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.

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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.

A1 revisited

I’ve been thinking about closing the loop on A1 as part of my rework. As one attempt at this work I shot lace curtains in Lacock Village but couldn’t find a suitable second side to the story. I photographed the lace curtains because Lacock was home to Fox Talbot and some of his iconic images of lace. Now, the tenant villagers rely on lace to supply a shred of privacy from the hordes of tourists with cameras (I count myself in that number too).

Having started to learn darkroom skills I wondered about making photograms of net curtains and about pairing these with the Lacock images. Or perhaps with the lace images that I made at home. So I went to the darkroom with Holly and a bag full of net curtain fabric and made photograms. Then I came home and scanned them. Here are some of the photograms paired with images including the same net fabric, either in situ at Lacock Village or as part of a set constructed in my kitchen.

 

 

Obviously there is work to be done here. The images are of differing sizes and differing post processing, I’m still trying to find the best way to scan the photograms. I think the FT connection is diluted when I use images taken at home. I need to go through my archive and find more Lacock images, I definitely have more.

However. I do very much like the presentation of the lace curtain as a flat photogram, the opaqueness compared to the veiled translucency when the curtains are in place. I really like that the curtains match. I like that this work follows straight on from my EYV A5 where I used Polaroids of windows at Lacock Abbey. I think that I have two complementary sides here. Plus I do feel as if I’m closer to closing the loop on the work that I wanted to make originally.

edit – thinking about it, the whole point of the assignment is that it doesn’t have to be authentic, perhaps I could mix the two locations…

edit – I need to consider the best post processing to apply to the scans. Colour, greyscale, or black and white? High or low dots per inch? Inverted or not? Here are some examples.

Returning to this some months later, it became apparent that the true value in this assignment was as a stepping stone to the Shared Intimacy images of photograms of lace underwear in Assignment 5. Indeed if you look at that assignment you can see its lineage all the way back to here. I have therefore decided that there is no value in reworking A1 as such, because it actually is continued into A5.

 

 

Nets

This is a long way out of sequence but these images from my various attempts at A1 have been on my mind and I need them all in one place. Lace and Lacock fascinate me. Some of Fox Talbot’s first images were of lace, and I saw them in virtual reality at Mat Collishaw’s exhibition at Lacock Abbey. Over 100 years later lace is widely used in the windows of the Lacock village homes, as they try to manage the inherent conflicts of a 21st century life in a listed village whose sole income is from the tourism generated by Fox Talbot’s home and the associated museum.

The first nets images, taken at Lacock as part of the street photography exercise. I then went back and added in some more. There’s still something about the curtain, the glimpses through it and the occasional reflection.

I realised that I could buy short lengths of many of the nets that I’d seen. I did so, and tried a domestic shoot at home.

I was still finding the problem of how to use the lace to show two sides to the same story (the actual assignment brief). I left Lacock behind and decided to work with domestic double standards, or the differences between what you think you should be doing and what you’re actually doing.

For A1, which isn’t formally assessed, it’s ok, and I have some good feedback on how to develop it. I still feel as if I’m not getting the most from the lace , the first two sets are less resolved and I think there’s more to do. I have a number of options:

  1. go back and shoot more
  2. shoot the lace panels against a blank wall and then layer the image with the view that the corresponding houses in Lacock (the ones with each particular lace) look out on
  3. I have some white and blue calotype paper and could try making prints of each net. Perhaps that could be layered with something.
  4. Self portrait of me through each lace.
  5. Build more context (feminist context, Helen Sear)

 

 

 

A1 tutor feedback and response

I was very excited by the possibilities that this feedback raised. It’s extensive written feedback. I’m thrilled with its positivity, and as always will concentrate on the possibilities for improvement in this post. At present, I don’t see a pressing need to rework this one as the feedback is positive. I will however try out a couple of the suggestions that Andy makes and blog them. I may choose to rework this assignment at the end of the course.

You can read the feedback here, Kate Aston Assignment 1 feedback.doc , opens in a new window.

Assignment – technical skills, visual skills, quality of outcome, demonstration of creativity

The focus differential could have been much greater – agreed! I need to explore the possibilities offered by Photoshop. Also agreed that framing could have been more consistent. Although I used a tripod I cropped some shots and managed to send the framing off when doing so.

I really like Andy’s idea of “exploring short video pieces that shifted attention slowly from one view to another”. I will set up again and try this out, though my video skills are very basic indeed. I also appreciate his comment that the previous iteration had less obvious combination of images. I’m also keen to try it with more space around the objects, as he suggests. I am very happy with the knowledge that I met the brief as I did not find this assignment straightforward.

update – I ended up not redoing this work beyond a simple edit. I really struggled with finding rework that wasn’t overkill for the assignment given that it met the brief in its submitted state. Ultimately I did rework it, but it evolved into A5 rather than being another iteration of A1.

Coursework

Engagement very good. I need to anchor my criticism either in my own thinking and/or by reference to others in the debate. (more context)

Research

Don’t give up on Imber, but keep it outside of coursework for the moment.

I missed other research areas outside of windows. Andy suggests semiology, self portraiture from a feminist perspective (I think I will be exporing this for A3), decoding and advertising. I ended up exploring these areas more fully in all subsequent assignments.

I found Andy’s comment about presenting binary or dualistic positions of personality and self very interesting, and completely get how this can limit the spectrum of self, changing according to context. I think this is part of the reason that I struggled with this assignment, it seemed to require a fairly binary representation, and I think that life is much more like a glitter ball with hundreds of facets changing according to the light and position.

Learning log

Interesting points made around the work that wasn’t developed – the Lacock nets. The reason for this was simply that I could not make as compelling a “second side” to that story. Good point about the different nets giving variety – if I did reshoot I would use a variety of nets. I loved the comment about stage lighting, I can see how this could work within the setup that I had.

Suggested reading/viewing – William J Mitchell, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. 1992, MIT press. I have ordered this from a second hand bookshop.

Update – hands up – I have really struggled with finding a way into this book. It’s scope is vast and I am still trying to understand it in such a way that I can make a difference to my practice with it.

Pointers for next assignment

“Consider your work and its related research from both the position of its from (form?) and its concept”

Absolutely. This one ended up a bit rushed, I hope to do better with this next time. I also intend to be far more focused with A2, it grew like Topsy.

 

A1 Reflection

I have very mixed feelings about this work. I know it has further to go. On the plus side, the set is easy to construct so I can return to the work when I have a bit more separation from it. Imber opens again at Christmas and Easter so there is also the option to continue shooting there and see if I can get my original idea working better with a broader set of images to choose from. In reflection I gave myself too long on this work, I think with a tighter deadline I would have been more focused and efficient. However there is something that appeals in the submitted set and I am hopeful that it can form the basis of something better. It has shown me clearly where I need to improve. I knew when I started the course that this assignment would present a challenge, and it did. I am confident that producing the next two, at least, will be rather slicker. As it is, this work still feels not quite mine. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not, and I’m not sure which applies here.

A1 self assessment

Demonstration of technical and visual skills.

This has been something of a technical epiphany for me in terms of seeing where I need to improve. I finally worked out why my white balance has been out in every single shot for months, and fixed it. I learned properly about using a grey card to set white balance, which is something I hadn’t fully understood before. I learned more about manual focus, about the technical properties of lenses (eg deep depth of field is easier to achieve with a wider lens, and a longer lens brings elements at the back “forward”). I tried to do something in Photoshop that turned out to be much more simply achieved in Lightroom with the adjustment brush. I moved from my default 50mm lens to a 100mm macro and struggled with framing a bit as a result. This has shown me that I would very much like to learn more about the still life genre and how to construct stronger images. More prosaically I need to get more skilled in, and competent with, the technical side of images from learning my camera settings inside out to working in Photoshop and eventually printing my own work.

Quality of Outcome

The images are not as consistent as I would like, some pairs are better than others both in terms of execution and in terms of conveying meaning.  I’m happy that they don’t instantly serve up their meaning, but when people find the meaning they identify with the images (again some more than others). The idea of presented/actual self is a frequently clichéd meme on social media, and I wanted to avoid that banality if possible. The date night, shopping bag, and nit lotion sets all seemed to provoke recognition in those non-photographic peers who saw the images, indeed one woman exclaimed “date night!” on seeing just one of that pair.

Demonstration of creativity

Creativity was not in short supply, but judgement may have been. I identified and explored several different approaches to the brief, and then different ways of executing most approaches. My explorations incuded digital, Polaroid, solar prints and scanning. I decided to submit plain vanilla jpgs at this stage.

Context

For all approaches I shot first and researched later. I have learned a bit about the tourist gaze, and more about Fox Talbot. For the final approach I have limited contextualisation – Nigel Shafran’s “Washing-up” series and Sharon Boothroyd’s “The glass between us”.

A1 Two Sides to the Story – submission

 

 

Now on my third OCA course, this is the assignment that’s taken me the longest. I worked through a few different concepts but found that either they didn’t offer enough narrative possibility (Imber), enough interesting photos (Lacock private vs public), enough interest (fabricated Lacock lace archive), or two sufficiently different “sides”. I ended up working in a domestic setting with net curtains (the nets became apparent as a useful device when I photographing in Lacock). I bought short lengths of some of the Lacock nets and constructed a small set in my north-facing kitchen with the net on a length of dowel, supported by my flash stands. I wanted to look at how sometimes we/I have what we aspire to and proudly show to the world, but sometimes we end up with a different aspect that is often hidden behind our metaphorical nets but may well still be more visible than we think. I didn’t use actual window sills because I thought the net was more important than the window, and also the lighting became very difficult to control.

I identified areas in my life that had two “sides” to them; more than I anticipated. I did about 4 different shoots trying out different compositions/technical set ups. I sought feedback via my blog, the OCA discussion group and OCA Thames Valley Group. My final shoot used a 100mm macro lens with the near object close to the curtain and the far object pushed back from the curtain. I worked in Aperture priority mode of 2.8 for the near objects and either 2.8 or 4 for the distant objects depending on depth of field requirements. I tried to keep the net recognisably in focus across both sets. I mainly used manual focus, especially important for the objects behind the curtain. I used a tripod for consistent framing in each pair, though I accidentally introduced inconsistency in a couple of crops. Post processing was auto settings, removing sensor spots and selectively using the enhancement brush in LR to lift contrast, clarity and saturation in the second of each pair.

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.

References

Cotton, C. (2014). The photograph as contemporary art. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, p.32, 120-122.

Sharonboothroyd.com. (2017). The Glass Between Us : SB. [online] Available at: http://sharonboothroyd.com/index.php?/the-glass-between-us/ [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Contact sheets follow.

 

Assignment 1 – 3rd draft

Reshot with 100mm prime lens, the front object closer to the net and the back object further away from the net (following feedback from OCA forum discussion). Apples reintroduced. I changed the curtain used to get better visibility through the net. Composition seemed harder, some of these were cropped as I ended up with too much space.

 

 

Update…

 

I went through all the feedback I received yesterday and reshot. I had fixed my white balance and I hope it’s working better now. I like the differential focus though I could have really used a zoom lens that would work down to f2.8, my zooms all top out at f4. Each pair is more consistent within itself now, though not perfectly so. There is still some difference in whites between the sets and I need to work on this without turning everything yellow. I used a tripod to keep framing consistent.

 

This assignment has not come easily, despite or perhaps because of a non-stop stream of ideas that have not translated to image well. Here is the third draft.

I have used the domestic net curtain to look at two sides of my life – there is the side that I attain to, aspire to, highlight proudly when I hit it, and there is the side that I often achieve instead. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that flip side but somehow it still feels a bit odd highlighting it…. One or two of these pairings have given me food for thought.

Research is pretty sparse at the moment. Sharon Boothroyd’s work looking into peoples windows from the outside is the main one. I had some invaluable feedback from the members of the Thames Valley OCA group when I had the bones of this concept but not the execution. I did consider lifting the colour on the “real” set as per a suggestion made there, but in the interests of both sides being convincing I’ve decided to keep post the same across both sets.

I have a limited opportunity to reshoot (the hair one needs to be better exposed at the back) and I can edit this set down to a minimum of five pairs. I’m not sure that both shoe pairs need to be in.

Update – I sought feedback on the above set from the Thames Valley Group and the OCA discussion board. I received some very helpful feedback, to summarise:

  1. There is a magenta colour cast to all the images
  2. Some are too bright
  3. The concept is ok but the quality of the images is inconsistent
  4. The hair set and the last set are not strong, the date night set needs refining
  5. Need to be able to see more detail of the net in the Barbie toy image
  6. Think about setting up both sides in a single still life then using differential focus for each shot.

So I’m going to reshoot again tomorrow. re (1) – I went through all my camera settings and the manual before discovering that I’d some point I’d unwittingly set a magenta cast in the in-camera white balance. That’s fixed now. I’m hopeful that fixing this will enable a less sledge-hammer approach to post processing which should fix (2).  I plan to address 3, 4, 5 and 6 tomorrow.

On the plus side, I’m happy that this work actually does carry two sides of the story, far more successfully I think my other attempts did. It’s a story that others seem able to recognise too, a student on the OCA forum spoke of a “too true” quality to it.

I don’t know why this assignment has taken so long. I suppose partly because I did have a lot of time, and that seems to have resulted in more ideas to explore. I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to do for the other assignments, but this one didn’t inspire much more than panic for quite some time. I have learned a lot but I’m not sure that many of the learnings are positive ones. I’ve learned I’m not much of a street photographer (or not yet, anyway). I’ve learned that the tourist gaze actually is something I’d like to learn more about, and that lace is a textile I’d like to explore more. I’ve learned that I do better when making work and telling stories that I care about. I’ve been reminded, once again, that I really need to nail the technical details of making work if I want to make work that matters. The fact that my white balance has been out of whack since the back end of EYV is very concerning. Although hopefully I’d have spotted it sooner if I’d done my last EYV assignment on the DSLR rather than the Polaroid.