A2 Contextualisation

*part of this post is cut and pasted from elsewhere on this blog to provide easy access to contextualisation*

Context was the big surprise here. There was an absolute raft of useful material out there, but I really had to think about what I was looking for and where I was looking for it.

I started by learning everything I could about the Cottingley Fairies, up to and including fairly recent Antiques Roadshow footage. I read about housework, who does it, how long does it take, what are the attitudes towards it, how do attitudes change across different countries. See below. But there was still something missing.

I read about Disney which has a long tradition of showing fairies doing housework. I put the work up for peer review and was instantly pointed towards Martha Rosler’s video work “The semiotics of the kitchen”. I’d seen parts of this work once before, at the Avant Garde Feminism exhibition, but it hadn’t come to mind on this fairy work. Yet when you watch it you can see similarities in the isolation of features of the domestic, and the lack of smiles and joy in the subject (everyone in Disney does the housework with a smile whereas Rosler identifies and demonstrates the articles with a degree of detached violence). There’s a feeling of trappedness to both, and to my mind, resentment. This was useful, but it didn’t help me with contextualising the original work. Why would these fairy images, made a good 30 years before even Fantasia was released, have had such immediate and enduring appeal?

I found a 1973 paper by the president of the Folklore Society, considering the authenticity of the Cottingley Fairies (Sanderson, 1973), and I watched “Fairytale: A true story” (Fairytale: A true story, 1997) which despite its multiple divergences from the truth provided a fantastic amount of context and was pretty much the key to understanding more about the original work. We can look all we want at how the images were made, the way the two girls refused every opportunity to “come clean”, but that doesn’t tell us why their work seized the public imagination and commanded the time of luminaries of culture and the photographic industry.

The film reminds us of what else was going on in 1917 and onwards in Britain. The absolute horrors of WW1, households either bereaved of their loved ones or waiting anxiously to see if, when and in what state they would return. It shows us a society shown warmly welcoming distraction, escape (literally, in the form of Harry Houdini), fairy stories in the form of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan novel and play. A society where the spiritual and paranormal groups gained popularity as people sought to find comfort in the face of the losses and insanity of war. A society that welcomed the ideas of the innocence and peace of childhood, triumph over impossible odds and the dream that everything would be alright in the end. Conan Doyle, who I think was largely responsible for raising the profile of the girls’ work and hence the fame of the girls themselves, had himself lost a son in the war. When we look at all of this, the impact and appeal of the Cottingley Fairies becomes far more understandable. A hundred years on and our perception of fairies and fairy tales is formed and coloured by Disney, by the toy world feeding our children fairies and unicorns.

Contextually, there is something to dig into with the housework. My Grandmothers and their mothers would have laughed roundly at me complaining about housework, given that I have machines that do so much of it, a small family that was entirely of my choosing and timing, and I am currently in the fortunate position of being a most-of-the-time student and some-of-the-time amateur musician whilst my young daughter is at school. I have a partner who’s happy to share some of the load, particularly cooking. My two northern grannies would have looked at the flashing LEDs and jingles on the various appliances and pointed out that I have no need of fairies.

The fairies are unseen, but so is much of the housework done in the UK – often by women who are working full time plus jobs as well as looking after shopping, cleaning, laundry, meal preparation, often for more than one household. A quick online search suggests that the Daily Mail believes women are now doing less housework than ever and that those women who do more housework will live longer. Other sources (eg the Guardian article below) are quoting weekly workloads of thirteen hours a week or more, on top of other paid work. In Sweden, you can deduct half the cost of services such as cleaning, cooking, gardening from your tax return, a policy that has created many thousands of new jobs.

Housework is invisible – we do it when the house is empty, it’s something that we have to get out of the way before we can do the other stuff. It’s always there. Even now, women are judged for the quality of their housework, by people who have never seen the homes in question. Who remembers Godfrey Bloom of UKIP, telling a group of female politicians that they were “sluts” because they admitted to not cleaning  behind their fridges?  The increase in aging populations and ill-health has resulted in a huge increase of male carers, child carers, all with housework responsibilities as well as personal caring.

My tutor feedback highlighted the feminist component of the work which I had alluded to but not really developed. Embarassingly, despite regarding myself as a feminist practitioner, I often need to have the feminist content of my work pointed out to me. Here’s part of my response, taken from the self-assessment on this blog.

I still have a mental block with seeing my work as clearly feminist work. I keep reading feminist books and books about feminist work and hope that the connection and context will become apparent soon. In the meantime I came across Fliss Quick’s work Home-Maker which isolates domestic tasks, and labels her home museum style. Her work takes a different approach – whereas mine elevates the chores to fantasy, hers shows the routine as performance art in her own home, museum-style caption capture the activity, the frequency, the little failures to live up to our own expectations. http://www.flissquick.co.uk/index.html

In a moment of inspiration I looked at the mini catalogue from the show “Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s” which I saw at The Photographers’ Gallery a couple of years ago. There are, obviously, any number of appropriate contextual references. Marcella Campagnano’s self portraits showing herself in a range of roles including a cleaning lady, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, Renate Eisenegger’s sisyphean ironing of a linoleum floor, Birgit Juergenssen’s womens who are both metaphorically and literally tied to the home, Leticia Parente’s Task 1 video subverting ironing. I can see now why my tutor highlighted the feminist aspect to the work.

https://kateastoncan.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/photographing-the-unseen-a-diversion/

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/mar/10/housework-gender-equality-women

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/20/ukip-godfrey-bloom-calls-women-sluts

 

Sanderson, S. (1973). The Cottingley Fairy Photographs: A Re-Appraisal of the Evidence. Folklore, 84(2), pp.89-103.

Fairytale: A true story. (1997). [DVD] Directed by C. Sturridge. UK: Icon Productions.

http://www.flissquick.co.uk/index.html

https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/past-exhibitions/feminist-avant-garde

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A1 Contextualisation

*part of this post is cut and pasted from elsewhere on this blog to provide easy access to contextualisation*

Contextualisation is proving difficult. I keep leaning towards to photographers who have worked with windows, despite this work having no windows in its final version. I think it’s the net curtain that provides a strong suggestion of looking into a private space through a window. Sharon’s Boothroyd’s work “The Glass between Us” provides portraits taken at dusk, of strangers in their homes, taken through unobscured windows with their consent (Cotton, 2014). A peer, Holly Woodward, commented that my work made her think of Nigel Shafran’s Washing-up series. This is a set of still lifes of his kitchen sink and the adjacent window. His work doesn’t look staged however (Cotton, 2014) but mine was staged. His work is taken inside with the window suggesting the outside, whereas most work that I’ve seen with windows is taken from the outside, looking in. But both are about domesticity, the small glimpses of domestic detail, and I feel as if that chimes with what I’ve tried to show in my work. Other window work that I considered as relevant was Shizuka Yokomizo’s Strangers (also residents photographed through their windows in the dark) and Jennifer Bolande’s Globe, where she photographs globes that she saw on windowsills, from the outside and often from a very long distance away making the globe tiny in the frame in the same way that the earth is tiny in the solar system. I wonder if perhaps I should be looking at still life work, or absented self portraiture, to complete the contextual puzzle where my work will fit.

My tutor feedback provided some interesting perspective on contextualisation:

The​ ​section​ ​in​ ​your​ ​texts​ ​which​ ​covered​ ​research​ ​reveals​ ​that​ ​you​ ​centered​ ​yourself​ ​on  windows​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​for​ ​artists​ ​working​ ​with​ ​this​ ​form​ ​and​ ​related​ ​debate​ ​in​ ​this​ ​area.  Windows​ ​as​ ​a​ ​form​ ​is​ ​one​ ​route,​ ​but​ ​others​ ​could​ ​have​ ​been:​ ​semiology​ ​generally  (particularly​ ​when​ ​your​ ​work​ ​requires​ ​messages​ ​to​ ​be​ ​decoded);​ ​self-portraiture​ ​from​ ​the  feminist​ ​perspective;​ ​decoding​ ​and​ ​advertising​ ​that​ ​shares​ ​similar​ ​territory.

Coming back to this I’m taken by the prescience of Andy’s suggestions of self-portraiture from a feminist view decoding and advertising as these seem to be direct forerunners of my A3 self portraits around my menstrual cycle, and my A4 about the advert featuring and taken by Juergen Teller. I have a sneaking feeling that the I&P assignment on windows and mirrors woud point me towards some more windows references, but I haven’t done that course.  A1 eventually led me to A5 and that had a completely different contextualisation.

A5 Big girls’ pants – rework

The physical photograms are the submitted work. The prints below are a tighter crop than the originals.

This has not felt so much like rework as like evolution. My tutor feedback was terrifically useful, when I viewed it in conjunction with other peer and hangout feedback I had a clear way forward, the most pressing feedback was to investigate making the work on larger paper than the original work. I decided to go back to the darkroom and remake the work on larger paper. I had used 12×16 Ilford RC Satin before, I talked to the darkroom owner and he kindly reset the darkroom with larger trays and a modified washer so that I could use 16×20 paper. He also ordered in larger paper so that he could make some larger prints too and I could benefit from the bulk price that he gets. We also had to mark up the enlarger table for correct paper positioning and ensure the head was correctly positioned. The reason for using larger paper was to give the images space to breathe on the paper. There is a tension in the smaller images as image and border fight, it’s not necessarily bad but I was curious to see what would happen if I used larger paper. I also wanted to ensure a greater consistency of background blacks across the photograms (or at least a narrower range of inconsistency). The differing blacks arise because photograms of much finer lace require less light in order to get a detailed image but you still need a long enough exposure length (the paper needs at least 10 seconds as a rule) without getting too much light, so you use a much narrower aperture and increase the magenta filter setting to boost contrast. This can result in a slightly lighter background black though, because of less light. I therefore worked with 25 second exposure at f22 and m=100 for the most delicate garments. The images are not perfect, there are still a couple of marks inherited from the process, and a tiny white spot where I think there was a fleck of something on the enlarger lens. At this point, assessment, I have to let this go and acknowledge that the work isn’t perfect, but it’s on the way and is far better than the first iterations. Taking the image out that I am least happy with would unbalance the set.

I worked with a smaller subset of garments, mainly ones that fitted well within the paper. They worked well on the larger paper, I loved the sense of isolation of the items on their velvety dark backgrounds. It did introduce the issue of centring the item on the paper, which hadn’t been an issue beforehand. One pair of pants could do with being more centred, but it was time to stop. I was then able to review my images with a peer to help identify a strong edit. At this point, I was happy with the idea of getting the numbers down. The prints are big, and will be a hassle at assessment if they don’t all contribute to the work. Looking at the work with Holly we omitted a stocking image and also the two bra images – this did hurt a bit as I loved the English Rose bra print. This meant that the set came down to four images of pants, which sit nicely in a (giant) grid. It also means that I have the opportunity to return to the original name for the work – Big Girls’ Pants – which works both in a literal and figurative sense.

The title has been something of a struggle. Here are the various titles that the work has had:

Big Girls’ Pants (this wasn’t liked by Jesse Alexander, who suggested “From Fox Talbot to Fetish”). It’s been well accepted by many viewers of the work, including women who tend to have very positive reactions to the phrase and who don’t see it as overtly sexual.

From Fox Talbot to Fetish – it took me a while to work out why I was uncomfortable with this title. It introduces the idea of the lace always being looked at and I think implies being looked at sexually probably by a man. I know that fetish has a wider meaning than underwear, but I think it’s hard to separate the two in this context. When I started the work I was inspired by Fox Talbot’s images of lace, but also by the real-world nature of underwear, that for women it’s a fact of life and a practical obect first and foremost that is rarely seen at life size. Introducing other people’s underwear to the work has muddied this intention – not for me, but for the viewer.

Smalls (this was the title for the handmade book that I showed at OCA Showcase and is also the series title for the two framed images that I’m showing at the Thames Valley Group exhibition in February 2019). People understood the title, with its reference to underwear, and it seemed appropriate for the small test strips in the book and the large matted and framed images for TVG.

A variety of other titles were considered – Full disclosure, Exposed, Over exposed.

Although this work was resolved by making the photograms bigger, the overruling direction has been to simplify. I took out the initial border and replaced it with a larger piece of glass. I took out the separate adornments. I stopped cutting the pants in half and the gussets out of the pants. I stopped using the glass, as suggested by early feedback. I only presented pants.

I am continuing with this work through my next course, UVC. I would like to print some of the work on silk or satin and perhaps sew that into handkerchiefs, silk scarves or even underwear. I’m intrigued by the idea of a coffee table book as suggested by Clive White on the forum, but I dont know if the images are now too large for that or not. I am excited by the idea of framing more of the work – pants and bra images that are individually framed and hung one above the other could really work. I also like the idea of showing the images at life size on a large screen and allowing viewers to interact by swiping across to see the next/previous image and by zooming into the detail with their fingertips. I don’t really know where this work wants to go next but it’s definitely not done and I look forward to exploring it further.

A3 Self portrait rework

This assignment has been very hard to rework. For ages I thought I’d written the rework post, but I hadn’t, only posts nibbling around the edges of possibility. 10 months on from making the work I am reminded that I’m booked for a hysterectomy in January. It is incredibly personal work and I need to acknowledge my closeness to it. Looking at the contact sheet does not encourage a hard-nose editor response, rather a sentimental spin cycle of thoughts about no more babies, no more periods, no more uterus, no more uselessness for 10 days every month. Please note that all screen grabs are copyright Clue (www.helloclue.com) and that Tampax is a registered trademark of Tambrands, owned by Proctor & Gamble.

I am going to submit three square prints from the three different points in my circle, with an A3 grid of the entire cycle included for context. I had made a fold-out book (see video) but struggled with the conflict between the secrecy of the period and the cyclical nature of it. The pop out secret day versus the daily reality of the 26 day cycle. I don’t want to submit three different pieces of work for the same assignment so am dropping the book and including the grid purely for context – the three prints are the primary submission.

There is something very difficult about submitting self portraits for assessment, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s the work that’s being assessed, not the quality of the model. I tried to take a playful approach to this work, rather than deadpan – think Juan Pablo Echeverri rather than Roni Horn. It’s definitely more towards the photobooth/passport photo end of the spectrum than the painstakingly constructed portraits by Roni Horn.

The grid is important to this work because it shows how the menstrual calendar overlays the normal calendar in unexpected ways.  If I could do anything differently on this work it would be to start the work on day 1 of my cycle and to pay scrupulous attention to the background. As it was, ideas and biology didn’t align, and I started the work on day 6 of one cycle (starting in February) and finished it on day 5 of the next cycle, in March. This means that in calendar terms my images of days 1-5 came after my images of days 6-26, as the images span two menstrual cycles. I have therefore adjusted the grid so that it starts on day 6, and tweaked the labels so that they include both calendar and cycle days. A couple of images have been replaced following up on tutor feedback and my own preferences. I was hoping for either a 25 or  28 day cycle, to provide a neat grid of images but again biology didn’t agree and served me up a 26 day cycle.

The selected three images are presented as single bordered prints on 8×8 inch paper.  The square format feels right for this work, it is rooted firmly in the iphone app space and most of the images were shared on Instagram as they were made. A phone screen proportionned portrait orientation did not feel right so I cropped to square. The images are shown at 5 inches square allowing for a 1.5″ border all around. The source images are quite small (960px square) so I set the resolution to 192ppi and placed each image on an 8×8 canvas at the same resolution.

Image selection is made bearing in mind feedback that I received from two tutors. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, I’m not sure that my selection would be exactly the same. I followed my tutor’s comments that the images that worked best were the ones without excessive digital manipulation and the ones that had a visceral quality to them.  I found that in the real world outside the coursework bubble people enjoyed the juxtaposition of a scowl and the International Women’s Day splash screen, whereas the parameters are different for choosing images for assessment. I reconsidered all my images and made a new image for Day 1 out of a previously rejected image.

The fundamental contradiction between looking unobserved/non-performative whilst making a self-portrait is still one that bends my mind and I wonder if it might be better to go for the performance route. Is a self portrait still a self portrait if it looks like someone else took it? Does it matter? What happens if someone else takes photos of me that looks like selfies? There’s still some understanding to be done on agency.

Finally, presentation. Although limited by the small size of the images there are several options that could be worth exploring further.

  • Handmade star book where the covers fold back on each other to form a book with no beginning or end and all the images exposed around the outside.
  • A slide carousel that will display the images continually and automatically. There’s something about the regular “clunk” and the rotation of the carousel that appeals here.
  • A View-Master reel – though there could be problems with the text at small image sizes you do get the idea of a continual cycle
  • A curved wall or a small circular gallery where the viewers can walk around the cycle indefinitely

 

Hauserwirth.com. (2018). Artists — Roni Horn — Images and clips — You are the Weather — Hauser & Wirth. [online] Available at: https://www.hauserwirth.com/artists/images-clips-view/?artist_id=14&a=roni-horn&p=104 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Juanpabloecheverri.com. (2018). SUPERSONAS • JUAN PABLO ECHEVERRI. [online] Available at: http://juanpabloecheverri.com/supersonas/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

A2 The housework fairies – Rework

My full response to tutor comments is embedded in the tutor feedback post. In summary there has been some change to images selected, the edit itself was refreshed and I chose not to progress the videos any further this time. I have explored the use of View-Masters and have chosen to present seven images on a vintage reel to be viewed via a vintage View-Master. I had initially used a different provider that had a far more modern feel to both viewer too shiny) and reel (had a website url), whereas the use of older materials allows the viewer to place the work anywhere in an internet-free childhood. I think this sits better with the Cottingley Fairies heritage of the work, and with the way that housework remains a predominantly female task over the hundred years since the Cottingley Fairies work was made.

Here are the seven final images. They are presented as  1400x1250px on the ViewMaster reel and as reference prints on 8×8 lustre paper. Many other presentation options were considered and discarded as being over complicated for assessment. I would like to make more work in the future and print on fine art paper to make a hand-made book. Ideally I’d adjust the framing in the iron one. This work however isn’t about technical perfection but about revisiting a set of images that continue to intrigue us decades after they were made.

A1 Two Sides to the Story – Reworked

I had and contine to have such mixed feelings about A1. It hit the brief first time. I could have done a lot more (I didn’t). It’s the diagnostic assignment, the getting to know you song, the problem child that will suck you dry of creative energy whilst still leaving you thinking that you haven’t done enough. It’s not my best work but perhaps it’s some of my more useful work. It formed the foundations for the rest of the course and laid down the chord changes that led me from my early encounters with Fox Talbot back in EYV through to a resolution of A5 on C&N. Reworking risked not so much dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s as sparking a whole new body of work. So I took the whole new body of work for A5, and made a simple selection change for the rework here. I took out the Lidl/Waitrose pair because the differential focus wasn’t differential enough, and replaced it with a text message/fountain pen.

Here is the new selection of images.

A5 finished.

I went back to the darkroom. I’d had feedback from two tutors and some peers that it would be worth trying the photograms a bit bigger.  Fortunately, the dark room owner was very positive about this, which is what made the work possible as going from 12×16 to 16×20 required setting up with larger trays, more chemicals and a modification to the washing tank to accommodate the larger paper. He had also ordered paper so that I could use what I needed and pay per sheet, and he would have plenty left to do some larger prints of his own.

Over time, this work has become increasingly simple. I ditched the microscope slide style border in favour of larger glass. I ditched the bows and trimmings in favour of empty space. This week, I ditched the glass entirely; embracing the risk and opportunity presented by bra cups sitting proud of the paper rather than squished, mammogram style, under a glass plate (this was another feedback suggestion). The logistics of cleaning and placing an 18x22inch glass plate in the dark did help with this decision. I used guide marks on the enlarger table to ensure that all of the paper was exposed. I made an embarrassing number of test strips, working with small apertures to provide longer exposures (the paper works better with exposures of longer than 10 seconds) and boosted magenta filters to increase the contrast – important with the finer fabrics. I laboured to get the blackest blacks I could. I’m happy with the result. I think the next step would be to even up the positioning slightly so there is equal space left and right… and there’s a tiny white spot on each print in the same place, I think because of a speck of something on the enlarger lens. I could spot it out with watercolour, or I could, and probably will, accept that it’s an indication both of the hand-made nature of each print and my newfound skill in accurately positioning each sheet of paper in the dark. Unexpectedly, after quite so many darkroom sessions, I feel increasingly at ease with the process and it was good to see my “hit rate” increasing. Howard – the darkroom owner – commented that the images would work well on gloss paper as this would add a shiny, reflective quality to the blacks. I am inclined to agree, but the satin finish provides a very velvety matt black and is better suited to assessment requirement.

The images have space to breathe – the underwear really does seem to be floating in space or deep under water. The blacker blacks play a part here. The extra three-dimension-ness is engaging too – one peer said it looked like you could lift the garment straight off the paper. I am considering making a much tighter edit – these prints are big – perhaps just 2-4 images. I need to live with them for a little while and think on what would work. For the moment I am enjoying the unusual feeling of work that feels balanced on the seesaw of what I would want it to be versus what it actually is.

I will add photographs when the quality of daylight improves. In the meantime here are some phone images.

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Test strips
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In the fix tank
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In the fix tank
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Detail of loosely folded print in the wash tank
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prints on my dining room table
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more prints on my dining room table

Notes for hangout 2/12/18

My main issue is with my A2 Photographing the Unseen, final presentation thereof for assessment. I photographed projections of fairies and unicorns in a domestic setting – title is currently “the Housework Fairies” although I know my tutor thought I could improve on this. The thing I need to consider is the feminist aspect of the work – although I presented it as about fairies there is a substantial aspect to the work too which can be strengthened without becoming didactic. Tutor feedback is provided at the end of this post.

I have been following a two-pronged approach for presentation. First off was prints. I’ve made these on 8 inch square lustre paper, the actual images are 5 inches square so there’s a deep border all around. I’m very happy with how they are turning out. The second prong was presenting images as a viewmaster reel in a viewmaster machine (it’s a contemporary version labelled Retro-View). I understood from a question posted on the OCA board that it was ok to submit both as long as it was clear which was the primary.

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Un-bordered print
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Contemporary version of View-Master

However, I preferred the prints to the viewmaster. They seem to carry a surprising amount of authenticity as documents., surprising given that they are not authentic documents. I think they must inherit that authenticity because they are prints. They carry detail, the Retro-View images carry novelty, a toy like quality. The prints referenced the Cottingley Fairies. The Viewmaster felt shiny and temporaneously confused by comparison.  I think both approaches are valid but neither can tell the complete story on its own. I wondered about the prints as family vernacular archive, and though about how we present the archive, and ended up with a 1950s biscuit tin.

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So we have prints in a biscuit tin, but that’s not adding a lot to the feminist reading. Then I looked at the tin and its foregrounding of choirboys, with women tiny in the background. I looked on ebay at vintage View-Masters, saw this image and for the first time appreciated the gendering implicit in the name, reinforced by the packaging.

ebay viewmaster
Vintage View-Master, image credit @timewarp14 on ebay.co.uk

From there it was a short mental leap to Berger’s comments “Men look at women . Women watch themselves being looked at.” But then I wonder if I’ve added 2 and 2 and made 5, or if I’ve simply identified the male gaze in very clunky terms. Then I think of that common female experience of being watched doing the housework and I see how the open feminist loop can be closed here.

Moving back to the practical, I can put the prints in the biscuit box along with a vintage View-Master and a modern reel perhaps in an original sleeve. I can pack the box with tissue paper, and pages from old women’s magazines. We then have three elements – fairies, feminism/the male gaze and the family archive, that hopefully will feel less constructed in real life than describing it does. I’m still not sure though, I think I might just have to assemble the whole thing and see how it works in practice. Whatever I put together will have to work in the cold light of a Barnsley day at assessment next March, and anything more than a simple set of prints will have to justify itself.

Tutor feedback on this assignment : Kate Aston assignment 2 feedback.doc

A4 Reworked essay

Although my tutor said that the original essay only needed minor changes and some reframing I  explored and implemented most of his suggestions and believe the essay is significantly improved for doing so.

The full version of the essay is provided as a print copy which includes copies of all images referenced. The pdf copy on this blog is simply for reference and due to copyright law does not include all images. Please click below to open the document.

A4 final blog version without images pdf

A5 Shared Intimacy Tutor feedback and response

My tutor feedback arrived yesterday. As always it is very detailed and has provided me with some more ideas to explore and some thoughtful guidance on submitting the work for assessment. I am very grateful for the level of scrutiny, thought and engagement that I’ve received in tutor feedback from Andy. Linked pdf file is below, I shall return to this post with more detail over the weekend as there is a lot to unpick and consider.

Kate Aston Assignment 5 feedback

Several weeks on this has not been an easy post to write. The feedback was terrific. It has thrown up a bundle of questions to be considered, thankfully I don’t think I need to answer them, just put them out there in the cosmos.

The biggest issue has been considering the sexuality, or otherwise, of the work. Three tutors have commented on the work via the various feedback mechanisms with which I’ve engaged. My tutors comments:

Before I read this on your blog I also thought about the importance of embracing the expression ‘fetish’ and accepting that the work cannot be perceived as asexual – this is intensified by your approach of using worn items which have been sourced from other people through the Internet. Your texts are still coming across as reticent in this area.

One tutor, via the OCA South West group, commented that the work had a fetish element to it and suggested a title of “From Fox Talbot to Fetish”. Another tutor, via the Forum Live Hangout, commented otherwise (heavily paraphrased). Some students have seen the work as forensic, as the work being presented for examination, of it having an element of the exotic, the other. Indeed, my tutor also refers to the work touching “on the language of evidence or specimens”. My intention was not to make overtly sexual work – it was to reference Fox Talbot’s use of lace in his early shadowgrams and to use lace from a contemporary setting. I used underwear because it fits with the way my practice examines the familiar but less visible aspects of life. It seems to be the use of other people’s underwear that is provoking the reading. This makes me wonder how the reading would change if I presented an edit that was openly entirely of my own underwear. How would the reading of my own used, but laundered underwear differ from the reading of random strangers’ used, but laundered underwear? Is other peoples’ underwear more or less sexual than my own (if anyone reading is in a position to answer that question, please don’t)? Would the readings of fetishism change to readings of exhibitionism? Would it make any difference? Why? A peer reminded me of Barthes view that there are three parties to every image – the subject, the photographer and the audience and their views all interact. How does this change when you have the photographer, the audience, and the underwear of an unknown person? Another peer pointed out that I don’t need to answer these questions, so I’m not going to. I am however going to continue this work as a side project through UVC.

The rest of the feedback is thankfully easier to address. I was fascinated by Andy’s observation that the designs in the lace echo not only the original work by Fox Talbot, as I intended, but also the work of Blossfeldt and Haeckel. I was delighted by Haeckel’s work, well delighted is an understatement, it makes me fizz with joy inside at how he manages to combine exuberance and precision, and the colours are exquisite. Perhaps flowers are something of an archetype, or perhaps a trope, the way they have endured in art and design, there’s something interesting that the lace in modern underwear has such similar design to the lace that Fox Talbot photographed. Where is the modern lace design? Do we still see women as delicate Victorian/Edwardian flowers?

I was encouraged at his commendation of my presenting the work at full size. His comments did make me consider carefully how I was going to make the work for assessment, and I decided on a larger paper size with objects that fitted well within the paper.  I was intrigued by his suggestion of printing the work on a lighter weight foldable paper, which led me to wondering about printing onto silk at life size. I think they could look really interesting in black and white, with the same handle as lingerie fabrics. I reluctantly decided that the key to this work is simplicity, and that my assessment submission is complicated enough in terms of the variety of formats being submitted. Although I don’t have easy access to a large flatbed scanner or photocopier I did try scanning some underwear into my home printer/scanner. The results were interesting but I stand by my photogram presentation. The use of contemporary technology added another (more unwelcome to me) layer of context, and more importantly, the results were not as good. This might be something that I explore further over the next year or so. I do like how the labels have rendered though.

Andy’s suggestions for further reading/viewing are always challenging and rewarding. The Shadow Catchers exhibition material online has been a “go-to” resource for me since I worked with Polaroids at Lacock Abbey back in EYV, however I was delighted to see that the book has been republished and this will continue to be a baseline inspiration for me. Christian Boltanski was thoroughly intriguing too. I enjoyed his literal approach, the translation of memories and moments into carefully orchestrated and lit objects. This text from his website resonated with me:

The durability of certain materials that very effectively evoke the passage of time allows Boltanski to simultaneously establish a difference and an analogy between synaptic (organic) memory and the memory that is implicit in objects’ forms. Remains of the past, the residue of distant lives, render the persistence of materials evident, even though these also disappear in time.

This resonated because of the issues and opportunities presented by underwear that holds a memory of its wearer’s form, years or even decades after it was last worn. Flattening the garment under glass gave a clearer image, but letting it just breathe allowed an extra dimension, hinted at the curves. A brilliant reference and undoubtedly one that I will use again.

In summary, this work is now at a point where I’m happy to submit it for assessment. I’ve been very happy at how it has developed over the last six months and am keen to develop it further.

http://www.marco.org.mx/index.pl?i=1153

https://wordery.com/shadow-catchers-martin-barnes-9781858945927