I took my photograms with me to my first visit to an OCA South West study day. I was fortunate enough to receive some very helpful feedback in time for my next darkroom session this week. It’s invaluable to receive honest critique and I am very grateful to everyone for their thoughts. Feedback is summarised below. Please feel free to add more in the comments – I have not remembered all the names and may have missed some of the ideas.
What’s the title? (Jesse Alexander). Jesse thought that my working title of “Big girls’ pants” could be refined to better reflect the Fox Talbot inspiration to the work. He suggested “From Fox Talbot to Fetish” which I think has a lot going for it. It reflects the inspiration, and it also suggests the underwear fetish and I think also alludes to the fetishizing of the photographic print, the precious object. His use of the word “fetish” really made me approach the work anew – am I photographing fetish objects? Well yes, especially as everything photographed is underwear and has been worn. Buying used underwear is a “thing”, in Japan there are vending machines for used pants, in the UK we have carefully worded Ebay descriptions (“I have only worn these at the gym and will launder on request”). Am I making work that’s approaching soft porn, or is that a function of the perspective and proclivity of the viewer? Perhaps there’s a social context to this work that I haven’t really looked into yet. It’s probably not actually possible to present a set of these images in an entirely documentary asexual manner – underwear and used underwear carries too much meaning for that and perhaps I should acknowledge that in the work and its title.
It’s very flat (Jesse). Jesse said that my specimen-style photograms were missing the shadows, the dimensionality that makes photograms interesting. This made me think. I used the glass because I liked the feel of a “specimen”, but also because it minimises the places where the lace lifts itself away from the paper, perhaps because of the cut (eg in bra cups) or because of the curves and stretch that it’s acquired from being worn. I have plenty of paper and can make photograms of each both flattened and unflattened. It will be interesting to see how the photograms turn out with less definition.
It needs to be bigger. (Jesse) The photograms are currently on 12×16 paper. I could go to 20×16 but wonder if this would be too big for assessment. I could make photograms on two adjacent sheets but I’m not sure how this would work… can try it out at the darkroom. I think in the interests of expediency I can make the work on 12×16 and ask my tutor when I submit the work if I should make it on larger paper for assessment.
Can it be less arranged? (I can’t remember who asked this, apologies!) The garments are currently very flat and precise. What would happen if they were dropped onto the paper, as if they’d just been taken off? I think this would be interesting to try. Obviously, multiple layers of lace would increase opacity. Would it be less obvious what the garments are? If Fox Talbot was making the work everything would be flat, single layer. But how many Victorians made photograms or salt prints of women’s’ underwear? Do I want to play that true a tribute?
Could you make salt prints? (Jesse). I don’t know and I would love to. I would need to make negatives from the photograms, then make the prints. I think there are time (and possibly skill) constraints here, perhaps this is one for continuing the work outside of the assignment pathway. I would really want the work to look as precise as Fox Talbot’s lace prints.
Do they have to be black and white? (Liz Nunn). Liz suggested making lumen prints – setting the lace up on photographic paper and exposing it to sunlight for a longer exposure. This is intriguing, the paper turns pinky/purply (learned from the accidentally fogged scrap of paper that I put in my jeans pocket and removed a few days later). I could spray them silver too, but this is getting very close to Liz’s own current work and I also like the binary quality of black and white, the truth to Fox Talbot’s lace work. It is something that I shall try over the next few days though as I am curious. There’s also the issue that you can’t fix a lumen print without altering the colours. In theory, I embrace the idea of prints changing colour over time. In practice, I prefer the peace of mind of knowing what colour my work will be when the assessors take it out of its box several weeks after I last saw it.
Could they be presented in pairs – bra and pants, with the suggestion of a woman inside? (Liz). Quite possibly. I haven’t really considered the final presentation. It might be hampered by the fact that I don’t have any matching sets at present.
I like that it has the bows. Why does our underwear always have to have bows? (Liz). Absolutely brilliant and impassioned observation. I suppose the answer is the idea of gift wrapping, that the underwear is the final layer of wrapping before the concealment is removed and so on. Or the sugar/spice/all things nice version of femininity. Men have bow ties or bows in their shoe laces. Not on their pants.
The “size” logic works (Jesse) – pictures of women in underwear tend not to be at life size, either tiny on a screen or huge on a billboard. Feeds into the matters of perception of size and vanity sizing.
The little key works (Liz Nunn, I think).
It doesn’t have to be just pants. Changing the title would widen the scope for the set to beyond pants.