from Bate on Memory

with the addition of a great dollop of synchronicity

Near the beginning of the  essay, The Memory of Photography (Bate, 2010) there is a paragraph that struck me as significant:

‘…new photo-archiving software programmes like Aperture, i-Photo, i-View, and Lightroom have accelerated the issue of how to archive photographic images and what to do with them once deposited. If we see these new repositories as a type of “memory bank”, complemented by the many devices designed to provide inputs to them like camera phones (and, of course, the computers and hard disks that support them, which are types of archives in themselves), then we have to ask what relation do these instruments have to existing notions of memory and photography?’

– p.243

Shortly after reading it, and making an old-fashioned note in the margin of my printed copy of the essay, my computer  – or it might have been my phone, doesn’t matter really – informed me that ‘You have a new memory.’ I put down my pen and clicked on the alert bubble.


fig.1: AI generated edit #1

The 14th of October 2006 was the last day of a short work trip to the Kosovan capital, Pristina. I had been overseeing the installation of a new audio desk in the BBC World Service office and – now everything was in finished – I had a last look at the new facility and then spent my last afternoon in the city walking and taking photographs.

fig.2: AI generated edit #2

When I was back home in London, I would have connected my still nearly new Nikon D50 to my G3 ‘Snow’ iMac (the first thing I ever  bought off ebay) and imported the pictures (jpegs, rather than raw) into iPhoto. I would have tagged them, done a small amount of destructive editing on a few of them and  – a few months later – uploaded a couple to flickr, where they form the basis of my ‘Pristina’ album.

And then… The eighty-seven photos I took that day would have formed part of my iPhoto library and  sat on a series the hard discs of the progressively more powerful computers that I have owned. Somewhere along the way that library would have been converted to work with Photos, the 2014 replacement for iPhoto in Apple’s basic software package. My Photos library was eventually moved to an external drive and at some point  – I must have ticked something, but I have no memory of doing so – started to automatically duplicate itself into ‘the cloud.’

It now exists in at least three places and the images it ‘contains’ can be accessed from all sorts of devices, including my phone and my iPad. They also all form part of the Photostream of one of my flickr accounts.  Although they are not able to be viewed by anyone except for me, unless I say so, they have moved beyond my control. I’m not sure if I would ever be able to completely delete any of the images, even if I wanted to…


So now, fifteen years since I stopped working and went for a bit of an explore with my camera, Apple’s AI (artificial intelligence) engine has selected twenty-seven of the pictures I took that day and turned them into a ‘memory’ for me. Its edit isn’t bad at all – there is a nice range of different subjects and, when I took several photos of the same thing, mostly it has gone for the same picture as I would have – and, interestingly, it has only picked one of the images – the buff ceiling of the mosque – that I posted on flickr at the time, while ignoring the others.

It has done all this with only small amounts of data to work with: the date/time stamp in the jpeg. It seems to have ignored any manual tagging that I did at the same time when I moved the pictures from the camera to my iMac so it does not know where I was, but it has managed to recognise my face (when you look at the memory in iPhoto, you can see other, ‘related’ pictures of me). Other Photos-generated ‘memories’ are much more precise, picking up on the extra metadata wrapped up with images taken with my phone…

I’ve played with this sort of thing before, most recently when I took the receipt for an Oyster top-up, matched it to the automatically-generated journey record that is sent to me monthly by Transport for London and then found all the photographs I took while travelling about for a week or two. (It forms part of DIC assignment 4.) Then, as now, I found this use of non-visual information stored in image files, fascinating (and incredibly useful) as mnemonic devices. Stuff  – and places, and experiences – I had not really thought about for ages came back into focus and links between different things made. I had been consciously reinserted into a chunk of time…

The Pristina ‘memory’ combines viewpoints when I was ‘inside’ my photographs (in the BBC office) with others where I was essentially a tourist and on the outside. If I was to share the memory more widely (as Photos suggests I might) I wonder if different people would react to the two points of view in ways that would reflect their own insider/outsider status in relationship to the subject matter, or whether they would all be left outside, looking in?


Reference:

t-26

Exactly 6 months to go!

Spent more time on the persuasive image post than I thought I would, finding a lot to think about, in Joel Sternberg’s trilogy of books published by Steidl – On this site (2012), The day it changed (2008) and Oxbow archive (2008) – which collectively look at the impact humans have had on the environment since the industrial revolution. I also found myself thinking more deeply about my relationship to the place I live and the changes taking place here, over the past twenty years. As ever, this should feed into more posts and – of course – assignment 5.

Coming up this week, I need to put the final exercise (Bate on Memory) to bed and to further narrow down my selection of pictures for the assignment. I have three weeks to go, and should be able to put together a good set of posts, detailing where I’m coming from. I just need to be concise and less prone to procrastination.



Talking of procrastination leads me neatly on to:

On Saturday, I took part in the the first session of the latest of the  OCASA Keeping Up Momentum workshops.  This one is titled Chain Reaction and  like the first one I attended, was led by Bryan Eccleshall. We were put in groups and given a piece of text in several languages and asked to turn it into English. Each group’s had a different text to translate and this was then passed on to someone else. Our task over the next three weeks is to turn that second translated text into a collaborative visual piece.

My group consists of a Fine Art MA student, two people on level one – one starting off with drawing and the other doing textiles as part of the creative art degree and me, a level 2 photographer.  I fell into my usual rôle at these things – setting up a padlet and sharing it with the others and then scheduling our first follow up meeting in the OCA’s zoom space. Our received text was much more open than our single group translation had been. I need to let it ferment a bit, before I start seriously to put some ideas together.

However, to start off with, I’m wondering how I can curb my directive tendency during collaborations, which may form a major part of stopping this workshop from completely torpedoing any momentum I may have going with my actual coursework…

3.4 – a persuasive image

Find three examples of landscape photographs (or the collective efforts of a set of photographs) that are being used to assert a particular ideological point of view. Look at images that have been used in advertising or other commercial applications, as well as within fine art and documentary photography. This might be a very explicit message, or something a lot subtler. If text is used, consider how this relates to the image.

– lpe Coursebook, p.120


1: BP (British Petroleum) – The Best of 2017

BP is of course a massive, international corporation; the choice of photographs made for its annual selection of pictures makes it feel more like a family with a number of keen photographers among its members. The pictures show BP’s activities in general, uncritical ways. Two oil rigs, one in the Caribbean and one in the north sea – pictured in calm weather and with a very similar colour palette – seem part of nature rather than in conflict with it; the view from the bridge of a tanker is spectacular; farmers grow crops that will be turned into bio fuels and scientists do generic scientist things. The people depicted are diverse and happy. Children point towards BPs contribution towards a better future. Again, like a family, BP have an online archive of photographs, on flickr, facebook and instagram. Provided you acknowledge their copyright and do not use them ‘in connection with any purpose that is prejudicial to BP’ you are free to use the images, yourself.


2: Extinction Rebellion – Crude Truth

The environmental, direct action organisation, Extinction Rebellion will not be able to comply with BP’s photographic terms of use. Instead, they have chosen to disrupt BP’s sponsorship of the arts and  – given the noted ability of photography to aestheticise  environmental blight –  illustrate their press release with a picture of their intervention on the last day of the 2019 BP Portrait Awards  at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The picture is not actually a landscape, but does allude to the equation of landscape with the female body by numerous photographers such as Edward Weston. It also – like protests by the Ukrainian feminist action group Фемен – uses female nudity to provide a pictorial hook for the press, here in the form of women smeared with an oily liquid. The question of whether the Telegraph’s sub-editor  – after thinking to himself, ‘Nice arse!’  – will go on to use any of the text detailing BPs impact on the environment  – or, if he does, whether a reader will get beyond the first paragraph of any resulting article – is a moot one.

The ideas are out there; if BP are to be considered to be ‘art-washing’ their public persona, a counterpoint to it has been made and has entered the public consciousness.


3: Joel Sternfeld –On this site 

“A photograph is a very simple utterance […] it may generate a little bit of thought but frankly it’s not capable of complex thought.” – Joel Sternfeld, quoted in  Lipton,2017

Joel Sternfeld uses the justaposition of text with his photographs to generate a degree of complexity which the images on their own would not. His book, On this site (2012, Steidl) contains of fifty double spreads with a photograph on the recto page and a few lines of text – describing the location and date of the photograph before stating what had happened there  – on the preceding, verso, page. The pictures all fit into the landscape genre, and could generally be described as being nice to look at, if not actually ‘beautiful’ belying the ugliness of what it was that happened there.

The events described in the text are generally bad; a number detail the ecological damage done to places by large corporations or the US government. There are pictures of the Plaza Hotel in New York (where the tobacco companies met to agree a plan to discredit the early linking of cancers with smoking) seen from Central Park and a stretch of river which was set on fire when molten slag, dumped from a steel mill ignited other chemicals polluting the river. Over the course of the book, a composite picture emerges of a country that is careless with both its people and its environment; a country where power – in the form of the government or large corporations, or individuals who are allowed ‘to bear arms’ –  tries to evade responsibility for much of what it allows to take place, and generally manages to get away with it.


Consider an issue (social, political or environmental) that you feel strongly about. Design an image that you think will have a persuasive effect upon a viewer. This could be a deliberately rough photomontage or something more polished. You don’t necessarily need to make the photograph or tableau; this is an exercise in generating ideas, thinking about communicating an idea and taking an ideological standpoint.

– lpe Coursebook, p.120


fig.1: lea boaters #1

I am very conscious that the photographs I used for Assignment Two are pretty much devoid of people. However I was not cycling through an unpopulated post-industrial landscape; there are plenty of people around. Some live there, some work in the featureless buildings that line sections of the Lea and some – like me – are there because it’s a nice place to walk or cycle of run. You can glimpse golf courses through holes in the screening hedges; as well as the expected river traffic of narrow boats and barges. Houseboats line whole sections of the towpath; some are permanent moorings, others are more transient with the canal authority enforcing a move-every-two-weeks regime.  And there are rowers – singles and pairs skull by with the occasional eight full eight. It is a working waterway still, but also a site for leisure. This causes tension.

fig.2: lea boaters #2

As I cycled up and down the towpath, I became aware that there were a lot of signs of discontent amongst the boating community. I stopped just short of Enfield Lock and read a poster covering a canal regulations sign. The banner slogan was Don’t trust the trust! As I cycled and paused to take more photogaphs, I became aware of more and more posters, in barge windows and staked up on the verge.

fig.3: lea boaters #3 – the campaign

Reading them (and following the Q-Code to the campaign site) you discover that the Canal Authority is trying to reduce the number of berths for transient, residential barges, mainly on the stretch of water I was photographing . The situation is neatly summed up by the subhead of a recent article in GQ: Caught between rising house prices and obscure by-laws, London’s historic boating population risks being swept aside by a tide of gentrification (Kemp-Habib, 2021).

fig.4: lea boats 4

Since moving to Walthamstow, nearly twenty years ago now, I have an ambivalent relationship with this rising tide of gentrification. I could not afford to move to the borough now, but nevertheless form part of the forces changing the makeup of the area. My first thought when I first came across the campaign was that it should be possible to collage together photographs of enough boats to get across some idea of what 550+ berths might mean. Then, I noticed that that is exactly what the campaign has done – although with line drawings in the campaign colours of red and green rather than with  photographs. (You can see this if you enlarge fig.3 and  look at the detail of the campaign poster on the right). I came late to this particular fight.

fig.5: lea boaters #5 – boats are homes.

The boaters’ association are doing a very good job of fighting this themselves – they don’t need me to act as an outside advocate. I need to find a subject for work of the sort called for by this exercise, that I am more obviously part of. I also could do with addressing my ambivalent position on the topic of gentrification, generally, and this possibly is where I could take this – and other things related to this – during assignment 5.

Of course, I did sign the petition and shared the fact. It is now shared here too…


Reference:

 

t-27

I sorted my A2 tutorial notes and got them off to Derek. He turned them around and got the Formative Feedback document back to me on Thursday. By the time you get the FF, you have already written the posts that make up the assignment itself and done your initial reflection against the assessment criteria; also I have written up the tutorial itself and this forms a large part of the tutor’s document. Therefore, I am holding off for a while before I write a final post on the feedback.  I haven’t posted on assignment 1’s feedback either yet, and think I will do a combined roundup before I start work on my self-directed project for assignment 5.  The first three assignments seem to form a natural progression – to me at any rate – so dealing with them together makes sense…


I have a bad book habit. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had delivered Fay Godwin’s Land and  – in collaboration with Alan Sillitoe – The Saxon Shore Way, Martin Parr’s Boring Postcards and –  spinning out of some time spent looking around David Campany’s website – a book on the uses of photography in World War 1. It’s interesting to not the way some of Godwin’s photographs appear in both books but with a different purpose: as Art  in Land and in a more illustrative guise in The Saxon Shore Way

The Saxon Shore Way was in the first package I’ve needed to pick up from the parcel office for ages.


post office counter (2021)

The bulk of my OCA time this week has been spent looking through what is to come in this section and the next and working out who I’m going to use as examples for which exercise, which is in part what the influx of books is for. This was prompted by my realisation that a few of the photographers I was thinking of using for the Late-Photography exercise (now posted) either were used as specific examples later in the coursebook (Chloe Dewe Matthews, from part 4) or would fit better with some other exercise (Joel Sternfeld for Persuasive Image). As a result, I think I should be able to complete the exercise for this part reasonably smoothly with 3.4 + the Edgelands piece from the end of part 2 going up this week and the remaining two by the time I write the t-24 post, although the Bate essay on memory and photography (3.6) is triggering  a lot of ideas for further work/research as I begin to work my way through it…


In last week’s t-minus post, I said I would definitely attend the photography reading group session on Robert Adams’ Beauty in Photography; naturally, something came up at work, so I didn’t. However I have read the essay (and the one that precedes it in the book on Truth and Landscape, which itself features in the introduction to Liz Wells’ Land Matters) and worked out what I think about them, and how that can fit into my work here, so that should be turned into a log entry at least.

It’s not the only thing: I am becoming aware that there are a number of recurring topics that warrant a post of their own. As I move through the exercises, I will try to start to pick up some of these:

  • Robert Adams’ essays about truth and landscape and beauty and photography
  • ‘Slow Photography’ – technologies and practice
  • Spaces/Places I feel some sort of relationship with that goes beyond the merely touristic.
  • A roundup piece about my reading on landscape as genre (Bate, Wells etc)
  • Photographs of Orkney
  • Photographs of the bits of London next to the Lee/Lea
  • When does landscape stop being landscape and start being documentary or ‘street’?
  • How can landscape photography accommodate people while still remaining about place?

I realise that they may not all get written – certainly as definitive thoughts – but these topics all occupy headspace. I need to get better at getting them out of my head and into some form of text…

3.3 – late photography

‘Read David Campany’s essay ​”Safety in Numbness.” Summarise the key points of the essay and note down your own observations on the points he raises.

– LPE Coursebook, p.114


My Assignment 4 for Identity and Place was heavily engaged with Safety in Numbness and, conceptually, was a Martha Rossler-inspired critique of late photography centred around a series of photographs of Grenfell Tower in West London. On a re-reading, after 3 and a bit years, the posts supporting the assignment are rather good, I think, and I have not significantly changed either my opinion of Campany’s essay, or of Meyerowitz’s work in the ruins of the World Trade Centre. Therefore, this post should be read as a summary, repointing my thoughts towards their application in the context of Landscape.

fig.1: 512973 ph4IAP-A4 (unpublished outtake)

In summary, the argument set out in  Safety in Numbness  – from which all quotes are taken – is as follows:

  1. A Channel 4 documentary, Reflections of Ground Zero, presented as ‘a particularly clear example of an approach that is becoming’ [in 2003, when the article was written] ‘a commonplace use of the medium,’ photographs taken by Joel Meyerowitz during the clearing of the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attack. Acording to Campany, these photographs ‘were being positioned as superior [as ‘official history’ or ‘images of record’] to the television programme.’
  2. Such photographs can be characterised as: cool, not hot; static; sombre; ‘straight.’ They often contain no people, but do contain ‘a lot of remnants of activity.’ They are everywhere – documentary, news, advertising, fashion –  not just in galleries.
  3. Still images are often used in cinema and television to denote ‘memory.’ Moving images denote ‘presentness’; stills, ‘pastness.’ Moving images use complex technologies and produce huge amounts of information for our memories to process. The frozen image produced by a still photograph says very little, although that little is very open to interpretation by the viewer.
  4. ‘Stillness’ has changed through time as technologies develop. In the early 19th century, all pictures were still. Cinema made the stillness of photographs apparent to the viewer. It was only then that the ‘frozenness of the snapshot’ became the essence of the photographic resulting in the fetishisation of sharpness and decisive moment photography. The development of video in the late twentieth century resulted in images were ‘stoppable, repeatable, cheap and quick.’ (it’s worth noting that Campany’s article predates the widespread use of digital cameras + camera phones, which make any distinction between making stills and shooting video much harder to spot…).
  5. The decline in importance of traditional photojournalism can be viewed as a direct result of the visual immediacy that video made possible, but it also reflects a greater reluctance on the behalf of governments to grant at-the-time access to military operations after the journalistic free-for-all of the Vietnam war.
  6. The prevalence of the late mode is  the result of ‘contemporary visual culture […] leaving photography with certain tasks and subject matters such as the aftermath.’ It has discovered that ‘sombre melancholy [is] a seductive mode for the still image.’ What ‘Photography’ is seen to be is culturally – not technologically – determined.

There is, I think, something I am scrabbling towards here: photography’s relationship with the truth has become more awkward, as the technology involved in editing and  – critically – manipulating images becomes more readily available for mass use and becomes understood by non-professionals. Increasingly we all have access to devices that not only make images – both still and moving –  but  also allow us to edit those images, either through the application of quick preset filters or through more labour intensive, sophisticated  (and complex) ways of altering the content of the image, before enabling us to publish them to the internet, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of ‘truth.’ If we want to make ‘photographs’ that is a choice; what we make photographs of (and how we make them) is similarly more clearly cultural than it has ever been before.

And this lies at the heart of the appeal of using older seemingly more truthful apparatus such as Meyerowitz’s now 80-year-old plate camera to make images which seem in touch with an older, more artisanal process…

 


‘Look at some of Meyerowitz’s images available online from ​Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive​ (2006). Consider how these images differ from your own memories of the news footage and other images of the time. Write a short response to the work (around ​300 words​), noting what value you feel this ‘late’ approach has.’

– LPE Coursebook, ibid


My experience of the World Trade Centre attack does not fit into the standard narrative. I think of the date as being 11/9, which straight away leaves me on the outside of any American’s experience of it, Also, I was not able to watch 9/11 unfold on live television.

11/9/2001 was the last day of my summer holiday on the Greek island of Alonissos. I was sitting on the terrace of a cafe, high above the Aegean, when the owner ran out to tell my partner and me  – the only people there – that the news we had not heard (or seen) presented ‘A scene from Hell!’ before he went back inside. As we finished our Campari and oranges, three military-looking jets flew east above our heads. I can clearly remember thinking, ‘God. I hope the Americans aren’t going to do something hasty,’ but – in retrospect, annoyingly – I did not take a photograph of them.

It was only the next day, on a hydrofoil taking us back to Skiathos to catch our flight home that I got glimpses of what had happened, on a TV at the other end of the passenger lounge.

As with Campany’s essay, I wrote a long post on Aftermath during Identity and Place. I have a copy of the book, and I like many of the images that it contains. The pictures are striking and serious and form part of my mental furniture for the attack on the twin towers. But they are not however, really about the events of 9/11; as the title suggests, they depict the aftermath of the attack, when the debris was being cleared, revealing layer after layer of destruction. It reframes the destruction of the World Trade Centre to be about New York and New Yorkers and not about geopolitics or conflicting faiths and ideologies; it is made clear – in the Channel 4 documentary and in Campany’s article – that this body of work is very much about Meyerowicz’s need to do something, as a New Yorker.

Aftermath is not interested in history, although it is interested in posterity. Its significance is self-enclosed, working within the magical hall of mirrors that Villem Flusser described in his long essay, Towards a philosophy of photography. The viewer scans the image,  repeatedly moving from feature to feature and back again, with no greater sense of cause and effect. The image is enclosed and still, with the rest of the world and time excluded from each detailed and perfectly-composed frame.

‘This space and time peculiar to the image is none other than the world of magic, a world in which everything is repeated and in which everything participates in a significant context. Such a world is structurally different from that of the linear world of history in which nothing is repeated and in which everything has causes and will have consequences. For example: In the historical world, sunrise is the cause of the cock’s crowing; in the magical one, sunrise signifies crowing and crowing signifies sunrise. The significance of images is magical.’

– Flusser (1983, p.9)

Meyerowicz’s visually complex images have a simple, emotional message: ‘Look what they have done to us!’ They do not develop complexity through their development as a series, instead doing the same thing again and again.

An example of late photography with a more cerebral impact would be  Shomei Tomatsu’s 1961 photograph Atomic Bomb Damage: Wristwatch Stopped at 11:02, August 9, 1945, Nagasaki. It shows a battered, strapless watch against a plain background. The title points us at the time indicated at the hands, and then gives us a place and a cause. The connections point out far beyond the frame of this simple image. Aftermath contains indexical, literally titled images – this is…, this is… this is… –  Tomatsu’s wristwatch becomes a token (a metonymy even) of a more complex form of understanding – one that includes history, and time, and them and us, and all sorts of questions of what went on and what else stopped. It kick-starts thought processes rather than choking them off.


Reference:

t-28

A good week with much achieved.  On Friday, we had the feedback session for Assignment 2, which went well. I have completed the write-up of the first two part 3 exercises (the picturesque and postcards) and done a fair bit of specific contextual reading  – on Fay Godwin and Maud Sulter for the exercises and, looking ahead to the coming week’s work, Joel Sternberg’s In this Place which I think I’ll use for the examples for exercise 4 and re-reread David Campany’s essay on late photography, in preparation for exercise 3.

fig.1: penguins on flotta

I also have managed to narrow down the pool of photographs for assignment three to a manageable eighty or so, made quick prints, sorted them into groups and stuck them up on the walls of my study.

fig.2: another scrap sculpture..

They can  simmer away there for another week while I get on with the exercises. The penguins in fig.1 (three from a number sculptures made from scrap metal and dotted around the island of Flotta in Orkney) probably won’t feature in later edits of the material, so  – along with this anti-aircraft gun – I’ll put them up here, because I like them…


Next week, I need to neaten my tutorial notes from Friday and ideally will get another couple of the exercises written up.

Then, on Tuesday, there’s September’s reading group session which will be discussing Robert Adam’s essay Beauty in photography. This seems a point for me to be thinking about aesthetics, so I’ll definitely be taking some time out to attend.

3.2 – postcard views

The Tourist Perspective

‘Gather​ a selection of postcards that you’ve either bought yourself or received from other people. If you don’t have any, then try to find some in a charity shop or car boot sale, borrow some from other people, or see what you can find on an internet search.

– LPE Coursebook, p.108



‘Write​ a brief evaluation of the merits of the images you find. Importantly, consider whether, as Fay Godwin remarked, these images bear any relation to your own experience of the places depicted in the postcards.’

– LPE Coursebook, ibid


The first four postcards (above) were sent to me by friends.  Two of them – Poole and Logan Botanic Gardens – are in the UK; the other two – Porto and Provence – are an easy hop away, in Europe (or, at any rate, they were until Covid). I have never visited any of the places portrayed.

I’ll single out the second card – of Logan Gardens, near Stranraer -as the most interesting as an image: grey Scottish skies, over impossibly tropical plants. The colours are more muted than in the others, it could be a hand-tinted Victorian print, apart from the fact that it isn’t. It made me look up Logan. I might really go there myself, if I’m in the area.

I don’t think the others are intended to be realistic depictions of place: three of them are picture postcards, intended to encapsulate an idealised experience of ‘holiday.’ They don’t serve as indexical images, rather they become icons for ‘a lovely, sunny place,’ just as Godwin’s 80’s art images are – well – 80’s art images. ‘Poole’ is about sailing; ‘Porto’ depicts recognisably Portuguese church architecture; ‘Provence’ is all lavender and Roman remains and hilltop villages. The postcards become metonymic representations of place – a part stands in for the whole.  If I ever go to one of these places, I’ll know what to look for while I’m there.



The next pair of postcards are ‘doubles’ of ones I have sent myself . Neither match exactly my experience of the actual place, presenting an idealised view of a landmark with all people excised. Neither matches  – either in terms of colour or of the fall of light – my recollections of how the place ‘felt.’ However, both conjure up the idea of ‘a destination’ and the colour palate and posterisation of the Dunstanburgh picture is reminiscent of 1930’s railway posters. As examples of the local tourist industry using me to do advertising for it – not so much ‘wish you were here’ as ‘you could be here.’


‘Make a brief ​response​ to Graham Clarke’s comments on ‘privileged observation’ through a creative intervention into one or more of your postcards which in some way disrupts the viewer’s position […] Reflect on the intervention you have made and the alternative reading it has given to the landscape. Consider whether it’s possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?’

– LPE Coursebook, ibid


Through an act of framing, all landscape images are ‘chosen’ to be separate from the mundane world that surrounds them. The everyday is transformed into something special. You observe a moment, ceasing to be part of it. In your mind’s eye, as you trigger the mechanism of your camera you are the first viewer of the resulting image. To an extent, all photography positions the photographer as an outsider: you view the scene through a lens or on a screen and draw a rectangle (or square) around a portion of it.

However, it is at the act of viewing a landscape, that positions the spectator outside the scene depicted. All the postcards I have shown here are printed and sold by (relatively) local firms. It is the intended audience (holiday makers and their friends back home) that are outsiders. The postcards themselves and the landscapes on them form part of the local tourist economy. Tourists buy them and post them; maybe some of the recipients come and visit and spend more money…

The Logan Gardens postcard would be a good starting point for a post-colonial intervention, in the style of Maud Sulter’s  Syrcas collages: tropical plants, sourced in the nineteenth century from all over the southern hemisphere make it an incongruous place to be found in Scotland; it would be relatively straightforward to place some blokes in solar topees, their ‘native’ guides and a pile of dead wildebeest (found online) somewhere on the path, but that would, of course, be dangerously close to an act of cultural appropriation on my part.

Instead, I have taken the Dunstanburgh  postcard and added a collage made up of five – trimmed – photographs I took during our stay at a caravan park, a mile or so further up the coast. I don’t think it’s a particularly fair representation of the time I spent there, but it captures much more of the essence of a family break away than the lonely romanticism of the original.

And, of course, it knowingly evokes Godwin’s image of Reculver Abbey amidst a see of caravans, illustrating the book, The Saxon Shore Way.


fig.7: dunstanburgh castle, modified in the style of Fay Godwin

Reference:

exercise 3.1 – the picturesque

Consider how the concept of the picturesque has influenced your own ideas about landscape art, and in particular your ideas about what constitutes an effective or successful landscape photograph.

– lpe coursebook, p.102


fig.1: hadleigh castle, essex

I spent a large part of my life living in a place – Orkney – that suffers from an overabundance of the picturesque. There are vertical sea cliffs (with nothing to their west until you get to North America); there are prehistoric monuments galore; there are grand ruined buildings (and an intact cathedral) from when it was a Norse earldom; there are derelict defence works (‘wartime installations’, my mother called them) from two hundred years’ worth of wars, when Scapa Flow provided the navy with a safe, deep-water harbour; there are abandoned, roofless farm buildings and  plenty of other places – a couple of minutes walk from a good, tarmac-ed road – that feel as if no one has ever lived there. There is even a novel by Sir Walter Scott – The Pirate (1820) – set in the islands. If you can get past the lack of  physical features providing a natural frame (Orkney is notoriously flat) it is fairly easy to make a neo-Romantic landscape there.

As a result, I have expended considerable amounts of energy trying not to make overtly picturesque photographs, either in Orkney or elsewhere. Leaving aside the fact that it is much harder to isolate the picturesque (or rather to ignore the un-picturesque elements of a scene – the row of white-harled  semis forming the edge of Southend, behind Hadleigh Castle in fig.1, say) with a camera than it is when painting or drawing, I tend to sidestep views where I go ‘Oh! A photograph!’ and look for something more likely to be overlooked; I try not to simply reinforce what I thought of a place before I visited it.

I think successful landscapes have not been taken umpteen times before.


I tracked down the Fay Godwin South Bank Show (1986, LWT) online and immediately recognised her thoughts on photographing the ruined Abbey at Reculver in Kent:

‘I came to Reculver, sort of expecting somewhere with immense resonance […] I couldn’t believe it when I got here because the whole place was swamped by the sea of caravans […] so I took what I would consider the picture that people would expect to see, Reculver Abbey without the caravans … but then I decided to show it how I really saw it…’

– Fay Godwin, in (South Bank Show; 30’00”)

In 1986, I was 22. I was beginning to take photography seriously. It seems an awful long time ago. Now, I can see that – just like me but much more successfully – Godwin was working within (and reacting against) a particular historically-defined context, just as the Romantic artists were in their time. Her 1980s pictures were following a different orthodoxy – tripod, medium format, black and white, not cropping, making dramatically contrasty prints – and then she moved on, working more and more in colour, even – just before her death – embracing digital photography and photoshop.

I have not been able to find any of these late, digital images, mentioned in her last interview (Corfield, 2004),  but I will keep on trying. They will remind me that the aim is not to fall into any knee-jerk rejection of the picturesque (or of anything else) but rather to keep open to what you might be able to do, if you just were to…

fig.2: Reculver Abbey, 2019 (via Google)

Reference:

t-29

assignment 2 handed in + the September LPE hangout/meetup thingy

There was no t-30, because it seemed daft to stop writing the contextualisation for the assignment to write that I was writing it somewhere else. That would have been a bit too meta, even for me…


So – over the last week, I finished off my ‘journey’ posts and have sent them to my tutor. The feedback zoom is scheduled for Friday. This is all a week or so later than stated on my t-34 schedule. Between now and Christmas, though, I should be able to pull that week back. Part of that will involve dealing methodically with the exercises for part three and to select the pictures for the third – Space/Place – assignment considerably faster than I managed for A2, where I had taken all the pictures by the end of May, but hadn’t completed my edit and sequencing until well into August…

fig.1: two views of sclater’s menswear shop, Kirkwall – demonstrations of my need to get better at colour-correcting scans from negatives

To this end, I have created a longlist of 150 of the pictures I took on Flotta (one of the islands in Scapa Flow) during two trips north to Orkney, this summer and organised them into categories loosely based on the classical elements – earth, water, air and fire. Over the course of the next week, I’ll narrow this down a bit further and make some rough prints to blu-tack up on the wall so I can live with them for a bit, and see which of them continue to hold my attention. Also, I’ll try and get at least one  – and ideally two – of the exercises done.


The other thing over the last week was September’s LPE online meetup. Also there were Caroline Black, Linda Jarrett and Steven Young. None of us were have anything at a stage where we wanted to show it, but Steven – who feels he is becoming more politically engaged as the course progresses – is working up an idea around the Palomares Incident in 1966, when two American aircraft crashed over Spain, and four nuclear bombs were released, three falling on the land and the fourth into the Mediterranean sea. The area is still radioactively contaminated. It will be fascinating to see how this develops into his A5 project. I was unable to resist doing a bit of research myself by way of displacement, before returning to the Lea.

The other area of discussion picked apart the sense we all have of trying to avoid making ‘Landscapes’ in the traditional sense. Linda, Caroline and myself have all completed DIC and are working on how to apply the stuff we bagan to explore there to what we are doing now, with Linda doing a lot of work to explode analogue practice through fairly savage interventions in the development process and with letting prints degrade afterwards; Caroline and I are working with animation and other more digitally located processes, and are playing around with sound.

We all seem to be trying to escape from the idea of pretty pictures. In a couple of weeks time the Photography Reading Group will be discussing Robert Adams’ Beauty in Photography. It will interesting to see what the people who attend make of it…

assignment 2 – reflection

assessment criteria and learning outcomes

1: Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

With this assignment I have reintroduced a systematic use of film into my practice, for the first time since Context and Narrative, processing the black and white films myself while having C41 colour processed by Peak Imaging in Sheffield. In both cases I scanned the resulting negatives myself before completing basic editing – colour and exposure correction, cropping etc – in Lightroom and compositing finished images in Photoshop. I am happy  with this generally (and think the black and white images work very well indeed) but I need to do more work to refine my ability to colour-correct scans when there are noticeable casts (either magenta or cyan) in the scanner’s output.

Within the animated presentation, I have made progress with my use of sound. Wildtrack atmospheres and spot effects add depth to the viewing experience, directing the viewers eye and filling in the gaps between the individual images.

Also, I have started experimenting with the cyanotype process, preparing the sensitised paper myself and working with blueprint-type ink-on-tracing-paper ‘negatives’. The initial results are encouraging, but continued experimentation will hopefully lead to sharper contrasts between the blue (exposed) and the white (masked) areas of the prints.

tracing paper and cyanotype; maps and a hint of things to come…

2: Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

The individual images present a coherent, but obviously constructed series of scenes, each of which comprises an episode within my journey’s narrative. They are aesthetically pleasing, engaging the viewers attention, making them want to look more closely.

I like the animated presentation of the composited images. I think it conveys movement through space and also the idea of ‘a journey’. I could do more work  with the timing and positioning of the text-fragments, and possibly turn some of them into automated voice prompts (Siri seems to be able to ‘read out’ notes made on my phone – I just need to find a way of recording this) adding further complexity to the sound design.

The map is almost there, but I’m unsure whether the Instax prints are the right thing to use to indicate my journey. I’ll try pushing my cyanotype competence another stage, before this module is assessed, and make digital negatives of the eleven composites and make prints with them. The resulting prints will then be layered onto the map instead of the Instaxes, making it even more of a catalogue of the entire set, capable of being understood on its own.


3: Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

I have been using this level of the OCA degree to develop a working methodology which can be further refined during level three. Before lockdown, I was already trying to make work that would make sense viewed on a screen rather than as prints. With the changes to pretty much everything  since the start of the pandemic- and in particular the move by the OCA away from physical assessment events – the need for this has become more pressing, and this aspect of my practice has now developed faster than would have been the case otherwise.  As a result, the photographs I am taking are becoming raw material for a further set of processes; it is possible that I am no longer working as a photographer per se, but am instead becoming primarily some sort of digital artist.  I am not sure exactly where this is

taking me – and I have not been able to find many others working in exactly the same visual spaces – but I am enjoying the process, and fell that I am definitely getting somewhere!

With this particular assignment, I believe I  have succeeded in articulating what it was I was trying to do,  and how I was doing it. I have moved my practice further away from simple, instinctive-picture making into something more considered and more (self-)reflexive.


4: Context

The Lea valley has been photographed almost to death, and in a variety of different styles. David Campany and Polly Braden published a very ‘Edgelandy’ book of photographs, Adventures in the Lea Valley while Freja Najade gives a much more lyrical take in Along the Hackney canal.  Much of Tom Hunter’s early work was taken on the West bank of the Lea, in Calpton or Stoke Newington; Craig Dorley-Brown’s The Corners dots around the lower reaches of the Navigation too. in The opening chapter of Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital (2002) consists of a walk  (with Bill Drummond no less) from the Thames, at Greenwich, up the Lea as far as the M25 at Waltham Abbey. Canals in general are a popular subject for ‘serious’ photography (indeed fellow OCA student Andrew Fitzgibbon has just successfully completed his BA with a body of work based on walking the Leeds-Liverpool canal).

While I have spent some time looking at these works I have consciously tried to avoid using them as a blueprint for my own work here. Much of the work in East London seems to belong to at that post-millennial point in the (near) past which reached its climax with the Olympic games in 2012; it seems nostalgic (as does Fitzgibbon’s work, although for different things, in different ways). I am  working on the other side of the decade of austerity that was triggered by the crash of 2008 and the election of the Tory/Lib Dem government in 2010.  Like Stephen Shore as he made his way around small town America with a car and a large format camera, I am taking my time to try and work out where it is that I find myself living, and to begin to articulate my relationship to it by making relatively straight, unarticulated photographs of the things I find on my journey…

 


Reference:
  • Campany, D. and Braden P. (2016) Adventures in the Lea Valley. London: Hoxton Mini Press
  • Dorley-Brown, C. (2018) The Corners. London: Hoxton Mini Press
  • Fitzgibbon, A. (2021) Drifting by the Leeds and Liverpool canal. At: https://leedsandliverpool.co.uk/ (Accessed 15/09/21)
  • Hunter, T. (2005) Living In Hell. London: National Gallery Company Limited
  • Najade, F. (2016) Along the Hackney canal.  London: Hoxton Mini Press
  • Shore, S
  • Sinclair, I. (2002) London orbital. London: Penguin