Thursday, 30 May 2013

Assignment Four - Feedback & Reflection

"This is an excellent piece of work ..." is the opening statement - STOP THERE!!!  Then he says that, in making some suggestions, "I do so with trepidation ..." WHAT!?!?  Just joking, I hope!  Actually, as always, there are plenty of helpful and valid comments.
·      He has cleared up a few queries around the Referencing System, which I have taken on board and changed.

·      He suggested that I might have been a bit too 'enthusiastic', at times, in my statements.  Fair comment - I was trying to avoid the academic-style prevarication (at which I'm perfectly capable of excelling) - but I've toned it down, here and there.

·      Then he has a number of suggestions for additional lines of thought, which are all valid and interesting but , as I think he is suggesting, would either be part of a longer piece or an alternative angle in a different essay (or just something else to follow-up on, of course).

·      I'm slightly surprised by a suggestion that the essay should have a line or two relating the subject matter to my own current practice.  That doesn't feel right, in an academic essay - but perhaps I'm wrong.  It seems more appropriate that such reflection would appear in this blog - which started in the last post and will probably continue.

·      And finally, my Learning Log is also 'excellent' but is "... a bit light on actual photographs of your own ...".  I agree with that entirely.  I haven't done anything 'serious' or 'deliberate' since February, when I did a little experimentation with still life in a contemporary style - here.  That's bad news; a photography student who is not producing photographs!  But, as I hinted in the last post, I am in one of those places that seem to blight the creative process.  I have been distracted by researching this essay; partially focused on other things - work/family/upgrading my PC.  But, most of all, I have hit something of a mire, in terms of what I could do, should do, want to do ... etc.

I do relate closely to the areas I discuss in the critical review essay.  Still life and studio work, as a way of exploring my own photographic practice and experimenting with possibilities, does appeal.  But another side of me is wary of going that way and ending up in some frustrating spiral of introversion that leads nowhere, and that no one else 'gets'.  And, it bears no relation to the brief for Assignment Five, so gets me no further in the course context.  That all needs more reflection and discussion with my tutor.

Then, on a lighter note, and to begin to correct for the lack of photographs in my Learning Log, here is one I took at the weekend.

It's in a quiet corner of the gardens at National Trust property, 'Croome', in Herefordshire, which I visited last Saturday, but it could have been anywhere.  I felt that I should have been an Impressionist painter, with hours to spend with my easel, capturing the mood of the light and the colours of the Forget-me-nots.  Even better, I might have sat and reflected, in the warm sun, on the joys and troubles of life. Instead, I paused for five or ten minutes, waiting for the sun to come and go before dashing on to catch up with the rest of the party.  Such is modern life!

[Then, just a few moments before sitting down to type this piece, I read a piece on the sports pages of The Times, by their Chief Cricket Writer, and former England Captain, Michael Atherton.  He is writing words of encouragement to current England opening batsman, Nick Compton, who is struggling for runs, who played an excruciatingly troubles innings in the recent Test Match against New Zealand, and who is in danger of being 'dropped' for this summer's high-profile series of Ashes Tests against Australia.  Poor Nick has had a bad attack of the 'angst'.  Atherton's solution (which he fully acknowledges is no easy thing to achieve, and freely admits he can't explain how to go about) is to rediscover the joy of the game; to find again what was like to be a schoolboy cricketer, hitting the ball with freedom and delight.  There's a message in there for me - and others who get in the creative doldrums.]

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Assignment Four: a critical review (plus some “angst”)

I completed this assignment yesterday and submitted it to my tutor.  I’ve been very focused on that over the last month – together with work and family commitments, but I’m now taking the opportunity to reflect on the assignment, but also on a touch of “where am I” and “what am I doing”!

Starting with the assignment, I’ve quite enjoyed researching the still life genre and writing it up.  My title is “The still life genre is alive, well, and relevant to contemporary photographic practice”.  I think what I’ve done is interesting, in relation to current art photographic practice, and I’m broadly happy with the outcome. (Though I have to admit it’s about 10% over the word count.)

Thinking about the process, it has turned out to be more journal and internet based, in the research, than book based.  Most of all, that reflects a relative shortage of ‘serious’ written material on still life photography.  It certainly has, I suspect, in some peoples’ minds, connotations of pretty arrangements at the local camera club.  But I was focusing on “now”, which is another reason that the research was as it was.  There aren’t many books I could have consulted.  These two did feature : "Still Life in Photography" by Paul Martineau and "Stilled: contemporary still life phtography by women" - Eds. Newton & Rolph.  Gallery websites tend to produce quite a lot of good supporting material these days, of course; so I’ve also been sourcing material from National Media Museum, National Gallery, Photographers Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, to name just a few.

Essentially, the thrust of my Critical Review essay is that, despite having been seen as a ‘lesser’ genre than, say documentary or landscape, still life thrives and is, if anything, seeing a revival amongst contemporary photographic artists.  I’ve also sought to demonstrate that this is not so unusual or surprising.  The Dutch still life painters experimented with symbolism at a time when the reformed church condemned idolatry.  The early photographers experimented with still life, not least because it stayed still long enough for their long exposures.  The surrealists experimented with still life and collage as they explored the medium’s creative possibilities.  So, today, when the growth of digital and web-based imagery calls into question the whole notion of what a photograph is, no great surprise that many take to their studios and explore that very issue.

My essay makes reference to three artists in particular – Laura Letinsky, Ori Gersht and Lucas Blalock.  I’ve presented Blalock as a ‘typical’ example of a ‘younger’ contemporary photographer – but there are plenty of others.  He is the interviewer in an Aperture article featuring Jeff Wall.  There seems to be a degree of tension (perhaps a bit too strong a word) between Blalock & peers and the previous generation, such as Wall, Gursky etc.  Wall suggests that Blalock’s work demonstrates a degree of “angst”.  Now, I’m picking up on that word.  It’s something I feel I can relate to.

I’ve written in here before about the attraction of doing some conceptual still life work, and have even done one or two tentative experiments.  Researching and writing the essay hasn’t lessened that interest.  When I read about Blalock and others, I feel some affinity with what they’re doing – this video of Blalock and his "99c store still lifes", for example.  I do, genuinely, find the ‘intellectualising’ and ‘theorising’ interesting, too (feels like a confessional!).

But then, another side kicks in and asks the question “Am I in danger of disappearing up my own a***, with too much analysis and soul searching?”  There is a bit of me wonders if it’s really ‘copping out’.  Get out there and make some proper pictures, Stan!!  Push yourself into some documentary work; find some people subjects; get in touch with the real world; and various other such thoughts!

Assignment Five beckons; and it is going to force me to face up to this dilemma.  The brief, in the course notes, is very much directed towards photojournalism.  It is, essentially, about photographing an event and seeking to ‘market’ the outcome to publications and organisations.  It is a direction that goes totally against the grain of where I am just now (not the marketing bit, by the way, OK with that).

Part Five of the course is titled ‘Professional standards’, which is a wholly desirable topic and an area where I definitely have some developing to do.  But do I want to pursue it by covering some local event and marketing my photos to the local press or magazines?  I don’t.  But – would it actually be of more benefit to me if I did stick to the brief and make myself do it?  Yes, it’s been done countless times before by others and I may come away frustrated that I’m not doing something original or something that excites me – but that might do me good!

I can’t resolve this at the moment, but I’m going to have to if I want to keep up the momentum. I feel the “angst”!!

[Actually, I do have an idea washing around that might possibly get me out of it; though it isn’t an easy one and might be a step too far.  What if I produced a series of images about an ‘event’ without actually being there??]