Old Photographs, Memories and Roland Barthes (Week 2)

I had found the Informing Contexts module challenging and the amount and level of work exhausting, particularly in the early weeks of the module. However, I really enjoyed it too and found delving into books by Sontag and Barthes more interesting than I had expected. For example, I loved Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes and enjoyed getting to grips with his articulation of studium and punctum and revisiting some of my own images, successful and unsuccessful, in this context. Although, a little laboured from time to time I also enjoyed the second part of the book where he discussed a photograph of his mother.

“There I was, alone in the apartment where she had died, looking at these pictures of my mother, one by one, under the lamp, gradually moving back in time with her, looking for the truth of the face I had loved.  And I found it.” (Barthes 1980:67).

The image, referred to as the Winter Garden photograph, taken in 1898 was not reproduced in Camera Lucida however, Barthes describes it as follows:

“I studied the little girl and at last rediscovered my mother.  The distinctiveness of her face, the naive attitude of her hands, the place she had docilely taken without either showing or hiding herself, and finally her expression, which distinguished her, like Good from Evil, from the hysterical little girl, from the simpering doll who plays at being grown up – all this constituted the figure of a sovereign innocence (if you will take this word according to its etymology, which: “I do not harm”), all this had transformed the photographic pose into that untenable paradox which she had nonetheless maintained all her life: the assertion of a gentleness.” (Barthes 1980:69).

Sadly, my mother passed away on 28 May and her funeral was held this week. In the context of finding some images for inclusion in the funeral Order of Service I found myself looking at these beautiful and old photographs. I started reflecting on Barthes words but also thinking about how we use and re-use old family photographs in this digital era.

Here are some of the images of my mother – the first we chose as the image on the front page of the Order of Service:

These images remained unseen for most of my own life only coming to light when we cleared my mother’s house three years ago. As a historian I found them fascinating and particularly in telling a story of aspects of my mother’s life prior to having her three children. My mother was a beautiful woman but in some of the images I can see some of the struggles with stress and anxiety that revealed themselves while she was still at school, and continued from time to time through her adult life. I believe that these images were taken by a professional photographer, in a studio, and were portraits taken to record particular periods in my mother’s life. Technically, they are beautifully rendered and capture the essence of my mother’s character and personality – her sense of fun but also some of her inner struggles.

Having not seen these images until relatively recently I set about scanning them into Lightroom with a view to putting together a book for members of the family. The book was intended to chart the history of our family from the point my parents met, through our childhood and graduating from university and the arrival of their first grandson. After my father died in 1993 the number of family photographs reduced dramatically, as we all went our separate ways and developed our careers and lives away from home. As I thumbed through a number of boxes of images I found photographs of presumably family members that I didn’t know, photographs of my mother with people I didn’t know and in places I didn’t realise she had been to. It was the revelation of a whole life world of which I was not part or party too until she was too consumed by dementia that I couldn’t ask her about.

So, what is the role of family photographs in this digital age and what of these beautiful old photographs we all have secreted away in albums and on our computers. They provide memories, and allow us to recollect times gone by. They are able to reveal the unknown lives of our family members and they provide a historical record for those coming after us in life. They also provide material for those photographers that seek to reuse others old photographs. These photographers recreate a different story, a narrative around the images they collect. They sometimes attempt to find out more about the people in these found photographs and seek to reconstruct what they can of their life. Some are just interested in old photographs and the beauty of these tactile memories.

It has been an interesting exercise to remind myself of some of the themes in Camera Lucida, especially at this difficult time in my life. My mother’s death feels like the end of a chapter in my life, but also draws a line in the sand in terms of my photographic journey on the MA Photography. I started my journey seeking to find ways to lay the ghosts of my early photographic career as a police photographer to rest. As I worked my way through the various modules a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and my photographic images have become less dark and moody to the point where at the end of Informing Contexts I produced some colour images of seascapes. I feel this may be a turning point for me, and my mother’s death seems like a closing down of this chapter in my life.

I feel more confident in my ability to reveal the true essence of Skye. I no longer feel the need to represent my imagery in monochrome nor do I see it as the only way to simplify and reduce the sensory elements in an image in order to reveal the noumena. Although it is a sad time I also have hope and a direction to my journey.

References

BARTHES, R.  1980. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.

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Experimenting with taking photographs through my Window (Week 2)

In the Informing Contexts module, I experimented with taking photographs, during a gale, through my window.  The images were regarded by others as successful, but I was not so sure however, two of them were included in my final portfolio.

Skye Untitled 7 – Alison Price, April 2019
Skye Untitled 5 – Alison Price, April 2019

In the spirit of further experimentation, and producing a large amount of varied work in the first stage of the Final Major Project, I plan to continue this work both through my window, and through my car windscreen, to try to reveal the essence of Skye.  After all, the weather is such that I spend many days looking through my windows at murky and dank weather.  Many visitors and locals must also have memories of wet days on Skye!

Two photographers that have used this technique are Todd Hido in works such as Roaming (2004) and A Road Divided (2010):

Todd Hido – A Road Divided (2010)
A Road Divided – Todd Hido, 2010
A Road Divided – Todd Hido, 2010
A Road Divided – Todd Hido, 2010

and the lesser-known landscapes of Tom Wood.

May Day Bush – Tom Wood, 2005
The Windy Gap – Tom Wood

In researching these two photographers and their work I came across some interesting examples of their images and insights into their practice and how they describe their approach and intent.

For example, Tom Wood’s quotation below chimed with my own view that I am searching not for the visible and the tangible but something else – that feeling and my experience of a place:

“I think of a photograph as a receiver of sensation.  Sensations are intangible, I try to organise them through the act of photography.” (Tom Wood)

Furthermore, in an introduction to an interview with Wood by Jan Willem Dikkers he says that:

“Photography inherently, deals with what can be seen.  Its mechanical attention to details, its dependence on the referent – the object of its scrutiny – is what marks it as totally different from the other arts.” (Dikkers: undated).

However, as I have said in this Journal before I see the world and photography differently.  Yes, photography can be about an object, but for me a photography reveals much about the photographer and their view of the world.  As Freeman Patterson commented:

“The camera looks both ways.” (Patterson 1977:11).

As Dikkers goes on to say:

“Wood records a version of the world, not in its entirety, necessarily, but in its essence.” (Dikkers: undated).

 This message is very reassuring for me as I seek to reveal the essence of Skye – as I said in my Pecha Kucha presentation:

“My search is not for literal representation of the world I explore but to reveal its reality, and through that the essence of my experience of that reality.  I am seeking the reality of Skye that transcends personal experience and insists on being noticed and exists like grit in a shoe.

 Looking through my lens I can see the sea, lochs and mountains.  These are Skye’s sensible properties but what I am after is finding the otherness of its geography, the vulnerability of its ecology and its ephemeral hiddenness.  It is an enigmatic place where mystery and normality lie cheek by jowl with its history and culture.” (Price 2019)

Wood’s landscapes are lesser-known than his forty-year project recording the lives of the people of Liverpool, but they have also been shot over an extended period.  His images are often taken through the window of his car or through train and bus windows.

Tom Wood
Tom Wood

He said of his return to Ireland:

“When I first went back to Ireland, I saw it with fresh eyes.  I photographed what was around me and there was nothing, just poor land.  But it was our land, it had meaning for me.” (Wood)

I also reminded myself of the work of Todd Hido – another photographer taking images through the window of his car.  In particular, two works – Roaming (2004) and A Road Divided (2010).  In the case of Hido, rather than the conceptual basis for his photography, I was interested in his practice and the process by which he puts together his work. In an interview in Ahorn Magazine, conducted by Daniel Augschoell and Anya Jasbar, they remarked of Hido that:

“He’s the type of photographer who works on multiple projects at once, most often taking photographs to satisfy some sort of magnetism toward a specific image rather than ‘storyboard’ a future collection.” (Augschoell: undated). 

Hido says of himself that he does not just work for his projects but is driven by a need to take a photograph when it presents itself:

“I’m not the kind of photographer that goes out and creates something from an idea that I preconceived…at least not with landscapes or buildings.” (Hido in Augschoell: undated)

I like this spirit and I feel that in my own practice maybe I have been too restrictive, and confined myself through attempting to pre-visualise my work and attempting to pursue an overly-prescriptive self-imposed brief.

Interestingly, Hido suggests that having taken a set of images that have presented themselves he then finds the book-making process a way of presenting his work in a coherent way:

“Without the book-making process . . . I wouldn’t know where to start.”

What I take from this is that his photographs are derived from individual photographic moments that through the book-making process lead him to develop a story around his image making – and maybe that story is about himself and his life story.    

“I believe that all those signs from your past and all those feelings and memories certainly come together, often subconsciously, and form some kind of a fragmented narrative. Often, you’re telling your own story, but you may not even know it.”  (Hido in Augschoell: undated)

Again, this sense that the photographer reveals much about themselves through their photography and reflect in some way their life story rings true for me.  For example, much of my early work on the MA reflected the dark memories of an early police career:

Alison Price – Positions and Practice

This research has been interesting and actually been more revealing than I had expected.  Through an interest in pursuing image making through windows I have identified two photographers that have similar motivations to myself but on the other hand have very different approaches to making images and putting together a coherent body of work.

References

 AUGSCHOELL, D. and JASBAR, A. Interview with Todd Hido. Ahorn Magazine, Issue 6

http://www.ahornmagazine.com/issue_6/interview_hido/interview_hido.html

DIKKERS, J. Making Sense. Issue Magazine

https://issuemagazine.com/tom-wood-making-sense/#/

PATTERSON, Freeman. 1977. Photography for the Joy of It.  Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd.

PRICE, Alison. 2019. Critical Review of Practice for Informing Contexts

Pecha Kucha Presentation on my Final Major Project (Week 1)

As a precursor to submitting our Final Project Proposal later in the month we were asked to produce a Pecha Kucha presentation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvRkSILPQd4&feature=youtu.be

This type of presentation involves 20 slides each displayed for 20 seconds and is intended to be conversational in approach but also informative.  It is intended to provide our tutor with a quick overview of where we have come from in photographic terms, ideas we wish to explore, the practitioners that have influenced us and some ideas about potential outcomes and future plans.  Next week my photographic peers in the Cromarty cohort will comment on my project and how I plan to present my work to a wider audience.  This will be helpful in developing my ideas and producing my Final Project Proposal.

Reflecting on Exhibitions Past and Present (Week 1)

As I begin my Final Major Project module my thoughts are turning to how I might present my work to the public at the end of the course.  At the same time I am preparing to travel up to Skye to host a small exhibition at Gallery An Talla Dearg, alongside artist Julia Christie.

Painting by Julia Christie

I have one wall of the Exhibition space which is a purpose-built and quite large gallery in Eilean Iarmain.  Having done a recce of the space when I was last in Skye I determined that I could display ten framed images alongside twenty mounted images that will also be for sale.

My images waiting transportation to Skye on Wednesday 12 June – Alison Price

I processed, mounted and framed my images a number of weeks ago.  I am a very organised person but this was many weeks before it was necessary to do this.  However, life intervened and my mother passed away so I was glad I had all my work ready for the trip north – a learning point that even if you are well prepared sometimes unforeseen circumstances can get in the way in the final weeks before exhibiting work.

In August 2018 I mounted an exhibition of my work in my own home in Tetbury, Gloucestershire as part of my coursework for Surfaces and Strategies https://wp.me/p9BvX0-aG.  

The Road to Elgol Exhibition, Alison Price, August 2018 – photograph by Rod Wainwright
The Road to Elgol Exhibition, Alison Price, August 2018 – photograph by Rod Wainwright
The Road to Elgol Exhibition, Alison Price, August 2018 – photograph by Rod Wainwright

A very different venue to the one I will be exhibiting in on Skye but these were the learning points I identified after that experience:

  • Don’t add dogs to the guest list!
  • Plan for the worst in terms of the weather and lighting
  • Exhibitions costs a lot of money to mount
  • Exhibitions held in your home are intimate, informal and fun and allow people to view your work without the commercial pressure of a gallery function
  • I have suggested to some local friends that we think about an Arts Festival perhaps located in the street where I live. A number of my neighbours have artistic tendencies
  • Paper surfaces are as important as the images themselves in presenting work – I am still searching for the perfect paper
  • Music is important in creating the mood
  • It is useful to have a number of helping hands with particular tasks on the night
  • I added some colour images to see if guests had any preference for those.  I do not think I would normally mix colour and black and white as it confuses the narrative but the feedback was helpful.

I also produced a video of my Exhibition featuring feedback from my visitors https://wp.me/p9BvX0-f4.

In addition, I currently have another Exhibition of my work in Poppies Hotel in Callander, Scotland:

Exhibition at Poppies Hotel, Callander – Alison Price, April 2019
Exhibition at Poppies Hotel, Callander – Alison Price, April 2019

As I move through the first part of my Final Major Project I plan to undertake a number of pop-up Exhibitions not only to gain some practical experience, but also to use them as a means of testing the market with the images I am producing for my final portfolio.  I will use venues such as local cafes, bed and breakfast venues and other small and appropriate outlets.

Following on from Informing Contexts, where I experimented with different techniques and subjects, I intend to continue to produce large amounts of images working in different lights, with artificial light sources, in different locations, using different techniques and working in colour for the the first time in my MA Photography, to present the essence of the Isle of Skye through my imagery.

Responding to Feedback for Informing Contexts and moving into Final Major Project (Week -1)

I was pleased with my marks and the positive feedback I received when the results were announced for Informing Contexts. I enjoyed the module and was very grateful for the very positive engagement with my tutor and the Course Leader. I particularly enjoyed the Friday Club where we were able to listen to extra lectures or talk about concepts and ideas that interested us.

All the feedback was positive but there was a thread running through the comments in terms of how I move forward with my practice:

  • Your submission reflects a good command of your technical skills and your choice of format is successful in the sense of control and containment.
  • There is good control in your technique, but it would be good, moving forwards, to see more experimentation and the pushing of boundaries within your practice. So, take risks, both conceptually and practically. 
  • There has been good evidence of critical context within your work, using critical theory, as well as practitioner research, to drive your practice forwards. 
  • You now need to take even more control of the construction of your practice and this is certainly helped by a feeling of empirical research here that derives from your knowledge of actual practice. . . The will introduce you to other means of interpretation that could allow and develop completely new situations for you, that you have not envisaged before.

For me, there is a theme running through the feedback indicated in bold. I need to take more risks, extend further the experimentation in my practice in Informing Contexts, and be prepared to be surprised where this experimentation might take my practice and the output opportunities it might present for my work. I need to lighten up and be less controlling in my practice and more open and flexible in my approach. I need to make lots of new work using different techniques, processes, subjects and approaches.

 In addition, when talking to my tutor, he suggested that I expand the context in which I see my photographic practice to painting and film. I agree with this suggestion that maybe my current contextual arena is limited and I need to spend more time in galleries and exhibitions of all kinds as part of my Final Major Project contextual research.

I am hugely positive about how my practice has developed during Informing Contexts and look forward to experimenting further in the Final Major Project.

Searching for the Essence of the Alpujarras (Week -2)

After a successful trip to Naples searching for the essence of Sanita, a region of the city, I thought I would try out my rekindled skills again in the Alpujarras mountains of Spain.  From the start of the trip I did not feel in the zone and found myself taking tourist snaps and focusing on the subject of my images, rather than the essence of the city of Orgiva, where we were staying.

We started off by photographing the runners in a marathon which provided a spectacle rather than much opportunity to capture the essence of the place.

Orgiva to Lanjaron Marathon – Alison Price, May 2019
Orgiva to Lanjaron Marathon – Alison Price, May 2019

I continued in this vein finding myself being attracted to architectural shots of the landscape.

Near Orgiva – Alison Price, May 2019

As we neared the end of our time in Spain I took a couple of shots that I think better captured the spirit of the place however I have to say this was a very unsuccessful trip from a photographic point of view.

Donuts! – Alison Price, May 2019
Rugs Galore! – Alison Price, May 2019

At the end of Informing Contexts I wrote about my need for some head space before embarking on the Final Major Project. I found myself remembering the words of Cemre, our tutor in Surfaces and Strategies, who had said to me that maybe I should put the camera down and spend my time thinking.  I often remind myself of this advice.  Sometimes, I think rather than ploughing on taking poor shots and losing my mojo in the process, I should take a break!

Seascapes and Hiroshi Sugimoto (Week -3)

During Informing Contexts I experimented with seascapes from my window on the Isle of Skye. First, through my window during a storm and then, blurring the scene through intentional camera movement. My final Work in Progress portfolio included some of these images but I also processed a number of colour versions that I shared in this Critical Research Journal. On the basis of these colour images I have been asked by a local Skye artist, Julia Christie if I would like to join her in exhibiting at Gallery An Talla Dearg on the Isle of Skye from 28 June – 17 July http://eileaniarmain.co.uk/an-talla-dearg-gallery/

Of course, I jumped at the chance especially given the timing in terms of starting my Final Major Project. Having viewed the space I will be hanging my work I have decided to produce my work in a square format that allows me to hang two framed prints on each hanging string. I will need ten framed images and a number of mounted images to offer for sale. These are a few examples of my work not yet in their final form:

Seascape 17 – Alison Price, April 2019
Seascape 18 – Alison Price, April 2019
Seascape 19 – Alison Price, April 2019
Seascape 20 – Alison Price, April 2019
Seascape 21 – Alison Price, April 2019
Seascape 22 – Alison Price, April 2019
Seascape 23 – Alison Price, April 2019
Seascape 24 – Alison Price, April 2019

During Surfaces and Strategies I researched the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto and particularly his on-going project Seascapes. Here are a few examples of his images:

Caribbean Sea, Jamaica – Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1980
Ligurian Sea, Savoire – Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1982
Baltic Sea, Rugen – Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1996
Bay of Sagarri, Atami – Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1997

I like the serenity and stillness that Sugimoto captures in his work and his consistent horizon across the middle of the image works as it gives a balance and better sense of being there.

Sugimoto has exhibited his work across the globe and Here are some photographs of his installations:

Hiroshi Sugimoto – Seascapes, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, 2008
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Seascapes, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC, 2006
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Seascapes, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC, 2006
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Seascapes, Musee d’Art Contemporian, Bordeaux, 1992
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Seascapes, The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 1991

In 2005, Sugimoto recalled his first view of an ocean:

“My first view of the ocean came as an awakening,” Sugimoto writes, recalling his earliest and most vivid recollection of the sea, “I spied it from a Tokaido Line train, the seascape passing from left to right. It must have been autumn, because the sky had such vast, eye-opening clarity. We were riding high on a cliff, and the sea flickered far below like frames of a motion picture, only to disappear behind the rocks. The horizon line where the azure sea met the brilliant sky was razor sharp, like a samurai sword’s blade. Captivated by this startling yet oddly familiar scene, I felt I was gazing on a primordial landscape.” (“The Times of My Youth: Images from Memory,” Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2005)

And wrote specifically about his extended work Seascapes as follows:

“Water and air. So very commonplace are these substances, they hardly attract attention―and yet they vouchsafe our very existence. The beginnings of life are shrouded in myth: Let there water and air. Living phenomena spontaneously generated from water and air in the presence of light, though that could just as easily suggest random coincidence as a Deity. Let’s just say that there happened to be a planet with water and air in our solar system, and moreover at precisely the right distance from the sun for the temperatures required to coax forth life. While hardly inconceivable that at least one such planet should exist in the vast reaches of universe, we search in vain for another similar example.  Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea.  Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.” (Hiroshi Sugimoto).

I can relate to Sugimoto’s words in terms of the calming effect of looking out to sea.  I can also understand why he has taken these images over such an extended period of time.  Every time I look out on the water in front of our house on the Isle of Skye the light, water surfaces, clouds above and the land colours are different.  Every view is a different view.