Assignment 3 – Reflection



1: Demonstration of Visual Skills

I think I have taken something with which I am very familiar, here  (my face staring out at me from the mirror) and made it strange. Or possibly stranger. I may have created a series of masks to hide behind.

I think the assignment submission contains definite performance elements (recording the removal of facial hair; masquerading as “myself”) and then transforms that record of performance into something new by seeking out online the – random – participation of others. I have succeeded in making up an online game about portrayal and Identity and getting other people to participate in it.

The “finished” pictures compiled using the crowd-sourced numbers are left deliberately rough: I have not attempted to smooth the transitions between strips (and indeed have left gaps and made no attempt to even out the slightly different tones of the background).Similarly, the pictures created from rolls of the dice were not cut down to remove the numbers running down the side of the template that forms their background.

It is to be hoped that this draws the spectator’s attention both to the constructed nature of the pictures and the process by which they were constructed rather than to their being simply “bad pictures” or hurried or unfinished. Similarly the constructed nature of the pictures, along with the set of random numbers under each compiled makes me think of mug-shots and photofits – other pictures that are constructed to resemble someone, without necessarily being a “true portrait”.

While the decisions that led to the roughness of the finished pictures were conscious ones, the basic pictures contain an underlying flaw that went unnoticed until it was far too late to go back and reshoot (unless I was going to spend another four months regrowing a beard). Particularly apparent to the right of the picture of me in the black trilby (where the brim is lightened to soft, difficult to fully correct purple) there is a splash of light, bouncing back from the umbrella that was used to diffuse the key light. A simple flag (or possibly even a lens hood) would have sorted this at the time. I didn’t construct one. I should have.


a typography of simons

Less easy to predict was that the process of working out how to generate the finished pictures would increase the number of variations required for each strip from four to six. I should have worn more outfits over the course of the day. This would be much easier to achieve with a partial reshoot (as would adding an “a bit unshaven” variant for my mouth and chin), but it would also dilute the sense (an underlying impact on the piece) of my having looked like all the people above, over the course of a single day.

An afterthought: as I started to put together the posts that make up this assignment, I took a break from work and went down to the Photographer’s Gallery to have a look at whatever was on. And what was on in the Print Sales room in the basement  was a selection of Alma Haser’s altered portraits where a 3-D folded object made out of parts of the subjects face is added on top of the picture…

There was one particularly good pop-up portrait where a row of vanes revealed the face when you stood in the right place to the unfurled image. Cracking!

There is no time to incorporate any of this into the assignment pieces, but it’s probably worth thinking about how I could (and indeed whether it would be a good or a bad idea to) before all this is submitted for assessment…


2: Quality of Outcome:

I find it quite hard to say where the actual assignment begins and ends here. A few days after I compiled the submission I wrote up in the posts leading up to this one, I visited Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-79 at Tate Britain and felt a colossal jolt of recognition.

I realised, without really characterising it as such in my head, I had made a thing that contained enough of the elements that seemed to define the works in the exhibition (the act of taking photographs not being the main thrust of the work; the inclusion of set processes; sequence; involving the audience; instructions; questioning representation; humour) and that possibly it could be described as a piece of late conceptualism, rather than just something that was “a bit old-fashioned”.


ceci ne’pas une orange

Shortly after picking up my orange at the way in to the Tate Exhibition, I filled in the questionaire that was hanging beside three photographs of 2 women – one young and one older, possibly  a mother and daughter – and a man before, during and after a meal taken on a roof terrace. I worked through the questions about what I thought was going on in the three pictures. I thought not just about narrative, but also about the gender roles and the power relationships depicted. I thought about what my answers said about me, I read some of the other questionnaires that were clipped to the back of the board. I reflected that far more people had taken an orange than had filled out the questionaire…

Similarly my attempts to get people to make physical (rather than merely electronic) images were less successful, but I suspect that helped move the project forward and take the form it exists in at the moment where the elements of chance injected simply by virtual rolls of a die are more important than individuals actually engaging with a process and following it through. If the pictures and their compilation from the sets of evidence were contained within the context of an installation/exhibition space a greater degree of participation might be expected (though not from everyone).

Connected to this is the question of how this should be presented and indeed where the scope of the work begins and ends.

Central to it are the three posts containing the kit of parts and the template, the instructions and the compiled pictures, but that seems to be somehow “less” than if you drill back a couple of posts earlier. Definitely the Flowcharts are as much part of it all as the “self” portraits. One way of getting around this might be to create a Taryn Simon-esque trio of frames (channeling A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII): one containing the pictures (printed 6″ x 4″, like my diary sequences and leaving space for further prints to be added as they are generated by the spectator), one containing the flow charts and the strips and a third with notes on the projects gestation and the various attempts to commission collaboration.

At the moment however, it will have to suffice to take the three posts and use them as a slice taken out of my blog’s timestream  and for the physical submission to consist of twelve 12″ x 8 ” prints of the pictures compiled to date, the instructions printed on A4 standard weight paper secured with a paperclip and the strips as another seven 12″ x 8″ prints waiting to be cut up by someone and the assembly template also there to make further pictures.

At this point, I should probably say a few words about the diary pictures that fed into all this

There are many things I could do with the photographs I took as part of my playing around with ways of making and using diaries. I could junk the immediate chronology and work through them selectively and create a series of mini narratives, reflecting different aspects of my life. I could try and make Paul Graham-ish short sequences from parts of them. I could keep their as-shot order and create a single long narrative from the five sequences I have made to date. I could carry on shooting, both on further trips away from London and  – much harder – try and do something similar while I’m not away, creating a sustained picture of the more usual parts of my life. I could sort the pictures into various themes revealed by repetitions of subject matter: food, travel by air, travel by underground, what I see out the window in the morning, people I talk to etc etc. I could use them as an oblique reference to the sort of photographs by other people that I have been enjoying looking at, by pulling out the images that are most obviously “in the style of…”

I will continue with taking further splurges of pictures, at least one of which will feature “home” rather than “away”. But I will also put the pictures I have already taken away (and will add the new ones to them there) so they can ripen like a nice cheese (or possibly mature, like fine wine, although I suspect they only truly work if treated as vin ordinaire). A large part of the interest of pictures like this, only becomes apparent over time, I think…

3: Demonstration of Creativity:

I think it took a reasonable amount of imagination firstly to envisage how the simple task of shaving could be turned into a series of pictures and then to see how this could be extended to create a potentially huge number of further portraits. I experimented a lot with the way this could all be achieved and presented and have continued to discover new possibilities in the material as this process developed. I have also managed to put some of these ideas aside for possible further work later meaning that I have been able to produce a piece of work which works and is – for now – complete in itself.

I should say two quick things here to close: I am really quite pleased with this assignment and it is, I think, quite unlike anything I have done before photographically.

Whether this marks a stage in the development of my “voice” or simply remains as a slightly odd aside, remains to be seen. Certainly, as others have remarked, in comments on this blog, on Facebook and on flickr, it has been fun.


4: Context:

As ever, I am managing to combine a dreadful verbosity with an inability to  get this work published in a timely manner. I am doing the reading, I am visiting exhibitions, I am processing thoughts and I am doing the exercises. What I am failing to do is to get the posts up here to reflect this.

I have draft posts, half-finished sitting waiting to be completed and published. I have thoughts I need to get out of my head.

I think I need to rein in my writing, to reduce posts here to something that resembles a log more and to hit the publish button sooner. The published posts describing my progress towards this assignment work well, I think.  But the word count at the bottom of the page here is already at 1750 and the next assignment requires a 1000 word essay. I need to come up with a shorter, less polished, maybe style of posts. I need to finish off more posts while maintaing the quality of what I’m thinking and setting down in words.

I need more posts, posted more quickly…

I have used a lot of pairs of inverted commas (to go with my habitual overuse of parentheses) in this review of my assignment. Life During Wartime is the sort of thing that requires them, I think. I hope you agree…

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