Starting (after having ended) : Reflections on TAOP

I posted my TAOP materials yesterday, and so the past few weeks were a transition from one course to the next.

Here are the reflections on TAOP as a waymarker of sorts to help me go back to the starting points and interests that led me from one very old course to a brand new one.

Reflection on whole course: what have I learned? what did I do? || what do I want to learn and do next?

Starting questions to begin TAOP with in summer 2013 were:

  • How do photographs function in relation to
    a. instantaneous capture?
    b. recording all that is there?
    < very much coming from a fine arts practice that constructs a visual experience from ‘nothing’, I was very aware of the complexity of anything captured, of everything being included and the need to have an approach that allowed focusing, editing, authoring in a way different to the media that I worked with before
  • How have I used photographs so far and how can photography fit as part of my artistic practice?
  • What else may there be that I don’t know yet?

Photography as new discipline to me

In the early parts of the course I was getting excited by discovering a new field with its debates, silences, traditions and transgressions. Excitement of encountering Abelardo Morell, Lee Friedlander and Francis Woodman in particular.

Slowing down and becoming conscious of my control over the viewfinder as early learning.
Getting to grips with technical aspects but also seeing that the technology is there to help me construct an approach, view, concept.

The technology is limitation: this is the ontology that a camera produces; this is the knowledge it constructs. And: there is a long-standing debate of this.

>> a conceptual understanding of this medium is far more widely discussed than e.g. what I encountered with printmaking or drawing. So: the question over reality, indexicality, authorship, mediation is at the heart of this medium, and easily accessible. And so is a sense of working with the present, the what is now.

<< much of my interest in drawing became (a) process-based, (b) exploring, critically, the role of ‘creator’, ‘maker’, (c) a sense of a non-representational approach towards visual arts: e.g., indexicality in drawing (Anna Barribal); these interests were far more central to photography than what I had encountered before in fine arts debates and it was useful to make those links.

Construction: an image, a set

Possibly from that interest over indexicality, observation and recording stems some of the earlier difficulty to approach photography as constructive, performative: of creating an image in a deliberate manner – in my visual arts (but also in my social science research) I was keen and intent on exploring what was already there, rather than foregrounding construction.

The grid: repetition and difference
The grid: ordering and sorting
The grid: sequentiality

Fairly early on I became interested in the ways how photographs are viewed/ shown and the order in which they ‘unfold’ (Helga Paris’s exhibition at Streetlevel made that apparent to me).
Working in series was based on an earlier interest of mine but, again, much more foregrounded in photography (or at least the approach to it in TAOP).
A line became a grid, became a variable, foldable grid.

From this exploration of temporality in viewing/ showing came an interest in the time captured on film: notably, the stretching of time, blurring, a sense of excess but also a sense of being at the edge of the defining characteristics of the medium. Francis Woodman’s work was key here.

Photographic studies in self and identity construction

Her work also became key to investigating self and identity, assignments 3-5 explored this in a variety of approaches. Again, Paris’s work on a place and time (East Germany of 1970s onwards) also placed my own family and memory into the context of this course: her series ‘Memories of Z.’ are a restaging of childhood memories, and writing this up now, I realise, also informed my approach to House (Stories). [one of the photos of that series is included here: ‘And everything smells like post-war‘]

Probably from Assignment 3 onwards I felt I was able to achieve photographs that displayed my intentions, but also to capture meaningfully what I was seeing in a ‘view’ or scene. It was also becoming clearly by that point what constitutes research and development for a photography project: how to develop and progress through a line of enquiry. Here, Assignment 4, Hand play, was the first fully articulated set at the end of a research phase.

The project, appr0ach, out of which House (Stories) (Assignment 5) arose, presents to date the most complex artistic project that I undertook. I developed it as a residencies, conducted much preparatory work – as social practice but also exploratory as to visual research and preparation. The fortnight spent there was intense, the emotional register often informed by fear, trepidation and sometimes close to panic. I was able to put in place shooting plans and mini-projects within the wider context that not only made use of these emotions but were also effective responses. I was also able to develop my projects over that period of time to a considerable extent (and much further than I thought possible before I went). I was excited by being able to translate my intentions and interests into photographs that were speaking to them (not only to myself but also others). I also realised what I had learned in terms of photographic skills to do so effectively.

For this project, I also realised how fitting a lens-based medium was for my intentions and for what I was after artistically at this moment in time: it was able to incorporate an attention to a present condition and also include not only a record of objects but of the time itself. It was a sense of congruity that I hadn’t had for other mediums in the past, and I was certain that I wanted to pursue that further: in terms of skills but also concepts and debates.

With some of these concerns, I feel almost as if I have gone back to some of my earlier concerns: those about recording, being informed and speaking to a present (while attending to time/memory/temporality). So, I am possibly less interested in some of the conventions of photography – I realise that e.g. the debates over authenticity and truth are not interesting me all that much right now; I am also not interested in the forms and skills that produce commercially images – other than questions over how these suffuse and circulate, cross-over into many forms of self-representation, etc.

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0_1 Photographs encountered on Sunday 13 September 2015

DIC_1 Contact sheet_all images on Sunday 13 Sept 2015

This is the contact sheet for the photographs I encountered on Sunday 13 September 2015.

They are all the photographs that I remember seeing (and I quickly realised that many fail to rise to my conscious recognition).

Some were omitted:

  • I didn’t walk up closely to photograph the missing cat notification on a close entrance door (it felt intrusive to do so)
  • I didn’t take a screenshot of one of the films I was watching in the evening (I wanted to keep that private)
  • I stopped looking at my facebook feed as it was creating simply too many images for me to record

I retraced some of my steps when I remembered later that I had forgotten an image: only to find that it had been removed from the flickr pool where I had initially found it (18:13:55).

As the day progressed I realised that these photographs reveal much about my daily activity. And once it involved e.g. my facebook feed they also began to reveal my friends and my friends’ activities. It felt a bit similar as to inviting someone to sift through my rubbish bin.

The task and the exercise influenced my activities: in some sense I was actively looking for images, and surprised to notice that much advertising is actually graphic design without the inclusion of photography. At other times, I stopped looking (e.g. exited my FB feed because I was getting exhausted from having to notice all the images that otherwise may just drift past).

The day itself was a slow day: largely spent at home, not working, only short trips outside in my immediate neighbourhood – it was possibly the equivalent of a slow news day. Nonetheless, I found the task exhausting and time-consuming: retracing and pausing for something which is normally a fairly sub-conscious manner of consuming images, filtering them out, forgetting them.

In fact, I realised that I knew that there were other images around me but I didn’t look at them. E.g., my coffee shop has large photographs on the wall, I didn’t notice them on that visit. Similarly, there are more photographs in my flat but I didn’t look at them consciously that day, and I was surprised how late some of them come into my conscious vision.

The images fall into a number of categories:

a. self-generated images: my activities lead to photographs; as such, there is a recent issue of Source; the DIC coursebook, some other OCA material online and offline — these are photographs about photography

b. my own photographs: current projects that I am working on

c. personal photographs in my flat

d. advertising and commercial images: an estate agent, a beauty salon – both passed by on the way to a coffee shop and a supermarket (the supermarket again later in the day, similar imagery)

e. popular culture/ film stills: encountered in my own computer and my partner’s

> once I told my partner of this task he asked what kind of images I wanted to see more of, e.g., more kittens? more hamsters?

> when retracing the removed flickr pool image, we discussed the detailed categories of images, e.g. muscly dancers, nude, without any background, with mullet (non-nostalgic)

With some of the images I already no longer remember what they are and where I found them (e.g. 19:55:03).

I am becoming interested in categorising and sorting these images.

I am also curious to see what they turn into if they are cropped to the extent that they no longer reveal any context.