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Project Review | Paul Clements

Having sent my work to Paul, the photographic work was met with enthusiasm. I could reflect endlessly about this however the main point of interest at this point is how i’m going to present the text. Paul highlighted the problematic nature of text and image in perhaps confusing the meaning behind the work. I felt his ideas align with the thoughts of Laura who in my last one to one session suggested further thought was needed in regard to how I present text.  

As a result, when preparing the outcome in the form of a book, I will omit the text from the pages and present them in another way. At present, the method of presentation I find most appealing is the idea of bookmarks/leaflets that slide into a book. The webinar earlier in the week it was suggested by some of my peers that I experiment with Japanese origami paper to emphasise the fragility associated with mental health. 

To conclude this section, the collective feedback all points to the removal of text from the pages. 

Tim Stubbs Hughes suggested that I had succeeded to some extent in achieving a sense of the poetic in the working class vernacular which was pleasing however his observation that the work needed to be a little more dirty with work photographed indoors was really useful. In response I feel that I will add this to the work. 

As a result of the session I feel that I received some critical feedback that will certainly add to the the work in addition to generating an understanding of what to take out. 

I still have some unresolved issues surrounding the balance of the photographic work between the poetic and portrait and how to align them. This will be an ongoing process and a quandary I will seek to resolve in the coming weeks.

Key themes taken from the session: 

The removal and presentation of text. 

The need for more intimate work made in interior settings. 

Latest WIPP Drew Findlay

Quiet Sequence

Having made new work on medium format and reflected on the work for a week or so, the main outcome of my experience was the existence of cars in the work. Compositionally I feel the work is strong in parts without having a much with real power. The portraits I made of Nathan were pleasing and it is this type of work which will bring the emotional attachment. I was initially reluctant to jump into reshooting portraits as I wanted to familiarise myself with the personality of the camera in addition to working with colour film. However, the work in this sequence will provide a solid foundation to build, as I will look to layer the project with further portraits and and objects which further allude to patriarchy, mental health and place.

Shoot 18 | Medium Format

As a result of my latest conversation with Laura and having time to reflect. I decided to take the risk and set about shooting my project again only this time using an old Bronica ERRSi that I found in the store room at the college where I work.

The first set of photographs below are the proper exposures which would be potentially usable. The camera did jam and I lost shots as a consequence. What strikes me about working with this technology is the care required to make work effectively. As i’m used to working digital in a fast paced environment, I now work in the opposite way. Soft, taking my time with high levels of consideration before firing the shutter.

When shooting my philosophy starts with the idea of Eggleston who places a subject in the centre of a frame with the tension reverberating outwards. Beyond this I look for arrangement, with leading lines and multiple openings as used by the likes of Shore.

Finally, I am aware of Hoggart when he describes the northern working class vernacular a mass of concrete with greenery used in vacant corners and spaces. When thinking about narrative, I am justifying this approach with Barthes in mind when speaks of discourse and narrative.

Thinking about Light

As time presses on and having made the decision to go back and reshoot my project in medium format. I have experimented with Ilford black and white film with improving results as I get to know the camera. which has been sitting in a store room for at least five years. I have had some disasters such as the back of the camera sometimes flipping open in addition to focussing the camera manually which is especially difficult as I am often unsure if I have achieved optimum focus. Using an eye level viewfinder with the weight of the camera is also difficult. Ideally I would like to experiment with a waist level viewfinder however due to financial constraints that isn’t an option. 

Despite the challenges I have fallen in love with the medium format and the emotion I feel when scanning a negative and seeing a sharp portrait with the depth and detail is a great feeling. 

This week I have set about making work using colour film. Having done my research and having a lengthy chat with Phil Hill I decided to go with the Portra 400 film. The reason being that I understand it is forgiving with skin tones and provides some versatility when editing. Being a novice at shooting in this way I felt that I needed all of the help I could get. Remembering the portfolio reviews some time ago with Steph Cosgrove she commented that my work was cinematic in its nature which was interesting to learn. At that time I was shooting digital using a flash to ensure I had a clear light on subjects faces. I grew to like this approach however in shooting medium format I feel that I would still like to encompass this approach although I don’t have the luxury of a flash. In relation to my wider project I don’t think it is totally necessary however it is a technique I would like to pursue beyond the MA. Having had an Instagram conversation with Jooney Woodward on Instagram noticed that she uses a video strip light to achieve a high key light on her commercial work for the likes of the Financial Times supplement ‘How to Spend it Magazine’. When pursuing this type of constructed photograph she is able to align her work with the audience of the text.  

In preparation for working in this way I decided to conduct an experiment with a work friend in the studio based in the college where I work. The objective of this experiment was to understand the amount of light I needed to act as a fill light for skin tones in an environmental portrait. 

Lighting Skintones

In furthering my contextual understanding of the work I’d like to make, I begun to look at the visual language of the band ‘The Streets’ as I remembered the video for the track ‘Dry your Eyes Mate’. The video directed by Johan Renck has a cinematic approach and influence which he describes as coming from his background in photography. In viewing the Streets video I recognised a number of creative choices in addition to a style of lighting that could be described as baroque influenced in addition to chiaroscuro lighting. 

He achieves a working class discourse through the use of vernacular associated with males such as the snooker club and a curry houses. Certainly avenues I could explore further. The ambition in the short term is to produce a portrait using an interior vernacular which is in keeping with the theme of the project. 

To conclude this short post, my project is beginning to align with my personal ambition of how to take my practice further. Shooting medium format will become the new norm while using continuous light will enable me to push the technicalities of my approach further. This represents a huge development from the entry point not just of the course, but the evolution within the FMP. I am not exactly confident that I will achieve my intentions within the confines of the MA although I am hoping this will be the case. The real victory is in the development of my practice. I am increasingly feeling that I have taken what I needed and wanted from the MA course as a whole. My creative choices have developed significantly eventually leading to the evolution of my functional practice and choice of equipment. I have a blueprint for my long term engagement with photography and the pursuit of personal projects. The final consideration I am currently wrestling with is learning to shoot at the 80mm focal length which is challenging as I am tasked to continue to retain a powerful discourse with a tighter frame. In earlier modules I was quite happy shooting portraits at 24mm before shooting at 35mm. I am now working at 80mm and still learning but that journey quickens as I have a capital in working in medium format which breeds confidence in other areas. 

The coming weeks will consist of appeasing my own work. I suspect assessing the many failures and few victories. Outcomes are less important at this stage although I am quietly confident.

Johan Renck [Online] Available at: https://www.johanrenck.com/#/projects/dry-your-eyes/ [Accessed] 27th June 2021.

SK Ascension Exhibition

As a result of making contact with Stockport Art Gallery some time ago, I was recently contacted to ask if I would like to exhibit my work at a group exhibition consisting of local photographers. Of course I agreed and had little over a week to select and print my work. Having one board I decided to exhibit six images, three pairs consisting of portraits and environments.

In addition to the work I produced an artist statement in addition to a QR code which takes the audience through to a web page consisting of the podcasts that I have made. When I attended to mount my work I was able to meet some of the other participants and discuss my work and those of my peers. It was really interesting to hear about the other work which was being shown and discussions soon led to ideas about future collaboration.

The work is all of a digital nature as this opportunity arrived before I had developed any new work using the medium format camera.

Margret Mitchell | Barthes | Hoggart

In preparation for the shoo ting of my final outcome using a medium format camera I have been researching a number of photographers looking at specific projects which might inform my own. I have made the decision to shoot my final outcome in colour as it is a method I haven’t yet used while working with 120 film. I have decided to shoot portra 400 as my research told me that this type of film offers more versatility when working with skin tones. To date, my project has been based around making portraits and I am a bit nervous about the prospect of delivering such an important artefact especially in the FMP. In a sense I wish I had engaged with this process earlier in the MA however my journey through this course has been enlightening in many ways and I wouldn’t change that.

In terms of looking at work to take influence from, I have been aware of the work of Margret Mitchell for some time and her work in Scottish council estates aligns with my own ideas to some extent. I was initially drawn to the power in her portraiture through realism, subject and environment. The concrete vernacular provides a very impoverished platform which allows her subjects to stand out from the frame, working in tandem to produce a very distinctive discourse which aligns with intentions of visualising a concrete jungle. Mitchell states of her project ‘Passage’…

“I want the viewer to ask themselves a question about how society operates, how choice is related to opportunity and environment. To see that sometimes people choose what they do because really, not much has been offered in the first place.”

Margret Mitchell | Passage

Mitchell certainly raises some important questions about opportunity in impoverished areas. I find myself questioning whether I agree with her. As a child from an inner city council estate myself I question my own sense of opportunity and try to draw on my experience of interviewing participants. Mitchell uses powerful statements and powerful work born out of excellent portraiture to encode a discourse of hopelessness. The idea of merely ‘existing’ in a place I find very unnerving although I’m not sure I totally believe the message in totality. The image above serves as inspiration not only in the sense of the work but also in terms of layout and text. The use of white space lends itself to the delicacy of the work and fairly typical of a photo book of this nature. One feels a sense of seriousness within the work with the eye being drawn to the photography. This is useful as of late my feeling were to look to create a range of visual experiences however this approach is driven by the quality of the photographic work. Food for thought going forward with my own approach.

When appeasing the work I’m drawn to Barthes (1977) when he states in relation to discourse and narrative ‘In order to conduct a structural analysis, it is thus first of all necessary to distinguish several levels or instances of description and to place these in sentences within a hierarchical (integrationary) perspective.

Barthes has been useful in recent weeks and insightful in learning how to look at an image and scrutinise beyond the obvious subjects. Understanding that the studium of a photograph such as that of Mitchell offers any number of visual clues about time place and setting. Their use in a sequence allows a project to move in a specific direction as Barthes puts it ‘intergrationary’ or hierarchical. This will be important in making my own outcome and I am mindful of having work that hooks the viewer in the early stages culminating with a powerful finish.

In order to plot my way through a narrative which has a cohesive discourse Haggart (1957) offers a plethora of useful assumptions regarding a working class vernacular. including shoddily uniform houses intersected by dark alleyways, shades of dirty grey without green or the blue of the sky, gap toothed terrace houses with brick spattered bits of waste ground. Works and grimy pubs. Giant factories and services which attend them and finally ‘The green stuff of the region forces its way where it can’.

One could quote Hoggart’s descriptions almost endlessly and his discourses align with the work of Mitchell. What I am able to establish is a place or setting to direct my work. This is somewhat of a relief as I feel I am able to see in some respects where my work will travel.

Barthes, R. (1977). Image, music, text. New York: Hill and Wang.

Haggart, R. (1957). The Uses of Literacy, Aspects of Working Class Life. Penguin, London.

Mitchell, M. [Online] Available at: https://margaretmitchell.co.uk/shop/passage [Accessed] 22nd June 2021.

Thinking Discourse

As my project develops philosophically while the shooting has been less frequent. The stalling of making work is very much intentional to allow time reflect on my what I do next. Having made hug efforts to interview and collaborate with participants to gain insight into their struggles with mental health. I now have a number of powerful testimonies which is pleasing. Looking at the work I have produced. I’m relatively pleased with where my practice is at in an aesthetic level. And through the making of work I feel that the decision making process really reflects the type of work I would like to make in the future. Taking influence from the baroque and renaissance works in pursuit of structure, space and drama. I have succeeded in producing portraits with a high level of control and understanding. Considering the arrangements of objects that surround subjects, scrutinising the edges of the frame in order to ensure that any tension is intentional.

Now at the stage where I am looking at the work I have made, reoccurring themes begin to emerge which often relate to a working class vernacular. People, buildings and objects all of which place the work not necessarily in a poor environment, but a vernacular that was once probably poor. Small rooms, council houses, tattoos with an almost stereotypical sense of masculinity. Levi Strauss (2020) comments that ‘photography opens up passageways to its subject, not as a signification but as a world, multiple and complex.’ In reviewing my project, the architecture is often encoded with referents historically working and modest, however on many occasion new life has been injected, a sense of pride, not alien to a northern working class mill town although in writing this I am unsure if the term ‘working class’ is even the correct label in contemporary society.

Leeroy

When speaking to Leeroy, I was moved by his story although it wasn’t a story that was totally alien to me. However his progressive outlook and emotional intelligence exemplify that of a man who has achieved a level of status, employment in a managerial role in a corporate world. Sporting success on an international stage while controlling his emotions and as he describes, the ability to check in with himself. Yet he moves back to the place where he feels at home. To be surrounded the community that makes him feel safe. He has been on a journey. His root evidenced by the small room he sits inside. The tattoos on his hands serve as echoes to his modest roots. A discourse.

In appeasing my work in a broader sense, I feel that I have arrived at the stage where I understand the various struggles of the people I calibrate with. This is not to suggest I understand their struggles rather I understand the perspectives of their own experiences. Reoccurring themes such as insecurity and anxiety have taught me of the devastating effect these illness have. Well… If I’m totally honest. I take some personal comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in my personal suffering. Obrist comments.

The connections and principles that produce a collection contain assumptions, juxtapositions, findings, experimental possibilities and associations. Collection making, you could say, is a method of producing knowledge.’ (Obrist 2015)

In highlighting the comments made by Obrist, I am able to make the connection to my own experience and make sense of it through the collaboration. When asking my tutor about her personal approach she simply replied ‘I’m an open book’. Advice I felt was useful and have used to engage with participants. Being honest about my own feelings when asked has definitely brought me closer to the project in an emotional sense. While engaging with a range of participants, my experiences have been different in addition to serving as a ‘collection’ of conversations and portraits. A visual and philosophical collection of knowledge as purported by Obrist. As I continue to contextualise my practice in a philosophical manner, my recent research leads to the challenge of establishing some type of synthesis that binds the project together. When considering the surface depth of what I’ve created, it may be obvious to highlight a general type of studium between the text and the words however, the task of going beyond a polite interest in the identification of a general theme and being able to interrogate my work I’ve been looking at Barthes to deepen my understanding.

Without being sure, I’m increasingly looking at the the idea of a working class discourse across my work. This subject emerged as a result of my last meeting with Laura when she highlighted some work that I made and she challenged its place within the project as I’d stepped out of the vernacular I was previously making. The sequence I made with Roy ventured into a realm beyond working class. The visual discourse encompassing space, modern design and an interest cooking. All slightly alien to my current project although his struggles with mental health are very relevant. The challenge faced is the place of the photographic work in relation to other work I’ve created.

Roy

Barthes (1977:85) ‘Discourse must be studied from the basis of linguistics. If a working hypothesis is needed for analysis whose task is immense and whose materials infinite, then the most reasonable thing to posit is a homological relation between sentence and discourse insofar as it is likely that a similar formal organisation orders all semiotic systems, whatever their substance and dimensions.’

Barthes make useful points when identifying a starting point for looking at discourse. Starting with the linguistics contained within the interviews, I am able to pick up on types of language, restricted codes that I understand that perhaps a non local audience wouldn’t. However, the text being only the starting point, the idea of a visual discourse transcends both text and image. At this point I am able to pin point instances of working class vernacular, small spaces resulting in multifunctional uses. Grid lock terraced houses or 1960’s council estates with more space although showing signs of age. Representations which may link to the political climate of housing. In making sense of multiple representations my current research is currently in the direction of working class practices across what I see and what I hear. Hoggart (1957:20) makes relevant comments when considering instances of good and bad luck

‘in what way exactly can working class people be said to believe in it? They repeat phrases but often with a saving prefatory. They say that…’ They do not intellectually examine them: yet on certain occasions they laugh readily at them as ‘old wives tales’. But usually take care to obey their directions‘.

The relevance here is encompassed and interwoven in the vernacular of which I am working. Cultural myths such as men don’t talk about their mental health. The idea that people are able to ‘snap out of it’. Although the ideas of Haggart may be outdated, the collaborations I’ve engaged with have exemplified a lack of intellectual challenging in some instances, mainly in an outwardly facing sense. However I don’t totally subscribe to the fact that working class men don’t talk about their feelings. In most of my interviews I have been met with openness and candid honesty. In making the work I have been met with trust and honesty, my own approach informed simply by being open, supported by a personal connection has encouraged participants to talk about their mental health. Using a restricted local code of language, in their own way using collaborative terms between myself and the sitter.

Barthes, R. (1977). Image, music, text. New York: Hill and Wang.

Haggart, R. (1957). The Uses of Literacy, Aspects of Working Class Life. Penguin, London.

Levi-Strauss, D. (2020) Photography and Beleif. David Zwirner Books, New York.

Obrist, H (2015) Ways of Curating Hans Ulrich Obrist. Penguin, London

Newspaper Design

Having gone through the painstaking task of transcribing interviews, my attention of late has been the designing of a newspaper which is to be my outcome for dissemination. I thought this to be the most appropriate outcome as a newspaper is a cost effective way to present a project that can be disseminated in the pursuit of editorial work in the future. I can send the product to editors and contributors alike as a form of portfolio.

Informed by Leslie (2000) I understand that an audience may not look at the document in a chronological order and that continuity is less important to a newspaper/magazine than it might be in a book. Therefore, my thought process when designing this artefact was to create a range of different visual experiences.

When engaging with this process I was initially mindful of the relationship between text and image.

Does the text format impact the image?

The image impacting on the text?

Does the relationship between the two work?

These general considerations, relevant to each spread before engaging with the decision how ambitious I might be in the design process. However, as a result of my last meeting with Laura my thoughts have been somewhat thrown into chaos as we discussed the opportunity to shoot the project using medium format film. As the FMP has proceeded to unfold, I’ve been cultivating a side project using 120 black and white, mainly in an attempt to understand the process and develop my practice. Having made a number of portraits I have become comfortable using the Bronica ETRSi and feel that I’m at a stage where I could use it effectively. However, with eight weeks left of the FMP, this would mean essentially scrapping the remainder of my digital work. A big risk to take!

Leslie, J. (2000) Issues: New Magazine Design. Calmann & King, London 

Document Scotland | Seeing Ourselves

In deciding to disseminate my project as a newspaper I decided to look for similar publications so that I was able to see what such a product looked like and felt like within its physical form. As a result I found a publication by Document Scotland (2013) entitled ‘Seeing Ourselves’. 

Upon receiving the newspaper my initial thoughts were conflicting as the look and feel was a type of binary opposite between the valuable/precious and the throw away nature of a newspaper. In essence it felt like something of a precious newspaper that could and should be kept safe whilst being unsurprised if it was once used to wrap a bag of chips. In conclusion regarding my first impression, I felt that it was a fun and interesting way to present a body of work. Although a newspaper is something one might see on a daily basis, this product has a very unique presence about it. Whether that is because of my own developing understanding of ways of dissemination I’m not sure. 

Moving onto the content of the publication, it takes the form of a small catalogue of photographers work with small sequences from the likes of Jeremy Sutton Herbert and Colin McPherson. 

The opening statement about the work takes the form of a comment about contemporary Scotland whilst acknowledging its heritage, the unnamed author using passages such as ‘a higgledy-piggledy voyage around the Scottish soul’ before grouping the projects as as a ‘new ear’ in relation to the idea of Scottish identity and creativity using through the use of ‘grainy monochrome tributes to our past’. 

The opening statement, while romantic, is also loaded with political language and almost represents an intelligently written piece of Scottish propaganda. Typically activist while informed and entertaining. 

As opposed to focussing on the work, my intention with inspecting this cultural artefact is to develop an understanding of layout and form. 

Each spread is dedicated to a participating photographer with between four and eight photographs, a statement about the work in addition to a logo/wordstamp of each photographer. Negative space is utilised quite well however it does feel slightly at odds with the seeming cheap to produce newspaper. Although being arranged in a slightly different formation, the design does have a type of uniformity as the same conventions are used in each spread. 

Political Youth

Robert Ormerod

In terms of my own potential for dissemination in this way, I am have ascertained some knowledge of space, text and image in addition to scale and physicality. Seeing Ourselves as a product feels like a promotional document for an upcoming exhibition and may have had the intention of a contents magazine in support of an exhibition. In viewing the publication as a magazine, although it isn’t. I will design my own publication as a magazine. I acknowledge that my product will be a newspaper, however I will treat the design of my spreads with the notion that each needs to provide a different visual experience. Leslie (2000) highlights the importance of having a carefully prepared running order. Furthermore the idea that a magazine is a ‘time based medium’ is an important and insightful idea. At present I see my magazine comprising of a selection of micro narratives contained within an overarching monograph/narrative rooted with a sense of place. That place is Stockport, approximately seven miles South of Manchester. 

At present, I haven’t arrived at the sequencing stage although I do have a general idea, but wouldn’t suggest a tight edit. Having spent the week taking hours to transcribe interviews my next broader task will be that of sequencing. At present though, it’s more important to formulate an idea of what I am producing, the conventions I need to be aware of and rules I need to abide by. 

Leslie (2000) points out that there is no single way through a magazine and understanding that audiences who view the publication might not view it chronologically represents an interesting and shifting perspective. Also an idea to inform my work going forward in terms of order and sequence. 

What is important to my publication of a contents page which will explain how an audience might navigate my publication in addition to planning where a contents page might be found. Understanding that mental illness isn’t necessarily a straight forward illness, I will have plenty of scope to experiment with order and sequence. 

Leslie citing Carson (2000) comments ‘Whichever style they follow however, the basic elements remain the same: the literate reader expects a headline and a stand-first followed by the text.’ An ideal starting point in a personal sense which presents an entry point for the design process at this stage.

Leslie, J. (2000) Issues: New Magazine Design. Calmann & King, London 

Document Scotland (2013) Seeing Ourselves. Document Scotland, Glasgow.