A5 Artist Statement

Fox Talbot’s salt prints of lace entrance me. In contrast to his images of ladders and haybales we never see an obvious provenance for the lace.  Bought by the family governess, borrowed from his wife’s sewing drawer, a memento of travels?

Lace has been a daily feature of my life from the net curtains of my childhood to my current underwear. I have been working with lace for some time, intrigued by how, like light, it masks and unmasks, conceals and reveals. Net curtains conceal the interior, lace underwear artfully reveals it.  Lace seemed to surface in my practice at every opportunity but I still wasn’t making the work I wanted to. Then, responding to Fox Talbot’s lace print I searched eBay – exploring the unknown, the exotic and the outré qualities of second-hand underwear. This enabled me to transpose the lace from the private to the public, whilst retaining elements of the unknown, paying tribute to Fox Talbot’s ground-breaking images and re-contextualising lace to the modern day.

I am intrigued by the life-size aspect of this work. The photograms are unrelentingly 1:1 – these garments are bigger than our expectations from the photoshopped models and tiny swipe right images that we see on billboards and our mobile devices. There is a shared intimacy – the intricate lace touches the paper the same way that it touches our skin. The photograms often show us the skin side of the fabric, increasing the intimacy still further. The lack of surface detail and contextual information means that we can’t tell the brand, the size, not even the colour.  With all this information removed, we are forced to concentrate on the form, the fabric, our questions and our imagination. 

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A5 Context

The inspiration and overarching context for this work is William Fox Talbot’s images of lace. He made them as salt prints – basically photograms on treated paper. I’ve seen reproductions of these images at Lacock Abbey and at the Matt Collishaw VR exhibition. I’ll never forget the feeling of picking up a non-existent reproduction of a real image, to examine it more closely. With much of Fox Talbot’s work we can contextualise what he photographed – ladders, haystacks, windows, see the place in Lacock where these props were located, but we never know where the lace came from. Bought by the family governess, borrowed from his wife’s sewing or underwear drawer, a memento of travels? So the idea of working with lace has stayed with me for some time via cyanotypes of underwear, still lifes with lace curtains, photograms of net curtains and now photograms of underwear. I wanted to recreate this work but with lace from the universal modern provider – Ebay – and with the touch of the unknown, the exotic and the slightly outre from second-hand underwear.

“Talbot’s Lace is not merely a copy of unprecedented ease and fidelity. It is also a picture, which transposed the lace from the realm of objects to the realm of pictures, where it has enjoyed a new and unpredictable life.” (Moma.org, 2018) I wanted to transpose the lace from the private realm of underwear to the public realm.

My context and influences for this work initally split into either photogram based work or work exploring net and lace, with some inevitable blurring between the two categories. I have subsequently expanded the number of applicable contexts.

As with any entire genre, there’s a rich list of talented practitioners who have exploited the photogram technique. Looking at my list I see Berenice Abbott, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, ELT Mesens, Gyorg Kepes, Erwin Blumenfeld, Floris Neususs, Adam Fuss, Tom Fels, Susan Derges, Richard Caldicott. Looking for a timeline, I learn that after the base being laid by Niepce, Fox Talbot and then used by Anna Atkins (Norman, 2018), the first actual photograms were made by Christian Schad in 1918, and these were embraced by the Dada movement. After that, the photogram path splits with one path towards Man Ray and his surrealist work, and the other towards Moholy-Nagy with his science and design Bauhaus influenced work. The push-pull paradox of photograms – is it science? is it art? – is already becoming apparent. William Klein took a fresh approach again and rather than making photograms of something instead used the paper as a blank canvas and played with light over it, like Jackson Pollack was playing with paint (Campany, 2018). It’s not a uniquely photographic discipline  – many artists including Pablo Picasso and ELT Mesens have made work with photograms.

Floriss Neususs is probably the leading contemporary practitioner of the photogram. According to Neusüss: “Perspective and horizon are absent from photograms, so the space is theoretically unending.” (Chandler, 2012). As well as removing perspective and horizon though we also lose the context within the frame, the first step in our process of locating the image within the various contexts that we know. This may be why we so often describe the objects shown in photograms as floating in space or underwater – because we struggle to contextualise the featureless black background. Adam Fuss and Susan Derges both combine both the scientific and the surreal in their work, thus bringing the two divergent photogram paths back together.

Hans Kupelweiser is “an important Austrian Sculptor, and concerns himself with the interplay between the 2D and 3D.”  (Norman, 2018). This resonated with me because I had to consider the essential 3D nature of underwear, how it’s designed in three dimensions and takes on the form of the wearer. In the end, I decided to flatten the underwear under glass but it still shows the extra dimensions via folds and the change in colour from light to dark over different depths of fabric. Picasso collaborated with Andre Villers and used flat lace, but he cut or drew on the image to add depth.

What was less visible in my research is the use of net and lace by female practitioners. When these artists do surface, it’s apparent that their work can have more of a narrative, a direct link to the world that we live in compared to the surrealism or the science of the early photograms. Their work is less about technical showmanship (though the work is undoubtedly technically accomplished) and more about using these tiny holes and diaphanous threads in support of a strong and compelling narrative.

In Helen Sear’s series Inside the View we seem to be looking through a lace-curtained window onto a woman who is in turn looking out at a view. It’s all a construction though – not just the exquisitely handmade photoshopped “lace” but the juxtaposition of the rear view of the woman with an unrelated landscape. There is a very interesting essay by David Campany who considers the ways in which Fox Talbot’s work resonates in Sear’s work, including that “a photograph is all about surface yet it appears to have no surface”. (Campany, 2006)

Liz Claffey’s work is not photograms, but looks uncannily as if it is. In her series Matrilinear she uses lightboxes and black backgrounds to produce translucent images of clothing that has been repaired and passed down/across through generations. I was alerted to her work on Instagram where there is a bra image that looks very much like a photogram and inspired me to look further at her work.

Sigalit Landau’s work Salt Bride documents a black Hassidic wedding dress that she submerged in the Dead Sea for two months. The dress turned from black to white as it became crystallised with sea salt. It was then photographed and prints exhibited at life size. This work seems relevant to me because of the change from black to white – almost like a very long exposure recording a chemical and physical change. The dress floated in the Dead Sea the way that photograms seem to float in an empty void. The colour change from black to white is binary, like the change in photographic paper from white to black when it’s exposed to light. Also like photograms her photographic prints are at life size.

I’m also aware that this work sits firmly within at least two contexts though most viewers will identify more with one than the other.

The first context is the Fox Talbot lace photogram context – making an image of lace using a much older technology.  I have explored aspects of this context above.

The second context embraces second hand underwear, eBay, size issues because the items are shown at real size, inevitably much larger than we expect, and feminist issues around size, what we wear, what we are expected to wear, what is sold to us, sexuality and functionality in underwear and so on. It is perhaps understandable that it’s not that straightforward to find practitioners whose work embraces feminism/Fox Talbot/photograms all within a single series. This is the context that I’ve struggled to find supporting references for. This is irritating as I realise that I’ve made another piece of work with a substantial feminist reading without sufficient contextual references to support it.  Update – a friend pointed me to Emily Duffy’s BraBall – a giant ball made of donated bras. The artist statement makes some interesting points she talks about the relationship that women have to their bras, and their breasts. I wonder if she encountered people who saw the work as sexual.

It has been like traversing a minefield to tell the BraBall story only in ways that promoted its positive progress, where it would be taken seriously as an art piece, and, most importantly, so it will never be used to exploit women.

A third relevant context is the recording of garments that carry a narrative without photographing the women associated with that garment. Liz Claffey’s work sits within this context, as does Katherine Cambareri’s series “Well what you were wearing?”  (Cambareri, 2018) which shows clothes worn by women when they were sexually assaulted (this overlaps with the second feminist context above).

A looser fourth context is the recontextualization of older images. An OCA student commented about this with specific reference to Sherrie Levine’s After Walker Evans series (Metmuseum.org, 2018). I can see the link, but I think it would be a truer recontextualization if I had worked with lace in exactly the same pattern as Fox Talbot had used, or if I had rephotographed his work. Definitely something to think about.

References
Cambareri, K. (2018). Well, What Were You Wearing?. [online] Katherine Cambareri Photography. Available at: https://www.katcphoto.com/well-what-were-you-wearing.html [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Campany, D. (2006). Helen Sear: Inside the View – David Campany. [online] David Campany. Available at: http://davidcampany.com/helen-sear-inside-the-view/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Campany, D. (2018). Into the Light – David Campany. [online] David Campany. Available at: http://davidcampany.com/into-the-light/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Chandler, A. (2012). Aesthetica Magazine – Floris Neusüss: Ancient and Modern, London. [online] Aesthetica Magazine. Available at: http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/floris-neususs-ancient-and-modern-londo/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Claffey, E. (2018). Elizabeth M. Claffey. [online] Elizabethclaffey.com. Available at: https://www.elizabethclaffey.com/matrilinear-/1 [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Duffy, E. (2019). The BraBall: Artist’s Statement. [online] Braball.com. Available at: http://www.braball.com/statement.htm [Accessed 8 Jan. 2019].

GalleriesNow.net. (2018). Sigalit Landau: Salt Bride at Marlborough Contemporary, London. [online] Available at: https://www.galleriesnow.net/shows/sigalit-landau-salt-bride/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Metmuseum.org. (2018). After Walker Evans: 4. [online] Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/267214 [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Moma.org. (2018). William Henry Fox Talbot. Lace. 1845 | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/46340 [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Norman, L. (2018). Photomonitor – Collection – On curating ‘Light Works: The Art of The Photogram’ at Atlas Gallery. [online] Photomonitor.co.uk. Available at: https://www.photomonitor.co.uk/on-curating-light-works/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Sear, H. (2018). Inside the View – 2004-2008. [online] Helen Sear. Available at: http://www.helensear.com/portfolio/inside-the-view/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

 

Big girls’ pants

Today I pulled off co-ordinating summer holiday childcare with a friend’s free time and dark room availability and spent a sanity day making photograms with Holly.

I am both satisfied and excited by this work. For about a year I’ve been bumbling around the edges of my “Other people’s underwear” project, trying to bring that Fox Talbot salt print quality to contemporary smalls (which actually are not as small as I expected). I couldn’t get sun prints to work how I wanted them to and was limited by the small size of the paper/fabric squares. But photograms work well and I have the potential to use larger sheets of paper still. I love how the idea of curves is conveyed, and how the exquisite private detail of the lace makes it into public whilst retaining the anonymity of the knicker donors. I like that the photograms are life-size, there’s something great to me about recording these intimate garments at 1:1 scale, and I also like that in the same way as the lace touches our skin, the photogram is made by illuminating direct contact between the lace and the photographic paper. Whilst looking at one of these images draining on a plastic sheet, I was considering whether I would return to camera club this year and Holly considered the reception that a pants photogram might have. She makes a very good point, we certainly see enough “art” portraits of women in underwear at camera club competitions.

Anyway, here are some quick phone shots of the photograms. The borders are because the piece of glass used to hold everything down was smaller than the paper. Exposure was 10 seconds with the enlarger aperture wise open. The pants had to be cut at the sides and the gusset deconstructed, otherwise there was too much opacity. One pair were trimmed slightly to get them to fit the paper. The bra also had the foam cup lining removed, the underwires removed and the lining to the back band removed.

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Nets

This is a long way out of sequence but these images from my various attempts at A1 have been on my mind and I need them all in one place. Lace and Lacock fascinate me. Some of Fox Talbot’s first images were of lace, and I saw them in virtual reality at Mat Collishaw’s exhibition at Lacock Abbey. Over 100 years later lace is widely used in the windows of the Lacock village homes, as they try to manage the inherent conflicts of a 21st century life in a listed village whose sole income is from the tourism generated by Fox Talbot’s home and the associated museum.

The first nets images, taken at Lacock as part of the street photography exercise. I then went back and added in some more. There’s still something about the curtain, the glimpses through it and the occasional reflection.

I realised that I could buy short lengths of many of the nets that I’d seen. I did so, and tried a domestic shoot at home.

I was still finding the problem of how to use the lace to show two sides to the same story (the actual assignment brief). I left Lacock behind and decided to work with domestic double standards, or the differences between what you think you should be doing and what you’re actually doing.

For A1, which isn’t formally assessed, it’s ok, and I have some good feedback on how to develop it. I still feel as if I’m not getting the most from the lace , the first two sets are less resolved and I think there’s more to do. I have a number of options:

  1. go back and shoot more
  2. shoot the lace panels against a blank wall and then layer the image with the view that the corresponding houses in Lacock (the ones with each particular lace) look out on
  3. I have some white and blue calotype paper and could try making prints of each net. Perhaps that could be layered with something.
  4. Self portrait of me through each lace.
  5. Build more context (feminist context, Helen Sear)

 

 

 

Assignment 1 – 3rd draft

Reshot with 100mm prime lens, the front object closer to the net and the back object further away from the net (following feedback from OCA forum discussion). Apples reintroduced. I changed the curtain used to get better visibility through the net. Composition seemed harder, some of these were cropped as I ended up with too much space.

 

 

Update…

 

I went through all the feedback I received yesterday and reshot. I had fixed my white balance and I hope it’s working better now. I like the differential focus though I could have really used a zoom lens that would work down to f2.8, my zooms all top out at f4. Each pair is more consistent within itself now, though not perfectly so. There is still some difference in whites between the sets and I need to work on this without turning everything yellow. I used a tripod to keep framing consistent.

 

This assignment has not come easily, despite or perhaps because of a non-stop stream of ideas that have not translated to image well. Here is the third draft.

I have used the domestic net curtain to look at two sides of my life – there is the side that I attain to, aspire to, highlight proudly when I hit it, and there is the side that I often achieve instead. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that flip side but somehow it still feels a bit odd highlighting it…. One or two of these pairings have given me food for thought.

Research is pretty sparse at the moment. Sharon Boothroyd’s work looking into peoples windows from the outside is the main one. I had some invaluable feedback from the members of the Thames Valley OCA group when I had the bones of this concept but not the execution. I did consider lifting the colour on the “real” set as per a suggestion made there, but in the interests of both sides being convincing I’ve decided to keep post the same across both sets.

I have a limited opportunity to reshoot (the hair one needs to be better exposed at the back) and I can edit this set down to a minimum of five pairs. I’m not sure that both shoe pairs need to be in.

Update – I sought feedback on the above set from the Thames Valley Group and the OCA discussion board. I received some very helpful feedback, to summarise:

  1. There is a magenta colour cast to all the images
  2. Some are too bright
  3. The concept is ok but the quality of the images is inconsistent
  4. The hair set and the last set are not strong, the date night set needs refining
  5. Need to be able to see more detail of the net in the Barbie toy image
  6. Think about setting up both sides in a single still life then using differential focus for each shot.

So I’m going to reshoot again tomorrow. re (1) – I went through all my camera settings and the manual before discovering that I’d some point I’d unwittingly set a magenta cast in the in-camera white balance. That’s fixed now. I’m hopeful that fixing this will enable a less sledge-hammer approach to post processing which should fix (2).  I plan to address 3, 4, 5 and 6 tomorrow.

On the plus side, I’m happy that this work actually does carry two sides of the story, far more successfully I think my other attempts did. It’s a story that others seem able to recognise too, a student on the OCA forum spoke of a “too true” quality to it.

I don’t know why this assignment has taken so long. I suppose partly because I did have a lot of time, and that seems to have resulted in more ideas to explore. I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to do for the other assignments, but this one didn’t inspire much more than panic for quite some time. I have learned a lot but I’m not sure that many of the learnings are positive ones. I’ve learned I’m not much of a street photographer (or not yet, anyway). I’ve learned that the tourist gaze actually is something I’d like to learn more about, and that lace is a textile I’d like to explore more. I’ve learned that I do better when making work and telling stories that I care about. I’ve been reminded, once again, that I really need to nail the technical details of making work if I want to make work that matters. The fact that my white balance has been out of whack since the back end of EYV is very concerning. Although hopefully I’d have spotted it sooner if I’d done my last EYV assignment on the DSLR rather than the Polaroid.