Diary project – initial thoughts

This is my ‘naive response’ posting for assignment three, prepared before working through the research and exercises of Part 3 ‘Putting yourself in the picture’, which is about self-portraits in reality or in absentia.

These assignment briefs are getting more and more open (is that a good or bad thing? – discuss). This one asked us to keep a diary/journal for a period of two weeks or more, then find something in it to turn into a project. No restriction on number or format of images.

I suspect that the most challenging part of the exercise will be keeping the diary and writing 2-3 pages per day over any period (I’ve managed Day 1 today, BTW). I am not a diarist; I record appointments in a diary – which has been in electronic form for the past 10 years – and that’s it. Do I keep it mundane or, like Cicely in ‘The Importance …’ do I make it something sensational to read on the train? I suspect mundane. Certainly, the first few days will be all about the events of the day, rather than opening-up my thoughts about them.

I am tolerably comfortable about being on the ‘wrong’ side of the camera, but being on both sides of it might become a challenge. And that sparks the first possible project. I have to produce a self-portrait mugshot for my Rotary Club members’ directory (actually, I don’t; I could ask somebody to take it for me), so I could do something self-referential, a self-centred project, looking at the process of taking a self-portrait. (Three hyphenated self-s in the same sentence there; maybe I’m onto something)

Otherwise, the strands of my life that could yield a project are work, sailing, saxophone and photography. During the two weeks I will be doing some dinghy instructing, practicing my sax, continuing my back-garden macro project and, maybe, photographing a pub-gig or two.

 

Photographing the Unseen – a couple of random jottings.

The first topic is one that I have mused on often, and occasionally tried to explain to non-photographers.

A human and a camera ‘see’ things in entirely different ways, which explains why holiday snaps are often disappointing. It is not possible to draw a direct parallel between the human eye and a camera lens.

It is not simply the eye that sees the scene in front of us; it is both eyes, connected to the 30 giganeuron parallel-processing device that we carry between our ears. The eyes scan the scene and the brain maintains in real-time a 360 degree, 3-D, moving, fully-focused, colour HDR model of our visible environment. Of course, the eyes are not the only input to the model; it is augmented by sounds, smells and sensations (temperature, wind, vertigo etc.)

In contrast, the camera produces a 2-D still image with limited depth-of-field. The images it produces are necessarily limited compared with the full experience because they are detached from all of the non-visual sensations. The Moroccan souk no longer has the sounds, buffeting and aromas. The Grand Canyon no longer has the 3-D input and sense of vertigo. It is part of the skill of the photographer that we find devices (differential focus, foreground interest, motion blur etc.) to compensate and add interest.

I was reminded of this by one of Duane Michals’ images that I came across while researching for a previous posting.

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source: dcmooresgallery.com

The text is Michals’ way of introducing the ‘unseen’, those elements of the scene that do not make it into the photographic image.

The second topic is a further idea for a response to the assignment brief.

For reasons that aren’t obvious (even to me), I have been more aware than usual of roadside ‘shrines’ or memorials to people who have died in road accidents. These things are all individual, sometimes just flowers, often adding personal memorabilia, photographs and cards. These shrines are metaphors for absence, memory, mourning and (perhaps) some anger. Rather than a headstone (which marks where a funeral took place, the shrines mark the place where a person was last alive.

roadside-memorial

There is controversy about these memorials. Some say that they have a positive effect on road safety, as drivers slow down; others say they are a distraction. Local authorities, and highways authorities, have had to develop policies about how to deal with them, linking sensitivity to considerations of safety. Some that I have found will allow memorials to stay in place for 13 months, to allow the family to mark the anniversary of the tragedy, before removing them.

If I pick up on this theme as the basis of Assignment Two, it will have to be more than simply a set of photographs. I envisage a ‘Sectarian Murders’ approach, with accompanying text saying something about the person and/or the circumstances of the death. That will mean reading cards and notes, and trawling contemporary news reports for information.

Exercise – a comparison

We are asked to compare W Eugene Smith’s ‘Country Doctor’ with Briony Campbell’s ‘The Dad Project’. I have described each series in my past two blog postings, so this posting can be relatively short.

I believe there are two distinctions to be made: the difference between a photo-story and a photo-essay, and the difference between and insider and outsider view.

Both a photo-essay and a photo-story are what David Hurn (quoted in course notes p52) describes as ‘a group of images in which each picture is supporting and strengthening all the others’. The difference seems to be that a story has a distinct narrative flow but an essay is more free-form, but I suspect that the best projects have elements of both. The Dad Project is primarily a story (charting the progress of Dad’s illness, decline and death) but with non-linear elements. Country Doctor is primarily an essay but has four mini-stories embedded in it.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau (1994) discusses the difference between documentary shot by an outsider (more objective but less ‘involved’) and an insider (probably more detailed knowledge, but a more subjective approach). Campbell was pretty much the ultimate ‘insider’ to the extent that she was, herself, part of the story she is telling. Smith was mostly an outsider; his essay appears more objective – although he clearly has an admiration for his subject.

The other difference between the two series is their historical context. Country Doctor appeared in the late 1940s, shortly after the Second World War and with the Depression well within living memory. Many of his readers will have lived through hardship and approached it with the kind of stoicism and sense of duty projected by Dr Ceriani. The Dad Project is very much a product of the early 21st century, when it is OK to be open about emotions in public.

References

Campbell, B. (n.d.). The Dad Project. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Cosgrove, B. (2012). W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Portrait: ‘Country Doctor’. [online] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994). Inside Out. [online] Available at: http://www.photopedagogy.com/uploads/5/0/0/9/50097419/week_5_abigail_solomon-godeau_inside_out.pdf [Accessed 4 Mar. 2017].

Chuck Close on Inspiration

While sitting around, and surfing around, waiting for inspiration to strike on Assignment 1, I found this great quote by Chuck Close. OK, time to get down to making some pictures.

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.

All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction.

Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

Chuck Close, quoted by Eric Kim

… but is it Art?

This is one of a series of occasional self-reflective posts; in this case, a stranger’s-eye view of this ‘art world’ that I have thrust myself into. I started on the degree course a year ago, in February 2016, having never studied an ‘arts’ subject at any level (even O-level) but with an educational background in science/engineering subjects and a day job in building construction problem-solving. I knew it would be a challenge and push me out of my comfort zone – that is one of the reasons I am doing it.

I have now completed EYV, read a lot, visited exhibitions and lurked (and occasionally contributed to) the OCA forums and other social media outlets, so I have more than my toe dipped in the water. However, I still have a problem with the question, “… but is it Art?” especially when viewing some of the more conceptual ‘works’. I was, therefore interested to come across the following passage in Salkeld (2014,152). The context is a discussion that anything can be a work of art but it does not follow that everything is a work of art.

What these examples have in common is that the institutions and discourses that constitute the art world have validated them.

 

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it might suggest that a self-serving and elitist clique has defined art in its own terms and is sharing an expensive joke at the expense of the general public. This would be an understandable, but nevertheless very cynical, view!

At present, I do take this ‘understandable’ view, and I do not consider it invalidated because a member of that same clique has described it as ‘cynical. I came to this degree course with a view of ‘art’ similar to the first part of the definition in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “Skill, esp human skill as opposed to nature; skilful execution as an object in itself; skill applied to imitation & design, as in painting etc.;  thing in which skill may be exercised”. Essentially, I have seen art as a supreme expression of a craft or crafts – which explains my impatience with ‘artworks’ that appear to lack or deride the underlying craft skills.

During EYV, as a result of the course notes, tutor feedback and social media interactions, I have come to understand that OCA are working to a different definition, probably related to the next part of the COED definition, ” (pl.) certain branches of learning serving as intellectual instruments for more advanced studies…”. I have started a process of adjustment but suspect that, while adding to my understanding of ‘art’, I will not let go of my view that a level of craft skill is involved.

This post is intended as a sort of benchmark, a record of where I am at the start of C&N. I intend to review it at the end of the course to see if I have made what the art world would consider to be progress.

Reference
Salkeld, R. (2014) Reading photographs: An introduction to the theory and meaning of images. London: Bloomsbury.

… and Narrative

From the OED

a spoken or written account of connected events; a story: a gripping narrative • the practice or art of telling stories • a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.

As seen in the course notes, individual photographs and series of photographs can each hold narratives within themselves.

A useful, if glib, working distinction between ‘context’ and ‘narrative’, then, is that narrative deals with what is inside the frame and context deals with what is outside. As a photographer, my first thought is that narrative is the more important because that is the part the photographer has direct control over. He shares control of context with others, the publisher, gallery owner or curator.

It is therefore interesting to read in the course notes, ‘By understanding the context of particular photographs it becomes possible to obtain the fullest appreciation of the narratives they convey’. This is something I look forward to exploring further over the next few months.