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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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.

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.

IMG_3217
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.

20181130_134606441_iOS

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

Tutor feedback A2 Photographing the Unseen

I am going to put this right here and bask in the happiness of a job well done. I shall come back later and respond more fully, as at the moment I don’t really need to elaborate on my initial response of punching the air in joy. Thank you everyone who took the time to comment and provide feedback, it really helped.

Kate Aston assignment 2 feedback.doc

So, revisiting this feedback and starting to think about the rework needed for assessment. Obviously, I’m very happy with everything that was successful in this work but my attention needs to go on the areas for development.

Action 1 – each of the two approaches that I used (still images and video) offer benefits and drawbacks. I need to consider and reflect on this. Since submitting this work I have had 7 of the images put onto a Viewmaster Reel and bought a Viewmaster to view them on. This gives a very different way of viewing the images, they are forcibly moved back forty years or so, along with the idea of housework being a woman’s domain. Another piece of peer feedback that I received at the Thames Valley Group was that I could develop the work further along the Cottingley Fairies route, or  along the feminist route, and that the viewmaster works better for the feminist reading. Somehow it encapsulates the fairy images as a fairy story in a vintage presentation.

update – I have continued to think about this. I liked the Viewmaster but it felt quite shiny and contemporary, which was not what I wanted. I have since bought a 70s viewmaster on ebay. It’s in the original box, depicting a boy gazing into the ViewMaster. I’d never noticed the gendered name before, how well it aligns with the idea of the male gaze, and have chosen to make that my primary presentation. I have revisited my selection of images and found another supplier of viewmaster reels who is going to see if he can make my new selection as a vintage viewmaster reel. I have also printed the images as squares on square paper as reference prints.

Action 2 – although I recognised that there was a feminist reading possible to the work I did not pursue or elaborate this in any detail. My tutor has suggested that I explore this further and draw on some credible sources as this will provide a more theoretical foundation to the work. I have come to realised that this work is rather more about feminism than I gave it credit for. I need to do more reading about feminism and feminist visual culture to find the context for my work.

update – 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

Action 3 – consider the possible conversations “across and between” the polarities of everyday cleaning and routine and escape via fantasy and myth. As housework is often done by women in households with women, so fairies tend to be female.

Update – I had to ask for help on interpreting this from the other members of a collective that I’m in. I’m too close to see this obectively but of course now I have other opinions it makes perfect sense. One comment was that the image explicitly articulates “the mismatch between the understanding of housework by those who don’t do it as something that happens effortlessly as if by magic, and as tedious chores by those who do it”. Often but not always this divide occurs along gender lines, although the main culprit for abandoning dirty socks at will in this house is my ten year old daughter.

I consciously chose images of female fairies for my final set. This could be considered manipulating the data, however there were only two male characters in the whole set of 20+ transparenciess – one male elf with a unicorn, and one white-bearded elder. Many women would be as surprised to see a male elf putting a load of washing on as they would be to see their actual partner doing so. Despite an increasing number of exceptions, at least one of which has been documented on the comments on my blog, responsibility for scheduling, executing and paying for (in some cases) domestic work and childcare remains primarily the woman’s responsibility in heterosexual partnerships.

Another peer considered “what the juxtaposition of routine and fantasy mean”. She pointed out that some of us are prone to watching lectures on You-Tube whilst ironing, which is a different kind of escapism entirely. There are numerous housework mixes on Apple Music too. The banality of housework routine is where my mind wanders – I am in partial agreement with Austin Kleon who says in Steal Like an Artist:  “I love ironing my shirts – it’s so boring, I almost always get good ideas.” (Kleon 2012 p67) Yet he’s the only man I’ve ever heard saying that, and sometimes I think I could generate ideas just as well out walking or enjoying a coffee and a magazine somewhere anonymous with no hoovering/ironing/toilet-cleaning on my mental back burner. The fairies symbolise fantasy, an escape from the mundane.

Another comment reminded me of Ally McBeal “that fascinating mix of the conscious and unconsconscious mind, overactive imagination and how it could spill into real life”. Perhaps housework is responsible for the genesis of some of the great creative works of our time.

Action 4 – consider changing the title to “suggest a connection to the broader cultural contexts”. This one is something of a challenge, hopefully inspiration will appear as I do more reading.

Update – I’m still woefully short of inspiration on this. The images seem to stuck with “The Housework Fairies” even though I’m conscious that that’s fairly obvious from the images themselves. I need to absorb some more fairy and feminist material and see if anything suggests itself. “The domestic gaze?”

Action 5 – experiment with making more images where the fairies are aligned with particular objects (power switch, shower, bath etc)

Update: Due to practical constraints I decided to keep the work as is and refresh the edit – there were plenty of images to choose from. I do need to sort out some low light stands so that I can return to this work in the future.

Action 6 – experiment with video – a more seamless loop, and tighter timing on the washing machine. Consider the form that would be used if the video were to be included in the final submission.

Update – I have made several videos as a convenient way of displaying physical work on my blog. I think I prefer working with objects – things that can be held, touched, annotated, passed through people and time. Although I enjoyed making the washing machine and bath videos they seemed a technical step too far from the Cottingley Fairy inspiration and a complication in working out exactly what, and how, to submit for assessment. I’ve therefore chosen not to progress this aspect of the work.

Action 7 – consider the still images and ensure that they are not too hard to read. Reshoot if necessary. If I go down the Viewmaster route I will need 7 strong images.

Update – I decided to go with the Viewmaster route and refreshed my selection. I have tried a new Viewmaster provider who works with slightly larger images. Looking at the set with fresh eyes I think the shower head image might be slightly ambiguous but I’m definitely out of time for further viewmaster reel iterations now.

Action 8 – ensure the historical context is easily found at assessment (needs to be close to the images).

Update: Done, added to summary post and will also add to artist statement.

A2 contact sheets

There were many images taken for this work. Unfortunately not all have rendered successfully on the sheets below. For making the selection I sorted firstly by the scenario, then by colour and quality. All images were taken on my mobile phone as this worked better than my dslr in low light. Unfortunately Lightroom did not handle them perfectly in making the contact sheets and some have been omitted, others have been included that shouldn’t be there. I need to address this as part of the rework.

The uncut set.

Shortlist…

At this stage it became apparent that many of my favoured images included exactly the same projections. I considered making a set with just one projection onto different scenes but decided to use a broader range of projections with rather less duplication.

Final selection of images.

There are also two videos. I wanted the domestic part of the scene to be clear from the image, so I have removed images that didn’t meet this such as the projections onto the dishwasher salt boxes and the still life projections onto the fruit in the fruit bowl. I have included the saucepan one, even though it’s not in the same colour scheme, partly because it’s not in the same colour scheme and partly because to me it conveys something about the feeling of clearing up left over food and doing the dishes. I wondered about including the shower head as it’s the same projection as on the opening video, but I have left it in for now.

final image selection

 

A2 A summary and self assessment

I struggled with bringing the backstory of this assignment together so am following the evaluation format but in more detail. Evaluation first, detail below.

self assessment

 

Technical and visual skills

Every assignment ever has been a quantum step for me in this area and this one has been no exception. I was constantly learning what worked, what didn’t, constantly experimenting and refining my technique.

Some of my biggest challenges were in the most basic of areas – what camera to use and how to hold both it and the torch. I was working in the dark, needed longer exposures and hence had a problem keeping the torch still enough as the projected images were not exactly pinpoint sharp at the best of times. After trying out my flash stands, camera tripod and various hair elastics to hold it all together, I begged a camera club mate for gadget help and he loaned me a couple of small light stands (important as I tended to be working at ground level) and a superb clamp thing that would hold the torch and adjust in all three dimensions. It did take me a few goes to work out the possibilities that it offered but it was invaluable. I started working with my dslr but found that my iPhone was a better choice. Firstly because of peer feedback that the low-fi approach was more in keeping with my approach of re-visiting the Cottingley Fairies, and secondly because it was possible to work hand held with it and achieve the right angle whereas the dslr had to be mounted upside down on the tripod and became unnecessarily difficult to work and angle in the dark. Working with both torch and camera on separate stands made it very difficult to ensure that there were no stand legs in the images. Following a suggestion on the OCA board I also acquired a couple of bendy metal tubes with clamps on each end which allowed me to get the torch positioned in confined spaces without needing the space for a stand. I’m not sure how many shoots there were in total – 6-8 I think – I just kept going until I thought I had enough for a strong edit.

However working with my phone presented its own challenges – I had to amend my workflow so that I could get the images into Lightroom and tagged and processed the same way I do with dslr files. Video has been a learning curve too. I ended up cancelling an online yoga subscription and instead upgrading my Vimeo so I didn’t keep getting stressed running out of space every week.  I still need to work out the best apps for me to use with video.

I haven’t done much processing with the jpgs – they didn’t really need much on the whole. A couple needed highlights lowering which I’ve done in Lightroom. I was happy with the colour palette provided by the projections at night. I did consider taking the work into black and white. On the one hand, if colour photography had been available to Elsie and Frances I am sure they would have used it. On the other, I am reasonably sure that if the work was made today and put on Instagram, the temptation to put it into black and white to achieve that “vintage/authentic/classic” look would be hard for many teenage girls to resist. So I have kept them in colour, because that is part of what makes this work mine.

The projections were provided from a child’s toy torch that came with three discs of fairy and unicorn projections. Focus was achieved by adjusting the barrel at a range of about 20cm to 1metre. Focus was very basic however. The success of the projection depended on ambient light (or the lack of it), the evenness, reflectiveness, texture and colour of the surface that I was projecting onto.

Quality of outcome

Mixed feelings here. I keep thinking that there’s something missing. There’s definitely room for more images but I’ve kept to the requested 7-10 images. I think the context has been difficult. There’s a huge diversity of readings possible from this work and I want to be sure that my context reflects this. I am happy with the images though, they resonate with people.

It was very difficult work to make, far harder than I expected. There’s something deeply unpleasant about photographing the dirty, the untidy, the forgotten and the very private. Yet this was another instance of the unseen, and generally discomfort is a strong indicator that I’m working on the right lines.

I was trying to put everything into one video. But then I thought about how I’d want the work to be seen, and it wouldn’t be as one long video. I like little bite size videos and jpgs that you can stop, look at, then wander back to in your own time. I really like the idea of putting everything onto Instagram with its own hashtag, as I think if Cottingley did happen again today at the hands of teenage girls, social media is where it would happen. Also, having watched the film inspired by the Cottingley fairies hoax, the physicality of the prints, the glass plates, the boxes, the enlarged prints – they’re all such a big thing so I think my incarnation would have to feature something on a wall. I like the idea of lightboxes, or perhaps wall mounted ipads where you could swipe through the images and video.

Creativity

I’m not quite sure where the idea came from, it wasn’t on my original list. I had worked briefly with this kind of torch before, on the light section in FiP when I projected planets into the background of a portrait. I explored one other idea for this assignment – guilt – link is the references. I thought both ideas had legs but the Fairies were more practical to make in that they didn’t require me to throw out everything that I was photographing. Originally I was going to do the white shirt narrative, which was on the original list, as a series of self portraits in fitting rooms, showing both the range of sizes encompassed by a “size 14” label and the diversity of décor in fitting rooms. This one fell prey to timing though, and the need to find a whole day in a decently sized high street. It’s still on my shortlist for A3 self portrait however.

I enjoyed the “unseen” nature of the projections, as well as fairies typically being unseen, they were only visible when I made the projection, and that could only be done in low or no light. So once again I found myself doing assignments after dark. Housework tends towards the unseen too (see context section below).

I considered, and rejected, suggestions that I could include myself in the work. I was very aware of self portrait coming up in the next assignment and didn’t want to get side-tracked . I wanted to keep the low-tech feel of the work, and that would not fit with substantial photoshoppery of a reluctant human. Also, I very much wanted to keep the reference to the original work intact, and somehow substituting a 50 year old woman for a couple of teenage girls would I think lose the point slightly, even with a fairy on my finger. There are entire photography studios based on recreating women as fairies, but interestingly the women are not typically shown in housework style sets, more beautiful spacious interiors and fantastic landscapes. This might be something to explore in future but I’ve happily parked it for now.

The joy of the domestic setting was that I never came close to running out of shots and there was plenty to explore. I enjoyed making visual puns – fairy boats being floated in a filling bath or on a dripping shower head, an illuminated fairy lantern held aloft over a live power socket. I enjoyed working with the magic and the mundane in the same frame, with the idea that it might just be true (an idea which actually did gain a bit of traction here when the condemned dishwasher suddenly started working again). It made me really look at my house in the dark, I’ve never sat in front of the washing machine making video before. I’m hopeful that every action like this will result in my creative boundaries moving further and further back as I move through the course.

Context

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

A2 Photographing the Unseen – Away with the fairies

 

 

I was inspired by the Cottingley Fairies, photographed in 1917 by cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright. When asked by Conan Doyle to comment on the authenticity of the images, photography expert Harold Snelling said  “these are straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time” .  I find it so interesting that you can have a photograph of “whatever was in front of the camera at the time” without necessarily asserting that whatever was in front of the camera was the truth.

This led me to the housework fairies. Discussing the concept with friends I was intrigued by the level of engagement shown by grown adults. Everyone would love proof that they exist. They’re almost like the grown version of the tooth fairy. Where do we get this idea from, and why do we keep it beyond childhood? I blame Disney. From Fantasia, to Sleeping Beauty, to Enchanted, we’re indoctrinated in our early years with the idea that if we’re lucky enough some mythical being or magic creature/animated object will do our cleaning with a song in their heart and a twinkle in their eye and absolutely no being asked twice. Even Mary Poppins, that stern disciplinarian, was not averse to a bit of magic to help with the tidying up.
My work is photographs of projections of illustrations in a domestic setting. Each step a remove further from the mythological original.  My fairies are even less real than the cardboard Cottingley cutouts because they are a simple trick of the light from a child’s torch.  Yet they are still intriguing and there are as many readings as there are fairies. The contrast between the mundane and the magic, the power of our imaginations, the countless hours lost to housework, feminism, how much we take for granted, or a simple revisit and tribute to a 101 year old hoax which was not formally debunked until the 1980s.
Haot, G. (2018). The Mystery Of The Cottingley Fairies. [online] Historyandotherthoughts.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://historyandotherthoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-mystery-of-cottingley-fairies.html [Accessed 7 Feb. 2018].

Test edit Photographing the unseen – the housework fairies feedback welcome

This has not been straight forward. I’m thinking about presenting a mix of video and images, all will be on Instagram with a (currently) unique hashtag but also on my blog as jpg/mov files. There is still a bit of work to do in that the power point image needs reshooting and one of the videos needs a couple of seconds trimming from the length. A couple could do with a little tweak in PS too but on the whole no major changes planned.

For video, I need two of the three below – the boats  and one of the washing machine ones. I think my preference is for the blue fairy and the way she becomes visible/invisible depending on whether the laundry is there to define her or not. The sequencing will start with the power socket, then the video of the boats I think, jpgs as shown below with a llaundry video to follow the laundry dial shot.

 

 

For the jpgs, I have listed them below and indicated where I need to make a choice between different versions of the same shot.

 

Photographing the unseen – a diversion

 

 

Photographing guilt. It’s such a no-brainer for me that I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me until now. Single-use plastics, outgrown clothes (hers and mine), gifts that are no longer needed, broken toys, broken promises. Not being a working mum, not volunteering at school, not doing my daily yoga practice, not being up to date on my coursework, not cooking enough, drinking too much, sleeping too little…

Today is meant to be a study day. My den is so full of stuff that I can’t work in there, even if the desk was clear.  My daughter, 9, had cleared out her room and much of the stuff had ended up in my room awaiting processing. She said it was rubbish, I wasn’t sure. Indecision, there’s another invisible thing to photograph. The situation is similar in the garage and the nagging background voice to do a couple of tip runs became a yell. I still managed to make a brew and procrastinate motivate myself with a 90 minute Netflix documentary on minimalism however (those who know me are probably snorting out their coffee at this point). Anyway, wired, encouraged, guilty-feeling and only slightly cynical I loaded the car and set off.

The local tip has been refurbished. There is a place for everything. I photographed my way through two car-loads, much to the bemusement of the site monitors and other users. Guilt is unseen, and so is our waste, discreetly dropped into containers and we return home to our decluttered spaces with little thought as to the load that we’ve just handed the environment.

Confronting and owning my own waste. It’s rather easier to photograph other people’s litter on pavements and beaches to be honest. I’m interested in the tidal flow of stuff into and out of my home. I feel guilty about waste in so many ways. Should I be selling stuff on eBay, discreetly stressing that the car seat has barely been out of the garage let alone involved in any bumps? Should I have found the pedal that fell off the much-loved and outgrown trike and see if I could re-home it somewhere? The plastic, that despite hundreds of uses as cups, potties, etc will sit in landfill beyond Blythe’s own lifetime? Should I have had another child, to get another cycle of use from these plastics (clearly that’s not an argument that holds up to rational scrutiny). The steam generator, achingly expensive, that died two months past the expiry of its guarantee. Should I at least have tried to get it repaired? The internet said no. The clothes that I worry will end up on a huge mountain of waste in the Philippines with children Blythe’s age picking through it trying to make a living. The endless drawings that she doesn’t want to keep, stages in her own creative journey, yet I can’t bring myself to photograph and release them to another life.

Presenting these for review. They might replace the fairies. They are straight from the camera, unprocessed as yet.

A2 Photographing the unseen

Having restarted working after a break I was surprised to see that I was just one exercise away from A2. I had encountered the Cottingley Fairies once again over Christmas – that hoax made by two young cousins in 1917 (one of whom worked for a photographer). The photographs sparked the attention of Conan Doyle, and the girls made further work using cameras given to them. The work was submitted to various technical experts for feedback, and one of the photographic companies commented that it was indeed a true record of whatever was in front of the camera at the time. Following on from Two Sides of the Story, this really made me think. The work was a true record of what was in front of the camera at the time, but that may or may have been fairies.

Like many others I would like for the reputed Housework Fairies to be a reality. I had worked on FiP with a child’s torch that projected images of the solar system, and was intrigued to find that there was a pink (obviously) version that projected images of unicorns and fairies. I tried it out at Imber at Christmas, but at minus 4 degrees it was too cold for my brain to work out how to focus it. Back in a centrally heated house, I started to play. There are the projections, but there’s also the possibility of using fairy lights within domestic appliances.

There are some challenges – the work has to be done in low light, for the images to show. So I need a tripod for the camera and a stand for the torch, as I can’t hold it still enough for the longer exposures. Problem 1 – finding a stand that can do the job without intruding either directly or via shadow into the photographs. Problem 2 – composing in the dark. Problem 3 – getting the exposure right so that the context to the fairies is visible too despite being in the dark (I think I need to run bracketed exposures for this and then merge them in PS). I ran the idea past an OCA open hangout and the result was generally positive with the proviso that I needed to improve the quality of the images, and that I should also consider a less neat and clean background otherwise it is simply a domestic shot.

Again, thanks to OCA input I have ordered a couple of flexible “arms” with clamps/clips that will allow me more flexibility in positioning and stabilising the torch, and hence the tripod, especially in smaller spaces.

Contextually, there is something to dig into here. 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 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 three female politicians that they were “sluts” because they admitted to not cleaning  behind their fridges? Hillary Clinton, more recently,  was told to get out of the public eye and back to her knitting. We’re held to impossible standards of cleanliness, freshness, sterility, minimalism against a barrage of products aimed to fill our homes, handbags and time. Woman, know thy place.

Below a few of the trial images, some are from my mobile. Shooting will start once the clamps are here but I’ll continue with test shots in the meantime and work out what and how I want to photograph.

 

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

 

11/1 Update

This is not one of the assignments that cheerfully almost does itself while I chase behind with the camera. It’s Thursday, study day, and once again I’m struggling to get up and off the kitchen chair. There are images on the camera from a bit of work last night, the new clamps are working well and it’s work that although undoubtedly not great at the moment has a lot of potential. It’s a theme that resonates with and is relevant to so many others, so why is it so hard? Answer, I think, is that I’m photographing things that I’d rather not be looking at, and that certainly I’m uncomfortable with sharing. Yesterday I found my nine year old furiously pointing out a trail of cat poo nuggets up the stairs  topped by one of those unidentifiable cat fluid stains – our 17 year old cat is poorly – and I was caught between the need to clean up and disinfect immediately and the slightly creepy and disconcerting desire to leave it another hour til dusk so I could photograph it with a fairy.

Anyway, now that’s out of the way  (I compromised – cleaned up the poo and left the fluid which may or not have been cat sick for later) – it’s time to make a coffee, put on some music and crack on with photographing more of the things that I’d rather weren’t seen…

Note – there’s a feeling of trappedness coming through here – of something that was in the dark being forced into the light. Fits nicely with the Photographing The Unseen, but rather more discomforting than I expected. #houseworkfairiesofinstagram ?

 

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