2. Informal Visits and Talks

6. Wim Wenders Exhibition 10th November 2017

 Wim Wenders” “Instant Stories” at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

 I have recently been experimenting with a Polaroid camera (re-furbished Polaroid Impulse 600, 1988-1992). There’s something fascinating for me about the instant film prints with their slight softness and more muted colours so there was no way I wanted to miss this Exhibition (on until 11th February 2018)

This is an Exhibition of over 200 old Polaroids taken between the early 1970s and the mid 1980s, mainly with Wenders’ SX-70 at a time when he was building his career as a film-maker.  He is exhibiting them now not so much through nostalgia but because he believes they have a relevance to lessons for the present, “Polaroids remind us of an innocence, of a different attitude toward the world and toward the act of taking pictures…..There was some sort of testimony in these Polaroids that I thought could be interesting to oppose to our present culture of instant picture-taking.”  (Eoin Murray, 2 November 2017, in BJP online). For him then it was concerned with some feeling of awe holding something one-of-a-kind and I agree with that because even though they can be scanned or re-photographed it still doesn’t take away the fact that the polaroid image itself is unique. So far I’ve found that despite the virtues of Photoshop it still hasn’t been possible to reproduce the particular feel and look of the instant prints.

Wenders differentiates between the spontaneity of creating the Polaroid print that he experienced in those early days and the more serious, concentrated act of creating a photograph – its ‘more painterly aspects’. Now that does sound nostalgic to me and a nostalgia for his more youthful past, especially as he doesn’t want to use a modern Polaroid-type camera, despite being given a new One Step 2 camera recently.

In the interview with Murray, Wenders refers to the efforts that photographers make nowadays to capture ‘truth’ – the picture they take being exactly as they saw the scene, because of the loss of belief in photography being a ‘truth-based medium’. I think that, somehow, he is conflating what he sees as the ‘honesty’ of the instant print because it’s a one-and-only, with a search for reproducing reality as we see it.  As much as I enjoy using my Polaroid camera I don’t really think that the prints carry a truth concerning what I saw through its lens. I need to hold that though because it fits with my preparation for Assignment 4.

 As I walked round the Exhibition I was struck by the presentation of the prints, in box frames as if precious. Mainly small of course so that I had to walk right up to have a look and then I wished I could hold the actual prints in my hands. I was struck by the way in which Wenders had used the polaroids as a visual diary, trying out ideas for films, capturing a moment, meeting, event – pretty much similar to the way I use my iPhone.

I resisted buying the book but succumbed after a few days.  It is beautifully presented – large, heavy blue linen cover with a ‘polaroid’ print on the cover which is slightly skew-whiff and adds to the evocation of the spontaneity of a polaroid print.  According to his text (p.12) the polaroids came to light during the archiving of all materials connected with his film work and photography and they were found in wooden boxes from his cigar smoking days.  There are many more polaroids within the book than in the Exhibition (403) and these are ordered not by theme but as ‘stories’ in the form of short stories and haikus which have been printed with an ‘old’ typewriter font to add to the aesthetic of nostalgia and memory. I was intrigued about the pages containing photographs because whereas the pages appear matte, the photographs themselves often have a very slight gloss on them as if they had been stuck on, yet they haven’t. I was disappointed that there’s no information at the end of the book, or in the publisher’s website, concerning the font or the paper. The title page also  mentions the inclusion of seven photographs created by Annie Leibovitz from Annie Leibovitz Archive Project #1: The Early Years   but page numbers are not noted and, so far, I haven’t found any captions naming them.

 Not mentioned in the Exhibition but a note for myself here that  Wim Wenders has also produced two 3D films  “Pina” 2012 is about the German choreographer Pina Bausch



and “Everything Will Be Fine”  exploring the effects of the death of a child in an accident. These films appear to be stereo 3D as opposed to anaglyph 3D.


Wenders, W (2017) Instant Stories, London, Thames & Hudson



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.


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




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]



Davidmann, S & Willliams, V  ( 2016  ) Ken. To be destroyed London, Schilt Publishing


[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.


“Iceland : An Uneasy Calm” Exhibition Visit June 2016

Tim Rudman Exhibition at The Lightbox, Woking

“Iceland: An Uneasy Calm”


Tim Rudman has been a photographer for many years – having first become involved with photography in the 1960s whilst he was studying medicine.  He has continued to use film and is internationally respected  as a photographer and authority on darkroom printing and toning techniques. I have been twice to see the exhibition of photographs documenting his experience as he travelled through Iceland.   I understand that Rudman also lives in Woking so it was good to see his work exhibited in that town at the LightBox Gallery there.

On the first occasion I chose not to read the literary quotations but to concentrate on the prints themselves. I found them beautiful to look at, drawing me in so that I wanted to touch them. They look almost like paintings with the creamy tone of the whites and the sooty softness of the blacks. There is a calm about them, even though I know that it can be a harsh environment with its inhospitable terrain and the inevitably of nature claiming the volcanic landscape back to itself. For the first time since beginning the degree I realised that I was not looking for a ‘story’. There are no people in these photographs although some of the prints hint at their presence and work. After the sense of calmness came wonderment at the process that must have produced the prints which look almost like paintings (which indeed they are, albeit painted by light and chemicals).

By the time of my second visit, with three others from Thames Valley Group, I had acquired a 1990s medium-format Mamiya Camera and so film and development processes were in my mind. The “Iceland” prints are hand-crafted using traditional ‘wet’ printing techniques to produce unique Selenium and thiourea toned silver gelatine prints. Selenium toning is an archival toning process devised to increase print permanence and reduce fading. It enhances a print’s tonal range and can produce tones from red-brown to purple-brown. Thiourea toning gives rich brown sepia-like tones. There was a continuous loop video running where Rudman talks us through his process. It’s about ten minutes long but worth watching if you are interested in his darkroom techniques.


The process seems a long, laborious one and watching the way in which he uses the chemicals to produce the effect he desires did make me think of all the comments made about Photoshop, manipulation and photography and truth. It was interesting to read some of the reviews of the accompanying book, e.g. one commented on how his body of work is done ‘without any digital trickery or artifice…. He hand processes his film …. making any needed adjustments through variations in exposure and chemistry’. Where is the line then, in fact is there a line really between the older and newer when both processes are used to achieve similar ends? Either of them are obviously suspect in photo-journalism but, to me, they are parallel with effects created by artists in a painting.

Are these prints documents? Can they be said to be indexical?  Certainly Tim Rudman was there in Iceland and took photographs of the actual landscape. His darkroom processes are used to evoke the atmosphere he wants to convey and turn the prints into Fine Art.

I also paid attention to what was written about the prints. There are quotations at the beginning of the Exhibition setting the psychological tone for a viewing and mirroring Tim Rudman’s linking of Iceland with ‘Middle Earth’ and a land of myth, magic and trolls.  I could begin to imagine that but, as I went round the exhibition again, my main feeling was still that of calmness and admiration for the beauty of the prints. They are inset into black frames that enhance the effect of being drawn into the scenes. I was struck again by the almost cream of the whites and the differences in the tones. Some high-key bringing out the ice of the landscape and others low-key intensifying the darkness of the volcanic rock.

There are two editions of the accompanying book . The standard edition containing 98 quad-tone plates made from the prints and the Deluxe Collectors Limited Edition presented with a handmade limited edition silver gelatine print of one of the three images from the book.   You can see the books here  and also a video preview of Rudman unwrapping, opening and turning the pages of the Deluxe edition.

I enjoyed looking at Tim Rudman’s work and intend to visit for a third time before the Exhibition run ends. It was very different for me to experience that sense of calmness in viewing photographs produced in such varying tones of light and dark – without the distraction of colour. I’m thinking as well that something of the lengthy development process also feeds into the work. I’ve been aware recently of how absorbed I become in using Photoshop to achieve the effects I need and am imagining this must be even more so working in the darkroom.