Audio exercise & Scott McCloud Understanding Comics

There are very few exercises/blog writings that I intentionally skip (I may have inadvertently missed one or two from the very beginning of C&N and part 4).  I feel hugely uncomfortably about recording conversations – telling someone that I am recording will change the conversation and not saying anything about recording broaches a boundary that I didn’t know I had. I suppose it’s useful to know that there are at least some hard edges to my apparently generous comfort zone.

I chose instead to read Scott McCloud’s book “Understanding Comics”. I wish I’d read this earlier in C&N, it made me think about the balance between text and images, the interaction of both with the frame, and the value and potential of the space in between frames. There’s a balance to be achieved between text and image, they don’t need to say the same thing. If one is explicit and anchors the message the other can take flight. Of course this fits with anchor and relay, but I understand it better now. The narrative part of “Context & Narrative” continues to develop in my understanding long after I thought I was coming to the end of the course. Obviously the learning is a long way off done.

Notes on personal archives

I find archives very interesting especially the way that we get to engage in either aspects of one life/family unit in depth or the way that we can see a shallow cross section across a broader sample. For example, Stephen Gill’s “Hackney Kisses”, an archive from a wedding photographer of first kisses taken in the 1950s in London. The Chambre Hardman archive is another professional archive, including portraits taken over many years by a studio photographer, including multiple time-separated sittings of the same sitter. Julie Cockburn works with found images and alters them with stitching, giving a surreal touch, almost of 1950s sci fi weirdness to old portraits.

The interesting thing about family archives is that most of us have access to them. I could probably fill multiple albums with images that I’ve been tagged in on social media without having to do so much as take the lid off a biscuit tin. Prints that used to lie dormant in albums are seeing new life by being rephotographed on a phone or scanned and circulated anew. Equally, this ease of photography and cloud based storage brings its own issues – will the images disappear when we do, or will they already be making their own @ and # way around the internet, independent of whoever initially shared the image?

A frequent source of prints for albums is the school photograph. My daughter brought the order form for her photo home yesterday, she wants a 6×4 in a “glitter frame” I am tempted by the “single copy-right free image” download option. I wonder if they really mean “copyright-free”? I shall be taking them at their word, anyway.

I’ve worked with my personal archive since the Foundation course. Reworking my square mile, I superimposed album photographs onto more current images of the town where I grew up.

Then, after acquiring a die-cutting machine on EYV, I worked with rephotographed school photographs of me and photobooth images of my daughter, and worked with embossing, cutting, bringing them into 3 dimensions and combining elements of both of us into a single image.

Talking to my climbing partner I was lucky enough to be allowed to rephotograph some of her family school photographs which I then layered with die-cut map pages and rephotographed. This is someone else’s archive but I can bring person and relevant place together.

At my Uncle David’s funeral nearly two years ago my cousin asked for every one to “go away and do something silly, he’d like that”. Hence my ongoing project of photobooth images with my Uncle David, he is present via his Order of Service. The first one was taken at the photobooth at the station on the way home after the funeral. They are some taken with other cameras too, depending on location. He’s been to London, Greece, Manchester, Sainsbury’s (to help me post my EYV for assessment). The pictures live in a biscuit box.

All of these are ideas that are still ongoing and ripe for further development. I am saving them for either whatever my next L1 course is, or for Digital Image & Culture. Holly Woodward has explored altering the materiality of family archive prints over on her blog for DI &C.


Research Point – Gregory Crewdson

A frustrating start – the link doesn’t work so I have emailed the office asking for assistance. Gregory Crewdson is not someone whose work I would choose to spend a lot of time with, even after visiting his Cathedral of Pines exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery (or perhaps because of that). Looking back I see that I don’t seem to have blogged that show, even though I was sure I had done, so I will respond on the basis of the knowledge and exposure that I have of his work.

Update – I found this video:

I think there is more to his work than aesthetic beauty. There’s a raft of technical expertise – the lighting in particular can be breathtaking. The scale is vast, often involving a cast of hundreds, and yet there can be perfect little details like the light spilling out from a slightly open closet door. Undoubtedly, every detail is considered on a vast scale, and thus there is more to this work than “aesthetic beauty”. The crunch though for me is whether that “more” engages me, pulls me in, leaves me asking questions long after walking away from the work.  For me, it doesn’t. I find the work impersonal, a little too “polished”. I wonder why so many of the women are shown naked. I wonder if this is the kind of question Crewdson wanted people to be left thinking about. I wonder why the same duck egg blue bedding turns up in multiple shots of different scenarios. Perhaps it’s meant to show a motel standard bedding, perhaps it’s just a slip.

I’m not sure about the use of the term “psychological”. Shouldn’t all good work make you think? Is it a reference to “psychological thrillers”? Perhaps so, where the narrative depends on mental instability or delusion. Certainly, Crewdson’s worlds do not look like a happy one though I do find something to enjoy in his photograph of a woman tending a garden in her kitchen.

My goal in making work is exploration – being able to climb inside a concept and see what I can make, what shapes I can stretch it into, how I can explore the commonality of that concept across multiple people. I identify with Crewdson’s view about finding the strange in the every day, whereas I like to find the unspoken common things in the every day, the things that are there all the time but that we don’t talk about.

I don’t think beauty is a main goal for me. I want to make work that engages people though, that makes them look and think, and beauty seems to be one way (but not the only way) of achieving this. It’s so wretchedly subjective that there’s no way for an image to appear beautiful to everyone.  I think about my pregnancy test photographs in EYV and my self portraits for this course, and there’s no way that these could be considered beautiful but I’d like to think that people still engage with them. If people want to make beautiful work that makes its point or provokes questions, then I can’t see a problem with that. Beauty can be a very arbitrary characteristic anyway, so I would want my work to have other qualities too.

I agree that Crewdson’s work is very cinematic. It really does feel like film stills and I wonder if this is part of what draws people into his work. People are familiar with film in a way that they may not be familiar with art photography, and the bones of a narrative are right there in each image, ready for viewers to engage with. Somehow though the work lacks intimacy for me. I think of Tom Hunter’s work and how these suggest the story without so much of a constructed feel, it’s easier for me to slide into the image and its story without being aware of a vast crew of technicians, extras, and everyone that Crewdson needs to make his images happen. The gaze feels slightly stilted, slightly diluted and spread too thinly. It all feels a bit “block buster” to me, and I prefer quieter stories. His “Fireflies” work looks more engaging to me – still made after dusk but with a far more intimate and less engineered feel to it.

Goodfellas Exercise

I hadn’t actually seen this film before.

The main impression that I get of the main character is one of wealth and ease, and carefully cultivated relationships. We see that it’s a romantic setting to begin with – two well dressed attractive people out for the night. They don’t know each other well – she’s surprised that he’s leaving such an attractive car, but he tips the driver and has a routine (he does this regularly, presumably). They ignore the queue of well dressed people outside the Copacabana club and enter through the kitchens, where everyone seems to know him and be happy to see him, lots of effusive greetings and flesh pressing. He tips his way through with ease. All staff are uniformed and busy but have time to greet him enthusiastically. The soundtrack is “and then he kissed me”, giving an impression of the woman being enthusiastically courted and seduced

When they get into the restaurant they are waved to the head of a protesting queue and an extra table is brought into the room and set. It’s an intimate, softly lit restaurant, again an impression of affluence. Introductions flow, wine appears from other tables, and when the woman asks what he does we learn, probably, that he also lies. I don’t think she believes that a union delegate would be able to afford to tip that generously or have that degree of influence and ease. The drum roll and cymbol crash introducing the comedian reinforces this “joke”.