1. 16th April 2016

OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 16th April 2016

The Group has  continued to meet on a regular basis since the beginning of 2013, usually alternating group-led meetings with ones with a presiding OCA tutor – funded through a grant from OCASA. Members come from a very wide area, often involving considerable travelling time, and the fact that they do so really shows the value placed on membership of the group to provide encouragement, support and challenge.

We have always encouraged students from all disciplines to join us but, so far, the group as a whole (currently 14 members) consists of photography students, including three who are studying the Module “Understanding Visual Culture”. The fact that we are studying at different Levels –  from Level One to OCA Graduate – means we have a rich mix of experience, knowledge and skill to share.

Our usual format has been to have presentation and discussion of work in progress, followed by a separate discussion around critical theory. However, recently we agreed that it would be more beneficial to integrate the critical theory aspect into work discussion itself with the expectation that each presenter would include this as part of contextual background.

Our recent meeting on 16th April was a first one in our new venue in Bordon, Phoenix Theatre and Arts Centre . We welcomed a new member, Dawn Langley, and the nine of us present were also pleased to welcome Jayne Taylor (an OCA tutor)as our new presiding tutor.

Seven members presented work and we were fortunate to have the use of a 27” Computer if required. The seven presentations were: –

  • An album containing photographs created during a long term collaborative project following the footsteps of the artists William and Frederick Widgery. In this case postcards of Frederick Widgery’s work in watercolour offered a comparison point for present day views of Dartmoor and we discussed various aspects, such as the way in which the artist had altered scale and perspective to suit his own viewpoint. Ideas and suggestions were sought on how this project could be taken forward – such as using the landscape as inspiration, evoking memories of a life in South Africa, how sound could be incorporated.
  • A photograph created on a trip to Cambodia provided inspiration for a constructed image, using two models, taken in Lacock Abbey. The concept has evolved to include over-sewing with thread and there was discussion on placement, colour, and how this added to the depth of the image. We also touched upon the ways in which the viewer’s interpretation can differ from the intention of the photographer.
  • Three short videos using landscape images with extracts from interviews and ambient sound to explore memories and how they change over time
  • Personal project, influenced by UVC studies and a development from previous work during The Art of Photography module. The project uses portraits of young girls to look at female representation and how little girls in our society absorb this.
  • A self-portrait created for the final assignment of Context & Narrative. The image aims to subvert a Gainsborough portrait of a young, wealthy woman and uses a variety of signifiers to connote the ways in which modern women are constrained by societal expectations.
  • Two sets of Images. Chairs in different locations used to explore various methods of processing into black and white – an Assignment for Digital Photographic Practice. Images for an ongoing personal project based around song lyrics by a favourite group. These include photographs of typewriter keys – using selective focusing to form a word and record album sleeves miniaturized into a ‘fall’ of confetti.
  • A series of photographs in response to a Landscape assignment that requires a response to the Sublime and/or Beauty. This led to a discussion on the concepts and how ‘Sublime” might be de-constructed into smaller aspects of the landscape together with questions as to how we might become de-sensitized to the Sublime through the proliferation of so many online images.

In our closing session Jayne reminded us of assessment criteria enquiring whether we used this in self-assessment of completed assignments and this led to a discussion on what specific criteria actually meant. Jayne also queried use of artists’ sketch books – a topic that is brought up quite often on OCA student forums and also WeAreOCA with videos showing exemplars, including those kept by photography students. Views were shared regarding how these might or might not fit with learning styles and fears and feelings around being artistic or not. The suggestion was made that we could bring the paper logs we keep along to the next group session to share and discuss. As mentioned above, our usual practice has been to present work progress but Jayne also encouraged us to bring completed work (where tutor feedback has already been received) if necessary, so that everyone gets used to presenting work to a group.

What did I take away from the group ?

As ever it was good to see such a range of work and ideas. I have to confess that I regretted not having any of my own work to present this time but I’ve been concentrating on the reading for Part One of my new Module and finishing off write-ups for Context & Narrative.  I do accept though that just the experience of presenting means I have to formulate my intentions and on-going process closely.

The topic of artist’s sketchbook both attracts and worries me, bringing my fears of not being an artist to the fore. There have been quite a few videos on the OCA student site and also WeAreOCA showing some of these wonderful objects but it seems such a pressure to think that I have to achieve that standard in keeping what is, for me, a working record of things seen, viewed and noted. It was quite a relief to read a recent blog post WeAreOCA  on this topic from a fellow OCA student. The important thing is that I don’t get bogged down in anxieties about not being an artist but make sure that my paper log works for me and aids my learning and development. In this case it’s the process of this that’s important, not the actual product.

I have to confess to feeling relieved that, for the time being, I’m not expected to create any portraits of self or other. However, I admire the concept of using portraits of young girls as a means of evoking a past ideal self with joy and freedom just to ‘be’ before societal expectations stepped in too strongly.  Similarly, the organisation and imagination involved in referencing a historical portrait whilst subverting its message.

The discussions on the Dartmoor Project and also The Sublime took me back into Landscape and I started to think again how I can incorporate this into my current Module particularly as I had this notion of how the Sublime might be connected with the Barthes’ punctum.  I remembered how I had felt a strong sweep of emotion the first time I went into St Mark’s Basilica and looked into its towering roof – yet the second and third times that didn’t happen. Even so I can still remember the feeling when I think about that event so that my pictorial memory somehow has more impact than now entering the building or seeing images online.

I still have quite a few short videos that I want to put together. This has been brought to the fore not only by viewing those videos on the 16th but also from looking recently at the work of Helen Sear  who, interestingly enough, exhibited at the Venice Bienniale in 2015 and I have bookmarked several videos in Vimeo. This has deepened my interest in layers in photography – construction, composition, temporal and material – the use of threads, marks and handwriting intrigues me. I’m looking forward to going on a Day Workshop in May with Simon Sonsino  to learn about Textual Art and I hope I can find a way to incorporate this into my practice.

Although the group will be meeting again in May we won’t have Jayne Taylor with us until June so this gives me time to do some photography and thinking about the best use of my paper log before then in addition to keeping up my reading.