both for under the tree and for this blog. I’m finishing off reflection blog posts and even by my standards of never regarding anything as finished, there’s not much left to do here other than topping and tailing for assessment.
So thanks everyone for reading and commenting here (your comments are so valued in helping me build the work). If anyone is local to the south east and fancies seeing Big Girls’ Pants in the flesh, I’m showing two photograms at the Open Art Collective show at the Lightbox gallery Woking in February 2019.
My next (and final Level 1) course will be Understanding Visual Context. I am somewhat nervous, but very positive about the growth that this course will enable for me. It’s theory, but I am quite sure that I will continue to make work. I am definitely going to continue with Big Girls’ Pants; that work has more to give. If you would like to follow me at my (shiny empty)new blog you can find it at the link below. I’ll start putting content there in a week or two.
The physical photograms are the submitted work. The prints below are a tighter crop than the originals.
This has not felt so much like rework as like evolution. My tutor feedback was terrifically useful, when I viewed it in conjunction with other peer and hangout feedback I had a clear way forward, the most pressing feedback was to investigate making the work on larger paper than the original work. I decided to go back to the darkroom and remake the work on larger paper. I had used 12×16 Ilford RC Satin before, I talked to the darkroom owner and he kindly reset the darkroom with larger trays and a modified washer so that I could use 16×20 paper. He also ordered in larger paper so that he could make some larger prints too and I could benefit from the bulk price that he gets. We also had to mark up the enlarger table for correct paper positioning and ensure the head was correctly positioned. The reason for using larger paper was to give the images space to breathe on the paper. There is a tension in the smaller images as image and border fight, it’s not necessarily bad but I was curious to see what would happen if I used larger paper. I also wanted to ensure a greater consistency of background blacks across the photograms (or at least a narrower range of inconsistency). The differing blacks arise because photograms of much finer lace require less light in order to get a detailed image but you still need a long enough exposure length (the paper needs at least 10 seconds as a rule) without getting too much light, so you use a much narrower aperture and increase the magenta filter setting to boost contrast. This can result in a slightly lighter background black though, because of less light. I therefore worked with 25 second exposure at f22 and m=100 for the most delicate garments.
I worked with a smaller subset of garments, mainly ones that fitted well within the paper. They worked well on the larger paper, I loved the sense of isolation of the items on their velvety dark backgrounds. It did introduce the issue of centring the item on the paper, which hadn’t been an issue beforehand. One pair of pants could do with being more centred, but it was time to stop. I was then able to review my images with a peer to help identify a strong edit. At this point, I was happy with the idea of getting the numbers down. The prints are big, and will be a hassle at assessment if they don’t all contribute to the work. Looking at the work with Holly we omitted a stocking image and also the two bra images – this did hurt a bit as I loved the English Rose bra print. This meant that the set came down to four images of pants, which sit nicely in a (giant) grid. It also means that I have the opportunity to return to the original name for the work – Big Girls’ Pants – which works both in a literal and figurative sense.
The title has been something of a struggle. Here are the various titles that the work has had:
Big Girls’ Pants (this wasn’t liked by Jesse Alexander, who suggested “From Fox Talbot to Fetish”). It’s been well accepted by many viewers of the work, including women who tend to have very positive reactions to the phrase and who don’t see it as overtly sexual.
From Fox Talbot to Fetish – it took me a while to work out why I was uncomfortable with this title. It introduces the idea of the lace always being looked at and I think implies being looked at sexually probably by a man. I know that fetish has a wider meaning than underwear, but I think it’s hard to separate the two in this context. When I started the work I was inspired by Fox Talbot’s images of lace, but also by the real-world nature of underwear, that for women it’s a fact of life and a practical obect first and foremost that is rarely seen at life size. Introducing other people’s underwear to the work has muddied this intention – not for me, but for the viewer.
Smalls (this was the title for the handmade book that I showed at OCA Showcase and is also the series title for the two framed images that I’m showing at the Thames Valley Group exhibition in February 2019). People understood the title, with its reference to underwear, and it seemed appropriate for the small test strips in the book and the large matted and framed images for TVG.
A variety of other titles were considered – Full disclosure, Exposed, Over exposed.
Although this work was resolved by making the photograms bigger, the overruling direction has been to simplify. I took out the initial border and replaced it with a larger piece of glass. I took out the separate adornments. I stopped cutting the pants in half and the gussets out of the pants. I stopped using the glass, as suggested by early feedback. I only presented pants.
I am continuing with this work through my next course, UVC. I would like to print some of the work on silk or satin and perhaps sew that into handkerchiefs, silk scarves or even underwear. I’m intrigued by the idea of a coffee table book as suggested by Clive White on the forum, but I dont know if the images are now too large for that or not. I am excited by the idea of framing more of the work – pants and bra images that are individually framed and hung one above the other could really work. I also like the idea of showing the images at life size on a large screen and allowing viewers to interact by swiping across to see the next/previous image and by zooming into the detail with their fingertips. I don’t really know where this work wants to go next but it’s definitely not done and I look forward to exploring it further.
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
My full response to tutor comments is embedded in the tutor feedback post. In summary there has been some change to images selected, the edit itself was refreshed and I chose not to progress the videos any further this time. I have explored the use of View-Masters and have chosen to present seven images on a vintage reel to be viewed via a vintage View-Master. I had initially used a different provider that had a far more modern feel to both viewer too shiny) and reel (had a website url), whereas the use of older materials allows the viewer to place the work anywhere in an internet-free childhood. I think this sits better with the Cottingley Fairies heritage of the work, and with the way that housework remains a predominantly female task over the hundred years since the Cottingley Fairies work was made.
Here are the seven final images. They are presented as 1400x1250px on the ViewMaster reel and as reference prints on 8×8 lustre paper. Many other presentation options were considered and discarded as being over complicated for assessment. I would like to make more work in the future and print on fine art paper to make a hand-made book. Ideally I’d adjust the framing in the iron one. This work however isn’t about technical perfection but about revisiting a set of images that continue to intrigue us decades after they were made.
I had and contine to have such mixed feelings about A1. It hit the brief first time. I could have done a lot more (I didn’t). It’s the diagnostic assignment, the getting to know you song, the problem child that will suck you dry of creative energy whilst still leaving you thinking that you haven’t done enough. It’s not my best work but perhaps it’s some of my more useful work. It formed the foundations for the rest of the course and laid down the chord changes that led me from my early encounters with Fox Talbot back in EYV through to a resolution of A5 on C&N. Reworking risked not so much dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s as sparking a whole new body of work. So I took the whole new body of work for A5, and made a simple selection change for the rework here. I took out the Lidl/Waitrose pair because the differential focus wasn’t differential enough, and replaced it with a text message/fountain pen.
Looking back through my blog I see that I started Part 5 in July, approximately 6 months ago. That makes sense though. There weren’t really any massive delays – the usual school holiday pause, a delay for feedback while my tutor was working outside the UK – this was simply a part of the course with exceptionally rich pickings for me and I was able to take the time to make the most of them.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the archive and found this part of the course very inspiring. There is something almost tangible in the archive, and it’s certainly very accessible. I especially like the idea of a constructed archive, like the Fae Richards archive – an exercise in making a different truth.
I had two passes at A5. I eventually paused the Pink work when it became apparent that my re-work attempts for A1 were getting big enough to be an assignment in their own right. The photogram work had significant potential and I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to do both. I was confident that if the photogram work wasn’t successful I would be able to substitute the pink work instead. It was however very reassuring to read my tutor’s feedback on the pink work and I shall be returning to it. The photogram work was immensely satisfying on a number of levels. It allowed me to tie up my various mental loose ends about lace and Fox Talbot. I have learned a raft of new darkroom skills and am very grateful for the generosity and kindness of the darkroom owner who is terrifically helpful and supportive of my work.
A5 has felt like a culmination, so much has come together. My learning has been truly iterative, a step at a time both conceptually and practically, and I think that’s why it’s rarely felt overwhelming. I actively sought as much feedback as possible, via the blog, the OCA board, OCA Hangout, two regional groups, the collective that I’m part of, my climbing group… The feedback wasn’t always what I expected or wanted to hear, but the diversity of it once again made me realise that the work had merit and was worth persisting with.
Parallel with Part 5 has been preparation for three exhibitions, two of which have been held so far. I made a handmade book with test images from my photograms for the OCA Showcase exhibition at OXO London, and made some of my pink images into diptychs for the OCA South West exhibition in Bristol. I am also showing two framed 12×16 photograms at the Thames Valley Group exhibition in February 2019, the work is already framed and ready to go. It was a challenge balancing the exhibition prep with the coursework. I am happy that I did it though and satisfied with the results.
I went back to the darkroom. I’d had feedback from two tutors and some peers that it would be worth trying the photograms a bit bigger. Fortunately, the dark room owner was very positive about this, which is what made the work possible as going from 12×16 to 16×20 required setting up with larger trays, more chemicals and a modification to the washing tank to accommodate the larger paper. He had also ordered paper so that I could use what I needed and pay per sheet, and he would have plenty left to do some larger prints of his own.
Over time, this work has become increasingly simple. I ditched the microscope slide style border in favour of larger glass. I ditched the bows and trimmings in favour of empty space. This week, I ditched the glass entirely; embracing the risk and opportunity presented by bra cups sitting proud of the paper rather than squished, mammogram style, under a glass plate (this was another feedback suggestion). The logistics of cleaning and placing an 18x22inch glass plate in the dark did help with this decision. I used guide marks on the enlarger table to ensure that all of the paper was exposed. I made an embarrassing number of test strips, working with small apertures to provide longer exposures (the paper works better with exposures of longer than 10 seconds) and boosted magenta filters to increase the contrast – important with the finer fabrics. I laboured to get the blackest blacks I could. I’m happy with the result. I think the next step would be to even up the positioning slightly so there is equal space left and right… and there’s a tiny white spot on each print in the same place, I think because of a speck of something on the enlarger lens. I could spot it out with watercolour, or I could, and probably will, accept that it’s an indication both of the hand-made nature of each print and my newfound skill in accurately positioning each sheet of paper in the dark. Unexpectedly, after quite so many darkroom sessions, I feel increasingly at ease with the process and it was good to see my “hit rate” increasing. Howard – the darkroom owner – commented that the images would work well on gloss paper as this would add a shiny, reflective quality to the blacks. I am inclined to agree, but the satin finish provides a very velvety matt black and is better suited to assessment requirement.
The images have space to breathe – the underwear really does seem to be floating in space or deep under water. The blacker blacks play a part here. The extra three-dimension-ness is engaging too – one peer said it looked like you could lift the garment straight off the paper. I am considering making a much tighter edit – these prints are big – perhaps just 2-4 images. I need to live with them for a little while and think on what would work. For the moment I am enjoying the unusual feeling of work that feels balanced on the seesaw of what I would want it to be versus what it actually is.
I will add photographs when the quality of daylight improves. In the meantime here are some phone images.
I came across this film via one of the OCA Facebook pages (thank you Catherine, Sarah-Jane). I’ve watched it two or three times now, it’s on BBC iplayer online until tomorrow night (4/12). If your preference is toward the surreal, the satirical, the feminist, you might enjoy it. I’d love to find a way to watch it again. Language is strong and there are some scenes that are very uncomfortable to watch.
It’s like a feminist rendering of a cross between Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. It is stuffed full of contextual references spanning ancient art to vloggers and social media. It makes me think about the pressures applied on women about what we wear, what we eat, how we are judged. A superb section in the latter part of the film provides a soundtrack of women’s voices through recent history, and a view of feminism over time.
This is the kind of film that makes me think that if I was studying UVC I would be able to write about it in a lot more (intelligent) detail. As it is, I watch it, and things chime with what I know and I know that there’s more feminist work to come from me. I was intrigued by how Siri paints an extra pair of eyes onto her face to fool the surveillance software, this reminded me of Julie Cockburn’s use of embroidery on images to confuse Google’s Reverse Image search. The saccharine hair colours and manga style costumes remind me of my ten year old daughter, who recently requested pink hair dye to go with her pink glasses. Followed in short order by her comment that any designer who thinks girls need bows and charms on their underwear “needs to get a life”. This film is dripping with curves, with pink, with stereotypes and the patriarchal gaze delivered via an “authoritarian diva” as Siri and Alexa struggle to subvert it.
I’m wrapping this up here because I need to write something about it before it disappears off iplayer and I have only my memories.
My main issue is with my A2 Photographing the Unseen, final presentation thereof for assessment. I photographed projections of fairies and unicorns in a domestic setting – title is currently “the Housework Fairies” although I know my tutor thought I could improve on this. The thing I need to consider is the feminist aspect of the work – although I presented it as about fairies there is a substantial aspect to the work too which can be strengthened without becoming didactic. Tutor feedback is provided at the end of this post.
I have been following a two-pronged approach for presentation. First off was prints. I’ve made these on 8 inch square lustre paper, the actual images are 5 inches square so there’s a deep border all around. I’m very happy with how they are turning out. The second prong was presenting images as a viewmaster reel in a viewmaster machine (it’s a contemporary version labelled Retro-View). I understood from a question posted on the OCA board that it was ok to submit both as long as it was clear which was the primary.
However, I preferred the prints to the viewmaster. They seem to carry a surprising amount of authenticity as documents., surprising given that they are not authentic documents. I think they must inherit that authenticity because they are prints. They carry detail, the Retro-View images carry novelty, a toy like quality. The prints referenced the Cottingley Fairies. The Viewmaster felt shiny and temporaneously confused by comparison. I think both approaches are valid but neither can tell the complete story on its own. I wondered about the prints as family vernacular archive, and though about how we present the archive, and ended up with a 1950s biscuit tin.
So we have prints in a biscuit tin, but that’s not adding a lot to the feminist reading. Then I looked at the tin and its foregrounding of choirboys, with women tiny in the background. I looked on ebay at vintage View-Masters, saw this image and for the first time appreciated the gendering implicit in the name, reinforced by the packaging.
From there it was a short mental leap to Berger’s comments “Men look at women . Women watch themselves being looked at.” But then I wonder if I’ve added 2 and 2 and made 5, or if I’ve simply identified the male gaze in very clunky terms. Then I think of that common female experience of being watched doing the housework and I see how the open feminist loop can be closed here.
Moving back to the practical, I can put the prints in the biscuit box along with a vintage View-Master and a modern reel perhaps in an original sleeve. I can pack the box with tissue paper, and pages from old women’s magazines. We then have three elements – fairies, feminism/the male gaze and the family archive, that hopefully will feel less constructed in real life than describing it does. I’m still not sure though, I think I might just have to assemble the whole thing and see how it works in practice. Whatever I put together will have to work in the cold light of a Barnsley day at assessment next March, and anything more than a simple set of prints will have to justify itself.
Although my tutor said that the original essay only needed minor changes and some reframing I explored and implemented most of his suggestions and believe the essay is significantly improved for doing so.
The full version of the essay is provided as a print copy which includes copies of all images referenced. The pdf copy on this blog is simply for reference and due to copyright law does not include all images. Please click below to open the document.