Research and Reflection

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project based on Cryptogeology “the pseudoscientific study of geological formations that feature physical, chemical or historical references that are able to prove or suggest the potential existence of creatures that have a disputed or unsubstantiated actuality”- creatures such as trolls, objects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

_______________________________________________________________________

[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.

 

6. Reflection on Assignment 2 related to Assessment Criteria

Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills:

I’ve continued to experiment with layers and composites and also new approaches such as folding photographs and 3D sculptures such as here . In Assignment two I used different types of layering, also experimenting with the warp tool in Photoshop to turn handwriting into waves as this seemed to me a way of representing travel overseas and also waves of sand in the desert of Egypt.  I feel reasonably competent in Photoshop although do occasionally have to resort to re-reading chapters in manuals.

The Assignment required me to produce a digital photobook.  I have produced two Blurb books in the past but two years have passed since then.  It was a relief to find that I hadn’t forgotten how to use and adapt their templates for my own purposes.  To begin with I used a board to sequence small prints cut from contact sheets but then being able to manipulate sizes in Blurb software helped me with further alignment of images and relative sizes and make some further decisions on replacement images. I think that, in general, I made good choices on which images went well together.  I also sought feedback from student colleagues individually and within OCA Thames Valley group. Feeling at ease with Blurb meant that I also had more opportunity to think what was involved in the whole process of creating a book. I became aware that the idea of a physical book was still in my head so that I was concentrating on making sure that viewers could read the handwriting extracts whereas, of course, an image can be enlarged in a digital book. Book-making is one of the skills I wish to improve on both digitally and in print.

Quality of Outcome:

I feel confident and competent in expressing thoughts/ideas in writing and within my learning blog and often receive positive feedback on this. Most of my work so far on this Module has been in digital form, although I have printed small size images to present to Thames Valley Group. I usually enjoy printing my own work, despite printer frustrations, and don’t want to lose the skills I have gained. Digital manipulation is interesting, challenging and enjoyable but I continue to prefer the feel of prints – their materiality and tactility. As mentioned above, the brief for Assignment 2 was to produce a digital photobook but I have also ordered a printed book because I want to see how the images and layout look in print. The book has not yet arrived but when it does I will take it to OCA Thames Valley Group to ask for feedback and suggestions for improvements. My longer term aim is to create and print my own photo book.

A new aspect of this Module has been work with my personal archive. I have done this before but, this time, have had to get used to a larger volume of scanning, retouching and then re-working old photographs. Wherever possible I aim to retain the original monachrome tones. So far as the letters are concerned I have worked towards producing just large enough extracts to carry the message I wish to portray

Demonstration of Creativity:

As mentioned above (re technical and visual skills) I have continued to experiment with new approaches to working with photographs. The creation of the digital photobook for Assignment 2 also took me further into areas of more complicated editing and sequencing – how to balance facing images and make decisions on relative sizing for example.

Whilst planning for the Assignment I thought of new ways to combine images and utilise my learning during this Module.  Also, through the act of more intensive and systematic looking, I found themes new to me within the letters from the 1940s. I hope that this has enhanced my emerging personal voice and given me more clarity in what I want to express.

Context

I’m very aware of my tendency to read and research too much admit that, this time, I got somewhat lost in reading about archives because I find it so interesting. My eye sight problem slowed me down as well and, strangely enough, seemed to affect my ability to summarise what I was reading. Thankfully, with better eyesight, I do now feel more focused and energetic., However, eyesight problems apart, I do think that Assignment two has benefited from being well-grounded in its emotional, familial and historical context so perhaps slower thinking enabled me to enter into the project at a deeper level.

5. Process of creating the Photo book

First stage

I had had the idea of this Project for quite a long time and started during Part One of the Module to scan more of the photographs I had from the 1940s to convert into jpegs. Original sizes varied from 2 ½ inch square, up to 5 ½ x 3 ½ inch so the scans enabled me to create a larger size at a good resolution to then allow for different crops.  I have to say, though that, to my eyes, a scanned photograph has a different quality from the original photograph. I could have processed them in all in the same tones for uniformity but decided to retain the original toning as much as possible.

I also did a few early experiments in layering in Part One which I took along to OCA Thames Valley group in June last year – having queries around leaving borders or not, merging or showing separation. Our attending tutor suggested layering actual photographs on top of each other then re-photographing, which I did subsequently in layering photographs etc onto newspapers/Picture Post magazines that I had purchased through the web via eBay and Historic Newspapers (pp 5, 7 , and 9 of photo book). I discovered that one of the issues about layering actual photographs on top of each other is having to resize them first to get the needed proportions, whereas it’s easier to do this by digital layering.  As part of some digital layered experiments I used photographs of sand and sandy ground which I had taken on Horsell Common plus photographs created when I placed a copy of one of the photographs into the sand.(front and back cover os photo book The project then took somewhat of a back seat in a practical sense whilst I concentrated on Assignment 1, although my mind was busy with memories and reflecting on the past. It was also during this period that I realised that my eyesight had deteriorated and I was informed I had a cataract that needed to be dealt with. This slowed me down considerably in general.

Second stage – October 2016

On the 16th I discussed the project in the work presentation session held during the Brighton Festival but was only able to show work so far on the my laptop. I described some of my inhibitions around using personal material but I was encouraged to continue working with something that was important to me. I referred here  to my comment to the tutor at the end that I needed to find a way to stop treating the original photographs as ‘sacred objects’. Later that month (28th) I had a very helpful Google hangout with my student colleague Stephanie, having emailed some images to her.

web-contact-sheet-second-stage

We talked about memories triggered by photographs which might even be memories I don’t have; the way sand linked photographs; using maps as a path for myself and elements that have a strong presence (such as the drawing of the camel – p. 17, photo book).

Third Stage – November 2016

I made some small prints of work so far as on these contact sheets

contactsheet-001-web contactsheet-002-web

which I took to Thames Valley group on 19th November (see here ) receiving some positive comments and suggestions for further work. With this encouragement I emailed my tutor on the 21st describing my idea for the Project, together with a proposal and outline of some visual ideas which  I wrote about here  and was pleased to get some positive feedback and aspects to think about such as how the images were linking together with particular themes of sand, space and water. The next day I was fortunate in being able to have a further discussion with fellow student John via Skype with further feedback on how the images seemed to be linking together to form a narrative, what seemed to be working and what not.

Fourth Stage – January 2017

I now needed to tackle the sequencing for the photo book so I chose  28 jpegs from extracts of letters, photographs and composites, and then created contact sheets, cutting out the small images to put on my board and play around with placement

edit-board-img_1125-10x8

second-selection-contactsheet-002 second-selection-contactsheet-001

I knew that using the Blurb book templates (which I now know how to adapt for further choice) would further assist me in terms of the sizing of the images and substitutions that might be needed.

Blurb Books website 

I have only created two Blurb books so far but have found their templates fairly easy to use, particularly now I know how to re-size them. My main issue is in the book sizes offered – understandable in considering their economy of scale but less conducive to individuality and creativity. A square book didn’t seem appropriate this time (I could be wrong though) so I chose a small landscape size. My preference would for a book the size of Robert Frank’s The Americans (2008) which is smaller at 8”x7 ½ “. Still Blurb is one of the best sites for creating photo books so far as I know and also has the advantage of providing PDFs at a low price which remain on their site for seven days and can also be downloaded. I used Blurb for exercise 2.3 to provide a PDF and for the Assignment 2 Submission, which I have written about here 

Using the templates did help me to decide which images to replace and re-size. Choosing the images for the covers was particularly difficult in having to choose between one composite with just my father and another with composites of Google images and composites of both Egypt and Calver.  In the end I decided that the photo book was about letters home so I needed the two places to link together on the front cover.  I have had comments about the strength of the Egypt composite but will wait for my tutor’s feedback to make a final decision.

Thoughts so far

I certainly feel a sense of completion of the draft stage and that I created a particular narrative whilst leaving room for the viewer to form their own perceptions. I’m clear with myself that the tile is an interim one until I have tutor feedback. However, I feel uncertain about the inclusion of the Milly-Molly-Mandy pages (18 and 18 photo book) even though they fit the theme and will discuss the covers further with my tutor.  I knew that I didn’t want to include the whole of the letters, just relevant extracts but I’m still unsure about the sizing and placement of these.

Having looked at the PDF I decided to purchase the cheapest book because I need to hold a book and see how the images look in print. With an online or PDF book it’s simple to enlarge everything so as to read text but less so with print and it’s important to me that viewers can read the words.

 

Postscript: Having re-read my final paragraph I realise that the point of the Assignment was to create an online photo book not a printed book so I need to keep this in mind.

References

Frank, R. and Kerouac, J. (2008) Robert Frank: The Americans. Gottingen: Steidl, Gerhard Druckerei und Verlag.

http://www.blurb.co.uk/

4. Background Research

Background Research

I have wanted to do something with my father’s letters and photographs from Egypt for a long time. Somehow, more than any other documents, they had become embedded within my psyche. Thinking about it now I’m sure this had something to do with the age I was and that the documents became a ‘transitional object’ for me – something tangible that I could look at, hold and talk about that represented him in his absence. Of course, they are precious to me and I soon became aware of some inner resistance to changing them in any way, even though I continued to experiment – particularly with different forms of layering in Photoshop and I wrote about this here . I decided that one way of dealing with this was to become more detached from the letters and photographs as memento mori by becoming a researcher in my own archive and, regarding it as an object of interest, refreshing my knowledge on that time period in Egypt and Sheffield.

In 2011 I had re-visited Derbyshire, including Calver. The fields were still there (albeit now divided by a new road from the pub from which we used to access them) but the huts and occasional caravans have been replaced solely by caravans which have their own electricity and running water in tandem with a toilet/shower and laundry block right by the river. Very different from paraffin stoves and lamps and trekking down to the pub toilet unless you had an Elsan toilet!

_mg_1507-8x8-web

There was no-one on the site who remembered the 1940s times and I have been unable to find any written historical accounts of the practice of going into the countryside at the weekends and staying in huts. In 2012 I contacted Sheffield University Geography Department but they were unable to locate any information. I also talked with the one remaining family friend from the 1940s who also stayed in Calver.  She told me that she and her parents started going there during the war. Her parents,  looking for somewhere to stay for a holiday, found the site, which was called a camping site but huts rather than tents.

Raiders over Sheffield  (M. Watson & J.P. Lamb, 1980), compiled from official records, tells the story of the air raids of  12th and 15 December 1940 over Sheffield. Although the worst damage occurred before I was born I was always aware of the ever-present anxiety of further bombs and I do recall hearing air-raid sirens and being taken to a neighbour’s house. Sheffield at War (C. Hardy, 1987)(1987) is a pictorial account of the years 1939-45  that attempts to capture the atmosphere of war-time. Reading it reminded me of events my parents and nan talked of and also some of the damaged streets and housing I would see on bus journeys. I also obtained five original copies of Picture Post Magazine (read regularly in our house until it ceased publication) and two original newspapers. The Milly- Molly-Mandy books, a simple series told and drawn by Joyce Lankester Brisley, were written for little girls aged from about five to eight years old.  They were probably based in the late 1920s and about a little girl who lived in, probably, the south of England and experienced a much more rural life than industrial Sheffield. Even so they were amongst my favourite books at the time and she had similar kinds of adventures.  I have utilised two drawings from a more recent compilation book of these within my series.

I researched many websites but the most interesting and useful were  a section on the Sheffield Blitz here on the World War 2 Stories for Sheffield siteGrowing up in Sheffield during WW2 on the Imperial War Museum site and Service in the Suez Canal Zone, Egypt until 1956 with maps and photographs of the service zone. I also accessed a video British Forces In Egypt 1946 on the British Pathe site, created from film shots taken a time when British forces were leaving the Abbassia camp in Cairo and setting up temporarily at Fayid. The video is without sound unfortunately but towards the end it shows the bathing beach at Fayid, on the shores of the Great Bitter Lake, where I think my father must have been swimming. I looked for him of course!

References

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/british-forces-in-egypt
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80017720#licence
http://www.suezcanalzone.com/czcamps.html
http://www.worldwar2stories-sheffield.com/blitz.php

Brisley, J.L.  (1997) More Milly-Molly-Mandy London, Kingfisher Publications Plc
Hardy, C (1987) Sheffield At War: A Pictorial Account 1939-45, Manchester, archival Publications Ltd
Watson, M & Lamb, J.P. (1980) Raiders over Sheffield, Sheffield, Sheffield City Libraries
Picture Post 8 (4) 27 July, 1940
Picture Post Vol. 14 (11) 14 March, 1942
Picture Post 13 (12) 20 December, 1941
Picture Post 26 (5) 3 February, 1945
The Yorkshire Post 4th December 1941
The Yorkshire Post 9th February 1945

 

3. Photographer Influences for the assignment

Photographer Influences

I’ve been absorbing the ideas, strategies and techniques of artist and photographs as I’ve been working through this Module and it’s been a slow process because sometimes I’ve been thinking how their approaches could be applied to my own work and trying these out as I did here  . Stephen Gill’s work varies in every series as he makes conceptual leaps, manipulates layers, photographs, layers and re-photographs as with Hackney Flowers .  His work is complex in its structure and I think I will need more inward reflection to enter into his frame of mind, so I keep returning to it. I wrote about Esther Teichmann and Helen Sear here . They layer images in different ways and both appeal. Painting and photograph; subject against background (Teichmann). Birds in front of face ; pixellation and erasure through layers to create ethereal/lacy effects (Sear). I did experiment with layering past and more recent images of locations when I started on the Assignment (see Assignment process) but decided not to continue with this as I haven’t had recent opportunity to return to the locations. However, I achieved the layering in different ways by layering different photographs and Google images over a photograph taken on Horsell Common, as I thought its sandy substance mirrored both the sand of Egypt and the sandy river bed of the river Derwent in Calver (front and back covers of the photo book . Overall the exercises in Part One of the Module gave me more confidence in creating the collages and composites – such as in pages 5, 7, 9 and 11 of the photo book.

I have previously referred to Album 31   the work of Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl in their response to the archive of Sir Benjamin Stone. The way they presented their response mirrored that of Stone’s original album and the in-framing appealed to me.  However, I decided that it didn’t suit my own concept for my photo-book as I wanted the images to be freer on the page.

Duane Michal’s work has long been an influence, with the attention given to the interplay of image and text, including his use of handwriting. There’s an interesting interview with him here and I have recently purchased the book Storyteller (L. Benedict-Jones et al 2014)  which is a retrospective of over seventy-five of his works. It’s a delight to read and look at and I notice that he uses a mix of cursive and block letters.  Is this even his own writing? Does it matter? I did experiment whilst completing exercise 2.3  – using my own writing (exporting to my iPad and writing over an image that way) and then a font of my handwriting which I acquired a while ago.  My handwriting can be very untidy but the font seemed to work better. Even so my writing isn’t as distinctive as that of Duane Michals which is perhaps, in any case, the charm of his work.

seaside-holidays-with-handwriting-webimg_0022-composite-with-handwriting-on-bottom-webseaside-holidays-with-cb-font-web

In the event, I decided I would certainly want to use this method in the future but adding my own handwriting didn’t seem suitable for Assignment 2 because I already had handwritten letters and photographs with inscriptions on the back that I could use.

The photographer Angela Kelly used images from her family album with maps, letters and other material  to ’reference issues of migration, home and the vernacular album’ in her work Sundays at Sea . Her situation had been similar to mine in having an absent father, a sailor, although his absence was his full-time employment. What came through to me, though, was her mention of the drifting apart because he had so often been absent. My father was virtually absent for two years – a long time in a child’s life –  yet his letters formed a bridge between us. A PDF of some of my notes on Kelly’s work is attached, including notes on a Photoparley Interview (5th June 2013)  where she provides a detailed analysis of her approach to her work.

selection-of-notes-from-reading

I read this work at the time then it went out of my mind until I was reminded of it recently by a fellow student who remarked on the similarities with my developing work.  I had already begun to experiment with maps as part of the layering and it’s interesting how other artist’s work can lie in one’s subconscious to the extent that it’s difficult to remember where and how an idea was first sparked.  Looking at my notes again there are two aspects that leap out at me – ‘layers of different material  within an image need to be decoded ‘ and the use of frames, within a frame, within a frame – ‘framing can give importance”.  Regarding frames, was I making a wrong decision for my book?

Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood (2011)   is a general inspiration for me.  His book was the first one where I was aware how a real story could be re-constructed using found material – archive material and new photographs – a mix of genres utilized, de-constructing and re-constructing. This is what I’d like to be doing in the future and I know that this Assignment has been just one step along the way, plus I’m hoping that I might feel freer, less inhibited with less personal material.

Larry Sultan’s work has been an inspiration for a different reason. The book Here and Home (R. Morse et al, 2014) was published alongside an Exhibition of the same name organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Exhibition was the first retrospective of Larry Sultan’s work and there is a long interview with him here. His work has a spontaneity about it that I can only aspire to at this stage. So far as the Assignment is concerned it was the series Pictures from Home (1983-92) that drew me of course and his introduction to it in the book. My interest in taking photographs began years after my parents died.  My father enjoyed using his camera and my mother and I were happy to pose for him, as were Sultan’s parents for him. I found it so refreshing that they trusted him enough to go along with whatever he wanted to do. Sultan writes about being in his parents’ home, they having gone to bed, and thinking about why he continues to take photographs of his parents. These words resound for me:

These are my parents. From that simple fact, everything follows.  I realize that beyond the rolls of film and the few good pictures, the demands of my project and my confusion about its meaning, is the wish to take photography literally.  To stop time. I want my parents to live forever. (Morse et al 2014:78)

 

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References

http://www.angelakellyphoto.com/sundays-at-sea/
http://grainphotographyhub.co.uk/portfolio-type/album-31/
http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/larry-sultan-here-and-home
http://www.lacma.org/video/2003-larry-sultan-interview
http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/15-Redheaded-Peckerwood.html
http://www.stephengill.co.uk
https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/angela-kelly/
Benedict-Jones, L., Ellenzweig, A., Gubar, M., Kozloff, M., Ryan, A., Schuman, A. and Art, C.M. of (2014b) Storyteller: The photographs of Duane Michals. Munich, Germany: Prestel.
Morse, R., Philips, S. and Gefter, P. (2014) Larry Sultan: Here and home. Munich, Germany: Prestel.Patterson, C. (2011) Redheaded Peckerwood. 2nd edn. London: Mack.

 

 

Summary Notes on Archives, Photographs and Indexicality

Readings and Reflection: Brief notes on Archives, Photographs and Indexicality

The following notes are a synthesis of my reading (so far)

Archives

Any archive has a structure and has been built for a specific purpose. This will mean that its contents are filtered to meet that purpose both from the intentions of the archive itself and also the fact that it is not possible to keep everything. Archives hide history, secrets and truth but can be interrogated – or psycho-analysed as Jacques Derrida termed it (bearing in mind he said this in the context of a Conference at the Freud Museum) Derrida, J (1995)– and de-constructed to explore new meanings. Artists can ‘lend speech’ to traces of the past.

Photography

Photography is simultaneously the documentary evidence and archival record of an event (Okwui Enwezor 2008) see here also . As such the making of a photograph is a mechanism of time-travel through which we return to the past and also create new meanings. Like other archives photographic archives also only present a version of the ‘truth’ but can be similarly de-constructed to find hidden meanings and produce new work (see H. Foster [2004] and my summary here  and also my writing on the way in which photographers have approached archives here   .

I was taken by Freud’s concept of the Mystic Writing-Pad, (S. Freud 1925) and its similarity to a palimpest in how it leaves a trace of the writing that has been erased.  This widened my thoughts towards the traces left on our skin from our life experiences – scars, wrinkles, tattoos.  Then I considered the photograph as such – the mechanics of its construction,  the way in which ink is layered on the photographic paper and how the photograph as an object in itself is affected by changes through time – changes which can be analysed. I think that Photoshop layers are another way of portraying new narratives; layering different photographs, documents or fragments from different time periods and have experimented with using this strategy.

The concept of an archive depends on a recognized structure, just as a family album usually has a particular structure/order to form a narrative that the maker wishes to portray. There’s anarchy though in an ‘archive’ consisting of fragments, ‘orphan’ photographs and un-dated documents which I think provides even more freedom to make of it what one will. However, when photographs are removed from their original context (including a family album) they become detached from collective memory and are forgotten or might be revealed as images that in their very banality, erase or negate meaning. Thomas Demand made this point about the construction of historical memory and the partiality of photographic vision with his work Room (Zimmer) 1996   when he re-staged a 1944 photograph by Adolf Hitler’s official photographer. Demand created paper tableaux and photographed them to provide an illusion of the ‘real’, attempts to reconstruct an historically grounded, 3D ‘reality’ based only on information contained in media photographs.

However,  a photograph removed from its original context can yield hitherto unnoticed information for example Gillian Rose’s respondents believed their family photos were truthful in showing what somebody really looked like but they could also see truths not seen at the time – such as illness (G. Rose [2010]).

Notes on the indexicality of photography and memory

I’ve much more to read on this so the following are serving as a bookmark.

Regarding the ontology of the photographic image – this enables the subject to elude death because, by its very nature, the image preserves the subject through the act of memory and remembering – the ‘victory of time’ in artificially preserving bodily appearance. (Bazin, A & Gray, H [1960]). Interesting to me because the first sentences link the origin of painting and sculpture with a ‘mummy complex’ and I only recently wrote about photography, memento mori and sacred objects here . This implies an indexical relation between the image and its referent, and a reliance on memory’s capacity to recall such images but it is now frequently emphasized that our memories are faulty (which is problematic given that much of our Criminal Justice system relies on the memory of witnesses).

A photograph might be both evidence and record of an event but this is mediated by the influence of memory, perception/psychological processing of events in the past. For example, with my family photographs I have often either known the person or heard stories about them and so this cannot but influence the way I read these photographs. I don’t think we can escape our psychological/neurological make-up, but we can become more aware of the process and challenge it.  Added to this, memory (whether it is ‘true’, probably true or ‘false’) is the foundation of our sense of identity. If it is challenged, then the individual has to process the effect of cognitive dissonance – deal with new truths or harden current beliefs to retain/renew sense of self.

I also think of imagination in relation to memory, including the process of ‘magical thinking’ that we still retain in some form after childhood, and that allows us to re-shape our perception (and memories). Writers such as Simon Schama (1995) have pointed towards the effect of collective memory in particular places – often connected with sites of tragedies of human nature. In his writings on ‘Aura’ Walter Benjamin also had a view that the events of history, “shrivel up and become absorbed into the site of the event” (1977:179).  These feelings that people experience, how much is that due to imagination I wonder; imagination that allows us to be in that place, here and now, and then, in some fashion, extend our senses into an empathic response to it? In fact, can I even extend this to photographs and Barthes’ ‘punctum’?

 

References

 

Bazin, A & Gray, H (1960) “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4. (Summer, 1960) pp-4-9 at http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Bazin-Ontology-Photographic-Image.pdf (Accessed on 26th January 2017)
Benjamin, W (1977) the Origin of German Tragic Drama, Verso Press
Derrida, J. (1995) Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression
Enwezor, O (2008) Archive Fever : Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, New York, ICP
Foster, H (2004) An Archival Impulse in OCTOBER 110, Fall 2004, pp. 3-22 MIT Press
Freud, S (1925) Note upon the “Mystic Writing Pad” (1925) pp in  Freud, S (1963), General Psychological Theory, Chapter XIII, Macmillan Publishing Company, pp 207-212
http://www.caareviews.org/reviews/767#.WIoo67F0eWY
Rose, G. (2010) Doing family photography: The domestic, the public and the politics of sentiment. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing.
Schama, S. (1995) Landscape and memory. London: HarperCollins Publishers.