Project 1: The artist as curator

Part Two Exercise 2:1

Bring together a series of 12 images (a typology) in which a particular motif appears again and again. You may use found images (e.g. from your personal archive)  or images found online. Select an appropriate way to display your series.

I decided to begin first with online images as I haven’t previously ‘curated’ any with this type of purpose in mind.  I actually found this much harder than I thought for a variety of reasons. It was hard to think of a particular motif at first and then I became enchanted by image searches to the extent that it was hard to stop. Then, for some reason, women tilting their heads to one side came into my mind as when looking through my archives I noticed I had a tendency to do this in adolescence. Some quick online research brought up articles around the tilted head being a sign of passivity and deference. Having scrolled through several pages Google images didn’t actually produce that many which must be a triumph for feminism. Two further searches were conducted on ‘People cramming themselves into telephone boxes” and “Photographs of people taking photographs” (Joachim Schmid being in mind for that one.)

 

None of these produced very much and I also ran into classification problems in terms of aspect, should I mix colour with b+w, what about day time and night photographs as well.

I decided that I was following too much of a scattergun approach and needed to focus more, otherwise I would become obsessed with internet searches.  So far the Flickr site had been less productive than Google or Yahoo image searches but I returned to it to have another look. Remembering Schmid again I reminded myself that he first did the collecting and then the classification so it would be more sensible to find a collection and see if I could find 12 similar motifs within. This took me to a Collection of weekly Flickr Friday Challenges  a group that currently has  33,457 members (as at 19th August 2016), being formed in 28th November 2012 and has produced 25,150 photographs (as at 19th August 2016). Last week’s theme was ThreeOfAKind and I decided to take the first 100 (that were displayed on 13th August) and then sort them into classifications. I quickly ran into problems with the categories, e.g. three roses could count as flowers as well. Mushrooms and toadstools are a similar kind of species so should they be termed fungi. What about b+w – should they be a category of their own and/or by subject.

3 of a kind classifications

What quickly became clear was that there seemed to be a lot of gears, although I did have a quandary over a bicycle chain – decided not to include that. There was also visual pun with ‘going up a gear (girl in car in b+w) gear in a car, tool gear, football gear. Of the first 100 there were 24 images of gears, although I have to say that in some it wasn’t clear that there were three gears in each image. I also wondered whether the idea of photographing gears had caught on somehow – have to admit that I did get fascinated by the gears and it started me thinking about gears of the world, how everything has to work together and why is the number three so important. I chose 12 all of them different and although I had several attempts to layer them in some way I couldn’t think of a satisfactory/different way of presenting them.

12 gears contact sheet

 

I’d certainly been reminded about the importance of having an aim in searching for images, plus the difficulties involved in categories/classifications as well as feeling uncomfortable about ‘appropriating’ these images for my own purposes. With appropriations, copyright and permission in mind I went to Flickr Commons

Rights Statement The Commons

and, wondering what I might find, I put “Sheffield’ in the search box.  There was a wonderful serendipity about this because one of the collections that came up was as collection of lantern slides from a series titled Psychic Photography From A New Angle found in the collections of the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and posted on Flickr Commons on 4th July 2014.

These slides were apparently designed to accompany a lecture by a Mr C. P. MacCarthy of 15 Wilkinson Street, Sheffield and were produced under test conditions in 1934, in front of an invited committee at 76, Clarkehouse Road, Sheffield. There were thousands of viewings of the whole album but only two comments – on this one

Psychic Photography 14592578273_c8350a3311_o copy

(From Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums
Accessed on Flickr Commons 13.08.2016)

pointing out that this was a reproduction of a paper negative taken by W. Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey in August 1835.

Here is a contact sheet of 12 of the 16 images with a scan (?) of Mr MacCarthy’s letter (no addressee) regarding the Committee, date and venue and the reasons for his demonstration.

 

Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums were happy for viewers to share the images within the spirit of the Commons, citing ‘Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums’ when reusing.

Mr MacCarthy’s stated reasons for the demonstration seemed muddled to me. Could it be that he is very interested in, and maybe believes that ‘psychic’ photography can, under certain conditions, actually show emanations and ectoplasm etc but wants to warn other believers not to be taken in by fraudsters? Would he be speaking to an interested group, cynics, researchers? I searched on Google maps and found the place which is not too far from Sheffield University.

Google web

Shrouded with shrubs and so looking entirely suitable for such a meeting even after more than seventy years or so. I know the area and began to imagine what might have happened if, say, my Nan and Grandfather  had gone along with some friends of hers (my mother would have been to young). Catching the bus to the City Centre then a tram where they would dismount and walk up the hill, past St Augustine’s Church (where my parents would subsequently be married and I christened), then the Botanical Gardens, before crossing the road to the house.  Feeling some nervous anticipation of sights that might be seen. Maybe there would even be a séance!How to present these images for the Exercise? I experimented with layering, both colour and in b+w which meant that I removed their backgrounds.

psychic-layers-web

Black and white is probably more fitting but I’m not particularly satisfied with my results. There isn’t enough sense of drama and discovery here for me.

More Thoughts

I have recently bought the new edition of Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching Visual Materials  (G. Rose, 2016). Rose refers to Rogers (2013)  who recommends that, when using Google as a research tool, one needs to start with a ‘clean’ version of Google – all caches and cookies cleared – to make sure that previous searches won’t influence new ones (2016: 300).  That hadn’t occurred to me before and I have to admit that I now rarely clear cookies and caches because then I have to re-input various passwords on (non- finance) sites that I use regularly. I need to re-think this – maybe do searches on my laptop as this would create less of a problem.

Gillian Rose is a Professor of Cultural Geograpy at the Open University and very interested in how people make sense of their environments and how these understandings can then become encoded in aspects of culture.  I follow her blog  and have written about her previously, including work research she carried out on family snapshots.  I’m sure I’ll be making sue of the latest book and will probably write more about it in subsequent posts.

Returning to the slides – I am really curious as to how the Tyne & Wear Museum came into possession of these slides, given that they apparently originated in Sheffield. What on earth was their purpose, given that we know at least one of the slides was a copy of an early photograph from W. Fox Talbot. Was this Mr MacCarthy actually questioning the veracity of photographs and pondering upon how they could be used to fool /mislead the viewer. I put one of the other images into a Google image search but this is all I found and exploring a couple of the links brought up sites that were nothing to do with the photograph or or the link title.

Screenshot of google image search

One of the other reasons why I am interested is because I have had experience of a ‘psychic’ camera – one that is said to photograph people’s auras.  This was about 13 years ago when I went to a Body, Mind & Spirit Fair. I think it might have been this camera created by Aura Imaging. I found an article about Carlo Van d Roer, a New Zealand photographer who has used it here  Again, this modern photographer seems ambivalent regarding the claims of this camera whilst stating his interest in the kind of technology that might reveal something “otherwise unseen, something that we can only see through a photographic process”. His website about the project is here . My own photograph created in the UK has faded slightly, being polaroid, but, apparently, it’s good to be violet.

aura1 web

I don’t have the required technological knowledge but it all reminded me of some kind of infra-red camera that maybe filters different kinds of heat.

In conclusion, I can certainly identify with Joachim Schmid.  Maybe his obsessive interest in found images whether analogue or digital influenced and enlarged my similar interest whilst I was researching about him for my earlier post. Am I more or less inclined to create a project around found/appropriated online images? Well, I’m not sure at the moment, all I do know is that I will need to be very focussed and disciplined should I do so.

 

References

Rose, G (2016) Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching Visual Materials, London, UK, Sage Publications
https://catherinebanksdiac.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/part-2-project-1-the-artist-as-curator/
https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/visual-methodologies/book249907
https://visualmethodculture.wordpress.com
http://www.auraphoto.com/products/auracam.shtml?close
https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/albums/72157645096626138
https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=psychic%20photographs%20from%20Sheffield
http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/photographer-uses-8216psychic8217-camera-to-shoot-people8217s-auras/story-fn5fsgyc-1226688738692Article

 

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Part 2 Project 1: The artist as curator

Joachim Schmid

Joachim Schmid studied visual communication between 1976 and 1981 and after he began his career as a freelance writer he quickly became known for his criticism of the prevailing notions of art photography – instead advocating for a broader critique of photography as a cultural practice. I looked at his work whilst studying Context & Narrative (Level 1) and so had already accessed both links provided. The Interview with Sharon Boothroyd

On 10th December 2013 focussed on his interest in repetitive patterns in snapshots such as food and hands. He began by being interested in vernacular photography as a cultural practice with the idea of creating a visual survey of snapshot photography in the C20th.  I was interested that he called this ‘gathering’ rather than ‘collecting’ – so general rather than specific.  He expressed his enthusiasm for the advent of digital technology and sites such as Flickr because he had access to even more photographs.

The second link  provides a video of  Schmid discussing his work with Divya Rao Heffley and an essay by Heffley. The video begins with Schmid searching through boxes of  photographs in a fleamarket and then moves indoors to the interview. He calls his ‘gathering’ archaeological research, whilst only acquiring interesting photographs. He began in 1982 when he found a photograph in the street and then began collecting these discarded objects (Pictures from the Street (1982-2012)).  Schmid then moved onto being more systematic – visiting particular places in various Cities and roaming systematically – listing and cataloguing his finds in various categories (Photographic Garbage Survey Project (1996-97).

Schmids categories

“It’s amazing to see how much human energy is spent on the destruction of these pictures” (c7 min in) the dirt they take on, how they look. He calls his collection an Anti-Museum. this kind of collecting came to a natural end for him with the arrival of digital photography – people press the delete button so nothing in the street for him anymore. He talks of how people photograph food now where they didn’t before (see below) and apply photography in every situation – some of it strange/very strange. His curiosity about these practices shines through. “Somehow we all end up taking the same photographs” (c10.17 in). One collection is of photographs of newspaper on particular days. Again it was addictive to begin with having this unlimited supply but he was now trying to slow down.

He is seen showing his wife, Angelika Theuss, his new book  One Day in May a record of 50 shootings in one day. His wife is asked about his obsession’ and she confirms this is less now, for instance the other day he picked up a photograph in the street, looked at it for a while and then put it in the mailbox.

Heffley’s essay is a response to the video and these points interested me:-

  • By gathering rejects “Schmid’s work asks us to reconsider the so-called photographic canon, which depends on weighty notions of history, authenticity, and authorship”.
  • The traces of human action on the photographs (tearing, worn folds) “…. Are, for Schmid, the most revealing, and reflect the role that photography plays in everyday life. He is interested in the photograph as object
  • The Photographic Garbage Survey Project was an attempt to understand the flip side of photographic collection and preservations, and a need to document something specific in a world of limitless garbage, produced daily and on a global basis – both digitally and in print.

In his Chapter Archive Noises (Joan Fontcuberta writes how when searching through flea markets etc both Fricke and Schmid picked out images where they saw a resemblance to ‘unmistakable’ work of some great master and then produced pseudo-masterworks, thus conducting a ‘merciless critique of the notions of genius, style, canon ….. extending even to the whole notion of the masterwork” (2014:174). In Fontcuberta’s view these images are not false masterworks but alternative masterworks “because we have been left with no clear criteria for ascribing authorial value to an image……..What is important in a photograph does not lie in the excellence of the process by which it was obtained, or the ability of the eye, but in the function that we oblige them to perform, in their management, the mission we assign them”. Schmid’s grouping of ‘banal’ photographs into arbitrary typologies seems to mock the series of the Bechers and the Dusseldorf School.

Geoffrey Batchen wrote an article around Schmid in the Aperture blog ((Aperture 10, Spring 2013) and the hours he spends grabbing images from Flickr and using them to illustrate his own series of artist books Other People’s Photographs (2008-20111), having really written about this, I was interested to see that one of the books contains images of “currywurst” fast food in Berlin photographed by people about to eat some. Batchen’s point is this – that Schmid provides “.. a kind of anecdotal, surrealist ethnography of global photography today” and so he turns an  “… international genre of food photography into a regional, even an autobiographical, focal point ……. collapsing the global into the personal” and making it true to the character of social media itself.

On the above point, I should mention that Schmid does sometimes take photographs himself. I follow the blog of Elisabeth Tonnard – a Dutch artist and poet who works in artists’ books, photography and literature.  and on 26th July this year she referred to her own book Joachim Schmid Works and also his E-Book (2016). Tonnard’s book contains thirty-three photographs of Schmid working on his E-Book. Joachim Schmid Works is a small book with only 75 copies. Schmid’s E-Book   is based on a letter that Schmid wrote to Tonnard – the words of the letter remain invisible, but every E is included in the form of a photograph. There are 500 E’s which were photographed in a number of different cities in 2015. There is no digital version of this book. Tonnard provides a link to a review of both books in the Times Literary Supplement (July 26, 2016) by Dennis Duncan. Duncan links Schmid’s work with earlier books that omitted certain vowels (one of the authors Georges Perec, having been cited by Schmid as an influence) and the fact also that Tonnard’s book is a book of unselfies – each image being a photograph of someone else photographing someone else.

I find Schmid fascinating to observe for both his enthusiasm for collecting and his attempts to curb the obsessive nature of this.

 

References

Fontcuberta, J (2014) Archive Noises in Pandora’s Camera, MACK (pp169-181)

http://photolondon.org/programme/talks-archive/
http://aperture.org/blog/observing-by-watching-joachim-schmid-and-the-art-of-exchange/
http://weareoca.com/photography/an-interview-with-joachim-schmid/
http://www.nowseethis.org/invisiblephoto/posts/678/essay/13
https://elisabethtonnard.com
https://schmid.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/e-book/