Research and Reflection

Beginning – Thinking about the Digital Self

Thanks to my fellow student Julie  for introducing me to the phrase ‘digital native’ – used as early as 1996 and then popularized by Mark Prensky . Prensky’s view was that there is a distinction between the young ‘digital natives and older people, who he termed ‘Digital Immigrants’ .

“The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were “socialized” differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.”  (M. Prensky 2001).

According to this piece there are also ‘Digital Settlers’ – those there at the start and ‘Digital Immigrants’ who learned how to use e-mail and social networks late in life..

Prensky’s view was that young “digital natives’” brains have physically changed as a result of the digital revolution. I know much has been written about the negative effects of the digital revolution on young minds – unable to spell; short attention spans; needing information in short bites only;, unable to engage in a group because they are always checking their phones and shutting themselves off from ‘normal’ human intercourse; cyber-bullying etc. There are positives though, many children and adolescents learn to balance their use of digital media with both physical and interpersonal activities. One study, ”A Day in the Digital Life of Teenagers” spent a year of fieldwork  looking at the lives of 28 teenagers and the researcher was encouraged by how well they managed digital devices and content and concluded that these have become teenagers’ way of ‘asserting their agency’.

My eight year old grandson, a ‘digital native’ born into the age of digital – deep into the world of ‘Minecraft’. What I really noticed was, whereas I could only pretty much see large, blurry pixels, he was very engaged in building a world for himself; a non-competitive world at that, Whereas I would need an image, a sentence of description in a book – even a word, written or spoken, his brain has learned to build a world using a few pixels.  From there he will often move to his lego collections, building scenarios, creating animated videos. His use of the digital world is just one of his many other activities.

Photographer Wendy McMurdo’s project used photography, film and moving image to explore how the use of online building games impacted on identity formation in children and ‘to bring together the invisible world of data with the concrete world of ‘things’, through merging photography and 3D rendering techniques. I’ve kept thinking about ‘Minecraft’ and how, to me, those pixel blocks provide an external, visual representation of the networking of our brain cells as they manipulate data to form ideas and constructs. This reminds me of the theories of Marshall McCluhan in the 1960s and his writing on the effect of printing on the way people perceived their world.

A recent Aeon article refers to ’the extended mind’ whereby memories, thoughts, perceptions extend beyond the body to algorithmically mediated objects, databases and networks”. Our brains adapt just as they adapt to reading the symbols that comprise the alphabet, or music, or, in my case, learning shorthand. I don’t think of it as one thing or another but as an accretion of knowledge and skill.   Simon Jenkins wrote an article in The Guardian   (2 Feb 2017) noting that sales of old-fashioned vinyl records have soared to a 25 year peak (I should add that we have some and they are digitally re-mastered to provide enhanced sound), printed books are recovering ground from e-readers, plus there is more questioning of the negative effects of the internet. Jenkins suggests that we are now heading for ‘post-digital’, employing new technology as a servant and not as a master.

I was born into a world where few people had telephones and there was no television. News was from the radio, newspapers or Pathe News at cinema visits – obviously old. I consider myself to be a ‘digital settler’ being there at the start of the digital revolution and welcoming computers – maybe because I already knew how to type with all my fingers!  Also, to my mind, it maybe isn’t so much of an ‘age’ thing but the degree of  aptitude/orientation, i.e. some people are better at reading maps than others because their spatial skills are more developed. I’m writing this in hope because I still can’t follow those pixel blocks in ‘Minecraft’, let alone work my way building a website – yet!

 

https://aeon.co/essays/how-algorithms-are-transforming-artistic-creativity
http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no4/koutropoulos_1211.htm
https://theconversation.com/a-day-in-the-digital-life-of-teenagers-58553
http://www.borndigitalbook.com/excerpt.php
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/02/digital-revolution-age-of-experience-books-vinyl
http://wendymcmurdo.com/photography/classrooms/

 

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Reflection on Assignment 3: Critical Essay

Reflection on Assignment  3: Critical Essay 

Preamble

Before reflecting on the Assignment I need to acknowledge what has been happening for me since I started this Module. Basically I’ve had health problems – not serious ones but ones  that affected my ability to concentrate.  Firstly I waited months to have a cataract in my left eye dealt with and then more months to have my gall bladder removed after been taken to hospital A&E with biliary colic.  I did my best to carry on regardless, and it isn’t that I didn’t produce anything at all, as can be seen from my blog posts. However, made very slow progress and several times wondered whether I should stop my studies because, maybe, I was always going to feel like this. Thankfully I’ve felt much better this last couple of months physically and mentally and feel more energised.

At first I intended to focus the Critical Essay on ‘The Female Gaze’ and submitted a proposal to my tutor who, quite rightly, replied ‘As you yourself note, this is a huge subject (and your working bibliography is longer than most PhD docs) so you will have to narrow it down’. She suggested I narrow it down on one or more artists who specifically use the internet as a way of expressing their themes and ideas.  I thought long and hard on this and, indeed, made some notes on artists who make much use of Instagram. In the end though, and in view of not feeling that great anyway, I decided to ponder on the Critical Essay a little longer.

With renewed health and enthusiasm I re-thought and decided to be sensible.  I had written twice previously about Martha Rosler and her views on social documentary and what was missing see here https://catherinebanks.wordpress.com/category/workshops-attended/4-oca-thames-valley-group-meetings/iii-fourth-meeting-18th-august-2013/b-martha-roslers-work/   and here  https://catherinebankscn.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/2-projects-1-and-2/  and decided that it would be good to continue along this theme to see how much the digital revolution had changed the way photojournalists and documentary photographers were working and whether the rise of citizen journalism had helped or hindered this.

The way I chose to cover the topic was to read around events first, draw up a force-field analysis and work from there.  Stuart Allan’s chapter ‘Blurring boundaries: professional and citizen photojournalism in a digital age’ in The Photographic Image in Digital Culture (2013) was very useful in laying out the scene so I used it as a lynchpin for research, having already read and viewed much of Fred Ritchin’s thoughts and suggestions on how photojournalists could make use of digital technology. With Allan and Ritchin as signposts I read further, including reminding myself of the views of Marshall McLuhan way back in the 1960s. I’ll be writing further on McLuhan because, although I grasped his meaning when introduced to his work in the 1970s, I couldn’t really find the words to summarise them whereas now I can, I think, including why Jean Baudrillard turned to McLuhan’s ideas to look at the links between social relations and the communications used by a society. I think that McLuhan and Baudrillard will be very useful in looking at digital identities in Part Four.

Assessment Criteria

I think that ‘Quality of Outcomes’ and ‘Context’ will be the most relevant for the Critical Essay. I find academic writing frustrating because of its style; not being supposed to use the word, and its structure. However, I think I have been able to demonstrate sufficient grasp of the context and ideas for the reader to follow my lines of thinking and also that I have managed to maintain a focus on the main thrust of the essay without going off too much at a tangent. I think I have also demonstrated a relevant and appropriate range of research as well through references cited.

 

 

 

Digital Image and Culture Assignment 3 : Critical Essay

The brief of the essay was to respond to one of four questions.  I chose to answer

Has the ‘digitial revolution’ created more problems than opportunities for today’s professional photographers? Discuss this question using relevant case studies and/or specific aspects of modern professional photography.

by asking the question

How has the digital revolution affected the role of photojournalists?

Attached is a PDF of the essay

Assignment 3- Digital Image and Culture

 

Interrupted Landscape: Weftwood

I had this idea of creating another installation in the Copse.  Away from the main path there’s a small ‘clearing’ atop a low hillock. Someone created a swing there sometime in the past – a hunk of rope from a tree branch tied around a large piece of wood and, during last year (2016), a tepee ‘structure’ appeared off to one side, sometimes partially covered by some old faded green cloth/tarpaulin. Towards the end of that year, a somewhat dilapidated garden seat appeared in front of the tepee. Quite often I’d see the remains of a fire, empty drink cans, bits of paper and such scattered around. I never saw any people, though I’m guessing it’s some youngsters who occasionally gather together there.

The garden seat was slowly breaking down so, in July, I decided the seat needed to be rejuvenated in some way and decided to do this with wool – weaving different colours on its back. My usual question – “Am I creating litter?” – well there was litter there already (which I’ve occasionally cleared away) and whatever I created would be temporary and removed at an appropriate point.

July

Friday 14th – red and green wool bought from Sue Ryder Charity shop.

Saturday 15th – announced my intention at TV group

Sunday 16th – off to the Copse with wool, camera, and scissors. Made my first ‘mark’. Posted on Instagram.

Tuesday 18th – Copse – The second stage needs wool strands not from the skein because the skein won’t fit through the slats. I cut a long piece and placed scissors and skein back in my backpack. Just as I was making my first new knot I turned round – there was Digby chasing off with the skein – wool streaming behind it. I got it back, a bit bedraggled, unravelled and with bits of leaves sticking into it. Put it back ‘safely’ I thought. Next thing I know is that both dogs have the unravelled skein on the ground and are playing with it. Rescued – back in bag, do I leave the leaves in the wool now? New weaving done so 2 strands now. Created a beginnings video as well.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/226924929″>In the Beginning</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/cblearninglog”>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

It then rained seemingly endlessly for days and there was too much mud to go on the Copse.

August

Friday 11th and Sunday 13th – six sets of strands now but knew I wouldn’t be able to do more for a while due to a forthcoming operation then having an extra dog to care for.

September

Monday 4th – Feeling stronger although not quite so sure about the amount of bending needed to weave the wool.  Wondering what had happened on the Copse though so picked a brighter spell of weather to have a look.  All seemed fine.

Saturday 9th – Oh No!  I couldn’t believe what had happened.  The ‘swing’ had been dismantled with a rope swung up to another tree, with the block of wood dangling, plus a pallet contraption.  Seemed like another version of Stig of the Dump . Found the bench, even more decrepit, at the top of an incline overlooking the clearing with just a few strands of red wool hanging from it.

 

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/234493861″>Weftwood 9th September 2017</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/cblearninglog”>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Sunday 17th – all change again – just bits of wood left now and sad, red wool strands.

Reflecting further on this experience I think that I was seeking a response –  from these unknown strangers and maybe from other people who walk the Copse with their dogs.  I have occasionally seen people with young children there and the children utilising the ‘swing’ – even my own grandchildren have had a go. It was mainly the ones I was imagining as youngsters hanging out I was interested in though. Would they notice?  Well, did they notice or was there some kind of unconscious transference that led them to create their own strange installation.  I’m writing ‘strange’ but why should their actions be more strange than my own efforts and why would I think of my own project as more creative? Maybe it was that my intention was to interact with the landscape in a different less destructive way and leave a transient ‘mark’ rather than upend everything.

Part way through the project I had thought of ‘Interrupted Landscape” and decided that this would be a good name for an overall theme I could follow in different ways.  The work I’ve been doing with the poppy field will also fit this theme as there have been changes there too this year (another post to follow).

I intend to continue with my theme and see where it takes me. There’s some wool left …..

2. “A Handful of Dust” Exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, London

“A Handful of Dust” Exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, curated by David Campany
OCA Study Visit on 2nd September 2017

Thirteen of us met with tutor Jayne Taylor at the Whitechapel Gallery to explore the Exhibition, then have lunch together followed by a post prandial discussion.

The Exhibition begins with the long exposure photograph said to have been taken by the photographer Man Ray on the occasion of a visit to the studio of Marcel Duchamp in 1920 to photograph Duchamps’s work the Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).When you look here  you can see that Dust is even listed as a Medium of the work so I wondered if that’s a modern nod to Man Ray’s photograph or something originally intended by Duchamp.  Having now done some internet researching I found an MA thesis  (2007) by Jonathan R. Fardy  which refers to Duchamp having intentionally allowed an accumulation of dust to collect   Duchamp titled the photograph Dust Breeding but when it appeared in the October 1922 edition of Littérature  the text (written by both Man Ray and Duchamp) was credited View taken from an airplane by Man Ray 1921.

In a 2015 interview with Aperture Magazine discussing his book A Handful of Dust     David Campany (the curator of the Handful of Dust Exhibition) refers to his feeling that “….there was a whole history of the last century that could be extrapolated from that one image”. He goes on to say, “A thickness of dust is a measure of time.  It’s also a latent sign of actions or processes.  It’s domestic but cosmic too. To see the world from the point of view of dust will give a different perspective of history and civilization.” The Exhibition isn’t about dust as such, but uses it as a pivot around which to muse upon photography as a creative act. I think that includes the way text is used as well given that the same photograph with two different captions leads/misleads in different directions.

This was one of those occasions where I didn’t read up on the Exhibition before I visited and  I had two main responses to it on the day. Firstly, in answering the question afterwards as to what our response to the Exhibition might have been if we were not photographers, I answered along the lines of, “I would have walked straight through it”. I might have thought it interesting but no more than that. It had a rather grey, dessicated  atmosphere for me maybe because the images were mainly monochrome. I even thought that it was more of an Exhibition for photography students, especially considering that David Campany is an academic at the University of Westminster. There is something there around stretching a concept as far as possible in philosophical discourse, as does Lisa Stein in her article in Photocaptionist  (6 June 2016) where she muses upon Campany’s book; Man Ray’s photograph; Poussiere [Dust] George Bataille’s reimagining of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, and a quote from Winfried Georg Sebald which also appears in the Exhibition.

In discussing this quotation Lisa Stein turns the notion of ‘the decisive moment’ on its head by  referring to Bataille’s ‘total embrace of the experience of ‘not-knowing’ which he perceived to be prerequisite for the creative act”, so that creative potential lies dormant in any photograph and its meaning ‘might lie in what follows its circulation’. This can certainly be applied to Man Ray’s long exposure photograph.

Some images that drew my attention

Mona Kuhn

Ruins in Reverse (2012) a photograph of a computer screen showing a Google Earth view of California City, a planned but abandoned settlement in the desert. This is actually from Private  a series that links together nudes, desert, form, light, shade and shadow and David Campany wrote Stardust an essay for the book  of the series.

Royal Road Test  (1967) documents, in a quasi scientific manner,  the dropping of a royal typewriter from a speeding Buick car and what happens .  It was a collaboration between Mason Williams, Edward Ruscha and Patrick Blackwell  and it seems to me that they had fun doing it.  The book itself was one of a series of mass produced and cheaply printed books, created by Ruscha, that parodied the American romantic vision of ‘the road’. It was also, apparently, an influence in the making of the film California typewriter  ‘a documentary portrait of artists, writers, and collectors who remain steadfastly loyal to the typewriter as a tool and muse’ – an apposite bringing together of old/new, digital/analogue.

Xavier Ribas  (2008)

On the 24th February 2004 Necso-Acciona, owners of an empty industrial plot in Barcelona, evicted some 60 Gypsy families living there by digging and lifting the concrete floor of the site. The remains continue to give testimony of this displacement.

A large grid of photographs of the site is flanked by a smaller google earth composite view of the site as it was when the photographs were taken.

Jeff Mermelstein

Statue  from Ground Zero, September 11, 2001 (Series)

 

A powerful image for me, evoking my feelings and memories of that day with the cement dust-covered statue serving as an early monument here to all those who were killed.

Eva Stenram

Per Pulverem Ad Astra 3.AP1, (2007)

 

Stenram downloaded from NASA high-resolution digital files of images made of the surface of Mars. She then transferred these to colour negative film and left the negatives under her bed to gather dust before using them to make prints – thus combining the cosmic and the domestic as one.

Louise Oates

 Notes on Hydraulic Fracturing: The Desolate North-East 1, 2 and 3, 2014

 

 

Dirt shaped into maps of land where gas is being extracted by hydraulic fracking

Nick Waplington

 From his series The Patriarch’s Wardrobe (2010)

 

Photographs taken on a landfill site south of the city of Hebron (situated on land once called Palestine). The waste delivered there comes from Jewish Settlements in the Judea region of the West Bank. Before the waste is buried it is scavenged by Palestinian children working in groups for adult ‘handlers’. Waplington worked at a distance to avoid revealing identities.  The photographs are juxtaposed with paintings made of the landscape of the West Bank. Each painting represents a piece of this disputed land, and is based on colours caught by the photographs and then reworked in Waplington’s studio. The series as a whole has so much to say to me on ‘waste’ of people, cultures, lives not to mention commodities.

Some conclusions

Having now looked at the iPhone images I took in the Exhibition and researched/read about the photographs and their creators, I agree with George Bataille and Lisa Stein. Prompted, of course, by the words of David Campany, my mind has worked along the concept of dust, waste and creativity and so I have woven my own stories around particular photographs that attracted me; created my own tapestry view of the Exhibition. I’m aware as well that I have also picked out some colours from monochrome whilst also being mainly drawn to contemporary conceptual photography. I can understand the colour aspect because that’s always been my preference but less sure regarding conceptual photography as being the path for me given that I’m still drawn towards landscape photography. Let’s wait and see.

In the meantime below is a short video where David Campany introduces the Exhibition

 

References

http://aperture.org/blog/conversation-david-campany/
http://californiatypewritermovie.com
http://davidcampany.com
http://davidcampany.com/dust-to-dust/
http://photocaptionist.com/ism/david-campany-handful-dust/
https://www.flowersgallery.com/artists/mona-kuhn/works/view/48083-ruins-in-reverse
http://www.louiseoates.co.uk/Book
http://www.nickwaplington.org/the-patriarchs-wardrobe/
http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/54149.html
https://www.photobookstore.co.uk/photobook-private.html#.Wa6qWK3Gxm8
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jun/08/a-handful-of-dust-whitechapel-photographers-show
http://www.xavierribas.com

 

 

Bath Spa University Graduate Show : June 2017

I travelled to Bath for a meet-up with Anna and after a catch-up on progress on our individual OCA work, we went along to the Graduate Show of Bath School of Art and Design. A busy day as this was also an Open Day for prospective students. Oh to be young again with the world at my feet!

There was a huge variety of work to view, scattered over the site, and here’s a selection from those I found particularly interesting.

 

After talking with Susannah Lemon – a Three Dimensional Designer –  about the sculptural lamp she had created from an old bicycle chain, I was attracted towards a table of ‘artefacts’ and other objects  created by Joshua Roughly another student of Three Dimensional Design.

He focused on “…. The creation , curation and study of objects and spaces that tell stories through a conceptual narrative attachment”, and his Design Studio is named Sögumaður   –  the place where stories are made.  The table/display contained his project based on Cryptogeology “the pseudoscientific study of geological formations that feature physical, chemical or historical references that are able to prove or suggest the potential existence of creatures that have a disputed or unsubstantiated actuality”- creatures such as trolls, objects and structures – to be touched and viewed and wondered about.

 

Juan Fontcuberta’s name doesn’t seem to be mentioned but, to me,  Joshuas’s work seems in the same spirit and I enjoyed its whimsical and imaginative nature. He even has an Etsy shop where he sells textile taxidermy

Josephine Frayling

In her Traditional and Digital Paintings and sketches Josephine explores classical figurative painting from a contemporary stance including using symbolic imagery from nature. The use of colour and the direct gaze really drew me here and I could almost imagine her subject stepping out of the frame.

Elizabeth Horridge

The above is a detail from a very large ‘installation’ strung along a wide area. Elizabeth’s work relates to the body – the concept of ‘fat rolls’ and body image – including  sculptural installations(as this one)  using  various types of materials such as latex, chains, woods, butchers’ hooks and bin bags. This is a visceral project that certainly almost hit me in the eyes and made me walk closer to look. Elizabeth was also involved in a Facebook Project “The Postal Art Project” that involved responding to a second-hand postcard – the outcome to be a collaborative zine. Interesting description of her approach to it  here 

Maria Kay

 

Delicate drawings in a concertina book  from Maria who is a Contemporary Arts graduate, printmaker and bookbinding enthusiast who handwrites her blog posts.

Photographers

Some of the ones we looked at appeared in Source Graduate Photography Online  and it was from there that I was able to obtain links to websites.

Steve Edwards

 

Tempus Fugit a series of still life images, photographed in Dutch Vanitas style, “ ….illustrating the accelerating rate of the consumption of consumer goods and thus the associated resources”.  He also showed his series In Step – a study of discarded shoes.

The Tempus Fugit images were most professional and well-presented and the discarded shoes series has a quirky personality all their own. Steve’s comprehensive Professional Contexts 3 academic blog makes interesting reading as well.

Charlotte Elkins

 

I am becoming increasingly interested in alternative methods and so was drawn towards Charlotte’s delicate images conveying her fascination with water.  The images were produced through the use of photo etching which is something I know nothing about and my internet searches produced little information.

Aleksandra Kondracka

Aleksandra came to England from Poland at the age of eleven and the series Rodzinka focuses on ideas of identity and belonging following a period of reconnection with Poland and spending time with members of her family.  Her entry in Source Online focuses instead on landscape and the woodlands that enabled her to build a sense of place when she came to England.

Alena Nicholson

Alena comes from Chicago and the series I viewed explores how she became accustomed to living in Bath and came to terms with being homesick. She makes an interesting use of handwritten text on her display panels

Further Thoughts

It could have been because I interacted with them last but the photography work I saw, whilst interesting, didn’t impact me as much as the more three dimensional work I saw first. I was very aware of how ‘flat’ photographs can seem when viewed on a wall. Maybe this is why I find photo books so interesting because they are more tactile and am attracted towards the layering of images and alternatives methods. I felt relieved that Anna had a similar experience as she describes here

 References

http://artdesign.bathspa.ac.uk/news/degree-show-2017-save-the-date/
http://clockworkimaging.co.uk
http://www.clarekrige.co.uk/current-work
http://elizabethhorridge1.wixsite.com/artist
http://elizabethhorridge1.wixsite.com/artist/postal-art-project
https://www.etsy.com/shop/sogumadur
https://www.jonhardsdottir.com/portfolio
http://www.josephinefrayling.com
http://www.pinningdownclouds.com
http://www.pinningdownclouds.com/works.html
https://sogumadur.com
https://sogumadur.com/portfolio/cryptogeology/
https://www.thealenanicholson.com/about/

 

Sara Davidmann, “Ken. To be destroyed” (2016)

In her feedback for Assignment 2, my tutor recommended that I look at this book and, if possible, visit a pending Exhibition at the London College of Communication, Elephant & Castle. I have divided this blogpost into sections which follow the ways in which I approached and understood the work. I knew about the “Ken’ project already from reading a Photoparley blog in June last year . I have read other articles since but, originally, the Photoparley blog gave me the information I needed as to Sara Davidmann’s reasoning and motivations for revealing the story despite her mother’s instruction that the material should be destroyed.

Since 1999 Sara Davidmann has been involved in taking photographs, often over a number of years, in collaboration, with members of London’s ‘queer’ and transgender community and, since 2009, her work on ‘The Family’ has included her own family and family history. I see an early precursor of the  Ken project in her series of twelve photographs My Mother’s Notebooks   which were taken in the rooms where the notebooks were found – in fact Sara Davidmann refers to this in an illuminating 2013 interview with Jonathan Worth of phonar.org . There Davidmann talks of how she moved into photography from sculpture; her earlier work; what it means to her to work collaboratively and how the process developed for her as she attempted to redress the balance of power between photographer and subject. She also talks about the size of photographs for one series – 5’ in height to act like an ikon, for a transgender person to be seen as magnificent, and also much smaller 10”x8” so that the viewer has to step much closer and I saw this strategy used again when I visited the Exhibition subsequently.

The Book

Sara Davidmann worked with photographic historian and curator Val Williams to create the book and an accompanying exhibition and Williams wrote her own commentary on the archive (2016:24-30). Williams acknowledges and queries the gaps in the archive and why the papers were kept.The book is quite large (24cm x 32.5 cm in portrait aspect) and I quickly realised that it needed to be to contain the story and images that burst out from the pages. The front cover has a layered image – a woman’s figure in a 1950s dress, wearing gloves and holding a large handbag in front of her. All that can be seen of her head are her chin and bottom lip as the photograph has been cropped and laid against a larger image (looking to be of a similar scene) so that the top of a tree replaces her head.  For me, there are mixed messages in the title, reinforced by this front cover – Davidmann’s mother wanted the family to keep the secret she told them in 2005 and she later wrote the instruction to destroy the letters, yet she had kept them herself. Working through the book I also began to think that the title should perhaps have been “Hazel. To be destroyed” because, as the story unfolds therein, Hazel appears to be swamped by the energy and strength of Ken’s need to become a woman himself whilst keeping her as a wife; her own conflicting desires to end the marriage or to stay with him; and then Davidmann’s own urge to allow Ken to become ‘K’ by manipulating, de-constructing and re-constructing the photographs of Hazel.

The front cover opens onto marbled blue, rippled paper – a large detail of the inside of an envelope with ‘Ken’ handwritten thereon. I think that the structure of the contents with its thirteen different sections/chapters adds ‘punctuation’ to the narrative, allowing it to be revealed – mirroring a process of taking out the letters, unfolding and reading them. Following brief biographical details of the ‘players’ in this narrative and a wedding photograph Sara Davidmann introduces the story of the letters and photographs whilst clearly stating “They are a partial chronicle of the relationship between Ken and Hazel”.  (S. Davidmann 2016:09). We then turn to a 1953 photograph of Ken and his first letter introducing himself to Hazel. There are ten, numbered pages of this letter – covered with his handwriting and without side margins – full of information about himself, except for the information that overshadows their marriage.   A photograph of them at a ball, with Ken gazing intently at Hazel, is followed by a double page spread of a very enlarged extract from a typed letter (transcribed from a handwritten one written by Hazel in 1958 or 1959) containing the word “secret” (2016:16/17).

The story continues to be told through the letters, envelopes, cards written by Ken to Hazel and correspondence between Hazel and her sister, with her brother-in law becoming involved as well. As a reader I felt both pulled-in and repelled by the intensity of the letters and the enlarged details and repetition used by Davidmann – facsimiles of the letters (with some selected printed transcription towards the end of the book) and the detailed records which were maintained. Ken’s portrayed obsession with his progress was mirrored by Hazel and her sister and brother-in-law’s obsession with what was happening.

Sara Davidmann moved from re-photographing the photographs to physically engaging with their materiality, their marks and scratches as she examined them on her computer screen.

Looking at the enlarged photographs on screen reminded me of seeing things through the lens of a microscope – another way of looking, another way of seeing. These photographic details made me think about how we assume that what we see is all there is (2016:72)

She was particularly drawn to five photographs of Hazel from the 1950s and concluded that Ken probably wanted to be Hazel, to wear the clothes that she was wearing when he photographed her. Davidmann developed her examination of the photographs into experimenting with different ways of working with them – layering, painting, scratching and rubbing through. “I used collage and cut or tore and reconfigured the prints” (2016:72). She then wanted to visualise how Ken might have looked as a woman and did this by digitally combining photographs of him and Hazel., including a composite of the two of them together, both wearing Hazel’s wedding dress, to create ‘K’.

In addition to the work constructed around the archive; photographs were made of the stored archival material and here Davidman collaborated with photographer Graham Goldwater  .  These photographs are a counterpoint to the abandon of Davidmann’s  ‘Ken’ images earlier in the book. Piles of letters in envelopes, bound with string or yellow rubber bands are shown in almost forensic detail against a stark, white background 

The Exhibition Visit 7th March 2017

A teaser from the London College of Communication where the Exhibition was held during the Moose on the Loose Biennale of Research http://mooseontheloose.net   17th February to 26th March 2017. The Biennale was organised by the UAL Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC)

This gives a very good idea of the scope of the Exhibition and how it was presented. The larger than life size images of ‘K’/Ken on the back wall appear to be holding court over a long table which holds several copies of the book for perusal, whilst smaller images of ‘K’ and the archival material are in attendance on the two side walls. A darkened side room holds photographs of letter pages, with a video loop.

The Archive

After looking at the Exhibition we went to the UAL Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC) to a Private View of the  Archive where we were greeted by Sara Davidmann and Val Williams.  I had been expecting to see the letters and other documents but this is an archive of the Project itself which has begun to be gathered together by Davidmann (who is still working with the material) and Williams.  Large scale annoted layout sheets for the book print were on the wall and we also saw some of the test prints from the Project and a handmade dummy book. We talked with typographer Alexander Cooper who has responded graphically to the Project in the form of a letterpress hand-bound book and I was also able to talk with Sara Davidmann who reassured me that the archival material is safely stored elsewhere.  We also talked about the nature of family archives and what happens to them and, after myself acquiring old photographs and letters through eBay,  I shared my own anxiety as to what will happen to my own archive of family photographs and letters in the future.

A Google Hangout

Subsequently I joined in a Google Hangout with three fellow students (Anna, Stephanie and John) where we discussed our individual responses based on looking at the book and/or attending the Exhibition. We touched on aspects such as how meeting the artist might affect attitudes toward the art; the physicality of an actual book; book layout and flow; photograph as object; the effect of an Exhibition and how/where it is presented and role/influence of a curator.

Some Conclusions

I am aware that I have spent a lot of time thinking about this Project; perhaps too much time; but it has had such a large impact on me, including a realisation of the amount of work, thinking and research that goes into a Project such as this.

The book had the greatest effect on me due to the richness of the content and context and I am very interested in the way in which Sara Davidmann controls the ebb and flow of the effect of her artistic process. She thought that this archival material was important, both as an illustration of family secrets and how they can inhabit the lives of family members but also as a means to both draw attention to the way in which being transgender  was dealt with in the 1950s and to raise awareness in the present day. In his Despotic post on the Project Lewis Bush points towards an aspect of an archive which holds a story of injustice or personal loss where someone working with it might feel the temptation to, ‘try and heal the wrongs of the past, if only by the act of allowing them to be witnessed and remembered by the present’, and he refers to Jules Michelet’s observation of the process being like raising from the sepulchre ‘as in the dance of death’. Bush links this with Derrida’s view of the archive as being a product of Freud’s death drive.

Whilst being clear that this is an incomplete archive and acknowledging her own artistic engagement, intervention and re-interpretation, Davidmann raises awareness whilst also telling the story of a relationship – well several relationships – a woman with her family; a woman with a man and vice versa and a man with himself.  It got me to thinking about how we choose partners – looking for an ideal other; someone just like us or someone who complements our gaps and inadequacies.  Ken’s need to reach out leaps from the pages of his letters, themselves contained within the pages of the book.  I imagine he was searching for his ideal self, a feminine alter ego; someone he wanted to be. I thought back to those sentences of Hazel, written in one of her letters to her sister, having encouraged Ken to  to be ‘the woman’ whenever he felt it necessary,  ‘E’ knew I was beginning to resent this woman who was taking my husband and was also taking my place as mistress of my own home……..I have noticed even as the man he has been jealous of me as a woman’ (2016: 53).  With her own work Davidmann gives Ken what he wanted – to become ‘K’ and, in doing so, figuratively obliterates Hazel as a person.

As mentioned above I felt sometime repelled by the intensity of the images, letters and story, as conveyed by Davidmann,, and I was relieved to read, Val Williams words, ‘Hazel becomes both appalling and powerless – serene and magnificent in her female-ness yet maimed and violated by an avalanche of chemicals’. (2016:27) as I had been concerned that I was over-reacting.  Having thought long and hard about my reaction I think there was a complicated psychological process going on for me on several levels. I was drawn into imagining what it must be like for Ken to believe and feel he was a woman whilst being within a man’s body and an identification with Hazel in realizing that not only were her expectations of a ‘husband’ not being met but that her status as a ‘wife’ and identity as a woman were under threat. Somehow or other, so far as we know, this tortuous process was resolved in that they stayed together.  [1]

 

References

Davidmann, S & Willliams, V  ( 2016  ) Ken. To be destroyed London, Schilt Publishing
http://mooseontheloose.net
https://phonar.org
https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/sara-davidmann/
http://saradavidmann.com/index.html
http://www.arts.ac.uk/lcc/people/technical-staff/graham-goldwater/
http://www.disphotic.com/ken-to-be-destroyed-by-sara-davidmann/
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/love-story-jan-morris-divorce-the-death-of-a-child-and-a-sex-change-but-still-together-839602.html
http://www.photographyresearchcentre.co.uk/what-we-do/moose-2017/the-ken-project-archive

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[1] . I am reminded here of the story of James Morris http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/love-story-jan-morris-divorce-the-death-of-a-child-and-a-sex-change-but-still-together-839602.html who remained living with the mother of his children after becoming Jan Morris in 1972, despite having to go through an amicable divorce for legal reasons and then, in 2008,  being able to re-marry in a civil ceremony.