assignment 2 – reflection

Demonstration of Creative and Visual Skills

One of my starting points for this assignment was to try to make a thing which could act as a close-up magic trick (as described in the introduction to Charlotte Cottons’ Photography is Magic) to be ‘performed’ for the delight of my peers, my tutor and – eventually – the OCA’s assessors. I think the videos and the book go some way at least towards fulfilling this intention.

Another starting point was to introduce an element of chance into my digital workflow. I feel that there are times when the ability to view, undo, review and redo (ad infinitum) can suck the life out of what might otherwise be a nice idea.  So, using software to assist in the creative process, throwing up a number of juxtapositions (based on criteria I had decided upon) before I had to do the final selection of images to be included, first, as the captions and then as the finished book itself.

From the start, I realised that this piece of work would have a number of outputs and also that each output  – the videos, the electronic book, accessed from my log and the physical book itself – would create different meanings for their respective audiences. I have tried to make each output work, but find myself preferring the effect of the physical book to the electronic scroll produced by Lightroom’s book module, while the flickering video is more about the experience of watching choices being made than its completed run of double pages.


Quality of Outcome

The photographs used in the book were taken in a hurry, on my phone in poor lighting. It shows. Many of them have been subjected to the filters available with the Hipstamatic app. They were taken as a sideline and  – as such – were not part of what I considered to be my ‘serious’ photographic output.

However, I always meant to do something like this with them, but never quite managed to find the time to do so, before I had the idea of combining the editing process with the coding course at the Photographers’ Gallery, giving me something to provide a focus to my learning.

The text which frames the picture pages would benefit from more work; what is there stands as an MVP (minimal viable product, in agile software-development terms). My partner feels that there could be more explanation about what part the software played in the compilation of the output, and I am inclined to agree with her. Perhaps I could move the afterword to the front, and put a second short text, outlining how the book was put together.

Then, while it steps beyond what we are asked for in the assignment brief, I am pleased with the physical book compiled from cheap, A4 prints made (like my  portrait of the artist as a man with access to a photocopier from exercise 2.3) on the copier/printer at work. It would be easy make a short print-run for distribution at public displays of my java application at work, providing some sort of physical take-away from an installation version.

Demonstration of Creativity

As a project, my work for this assignment has, I think, developed and grown from the original idea (to pair up simple pictures of people from around the world, turning them into ‘couples’) and become something that is capable of generating a much greater range of meanings. It is easy for me to imagine taking a different set of quotes  and setting the code up according to produce the basis for another, different short print-run.

These could focus on specific events or themes – the great summer of sport; brexit; the complete collapse of everything, the next series of Masterchef –  that are there floating suspended within the Zeitgeist. I wish I’d thought to gather quotes from the women’s (football) world cup, the cricket world cup, the netball world cup, Wimbledon etc to see what narratives could have been generated from them; I wish I had widened my net to capture quotes from other newspapers beside the Guardian.

The code I have used is called Processing; I feel I have established a repeatable process here, using it. Certainly, before assessment, I will try to gather another couple sets of contrasting ideas and possible narratives and focus a new version of the code upon them, generating new editions of It Takes All Sorts.

I think the sense of playfulness that hopefully comes through in the book and the other outputs of my work for this assignment is really important. It’s far too easy to be grimly po-faced (rather than po-mo?) about all this art stuff and – if I have taken one thing from looking at Joachim Schmid and Kepler Wessel’s practices and carried it into my own – I feel you stand a much greater chance of engaging an audience if you can make viewing an enjoyable – fun, even – experience.

Interactivity would be the next obvious step for development. Processing allows for the use of interface devices (a computer mouse, a particular key on a keyboard) to act as a trigger for events within the program. It would not be hard to allow a viewer to ‘pick’ a combination of pictures and words, producing an individual set of pages, until a full book of 22 picture pages had been generated.

After payment had been made (and any personalisation added – the person interacting with the program should be acknowledged in some way) the resulting book would be printed out and the application reset, ready for the next viewer/customer…


I finally got round to finishing Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics a few months ago. One of the things that has really stuck in my head is the way he describes the reader’s capacity for identification with a character becoming stronger, the more abstract the depiction of a character’s face becomes (it matches with our own inability to truly picture what we look like at any given moment, apparently). Using toilet door pictograms for the characters in a series of mini-dramas seems to fit with this. I hope that I have found an international cast of characters, to play with further.

I attended the OCA Study Event Workshop on Thinking Through Art in May, at the Tabernacle Centre in Notting Hill and shared my idea for this assignment. The tutor running the workshop – Emma Drye – suggested that I could widen my set of texts from my initial idea of using dating ads from the London Review of Books to include other things that were  tied in to the international sourcing of my pictograms. Brexit was an obvious ‘thing’ to play with here.  I took this as a prompt to widen my range of quoted text, an activity which will be ongoing as I develop new versions of the code and new editions of the resulting book.

Among many texts discussed by the Photography Reading Group (organised by Emma, on OCA-Discuss, thanks Emma!) I have found the introduction to Charlotte Cotton’s book Photography is Magic – discussed above –  most useful when conceptualising this assignment as a form of conjuring trick with the editing being carried out in the presence of the audience, here on my blog and – particularly – on the associated videos on Vimeo. Likewise, comments on my use of java coding made in the Critiques section of the forums helped me put flesh  on to what started off as a quite vague set of ideas as well as helping crystalise some of my thoughts about photography and music.

  • Cotton, C. (2015) Photography is magic. New York, Aperture Foundation
  • McCloud, S. (1993) Understanding comics. New York, Harper Perennial

assignment 2 – it takes all sorts

a book and an explanation

Gentlemen get together with ladies and women with men, Damen mit Herren and мужчин с женщинами,  hombres con mujeres and les femmes avec les hommes;  women get together with women and men with men, the male with the male and the female with the female.

All around the world (well, the bits I’ve visited anyway) people pair off and couples form. Some of them agree and some  agree to differ. Some of them manage to stick together while others do not.

Words hang in the air. They articulate (or encapsulate) ideas. We take them and make them mean what we will. They spark thought and provoke arguments. Overheard, they become legends and they become myths.

Some of them become stories that we can share.

 – Afterword to It Takes All Sorts (print beta, Eerieorum, 2019)

wrap-around book cover

It Takes All Sorts – a generated book by Simon Chirgwin

This book has been created as an output by a dating site for my pictures. Using software written to examine and edit one strand of the huge, still-growing archive of digital images (over one hundred thousand at the last count) that have built up like digital silt on my hard-drives. Selected by metadata and fed into a virtual machine, randomly chosen pairs of pictures have been added to sentences plucked from the Zeitgeist and spat out as a series of double pages…

sample double-page spread #1

The words have been extracted – appropriated – from their original context on the pages of  The Guardian, my morning newspaper. Sentences have been juxtaposed and – in conjunction with the paired-up couples on the left-hand page – primed to spark off short – or not so short – narratives in the mind of the book’s reader.

sample double-page spread #2

The .pdf formatted book, put together in the Book module of Lightroom and linked above, also exists physically in the form of a limited edition, cheaply-printed, crudely-bound folio. The first proof has been assembled and sent to my tutor. I will run off another ten copies if people ask for them. Then, being honest, I will end the production run.

However, as long as the file exists here, there will always be the possibility of someone else running off unauthorised copies, outside this official, holograph edition.

double-page spread #3

Nor would the completion of this beta edition be the end of It Takes All Sorts. It is not a closed, completed text. I could run the machine that generated its pages again, changing the pictures and putting new combinations of words into the mouths of the couples that form.

This compiling machine could sit in the corner of a room, a gallery maybe, flickering on a big screen as it runs through its options.  From time to time, it would spit out a series of double pages, ready to be printed as another, short print-run by the nearby, networked printer, waiting for a source-file to be compiled and dumped into its print queue…


assignment 2 – putting the pieces together

generating a short book using automated editing

Working towards this assignment, I have been conscious of juggling a number of strands – some directly taken from the course notes; others coming from side-activities carried out alongside the course; and some taken from more general thoughts about culture and music.  A number of these strands seem to be coming together here:

  • a large body of photographs, taken over a number of years, stored in my lightroom catalogue
  • the desire to try something to allow a spirit of serendipity to enter into my digital practice
  • the photography reading group’s session on Charlotte Cotton’s introduction to her book, Photography is Magic discussing the similarity between some manipulated photography and close-up magic, performed for the entertainment of ones peers and other afficionados.
  • an off-to-one-side reflection upon my experience of travel and difference
  • a need to focus some technical experimentation on a specific output
  • a requirement to fulfil the brief for the assignment (book, 12 double-pages, pictures drawn from an archive)
  • thoughts around the way some of the more experimental popular music (and quite a lot of relatively unpopular music) has been made.

fig.1 – book cover, wraparound dust jacket, minus text.

To start at the top of my list, I went through my archive and pulled all my lavatory pictogram pictures together into a single Lightroom collection. There were more – over 400 – than I thought.

The idea had always been to put them together as pairs, and I usually had taken a left-side and a right-side version of each gent and each lady; the light outside toilets is rarely good, so I had taken multiple versions of some of them to try and get a nice sharp picture; there were repeats, when I had been to places more than once. I edited the mass down to about two hundred and got a good balance of figures that would go on the left and others that would go on the right.

As I did this, I was working on my code to select and position the images randomly. I did this in a modular, ‘agile’ way, writing a few lines of code that would do what I wanted, and not stopping until I had an answer to the question I was asking that day.

The videos which are embedded throughout this post,  should be seen as the development of my close-up magic ‘trick.’ Hopefully you’ll like it, not a lot etc. This first one shows the early code running through a small pool of pictures and placing them randomly next to one another within a window.

fig.2 – random selection and placing

The next stage was to work out a way of ‘picking’ a pair, again by using a computer’s ability to generate and then use random variables – I did this by setting two rules based on the positioning coordinates: the first picture’s x-coordinate (a range between 50 pixels and 150 pixels from the left-hand side of the frame) had to match the second picture’s y-coordinate (between 50 and 150 pixels from the top of the frame); the left edge of the second image had to be less than the right edge of the first image (ie they had to overlap).

Then I needed to freeze the two pictures (and to save the frame so I had something to make the book with). This was done by adding a loop that repeatedly drew the matched pair for enough frames to fill a second of video. To bring it back to being a photographic event, I added a flashbulb event overlaying an opaque white frame and then reducing its opacity over the course of the second.

fig.3 – early prototype – verso selection, following random principles

Later versions include the sound of a camera shutter timed with the simulated flash. By this point, the code was pretty much there:  it was able to deliver the images that would form the left-hand page of my book and place them within a standard frame; also, I had finishing editing my pictograms and expanded the code to load the final selection of 200, rather than just the initial small number of images used to date.

Now I needed to fine some text, to sit alongside the randomly generated diptyches.

My original idea had been to go along with the idea of couples, and to source some text from the London Review of Books‘ personal ads, which became  increasingly humorous and playful over the years that they ran in the fortnightly magazine; I had even gone as far as tracking down copies of the two published selections of them. However, I quickly decided that using them en masse would make the work about them, closing down the range of possible interpretations of the overall work. There are also of course questions around acquiring the rights to use copyright material.

So, I cast my net wider, finding snippets of text from newspapers. Firstly – sticking with the original couples theme –  I looked at using some of the highlighted quotes from the Guardian Weekend’s soulmates feature. Then I expanded the process to taking the speech bubble quotes that run alongside the newspaper content to cathc your attention as you turn the pages

fig.4 – ‘raw’ quotes, pre-scan

I chopped out quotes which seemed to go together and scanned the fragments. I wrote another short sequence of code to  put the text fragments together as random pairs. My selection included quotes from sport, the news (the fall of May was in progress as I started; I could add in some new apotheosis of Johnston ones now, but will save them for a second edition) and some of the lighter lifestyle stuff from the paper. I ran the code for a few minutes and chose twenty five paired quotes out the couple of hundred generated.

At this point, I made a conceptual link between my approach here and some of the musical ideas that keeps burbling around in the background – Bowie and Eno’s appropriation of William Burroughs cut-up method to create lyrics and also the practice of compiling backing tracks from sampled fragments of earlier records.  In lieu of a full post about this and other thoughts on music, I’ve written a quick note here.

In photoshop. I composited them together in quality, neatening up the positioning and removing extraneous text that could identify exactly who had been speaking, cutting them adrift from their contextual anchors. The idea is that the reader of the book will put the pairs of people and the quotes together, creating their own narratives from what is presented on each double spread.

All that remained to be done was to incorporate the captions into the code. This was accomplished by making space in the frame window for the double-page spread’s recto and to use it as a canvas for the quote-pairs to be displayed, one at a time, until a match had been made on the recto. In total, each run would produce 25 combinations of images, leaving me to select the ones I liked best.

(This next video is much better full screen, rather than crammed into a tiny letterbox on the page; just click on the expand arrows; go on – you know you want to!)


fig.5 – last dummy run; verso and recto selections (with sound f/x)


While working on the early versions of the code for this, I had put some of the outputs up for critique on OCA-Discuss  and received the following good advice from Clive White:

‘It’s always a good strategy to add contrapuntal elements to induce the possibility of meaning and then assess the outcomes. Of course that’s an important second step in the cut up technique, you take what appears to work and leave the rest (but they should never have taken the very best :slightly_smiling_face:).’

So, the next stage was to sift through the 50 double-page spreads generated by two runs of my processing ‘picture mill’ and to cut them down to ten that worked, based on a combination of how visually pleasing the picture pairs were and also how wll they seemed to work with the particular texts.

Finally, I wrote a further small piece of code to come up with a cover by collaging a large number of the pictograms that form the pool of images for the main content (a variant of this piece of output – all the code sequences are able to produce a number of different random ‘editions’ – is up towards the top of this post) and then added the title and a short blurb to go on top of the dense collage that was produced.

That, and the other text needed (front and end papers with publisher’s details; a title page etc) were added into one of the the Lightroom book templates along with the selected, generated pages and saved as a .pdf. I then printed off an artist’s proof using standard copier paper and punched the holes to bind it into a folio. I’ll send this to my tutor along with the links to this and the other A2 posts.

So, this assignment will consist of some three outputs: the book in its .pdf form (included in the next, main, Assignment post, here); the quickly and cheaply printed version of the book, which forms a limited-edition beta version of something I intend to build on over time; the vimeo sequences of the book’s compilation (which can be viewed as my close-up magic performance for my peers).

As requested in the assignment brief the .pdf of this version of the  book, and its explanatory text  afterword, will form the next post in this sequence.

a couple of quick thoughts on making music and making photographs

David Bowie’s Cut-ups

There is lot’s of stuff, floating in the ether, talking about the way David Bowie put together lyric ideas by drawing small pieces of paper with sentences or shorter phrases written on them  out of a hat and seeing what sense they made (I’m an aligator! I’m a moma-papa coming for you!, say) influenced by the American author, William Burroughs use of the same method, himself referring back to the use of similar techniques (‘Exquisite Corpse’, automatic writing) by the 1920s surrealists.

Here is one of the more coherent pieces on Bowie’s use of the technique from Open Culture’s site, which links on to various other pieces, including Alan Yentob’s BBC documentary, Cracked Actor, shot in the mid 70s, when Bowie was first generating lyrics in this way. There is also a link to a BBC interview from early this century where Bowie talks about how he has continued with this and had someone write a program to take much of the effort – all those scissors and fragments of paper;  all that glue involved in real-world cutting and pasting; –   out of making lyrical fragments that way.

I think I may have done something similar – write a program to combine snippets of text – for the captions for Assignment 2. It was this that reminded me (again) of the need to write this post looking at this, and also at other bits of musical practice that I find myself thinking about as I have worked through DIaC and the earlier courses.

Tape loops and the orchestration of the random

It’s not just photographic artists like Joachim Schmid or Erik Kessels  who are taking snippets of others’ work and putting them together to make new things and to fire off new associations in the viewer’s mind.

I’ve already spoken about the Beatles’ use of looped effects on Tomorrow Never Knows (the last track on their 1966 album, Revolver) in the initial post on my experiments with the software-writing, coding platform,  Processing, but there are loads of other ways that loops can be used to make music, ranging across the spectrum of musical genres. John Lennon, went on to make much more heavily brutalist music concrete on his early solo albums and with Revolution 9 on the White Album. Away from the Beatles there is no end of other examples: Paul McCartney has made much of their being influenced by Stockhausen;and  then there’s Steve Reich  (I’ll take Music for 18 Musicians as my example here); and burbling away in the background of my childhood there was Delia Derbyshire’s creation for the Doctor Who theme…

And then there’s the way that the move from analogue to digital audio recording has allowed a marvelous stream of sampled  music, taking snapshots of bits of earlier records and then to combining them to make new beats, tunes and backings – itself a form of aural collage – which then  provokes the same sort of ‘but is it real music?’ navel-gazing and opprobrium as people playing around with photoshop and  digital cameras have, more recently, in the field of photography.

After all, a synthesiser isn’t as real, or skilful or authentic as a guitar; a recording is not the same thing as a performance at all. And of course, a digital recording is infinitely capable of being reproduced now that we have entered the age of electronic reproduction…


The day after I turned forty I went to see Kraftwerk at the Royal Festival Hall in London. For two hours, I watched four men in suits conjure up an evening of marvelous tunes and beats from four laptops placed on lecterns in front of them; behind them images flowed in a stream.

This wasn’t rock’n’roll and – looping back neatly to Bowie in his Diamond Dogs guise – it wasn’t genocide either.

Stuff is changing all around us and ideas from different areas of artistic endeavor are coming together. I wasn’t sure what it all meant then, as I sat in my comfy seat at the festival hall with  a drink in my hand, and I’m not sure what it all means yet, but I’m still trying to work it out…



The best thing I can do here (as it’s all stuff that’s been burbling in my head for ages and ages, and I no longer quite know what the sources for it all are) is to compile a vimeo playlist of some of the music that I’m talking about. I’ll do that once I’m back in London and update this accordingly.

assignment 2 – options

Thanking my tutor for his feedback on the first assignment, I also ran through my shortlist of ideas for assignment 2. The three quotes running down the left side of this post are taken directly from that email.

fig.1 – laura’s list (option 2)


1: Working up something from visits to the V&A viewing room that should result in a series of screenshots from ‘The Lightroom Catalogue of Eugène Atget’ and some thought around the way he organised his pictures before he elevated to being a great – if possibly naive – master of photography.

I have been using lightroom to organise my photographs for about ten years now. Over that time I have slowly refined the way I have used metadata to structure my catalog, narrowing the number of keyword categories I use down to a usefully small number, creating a standard way of renaming files as they are imported from the camera they were taken with and creating date based folders. If I was to drop dead tomorrow, people should be able to work out what most of photographs are of, where they were taken and when,  fairly easily.

So, when I stumbled upon Todd Papageorge’s essays on Atget (in Core Curriculum, 2011), as well as enjoying the – rather romantic – account of the aged photographer lugging his field camera, plates and tripod out to St Cloud to take one of his proto-modernist compositions, I was struck by the description of the way Atget organised his photographs into a series of groups. I followed this up by tracking down the volume of MoMA’s series of Atget Books that contained an essay on this. And then, when the photography rooms reopened at the V&A, I became aware of the number of Atget’s prints held by the museum.

I thought this could form the basis of an interesting learning project, using them as a way of investigating the use of physical archives, while also producing a digital update of Atget’s organising principles, as if he had had access to Lightroom. I also thought this would be an interesting way to address the questions raised by DIaC about using the archive as a resource, while returning Atget to his existence as a working photographer rather than a modernist saint.

I still think it’s a good idea, but the amount of time involved – gaining access to the V&A collections, negotiating  use of images, the actual visits to the archive – have meant that it has not happened. I have a limited amount of time to devote to photography and this would have broken my temporal budget. I will hopefully give it a go later though, without the pressure of needing to meet an assignment deadline. Some of the thinking behind this may also feed into assignments four and five.


2: Doing something with the boxes of prints and slides and albums that I have inherited from my father’s side of the family. Not sure how I’d structure it, but it probably would be chronological…

After my mother died, I got the family slide-projector (an Aldis that takes non-standard magazines, although fortunately, I been able to get hold of a few extras from ebay) and the boxes of slides my father took after getting a lovely new 35mm Ilford Sportsman to replace whatever roll-film camera he’d been using  before then. There were also some slides taken by my sisters and my mother, from the time before I went to school, 50 years ago in 1969. Then, one evening, some years ago now, my sister was down from Orkney visiting and we went through all the old slides. She came up with a list (fig.1, at the top of the post) of the ones she wanted copies of.

fig.2: laura and simon; orkney – 1968

Of course, I have failed miserably at this relatively straightforward task and (most of) the chosen slides remain stubbornly unscanned in their box to this day.  The thought crossed my mind, that using Laura’s list as the basis for the book that forms the output of this assignment, killing two birds with one stone. However, there probably aren’t twelve double-pages’ worth of pictures (even with blanks). And also, it seems a bit mean to do something nice for my sister, late, as a by-product of my studies, even if it does highlight some of the issues around what we do with our personal archives these days.

So, I’ll put this to one side for now and return to it while I work on the essay for assignment 3. The resulting book will make a nice Christmas present for Laura. And I’ll make a copy for myself too.


3: I’m doing a coding course at The Photographers’ Gallery – I’d like to write a java applet that generated pairs of pictures (a bit like a dating site) for toilet door icons (of which I have tons) – it would be called It takes all sorts and feature dip (and possibly trip) -tyches thrown up by the coding.

The coding course is the one I described in this post. The pictures of toilet door icons have been taken over a number of years, mainly since I got my first iPhone. I can’t quite decide whether it’s a good or a bad thing that a huge number of them have been treated, using the hipstamatic app, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

I first noticed how the gendered public toilet icons were different in different places while I queued to get my visa, the first time I visited Ukraine, back in 1993. The ladies’ sign in arrivals was spectacularly more 1950s curvy than anything I’d seen, back in the UK. Of course, I didn’t take a picture of it (and it was gone, ten years later, when I next landed at Borisopol) but it stuck in my head, forming the seed for a project I, early in its gestation, called ‘it takes all sorts.’

The idea was to collect a large number of local variations of the man/woman pictograms and then put them together to form couples (mixed and same sex) that somehow would transcend national difference. They would then be printed as pairs of square photographs. Possibly they would form a book.

And – again predictably – I never got round to it. I’ve carried on taking the pictures, but never quite got round to doing something (anything) with them. This is probably down to my chronic indecision when sequencing things and so definitely is something that some form of automation might well address.

I collected the pictures together and started thinking about what exactly I needed to get Processing to do for me. It would probably need some sort of captioning. It would be nice if it could produce some alternative output – a film sequence of the code running perhaps. Maybe the book – to match the rough nature of the photographs – should be less polished than the typical output of  Lightroom’s book module. Maybe its generation could become in some way performative…

I sat down in front of a blank Processing sketch window and began typing…


exercise 2.3 – the digital family album

alert! – post includes partial nudity!

fig.1 – portrait of the artist as a serial despoiler of the planet, 2015-2019 (after Galton)

‘Produce a series of six photo-based self-portraits that use digital montage techniques to explore different aspects of your identity.

‘Produce a 500-word blog post outlining your working methods and the research behind your final submission. (Whose work did you study in preparation for this exercise? Why did you choose the techniques that you did and how effective do you think your choices have been, for example?)’

– DIaC coursebook, p.51

500 words for six images? That’s only about 85 words for each picture. Better get writing…

fig.1 builds upon work done in response to Corrine Vionnet. Travelling, I always try to take the train whenever possible, but far too many of my journeys are still made by aeroplane. It does not take a great leap of imagination to see this as antisocial behaviour, even if it falls short of being actually criminal. So, drawing on Francis Galton’s work assembling composite pictures of criminal ‘types’ (referenced by both Fontcuberta and Sekula)  seemed an apt treatment to apply to some of the pictures I take of myself, reflected in the mirror of aeroplane toilets. 

fig.2 – portrait of the artist as a man with access to a photocopier

It’s been a while since I pressed my face to the glass of a photocopier and made a self-portrait, so when work got new copier/printers that will send a jpeg of a scan to your email, it seemed like a good time to have another go. The three scans I made went together easily; the resulting triptych (fig.2) has something of Francis Bacon about it, I think. The ellipses of light (fittings in the ceiling above the printer) are a nice bonus.

The first two pictures were taken before I attended the study visit to study visit to the Cindy  Sherman retrospective at the NPG and looked in at the two rooms of John Stezaker’s work that are also on.

fig.3 – portrait of the artist as a product of his ancestry (after Stezaker)

I have inherited a painted portrait of my father, aged thirty-nine; It has often been pointed out that I resemble him closely. I set up lights and took a photograph of my head and shoulders, copying my father’s pose and expression and took a straight picture of the painting, using a 2-lamp copying setup. Then, I chopped both pictures up in photoshop and put them together in the manner of Stezaker’s collages (fig.3).

I was surprised (and faintly troubled) by how well the painting and the photograph fitted together.

fig.4 – portrait of the artist with two circles (after Rembrandt)

fig.4 is a direct copy of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with two circles (not quite a lift from Sherman’s History Portraits, but definitely a cousin). I’m posed in a robe that a colleague brought back from a stint at the office in Kabul with a teatowel tied round my head. The ‘circles’ are a pair of light fittings, overlaid on a polished concrete wall. 

The real challenge was managing the performance aspects of posing with a remote gripped in your hand while getting your eyeline and expression right; further close inspection of the Rembrandt original shows that I’ve not quite got the eyeline right, and I probably could do more with the camera taking the place of Rembrandt’s palette and brushes. 

fig.5 – portrait of the artist as a caricature of himself

fig.5 takes off from Sherman’s Surrealist Pictures (figures made up from prosthetic parts) and has a bit of Shape of Light  about it, too. The component images (the wooden glasses stand, with and without my glasses; some washers for the eye and a digital cut-out of a close-up of my mouth) went together very easily.

The effect, I think, is striking…

The first five pictures here could be seen as a continuation of assignment one (following the alternative assembled-portrait brief); the sixth, points forward to assignment two and my use of the image-manipulation, coding tool, Processing.

fig.6 – portrait of the artist as a man leaving the prime of life behind him

I took a nude portrait of myself in front of the backdrop I used for figs.4&5. Then – to nudge this picture further towards the public end of the private/personal/public continuum – I ran a Processing routine to pixelate the image. I added a cutout ‘figleaf’ of pixels (portrait of the artist as a digital adam?) to the image (and played around with the comedy-value of different-sized overlays before opting for the medium-sized version).  

All these pictures were fun to make, which is part of the point, I think. I could go on, but that’s more than 500 words now. 

Perhaps this whole post could be seen as a seventh self-portrait, this time of the artist as an overly-verbose man beset by the travails of ageing, but who nonetheless does not take himself too seriously…


john stezaker at the national portrait gallery

more collages and a flickery film…

I arrived early at the NPG for the Cindy Sherman study visit this morning, so I went up to the second floor to have a look at the small (eight or nine collages and an infinitely looped video) display of work by John Stezaker.

fig.1 – six frames of the projection Marriage, by John Stezaker

The film looped round, projecting 24 different faces onto the screen every second, a very flickery, mesmerising experience to watch (and the sort of effect that it would be easy to create using Processing). I was aware of the portraits flashing by but was unable to take in the whole, seated on a bench about 3 metres from the screen, looking up. However, you could concentrate on a single feature – the mouth or the eyes; sometimes the nose – for a while; it was an experience of speed and movement and of continuity of subject. You sit, you stare, but you are never able to identify individual faces.

I enjoyed the ride, but I’m not sure if it means anything, exactly.

I had seen some of the film still collages before, at the Photographer’s gallery during the Deutsche Börse Prize exhibition in 2012, but it was good to see them again, in the context of DIaC. They didn’t seem like anything that I couldn’t have done myself, if I’d had the idea and managed to find a stash of affordable actors’ headshots somewhere, but of course I hadn’t.

I think they are are great: they are definitely playing with the standardised nature of both the composition and the poses (and the expression) of this commercial application of photography, where directories of actors’ portraits were made available to casting directors and theatrical companies, keeping many photographic businesses and printers in work. Presumably there is still something of this sort going on, but online and using photographs taken by people whose main job is not the taking of photographs.

And, since 2012, this sort of collage has worked through to advertising – I remember thinking of Stezaker, when last winter’s Nike campaign took over the gallery space at Oxford Circus station, emphasising the stretchiness of their latest sports gear….

Various aspects of this small display  – the easy appropriation of striking artistic strategies by commerce; the playing with ideas of dying uses of professional photography – were good preparation for the main event of the day, the Cindy Sherman study visit. But that will need to wait for a later post…