The purpose of this final assignment is to help you review your work and decide how you’re going to submit it for assessment. […] Once you’ve made the necessary amendments to your learning log and assignments, and considered how you’ll compile your submission for assessment, contact your tutor to request feedback on your submission. (It may be that it will be more practical to get some feedback slightly earlier on in this process, rather than once everything is completed.)
– DIC Coursebook, pp.114-115
In February, as I first dipped in to Althusser’s panopticon essay I immediately began to make links between the medieval quarantine measures described in its opening section and what was beginning to happen in China and then in Italy. Now, at least half of the work during this course has been made during the time of covid-19.
While the pandemic has not really impinged directly on the later assignments, it has been bubbling under and off to one side, taking up space in my head and generally changing things in ways I’m still coming to terms with. And of course, like almost everything else, the assessment process of the OCA changed radically during the first half of this year as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, moving totally online. Whether there will be further modifications to the process to reintroduce some physical element to our submissions, before the March event which I am working towards, remains to be seen. Therefore, I am working on the basis that – while I would like to make prints of some of the pieces – all my work will be judged electronically. There also is a new emphasis towards the published learning outcomes for each course rather than the more general Assessment Criteria that we have been using to structure our assignment reflection pieces (and which I am sure will still form a framework for marking).
fig.1 – three possible reactions to a global pandemic
There has been a lot of discussion of this on the OCA Forum, both generally and also in a rather useful thread on ‘Photography Specific’ Adaptations to the assessment process, which includes a recorded seminar, where the guinea pig students from July’s assessments were able to grill Dan Robinson about what it all meant in practice.
Here – taking advantage of this opportunity to test out a draft assessment submission on my tutor – I have concentrated on creating an expanded version of the old – optional – Assessment Self-Evaluation document to try and cover all this.
There are some pre-assessment tasks to complete (most notably a final going over for the long essay, submitted for Assignment 3) but there is plenty of time to do them, before the end-of-January deadline.
I have found this a useful process and more easy to apply than the old categories of Technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity and Context. To do it, I constructed a sprawling virtual white-board on miro.com (check it out – it’s a very useable platform for this sort of online mindmapping exercise, and there is, of course the option of a free version).
This divvying up of my work to the learning outcomes would have been even more useful if it had been carried out as I went along; I shall endeavour to do so, from day one, as I embark on my next module, Landscape.
Arts, Open College of (2020) Preparing for digital assessment for Photography units [PDF Document] Bradford. Open College of Arts.
an overall review of my work for Digital Image and Culture
‘I want this course to blow my practice into pieces and then to help me put it back together again. Or at any rate that’s what I tell myself I want it to do.’
So ended the opening post of this log – my fourth for the OCA and my first at level two of the Photography BA.
Earlier in that post, I had already identified that:
The photographs I was taking were not hugely different from those I had always taken, regardless of whether I was using a digital camera or not.
These photographs still needed to result in a print to be finished.
I still made a distinction between pictures made using ‘a proper camera’ and those made using other devices such my phone. I operated a hierarchy of image-making devices, which still had the use of a large format view camera at its summit.
Non-camera devices such as scanners, did not enter my practice at all, apart from as secondary photographic devices recording a print for online display, or to when a third party – snappy snaps, say scanned some freshly developed negatives in order to turn them into prints.
These positions would need to change over the next couple of years.
I wanted to explore what I could do with my images, after the shutter had opened for a fraction of a second and then closed again.
I wanted to see if I could do something with the huge number of photographs I had taken before starting with the OCA as well as those taken alongside the first three modules.
I wanted to play with combining images to produce new, synthetic meanings and viewpoints from them.
I wanted to expand my practice, not to narrow it.
Looking back at my – necessarily slow, experimental, feeling-my-way-carefully – progress through this module, I think I have managed to address all these things, quite successfully. I am slightly surprised at how little I have strayed from the course I set myself, nearly two years ago.
So, how does my DIaC journey break down?
The first two sections of the module were characterised by guided exploration of techniques and ideas. I made collages and digital composites and started to sketch out ways I could make use of the huge archive of pre-existing images that have been made both by me and by others.
Writing the essay acted as bridge, allowing me to apply the theoretical reading from the first half of the course to my own practice, in preparation for moving on to further refine my relationship with digital practice.
Sections four and five entailed a huge amount of experimentation, working towards a finished body on the theme of digital identity.
Finally this sixth, section involves acts of curation as I prepare this module for assessment and prepare to move on to the next one.
In terms of theory, Part One concerned itself with the ontology of the digital image and whether the relative ease with which it can be manipulated damages its role as a conveyor of truth; Part Two looked at the ways artists – and non-artists – used the already massive and now exponentially growing body of existing photographs as source material; in turn, I began to introduce the idea of randomness and chance into the work I was making; Part Three examined further the crisis of confidence in the indexical guarantee of truth offered by the photographic image and the role of gatekeepers in the media; Part Four dealt with the popular/vernacular uses of repeatable photographic tropes.
If part one and two were looking at artistic reactions to the digital, and part three how the ‘proper media’ has tried to adjust to the malleability of file-based photography, by part four, reading and exercises were mainly concerned with popular, vernacular uses of digital photography and the internet. I found the exercises around memes and selfies unsatisfying, but of course have been doing a form of posh facebook, for years – through flickr, and now the OCA forums. You need to build an online audience for memes and things to really take off. You need to work at it, hard, regardless of whether you want to go viral on Instagram or whether you are trying to build up some sort of peer-group or an audience for your work on some more rarified platform, like the OCA forums! I have made much more use of the opportunities for online contact with other Students than I did on the earlier courses. I have found the feedback on my blog and through OCA channels has helped hugely with the development of my ideas and – in this weird time of Covid – the simple sense of community this provides has been most helpful.
When it comes to my creative output for the module, I find it much easier to see a direct sequence running through Digital Image and Culture, than with any of the three level one courses; the work I have produced has been much more consistent as well.
While I was able to work with appropriated material during the exercises for part two (and I definitely enjoyed much of the curatorial work by Erik Kessels and Joachim Schmid we were directed towards at the same time) I think there is a world of difference, ethically, between buying or finding unwanted and discarded photographic prints and trawling the internet for suitable material to appropriate; generally I feel more comfortable working with my own images and with my own archive.
In fact, having approached this course with the rather bald aim of developing a series of processes for making images and for displaying them to others, as things progressed I have been surprised by how personal most of the work I have been making seems to be. The pictures seem to be of me even when other people – in comments or on the forum or during online discussion – manage to read something less tied into the specifics of their making and their maker. I have moved from Portraits of the artist as... in part two to This guy is… in part five. There is something good going on here, although I think I still need more time to fully make sense of it.
Overall, Assignments four and five were fantastic – an opportunity to work at and develop an idea over a longer period of time than in any of the level one courses. Producing a small body of work felt like a taster of what level three of the BA might be. Testing it out on a small, selected audience (not all OCA). Playing, experimenting, remaking. Expanding…
Now, while there is a lot of incomplete stuff left trailing in Assignment five’s wake, I think there is much that can be continued through – both alongside and as part of – the remainder of the degree. There is plenty of stuff remaining unphotographed, in boxes or littering flat surfaces in my house, waiting to be incorporated into my archive; if travel opens up as an option again, I’m sure I will start bringing home new trawls of receipts and tickets and paper cups and tourist tat, all ripe for placing on a surface in front of a plain backdrop. I hope the work I made in the later part of the course is not complete in itself but is the start of something ongoing!
I would like to have done more in terms of experimenting with the online exhibition of photographs, but did not have time to do so. I think I will try and develop this train of thought further during my next module. Certainly I will create the structure I have been using to examine my progress through DIaC right at the beginning of Landscape, and try to build up the virtual portfolio required for online assessment in gallery-form as I go, while also relating my work to the courses learning outcomes from day one rather than seeing it as a review task, carried out at the end.
Anyway, to close, during the course of this module, I think I have made some strong visual work that is capable of engaging a viewer’s attention. That is definitely a good thing and just what I was looking for when I started, back in October 2018!
Learning Outcome 1 – Portfolio To evidence this part you could select learning log entries of examples of finished work that shows your detailed knowledge of technical and visual skills with digital practice and shows how you have applied these strategies to your own thinking and projects.
Learning Outcome 2 – Research It is likely that your learning log entries will evidence your research. By selecting both learning log and assignment pieces you could show how your research—of others work and of social and cultural contexts, digital projects, techniques and ethical perspectives— have made a difference to your own digital practice.
Learning Outcome 3 – Experimentation It is likely that you will have learning log entries and finished pieces that could be selected to show how your use of experimentation – through exercises, testing of ideas and trying things out, has enabled you to develop the production of your digital practice.
Learning Outcome 4 – Critique and Reflect Your critical review (2,000 words) in part 3, is likely to evidence your ability to reflect and critique photographic practices and reflect on your own learning. Your evaluative presentation will also contribute to this and you could include key learning log entries or assignment outcomes that relate to your reflections.
demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of technical and visual skills through a portfolio of digital photographic practice
Assignment 1 – 4 pieces looking at different ways to combine images.
All four photographs play with the construction of narratives arising from journeys made by me and are, I hope, easily readable by the viewer.
The first two pieces are more generally neo-pictorialist in the way they work and, as such, have not really been developed further here.
Three and four, on the other hand, introduce the practice of combining artefacts (and reproductions of artefacts) with photographs taken at the location where the artefacts were initially found. I continued to develop this line of investigation over the remainder of the module.
Layering: This grew fairly straightforwardly out of my research into the work of Corrine Vionnet .
In the formative feedback for the assignment, my tutor suggested that this would work well, displayed on a lightbox; if a physical submission is reintroduced for next March’s assessment event, I will do this, and submit the print on transparency film, rather than the original C-Print.
Seamless compositing. A tableau in the style of Jeff Wall.
Physical Collage, which does not disguise its construction. Made from commercial c-prints and inkjet prints from scanned originals on fibre-board. The assembled collage was then, in its turn, scanned.
Collage assembled entirely within software. No attempt has been made to hide the joins.
Assignment 2 – 4 pieces relating to the generation of a book using randomisation techniques, images drawn from my wider archive and fragments of text from newspapers and advertisements. The key idea here was my attempt at recapturing the sort of serendipity that had long played a part in experimental analogue photography, through the application of software techniques.
portfolio # 5 – cover process video
Video generated by the same software that was used to compile the book’s cover (#6, below). With looped music originally intended for an outtake from assignment 5.
The wraparound book cover. Everything was designed with cheap, inkjet printing on A4 paper in mind. The cover is printed in two sections on A3 paper, with an overlap at the spine.
All the visual content from the pdf book requested in the assignment brief. I thought a physical thing would provide a more satisfactory viewing experience and ran off a short edition of 10 plus and artist’s proof. This action was welcomed by my tutor, and may well be the final physically realised piece for this course.
In the event of there being a physical element to the March assessment, I will include one of the printed edition of my book; if there is not, I will remake the video showing the compilation of the cover at the start of this section of this learning outcome post to include a page-turning through the book intercut with some of the compilation sequences (one of which is currently included as part of the discussion of experimentation, below.
A finished-off version of what I described as ‘Taryn Simon-type panels’ in the post Assignment 4 – Output 2. Made up of items photographed or scanned for the archive of ‘stuff’ which formed the centrepiece of my work for part four (and which is shown more fully in portfolio N, below), text and three images drawn from my pre-OCA archive, this could also be seen to represent a museum-style display, in a virtual vitrine.
A physical collage, made from inkjet prints and one actual Instax print, photographed and then partially modified in photoshop. The culmination of the process described in Assignment 4, Output 7
Electronic collage, including the emulated sticky, numbered dots. Travel, metadata, various imaging devices and open source maps, all related back to items from the assignment 4 archive, the form derived from assignment 4’s fifth output.
Assignment 6 – 1 piece
Although there is no requirement to produce more work during part 6 of DIaC, I have included this here as the culmination of my examination of the work of Andy Warhol, begun in the exercises for part one. This thread – like the one concerning Hockney and perspective – runs through all sections of the course, parallel to the examination of travel as a unifying theme which informs all the assignments in some way. Also, it indicates more clearly than any of the other pieces, that much of this work has been produced during the pandemic, something which I have yet to clearly articulate.
In the event of it being exhibited in a gallery, the printed version of Portfolio #15 would – like those of most of the other portfolio items – be absolutely, floor-to-ceiling massive…
demonstrate how research has informed your digital photographic practice
There is a lot of information available – online and in books – about how to use a camera, to use light and to do basic editing of the photographs you make; but once you step to one side of what most people take the word ‘photography’ to mean, the how-to resources dry up pretty quickly. Beyond the link to Tate’s Jeff Wall maquette of his Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wall-study-for-a-sudden-gust-of-wind-after-hokusai-t07235) there really is not very much detailed information about how the photographers we have been directed to look at in the coursebook go about achieving their characteristic effects.
While I have used Wall’s paper-collage-working-model approach to work out compositional detail and the formal arrangement of the constituent parts of many of the pieces made for this course (the process of making Portfolio #2 for Assignment 1 and a number of the Assignment 5 pieces are described in quite a bit of detail in my learning log) I have mostly been working blind when it comes to actual method. It is as if method has become the secret ingredient in the digital artist’s special sauce, or the trick which – on pain of death – cannot be revealed to those outside the magic circle…
Which takes me neatly into the area of reading beyond the set texts and looking at artists who are not thought of primarily as photographers. While it was active – around a year ago now – I took part in the student-led OCA forum reading group, which drew my attention to two essays which have had significant impact on my work for this module: Charlotte Cotton’s introductory essay to Photography is Magic which had a major impact on the videos I made depicting the code working for Assignment two as a form of close-up magic to entertain my peers on a rainy afternoon (discussed here in my reflection post for Assignment 2) and Villem Flusser’s Towards a philosophy of photography, which – as well as providing a lot of the ideas underpinning my Assignment 3 essay – describes how images can read through a process of circular, potentially repetitive scanning by the viewer, which takes them outside ideas of linear cause and effect rendering them a-historic or magical. This rather abstract idea has had a major impact on the way I have constructed the more narrative parts of my work for this course – they are designed to be read by a viewer making connections between parts of the image over time, rather than surrendering their meaning in an instant, viewed from a single organising point.
Which in turn leads me onto the strand of work deriving from various aspects of the work of David Hockney. Hockney turns up again and again in my writing here (there is already a visual reference to an early Hockney in the portfolio section of this post) but the influence of both his work (in particular his photographic collages from the 1980s) and his theoretical musings on the tyranny of perspective, Cezanne and the use of lenses really takes hold during assignments four and five.
fig.1 – component part of Portfolio # 14 clearly displaying my debt to David HockneyBeside using scans of instant prints of photographs taken with my phone, a number of the assignment 5 pictures contain multiple viewpoints, while still retaining a sense of coherent place, a pet subject of Hockney’s and a thread running through much of twentieth century art, summarised neatly by Will Gompertz in his book What are you looking at?
There are other dialogues with individual artists and their work running through this module. Andy Warhol’s large screenprints of mundane subject matter are something I’ve returned to at least three times here (my part-one-exercise soup tin; my post on Warhol’s exhibition at Tate Modern and some of my displacement-activity images, made off to one side of assignments four and five, and indeed Portfolio #15, above) while John Stazaker’s direct influence links another exhibition post and one of my self portraits for exercise 2.3.
demonstrate how experimentation has informed your digital photographic practice
While I have made much use of Adobe Photoshop in this module (and have reached the stage where I can do most things quickly using the keyboard shortcuts in lieu of a mouse) I have pushed further into the manipulation of digital images made possible by their file-based nature. I took a short course at The Photographers’ Gallery on using the software developed by Processing.org and have used what I learnt there to write simple software to assist with my editing of large numbers of photographs. More importantly, I understand what I am doing to the extent that I can explain what I am doing to others in a way that I hope makes some sense of it.
The following video shows a run of the randomised choice routine that I used to sort through the hundred or so toilet door pictograms for the verso pages of the book submitted for Assignment 2.
situate, reflect and critique photographic practices and reflect on your own learning
Parts of Assignment 6 – the evaluative presentation and this post you are reading now – explicitly reinforces this learning outcome, but – as the Assessment Handbook notes for Digital Image and Culture highlight – the long-form essay submitted as my response to Assignment 3 should be seen as central to it.
For the assignment three essay – answering the question of whether the easy availability of digital cameras and the related technologies for the dissemination of digital imagery have affected how we take photographs – I took as a starting point the way my use of cameras has changed over the last forty or so years.
I combined the course reading around the ontology of the digital image and my practical experience of shifting from an analogue medium to a digital one, drawing not only on the example of photography but also of recording sound (my day job for many years) and – to a lesser extent – the making of film (or rather video).
There is nothing intrinsic to a digital camera that will make you do anything different photographically (and nor are we encouraged to do anything different by the camera makers or the various custodian of photographic discourse) so the change has come not so much at the point where individual images are made, but in the ways they can be combined. and then shown to others. Indeed these are the skills that I have been developing in the other parts of the module.
My essay concludes that the main impact of the shift from analogue to digital photography is that we have all become our own picture editors, printers and – often – gatekeepers to our own work. Indeed, Assignment Six takes this move from photography being seen to be a private practice, shared with a small circle of people you know, to being something shared with an unknown numbers of strangers and, by making sense of (and applying structure to) my experience of this course, foregrounds this curational aspect of digital culture.
Finally, this post and the others that accompany it to make up assignment six, as well as the five ‘Reflections’ posts, one to accompany each of the earlier assignments) all loop back through the work that precedes them, examining and testing my ability to quantify my learning as a final theme running through my responses to this module, as a whole.
(I’m trying to work out how to show (much) larger versions of these images here, on WordPress, but have not managed it yet. However, if you’re in possession of an active OCA google account, I can give you access to my experiments elsewhere, if you leave a comment here let me know !)
The feedback on assignment five was, again, very positive indeed:
‘…as with your previous work [the assignment] demonstrates a real sense of exploration and experimentation and altogether a very high level of engagement with the course. I have been impressed throughout with the way you have used technology to explore potential outcomes while never losing sight of the personal element. As a result – for A5 in particular – the outcome(s) have an individual and intimate quality. There is much innovative work here which will undoubtedly influence your approach to future modules […] All practical work has been thoroughly underpinned by a broad range of research feeding constantly into the development of the practice, and the context for this work is clearly defined.’
– formative feedback
My work for earlier assignments have not required much – if any – post-tutorial rework; assignment five went down well, with my tutor, with peers and at the forum online, but there were things in the various responses received that I wanted to address around the selection of the final images – forum live felt there were too many samey, travel-based images and I was inclined to agree.
I had already started to think about this before the tutorial, and have decided to make two substitutions, one combination and one rework (#4, shown in fig.1 above) while losing one of the weaker travel images entirely. The addition of the animated .gif to the original static image submitted as #4 was suggested to me during the tutorial, when I saw the two separate images next to one another on my screen; it was fairly simple to put the two images together – I added the static image to each frame of the animation and then recompiled the moving image – but I seem to have lost a lot of colour information in the process. This could be something intrinsic to gifs, but I’ll have a further play when I have time.
After losing the original image 9 (this guy needs refreshing from time to time) I tried adding image 8 (this guy knows how to have a good time) to the original image 6 (this guy is all over the place); this worked nicely, creating a new, even more panoramic image, structured around paper coffee cups and travel (fig.2)
Next, I completed work on two images which had been abandoned in an unfinished state but which would extend the range of work on display here.
One added actual data – gps information as shown by lightroom and an extract from my oyster card statement – and my London Transport Oyster card wallet – which was part of assignment 4’s output 5 to an outtake from the same assignment (fig.3):
Possibly the title should be ‘this guy’s world is his oyster‘, but we shall see.
I also completed work on the ‘soup explosion’ image from the assignment 5 in-progress revision post, drawing on the twenties surrealists’ interest in crime scene photography and telling the story of an exploding can of soup (fig.4):
And finally, I realise I could have worked up one further image based on the various packets of biscuits, acquired on my travels and now included in the wider body of my archive, entitled this guy accepts all cookies…
The main request from pretty much every quarter (tutor, comments here, on my blog, and also in response to a critique request posted on the OCA forum) was for some way to view much larger versions of at least some of the images. I completely agreed! – the limitations of putting images, whose scale would benefit from close examination of very big prints, up online, as a normal part of my WordPress blog began to make themselves apparent. This is the point where not having the option of a physical presentation is really rather limiting.
A couple of times now, Russell, my tutor, has suggested I have a look at Simon Schofield’s work. In particular he thought I should have a look at Kipple Pond, Schofield’s enormous, computer generated fish pond through which could be glimpsed plastic detritus beneath carp and pond weed; printed out, it was laid like a carpet along a corridor at Sheffield Millennium Gallery in 2009. While it’s the plastic detritus (and a conversation about Phillip K. Dick’s coinage ‘kipple’ to describe the crap that gathers around us, without our really noticing or thinking about it) and Schofield’s use of software that led the recommendation, the thing that I was drawn to at this point was the way Schofield’s site allowed closer inspection of images that would otherwise have been virtually meaningless when viewed online.
What I have done is upload a folder containing the pages and the images to my OCA google drive and shared it with two of the people who wanted to be able to peer more closely. Then – after downloading the folder – it is possible to have a go and see the magnified images. Everyone who has seen it so far, thinks this much more dynamic way of viewing the images works really well – ‘[the scripted pages] totally transform the work being able to look at the individual pieces in detail and being able to see how individual items have become worn‘ says DIaC-er, Michael Millmore; thank you, Michael! – and I have asked the OCA photography lead, Dan Robinson whether I would be able to include a portfolio folder for downloading by the assessors as part of my submission for next March’s assessment event (regardless of whether there is the possibility of including a physical element by then).
I am also including the fully reworked project in dynamic form with my Assignment 6 submission, next week. If anyone else (with an active, OCA google account) want to have a look at the dynamic stuff, feel free to ask in a comment, here…
Listen to Peter Kennard talking about Photo Op, a piece made in collaboration with Cat Picton-Phillipps. If you can, look also at British artist Lisa Barnard’s recent book Chateau Despair. Barnard used found archival news images of ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher alongside shots of the then Conservative HQ to construct her narrative
‘Limited edition of 500 copies 220×160 mm 96 pages printed four colour Hardback – silkscreened and foil stamped cloth Essays by Jeremy Till and Sarah James.’
– Item Description – Amazon UK
There’s nothing very digital about this description of Chateau Despair, indeed it’s really quite old fashioned sounding with its silk screening and four colour printing. There’s nothing collage-y about its contents, either: individual pictures sequenced with a pair of contextualising essays, near the end. The pictures taken by Barnard – as opposed to the found publicity shots of Thatcher, which punctuate the other photographs ordered according to their increasingly degraded surface – look as if they were taken with a large format film camera. Each image is separate from all the others; it is a sequence and not something more integrated visually.
It is only the appendix of ‘Remnants’ – found objects such as a membership application form or a small conservative flag – that seem as if they are of now, connecting to this course – they could have been scanned – the background seems totally burnt out and the shadows around the objects are too even, over the surrounding 360° – but equally they could have been blasted with a ring flash. The result is very much ‘a Book’ – an artifact that will sit on a shelf until someone opens one of the 500 copies printed. It is unlikely that someone will stumble across it by accident. It has no wider currency and seems very old-fashioned somehow.
Which is something you would never say about kennardphillipps’ (as the duo style themselves) Photo Op. While Kennard had been making political scissors and glue collages since the 80’s (eg his Haywain with Cruise Missile image, for CND and now part of the Tate collection) this collaboration is firmly located within the digital domain.
‘As Kennard explains, Photoshop is very different from the old tradition of kitchen-table photomontage that runs from Hoch and John Heartfield in Weimar Berlin to his CND collages of the 1980s. “With cut and paste the images are more disparate”: they don’t fuse into one image. The strange and devastatingly effective quality of the kennardphillipps portrait of Tony Blair is that it really does meld into a luridly believable scene.’
– Jones (2013) The Guardian
Photo Op is available online, and downloadable for free. People (and organisations are able to use it for their own purposes. And they do. In the video Cat Picton-Phillipps describes herself as a citizen artist, working outside galleries and attempting to achieve an impact within the political life of the country.
It is in keeping with this, that Photo Op is held, not with Kennard’s Haywain, by Tate or one of the other large collections, but instead is part of the Imperial War Museum’s work to contextualise conflict within history.
This seems often to be the way collage is first perceived – as a direct political statement – before finding an uneasy place within the Art world. Aleksandr Rodchenko thought he was helping build a new world and a new way of being through his photography and collaged publications in the Soviet Union in the 20s and the 30s. It is only more recently that he has found a home within the bourgeois world of the art establishment.
To complete this exercise, use readily available images to make a short narrative series of four to six collages based on a recent or contemporary news event
– DIC Coursebook, p.29
As someone who enjoyed putting together plastic models as well as ‘handwork,’ as it was called when I was primary school in the seventies, I looked forward massively to the task of assembling some physical collages. (Although one of the four here – #2 – involved more of the digital layering I had used in exercise 1.1).
I got out my glue and scissors, a self-healing cutting mat and put a new blade into my scalpel. I scoured the pile of newspapers I’d let build up, for suitable images. I thought satirically about the government and the mess we’d gotten into with brexit and got to work cutting and pasting…
Criminals and Clowns (2019-20)
Prevalent Types of Features Amongst Men with Brexity Convictions
Having collected all the constituent parts for the three collages (and the one digitally layered image) in the Criminals and Clowns set, I somehow never got around to finishing it off til now, in the run up to assignment six and assessment. I suspect it was a mixture of realising how much work would be involved in getting them right – scanning, scaling printing, cutting, glueing etc – coupled with a feeling that it is too easy to simply make a few cheap digs against the charlatans who have been running the country for the past decade.
Also, I kept waiting for the situation to reach some sort of resolution and stop somehow, before I made my move, and – as we all know now, nearly two years later – it didn’t stop and indeed is still going on. This probably means I was trying to work within an artistic rather than a political/activist space, still striving to make ‘late photography’; to go back to Jones’ Photo Op article in the Guardian: ‘kennardphillipps were not interested in making history when they created their digital image. They wanted to change the world, not record it: “We were trying to portray Iraq as it happened and not wait until afterwards and make a history painting.”‘
The process of planning and preparation was useful however, feeding directly into assignments one and two.
What I did finish though, almost as soon as I read about the Aberdeenshire farmer who had fooled the archaeological establishment with his improvised stone circle, was putting some pictures of mine of a real stone circle in Orkney together with a few pictures of chimneys – the only thing that still exists of the many nissen huts that were put up in military camps all over the islands – to make a fake circle of my own. It (with appliqué-ed bits of the original story from the Guardian that alerted me to this latest site of specific ritual importance, as archaeologists always say when they’re stumped) opens this post.
Write 500 words in your learning log on a piece of work by a contemporary artist-photographer who uses the archive as source material.
– DIaC Coursebook p.45
‘Mirroring geo-political shifts, and characterised by a restless fluidity of materiality and meaning, [Kurdistan/aka Kurdistan] has moved from filing cabinet to book to exhibition to cyberspace, and from witness and document to collection and dissemination as collaborative projects.’
– Elizabeth Edwards in the DB Photography Prize Catalogue
I first saw some of the photographs that made up Susan Meiselas’ part of the the 2019 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize exhibition (taken at when she was engaged to document the exhumation of the mass graves of Kurdish villagers in North Iraq in 1992) as part of another exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery – Images of Conviction (Oct 2015-Jan 2016). There, the photographs were very much part of a larger work; Meiselas was neither the focus nor the organiser; rather she provided illustration of the forensic archaeologists’ work exposing the actions of the Iraqi state.
Here, Meiselas herself still is not the focus, but she is the organisational force, shaping the exhibit. She has taken a kernel of her photographs and added others, taken over the course of more than a century by other photographers, many of whom remain anonymous. She has assembled an archive which can be used to explore the history of a place (Kurdistan) its people (the Kurds) and the way they both have been treated by outside agents (amongst whom she would of course number herself).
Extract #1 from triple slideshow (part of Kurdistan/akaKurdistan) , rephotographed and partially reordered by SC.
In common with her earlier pictures taken during the revolution in Nicaragua in the late seventies, there is an identification both with her subjects as individuals and with their cause. Again, she has returned to the scenes of her earlier work to update and deepen them, just as she did with her Nicaraguan pictures, which were printed and displayed on billboards erected at the sites where they had been taken, to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza regime by the Sandanistas.
She comments not only on a small part of a wider historical story, but also on that wider story itself and the role that her photography (and that of others too) have played in framing the story in the first place. The result is a much richer and open-ended narrative than would have been possible within the tight confines of a photo-essay or the form dictated by some other more traditional, documentary style.
The work is still developing and growing – one suspects it will not become a completed body of work until the question of the Kurds’ self determination is settled in their favour – as members of Kurdish diaspora add their pictures and their stories when one version or other of the piece is shown in their present homes, in Europe and elsewhere.
This is not a work of appropriation. It is neither smug nor sneery, but an honest, interested collaboration with the people it concerns.
Extract #2 from triple slideshow (part of Kurdistan/akaKurdistan) , rephotographed and partially reordered by SC.
Postscript: there was also a sequence of film, showing street-portrait photographers working in contemporary Iraq in exactly the same way – making paper negatives with a view camera, developing them and then rephotographing them to produce a positive print in a matter of minutes – Joan Fontcuberta describes as being used to take his father’s photograph in North Africa in the 1930s, in the opening essay collected in Pandora’s Camera (2014), I photograph therefore I am. It was fascinating to see what I had assumed was a historical practice, still in use, during the 21st Century.
Fontcuberta J. (2014) Pandora’s Camera. London: Mac
Meiselas, S. (2018) Mediations Damiani: Bologna
Meiselas, S. (2019) Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize [Exhibition] London: The Photographers’ Gallery (08/03 – 02/06/19)
Edwards, E. (2019) An active history: Susan Meiselas. In ‘Deutsche Börse Photography Prize Catalogue’ London: The Photographers’ Gallery
Covid and the resulting all-encompassing changes to pretty much everything, everywhere, has not left assessment alone (and why should it?). The July event was the first to follow a digital only approach and also saw a refocussing of course’s marking to concentrate on the stated learning outcomes that you read as you commence and then forget about as you make your way through the course. It is unlikely that this approach is going to change radically, any time soon, although the question of whether assessment remains an entirely online process may be revised, if not in time for this module, then hopefully before I submit my next module, Landscape.
For Digital Image and Culture, the learning outcomes are as follows:
demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of technical and visual skills through a portfolio of digital photographic practice
demonstrate how research has informed your digital photographic practice
demonstrate how experimentation has informed your digital photographic
situate, reflect and critique photographic practices and reflect on your own
These are probably easier to relate things to than the earlier Assessment Criteria that I have used to organise my Assignment reflection for all the course modules I’ve studied so far.
To make a start to this process, there is an exercise on identifying what to submit, in the assessment guidance document (pp.18-19).
Once that is done:
I have one or two exercises to write up
I need to revise my long essay for Assignment 3
I need to index properly my assignment work; in particular I need to sum up the tutorials made harder by my having written the initial feedback for all the assignments except for number one, from my notes of what Russell and I discussed during the tutorials…
I need to make adjustments to some of the assignment work. No major changes were identified by Russell, as we went along, but there are things I would like to neaten up.
And then – or rather in parallel with the writing and revision work – I need to work out how to present the pictures to the assessors, online, but in a better and more coherent way than I have managed to date on my WordPress blog.
I will examine whether there is an easily deployed (and affordable) product for online exhibition of images.
Finally, regardless of whether I am able to submit physical work for the March 2021 event or not, I would like to make prints of the pieces that I have not printed yet (from assignments four and five) and a new print-run of the book for assignment 2, with revised text.
My deadline for completing this module is in exactly one month’s time. It is time to stop planning and time to make a start.
As I worked through the posts for assignment 5 as it developed and to contextualise it, I began to wonder if I had not been a bit hasty in stopping work on some candidate images. This was reinforced by the response to the original set when I showed it off at the first of the September forum onlines, when – amid general positivity – there also seemed to be a consensus that too many of the collages were travel-based (and a bit samey in their construction).
Now, I think a lot of this emphasis on travel, could well be related to the context in which the works were made – of lockdown and its aftermath – and reflect my (only partly sub-)conscious longing to be able to get out and travel widely again. So – there is another post I need to write, looking at how the pandemic has seeped into everything, but that is more easily dealt with as I prepare for assessment in Assignment 6. Here I will limit myself to posting a first stab at making a replacement collage, more concerned with staring at the walls of my study while working out how to keep working at home from bleeding into everything else.
fig.1 marks a beginning, but I will be keeping to the method I have developed over the past few months as I move it towards being a finished piece. I will stick the individual prints that make up the soup-splatter collage up on the wall, and I will print out the soup tin and the burst off lid images and play with them too.
I’ll think of whether other things need to be added and if the answer is yes – add them. There are quite a few of the things that are included in the big collage (A5:01) that were there when the soup tin exploded; some of them show evidence of the explosion (four are shown in fig.2); maybe they could feature in some way.
I’ll have a think. I think (hope rather) that – rather than being something I can draw a line under – this work will continue alongside my coursework for the foreseeable future. Certainly, that was my intention when I started – using this as contextualisation for some at least of my work on Landscape, my next module…
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Throughout this course, I have tried to make images that are attractive to look at and that draw people in to the world they picture. That world does not necessarily need to have a strict, indexical link to any objective reality; the space described is often one of association, rather than a strict mapping onto physical reality. In this assignment (and the preceding one) I think I have established a genuinely digital way of working, making use of trial and error and exploiting the fluidity of outcome that is made possible by access to the undo and redo functions within editing software.
The ten pictures (twelve if you count the triptych as being three) that make up this assignment make good use of the huge number of photographs and scans I now have at my disposal. They prompt the viewer to start making stories from their content, while not limiting (too much) what these stories may be.
I think my ability to create composite images has grown and developed. As I have put together this assignment (and the one that preceded it) I have become more adept at lighting and isolating objects against a plain, lose-able background so as to use them as the raw material for increasingly complex, associative collages. I enjoy finding an image that will go next to another, either to create a new space or a new meaning from their juxtaposition. I have been able to create a series of images which present a coherent space and allow for a series of open, interpretable narratives to go with them.
Finally – and this feels much less of an afterthought than its position here at the end of the section may infer – I’m delighted to have been able to make some steps towards incorporating photographs taken on my mobile (as well as exploring more of my pre-OCA archive) into my work here.
I’ve long been conscious of a conceptually unsustainable division I tend to make of my pictures into Photography (with a capital P, dammit!) and not-photography; DIaC has seen me make a start in breaking down this artificial partitioning of my work with a camera – regardless of where that device may live – and with software. I am using scanner. I am making my own, inkjet prints and then working with them further…
Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
I am running into the buffers on this course, with around thirty days remaining to complete it within the two year timeframe that was in place when I started the module, October 2018. So, it is possible that in my rush to get this assignment to my tutor I prematurely stopped work on a couple of my candidate pictures instead doing more versions of an idea I had got more sorted (A05:7-9 – the travel/cup ones). As noted elsewhere (in the WIP post and contextualisation one, I have another two ideas that probably wouldn’t require too much work to take to something like a conclusion. I think I will possibly even try to get at least one of them online, before the tutorial scheduled for tomorrow at noon.
That aside, I think the work holds together as an examination of one possible version of my digital self. The pictures are able to be read by a viewer without rigidly demanding a single ‘meant’ reading.
The set is coherent stylistically and works as a linked series of images, as well as having some striking individual pictures that could conceivably stand alone. Regardless of whether a physical element has returned to the assessment events in time for March (and I hope it does) I will make prints of these pictures, and then display one or two around the house.
Demonstration of creativity – I have continued to be surprised at how personal the work produced during this course has been. Rather than produce something cold, digital and third person, I think that – over the course of this and the preceding assignment – I have stumbled upon a much more first person way of working that captures some the playful and humourous aspects of my personality instead of the bits of me that are a bit more analytical and engineery.
To follow on from the ideas contained within the long essay written for assignment three – that you need to make a conscious effort to shift from being an analogue photographer to being a digital one – I have moved from being a ‘hunter’ (in the sense used by Cartier-Bresson) to being a cook, sourcing my ingredients and then putting them together in my digital kitchen.
The work-in-progress aspect of both assignments – despite assignment five being described in the brief as ‘your digital identities project develop[ed] to the point of resolution‘ – leaves me feeling (hoping) that this is much more about my practice, rather than producing a static body of work. As such, it feels ongoing and I hope I can continue it in tandem with my next course, Landscape.
Context – There has not been much activity on my blog during the last couple of months, partly because this section of the module has no exercises to write up, but also because the circumstances of its making have been determined (and circumscribed) by the weirdness of lockdown and its initial aftermath as restriction on movement and contact with others have been gradually relaxed over the summer. I have also been somewhat lax at writing wip/log entries detailing my progress.