A1 Two Sides to the Story

This post is a summary for assessment, full details can be found under the relevant assignment menu item.

My concept for this work was the domestic –  a series of pairs of images taking differing views of aspects of my life. There’s a touch of the social media about it – highlighting the difference between life as we show it and life as it is what we choose to show versus the reality behind the net curtains. I was inspired by lace at Lacock Village and its properties for both concealing and revealing simultaneously. I worked with pairs such as educational Lego vs Barbie dolls and Lidl shopping versus Waitrose. It took me a couple of passes to get to this concept – it was hard to find a concept that could support two different narratives. The earlier work wasn’t wasted but did slow me down.

The results were encouraging though once again showed the gaps in my technical knowledge. I built a set and bought net curtains and did multiple shoots. I didn’t have a lens with the right combination of wide aperture and focal length so ended up using my 100mm macro lens and shooting from the other end of the kitchen. I needed the wide aperture to get the shallow depth of field. The work felt as if it was mine – firmly anchored in the domestic, and it resonated with other women who saw the images.

My tutor was very positive about the work and was clear that “you have thoroughly explained the concept of being able to put together two sets of images from the same scene and that you took an inventive approach and constructive approach to the problem posed.” He also provided several suggestions for taking the work forward, including the use of video with the focus gradually shifting from one object to the other, or by using Photoshop to exaggerate the difference in focus within each image.

I found the feedback very helpful but it didn’t really shake me out of my slight ambivalence about this assignment. In retrospect, some of the feedback was very prescient about the course that I would follow for future assignments, specifically self portraiture from a feminist perspective, decoding of advertising, considering work from an approach of binary opposition or “a spectrum of interrelated possibilities”.

I did try to rework this assignment – I really wanted to acknowledge Fox Talbot and lace in the same piece of work. Inspired by his early lace images, I made photograms of the net curtains that I photographed at Lacock. It was a promising start, but not what I wanted. I decided to leave this assignment exactly as it was, except for a simple change to the edit, which proved to be the right decision. I removed the shopping bag pair of images as the difference in focus was not strong enough and removed it with a pen/phone pair.

Once I’d “cut the cord” I was able to look at all of my Fox Talbot, Lacock and lace work objectively and it led me very clearly to my A5. So I think the best value in A1 for me was the foundation that it provided for the rest of C&N rather than as a discrete piece of work in its own right.

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A2 Photographing the unseen

This post is a summary for assessment, full details can be found under the relevant assignment menu item.

I was inspired by the photograph in the course notes about the Cottingley Fairies, photographed in 1917 by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffifths. I researched more about this work and the wider context in which it was made. It’s very poignant that one of the responses to the horrors of World War 1 was to seek comfort in the spiritual, the fantastical via Peter Pan and the Cottingley Fairies, and literal escape via Harry Houdini. Britain was in need of a happy ending.

I wondered what would happen if the Cottingley Fairies was made today. Thanks to Disney, we know that fairies love housework, thanks to teenage girls and the internet we know that the images would be taken on a mobile phone and shown on Instagram in a square format. So I worked in the dark, with my mobile, capturing these creatures as they cracked on with the housework that I’d missed.

I was happy with the results. It’s quiet work that carries a resonance with anyone who’s ever considered the existence of fairies, however fleetingly. I didn’t enjoy making it – photographing the grubby details of my home and it was extremely awkward with the variety of stands needed to secure the projections and the confined spaces. This work was printed as 6×6 squares by my local lab, these are not images that can be printed particularly large and their darkness led to some challenges too. I also submitted a couple of short videos. People engaged with the work and several of the reject shots are framed on my friends’ walls.

The elephant in the room with this work was its feminist credentials. I had largely ignored this as unintended and politely rebuffed my peers who pointed out that the work was as much about feminism as about fairies. My tutor pointed this out in the second paragraph of his comments and it was a bit of a wakeup call to realise that making feminist work is not something that I can turn on and off. The tutor feedback was very positive again with several concrete and achievable suggestions for developing the work which are responded to in the feedback blog post.

I decided not to progress the video work – although it’s interesting it’s not really tangible enough for me. I continue to follow up on feminist reading and context (please see the contextualisation post). I simplified my selection and presented them as a Viewmaster reel in a vintage viewer. This places the idea of women doing the housework firmly in the past, or alternatively views contemporary women through a lens of the past; as well as referencing the childhood nature of fairies and the embryonic male gaze. It also places the fairies, and housework, back in the world of the unseen again, only visible through a dedicated viewer. It once again entrenches stereotypes about housework into a child’s toy, especially interesting when you consider the nascent male gaze shown on the View Master packaging. It allows for backlighting, thus lifting the images slightly from the darkness. I used a refreshed selection of images bearing my tutor’s comments in mind and also produced a set of reference prints – square format to reference Instagram.

This work was a gentle game changer for me. I learned that feminism will out and that’s not a bad thing. I had to work over many sessions and ask many favours to get the setups working for each image. I could reference the past, the feminist, the familiar and working in the dark, all favourite explorations of mine. I am happy with how this work turned out, it has so much more to it than I first expected.

 

A3 Self portrait

This post is a summary for assessment, full details can be found under the relevant assignment menu item.

I thought of this assignment as a vehicle for exploration. I enjoyed the diary aspect of it. I drew an apple every day for a month- I’m uncomfortable drawing so it seemed a good place to start. The symbolism of the apple and the month duration led me to my daily activity of entering my menstrual data into my period tracker app. I decided to take a self-portrait on my mobile each day of my menstrual cycle and layer it with a screen from my tracker app from that day. I was conscious that in my fifties I might not have that many cycles left so it seemed pertinent to document one of them. I was interested in the very personal data uploaded to the cloud by such apps.

This was an engaging assignment and the results provoked much interest. My only aim was to make a set of images over an entire cycle so I felt relatively unpressured apart from the obvious requirement to get an image every day, which did get old fairly quickly. There were technical challenges because of the small pixel count of both the selfie camera and the screenshots. I enjoyed the range of presentation options that having a relatively large set of images afforded. I enjoyed being able to see an entire cycle’s worth of images in one grid. My main reference was Roni Horn’s You are the Weather although this was a far more formal series of portraits than mine. In retrospect, a more appropriate reference might be Juan Pablo Echeverri’s photobooth series as these are performative self portraits whereas You are the Weather is not self portraiture thought it does attempt to show how a person reflects an external influence (in my case it’s an internal influence). I submitted ten images and a grid of the whole cycle to my tutor.

My tutor’s comments were very positive. He asked if the work showed an external reflection of the inner cycle, which was interesting. To a degree it does though it’s definitely helped along by the screenshots. Did I have any favourites? Absolutely yes. He raised the question of formal photographic portraits in contrast to the spontaneity of mobile “selfies” and the pros and cons of each approach. I chose the mobile approach because it chimed with the period tracker app but I can see the benefits of both. I also wonder about making a sequence with my DSLR on a tripod with no data, a “You are your cycle” type exercise.

I have not reshot the work, but I did “remix” some of the rejected images, always keeping to the images taken for the day being shown. I have been on HRT since September, awaiting my hysterectomy so the work cannot be re-made. I think it stands as a record as it is. I explored other ways of presenting the work and considered calendars, wrapping paper, photobooth style strips made into Mobius loops and hand-made books, and made prototypes of some of these ideas. I finally chose to submit an A3 print of the entire cycle for context and 3 8 inch square prints for assessment.

Reflecting on this work I think the most telling and most unexpected outcome is the hysterectomy that is now being scheduled for January 2019. I am used to photography providing a different perspective on my past and present but this is the first time that it’s clearly signposted a different (and better) future.

A5 Big Girls’ Pants

This post is a summary for assessment, full details can be found under the relevant assignment menu item.

It’s hard to tell when and where this work started, I think it’s been evolving since towards the end of EYV. It was certainly on one of my many visits to the Fox Talbot Museum that I started to wonder about the lace that he’d worked with. Where did it come from? Who did it belong to? This fed into my taking a darkroom skills course with Holly Woodward and moving inevitably towards photograms, extending my explorations in camera-less and alternative photography. I wanted to examine what underwear lace looked like as a photogram, I wanted to work with other people’s underwear as well as my own, another exploration of the everyday but unseen. I very much wanted to work at life size, and the photogram format was perfect for that. You can’t tell what size the garments are, and most people invariably guessed too big (are we conditioned by photoshopped images and the tiny swipeable manipulation granted by our electronic devices?) One tutor said that they would like to see the work with some “really big pants” and I think I’ll be able to use a wider range of sizes as I continue the work beyond this course.

My tutor feedback was thrilling. He identified links from the lace to the flora and natural world work made by Blossfedt and Haeckel, providing another link back to the images that had inspired me. He commended my decision on the sizing and offered guidelines. He suggested trying out different framing approaches and paying attention to the edges of the paper and their relationship with the object. He also talked about the sexuality of the work (and my reticence to acknowledge it) and trying out making the work with a flatbed scanner or a photocopier – I have considered these areas in greater depth in the tutor feedback and response blog post.

So I talked to the darkroom owner, who reset the room so I could work with 16 x 20 paper, and I went back and made more work. The larger paper gave more space for the work to breathe. Positioning in the dark was slightly more difficult, one image is not as centred as I would like it to be. I made fewer images, but made them better. Holly assisted with a ruthless edit where the selection was culled to four prints. Removing the bra images, it felt right to return to the title Big Girls’ Pants, a title that can be read either as a description of either pants or girls or as a female affirmation.