Week 1 CRJ: Independent Reflection

During the winter break, my time was spent trying to wrap my head around what I was actually trying to say with my work.  My scope was too large, and realizing this  it was important to find a way of paring down my ideas on urban and rural landscape.  My decision was made to focus on an area on the outskirts of Houston where new buildings and stores are changing the landscape. 

In his book, “Society of the Spectacle,” Guy Debord quotes Lewis Mumford. “The explosion of cities which cover the countryside with ‘formless masses of urban residue’ is directly regulated by the imperatives of consumption.”

The nature of my work is concerned with the urbanization of an area on the outskirts of the city of Houston in Texas.  It is almost exclusively migrants, both legal and illegal that build these monumental structures to facilitate growing consumerism.  Working in temperatures of up to 35oC, (95oF) and 100% humidity. 

Photography has provided a new way of picture making, based on selection. Paintings are made using various studied skill sets, photographs are a snapshot of time, and are taken as opposed to produced.  There is a skill set required to make that sliver of time resonate. Taking into account Szarkowski’s five elements, and how they pertain to my own studies was really quite interesting.  My initial thoughts were, well clearly that does not feature in anything that I produce, as there are no people, just empty buildings, however on reflection most of these elements are present, time and vantage point are definitely present, but what about the other elements?  Framing is also there and the detail of the migrants work, which leaves the thing itself, but is it interesting enough?  

To quote Piotr Sadowski, “Psychologically a compelling sense of direct causal link between objects once physically connected but later separated.”  Sadowski’s words resounds here with reference to links between structures and migrants.  Speaking metaphorically, the connection between concrete, walls and construction is a thought provoking subject especially here in Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott has recently vetoed migrants from settling here, because “We already have our fair share.”

The migrant construction workers here are being physically connected to the architecture by the placing of hands on buildings in order to render them with concrete, leaving a historical imprint of the migrants’ craft.  Taking a new look at the work from the last module helped me reconnect and I found myself looking closer at the migrants’ rendering of the concrete walls.  The mark making is so beautiful, but ephemeral since when the building is complete, this will be covered with brick and stucco, erasing every trace of the migrants’ hands. I see this as an erasing of the knowledge of the migrants’ input and contribution to society.  The skeletal state of these buildings is what interests me most, but the vast areas of concrete gave me some problems as it is difficult to convey the sheer size of these structures.  I spent a good deal of time thinking on how I could resolve this, as I really enjoy WOP (works on paper) and my thoughts kept on returning to that idea. 

Szarkowski also quotes Baudelaire, saying, “This industry, by invading the territories of art, has become art’s most mortal enemy”.  This statement may have instilled a fear into the art world broadly, though I’m sure that the two genres can sit alongside one another and can definitely share a very exciting space.  Baudelaire’s statement made an observation on photography in the 1800’s, but I think that today’s art and photography world is more accepting of expanding and interlinking both genres.

Reflecting on Szarkowski and Baudelaire’s words my research moved to considering inter-disciplinary techniques.  Julie Mehretu has always intrigued me with her monumental scale, and stunning layering techniques while Jessica Rankin’s delicate needlework has also captured my attention, so perhaps I could implemented a combination of these techniques into my work to trace steps and journeys.  I also recall Joanna Choumali’s work from Unseen Amsterdam, as her multi-disciplined approach really intrigued me. 

I needed to find a way to make connections with the land and explore different ways to illustrate the sheer scale of this architecture.  Looking at my images of rice silos gave rise to the idea of working on rice paper. My aim is to create work that showcases the migrants’ renderings and capture them before they are lost beneath the socially acceptable external facades.  To do this, I intend to experiment with alternate supports, combining of images and layering.

Forum this week was great, as I really appreciate my peers and tutor taking the time to help me unpick my work.  I was inspired to revisit my construction site in Katy, usually I visit when the site is empty, however this time I had the chance to be brave and ask for some images of the migrants working there.  It took a few minutes before I was removed form the area.  This is complex; the migrants are reluctant to be photographed and the managers are perhaps reluctant to have the migrants photographed, as they are more than likely illegal.

My work perhaps remains in the gallery art world at the moment.  Whether my approaches can be housed elsewhere remains to be seen.  There are many galleries in Houston and it is also the home of HCP.


SADOWSKI, Piotr. 2020. ‘The Iconic Indexicality of Photography’. ill.10.20sad [online]. Available at: https://benjamins.com/catalog/ill.10.20sad [accessed 28 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].

DEBORD, Guy. 2010. The Society of the Spectacle. Reprint. Detroit, Mich: Black & Red [u.a.].

SZARKOWSKI, John. 1966. The Photographer’s Eye.


‘Joana CHOUMALI – Accueil’. 2020. [online]. Available at: http://www.joanachoumali.com/ [accessed 2 Feb 2020].

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.


‘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].

PHO702 Critical Research Journal

De Ferrier. Rice silos, Katy.

“There was still a lot of bitterness. It took six seconds for that huge, blue gasometer and those … massive elegant cooling towers to come down … After the … site was decommissioned, its buildings flattened and shovelled away, its earth decontaminated, there was just a big hole, in the town, in the shire, in so many people’s lives.” 

Deborah Orr on Motherwell and Ravenscraig steelworks.

The Ravenscraig steelworks of Deborah Orr’s youth can be linked to the rice silos in Katy as features of the landscape that are under the threat of decommissioning.

Reflection on 701 practice

In this module I made many human choices regarding my photographic practice. My choice to photograph the silos, historical and current new buildings in Katy was an important one. The sun is very strong here in Houston, since it is an unforgiving light and I made a conscious decision to either avoid it or use to my advantage. I find that this sunlight works very well for the retro buildings that are popping up everywhere however, for the silos, historical buildings and the new construction I prefer an overcast day with moody skies.  

“To see something spectacular and recognize it as a photographic possibility is not making a very big leap. But to see something ordinary, something you’d see every day, and recognise it as a photographic possibility – that’s what I’m interested in.”

Stephen Shore in O’Hagan, 2015

Stephen Shore’s interest in photographing the mundane is fascinating to me, my focus on recognizing a photographic possibility is really what has driven me up until now. Those great slabs of concrete forming the new buildings in Katy are captivating to me.

New construction is almost exclusively erected by migrant workers. These migrants work rapidly so from week to week these areas change dramatically. The visuals that interest me most are during the initial installation when the raw forms of buildings, the skeletons are visible. This stage only lasts for a few weeks before the visual interest for me is lost. This skeletal stage quickly evolves, and the buildings then appear to conform to their surroundings, erasing the migrants handmade concrete artwork. 

My choices to avoid including migrant workers in my shots were both 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. This is where interdisciplinary work could come into play, so I aim to explore this going forward.