Keep a diary for a set period of time (at least two weeks). Each day write two or three pages about yourself – what you’ve been doing/thinking. This can be as specific or poetic as you wish. You may wish to pick a theme for the duration. This is an open brief designed to give you freedom to create something personal which suits you best. Use the artists you’ve looked at in Part Three or your own research for inspiration. Select the most interesting parts of the diary (which could also be the most banal or mundane) and interpret them into a photographic project. – C&N Coursebook (p.89)
Interspersed through this post there will be links to sections of photo diary, taken in emulation of Stephen Shore’s body of work, made in the early 70’s and collected most recently as American Surfaces. They document the less typical parts of the first 4 months of 2016, at points when I have been preparing to travel or travelling, either for work, or to see my son who lives in Glasgow. Using American Surfaces as a template proved more difficult than you would think…
There are pictures contained within this that are conscious emulations of work by Walker Evans, Saul Leiter, Lee Friedlander and others, including of course, Shore himself…
(If you follow the links to the .pdfs please click on the View Full Screen button and then advance throught he pictures in slideshow mode, rather than endlessly scrolling down through the documents; it really does work better that way.)
Diary #1 – London March 2016 – Getting a visa for a trip to Moscow when I will be site-managing a radical rethink of our office’s network infrastructure, and connectivity with the UK.
There will also be streams of words (the form of an index, perhaps, though not presented indexically), linking recurring themes from the written parts of my diary. This parallels the list of Subjects I Am Interested in Enough to Develop into Projects that I started compiling after my re-reading of Hurn and Jay.
Health: my stomach, diet, weight; bloodtests; cutting off the tip of my finger; drinking too much? cholesterol; statins? dad; how tired I am…
Relationships & Emotions: Fiona; her back; pain; off work; my fear of having no space to emotionally recharge; how tired I am; how mean it is making me; how difficult I am finding it to concentrate on things; guilt.
Being a Parent: Alice; James; alike; different; Ann; Fiona; play; fearlessness; swimming; time; the frustrations of being a teenager; underlying sadness for (my own) Lost Innocence; Octonauts; Tracey Beaker; CeeBeebies; CBBC; Lego;
Ageing: ID pictures generally; photos for my visa; my birthday (in March); white in my beard; how much longer must I work? do I need new glasses?
Death: Wogan; Bowie; Carla Lane; Victoria Wood; Alec; Muhammad Ali; Wogan; Umberto Eco; Cat; Dad; Mum; their age at time of death; my age now; Malcolm.
The occasional outburst of despair.
The occasional outburst of happiness and hope.
Diary #2 – Glasgow March 2016 – A Trip to Glasgow to Visit My 13 year-old son, James. Two test rolls of film
Work: Colleagues; Friends and Foes; Reorganisation piled upon Reorganisation; Technology; Learning; Putting on a Persona; How little I engage with much of what I do; Nostalgia for Better Times Past; Dislike of “News”; Difficulties with recalling what I have done all day a matter of hours later; Preparation for a Trip to Moscow. The %-age of my “true self” I feel able to reveal to colleagues; how this has changed over time as my career has “developed”; How tired I am; Project Management v the Days When I Actually Did Something; Trips in the Past; Moscow and my Relationship to It Over Time.
Friends: In London; In Glasgow; At Work; Humour; In Moscow; Facebook; Elsewhere.
Diary #3 – Moscow March/April 2016. Renewing the bureau infrastructure in a place that I know very well. Four rolls of film.
Food: Cooking; Shopping; Recipes; Recipe Books; Away from Home – Too Many Pizzas; Too much Stodge; Health; My Digestive Tract; Georgian Food in Moscow; Bodrum Restaurant; Food and Friendship and Love; Friday lunch at Pizza Express; 5:2 Diet; 6:1 Holding Pattern.
Politics & History: Easter Rising; Politics; Referendum; Paul Mason; America; Trump; Pacifism; WW2; Great Patriotic War; WW1; Somme; Memory; How things that seem close in time Really Aren’t; Syria; Iraq; Religion as Motivational Force; Not Nationalism; Not Big Political Ideas; The Great Terror of 1937; Yugoslavia/Former Yugoslavia; Brexit; Gordon Bennett; ‘Kinell…
Music: Bowie Bowie Bowie; Station to Station; Talking Heads; Fear of Music; Faure; The Beatles; Elvis Costello; Avalanches; Shostakovitch’s 7th; Dylan
Diary #4 – London – The week after my from Moscow; James and Ann pass through and back again; normality is resumed… One roll of film.
Exhibitions (January to June 2016): Pop Goes the World (Tate Modern, better than the Guardian review said it was); Saul Leiter (Photographers’ Gallery, brilliant, went three times); Joel Meyerowitz – Cape Light (Beetles and Huxley; a grower); Frank Auerbach (Tate Britain, I wrote a post, I recall); Cosmonauts (Science Museum, better than the museum of cosmonautics in Moscow, but let down by no Strelka or Belka); Julia Margaret Cameron (Science Museum, so Victorian it’s barely photography I’m afraid); Alec Soth (Science Museum, the same day – my birthday – a revelation!); Alexander Calder (Tate Modern 2 or 3 times, if it was financially possible I’d jack in my job and go and make mobiles, Alice liked this one too!); Easter Rising (Photographers’ Gallery, how on earth can the British government manage to get its reaction to stuff so wrong so often?); Strange and Familiar (Barbican, thrice, introduced Ohtake + scrapbooks into my diaristic practice, great!); Performing for the Camera (Tate Modern, again thrice, despite not being convinced at all by most of it, it still seems to be seeping into the way I’m envisaging the stuff I’m doing for C&N); The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow + the statue park by the 20th century gallery opposite Gorky Park (wanting to be surprised again by The Apotheosis of War but you’ll need to wait for the childhood memory post to see why); The new wing at Tate Modern (nice space; really liked Boris Mikhailov’s “Red” pictures on the fourth – I think – floor); Deutsche Börse Photography Prize (Photographers’ Gallery – I liked the one that won, but Erik Kessels’ installation from what was left behind by his father when he had a stroke rhymed with my thoughts more – I wondered how either Alice or James or anybody else for that matter – would interpret the chaos of unfinished or unstarted projects that would be left behind if I dropped dead today); Paul Strand (V&A – I want to think a lot about his Hebridean pictures before I do I&P, I think).
And then there’s this course and the way it’s making me dredge things out of the recesses of my head and try and turn them into something a bit coherent. I think it’s working. I think…
Writing a lot (3 pages a day? crikey!) takes a lot of time; notes are much easier. Photographs work as well, as an aide memoire and also as a springboard for a narrative at least as coherent as my written efforts…
And finally – two questions:
1: Does it make a difference if you used a film camera for the majority of the diary series?
Stephen Shore has spoken of his American Surfaces pictures acting in part as “dumps” of what was in his field of vision at the time. This was definitely part of what I was trying to achieve with the diary sequences. As with my Street Photography photographs from Part One I think using film makes me more decisive, or at least to stop getting caught in a loop attempting just one more picture to get a minutely better variant of the subject.
The first sequence was made with my Fujifilm x-100-s which – in my opinion at any rate – is about as close as any digital camera gets in terms of operation to a simple film camera. It has ‘proper’ controls for virtually all the adjustments you need to make; you look through a physical hole to compose the image; stuff like that. Nevertheless you get a flash of the picture as taken in the eyepiece, or you can look at the screen. It takes a while (okay, a fraction of a second or two) to autofocus and there is an oddness of timing when you release the shutter. And of course, being digital, blown highlights are ugly which is a pain when you’re working with uneven natural light.
By contrast, the Olympus XA which I got off ebay for the other three sequences (and used my trip to Glasgow as a test of) requires almost no thought to operate (as long as you remember to wind on) before raising it to your eye in emulation of Robert Frank’s gestural photography, as described by Tod Papageorge. The flash is sufficiently “flashy” to create the sort of look I wanted while also drawing attention to the fact that someone was taking a picture when someone looked at the resulting print (in emulation this time of Shore). Also, it’s size (even with the A10 flash it’s not much larger than a packet of fags) makes it an easy thing to have with you at all times – ideal for diary shots.
I also used the Fujifilm for the final pictures in the Moscow sequence in the airport and on the flight home, when I ran out of film and had forgotten to take my last roll out of my hold luggage before I checked my case in. Again, the number of alternative pictures rose, without a noticeable increase in quality. I was more disciplined than in the first sequence, but it would be a constant strain still to try and achieve an Egglestonian single picture of each thing using a digital camera.
Also, I find the process of sorting and editing is much easier if I have a physical object to contemplate and move about in the sequence when I can see the whole lot rather than just the few I can fit on a screen at once. I like prints and I like the process of working through a sheaf of them. I had the x100 pictures printed as well to help with the final selection of images for the sequence. The pictures are held in the sequences in strict “as taken” order, and I have included pretty much everything I took; if I was to take the diary pictures to the next stage and create a more edited narrative, there would be much staring at the prints laid out on the floor, or bluetacked to the wall as I sifted and ordered and edited to get a more compressed sense of my passage through space and time.
I currently work in an open plan office. I don’t mind the acres of space around me or the sense of being continually visible, but I definitely miss walls. Almost any activity benefits (I think) from coming out from a screen and being pinned to a wall (or written on a whiteboard) where all involved can stand around it, jab fingers at parts of the whole and even make written amendments. I have similar issues with mind-mapping software; possibly it is just my age again, but I do believe there are points in any creative process when only the physical world will do…
2: How have the sequences of diary photos developed each time I have made one?
The first sequence (Diary #1 – London) was largely done as a trial run for the three that follow; it was shot on a digital camera (see question one above); it covers a very short amount of time (37 of the 55 pictures were shot in about three hours on the Thursday; 17 of the other 18 were taken as I made my way to work via the doctor’s for a bloodtest on the Friday morning or at lunch). Rather than run out of film, my battery died as I took the first picture on the trip to pick up my passport from the visa centre. I got better at making sure I have the wherewithal to carry on working by #3, but also found myself in the pub with Sean during #2 with no more frames left on the film I had in the XA and at least one more picture to take. The other thing I got from this was the idea of creating sequences of numbers running through each thread: I’d taken a “1” shortly after getting out of the tube and then saw a door with a “2” on it; I started to make an ascending series of numbers, intended as a structural element in each sequence. I got up to seven here. This neatly fits in with the possible marginal OCD-ness of my relationship with numbers and as such becomes a nice running theme, in keeping with the Hide and Seek sequence in my childhood memory post, here.
The second sequence (Diary #2 – Glasgow) was a good test of a newly purchased second-hand camera – I was able to prove that everything worked and also to confirm that having the pictures processed at Snappy Snaps in Glasgow (1-26) got better results than having the pictures processed on my return to London in Walthamstow (27-65). I was also reminded that the machine that scans negatives does an uneven crop – more off the right than the left – of your image. I still haven’t quite got the compensation for this right yet, but if I’m going to do more of these and go with the end result being commercially made 6×4 prints a la Shore, I need to I think. As well as counting up from one to five, this one introduces the structural element of taking one picture of myself every time I fly somewhere in the mirror of the plane toilet. I have done this off and on for years, but here it becomes a nice way of showing me changing as the sequences progress while also acting as a narrative motif. Similarly, the idea of making a picture that locates me shortly after waking (usually through a window) is introduced.
The third sequence (Diary #3 – Moscow) is the longest of the three (and covers the most time – eight days over 4 films); it manages to count up to ten or eleven before I got confused. I made a conscious effort to take more consensual pictures of people I encountered – mostly colleagues here, rather than people encountered outside it – and was pleasantly surprised at how few of them said “No” when asked. There is a lot more conscious emulation of Shore here too (mainly toilets and food) as well as the inclusion of one of the motifs discussed in Dyer as I realised that my trilby (I usually wear a hat in the Russian winter/early spring) could happily show up in the margins of some of the shots.
The fourth sequence (Diary #4 – London) follows on directly from #3, taking up the next morning when I woke in Walthamstow and had a visit from my son and ex-partner who were passing through London on their way to Legoland. There are no numbers in this sequence, but there are more pictures of encountered strangers. As in #3, it is the less routine moments that are recorded here rather than the mundane stuff. To take the idea further, I need to find more ways to describe what I do when I am engaged in work rather than eating or going somewhere, or being with people in a more social situation. A picture of a representative activity a day (or half day) should do it. Or possibly I need to accept that – as the written diary suggests- very little of my workaday activity sticks long in my head…
- Stephen Shore – American Surfaces (Phaidon, 2005)
- David Hurn & Bill Jay – On Being A Photographer; A Practical Guide (LensWork Publishing, 2008)
- Geoff Dyer – The Ongoing Moment (Abacus, 2006)
- Tod Papageorge – Walker Evans and Robert Frank: An Essay on Influence (Exhibition Catalogue; Yale University Art Gallery, 1981)