Exercise – Childhood memory

This exercise was left til after I’d finished the assignment, because I needed time to shop for a prop,  a dry sunny afternoon and time to process my thinking. The win here for me was not so much about re-creating the memory, but about thinking about photography and memory. I’ll explore this more below.


I was about six or seven years old and in the back garden of our Coventry semi on a sunny summer afternoon. My mum was there too, drinking tea with one of her friends, surprisingly neither of my sisters were there. I was playing with my knitted doll, and noticed that somehow the yarn had broken on her chest and a few loops and an end were visible. My (undiagnosed as yet) shortsighted vision reduced still further to the disruption erupting amongst the ordered stitching. My curiosity about the destructive possibilities (what happens if I pull the loose end?) was in direct conflict to my distress that my doll was unravelling. Eventually I interrupted the adult conversation, pointed out my problem, and my mother presented me with a needle and thread which gave rise to a whole new set of problems in the short term and ultimately a lifetime of hand-sewn, knitted and crocheted blankets and quilts for my own household.

This image was made in a different garden, a different place, a different time, with a different doll and a different blanket. Looking at the set in my back garden though made me think of Madeleine L’Engles “A Wrinkle in Time” – the idea that something as simple as a fold in the fabric of time could bring two disparate moments together.

I started thinking about how I remember my past.  Some of my memories are triggered by photos of the exact same event. There are no photos of this event, but there are countless photos of that garden, at that time. It was the early 1970s, the photos are in colour. When I remember, do I remember the colours as they were in life, the colours as they were in the film prints of that time, the colours as they are in those film prints in the album now, or do I create some mental misty Instagram-style filter never actually seen in real life but universally acknowledged as denoting the past?



I wondered about the type of photograph dictates the colour, the context. Our pictures at the time would have been on a 126 format Kodak camera, 110 cameras were yet to go main-stream. While doing this exercise I got out my Polaroid, which was loaded with black and white film, and photographed the doll on the blanket. Then I used my phone to photograph the doll with the Polaroid.  Procam tilt and shift filter, Instagram, instant context of a rose-tinted moment in my childhood revisited. Absolutely none of it accurate – not my doll, not my garden, there may not have even been a blanket and we didn’t have a Polaroid. But this image sets up a convincing case for the possibility of accuracy, it would be better if the Polaroid was a bit older or in colour. The hand-knitted doll (not by me) is on a hand-crocheted blanket that I made for my daughter, often with  me working on it whilst sat on it in this same garden with my toddler daughter dozing on my lap. Somehow that hurts my head thinking about it.


Pass it through an Instagram filter and remove it still further from fact…


I’d love to shoot the Polaroid in colour, but I still have three black and white exposures left in the camera and don’t want to use any more of them on this work. Then I remembered that I have the Gudak app on my phone – a strange little thing that simulates an old Kodak film camera to the point that you have to wait three days for “processing” after finishing the allocated 24 exposures before any of the images become visible on the camera roll. So I finished off my  Gudak “roll” with photographs of the doll, and will update this post on Tuesday evening when the authentically light-leaked images appear on my phone.

72 hours before I can see the Gudak images. We’d have waited about a week in the 70s.

Edit – here are a couple of the Gudak images.


Wider shot with light leaks


Another light leak.



Do these shots look older? I’m not sure that they do, I’m used to seeing light leaks on analogue prints rather than digital jpgs on screen.

I also thought about using my OM-1 and processing the prints myself… that might still be an option for this afternoon if I can bring myself to explain to my daughter why I cut a knitted doll that I had only just bought from her friend’s granny’s shop.

This exercise desperately makes me want to use memories as a starting point for exploration. Domestic textiles are of interest to me in my work, and I have some plans for developing this further. It makes me wonder how the Instagram/retro phenomenon will change how our children view photographs, photographs of them often now imply a nostalgia, a golden age of a childhood which for them was literally yesterday. How will their photos age, or as mainly digital JPGs will they be perpetually in an un-aging attic?

In some ways, the photo is absolutely accurate – give or take the doll being slightly larger in a different colourway, the hair is the same, the skin rather pinker. I doubt that this is a memory that my mum still has and in a way I cherish its intimacy, it was a bigger moment for me than for anyone else there.

Other images:




Wrinkle in Time Trailer – a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points (around 1 min 16 to one minute 1 minute 40)

Project 3 Self-absented portraiture

Another piece of coursework that made me think and made me revisit previous ideas.

The photograph by Maria Kapajeva (Nhung) in the course notes hadn’t really engaged me and I was a bit underwhelmed at the idea of looking at more of her work. I did, anyway, because generally there’s always something to learn from doing so. The work shown came alive for me as part of the sequence, and when seen a bit larger on screen. The series is a set of her peers, all women, all immigrants. To me the series works when I consider the relationship between Maria and the women that she’s photographing. There’s a candidness, an open-ness, a trust. The portraits are situated in different settings, I think of them as the women’s own spaces but I don’t know for sure. I really like the use of colour, the feeling that Maria has respectfully reproduced each woman’s colour palette. As a photographer she feels unobtrusive to me in this series, yet I’m aware that every women photographed is looking at her.

Reading the Photoparley interview with her I was both amused and relieved to read her answer to the question “What is you main aim with this work?” Maria replied:

I honestly don’t know the aim of this work. I just felt like taking portraits of women I have met in my life who I admire as individuals and professionals in whatever they specialize. It just happened that they are all my peers and they are all immigrants as I am. It might be some sort of reflection on my long-lasting connection with the ideas in ‘Russian brides’.

I think this relatively simple motivation resulted in a very strong series of work, possibly more so than if she’d explicitly set out to photograph herself via women she knew in similar circumstances. I think there’s always an element of self-portrait in everyone’s work, it’s hard not to give away something of yourself in what you choose to photograph and how you photograph and present it.

I was excited by Maria’s work involving patchwork and cross-stitching. I enjoy work that takes traditionally feminine pursuits and occupations and builds them into contemporary work within a feminist context. It’s interesting that she collaborated with her mother on the Double-wedding ring quilt. Named I am Usual Woman, it features images from how-to websites on the best images to use to attract a mate.

I have enjoyed Sophie Calle’s work since FiP. Something about Take Care of Yourself makes me want to pull up a chair and settle in for the evening. I think part of it is the universal subject matter – who hasn’t received a poorly phrased dumping letter/email/text message? My own history of responding to these is not one I’m particularly proud of, yet has always been creative. In this way I identify with, and to a certain guilty extent delight in, Sophie’s extensive, careful, considered and completely compliant response to the phrase “take care of yourself”. She takes the obsession from herself, the recipient, and amplifies it across a Greek Chorus of 107 women (including a parrot if I remember correctly). A multitude of shades of meaning and a multitude of responses are extracted from a private email and put into the public domain. I love that it ended up as film, photography and text; when her story with him should have been over (he wanted it to be over) she ensured that it had the longevity and pizazz of a broadway musical.

Nigel Shafran is another photographer whose work feels as if it’s been with me since day 1 of my EYV learning. To address the points in the coursework.

No, it didn’t surprise me that it was taken by a man. FiP also introduced me to Fischli & Weiss’s surreal domestic tableaux, with kitchen implements balanced surrealy atop one another. I don’t feel at ease with the idea of masculine and feminine photography and try not to apply that thinking to my work or my research. This might be me in denial, in the same way that I don’t always see my own work as as feminist as others see it. I don’t think gendering work is helpful though (see my write up  Exhibition – Tribe at the Fox Talbot Museum for more on this).

I don’t think gender contributes as much to an image as experience does. Sadly,  many of our experiences are dictated or at the least influenced by our gender, so there probably is an indirect link.

Not including people gives a bit of a sense of intrigue, presumably they are off somewhere working or having fun whilst the dishes dry. For me, the N and R lettering (Nigel and Ruth presumably) behind the taps brings me back to the people, and wondering which of them runs hot and which runs cold. Not having people tells us nothing about their physical appearance, we can tell that they cook their meals but don’t enjoy the camaraderie of working out who washes and who dries, since the dishes are left to drain.

For me, they do count as still life compositions even though they don’t show anything that was once alive. Some of Laura Letinsky’s work though hovers between photo collage and still life.

I would really like to write about Anna Fox’s Cockroach Diary but the truth is that it makes me feel a bit queasy and trying to find a full version online isn’t helping with the queasiness. I think this is one that would benefit from being seen in its intended format -one book containing facsimiles of Anna’s diary pages and one with the photographs. The mix of text pages and images on the website is frustrating as nothing is quite big enough and you can’t follow the narrative. It makes me think of the things that happen in houses that strain relationships – often, but not always, insect related. We can deal with people but we can’t always deal with insects.





Project 2 Masquerades

Surprisingly, I found this section very engaging and it was rewarding to see the links with other reading and study visits from the FiP and EYV courses. I find it so interesting to see how and why photographers portray themselves as others , there is always so much to read and so much to think about. So for this writing I am working from my notes written in my course notes.

Nikki S Lee has made a wide variety of work within the self portrait genres. There is Layers, which I talked about previously – fascinating work where she layers street portraits on translucent paper. Then she does the same thing in a different city and/or continent. I think this is clever because she’s juxtaposing identity and place, and showing herself through the sketches of inhabitants of those places. I also looked briefly at some of her “fake documentary” work where she constructed an hour long film of fake Nikkis,  (I have not watched the film yet). This made me think of Sophie Calle, for example when Sophie asks her mother to hire a private detective to tail her and record her actions. I was therefore quite curious to have a look at the Projects series.

In this series Lee joins various groups, working to fit in visually, and has a group photograph taken either by a member of the group or by a passer by. The camera used is a basic point and shoot. Some of the work left me quite uncomfortable and I think it could be considered voyeuristic or exploitative. This is interesting, because I don’t think I don’t think she takes on a specific identity,  she takes on the generic trappings and mannerisms of a group identity, but not an actual named person. Compare this to Trish Morrisey’s beach portraits in Front, where she substitutes herself for an actual family member, or Hans Eijkelboom’s With My Family where he rang random doorbells during the working day and asked to have his photograph taken with the partner and children who were at home, substituting himself for the father in these diverse families . These are actual people, with partners, children and postcodes, and yet I find it less troubling than Lee’s projects.

I think the thing with Lee’s work is firstly that some of it (eg Hispanic Project and HipHop Project) opens her up to comments of  using “brown face”. We are fairly comfortable with the idea of taking on another gender, or another identity, but taking on another ethnicity is fraught with the potential for different interpretations than that intended by the artist. I looked at the work of other photographers I’ve encountered who’ve done this. Cindy Sherman made black face work for her Bus Riders series, and has since commented that she was very young when she made the work and unaware of potential offense. Martha Wilson, a white woman,  made work where she was half made up as Michelle Obama in Martha Meets Michelle Halfway.

In an interview Wilson said : I’ll wear a girdle—that’s for damn sure! And I’m hiring a make-up artist who is going to make me up. Clifford and I had discussions about blackface. We’re not going to do blackface, but I’m going to try to wear Michelle’s skin tone.” Elsewhere, on the Contemptorary website, there is a post discussing Nikki S Lee’s Projects (change in font not intentional):Darkening one’s skin to pose for a series of photographs in a community one has no affinity with, does not belong to, and as an entertainment project with ongoing profit plan—this is not an interpretation of blackface. It’s blackface.”  

So is there a difference, effectively, between  Cindy Sherman’s blackface and an employed makeup artist who is reproducing a known woman’s skin tone? That blog post is a very interesting one to read, it describes  how Lee’s work is about the visible surface, not the underlying structures. Lee talks about the changes that she makes to acquire the patina of a new identity (tanning salons, prosthetics, make-up, dance classes….) and we don’t really learn anything about the people she is photographed with, the ones who have that identity to their core. Who’s the woman that Lee is kissing in The Lesbian Project? What’s the story of the older women in The Senior Project?

Perhaps in this instance we are moving into areas of gaze and privilege, which I haven’t really learned much about yet. Personally I struggle with it – I’m trying to imagine the Twitter response if a photographer of colour were to use “whiteface” to represent a First Lady such as Melania Trump. Martha Wilson has made photographs and performance pieces about herself as various first ladies.  Stepping briefly away from self portrait work, Maxine Helfman, a white photographer, put black women in blackface then photographed them dressed as Geishas.  Then I find myself wondering what sort of work men have made in this area and I realise that this is probably an investigation to follow another day. There’s such a complicated chain of meaning as we move through ethnicities from that of the person who conceives the work, the person in the work (actual ethnicity and depicted ethnicity) and the people who are viewing the work. I do think that this series of Lee’s is not so much about what she is as what she isn’t, and somehow that leaves me feeling slightly hollow after viewing the work. It’s very much about the outer surface, about “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be….”

Trish Morrisey’s work I have always found interesting. I was absolutely spell-bound by her Ten People in a Suitcase series, where she responded to the archive of a Finnish paper mill town. I don’t know what it is about this series that draws me in every single time. I can mostly tell that it’s Trish, she leans between genders easily enough. She brings the town to life by reconstructing events and people from its 30,000 image archive, it’s almost as if she is channeling an entire town over decades of its existence.

Seven Years engaged me too, I hadn’t seen it before yet the images are so familiar to me – the family photograph album filled with 60s 70s 80s and 90s portraits of me and my four siblings, the way that the images honestly tell how well we were getting on at that particular moment. The images of my parents holding precious new babies as we kept on turning up. Even as full-size grown ups I swear we still see each other in our handmade dresses on Cornish beaches. I think she must have a very accommodating sister to work with her portraying so many different identities. It made me think a bit of Gilllian Wearing’s work where she uses masks to show other members of her family, whereas in Morrisey’s she and her sister are unmasked but still manage to portray the family member through costume choice, mannerism and actions/scenarios rather than Wearing’s formal portraits.

Failed Realist made me laugh. I suppose it’s that moment of recognition of something that you do with a small child on a rainy afternoon, remembering a friend of mine who answered the door to the DPD man in Princess Leia facepaint applied by her six year old.   I think the work is about her daughter rather than about her. I’d never really thought about how small children see identity and this work made me think about that. I didn’t find it as compelling as her other works.

I would probably decline an invitation for Trish to replace me in a beach-side portrait and I know for sure that my husband would. I would be curious though. I did an exercise for FiP where I removed my shoes from the family shoe rack and photographed it with all the gaps, and it was actually quite disturbing to see my absence from such a familiar scene.

Despite writing so much I haven’t yet mentioned some of my favourite self portrait masquerade – the Roberta Breitmore Series by Lynne Hershman Leeson, made from 1974 to 1978. In this series, Lynne not only constructs an entire new identity with make up etc but this identity actually exists via an issued credit card, a driving license, letters, dental records, an apartment…. I saw some of this work at the Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s show at the Photographers Gallery. It really made me think about identity – how do we know what is true, what is constructed? The constructed can acquire all the trappings of the true. Perhaps we think of a photograph as true, despite everything we know about manipulation, but identity verification now is based on other things as well as photographs – from copies of utility bills to biometric data taken from our passport photographs. The actual photographs and personal appearances of Roberta Breitmore were almost just the icing on the cake, her identity was rooted in far more than the constructed photographs.










Project 1 Autobiographical self portraiture

I have struggled with getting going with the reading and exercises on this module. The assignment photographs were fairly straightforward once I had a decision, and I suppose the autobiographical interpretation of the first two assignments made A3 something of a natural progression. I have done a fair bit of reading, including Susan Bright’s Auto Focus, and Masquerade (ed Newton & Rolph), but unusally for me I’ve struggled with the actual sitting down and writing bit. I will therefore use the prompts for this work.

How do these images make you feel?

Sometimes uncomfortable but more often engaged and curious. The images often offer up a level of intimacy that may be out of context or outside our social comfort zones. I think this is particularly the case for Elina Brotherus’ Annunciation series, where she tackles one of the remaining social taboos – infertility and fertility treatment – head on. These images can also stimulate recognition and empathy, thus helping people to feel less alone.

Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?

No, I don’t think so, and if there is I don’t think it matters. It’s interesting to look at the swathes of judgement levelled at selfie-takers. A current exhibition by Elina Brotherus is titled “It’s not me, it’s a photograph” and I think this puts self portraits into context.

What’s the significance of Brotherus’ nakedness?

I think there are a multiple significances. From my experience, trying, and failing to become pregnant and then failing to sustain my first pregnancy left me feeling utterly exposed. I had this body that was all set up to do the reproduction thing, but it just wasn’t working and I wound up feeling a bit of a failure as a woman. Also, there are so many photographs and paintings of pregnant women, all happy curves and fecundity, but Elina counters this with her slender, unpregnant, heartbroken form. Most pregnancy tests are done in the bathroom and the nakedness fits with this too. Her nakedness correlates with the emotional vulnerability of telling her story.

Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?

I think yes, they can if they carry enough of the narrative within themselves.

Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

Yes, I actually think it’s quite hard to make this kind of work without reflecting wider issues. Even if we don’t intend it to be read that way someone somewhere will re-frame it in a wider context.  Elina Brotherus’ work responds to an issue that’s increasingly common yet is rarely discussed. Gillian Wearing looks at where we sit within our families. Our siblings – who we are genetically close to, yet we can still feel so very different to and separate from. What would it feel like to wake up one day and be one of my sisters? If I start off by questioning my role in my family, do I then move on to questioning my role in society? Who else is under my skin? Who else has me under their skin?

When I look at the various sections in the text for this part I struggle a bit with separating them, I think the various flavours of self-portrait are less distinct in real life. For example, Nikki S Lee is mentioned under Masquerades. I think of her Layers Series (Bright, 210-211) where she combines portraits of herself made on translucent paper by street artists in different cities. When the images are layered by location we start to get an idea of how perceptions of identity morph slightly according to location. Who and how I think I am is not the same as others’ perceptions of me.  Similarly, Sophie Calle, who is so tightly enmeshed with her work that I wouldn’t know where to start with separating out all the different strands of her from her various works. Her work, in so far as we can define it at all, comes under the categories of autobiography, masquerades, self-absented…. she is as casually intimate with others’ lives as she is with her own, and it’s so hard to see where the boundaries lie between herself and the wider world.  I find it very hard to look at her work without wondering about my life and my boundaries.

Francesca Woodman’s state of mind

This exercise is to consider the evidence for Susan Bright’s analysis:

“It is difficult not to read Woodman’s many self-portraits – she produced over five hundred during her short lifetime – as alluding to a troubled state of mind. She committed suicide at the age of twenty-two.” (Bright, 2010, p.25).

I find myself quite uncomfortable with this allusion. Without even looking at any of Woodman’s work we already know that our reading of the work is not necessarily what the artist intended. With Woodman we all know the tragic ending before we look at the work and that too is tempting to colour our view of the work. I do understand and identify with her parents who have tried, along with others, to place her work and her life into a broader context. She made over 700 photographs and many thousands of negatives, and it’s my belief that this body of work supports more than one possible narrative. I’m supported in this view by the essay “Girlish Games: Playfulness and ‘Drawingness’ in the work of Francesca Woodman and Lucy Gunning” (Girls! Girls! Girls! In contemporary art ed Grant, Waxman Intellect 2011). This discusses how Woodman made her work – the use of sometimes her naked body, sometimes clothed, her careful use of props and the unmissable sense of exploring space, of play, of motion, of hiding.

“She had a good time,” says Betty. “Her life wasn’t a series of miseries. She was fun to be with. It’s a basic fallacy that her death is what she was all about, and people read that into the photographs. They psychoanalyse them. Young people in particular feel she’s talking about them, somehow. They see the photographs as very personal. But that’s not the way I approach them. They’re often funny.” (Rachel Cooke, The Guardian).

Again, before we look at any of the work, we should probably consider the photographers who produce work that could be regarded as disturbing or harrowing, who are living long and apparently happy lives. Gregory Crewdson, for example, makes frequently chilling and disturbing domestic tableaux , but no-one seems to question his mental state based on his work. I wonder if the difference is to do with him being middle-aged, male and alive rather than young, female and dead. Edit – Nic Hallam makes an interesting point in the comments below, perhaps his work gains credibility because his father is a psychoanalyst, whereas Francesca’s parents are artists.

Her work is certainly off-beat, surreal. It reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, not least because of how she appears squeezed into bizarre confined spaces, and because of the black Mary Jane shoes that feature in some of the images and the tall striped socks Anna Gaskell also makes use of some of these devices and props in her Alice themed work). There are only a couple of images that come to mind that might allude to a “troubled state of mind”, and even then it’s hard to be sure with looking at them on a computer monitor. There’s the one of her half submerged in water, unusually made out of doors, that reminded me of Ophelia and also of Tom Hunter’s take on Ophelia. Another shows her laid down on her front, her arm coiled around a tub of eels, and that put me in mind of Cleopatra and her asps.

Returning to this exercise whilst housekeeping my blog I am reminded of an Elina Brotherus interview titled “It’s not me, it’s a photograph.” It is so interesting to see how she interprets some images of herself so very positively compared to how others read them. Her images of a slender naked young woman are not really so far away from Francesca’s, but she is able to clearly say why she made these images, what they are about for her, and thus we are not reading articles questioning her mental health. An example in the interview linked to below is her work “This is the first day of the rest of your life” which shows her naked, holding a cigarette on a bare bed, after her divorce. Others have seen this as a sad image, for Elina it is positive, celebrating new freedoms including the potential to smoke in bed. It is interesting to consider how a similar image would be interpreted if made by Francesca Woodman.






Diary for Part 3

I started this early, partly to ease the pressure of actually starting it and partly as a procrastination from my never-ending assignment 1. Firstly, I was going to do a cumulative daily declutter and photograph what I threw out each day. This lasted for a week. Meanwhile, I had started drawing an apple each day.

Like many children, I did not enjoy art at school. However since starting to study with the OCA I increasingly wanted to feel more at ease with the idea of drawing, and more ok with the idea of developing drawing as a skill, like handwriting for example. I had a couple of lessons with a Fine Artist friend, and the still life one struck a chord. Part of the issue with drawing every day was working out what to draw every day, quite often I never actually made a decision so nothing happened. Whereas we always have apples in the house, there’s variety in them, and I could eat the apple afterwards.

On day 18 I can say that actually it’s been good, on the whole. I’ve been able to carve out just a few minutes every day to sit down with an apple and make the far simpler decisions of what to draw on and what to draw with. Some days produce better work than others but all the drawings are different and I thought they would all be the same. Some of the more unusual days produced more unusual apples – the day when I awoke to news of the Vegas shootings, the day when I went to Mat Collishaw’s VR exhibition, the day when I visited a derelict care home. It’s giving me the knowledge that creativity is not a binary quality that is either there or not. It’s getting me to see shadows and light as shapes in their own right, and to think creatively about how I’m going to make each day’s apple. Each apple (well all bar one so far) has gone up onto Instagram, and that’s still a little nerve-wracking. Writing for public consumption doesn’t bother me at all, but putting my drawings out there every day has been something of a challenge, and probably why I’ve stuck with this beyond the week that the decluttering lasted. I’ve done something every day with pen/pencil/charcoal/pastel. There’s the odd bit of a collage too and a few photographs. I’ve learned that I feel more confident with media that I can smudge or erase, that pens feel a bit binary and very permanent, that I really like pastel pencils and need more than two of them in my pencil pot. I’ve learned that I’m actually quite scared of paint, I might need to address that before the 30 days are up, the only time I’ve used a paintbrush has been on the Aquarelles pencil apple. I’ve learned that I’m truly awful at cutting curves with small scissors and that I tend to neglect the upper left quadrant of my apples. I think one of the best things so far is that the feeling of sheer terror when I sit down to draw is gradually being replaced by a sense of curiousity, and almost a sense of peace (not quite there yet!)

I have a fairly strong idea of what I’d like to do for A3. That may or may not happen – I do have form for changing my mind on assignments. I think this diary will have been a worthwhile exercise in any case.

I will be updating this post – my target is the full thirty days. Here are the apples so far. Edit – replaced with all apples, from the very beginning.

I finished on October 21st, Apple Day. A few days on I’m feeling quite frustrated at the absence of apple. It has encouraged me to buy pastel pencils, and pastels, and I’m now in Cornwall for half term, trying to get used to drawing in a place where I grew up pretty darn sure that I couldn’t draw. That’s an odd feeling.