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].

A3 Self portrait Tutor feedback

Very happy with this feedback – it’s detailed and helpful with lots to think about.

Kate Aston Assignment 3 feedback

Returning to this sometime after the rework was largely done. This is the piece of work that changed a lot for me. After looking at the grid of images I booked in with my GP, the result several tests and scans later was a trial course of (utterly fantastic) HRT and most likely a full hysterectomy in January 2019 followed by HRT. So I only have two or three periods left before starting a new phase of my life. That’s made it hard to come back to this work, even though I am positive about the future.

I was interested by Andy’s discussion of the merits of making the work with my phone compared to the more formal portrait methodology of Roni Horn (You are the weather) or Rineke Dijkstra’s series of women post childbirth and matadors post bullfight. I suppose the contrast is that my series is not post anything, but during, in the midst of, and my work was self portraiture rather than me photographing someone else.  I do admire the precision of Horn’s work particularly. I think the mobile format worked for me – especially considering the very small size in pixels of the app screens compared to the large image size made by my dslr. Even the relatively small image size from my iPhone selfie camera was much bigger than the app screen grabs.

I was happy that the grid conveyed the idea of moving through the cycle, of exploring and creating an image for every day of the cycle. It was liberating not to have to worry about one good image, or no good images or five good images. When I consider Andy’s question about my favourite images, I agree that not all of the images are equally compelling. That’s fine though, not all of the days were equally compelling either. I very much like the layout of day 25, the geometry of it, but the image that I think sums everything up for me is day 24, when I stepped out of the back door into a snow storm mirroring the inner turmoil of PMS. I also like the juxtaposition in day 5 – International Women’s Day with feeling completely washed out.

It was interesting to follow up Andy’s suggestions of artists to look at. The Nick Turpin reference delighted me – his Night Bus series inspired my series on red telephone boxes for EYV A4. I was intrigued by how Andy saw “a connection in dramatic ambiguity” between his work and mine – distortions through glass and “constantly casting doubt”.

Lucas Samaras is an interesting reference too, though it’s been challenging to find high quality versions of his work to look at. He worked with Polaroids, amongst a vast range of other materials, and had an exhibition titled “Unrepentant Ego: the Self Portraits of Lucas Samaras” that contained 400 works. He manipulated his Polaroids during development by hand or stylus, resulting in Polaroid initially asking him to stop doing so. This moves his self portraits away from the idea of a self portrait photograph as a record. There’s an essay abut Samaras’ Polaroids in Grundberg’s Crisis of the Real where Grundberg opens by saying that Samaras’ work is “unruly, impulse and emotional” and this did ring a bell with me. The Polaroid allows him to be both observer and observed, and the format’s intrinsic borders, and the grids that he then arranged the images in, then serve to contain the work. He subverts the friendly, all American Polaroid into a way of making cathartic work.

I found the Sarah Lucas book through a second hand seller. The work made me think – I was not comfortable with all of it but I suspect that’s the point, and it’s worth considering that some people probably have the same response to my work. I find her work crass and clever, the book is hard to read not just because of the pictures but also because it’s not the kind of book I can read in a crowded cafe or whilst waiting at one of my daughter’s after-school clubs. This is more a problem with me than with the book. I’m also uncomfortably aware that the reason I can make my work is because artists like Sarah Lucas have pushed back the boundaries of subects that we can make art about. Her self portraits are assertive and bold, uniformly framed, which makes me think of the credibility that a frame can add, even to an image of her sat in just a t-shirt on the toilet, holding  a cigarette. I think I will keep coming back to this book.

Finally Jenny Saville. I am engaged by the exhuberance of her work, the refusal to make people smaller. Looking back at her work as I edit this post for assessment, I am reminded of how important it was to me to show the photograms at life size for A5. Her work shows everything, in huge detail. It’s quite swamping, even when just seen via a laptop computer screen.



Crisis of the Real Andy Grundberg, aperture 3rd ed 1999 p114-117

A3 Contact sheets

These are a little incomplete as many images were finished in Photoshop rather than Lightroom. I should also say that some images were deleted. Without disregarding the value of the archive, there were many selfies that the world doesn’t need to see.

I still don’t completely have the knack of the contact sheet process. Lightroom (and Bridge) make it very straightforward to use tags, labels and other selection tools to gradually whittle down images, but they don’t make it so easy to show those processes via the contact sheets. So I often end up returning to my contact sheets after the fact of selection, which is not really the point.

Self assessment A3

self assessment

Following my A2 format of more detailed writing under each heading as this was well received by my tutor and provides a more central record for me.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I worked with my iPhone SE again for this assignment as it fitted best with the “selfie” element of the work and the use of screenshots from the Clue phone app. I used the square format once again, I’m slightly ambivalent about this decision but decided on the square format as selfies are often presented to the world via the ubiquitous square format of Instagram.  Instagram itself has this weird tension from the intimacy of the images shared via the public, global  nature of the platform, and I thought this echoed what I was doing with my work – making something deeply personal almost open access.  It also allowed me to explore the diary element via daily postings of the work to Instagram and did encourage accountability on the days when it all seemed too much of a poor idea. Format was an issue as the Clue screenshots were in a very different form to either square or standard IPhone photos, they were tall and very narrow.

I ended up working with square images, 960pixels on each side. I used the selfie camera which although I think the most appropriate camera for the work, was of quite limited quality especially in lower light and when some overlay modes were used. I tried to make all images against a light coloured background thus giving consistency without restricting me to a single location. Images were imported to Lightroom, then I opened them in Photoshop to layer the images with the corresponding Clue screen shot and make any edits. I think this is another “low-tech” piece of work, the images are not as polished as they would be from my DSLR on a tripod, but I wanted to keep an “everywoman” feel to the work too.

This assignment gave me the opportunity to use Adobe Bridge, which has only just become legible on my hi-res monitor. Bridge gave me more options to play with for layout and actually made putting the final work together more straightforward, even though it had no input on the individual images. It has also made me think harder about getting my own printer as it outputs to a PDF and Loxley don’t print PDFs.

Quality of Outcome

I am quite proud of this work.  I’m not sure that it is “finished” in terms of presentation, but the contact sheet format displays my entire cycle on one A3 sheet and somehow that feels like an appropriate presentation. There are some 5 x5 prints too, all prints made by Loxley. It’s at a good intermediate point I think. This course has often made me look at things differently, but I’ve never looked at my identity over the course of one cycle in anywhere near as much detail. Personally, it’s driven me to seek medical advice in the hope of improving a few days each month.

I presented the work as a grid containing one image taken and made on each day of my cycle. I wanted to present as a 7column 4 row grid to mimic a standard calendar grid of 28 days, but that particular cycle only ran to 26 days so I was two days short. I did consider picking out a handful of images and presenting just those, but I think part of what I liked about this work was showing the whole cycle as a series. I didn’t start the series until day 6 of that cycle so I had to chose between starting the grid at day 6 and cycling around to finish at day 5; or using days 1-5 out of sequence to show a series running from 1-26. I chose the latter but am still not 100% at ease with that decision. I really liked a peer’s (Nic Hallam) suggestion of presenting the work as slides in a Kodak carousel to convey the “repeat til broke” nature of my cycles, but that’s not a realistic option for assessment as there may not be a projector available. Also the images are small and square and may not convert to slides successfully. All that said I’m going to try it anyway and see if there’s potential there.

Demonstration of creativity

I enjoyed the creative sandpit afforded by doing the same thing every day, this gave me space to learn, experiment and play because I had the best part of a month to make this work. You can follow different explorations throughout the grid as I started to become more playful and curious about the frame and the possibilities that it offered.

I was intrigued by the possibilities offered by my Pro cam app, and even more so by the way that my phone would remember the haziest of outlines of an untaken photograph if I switched to another app before taking a picture and then returned to the phone app. I could then scan through open apps and do a screen grab of that hazy outline. I’d love to do more with this.

feb 22 blur darker colour 22 opacity
Feb 22

I’m not much of a selfie taker and this work felt very personal indeed, well outside my comfort zone. It’s common to so many of us though and I hoped that people would recognise aspects of their lives in my work. I was very interested and also very happy to see another OCA student, Sarah Scott,  exploring the idea on her blog too after seeing some of my images on Instagram. One of her posts about it is here, scroll down to the end. It was fascinating to see her take on the idea and I agree with her comments about the discomfort of sharing something so private. It’s a great feeling to see someone whose work and writing I find engaging being inspired by something I made. So that feels like a creative success to me because my work is inspiring more work as well as recognition and empathy.

Combining a basic biological function with a high-tech app provides some consideration about neoliberal measuring of women’s lives (thank you to a former tutor for pointing out the neoliberal measuring), and there is much to think about here. Exactly who gets to know the details of my cycle once I upload the data? How many organisations would seek to exploit this data, whether for medical research or commercial gain? Would WHSmith want to be able to target their magazine and chocolate cross-selling more precisely?  Add this to the Facebook data breaches that broke recently and there is considerable scope for more work.

There’s not much work out there about the menstrual cycle in relation to the whole person – and what there is tends to focus on either the visibility of the monthly bleeding or the results of conception. I thought it was creative to take a wider view of the entire cycle.

It was hard to work out how obvious I wanted the work to be. It’s difficult to take a candid selfie after all. Did I want to show awareness, or did I want to be as “out there” as Echeverri? I’m still not sure what the answer is to that one.

I ended up finding far more context for this work than I thought I would, and it is documented in its own post here. I think it sits within post-feminist work. It’s autobiographical, but also documentary because it includes app screenshots and encourages consideration of what happens to the personal  data uploaded to that app.

I think it’s the context section of this work that has carried the most learning for me. Not just in terms of artist context, but also in terms of establishing where my work sits with regards to feminism. I always regarded myself as a feminist, but A2 feedback showed me that it is far more apparent in my work than I imagined. For this work, I couldn’t even consider that it’s not feminist. I somehow thought that I could choose whether or not I made feminist work, and that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Ditto, the way that I emphatically told myself “ok, it’s definitely feminist but it’s not about menstrual activism” is probably wrong too. I suspect you can still have work that’s about menstrual activism without seeing the blood, or perhaps that should be menopausal activism. It’s the context section for each assignment in this course that is really making me question what motivates and informs my work, how I’m making and presenting it, and where I imagine it sitting in the world of contemporary work.




Contextualising A3

From my self assessment

I ended up finding far more context for this work than I thought I would, and it is documented in its own post. I think it sits within post-feminist work. It’s autobiographical, but also documentary because it includes app screenshots and encourages consideration of what happens to the personal  data uploaded to that app.

I think it’s the context section of this work that has carried the most learning for me. Not just in terms of artist context, but also in terms of establishing where my work sits with regards to feminism. I always regarded myself as a feminist, but A2 feedback showed me that it is far more apparent in my work than I imagined. For this work, I couldn’t even consider that it’s not feminist. I somehow thought that I could choose whether or not I made feminist work, and that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Ditto, the way that I emphatically told myself “ok, it’s definitely feminist but it’s not about menstrual activism” is probably wrong too. I suspect you can still have work that’s about menstrual activism without seeing the blood, or perhaps that should be menopausal activism. It’s the context section for each assignment in this course that is really making me question what motivates and informs my work, how I’m making and presenting it, and where I imagine it sitting in the world of contemporary work.

Original post on context:

I ended up finding more context for this work than I thought I would. At a very basic level it can be contextualised within (a) self portraits and (b) feminist/post-feminist work around the entire menstrual cycle. I didn’t find much work encompassing both of these contexts. There are many more contexts that this work touches upon though and I will consider some of these below. Some of the links at the end of this post are not safe for work.

Films – I was directed by Russell Squires on the OCA discussion forum (opens in new tab)to the film “Stranger than Fiction” where the lead character is shown with his own GUI, rather like the Cumberbatch Sherlock episodes with text-style captions showing thoughts or text messages, hashtags etc. I saw how text and photographs can work together, giving extra insight to both.

sherlock lives bbc
Copyright BBC


From Stranger than Fiction I moved to “Groundhog Day”, considering the implications and possibilities of doing the same activity every day, for ever. Both films move the character’s destiny out of the their own hands. This helped me to realise that just because I was taking a self portrait every day, it didn’t have to be the same self portrait every day; there was space to play, to evolve.

My over-riding inspiration was Roni Horn’s “You are the weather” series, where a series of portraits of a woman in an outdoor swimming pool subtly indicate, via changing facial expressions, the different external weather. I wanted to see if my face and body language could indicate my changing internal hormonal climate, over the course of one cycle. In the event my changes are far less subtle than those that Roni captured. I was also inspired by Juan Pablo Echeverri’s various series of photobooth self portraits. These are very much performance based, but encouraged me that it was possible to make a series of multiple self portraits without it being boring, something that mattered when the motivation faded after the first few days.

On the self-portrait side, I was interested in older women working in the self-portrait area to counter-balance the raft of younger women in the selfie arena. Jo Spence was an obvious reference here, but there are others. I was engaged by the work Outrageous Agers by Rosy Martin and Kay Goodridge, where they photographed themselves trying on clothes in TopShop. They look squished, confined into tight lycra in tiny spaces. This contrasts with Anna Noggle’s naked self portraits, where she occupies her space and her identity proudly.

We then move into a very tangled context of feminist and post-feminist work, menstrual activism, mobile phone apps concern over data security and selfies. There doesn’t seem to be a category for menopausal activism which is probably where I’m heading. Much of the work out there is associated with menstrual activism, specifically the bleeding. There is not much creative attention paid to the 3 weeks of every 4 when we’re not bleeding, but doing so much other remarkable stuff. We can start with Judy Chicago’s Red Flag and move onto Sarah Levy’s portrait of President Trump made with her period blood, Rupi Kaur’s Instagram work and Yurie Nagashima (both of whom show blood on the shower floor), the Hong Kong based Menstruaction group on Facebook. Chris Bobel’s book New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation focuses on menstruation (as per the title) and the way that consecutive waves of feminists have chosen to engage with or disengage from the politics and provision of  san pro products and their safety.  The mood does seem to be changing to a more holistic view of the entire cycle and the move into the menopause. In the mainstream press, Eva Wiseman considers the existence, funding and use of period tracking apps and there is much of interest here (including the venture capitalist who agreed to invest but on condition of anonymity, we can only assume that he was male). There’s an interesting conflict there between the vast size of the market presented by tracking menstrual cycles and the reluctance of the patriarchy to accept, fund and profit from a high-tech app created by a woman for people who menstruate.

The best context for the diary based work was Mary Kelly’s work Post Partum. This is a diary format work over 6 years, starting with stained nappy liners and baby vests and moving through feeding charts to the starting of writing. The feeding charts especially chimed with me for this work, the recording of facts in conjunction with a daily diary. My sister in law had her first child in Japan where pretty much everything that goes into and comes out of an infant is recorded in detail. Another similarity for me is the sense of loss, as the child grows from an entirely dependent baby to a child starting to express himself in writing as well as vocally. Much to my confusion, the prospect of menopause triggers feelings of loss at the end of my fertile years as well as joy and confusion at the idea of no more periods (what will I feel like every day? Will every day feel the same?). My diary is only over 26 days so this may not be apparent, compared to the six years that Mary Kelly’s work covers, but I am one cycle closer to the unknown now.

I found one piece of work that considered the entire cycle from a self portrait perspective. It is Casey Jenkins’ “Casting off my womb” and is performance art recorded each day during one of her cycles. She used a centre pull ball of yarn (one where the yarn feeds from the centre rather than the outside), inserted it like a tampon and videoed herself knitting it into an extended scarf every day for 28 days. Although the reported focus of the work is (inevitably) on what happens during her period, she does consider aspects of the other days too, how the experience changed from day to day. She received such aggressive feedback about this work via social media that she made more work responding to the criticism.

I found that where I was in my cycle affected my attitude to the work, and this is something that will stay with me. Critiquing my own work in the premenstrual days didn’t go well – I was unhappy with the project, the images, and I ended up in a negative feedback loop. I think back to EYV A5 when I soaked a Polaroid emulsion lift off an acrylic block and promptly washed it down the kitchen sink in fury and disappointment, and I start to suspect I was premenstrual that day. I will definitely check where I am in my cycle before making major creative decisions from now on.

It would be an omission not to consider selfies as part of the context for this work. Society can be very judgemental of those who take selfies, particularly women and girls. It is true that there are valid concerns over pressure for perfection and achieving impossible filtered “norms”, but selfies also give people control over how they appear in images and how they distribute those images, at least in the first instance, and the ability to push back against those who would tell them how they should appear in photographs. Anne Burns’ work on her blog and her dissertation is very interesting.

Retrospectively, I would add the Rachel MacLean film Make Me Up to my context for this work. She makes extensive use of combining images and text in a mobile phone, selfie and app context.

References (some are not safe for work)

Arnot, C. (2018). Cellulite for sore eyes. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2000/feb/03/artsfeatures2 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

BBC (2018). Sherlock Series 3 announced. [image] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01mj92g/p01mj8yt [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Bobel, C. (2010). New blood. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Bright, S. (2010). Auto focus. London: Thames and Hudson, p.80.

Burns, A. (2018). The Carceral Net. [online] The Carceral Net. Available at: https://thecarceralnet.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Casey Jenkins. (2018). Casting Off My Womb. [online] Available at: http://casey-jenkins.com/works/casting-off-my-womb/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Groundhog Day. (1993). [film] Directed by H. Ramis. US: Columbia.

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].

Jospence.org. (2018). Jo Spence: The Picture of Health. [online] Available at: http://jospence.org/picture_of_health/picture_of_health_thumbs.html [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

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

Judychicago.com. (2018). Selected work « Judy Chicago. [online] Available at: http://www.judychicago.com/gallery/early-feminist/ef-artwork/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Make Me Up. (2018). [film] Directed by R. Maclean. UK: Hopscotch Films with NVA.

Marykellyartist.com. (2018). Post-Partum Document. [online] Available at: http://www.marykellyartist.com/post_partum_document.html [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Mocp.org. (2018). Museum of Contemporary Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.mocp.org/detail.phpt=objects&type=browse&f=maker&s=Noggle%2C+Anne&record=76 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Rupikaur.com. (2018). period | rupi kaur. [online] Available at: https://rupikaur.com/period/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Sarah Levy Art. (2018). Art. [online] Available at: https://www.sarahlevyart.com/#/bloodytrump/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Stranger than Fiction. (2006). [film] Directed by M. Forster. US: Colombia.

Wiseman, E. (2018). Breaking the cycle: women are learning to love their hormones. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/25/breaking-the-cycle-women-learning-to-love-their-hormones [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].



Assignment 3 Self Portrait

My self portrait work is autobiographical but I hope that others will recognise the spirit of the work.  Inspired by drawing an apple each day for a month, I wondered what it would be like to document my menstrual cycle. My cycle is one of the main influences on my identity. It’s generally invisible to the wider world except to those closest to me. My periods started when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and are now becoming erratic with Theresa May as PM. I thought it could be interesting to explore a cycle while they’re still here.

Outside of pregnancy, the art world’s representation of the menstrual cycle is generally limited to the period itself, the housekeeping part of the cycle (cf Judy Chicago’s Red Flag). The cycle’s about far more than that though. We don’t mark those exuberant mid-cycle days or the days of calmness and strength.  I was inspired by Roni Horn’s I am the weather series, where the expression of a woman in an outdoor swimming pool changes according to the weather. I wondered if a series of self portraits throughout my cycle could show the effects of my changing internal hormonal climate, juxtaposed with more objective data from Clue, a period tracking app.

I used my phone to take selfies every morning and Clue screen captures later that day to prevent the data affecting the selfie. I combined the two in Photoshop each evening.  Presentation options included a calendar-style grid, spiral bound prints, Mobius loops with the images printed as photobooth style strips, carousel style hand-made book or a carousel of slides. Choices were limited by the very small size of the selfie camera images from my phone (960pixels on the shortest side).

I took selfies and screenshots each day of my Feb/March cycle which encompassed Valentines Day, International Women’s Day and the general run-up to Easter. Images were made from Day 6 of one cycle through to day 5 of the next.

In addition to the A3 final contact sheet with the whole cycle I also submitted ten 5×5 square full-bleed prints.

Judychicago.com. (2018). Selected work « Judy Chicago. [online] Available at: http://www.judychicago.com/gallery/early-feminist/ef-artwork/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018]. Not safe for work.

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].

A3 diary work in progress post

Taken from my OCA critiques board thread:

“For the second choice, I want to correlate phone selfies with screen captures from my period tracker app on the same day. Like many people, some of my most personal data is on apps accessed from my mobile. Where I am in my cycle does affect my identity on that day, yet it’s largely (and fortunately) invisible to most of the people I encounter daily. As I get further into my 50s it’s not going to be part of my identity for much longer. An artist friend tells me that womens’ faces are more symmetrical around ovulation, which I find both intriguing and hard to believe. So I’m loosely thinking about a Roni Horn “You are the weather” type series.”

This post will be regularly updated over the next few weeks.

I’ve wanted to do something with my period tracker app (Clue) since I started using it several weeks ago.  As I get further into perimenopause it provides an invaluable service in terms of keeping track of my shortening cycles. It’s not just that though, it’s the way that it makes sense of my data, my moods, the almost teenage diversity and quantity of fluids. It’s the idea of quite so much personal data, sloshing around in the cloud where they presumably try to make sense of all the women using it. I’m fascinated by both the range of the data that we give away, and the sensitivity of it.

Menstruation, and menopause, fit neatly with my passion for making work about the commonplace yet unseen, the familiar but forgotten. There’s not much work out there, and what there is tends to focus on the actual blood rather than the delicacy and effieciency of a cycle that in my case has run smoothly for most of 37 odd years. I started my periods when Margaret Thatcher was PM and I’m nearing the end of them with Theresa May. My cycles have stopped and started for the pill, pregnancy, miscarriage, pregnancy and breastfeeding before heading into a peri-menopausal steampunk-style frenzy of over-activity in recent years. They frame my identity, are a factor in managing my diary and I’m not actually sure who and how I’ll be without them. I won’t be making work along the lines of Judy Chicago’s Red Flag or Yurie Nagashima’s This Time of the Month (Auto Focus p80) or even the exquisitely embroidered tampons and sanitary towels by Sarah Naqvi. I want to document just one of the 400-500 cycles that define and circumscribe the fertile years of my life, before they stop for good. I want to document from two perspectives – how the world sees me (or rather how my iPhone sees me through a front-facing camera), and from the daily screens in my app that give me the data that the world doesn’t see. I trust that documenting this way will provoke empathy, recognition and thought. edit – I wanted to work with a consistent but not rigidly so background, so decided on a light background. Over the course of the cycle this encompassed my bed, the upstairs landing walls and the outside of the house.

Moving on,  I decided to make mobile selfies as this is in keeping with the culture that gave rise to the app in the first place. So the images are not that polished, and they contrast with the smooth design of the screen captures. They feel real though. I’m using a single corner of the house and the same jumper each day. Valentines Day has seen the introduction of a rose which I think might continue to feature, I’m intrigued by how it might bloom and decline along with my cycle. The phone app offers a range of screens – pre data entry, post data entry, splash “did you know?” screens, calendar overviews, detailed drill down screens for specific data… I think I will capture 2 or 3 each day along with selfies. I upload to Lightroom each day and put a couple of images together in Photoshop. My cycle doesn’t run from day 1 to day 1 because I didn’t start properly until day 6, but it’s a cycle no matter where it starts. Edit – the images eventually ran from day 6 to day 5. I am minded to present them as day 1to day 26 for simplicity, even though that means that the first 5 images are actually at the wrong end of the contact sheet.

The following grid is a half-way house for contact sheets – it’s a log of my composites including trying out different overlay modes. No serious editing applied to this selection and it will be added to as time goes on until I have a whole cycle’s worth of images. Text continues below.

I’m wondering as always about colour or black and white and both. As I get older and see an increasing influence from my mum in the mirror I feel as if I should be in black and white; one of the matriarchs in the photo album. Then I remind myself that I still have many productive years, even decades, ahead of me, and that if I want to spend them in colour I darn well will. I wonder about photo albums as they are now, will they only include black and white images where that’s been chosen as a filter? How much am I defining my own validity and worth by my fertility?

Following a suggestion on the OCA board, I watched the film Stranger than Fiction. A man, whose life has its own GUI, (a bit like in the modern Sherlock series), suddenly acquires a narrator and learns that he is the doomed central character in a novel that’s being written. As the plot progresses his GUI disappears, which I found slightly disappointing. I like the concept, the way you get extra information from inside the character becoming visible.

I’ve realised in the last couple of days that this work isn’t just about layering selfies with data on my menstrual cycle, it’s about sliding further into perimenopause and my response to it. I’m reading Susan Bright’s Auto Focus book, and that directed me to Anne Noggle’s self portraits of herself as an older woman. I feel slightly reassured by her work, though for a variety of reasons am not sure that I would be prepared to show as much flesh and quite probably not as joyfully as she does. There are any number of worries starting to coalesce too – will I run out of ideas? Will I forget to make a shot every day? The project hinges on being a whole set of one cycle after all. Does it matter that it starts on Day 6? Doesn’t that make it a spiral rather than a cycle? Day 1 is a completely different day 1 every time, after all. Is the egg metaphor too clunky?

Sunday 18th and the fear of running out of eggs ideas is becoming quite real. I’m leaving that Freudian slip right there because it illustrates so clearly that I am normally the last person to understand what my own work is about. My subconscious has to get the flags out and insert subtitles. Perhaps this new knowledge will benefit the work.

Monday 19th, and last night I dreamt that I was at the maternity unit in labour with a second child. I think this may be the first time that coursework has driven my dreams. I think I now know absolutely what this work means to me. I’m starting to realise just how far outside my comfort zone I am, and I think the door slammed shut behind me. Even the standard Instagram selfie is alien to me, something like this day after day feels massively unstable beneath my creative base.

I decided to rewatch Groundhog Day, due to a passing reference made by another student about the banality of keeping a daily diary. It’s strikingly similar to Stranger than Fiction, in that it has a story line of someone trying to regain control over their life when its authorship seems to pass elsewhere. Every day Bill Murray’s character gets the choice to either live the same day over and over, or to seize the chance to do something differently, to invent an entirely new narrative for himself. That rings a bell – when I pick up the phone every day and wonder what kind of image I will make.

A reference that feels relevant – OCA student Sarah-Jane Field’s exercise on Self & Other where she transforms herself to a teenage girl via the use of Snapchat filters. I haven’t fully unpacked the relevance but here is the link https://ocasjf.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/excercise-3-3-the-act-we-act/

20 Feb – a study session with OCA peer Holly Woodward. We talk about how women are largely absent from photographs between the ages of about 45 and 75, about presenting a consistent series, about whether a self portrait triptych such as Anne Noggle’s Stellar by Starlight can be considered objectification. We talk about how older women are frequently photographed after death, via their possessions. I’m not sure how I feel about being defined by my possessions posthumously. We talked about whether this work could be shown as a series with the same basic concept throughout the series but colour changes in the overlay indicating the passage of time through the cycle. Also presentation – I’m keen to present the work in a way that reflect the nature of a cycle, so maybe a never ending slide show, or as a carousel type handmade book that would neatly turn the inside outside. Holly has also lent me some books which I’ll talk about on a separate post.

21 Feb –  updated Bridge which is giving me much better options for making contact sheets. I think contact sheets will be key to a strong edit on this work. The time quality to this is odd, I can’t make the work any quicker and there has to be a shot for every day, even if the final edit doesn’t contain a full cycle worth of shots. It’s slightly frustrating having to go at this slower pace. Looking at the contact sheet is also making me think that the final set has to have my face in each one. Somehow the non-face ones feel less me, even though they are me.

22 Feb – discovered how to capture a blurred preview of an iPhone image, which is quite exciting. I’m intrigued by the idea of identity fading after ovulation.

25 Feb the work goes up for peer review this evening. A tutor/assessor who posts on the forum thinks it’s pretty much there already and suggests submitting as an A3 contact sheet. I think I would want to tweak it slightly – the contact sheet at present has multiple images for some days and I want one image per day. After doing yesterday’s image I have 14 consecutive images which makes sense, being half a standard cycle, and I finished on day 19 which makes sense to me as I like prime numbers. If the work is good enough already then there isn’t much point in doing too much more with it, it can start to feel artificial and self-conscious.

I think the contact sheet needs simpler captioning – just the date that the image was made, not the extension and not any other data. I think the dates will anchor the work in time so that the cycle days can run on a parallel track. The rose joins the two timelines on Feb 14th, when estrogen levels were starting to rise and mood improve.

It was interesting making the blurred images. These involve screen grabbing the residual image left on the phone screen after activating the camera on the phone but not taking the photograph. Then it had to be cropped to a square to remove the other screen elements, then it had to be scaled up. The result is very pixelated and blurred with no detail at all. I think there is more work to be done here, though maybe not right now on this assignment.

Call – really helpful in getting feedback.

Why did I layer the app over the portrait? Did I consider doing it the other way?

A – because I view the world and interact with it differently depending on where I am in my cycle. It’s like a prism. Doing the work this way allows me to bring the inside out, to make the inside visible.

Why are all the portraits facing the camera?

That was how it worked best for me. I hadn’t really considered silhouettes etc. I liked the eye contact. Did try other parts of body but they didn’t feel so me.

Not an easy subject for a mixed group to address.

Clive – liked the contact sheet format, “like a sheet of stamps”. (or a calendar) Images need to be big enough to be legible, needs to look like it was done that way on purpose.

27 Feb – despite what it says on the tracker, I’m in the PMS part of the cycle. Looking at today’s images I can’t be happy with them. But then again today I’m not really happy with any of them even though they looked ok yesterday. I wonder if I should keep the images in, as they are a more faithful representation of what happens when I’m premenstrual. I feel as if I’m getting a ringside seat on how my creativity changes with my hormone levels.

28 Feb – the images are starting to get more complicated as I was using effects on the source images. I’ve tried to simplify one of today’s, the dial was too much and I wanted the ripple effect to suggest my data being uploaded to the cloud where Clue uses it to learn. But the relationship in this one isn’t entirely straightforward. It’s a revelation how the hormone level changes both how I make the work and how I view it. This is certainly something that I shall bear in mind from now on. It’s good to know that within 7-9 days I should have finished an entire cycle. Even if every image from yesterday on isn’t good enough I still have enough to do a set of 14 from the first two weeks.

1st March – snow today, which made for some interesting pictures. I took them outside, against the house, preserving the light background that’s in the interieor shots. My favourite image has a blown out background but I like it for the snowflakes. A friend commented on Instagram that she wouldn’t want to pick a fight with me. This afternoon I read about Elina Brotherus’ “I Hate Sex” and was reassured that I’m not the only person who doesn’t smile in self-portraits.

Starting to think again about presentation. If I can run the work for 28 consecutive days then I can present in four rows of seven, like a calendar. I am unsure about whether the work needs dates under the images or not. Also wondering about a video with page turning effect, like in films when the calendar pages flutter off to indicate time passing. Quite like the idea of calling the work “28 days later”.

6/3 Just going to run the cycle full circuit which means two more days to go. I’ve been lucky enough to collate quite a lot of feedback both via the OCA channels, blog and by email. These are the things in my head at the moment:

  • contact sheets to include the cycle day as caption rather than actual date. Achieved this by copying and renaming the files in Bridge then constructing the contact sheet. Much easier to read. update – the final compromise was cycle day n.jpg caption to each image on the contact sheet.
  • Playing around with constructing photobooth strips and then printing and constructing these into a Mobius loop – idea of loop, idea of self/sexuality on the inside and the outside. Update – I did try this. It felt odd to have the blank side visible though and detracted from the cycle loop itself.
  • Getting some test prints. These need to be fairly small as the work is made with the selfie camera and hence only 960×960 pixels. Should work as small square prints though. Update – I need to get my own printer! Bridge gave me a gorgeously spaced PDF file, but Loxley won’t print pdfs, so I did the contact sheet through Photoshop which was not quite as pretty and didn’t allow me to include just the file name without the .jpg suffix I tried 3inch square prints and they were a bit too small.
  • Removing the tracker layer and seeing how that feels/looks (might actually be necessity for photobooth strips as they won’t be legible at small size). Update – yes, I did this on a few images and it’s fine. The other images provide enough chronological context.

3/4 Nearly a month since I last wrote here. I ran the set to 26 images, which was the length of that particular cycle. The last day was also International Women’s Day, which turned out quite well (when I did the apple diary that finished on National Apple Day too…) Interestingly, I’m now on day 31 of the next cycle along with no sign of my period, and am wondering if I serendipitously caught my last ever cycle, or if it’s just more hormonal hiccups. I have a contact sheet printed at A3 which I am fairly happy with, I would like to tweak a couple of the images to improved their legibility at smaller sizes. I’ve also established that 3″ square may be a little small for individual prints. I did think about printing them as slides and presenting in a carousel, however the source images really are too small. Using the selfie camera on the camera has restricted presentation options as the images are only 960pixels square. I followed up a forum suggestion of spiral binding square images to give the idea of a cycle, but there’s a problem with losing text, until I print the images with a border and bind in the border. At the moment the contact sheet is working for me, it’s simple and calendar-like and follows the different approaches I tried out during the cycle, thus giving an idea of my learning process.

A3 size contact sheet

15/4 After receiving the prints back from Loxley I decided to edit the processing on days 3 and 7 to improved text legibility. I also ordered a handful of prints at 5″ square as well as the changed contact sheet. I was very taken by student Nic Hallam’s idea of presenting these images as slides in a Kodak carousel, because of the way it just keep on cycling around until it breaks. However on looking into it the jpgs are too small to make good slides, and I’m unhappy about a form of presentation that requires a slide projector. I want to try out peer Holly Woodward’s suggestion of presenting the images as a handmade “star” book where the covers open through 360 degree to give a rotary format.

22/4 I haven’t really written much here about the choice for A3 that I didn’t take – working with photobooth style strips to make Mobius loops. This was inspired by Elizabeth Grosz, work on the surface as a way of discussing those aspects of ourselves we choose to keep visible/hidden and the ultimate futility of doing so (she was inspired by Lacan). This idea is now on my shortlist for A5. I like how it puts the (invisible) insideness of a menstrual cycle on the (visible) outside. It leaves me the question of the relevance of the blank back of the strip.

days 1 6 10 17

OCA discussion board thread for this work – https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/self-portrait-context-narrative-a3/6711/47

post script – although we didn’t actually discuss this work on the forum live call this evening I did show the first pass of the finished contact sheet. Two further ideas have arisen for developing the work further – as postage stamps and as coasters (it’s an intimate conversation, and I like the idea of opening it up by photographing the coasters in coffee bars, cafes, pubs etc). Plus the Clue ring reminds me of tea/coffee stains.


Notes for A3 diary

I’m not much of a writer, having done it professionally for years I find that I tend not to push any boundaries writing. I tried to see the diary exercise as an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone firstly through the commitment to doing something daily and secondly by doing something different.

So firstly, I decided to draw an apple every day for a month. I did this, and blogged it here. It’s fair to say that it probably didn’t bring any massive changes directly to my photography, but it did bring a number of positive results that I am sure will feed through to my work. My drawing is better than I thought it was, my willpower is better than I thought it was and now my confidence is increased a bit too. Now that I’m actually at Part 3 I thought again about whether I wanted to re-do the diary exercise.

I have narrowed down my ideas list to two – exploring portraits via Mobius loops and photobooth images, or documenting my menstrual cycle via selfies with screenshots from my tracking app layered onto them. Both I think have mileage so I will develop both, with the period tracking one being developed as a photo diary. I might do some text, I might not. At the end of one full cycle I will decide which to present for the assignment. I know that this is playing fast and loose with my brief, in my defence I don’t have any problems generating ideas, it’s choosing the right one that causes me grief.

The critique thread for this work is on the OCA forum here – https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/self-portrait-context-narrative-a3/6711 (you’ll need to log on with OCA credentials).