4. 3rd September 2016

4. OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting : 3rd September 2016

We had a packed day with 13 members (two new) , together with our presiding tutor Jayne Taylor. Members included two UVC students, one Graphic Design student and an OCA graduate who was one of TV group’s founder members. As ever we discussed some inspiring and creative work with seven members presenting, but, in this post, I am going to concentrate on the two morning discussions.

Artists sketchbooks/paper logs.

I always have difficulty with the term ‘artist sketchbook’  as I have never seen myself as an ‘artist’ in terms of art and crafts, despite many attempts at drawing and painting classes and working at embroidery and knitting. I don’t seem to have the ability to translate what I see or envisage into a drawing or painting, just as I was never able to ‘play by ear’ even after having five years of piano lessons.  I’m not complaining because that’s just the way it seems to be for me.  It doesn’t mean that I will stop trying either, but I get so frustrated and seeing those wonderful videos on working sketchbooks etc on the WeAreOCA blog, as here, always touches that painful spot for me as do the wonderful sketchbooks I see at Graduate Exhibitions.

Early on in my OCA studies , having looked at the work of Ori Gersht, I bought his three volume, limited edition,  Artist Book (2012). Small, square blue-covered books in a matching blue slip case, together with a separate text grey booklet Gersht’s Ghosts by Robert Rowland Smith (2012). To be honest, I was disappointed at first as there is no discussion of the process Gersht used to translate his inspirations/reference material into his own work. All we see are the small images. It’s only now, looking at them again that I can see how Gersht translated his inspirations into completely different work – taking a colour tone from there, a shape from here etc.

Later on, one of Edward Weston’s Daybooks (1973) was the first  such book that gave me an insight into the way that a photographer approaches his work – his views on other photographers (he wasn’t too thrilled about the pictorialists), experimental photographs taken whilst walking and self- criticism, and the way he saw his subjects


B sat to me again: six negatives exposed, all of some value, three outstanding, but two of the latter slightly moved. However, the one technically good is the one best seen. As she sat with legs bent under, I saw the repeated curve of thigh and calf,-the shin bone, knee and thigh lines forming shapes not unlike great sea shells,-the calf curved across the upper leg, the shell’s opening. I made this, cutting at waist and above ankle.

After the sitting I fell asleep, sitting bolt upright, supposedly showing Bertha some drawings,-! was that worn out. (1973:10)

I have continued to experiment with what I call my paper log during the past few years. To begin with I used the OCA notebook (too small for my large, scrawly handwriting) then an A4  blank page notebook where I either wrote in directly or pasted cuttings, notes made elsewhere etc. However, this didn’t fit my way of thinking/learning style.  What seems to have worked for me best so far is to carry some form of writing paper or notebook with me wherever I go so that I can jot things down as I think of them. I end up with a collection of paper which I then gather together as I work on assignments etc so that my scattered thoughts become more coherent for me.  I find my iPhone really useful for quick shots at Exhibitions or paragraphs in book and also use my Pinterest Boards for visual reference.

We had a very interesting discussion in our group, sharing examples that showed a range of formats. Some members don’t use them at all, whereas others are now converts, being initially anxious about using them but then finding them very useful as a form of visual diary and record of experimental progress. The most important aspect that came through was the importance of finding a format that works as a useful tool and resource.

Jayne had brought the book Photographers Sketchbooks (McLaren S & Formhals, B, 2014) to show us and as I didn’t get a chance to have a really good look at it, I have now bought a copy. I’m pleased I did as it’s reassuring  to see such a wide range methods professional Photographers use to record concepts, experiments and progress. It certainly isn’t just about ‘sketchbooks’. In the Introduction, McLaren, refers to the way in which what constitutes photographic work as an artistic medium has changed in the digital age.  In fact even during the past five years I have noticed a change in the way that photography as an art is taught in OCA. At the beginning it seemed to be more about genres of photography, presented either as prints or in a photobook whereas now, we are also asked to look at a wider variety of presentations.

This is definitely a book I would recommend. It is divided into different sections covering Projects, Let Us Experiment and Publishing. For example, documentary photographer Peter van Agtmael shares his experience of joining Magnum and being involved in edits of others’ prints, with a comment that “… there’s always a core group of images that float to the top” (2014:26). We see him standing looking at his own prints spread out along the floor (just as can happen in TV group) . Jim Goldberg talks of his collages in Candy/A Good and Spacious Land (Goldberg et al, due June 2017),   using material from an unpublished maquette. He states

(…..) there is always a slow progression of adding and subtracting images until each one becomes whole and succinct. This revisiting and reworking of my previous images and collages allows the book to be more open and to change, the way memories do.

PS (19th October 2016) Ted Forbes also has a video on Photographers Sketchbooks on his YouTube Channel here 

Adam  Curtis The Century of Self  (2002) Documentary Series

It was suggested that we look at the first episode which can be accessed here  and I attach a PDF of my notes  century-of-self.  I was surprised how angry I became as I was shown the way in which Freud’s theories were used by his nephew Edward Bernays in America.  First to promote America’s war aims in the Press and then to turn this ‘propaganda’ into Public Relations, with an aim to earn money for himself. An example viz the tobacco industry. Smoking in public was taboo for women. Bernays spoke with A.A. Brill a psycho-analyst and then came up with the notion that cigarettes are a symbol of the penis, therefore women could have their own penis if they smoked (video at 11.22). Women were placed in a Parade, lighting cigarettes, with news spread that they were suffragettes using “Torches of Freedom” (Linking with the statue of Liberty and signifying power and independence)

In the video there is certainly a strong link with advertising. With some relief I also thought of the old adage regarding not being able to fool all of the people all of the time, although I acknowledge that advertising probably influences me when the item is something I already want but haven’t decided who to obtain it from. The narrative is constructed very tightly and is also one-sided as there are no arguments against the theories of the subconscious.  It works well in this respect I guess as such a strong argument is presented that anyone disagreeing would have to have a lot of knowledge. Doing some further checking I learned that Curtis has sometimes described himself as a libertarian, but, in this interview   he says “I challenge anyone to know what my politics are because basically I don’t have any politics.  I change my politics like most sensible people do in our present age as the facts change “.  Okay, so does this mean that he can put forward a strong, one-sided view of a situation but then later put forward a strong opposite point of view? Interesting to ponder.  Curtis also has a BBC blog expressing his personal views.


All in all an intense day with much to see and think about. At some point there will be a review of the day on the OCASA website and also Jayne Taylor has written a blog post for WeAreOCA here  https://weareoca.com/photography/students-are-doing-it-for-themselves/  giving a tutor’s viewpoint on how she sees the group working. I feel pleased that Jayne is so positive about the value of students meeting and supporting each other in this way.


Gersht, O (2012   ) Artist Book, UK, Photoworks,
McLaren, S & Formhals, B (2014) Photographers Sketchbooks, UK, Thames & Hudson
West, E (1973) the Daybooks of Edward Weston, NY, Aperture