Laughing in the Face of Doom

Leave a comment

Photo credit: Dave Overton

Photo credit: Dave Overton

The last few months have required some extreme plate spinning for me as I have found myself lurching from one disaster to another which explains my 103 day absence from the blogosphere! At times it has felt as if the world has slipped on its axis and I have had to exchange a light touch and gentle persuasion for brute force and dogged determination to keep all of my plates in the air. An unexpected illness, unexpected Home Ed experience and unexpected school move for my daughter have all nestled uneasily against the demands of my freelance work and consequently my current residency at the University of Lincoln has at times been pushed out into the cold.

I have motivated myself to ‘keep calm and carry’ on through this strange time by indulging in a few simple pleasures (consuming my body weight in biscuits, watching the musical Annie and buying unnecessary stationary) and slowly I am bringing the balance of my life, work and residency back into a state of equilibrium. I think it’s safe to slam the door on doom now and to banish it to the bottom of the garden!

The project that I’m working on through my residency hasn’t actually been devoid of attention, it’s switched between ‘pottering’ and full on ‘warp’ mode to fit in with whatever is going on around it.  I’m very pleased with the progress that I’ve made; the pinhole cameras are no longer driving me insane (see previous post), I’ve had my first experience of using a Hassleblad and developing a 120 roll film, I’ve set up a studio shoot and produced a series of bespoke invitations for my project participants.

As the project’s exhibition now looms on the horizon I am going to attempt a blog-a-thon over the coming weeks to catch up on the task of documenting my journey so far. Although it’s frustrating to be blogging retrospectively I have come to the conclusion that blogging in real time could actually act as a ‘spoiler’ for my project participants.

During the next two months I will invite each of these nine people to take part in three identical interventions. I like the idea of these interventions evolving as secret missions shrouded in mystery; a digital footprint could blow my cover and potentially steer the project down a predictable path. So thank you doom, your unexpected presence may have helped curiosity and intrigue to flourish and increased the opportunities for serendipitous exchanges!

Coagulated Thinking

2 Comments

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Since my last blog post I have slowly been driven insane by pinhole photography. I have experienced a plethora of emotions born of frustration; from disappointment and dissatisfaction to annoyance and irritation. If I had not been encouraged by a minute number of sporadic successes, or been driven by a stubborn desire to create an image via a process which is slightly beyond the bounds of possibility, my tiny army of match box cameras may have met an untimely death by now.

My children have started referring to me as ‘The Nerdatron’ as my pinhole related behaviour has become steadily more obsessive. I can be found lurking in online pinhole forums or hanging out in hardware shops admiring sub 1mm drill bits/pin vice combos and chatting enthusiastically about the benefits of owning a digital vernier calliper. My bulk purchase of matchboxes has also been noted by the women on the cigarette kiosk in ASDA and I fear they may have me down as a potential pyromaniac.

So why do I need to master pinhole photography? Well let me explain; my AA2A project (University of Lincoln) will develop through a series of physical interventions that will allow me to meet and spend time with people that I have met online. These interventions will consider each individual’s relationship with a personal space, place and object and will be documented through an analogue process. The rationale for using pinhole photography has been informed through a combination of research, observation and experience and the cameras I have made will be used to explore the first of my 3 themes, personal space. I have attempted to pull together the murmurings of my brain over the last few weeks below to coagulate my thinking…

I am interested in the way in which we curate both our domestic and work spaces to differing degrees through placing personal, often every day, objects within them. It fascinates me that the worth of these objects is anchored to the emotions that they hold and the memories that they evoke rather than their monetary value. When thinking about how I would go about documenting the personal spaces of my online friends I felt that the use of a conventional camera would be intrusive as would be my presence. Without wishing to plagiarise the answer presented itself via Lucy Phillips’ enthralling project ‘What Cannot be Seen.’

I researched Lucy’s project as part of my MA and its many facets continue to captivate me. Lucy mails participants a match box sized pinhole camera which they use to photograph what cannot be seen before returning it to her for development. Although the idea is simple Lucy has created the conditions necessary for individuals to document a personal, hidden, aspect of their life should they chose to do so and the resulting imagery is not only revealing but beautifully poignant. She has enabled this to happen through combining an invitation open enough to elicit a variety of responses with the resources needed (support and materials) to create an image independently.

Once I feel I have grasped the fundamental principles of making a pinhole image I will post a camera to a selection of my online friends with the invitation to photograph a personal space. Once I have developed the image I will print a copy for them and deliver it in person which will be the first time that we meet.

Learning to Fail

1 Comment

Last month I was thrilled to find out that I had been selected to be one of the 2012/13 Artists in Residence at the University of Lincoln. I’ll be blogging thoughout over here but thoughts I’d share my project’s first tentative steps on The Thinking Bridge too.

Since being a very small child, I have always held the belief that I am harbouring a hidden talent that I have yet to discover; a talent so amazing that it requires little effort to actualise but has the power to insight awe and wonder in all who behold it. This belief has led to some monumental disappointments with many potential talents being scratched off the list, playing professional darts,  disco dancing on roller skates and speaking Esperanto to name but a few. Heading for 40 with my hidden talent still eluding me I recently bumbled into another epic fail situation through rejecting rigour in favour of alchemy and the quest for super powers.

My AA2A project is going to explore what will happen to a series of creative relationships developed in digital environments when they are migrated offline and will be documented by analogue processes. Darkroom photography was my first love and although I cast it aside for the speed and convenience of digital photography well over 10 years ago a spark of interest rekindled my passion for film this summer which became the inspiration for my project proposal.

The spark bizarrely took the form of a £3.50 Polaroid camera that I found in a charity shop; I took a chance and loaded it with the considerably more expensive film and headed off on an analogue adventure. The thrill of flipping the chunky camera casing to reveal its lens and flash, the heavy clunk and whoosh of the ejected Polaroid and the nervous anticipation experienced as the image developed combined to elicit ridiculous levels of excitement! With each press of the shutter I was left with a tangible, yet slightly imperfect, outcome of a carefully considered composition.

The whole Polaroid experience led me to consider both the value of photographs as physical artefacts and a renewed interest in exploring the fundamental principles of making an image. Once inducted as an AA2A artist I decided that experimenting with pin-hole cameras would both be an excellent starting point to take my analogue adventure further and a useful device to find my feet within the Lens Based Media department at the University of Lincoln.

I set to work and after a fruitful spell of internet research, I meticulously crafted 20 lightproof cameras which I loaded with light sensitive paper. This however is where my enthusiasm and belief in super powers took over and confused my logic. Instead of choosing one subject and using a series of cameras to photograph it, making an incremental change to the length of exposure each time, I chose a range of subjects, took a single photograph of each and used an exposure time plucked from the air. After 10 minutes in the darkroom, the small black rectangles of photographic paper that I had carefully retrieved and developed told me that I had another hidden talent to strike from the list of possibilities.

Despite wanting to go home to cry into my tin of failure I took Samuel Beckett’s advice to ‘“Try again, fail again, fail better.” I enlisted the help of Dave O the department’s senior photography technician who very patiently helped me to take a more robust research based approach to calculating exposure times. He also introduced me to the baffling inverse square law which reminded me that photography is all about physics.

Had I not have failed I wouldn’t have thought about physics and photography and I wouldn’t have prompted myself to rewatch this film by Daniel Meadows about his very humanistic take on the subject.  After experiencing the sheer joy of creating an image as a by-product of determination I am now happy to continue the rest of my residency learning to fail.

A Year in Photographs

1 Comment

A year ago I spotted a tweeted challenge from my friends Jan and Chris at the Caravan Gallery. It was the first of 52 weekly photo challenges to be set by fifty-two accomplished photographers from a project unsurprisingly named 52 by 52, the brain child of designer David Gillett. I joined the community of 52 by 52 members, and over the course of a year we interpreted each photographer’s challenge in whichever way we felt appropriate and submitted a weekly(ish) photo to the project’s Flickr group.

As I have always lacked the necessary levels of discipline, dedication and commitment to keep a diary I am phenomenally proud to now have a year of my life archived in photographs. The 52 by 52 experience has had a huge impact on my creative practice and I feel the need to reflect on what I have learnt, my lasting thoughts and my favourite bit of the project.

52 Weeks of Learning

I have learnt to be braver with my photography both in terms of subject and sharing images. I use my camera in my professional life as a tool to document the projects that I work on but did originally specialize in fine art photography in my art college days. 52 by 52 has opened up the myriad of genres between these two tried and tested approached and encouraged me to be a photographic explorer of the world. I have discovered the sheer joy and pleasure of image making which I don’t think was there before; I have an insatiable desire to find the magic in ordinariness which reflecting on the year seems to be the theme connecting each of my 52 images.

The need for dedication, the time restricted nature of the project and the presence of an immensely supportive 52 community has encouraged me to have the confidence to share images that I’m not 100% happy with. For a control freak this has been a steep learning curve but has led me to view the way that I use Flickr differently too; it’s no longer my intention to present a polished portfolio of images but to create an open sketchbook of work in progress.

52 Weeks of Pondering

My lasting thoughts/memories from participating in 52 by 52 relate more to the experience offunctioning as a member of an online community and less to the completion of each challenge in terms of creating an image. In some respects taking the photo was the easy bit and the real skill of the project was contributing to the peer critique of other member’s submissions. I really enjoyed the camaraderie that built within the group as the project progressed and was surprised by the familiarity and sociability that grew through interaction that was limited to the written word.

I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of other member’s comments and intrigued by our shared understanding of the unwritten rules of online etiquette. We traded in appreciation and recognition and used our intuition to construct feedback that was supportive and helpful to each other.  Personally through avoiding flippant ‘great photo’ comments I learnt to be more perceptive and disciplined when offering feedback and invested the time to really consider what worked or didn’t work in the photos that I critiqued.

The discussion function on Flickr has also highlighted the democratic potential of online spaces for me. A total of 81 discussions were posted and responded to over the course of the year which gave the project multiple voices.   I’m keen to see if I can integrate the sense of openness and sharing that this type of interaction creates into my offline projects. I am currently experimenting by using a Flickr group to support a programme of offline photo-walks to encourage conversation between meets and to contribute to the planning of future routes and I am excited to see if there will be some positive or unexpected outcomes as a result.

52 Weeks of Favourites

Choosing a favourite challenge is a challenge in itself as the majority have opened up opportunities for eccentric behaviour, random encounters and full on adventures. Image making high points have included playing with light sabres after dark, stalking buskers, caravans and giant kangaroos, being pelted with custard, meeting Father Christmas and discovering a suppressed passion for railway architecture.

I am torn between two challenges as my absolute, unmitigated favourite and will therefore have to declare a tie for first place. The first is #40, set by Chloe Dewe Mathews, ‘The painter Bonnard said “Make little lies to tell a great truth”. Use that as your inspiration.’

My response was to use a Polaroid camera, which I had found in a charity shop, to add instant nostalgia to an image created in the present. Using real film reminded me of the fundamental principles involved in making an image and the value of creating something tangible. It was such a thrill to see the image develop and even more of a thrill to discover a whole community of Polaroid photographers through fellow member Meredith.

Challenge #48, set by Simon Roberts, ‘Take a photograph of an event. Focus on putting it in the context of the landscape and those watching,’ is joint favourite for similar reasons. I was really lucky to have the opportunity to visit Simon’s exhibition We English and was enthralled both by the scale of his work and the minute details held within. His use of a large format camera to create images reinforced the idea of reconnecting with the fundaments of image making. I made a conscious effort to slow down and although I shot my response in digital I tried to take an analogue approach and was really pleased with the results.

The legacy of 52 by 52 is a renewed passion for photography and I am determined to make a return to my darkroom days which will no doubt influence the future direction of my work. I am immensely grateful to David Gillett for creating such an inspiring project and unselfishly devoting every spare moment of his time to it. Bravo!

You can view my year in photographs here