Category Archives: Identity & Place

Course 3 of the OCA BA in Photography

exercise 5.3 – a journey

Note the journeys you go on regularly and reflect upon them.

Now photograph them. Remember to aim for consistency in your pictures […] This will help keep your project honed to the subject matter rather than you, the photographer.

IaP Coursebook, p.112

1: Some everyday journeys:

From the bedroom, down to the kitchen to make tea (and while my mug is brewing on to the downstairs bathroom to empty my bladder) and then up to my study in the attic to write up posts.

From the house to school with Alice – three options: on her seat at the back of my bike (although she’s almost too big for this); on her bike; on her scooter. The route for the days when Alice has her own transport is: down to Boundary Road, up St Barnabas Road, turning left half-way up and going straight on into Thomas Gamuel Park, round the corner by the play park and the exercise gear and straight on up the back of Reina’s and into the school play ground at the top. This journey is done in the morning with the light coming from the east.

This is of course totally different from (but with the same endpoint as) the journey with Alice to school from the old house.

The journey home again in the evening, either from Reina’s (Monday and Tuesday) or the school itself (Wednesday and Thursday). There may be a stop off at the playpark if the weather is right. Evening light – from the west. Mostly, I pick up on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when Fiona is on shift, but every four weeks, I do Thursday and Friday. On Friday Alice has a dance class in the village, so we head there instead, rather than home.

And after dropping Alice off at school, the trudge (route 1) or cycle (route2) to the station.

Saturdays to Sainsbury’s and George Monoux (pronounced Monucks, in the same way locals call the town Worfamstow) Academy for Alice’s gym class.

To Stansted. To Heathrow. Sometimes to Luton. On to Glasgow. Or Elsewhere (I did quite a bit of work on this set of journeys as background for part three of Context and Narrative)

The journey to work (cf assignment 3) or indeed assignment 5

The journey in to my workplace – through the barriers, up in the lift, go to the place I regularly hotdesk (fig. 3.3, here) plug in my laptop and then – while it’s booting – off to make coffee and to eat the samosa I bought at the station newsagents as I left the tube from this man:

When the coffee (‘real’ not instant, in a cafetiere cup) has brewed and the samosa has been eaten, I’ll go back to my desk, log on and begin my day.

From the station to home. Via the pub. Via Sainsbury’s. Via the Post Office to pick up a parcel.

If I were to pick one journey to tackle for this exercise from the list above, it would be the new journey to school with Alice. However, as mentioned above, I have already done a number of journeys in a number of treatments for various parts of my OCA courses to date, so I’ll revisit one of them and try to do something that ties in to the work on Still Life from earlier in this section of the course,

 

A flight into Russia

It’s not ground-breaking to take pictures of airline food; it probably was not ground breaking ten years ago. However, a large part of my time travelling by plane is taken up with eating and drinking. The last time I flew to Moscow, I flew with Aeroflot to Sheremetyevo airport to the north of the city. For my dinner, I had the meat option, not the fish; this sequence –  made in a style I have used many times before – shows my progress from receiving my meal tray through eating my main to being replete. I at the chewy bar on the airport express that took me into the city.

On the way home, i probably had the lamb again (I know not to have the fish) but this time, I slipped the paper cup that my glass of wine came in into my cabin bag. Back home – and months later –  i subjected it to the same treatment as I did to some of the objects on my mantelpiece.

 

 

fig.4

Removing an object from its context, interests me at the moment; I have a second airline cup – Loganair; Kirkwall to Glasgow in August 2018 – sat next to me as I type. Once I have got the workroom in my new house set up, I’ll take a matching picture of it. I will gather more detritus from journeys as time goes on and photograph them once I have returned home. This will give me another way to picture my travels and present them to others…

exercise 5.2 – exhausting a place

I thought the premise of this exercise was so interesting – ‘Choose a viewpoint, perhaps looking out of your window or from a café in the central square, and write down everything you can see. No matter how boring it seems or how detailed, just write it down. Spend at least an hour on this exercise’ – that I never quite got round to doing it, as I was so interested in working out where  – the threatened open space beside Walthamstow Central? staring out of the window of The Chequers as the market packs up for the evening? somewhere in Orkney? somewhere in Glasgow? somewhere in Salford? – however, I did manage to publish my jotted notes from a train journey.

This does not mean it won’t be something I try to do in the future and I may even try and insert it into a suitable place in a later course. The subtitle of Christian Licoppe’s 2015 paper on exhausting an augmented place – Georges Perec, observer-writer of urban life, as a mobile locative media user – could fit with Digital Image and Culture; using the exercise as a starting point for an examination of space could be applied to any number of landscape, documentary or ‘self and other’ situations. Indeed a quote jumped out at me this morning from an article found by fellow student Nuala Mahon and linked on the OCA Photography facebook group page:

“Whenever Frank went into a new town,” Greenough said, “he tried to find one or two objects or scenes that for him symbolized that place.” That doesn’t mean he was cozying up to the diner counter and getting to know the locals. “You don’t get the sense that he’s really talking with people,” Greenough added—but rather drifting in the background, shooting in hotel lobbies and bars, at funerals and political rallies and outside auto factories”

– Scott Indrisek: Why Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ Matters Today


As for photographic treatments of places that might complement Perec’s short book, I found myself pondering three different approaches:

1 – Stephen Shore: In Uncommon Places (known to me from the expanded version published by Thames and Hudson in 2014) Stephen Shore collects pictures taken with a large format camera on a series of road trips he made across America in the 1970s. They are very different to the photographs he took on an earlier series of trips out of New York that are collected as American Surfaces. These pictures are much more carefully composed and framed; obviously they took much more time to envisage and set up. The idea of taking a ‘screenshot’ of what was in front of him (as Shore describes himself doing in the introduction to American Surfaces) is gone; these pictures are not spontaneous snapshots; something vernacular has been superseded by something more coolly calculated.

While you certainly feel as if you are able to get to know his viewpoint and subject, there is little sense of Shore’s exhausting a location in  Perec’s sense. They are static scenes, isolated in time. This doesn’t mean that I dislike them (or that I will not try to emulate them) but that they do not really fit the brief here.

2 – Chris Dorley-Brown: I used to live about ten minutes up the Dalston High Street from the Rio Cinema, so when I saw its unmistakable facade taking up most of a double spread in the Observer, I was naturally going to read the whole article and then to buy the book it came from. Unlike Shore’s single, large format pictures, Dorley-Brown’s are composites, designed to resemble LF photography, but made up from many individual photographs: ‘a simultaneous snapshot of events that happened over an hour’ (Bromwich).  The pictures are assembled seamlessly, in the manner of Andreas Gursky’s massive panoramas. The effect is strange – a number of people cross the farm in each picture, but none of them seems to be aware of the others (obviously – they were not occupying the same point in the space-time continuum when they were photographed) while the perspective has the same strangely precise linearity that estate agents’ perspective corrected cramped interiors have. There is something up with them, but – without having the trick explained to you, you might not quite be able to put your finger on it, 

3 – David Hockney: At the huge retrospective of Hockney’s work at Tate Britain last year, one of his photographic collages  – Pearblossom Hwy. 11–18th April 1986, #1 (1986) offered a model for a picture which would not try to ape a single photograph. Where Dorley-Brown’s pictures are taken from a single point of view, Hockney moved in and out of the scene before him. He describes the process of making the 850 exposures thus:  ‘[each] was taken close to the surface of every element. I was up a ladder photographing the road sign or the cactus. We always took a big ladder, because I knew I needed the ladder – otherwise you have a standard, lens perspective of the object. The markings on the road were done from a ladder, you had to be up above them looking straight down. How do you look at it otherwise?’ (Tate) The effect is an obviously authored view of a space and would be a tremendously complicated (and expensive – 850 prints, even if struck from files made with a digital camera, would cost in the region of 250 pounds) thing to do; you could try it in photoshop for much less money, but I suspect it would drive you mad! A nice thing to try though, if possibly on a smaller scale and budget.

 


Reference:

  • Perec, G (1975) An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris
  • Indrisek, S (Sept 2018)  Why Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ Matters Today Published Online by Artsy.Net (accessed 16/9/18)
  • Licoppe, C (2015) An Attempt at Exhausting an Augmented Place in Paris; Department of Social Science, Telecom Paristech, Paris. (accessed online – 15/9/18)
  • Shore, S (2014) Uncommon Places; Thames and Hudson, London
  • Dorley-Brown, C (2018) The Corners; Hoxton Mini Press, London
  • Bromwich, K (20/05/18)  The Big Picture – Chris Dorley-Brown’s surreal street corner photography (The Observer, accessed online, https://bit.ly/2wYEDJ5 – 30/09/18)
  • Gayford, M. (2017) Hockney’s World of Pictures in Tate Etc. issue 39: Spring 2017 – accessed 30/9/18)

assignment 5 – tutorial and formative feedback

We had a short and quite relaxed online, voice-only tutorial which divided pretty evenly between the assignment itself and my plans for level two.

I had received Robert’s initial notes the day before and had time to think about them before the tutorial itself. This way of working – we did the same for Assignment 4 in April – seems to work well as the tutorial is not spent establishing what your tutor thinks about the work in general, while you deal with your reaction to the criticism regardless of whether it is good or bad. Here it was mostly good: Robert was glad I had returned to a typology which hung ‘together well, especially in the grid format’ with ‘no room for confusion about the subject, as [I had] singled it out and repeated it so consistently.’

The rest of the notes concerned a lack of a discernible motive behind the making of the pictures or tools to extract further meaning from them, beyond simple pictures of feet. This was a bit disconcerting but I was able to argue my case – that it is as hard to tell who someone is from their footwear alone as it is from their unadorned face –  during the tutorial, as well as discussing various things about meaning – of feet, of hands, of tattoos, of shoes –  and appearance.

Gradually, it became apparent that I had only captioned the pictures (ie ‘woman, 20’s; relaxed after being cramped by people standing in aisle’) on the post that ran through them as a slideshow on my blog, and Robert – apart from viewing the layout image on the main blog post with the artist’s statement – had been looking at them as the full-size files that I had made available on my g:drive which had only identifying file names (ie metrosynecdoche-06.jpg).

So, the main thing I take from this assignment is that I should never assume that anyone will look at all the versions that I make available of an assignment; greater consistency in the surrounding, meta-photographic information (particularly if it is something like a title that is intended to act in the manner a relay) is something to aim for when submitting the pictures for assessment. That said, it is a fairly light piece of work (particularly when juxtaposed with my assignment 4) and does as such not bear too much analysis.


We then – as this is the last assignment for the module – went on to talk about my progress over the course of this module which Robert felt had been gathering momentum from assignment 3 onwards after a very uncertain start, leading to consistent, self-confident and self-assured work – and to look forward to level two.

I intend to move onto Digital Image and Culture next – we talked about the need for me to carry on taking the sort of pictures I have been producing during IaP alongside the more theory-focussed work of DIaC. I shall do – it’s become a habit to have a camera with me and to photograph things that catch my eye – but also want to examine further the ‘still life with context removed’ pictures that I have started experimenting with during this section of Identity and Place.

As my second level two course, Robert has strongly recommended that I try Self and Other as this strikes him to be a logical continuation of the work I have been doing here and the slightly detached point of view I have been working from. This is an interesting idea as up until now, I have always intended to do the landscape course as part of level two and have come to a point where I’d like to try and apply the learnings of DIaC to the depiction of place, rather than identity (inasmuch as the two can be separated).

I have eighteen months or so to make up my mind as to which way to go. A lot can change in that time so we shall see…

 

 

assignment 4 – tutorial and formative feedback

What a contrast with the tutorials for assignments one and two! The email Robert sent in response to my you’ll-be-getting-some-prints-in-the-post-and-the-online-stuff-is-here communique said that his initial impression was that it was ‘very strong’. And it got better. The OCA has specified that hangout tutorials should be proceeded by the tutor’s notes on the work presented. These turned up the day before and I sat reading them with a daft grin on my face.

At the end of the feedback document, the ‘Strengths’  column had three bullets:

  •  Excellent, strong work.
  •  Powerful connection of photo and text.
  •  Topical and meaningful research.

While the ‘Areas for development’ column was left blank.

This was proceeded by the suggestion that I should get the photographs exhibited as they are and much enthusiastic writing about ‘finding my voice’.  This set the tone for a tutorial the next day which was similarly upbeat.

Amongst all the positive feedback, there was still room for improvement:

There’s nothing I don’t like about this work…except the paper you’ve printed it on! This is
well researched, thoughtful and authentic work. Try Calumet’s Brilliant range of archival
papers, but avoid all papers that have a plastic finish because they ruin the natural contrast
of your darks. Fig 9 is a bit dark.

Further to this (mild) criticism, I’d noticed that some of the reds (the ‘red man’ in the ‘dark’ fig.9 was particularly bad)  were seriously over-saturated. I will have the assignment reprinted on Fuji Velvet Archive when the time comes for assessment, after a soft proofing session in Lightroom.

Beyond that we had an interesting discussion about the way that Grenfell Tower has taken on the role of a public punctum – certainly my inadvertent (or possibly unconscious) timing in submitting the assignment in the run up to the opening of the public inquiry meant that its resonance seemed to be maximised. As I type this, preparing for assessment in November, there has just been a lot of media attention on the testimony to the enquiry of the London fire brigade commissioner, Dany Cotton (eg Guardian, 27/09/18). Grenfell is not going to go away  and – while nothing is ever certain – I hope the pictures – and the associated words – will retain a considerable part of their impact even after the passage of time.

Further to this, Robert suggested that I should try to get the set of pictures exhibited; for some reason I didn’t feel particularly comfortable about this and did not pursue it. I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that everything that is said in the sequence will come out during the enquiry and that stepping in with an exhibition – however ‘not about me’ I would try to be  –  would feel a bit invasive.

I will probably have a go at turning them into a (short) book on blurb though. I also will take some further images from the same viewpoints as thee pictures shown here, both now with the tower fully shrouded and once it has been demolished. These could potentially be combined with further texts taken from the papers and council records and added to the seven diptychs that comprised the assignment. Perhaps they can be used to expand the work contained in a book. We’ll see.

I was left with a warm glow of satisfaction, but also the question of how could I avoid the next assignment being anything other than a colossal let down?

assignment 5 – reflection

portrait of the artist in London, in battered, red converse (august 2018)

1: Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Compositionally my submission for this final assignment consists of  a  set of images that are consistent both compositionally and in terms of subject matter.  These are competent, engaging pictures that work well as a set while displaying a good variety of individual subjects.

Running through my work for this module, there is a strand of pictures taken in low, irregularly coloured light, usually without the option of using flash to balance things out; these represent my best response to these difficult conditions to date, I think. I have been able to maintain a constant colour palette for each of the two underground lines’ trains; the pictures are sharp and display control of focus to concentrate on the picture’s subject matter.

I find that the pictures hold my attention (and that of others) – I am drawn in and think about what it is that I’m looking at. It is not an overly-serious body of work, but I find I can look at the individual pictures and wonder about what the rest of the person looks like for longer than I thought I would as I was taking the pictures and editing them down to a final set.

 

2: Quality of outcome

The assignment brief ends: ‘The only stipulation is that the final outcome must represent a notion of identity and place that you are personally inspired by. Make sure that your work is visually consistent, relevant to the subject matter you choose and holds together well as a set, both visually and conceptually‘ (IaP coursebook, p.115). I think I have achieved this.

Before Christmas last year, tutor Clive White said the first of two things about typologies that I found helpful enough to bookmark. It dealt with some of the technical work involved in making typologies:

‘…it helps if the images have the accuracy of a technical drawing; each with the same aspect ratio and size and perspective corrected. It emphasises that they’re all intended to belong to a class, the class of radiator‘ [the discussion was prompted by six grid-presented pictures of iron radiators by fellow student Stefan J Schaffeld]. ‘You can make those corrections in Photoshop

…which is pretty much what I did when it came to this work. As I took the pictures, I had a firm image of what the finished images would look like and I was able to achieve this using the tools at my disposal, although I used Photoshop’s younger cousin, Lightroom, for corrections rather than Photoshop itself.

 

3: Demonstration of creativity

The second bookmarked quote came from a discussion thread in April this year (Formalism and the Bechers)  and was to do with the mindset behind making typologies:

‘The Becher’s focussed on typologies; like collecting cigarette and tea cards back in the day or football stickers these days.’

I collected Brooke Bond tea cards (and sent off for the albums to keep them in) when I was a boy; I am currently collecting the Lego cards that are being given away at Sainsbury’s. This seems to be something deeply embedded in my make-up.

There was a period when I was travelling to and from Moscow quite often, early this century. Waiting for the flight out from London (or for the flight home), I became aware that the people who lived in the Russian Federation almost all had square-toed shoes, while the fashion in shoes in the UK was for rounded. What you had on your feet could be used to locate you. At the same time, I was often slightly startled by the way people in shops or restaurants would greet me in English without my having given myself away with my heavily accented Russian. I assumed it was something to do with one of the things Bate categorises – the face, the pose, the clothes; maybe it was my round-toed shoes…

This is a project I can repeat, making variations on a theme. I still travel a fair bit, and many of the places I travel to have an underground (or a metro or a subway). I try to use public transport rather than taxis wherever I am. The next time I’m in Paris (possible), Berlin (scheduled for October) Kyiv (likely at some point)  Sao Paulo (much less likely)  or Glasgow (inevitable), I could spend some time photographing my fellow traveller’s feet, producing further partial portraits of particular places, at particular moments in time. I could also take further sets of pictures in London as the seasons change. The difficulty would be to keep it fresh rather than taking the pictures becoming just another thing that I do when I arrive somewhere with an underground railway.

What this assignment continues is my habit of taking photographs on the move as I go about my day-to-day life. I hope they also demonstrate curiosity.

 

4: Context

The shoe project draws from all the sections of this course module: the bit of work from part one that stood out for my tutor was my typology of smokers; much of my reading for part two was concentrated on photographs taken on metros and subways and the London underground; my third assignment featured a tube journey and began the examination of myself as a city-dwelling public-transport user that continues here; the captioning of the individual pictures ties in with part four even if it does not draw on the fourth assignment itself.

It is harder to see how it relates to the final section on Removing the Figure, although there are no faces to be seen. I have however found a lot to think about and use in future projects during this section of the course; I think still lifes will play a significant part in my work for my next course. My original idea for this last assignment (dropped for boringly practical reasons) was to identify playground furniture with childhood and park benches with being a parent and would probably have been a better fit, but since we are instructed to draw on all parts of the module, I think this is alright!

Where it does draw on part five is its use of a figure of speech – synecdoche, rather than metaphor, as in research point 1 – as a structuring principle. The danger with synecdoche is that – in reducing a whole person to a specific part or function – there is always a danger of objectification. ‘Farm hands’ are likely to seem less rounded as a person than the farmer who hire; a woman described as ‘a nice piece of ass’ is not going to be asked about her views on Wittgenstein by the person doing the describing.

I did not intend the people who’s feet I had taken pictures of to be reduced by the process or to be seen as ‘other’. I firmly fit into the same category or class – commuters – as they do. Perhaps I should have included a picture taken after asking someone sitting opposite me to take a picture my feet as well and included it in the set but I couldn’t summon up the courage to commission someone to do so in the course of my daily trips to and from work. By way of partial recompense for this, I include a self portrait at the top of this post. The feet point the other way, but they still show me, there on the tube with all the others…

 

Reference:

assignment 3 – reflection and formative feedback

I appear to have managed neither to publish a reflection nor a tutorial post for this assignment; as I can’t find drafts either, I will try to combine them into this single post, written at the end of the module as I prepare it for assessment.

First though, some context. As I was handing in this assignment, I was also arranging an extension of the deadline for completing my three level one courses in more than the four years allowed. The OCA agreed to this, but any time used for this purpose (I estimated five months) would be subtracted from my level two allocation; there will be no facility to ‘borrow’ time from the level three courses, so I will need to crack on in the autumn to try and make up the time.

Part of the reason for my exceeding the four-year allowance for the level had been small delays in my previous two courses; however I had also pretty much ground to a halt towards the end of 2017, publishing only a handful of posts between September and Christmas. Now, in March, having rejected several ideas for the assignment before settling on this final one, I liked the pictures I had submitted, but mainly I was pleased simply to be getting going again.


With this assignment, my tutor didn’t seem to be having to try quite so hard digging through my pictures to find something he liked to balance criticisms during the tutorial.

This is a lot more focused and subject oriented than your last assignment. Immediately that gives the impression of maturity in content and approach. Clearly a ‘window’ perspective on your commuting community.’

The bulk of the tutorial was spent talking about the twenty five pictures (too many – ‘you need to edit more rigorously’) I had submitted on my G:Drive: there were possible redundancies among the three introductory pictures, taken as a Victoria line train slid into Oxford Circus; the first four pictures (of two women, one in a red coat and the other in black) were ‘strong‘ despite pushing the limits of acceptability in terms of focus and grain; the three shots of people looking out of the left of the frame as a train whizzed past them into the station formed ‘another really good series […] probably the best shots here;’ there were good portraits among the swirl of people disembarking and embarking; the last three pictures ‘really do give the impression of thinning platform crowd.

The last three pictures had been dropped from the assignment after posting them on my G:Drive and having prints made and sent to Robert, but before the assignment posts themselves had been finalised; I’ll include them here both for completeness and because I like them too:

We talked about how I had gone about taking the pictures and Robert was able to concede that the quality of the images was better in the slide-show version than in the shared folder on my g:drive which had been his main source for the tutorial. Later I checked the settings of my saved lightroom export and discovered I had seriously overdone the jpeg compression of the pictures for this assignment. The problem was not as serious as it first appeared but still could have been bolder with setting high ISOs on my camera. I went on to try this out while taking photographs in similarly gloomy conditions on the underground for assignment five.

But back to March 2018: crisis over, it was time to get on with finishing the last two assignments of the module in time for assessment in November…

 

 

 

orkney again – dancing

I’m in Orkney on holiday with Fiona, Alice and James again. The break is almost over (as I type this, I’m also running through a checklist for getting packed and heading south again, for the autumn) and when this sees the light of day, I’ll be back in the new house in Walthamstow. It’s been good and I feel a lot more relaxed than I did last year.

But anyway, Orkney. The way dates click round through the days of the week means that for the first time in ages we were around for some of the agricultural shows; we went to Dounby and the West Mainland Show. Insider/outsider – Winogrand – show week would be a  possible project for someone (but not for me – my engagement with farming has only ever been through the prism of The Archers, really). Fairgrounds and rides. People taking themselves and what they’re engaged in very seriously.

As well as animals (or rather their farmer owners) competing for prizes, there were the usual trade stands and displays. We paused by the dance exhibition for a while. Fiona did Scottish dancing when she was a child, living just to the north of Glasgow; she won medals and was surprised by the emotional charge of watching this part of the show; Alice – along with other things – does ballet and was entranced, taking videos which she watched again and again later.

The dancing in Dounby was very precise – small movements with specific parts of the dancers’ feet touching the ground or circling round the other foot in a series of taps –  this is dance as control of self, codified (by the victorians?) and turned into something capable of being judged or rated. I began to think about my experience of dance as a form of abandonment, at weddings and ceilidhs…


Later in the day we washed up at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. There were two temporary exhibitions on with the larger of them devoted to the films of Margaret Tait. The last film I watched before the gallery closed was a short I had never seen before called Painted Eightsome which was completed in 1970; it was marvellous! I sat entranced as patterns swirled on the screen, forming and reforming, combining and splitting again, mirroring dancers in bursts of hand-painted colour.

I recognised the music from  weddings and school dances and ceilidhs, and guessed that it was the Strathspey and Reel society playing. How different it was from the academic dancing we’d seen at the show earlier.


Reference:

  • Tait, M (1970) Painted eightsome. Ancona Films, Edinburgh and Orkney.

The link to the film in the body of this post goes to the Moving Picture Archive of the National Library of Scotland. Give it a look – it’s great!