Human Choices

My chosen theme is the interplay and impact of migration, diaspora and the resulting conurbation of Katy, Houston and to document these changes in the landscape.

The decision to avoid including migrant workers in my shots was founded in both the ethical and aesthetic. The migrant workers that are from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala almost exclusively make up the work force for construction in Houston, but since they are mainly illegal, I was very conscious of risk of exposing anyone to the authorities.

Visually, I enjoy these vast spaces when they are empty as these distribution centers are massive, with the latest one being built on an 84 acre site. The images that I took on the first shoot in Katy were very successful however, on reflection this work just really falls short on impact as they did not convey the massive scale of these spaces well enough.

These two images were taken on the same day, with the first being the most successful. I wanted to show the workmanship of the migrants who rendered this building, this is only available for a short period of time before it is covered completely. The next image was an abject failure in my opinion, from the vantage point to the lighting, nothing works for me. That said, I do like the lines on the walls and I may use those as a layering to other work.

De Ferrier. Doorway, Katy
De Ferrier. New store, Katy

The following two images were taken on the same day and although they are linked, the subject matter is quite diverse, with one capturing preparatory markings for new construction project and the other a portrait of a migrant worker. I think that this first image of the building markers was the most successful one.

De Ferrier. Building markers, Houston
De Ferrier. Migrant worker, Houston

The portrait was taken in an opportunistic basis. This image was not as successful as I had hoped for due to a combination of reasons inclding language barrier and lack of a speed light. He had a set of gold teeth which were really interesting, but he was embarrassed about showing them. The logo on his shirt could enable him to be traced, so I blacked out the company name as a means of making him anonymous.

I needed to rest this work for a while, think about its value going forward and research other artists to find a way where the work could be expanded. My art major and fascination for pushing boundaries kept coming back to me, as I feel that this is where interdisciplinary work could come into play, so I aim to explore these ideas and challenges regarding scale in this module.

Research & observations

Over the Christmas holidays I undertook detailed research on relevant photographers and artists.  Looking at Szarkowski’s five properties of a photograph from the informing context module video was interesting whilst referring to my own work, to analyze what properties are important to me was a valuable exercise, framing is a really important element for me as is the vantage point, most of the points and properties mentioned are visible in my images.

John Baldessari, who recently passed away was a conceptual artist that was interested in hybrid art, mixed media, photography, text and communication. He was once told that the most engaging thing about his work was what he left out. Interesting on the concept of omitting things, this last module has been about omitting things in my work. It was really important to me to omit migrant workers in my images, the buildings absolutely had to be empty, perhaps because going forward I have strong feeling that these people deserve more of a voice, maybe a selection of studio portraits privileging them, not just tying them to a didactic series of work but something other than that, a pedestal and an understanding of their birth homes and what they left behind.  I found Art 21 to be a rich source of information, talks and interviews. 

Julie Mehretu was a Glassell School of Art in Houston core alumni, which is where I continued my art education when I arrived here from Scotland. I have always admired her work, as the scale is awesome and her printmaking applications, layering, and mixed media really engaging, her work Politicized Landscapes really resonates.

Jessica Rankin has a frenzied approach to her work, she has adopted a “must make must make” mantra. I find that her intricate sewing, drawing and painting works are really inspiring. My background in fine art makes me open to trial and error and pushing boundaries in any medium. I like the idea of somehow replacing the human handwork of the migrants on the massive concrete structures with mapping, layered works and architectural elements. This of course would mean a great deal of exploration, trial and error and tests on different surfaces and grounds. 

Zed Nelson’s film “The Street” documents four years of gentrification in Hoxton, which is an area in London. It is quite sad to see the changes and the effects on the local people, their homes and their livelihoods. I do think that emotions run deep here, as it is heartbreaking to watch people’s history be effectively torn down and ripped apart. As mentioned in the comments page, gentrification has always and will always happen. It is development and more often than not can be tied back to how much money can be made, with no regards to the impact on the current residents.

Alex Boyd Sonnets is from Scotland and was recommended to me as feedback for going forward. He has undoubtably gorgeous images however, the context was really inspiring. Referencing my own work here and my admittedly wide and scattered approach that needs to be pared down and reigned in. I have trouble writing and contextualizing work due to this approach and would really like to be brave in this area. I need to look at one area, photograph one area and the migrants working in it.

Having moved from Germany as a boy, Boyd’s work is interesting, and I can totally understand why he would photograph this way, as longing for another place is something that I know very well since I am part of the Scottish working diaspora from. We cannot live work in Scotland as there are no positions available, so we have to go where the work is. I do not know a time when I have actually wanted to stay in a work directed country. So, the disruption and longing is very engaging in Boyd’s images.

Looking ahead

Recapping, I have confirmed that I’m interested in migration and diaspora. They are definitely threads in the work that I do although I intend to look deeper in the resulting impacts, including consumerism and the attitude of others within the US.

This divisive topic is relevant to the area that I live in and is highly dynamic.  Within the last few weeks, Governor Greg Abbott vetoed the resettlement of refugees within Texas, citing that Texas had accepted more refugees than any other state. Texas has been historically viewed as a welcoming state, but is now the first state to action the veto power under a recent executive action by President Trump.

Considering the successes and weaknesses of my previous work, as well as the exposure risk, I will focus on the buildings and less so on the people, which may provide an abstract consideration within my work.

The risk that I face is to try and address all of the aspects of this multifaceted topic, so going forward I aim to pare down my ideas and focus on one or two key areas.

I intend to address the scale issue by considering experimentation of use of mixed media, but as yet, am not sure what media I will incorporate.  My starting point will be to lay out some ideas in my sketchbook and consider including trials of transfers and larger works that leverage other materials such as canvas, wood panels and rice paper trials, either in a series or one larger image collective.

Bibliography

‘John Baldessari In’. 2020. Art21 [online]. Available at: https://art21.org/watch/art-in-the-twenty-first-century/s5/john-baldessari-in-systems-segment/ [accessed 7 Jan 2020].

‘Julie Mehretu: “Mural” (SHORT)’. 2020. Art21 [online]. Available at: https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/julie-mehretu-mural-short/ [accessed 7 Jan 2020].

KANNO-YOUNGS, Zolan. 2020. ‘Texas Governor Shuts State to Refugees, Using New Power Granted by Trump’. The New York Times, 10 Jan [online]. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/10/us/politics/texas-governor-refugees.html[accessed 14 Jan 2020].

‘Katy Subdivision Map’. 2020. Google My Maps [online]. Available at: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1Vxa94R9Qbst9RQs_yDtAcoPRj1g [accessed 8 Jan 2020].

‘Magic in the Mundane: Photographers’ Everyday Gems – in Pictures’. 2019. The Guardian, 18 Dec [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2019/dec/18/magic-in-the-mundane-photographers-everyday-gems-in-pictures [accessed 18 Dec 2019].

NELSON, Zed. 2019. ‘THE STREET’ / Trailer (90 secs)  / Dir. Zed Nelson [Film]. Available at: https://vimeo.com/355415579 [accessed 14 Jan 2020].

O’HAGAN, Andrew. 2020. ‘Motherwell: A Girlhood by Deborah Orr Review – a Masterpiece of Self-Exploration’. The Guardian, 8 Jan [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jan/08/motherwell-a-girlhood-deborah-orr-review [accessed 8 Jan 2020].

‘Politicized Landscapes, Julie Mehretu’. 2020. Art21 [online]. Available at: https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/julie-mehretu-politicized-landscapes-short/ [accessed 7 Jan 2020].

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