Keith Roberts who encouraged me to take risks and push myself out of my comfort zone.

Unlike my previous course, The Art of Photography, I decided to keep an online blog for DPP. This was partly because I wanted to practice my writing skills - the act of publishing online for the world to see forced me to consider carefully what I was writing. Unfortunately, I found myself being extremely self critical and have only ended up publishing a selection of the notes I have made about further study. I have decided to keep these notes that I have not completed on my computer rather than spend an inordinate amount of time trying to formulate them into something I would be happy with. Unfortunately this means that my blog only contains a section of my further research. Hopefully the posts that are online will give you an idea of the type of reading and research I am doing.

My photographic motivations and influences have changed significantly during my time studying DPP; I am much less interested in technical perfection and have become more concerned with the multitude of ways photography can be used as visual communication and art. My focus now  is in exploring as much visual art as I can through books, magazines and gallery visits - and not just confining myself to photography. I am keen to develop my critical thinking and study skills and the next course I have enrolled on is Understanding Visual Culture. The challenge for me with this course however is to keep taking photographs driven by personal projects rather than the course material. This ties in well with the main learning I have gained from DPP: I need to be self motivated and self sustaining in my photographic practice.

In summary, I have probably learned more about myself studying DPP than I have about photography and this has been a difficult yet ultimately rewarding. I understand better now what motivates me and I feel I am starting to head in the right direction: I have not yet found my voice but I have a clearer understanding of the direction I need to go to.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Assignment 5: Response to Tutor Comments

I was extremely relieved that this assignment was favourably received, as I mentioned in my commentary I felt very much out on a limb here and I am reassured that Keith thinks I am on the right path. On his suggestion I have altered the positioning of some of the images, changed the font and centred the text more (revised images are shown below) . How the images would be presented was a consideration for me throughout the assignment. In my minds eye I imagined both pictures printed at 4x6 on opposite pages of a photo album. For assessment I have had the images printed side by side on A4 size paper, with hindsight I maybe should have followed through with my initial concept as presenting in a photo album would change the reading of the images considerably as it would express my intentions more fully and gain strength by becoming an artefact rather than a series of images.

Looking back on the course this last assignment feels light years away from the work I put together for the first assignment and I think demonstrates how I am now more able to take risks with my work. I am starting to think less like a student and more like an artist, I am less worried about failing and more driven to create and express myself. The assignment has given me the confidence to continue  experimenting and to try and push myself out of my comfort zone  whenever possible. I feel positive about my future studies and can see now the aim is to create an independent and sustainable practice.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Assignment 4: Response to Tutor Comments

The first section of Keith's feedback which draws attention to the work of Nick Ut, Dorothea Lange and Robert Capa threw me straight away and I quickly realised I had missed an opportunity with this assignment. These are all documentary photographers and Keith makes valid points about how cropping, perhaps the simplest form of photographic manipulation, can greatly alter how we read a photograph and our perception of the truth it contains.

I was pleased Keith appreciated me citing Morrissey as an influence as one of my reasons for including him is that he had, and continues to have a keen interest in how is worked is packaged and the images that are used to present his work. I think Keith recognises that I did not have the courage of my convictions here to discuss the work further. This explains my very technical approach to the assignment, I think I focussed too much on design rather than exploring the notion of photography and truth. Keith makes pleasing comments about my ascetic choices for the cover design but I feel somewhat disappointed with myself here as I have played safe and not stretched myself to move forward; I have stayed too much in my comfort zone. If I was to complete this assignment again I think I would pursue I more purely photographic approach and try to produce a cover in the style of an artist with a strong visual identity like Morrissey. 

Assignment 5 - Tutor Comments

Overall Comments

Many thanks for submitting this last assignment Michael, which I thought was a very touching and worthwhile project.

Key issues mentioned in my last report are as follows:

  • Look at the work of Nick Ut / Dorothea Lange / Robert Capa

Feedback on assignment

I really liked the Barthes quote that you opened with here and a book by Keith Jenkins immediately sprung to mind.  I have listed it below and although it isn’t strictly photographic  … I think you might get something from this.  Jenkins goes on to highlight the fact that ‘History’ and ‘The Past’ are two entirely different things, and can be interpreted differently depending upon who is reading them.  The past has already happened and can never happen again … whereas History, through writings etc, is an attempt to bring it back by the historians / theorists / academics etc.  Jenkins carefully differentiates between the two.

I really liked this project from start to finish and thought there was a real purpose to it.  It can often be very difficult for undergraduates to grasp the fact that this medium is about so much more than just one off slick images.  I liked the fact you have used ‘found’ images, sourced from your family archive – this is a creative milestone in my opinion.  I also thought the presentation worked well in terms of the duplicated reflection, with the opacity reduced.  The text could have been ‘designed’ a little more perhaps … in terms of font  / size / page justification / positioning etc … but the content was very reflective and moving at times.  The fact you have chosen to tackle this project in such a way leads me to believe you are definitely heading in the right direction in terms of your development critically. Take a look at Tacita Dean’s project called ‘Floh’.

I’d also like you to look at the work listed below by a British photographer called Julian Germain.  He was in residence at the National Media Museum a few years back and for the ‘Every Minute ….’ project, he spent a number of years photographing a man called Charles Snelling.  The images have been shot with a large format camera and really enter into the personal life of this fascinating subject.  It shows that a chance encounter with somebody can lead to the development of both a relationship and output of a body of work over an extended period.

Lastly, I would also recommend reading the Photography, History & Memory publication listed below … here is a short quote which might attract your curiosity !

Once a photograph comes out of storage, it is as if ‘energy’ is released. (Hayes, Silvester, Hartmann, 1999)

Learning Logs/Critical essays

Again, this is working well … the only thing I would suggest here is the possibility of making navigation a little more straight forward.  It does seem a little chronological at the moment.

Assignment 4 - Tutor Comments

Overall Comments

Many thanks for submitting this assignment Michael, the imagery and contextualization for which worked well in my opinion.

Key issues mentioned in my last report are as follows:

  • Look at the work of Evans / Joshua Cooper / Davis
  • Further research the term ‘Genus Loci’ and in particular its application within photographic practice.
  • Continue to read around the subject matter and cite academic reference.

Within the broader photographic consideration of the terms ‘real’ and ‘fake’, I normally suggest to my students to take a look at this image taken by Nick Ut in Trang Bang village just outside Saigon, Vietnam in 1972 [see below].  It is a very famous image that has been seen all around the world and has been used on various front covers of magazines etc [Time 1972].  It depicts the young nine year old girl Kim Phuc, running towards the camera after a Napalm attack on her village by the US forces … another example of friendly fire as the villagers were allied Southern Vietnamese and not part of the North Viet Cong fighters.  The image is full of all the harrowing impact expected to be found in war imagery and has lost none of its initial impact over the past 40 years since it was taken.  There was also some moving image footage taken of exactly the same event at the same time, but this fails to have the impact of the stills shot which has literally caught the moment in time.  The reason I bring this image to your attention is that the original image was cropped slighted on the right hand side.  We now know that this was shot on 35mm monochrome film and therefore the format of the shot is slightly more square than it should be for a full frame 35mm image.  What was excluded from the shot was a soldier at the side of the road loading a film into a camera – which when included completely reduces the overall impact of the image as the question is asked why he was not in assistance etc.  He was removed to add impact.

There is also a similar debate raised with an image taken by a photographer called Dorothea Lange, who took photographs for the American Farm Security Administration [FSA] in the 1930’s.  This image has been called ‘Migrant Mother’ and is also pictured below – the debate was about a ‘thumb’ that had been printed out of the bottom right hand corner, suggesting somebody was ‘revealing’ the family from behind the side of the tent and therefore staging the shot. 

It might also be worth reading about Robert Capa’s ‘Death of a Spanish Militiaman’ taken in 1936.  These are all healthy arguments still raging within photographic debate in relation to image manipulation and could be elaborated upon within your blog.

Feedback on assignment

From the outset I was impressed with the fact you had mentioned Morrissey in your initial research, as his attention to detail in terms of packaging his creative output was inspirational to an entire generation.  It may also have been an idea to have shown some visuals here of specifics in relation to these covers … including any critical opinions sourced and your own thoughts etc.

Both Cover A and Cover B are fair attempts and your intention to keep the cover as simple as possible was evident in both.  I think in this respect Cover B worked better and was actually quite convincing. I was also very happy to observe the attention you had given to the use of text on the image, which again worked better in Cover B in my opinion.  This is something that is often overlooked with this exercise or certainly placed at the bottom of the list.  The 30% / 60% is a good rule of thumb and the title sat well on the box at the bottom of the image – even the colour of the type face looked correct as if it had been directly sourced from the original matchbox.  As a technical exercise I think you have learnt from this assignment, which will become helpful in the future.  There is an assignment at level HE5 which requires students to actually produce an illustration of one of a series of titles including Perfume / The Diceman / The Outsiders / 1984 etc … which students find very challenging – you could almost view this attempt as a precursor to that assignment.

Learning Logs/Critical essays

This is proving to be a good vehicle for evidencing the development of ideas and generation of research and testing.  There is plenty of practitioner research being conducted and reviews of exhibitions etc.  Also … you may want to remove any evidence of the use of Wikipedia as source of reference, if this applies.

As mentioned above, you’ll also need to include books / literature / journals / magazines as source of research prior to submission for assessment.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Understanding Visual Culture

I sent my last assignment to my tutor today which marks the (almost) end of my journey with DPP. In celebration (!) I have enrolled on my next and last level 1 course, Understanding Visual Culture. This marks a major departure for me as the course is purely academic and theory based. At this point in my development however I feel I need to kick start my theoretical knowledge. Also, because the course requires a great deal of research and writing I hope to become more comfortable and disciplined about putting my thoughts down in writing. I feel excited and motivated by the final flurry of activity I have experienced completing DPP....hopefully I will be able to sustain this through the course.

UVC Blog

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Assignment 5: Personal Project

“What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.” 
Roland Barthes, 'Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography'

Unlike other assignments, notably assignment 2, I have known for a long time what subject I would tackle for the final assignment of the course. I was inspired by an article in the March 2013 edition of 'The British Journal of Photography' about photography in children's books particularly reading about Alec Soth and his collaborations with his own children. I thought this would be a fun way to end the course to do this myself and for months have talked to my three children about producing a story book together. We discussed the story, the look and I encouraged them to write scripts and story board. Then at the time we started shooting the images and experimenting with Photoshop things changed because my Grandmother passed away suddenly.

The practicalities of dealing with a family members death took up the majority of my spare time and I was not in the right frame of mind to work on the storybook. On an evening I found myself thinking through memories of my Grandmother and considering the relationship we had. I had been asked to speak at the funeral and was finding coming up with something extremely difficult, I found myself facing complex emotions when thinking about my grandmother, not all of them positive and this played heavily on me. I started looking through old photographs on my computer which dated back as far as 2002 when I got my first digital camera. I started looking for prints from earlier than this but could not put my hand on any although I knew they packed away in the house somewhere. I asked my mother to do the same and she had a similar problem, however, she did manage to find around 50 prints and I found myself viewing these in a much different way now that my grandmother had passed. The photographs carried an emotional charge for me and I found myself drawn to images that I probably would have discounted earlier. The majority of pictures were 'badly' composed or had exposure problems, I found myself looking closer at a number of pictures on my computer that had not made it into my selects when I first edited them. Why was this? Was it because I was looking at the photographs through the prism of grief or had my way of seeing altered in recent months? I was certainly aware that I was becoming more interested in less conventional approaches to image making but how much of an effect had this had on me? Typical with family snapshots a lot of the images were posed and taken on special occasions - birthdays, Christmas, weddings. I realised that I was attracted to the more natural looking pictures, they seemed to show more truth (as I understood it) because often the people in them were unaware of being photographed or had not been given time to put up there defences, pose and smile.

In a strange coincidence I had also recently finished reading Roland Barthes 'Camera Lucida' after being encouraged to do so by my tutor. The book had sat on my shelf for some time and I had mentioned to my tutor that I was trying to build up the courage to tackle it, his comment was that although Barthes could be "prickly" in places it was worth persevering with. My first impression was that the book was much different than I expected - I did not think the tone would be so personal and I found myself engaged. The writing felt accessible but poetic and dense at the same time. Sometimes I found myself understanding exactly what Barthes was asserting and at others I was perplexed. I realised quickly that the book was something I would need to come back to many times again to gain a complete understanding and allowed the words to seep over me. The sections that deal with the death of Barthes mother and his search for her essence in old photographs struck a chord with me but I did not expect to be doing the same thing myself - not that I did this with images of my Grandma in a conscious way, it just seemed to happen. Without really realising what I was doing I had collected a number of images together, I found the process comforting. I then began to wonder if I would do anything with the pictures, I would probably have some new prints made I thought. I cannot exactly remember when I decided I would use some of these images for this assignment rather than make the photobook with my children that I had long planned to do. It just suddenly seemed like the right thing to do - I felt compelled to produce something, maybe it was the feeling that the act of doing this would be some sort of catharsis. As I have discussed throughout the course, particularly in relation to assignments, I am often full of self doubt and have to really push myself at times to produce the work for the course. I would say I am a private person and certainly not someone that would turn the camera on themselves in the way Nan Goldin does, certainly none of the work I have produced for any of my OCA courses has been about me, and here I was about to produce something completely personal without a shred of self doubt - quite the opposite, I would say I was compelled to do it.

I remembered about 'The Dad Project'  by Briony Campbell which was a work that had a tremendous effect on me when I came across it some time ago. I identified with it because I went through a similar situation watching my Grandfather slowly die six years ago. The thing that impressed me most was how personal the piece was and how Campbell used the project to deal with the grief of her father dying from cancer. The project is harrowing and does not shy from the grim reality of the situation and yet is also uplifting. The final image is of Campbell as a child wearing her Dad's coat, shoes and hat and is a poignant and fitting conclusion. The captions work in harmony with the images and read more like diary entries rather than explanations of what is happening in the photographs which is fitting since the piece is in itself a diary of her Dad dying. My opinion of captioning images has been changing of late, previously I believed captions should be brief and not influence the viewer into how they should read and image. Now I am beginning to understand how words can and images can work together to enrich the viewing experience rather than detract. I recently visited an exhibition by Lorna Simpson and who uses writing extensively in her work to great effect, the words do not lead the viewer about what to think but rather enable you to question what it is you are viewing. For example, one work 'The Car' (1995) the reading of the piece is transformed by the words which accompany it, the scene changes from a seemingly innocent even boring view to take on a charged, illicit and seedy feel.

So now I had an idea of what I wanted to do, I photographed the prints I had been given by my mother and began the selection process. Unlike other times when I have selected images I was unconcerned about composition and exposure, in fact, in hindsight I probably selected some images because they were issues with them. My only guide to selection was that something should be in the pictures to prick my attention. I then wrote a short a few sentences to go with each image. I did not really know what I would write but I found the process to happen quickly and organically, some words were from the eulogy others were thoughts I had in my mind but had not been able to articulate aloud. I wanted the words to sit alongside the images but when I did this the text seemed at odds with the photographs. Intuitively I copied and flipped the photographs before lowering the opacity by 50% and overlaying the text. For me this adds an element of distance between the viewer and the pictures, you are made aware that what you are  looking at has been selected for a particular effect. Flipping the images is also slightly off putting, I find myself looking between the images and being made explicitly aware that this is a picture I am viewing; a representation rather than a truth.

Finishing writing about this assignment I feel a sense of conflict that on the one hand I am glad this is what I chose to do and on the other I have gone too far out on a limb. It is completely outside of my comfort zone to produce work like this and I doubt I would have been able to do this at any other time because of how close it was to my Grandmas passing. I am shocked at how compelled I was do this and the sense of drive I had - this is not a typical feeling, usually I find bringing everything together a long, drawn out process. And yet, with this project which is deeply personal to me I found the images and words coming together quickly and organically. Truthfully, I am far too close to the subject matter to be objective and I am unsure of how the images will be read. I hope it will be seen as being genuine and heartfelt but worry it is maybe too indulgent and sentimental, Barthes never shows the reader the 'Winter Garden Photograph' the photograph of his mother in which he found her "essence" and discusses at length in 'Camera Lucida' he says, "it exists only for me. For you it would be nothing but an indifferent picture." A sobering thought as I send this assignment in, I guess only time will enable me to look back and decide whether the images here have any meaning for anyone but myself.