PHO701: Positions and Practice

Oral Presentation

The Global Image

This week, the challenge was to discuss what constitutes a global image. On my return from a trip to Unseen Amsterdam, a photographic exhibition in Amsterdam that was founded by Foam gallery. This event attracts around 25 thousand visitors per annum.

Upon my return to Houston, I found that my family had been subject to yet another tropical storm, typical of this time of year of course, but getting ever more common place. We are now having what are known as 100 year tropical storms and hurricanes every year so, when asked to contribute to the weekly forum to introduce myself, the image that I included was of my neighbor’s home across the street. This is a view that I see every day. The lady that lives there is 98 and she has stayed in the same home for 55 years. Despite the regularity of such events the personal experience of a 98 year old lady across a street can be shared on a worldwide scale. The viewer may not have experienced such a devastating storm, but he or she can identify with the subject. An elderly lady stoically facing another challenge in life.

When considering what constitutes a global image we could look at Louis Daguerre invention of the Daguerrotype which became extremely popular very quickly, a bit like today and the advent of social media. Images today can be seen almost immediately from anywhere on the globe. Does this then mean that every image is a global one? Perhaps not. Different cultures look at photographs in different ways since what can be described as a global image is one that is etched on the mind. Images from the Texas border crossings, and migrants crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded inflatable boats. These are images that raise awareness, that shock and perhaps spur people to take action.

On the other side of the argument, are we being desensitized by the mass production of photographs creating an endless stream of images that are shared on social media? These images are being taken and shared in a matter of minutes and can, depending on how and where it is taken cause real problems with regard to how the image is being interpreted by the viewer. Global political discourse and division, along with different media affiliations can only exacerbate this growing desensitization.

“The digital camera will be further absorbed into other devices, first as telephones, refrigerators, walls, tables, jewelry, and ultimately our skin, allowing for non-stop recording, a panopticon without the warning shape of a conventional camera.”

Richin, F. (2010) After photography. 2nd edn. new york: W.W. Norton. pg143

Reflections on week 1

Challenges that I experienced were trying to navigate Canvas, locating assessments, appointments and general information about the course. This is probably true of all new entrants and I am sure that this will get easier with time and practice.

The surprises that I experienced were trying to figure out how to get my microphone to work in a webinar, since for some reason it does not work with Chrome, but does in Safari.

I enjoyed the readings, having bought both Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida and Susan Sontag, On Photography. Reading both on the flight to AMS from IAH and back, annotating in the margins of each book was an enjoyable, and also very helpful task.

Week 2: Interdisciplinary Practice

Photography has always had links to other mediums, such as painting and drawing. William Henry Fox Talbot wanted to find a medium that could capture an image like his drawings at Lake Como. Fox Talbot wanted something that came from nature, something that he could capture quickly without the use of pencils and paper.

Today, photographers are pushing the boundaries of the medium by using light, cyanotype film as sculptures, building sets to photograph, and embroidery. The range and the list is endless.

In the past, my work has combined printmaking, photographs, embroidery, sculpture, and collaged images. I really enjoy taking photographic images and pushing that process to another place, just to see what can be done and what can be achieved when you make bold decisions. I am not afraid of failure in this area, in fact I do believe that it has to be embraced fully.

My interest lies with diaspora and gentrification which both lend themselves to many openings and a wide range of different media. Photographs can depict people fleeing their homes, but they cannot have a ‘hands on’ feel or connection unless you physically put it there and in this situation, the inclusion of tactile work often brings another dimension. An example of this would be embroidery or collage since it can relate to the people fleeing and is something that they may have done within the homes they are forced to leave. My interests are with the human race and how and why they have come to be in certain areas.

We have a hurricane home in rural Texas. As the name suggests, it is used when the weather gets really bad and we are forced to evacuate our home in Houston. This rural area was originally populated by the Tonkawa tribe, then the Apache, Mexicans, white American settlers (mainly from Germany) as well as emancipated African Americans. With each diaspora, came brutal conflict. The area has a rich history of stolen houses, when people being evicted from their homes after failing to pay their rent, decided that the best option was to just steal the house instead and move to another town. Not only do the people move, but the houses can too, bringing me back to think about some of the original settlers, the Tonkawa, who were a nomadic people.

Reflections on week 2

The challenges that I came up against this week were just trying to fit everything in and find a home for it all. Trying to find a time to study, research, write and photograph alongside the demands of a family of five. Of course, my CRJ was a problem and I think that several other people found this difficult. Perhaps, I just over thought it and probably should have taken a more relaxed approach since the CRJ is not marked in the first module, but it’s good to have it out of the way and I can always add things as I progress.

My biggest surprise was that I was not fully prepared for setting up of the CRJ. Having already attempted to get ahead of the work schedule, I probably made a mistake in starting set up too early as well as spending more time on this to the detriment of my other tasks.

It’s a good idea to read as much as you can and to reach out and get help when you need it. Tutors are very friendly, helpful and quick to respond if you have questions or are feeling overwhelmed.

Bibliography:

Richin, F. (2010) After photography. 2nd edn. new york: W.W. Norton

Week 3: Rethinking Photographers

The changing roles of the photographer make this a challenging career choice, although it is often perceived as a very fashionable and somewhat glamorized profession, with a constant pressure to remain relevant and innovative. Popular perception and consumption of photography can affect all photographic practitioners. Regarding citizen photography, everyone is a photographer now, since everyone has a phone, and are now able to share their own images around the globe in seconds. I think that this has driven contemporary photographers to rethink what they do, and how they are doing it. Perhaps it’s a return to analog, or maybe an interdisciplinary approach to reconsider which borders and boundaries can you break.

Within the advent of digital cameras, technological advances in photography have been fast paced. As soon as the latest desirable camera model is released, the next model is already on track for imminent release. This results in some photographers striving to have the latest equipment, which is not just new lenses and cameras. However, with a new set of gear comes new problems including the issue of where and how to store your work as the file sizes increase. This can be very expensive, so my approach to new equipment, like most photographers is measured.

My background is printmaking, painting and installation which leads me to consider other methods of producing work that incorporate these media. My photography practice to date has been art based, including architectural images and portraiture, leading me to family portraits and graduation work. I do feel that my future work lies in a different area, so with this module I want to explore diaspora and the changing face of our cities and rural areas.

Reflections on week 3

This week was spent writing notes and collating information for my oral presentation. Collecting old photographs  and spending time reflecting on past work and researching painters and printmakers that have inspired me along the way. I am making plans for an audio visual shoot on construction sites around Houston, alongside local neighborhood observation on gentrification in the area. 

Week 4: Collaboration

Photography is generally thought of as a solitary practice. However if you look more closely we can understand that photographers do work with lots of other people, such as artists, designers, make up artists, hair stylists, writers, directors and technical assistants. In this instance they can go on to share authorship of the work created.

This week we were asked to post an image on the discussions page. This was a way to generate interest in collaboration. We were then asked to reach out to others whose work you connected with in order to create a collaboration group. The work that resonated with me was Clare Wilsons brutalist building. This dark foreboding image was really interesting to me and one of the comments Clare received was can concrete be beautiful. 

I contacted Clare who had already teamed with Lor and then Victoria joined us too. We connected via conference alongside what’s apps group, so that we could clear quick questions. The conferences were really helpful as we all live in different areas, it was in these conferences that we came together with our ideas and shared ways forward. Initially I thought that perhaps our living in different place would be a problem, but it was probably an asset as we were able to work at different times, so really the only thing that we had to be mindful of was our scheduled time was suitable for all involved, I should not have been concerned, it worked perfectly.

Our theme of ‘Erupting’ was chosen and we decided to listen to the music of Hildur Guonadottir’s Erupting light either before shooting, or in my case during. Whilst exploring our ideas of nature erupting through buildings, we also decided that building erupting through nature would also work. We made a plan to select two images each for our project. We then arranged our images, this series of eight worked so well together, we were all delighted with the result and our collaboration was well received our different webinars. What was surprising was the speed at which we managed to put this micro project together, it was hard work but it was also fun to do. Also interesting to note that our ideas were similar, but not the same and our little project still worked.

Tim Stubbs Hughes, Tracing with light with Lauren Norris. They chose 5 images which they swapped and then wrote text alongside each others portraits. This was really strong work with well shot imagery, but the text was really added joy for me. Tim and Lauren did a great job together, as we found their micro-project very interesting.

Andrew Findlay and James Shenton brought photographs from their place of work, since they know each other quite well through work, but also now through the MA in Photography in Falmouth. They shot images of each other outside their place of work. Their stances were quite different in terms of body language which really made a great photography read. This made comment within the images from which we could read and make links to how they both handle their workplace.

Work in Progress & Site Photography

This week I did my first shoot at a construction site in Katy Texas, this area is undergoing rapid change. Katy is a great place to photograph urban change. This area also worked very well for our collaboration series ‘Erupting’.Alongside photo work I also filmed the area of construction for my oral presentation.  

De Ferrier. Store construction, Katy, Texas

Research was mainly around Wim Wenders, David Hockney and Robert Adams, these artists have all influenced my work in different ways. 

Reflections on week 4

Collaboration this week really helped me generate new work and better understand the processes and techniques of others in my collaboration group.

Construction sites are very noisy, this along with my chosen site being right next to the main freeway made for very difficult filming. Photographing wasn’t a problem, however I did make a plan to return on a Sunday when there was less traffic and no ongoing construction. Second time around worked much better, even managing to get some footage from the flatbed of the truck. The weather was good for the most part, however that blinding sun is to be avoided, this is not the aesthetic that I need.  My aim is gather images from my local area and to record signs of imminent construction, road markings and flags.

Week 5: Forum towards and ethical practice

The photography moral triangle includes subject, audience and image maker, or the author of the image. The triangular relationship between sitter, photographer and spectator as described in Susan Bright’s Art Photography now.

Bright, S. (2005) Art photography Now. London:Thames and Hudson.  

In relation to art, the term diaspora is used to discuss artists who have migrated from one part of the world to another, (or whose families have), and who express their diverse experiences of culture and identity in the work they make; often expressing alternative narratives, and challenging the ideas and structures of the established art world. 

As photographers, we have a certain amount of duty to our subjects and be mindful not to objectify them. I am interested in the changing face of urban and rural areas around Houston where I currently live.  As I photograph these areas I am in contact with migrant workers, many of who may be ‘wet backs’, which means that they entered the US illegally by crossing the Rio Grande. Since these people are here illegally, they have no real rights, but they are the backbone of most of the work here. They work incredibly long hours, have little or no health insurance and are consistently underpaid, or not paid at all for the work that they do. People get away with not paying as these migrants are fearful of exposure to the authorities, ICE, emigration and customs enforcement, who have the ultimate power to deport them. They flee conflict in their homelands of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. I am ever careful not to photograph without permission, not to publish without permission. In fact I often wait until there is no one on site.

We do not look at images in the same way, there are historical and cultural elements which will also inform us when we gaze at a photograph. Along with this we will be affected by when and where we saw these photographs, they can be etched in our memory but will come with the feelings we had of when we first viewed them. 

It is the photographer that decides when, where and how to frame their images and who is featured in them. We have the moral responsibility to be respectful when doing so. I have done a lot of portraiture in the last few years. It has been important when working this way to let my subject see what images of them that may be shared, it has been a particular area of mine that I’m careful about. I photograph young people mainly and I understand that at this young age subjects may not understand how these images may be read or viewed, As a result I very often invite the parents or family members to be involved in the image sharing. It is important to me that everyone is happy and onboard about publication of any photograph. It is also important for me to have written consent, this way everyone is protected.

Reflections on week 5

The impact of ever changing technology brings challenges for photographers, with the cost of replacing equipment often being prohibitive. Digital cameras bring added storage problems, so changing one thing can lead to a knock on effect of having to change other equipment to support new purchases. l own cameras, analog and digital, 35mm and DSLRs, point and shoot pocket cameras, panoramic and polaroid plus an array of lenses. Over the years I have embraced digital images, however my images have evolved and I now only use a 50mm lens and DSLR, it suits my image making for now. My interests have been polarized in the last few years and this has made me more driven to understand what is behind the images that I take and therefore able to make considered decisions around new equipment. 

Cameras are marketed in order to be more inclusive to a wider audience. This changes peoples perception of how easy it is to take a ‘proper’ image. This can have a negative impact on how people value a professional photographers work, devaluing it. 

Weeks 6 & 7: Methods & Strategies

Weeks 6 and 7 were launched together allowing a two week period to complete our tasks, which included a micro-project.

Jasmine and I paired for this micro-project. My brief was to look at a map of my local area here in Houston and to mark that map with a one mile radius and then have an aimless stroll and photograph what interested me within this area on a day and time of my choosing. The psychogeography was a means to generate work that would perhaps not be made otherwise. We were to look at map of an area near our home and select and area that we could walk around to take photographs with a reference to psychogeography, which is looking at overlooked everyday objects in areas that are well known to us, and capturing the feelings we have of walking an area we know but take no real interest in.

I marked a one mile area around the Memorial City Center in Houston. The area is the crosspoint for the Beltway 8 West and the I-10.  The I-10 is an enormous freeway that has some 13 lanes going each way that goes from Jacksonville, Florida on the Atlantic coast to Los Angles on the Pacific.  When it was flooded by 30 feet of water when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, you could only see the top roads and of course it was not navigable for many weeks. I was thinking of this as I aimlessly walked around  the top of the parking lot. I had hoped that the images of the freeway would be as they were in my imagination however, they were perhaps only really interesting to someone from this area. Looking further with the aid of some course work research I thought of the quote from Diane Arbus in Susan Sontag book “On Photography” where she states that “The photographer is always trying to colonize new experiences or find new ways to look at familiar subjects.”  This resonated with the floor markings at the top of the parking lot which was almost empty and all the directions were visible. This was really interesting to me as there was really nothing to direct. These markings that help stop accidents by directing traffic were mute at that time. I see them like everyone else here all the time, usually giving them little or no attention.   

This was a far more interesting exercise that I thought it would be and it was a thought provoking one that I would definitely use in the future as an idea generator. All in all, a valuable lesson.

“Psychogeography is, according to Debord, a pure science, and like the skilled chemist, the psychogeographer is able both to identify and to distill the varied ambiances of the urban environment.  Emotional zones that cannot be determined by architectural or economic conditions must be determined simply by following the aimless stroll (derive), the result of which may then form the basis of a new cartography characterized by a complete disregard for the traditional and habitual practices of the tourist.” (Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography. p.90) 

I went to a Native American “pow wow” where I took some shots of Native American dancers.  They are part of the local diaspora and I thought that this would be something that I could use in my work.  I shared them at the webinar, but the feedback  received suggested that by including them that I may be running the risk of losing focus so I removed them for now. Todd Hido has shots that have no friends, he keeps these printed images on the wall, which I think is a great way to generate new work, or new series. I think I am going to create a singles club for these photographs.

I also took time to make the final edits on my oral presentation and uploaded it to complete the assignment.  This is a perfect example of the 80/20 rule, where it took 20% of the time to get the first 80% complete, but the last 20% of finishing the final edits, seemed to take 80% of the time.  While I am happy with the finished product, I have learned a lot from doing this and I will incorporate these learnings into the next one.

Reflections on weeks 6 & 7

Photography is definitely affected by chance elements, which is why we should always take our cameras wherever we go, so that we can enjoy these ‘chance’ opportunities. Chance definitely plays a role in my practice and I have found that my interest is not in the portrait ‘chance’, since I feel super awkward about scoping for portrait opportunities. However, I do have models come to my studio, where I feel more in control of the image making, so a chance encounter with a stranger who will agree to sit for me can bring some valuable images. 

The trip to Katy was a chance encounter for me. The building and scraping of the land to provide new consumer stores and distribution centers resulted in some engaging images. This led to chance of thinking in new ways about things that we see on a regular basis but really pay no attention to. I love to photograph the mundane.

Weeks 8 & 9: Context & audiences

Weeks 8 and 9 were also launched together.  The tasks given were to consider other photographers and a forum on happy accidents.

Martin Parr: Common Sense.  These images are displayed on a wall all the same size and format, garish colored close ups depicting the global consumerist culture. It is important to note that this body of work was made to be shown in multiple galleries at the same time, between 1999-2000, the galleries were responsible for the printing and installation of the work. This itself draws our attention to Parr’s concept of consumerism on a global scale, even before we delve into the context of the images themselves. This is viewed as one large installation of many images documenting  the rapid, overwhelming, insatiable human consumption for anything and everything. It’s shocking, disturbing, hilarious and delightful all at once. Using analog and digital here works brilliantly.

Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses.  Crewdson’s images are cinematic shots of seemingly everyday recordings of normal American life. However, as Barthes said “If I like a photograph, if it disturbs me, I linger over it. What am I doing during the whole time I remain with it? I look at it, I scrutinize it”. Crewdson’s work invites you to do this, the images are huge and it would be difficult to imagine where else to install them other than a gallery wall. A cinematic projection perhaps? That said, I think that these images need to be viewed indoors, part of that cinematic magic could be lost in any other type of installation, they have a movie like context that needs to be honored.

Jeff Wall: A Picture for Women.  This image was made in 1979, as a re-interpretation Of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies Bergere. I engage with this type of work and there does seem to be a trend in this way of working. Re imagining 18 century paintings has a real appeal, the preparation and working with models to build this tableaux references how an artist or painter would work in his or her given medium.  

Our task was to create a work in progress portfolio. I decided to make an MA photography section for this on my own website. During this time I had the option to visit a Pow Wow here in Houston, which was a photographic opportunity that I could not miss, as these events are annual occurrences. Native Americans tribes are some of the original dwellers in the areas that I am interested in. Tonkawa, Konkawa and Apache all lived in these areas. I shared them at the webinar, but the feedback  received suggested that by including them that I may be running the risk of losing focus so I removed them for now. Todd Hido has shots that have no friends, he keeps these printed images on the wall, which I think is a great way to generate new work, or new series. I think I am going to create a singles club for these photographs.

I commenced work on Research Project Proposal.  I knew what the subject was going to be, but needed to ensure that it was titled correctly to give latitude to adjust as I progress.  I undertook initial research to understand formats, layouts and content then developed an initial draft document.  This had very little in the way of content, but provided a strawman to allow me to start working on the content.

I also did a photo shoot of the historical buildings in downtown Brenham. Although I captured what I think are some interesting images of real Texas, some of these may end up in my singles club.

Reflections on week 8

My mistake was to put these shots alongside my images of new buildings and gentrified areas without any real reference. They didn’t read well together, but could be a part of further work just as long as I make sure I have that contextual link going forward. The drawback for me here is that I want to avoid a didactic and esoteric approach, which I think can sometimes be exclusive.  My avoidance of titles and any script made this difficult to read and understand. I reviewed all the shots curated them again, culled many, and the result was much better.  

My original feedback from tutors and peers was too many shots that were too different in subject matter. My website was easy to navigate and my printmaking work was interesting. Feedback is always welcome, it can help with image selection, arrangement and content. Often  when we pore over work we can become overwhelmed and need that feedback to push us forward. 

Week 9

For week 9, I was to make personal observations and for critical opinions to analyze and appraise your own work, as well as peers and other practitioners.

“Thatcher wanted to create a “green corridor” around Canary Wharf”, said Rachel Whiteread.  “I had my studio nearby and used to cycle past. I was very conscious of the fact it was all about to change.”

My work, like Rachel Whiteread’s work ‘House’ involves the observation and documentation of changing of landscape and surroundings whilst exploring those reasons for change. Exploring gentrification and diaspora have been threads in my work for many years due to my background of global travel. I have a deep connection with architecture, but as a critical observation I can get drawn into following too many threads of work. I definitely enjoy an interdisciplinary approach to any artwork and I plan to keep an open mind to producing and displaying my work. Photography as a genre has always featured in my practice, as I have a clear sense of how I want to frame a scene, and have a way of locating and seeing the mundane. I adore massive slabs of concrete as much as I do a wooden shack that has been moved from location to location multiple times. It is this element of constant change that keeps me engaged.

The “special status”of the photograph, according to Barthes: “It is a message without a code”.

This makes me consider text and titles which have always been troublesome for me, lengthy gallery text can be off-putting, didactic and esoteric. I aim to be inclusive in any exhibition of my work, for this reason I like to title my work as an aid to the viewer, and make a statement that is easy for all to interpret. Denotation, the literal meaning of a photograph, in contrast to the feelings or ideas it might suggest. Connotation, the idea or feeling a photograph invokes in addition to its primary meaning. Arguably, connotation can be a lengthy exercise for those who have that love of the photography image, but I do feel that this should not be made a hurdle for those who are new to exploring the genre.

Contemporary photographic practice is diverse, utilizing many different types of media, artistic supports and interdisciplinary skills to inform viewers in new ways.

Joana Choumali creates large photographic works, collaging images and layering them with intricate embroidery on delicate fabrics, depicting scenes in her hometown of Abidjan. Gradually, she understood that what she was hoping to find in a journey abroad, she finally discovered in her own ‘home’.  Like Choumali, I really enjoy pushing boundaries of any given medium and my painting and printmaking background gives me a good base to work from.

Philip Singleton MA Photo. “Birmingham Dust”:  These deeply engaging images of the detritus in abandoned Birmingham buildings culminate in a three pronged interdisciplinary approach and exhibition. This really resonates with my work of urban change, but from a different perspective. I would have really loved to have seen the show and installation so I would have been able to see these images on a larger scale however, this may not have been possible within the space available.

Reflections on week 9

The supplied content for this week was especially helpful. Exploring contexts presentation was very interesting regarding the placement of photographs in different contexts, we are now more accepting of the diversity in which the photograph can be presented. This is quite exciting for me, since as an art major, I really do enjoy experimentation and thinking away from the flat eight by 10 inch 2D support.

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