Monday, 28 March 2011

Big is beautiful ; collage and diorama in contemporary photography. get out your glue stick!

Cherry Blossom by Hiroshigo
 Two exhibitions in one morning. A rare treat.  To see the works of Emily Allchurch and Sohei Nishino at Diemar-Noble and Michael Hoppen galleries respectively. The main purpose of the trip being to explore photomontage or collage as a medium in contemporary photography. Having seen images in newspaper magazines of both these artists work, I wanted to see them for real.

There is a Japanese connection here. Sohei is a young Japanese photographer who creates dioramas of cities using a painstaking methodology. Emily Allchurch's exhibition 'Tokyo Story' consists of digital photomontages that re-create the works from Utagawa Hiroshigo's  'One Hundred Famous Views of Edo' (1856-58); Edo being the former name of Tokyo.

I was drawn to Allchurch's work by the cherry blossom, as it is currently flowering in the streets around my home.

Cherry Blossom by Emily Allchurch
It made me think of my trip to Japan, and the current devastation that the Japanese are experiencing . I understand  that Hiroshigo's famous work 'the wave' is actually of a tsunami wave, which makes it all the more poignant.Her images are  in stark contrast to the views that we have been witnessing in the news. Allchurch's images are composites, created digitally from a numerous photographs to produce a recreation of the original, but set in a contemporary idiom. The images are large and striking, some as prints and some as transparencies on lightboxes, which I felt worked less well, as they didn't have the same feel as the originals. Much of her work is inspired by paintings, and she comes from a background in fine art. A previous series 'Urban Chiaroscuro' was based on the work of Piranesi , and re-created his views of prisons in a similar way. She works with a small digital camera collecting hundreds of images that contain the elements that she needs for her re-creation of the original, together with modern motifs and signage to emphasise her modern vision of the original.

Lotus Garden by Emily Allchurch

detail from 'Lotus Garden' 

I was interested to learn that nearly all of her work is based on the work of other artists, and this fits with my finding that inspiration comes from many sources, both visual and written. When I attended a course on 'How to be a successful artist', the importance of finding time for visual research was strongly made. Creativity comes from hearing and seeing new things, and we were encouraged to timetable a regular slot for this into the working week. Having seen how attending a performance poetry evening enabled me to write a poem this week, I am convinced that this is true. One of the issues that her work raises is 'what software does she use'? I watched a video of her at work from a BBC programme 'A digital picture of Britain' 2005, and can see that she cuts out small parts of many images and joins them together, layering them over the source image to match the original. I certainly don't have the skills to do this at present, but would like to explore the possibilities further.

The second exhibition, of Sohei Nishino's dioramas at Michael Hoppen was more exciting visually; the enormous dioramas of London and Japanese cities in black and white are well worth seeing, being 230x120cm composites created by glueing hundreds of black and white analgoue photos that are all developed by the artist and then glued onto a large white board. The final image is re-photographed using a Hasselblad with digital back, to create large prints that are selling like hot cakes for thousands of pounds.

detail from Nishino's work

The London diorama in editions of 5 large and 15 smaller prints were sold out before the current show had opened. I enquired how much they are and was informed that the price increases as the edition gets nearer to being sold out, and that prices of up to $60,000 were  paid for his New York diorama. It seems that he now has the potential to get rich, as there are plenty more cities in the world. Each one takes several months to make. First he walks the city for about 6 weeks, taking 300 rolls of film. 10,000 pictures are narrowed down to around 4000 to be used for the diorama. The images are all 3;2 and left in this format. He builds the images up from the bottom, and appears to use a glue stick . They all have sky at the top, but also some around the key structures such as the gherkin and the London Eye, which helps them to stand out. The London diorama was the only one on show in which the images appear to have been tinted, giving the feel of an old London Map. The entire London map can be seen at Nishino's website

detail from an old map of London

He has also made two colour dioramas of imagined cities entitled 'Night' and 'i-land', which contain amusing details such as fish in aquariums, and which have a dystopian feel to them.

'i-land' by Nishino at Michael Hoppen Gallery

I showed postcards of the works to my family at lunch and they much preferred the dioramas; I have now been commissioned by my daughter to create one of Brixton Town Hall. I can think of worse places to start.

I have already tried creating digital montages. The challenge now is to do something as exciting as the works I have seen today. My rhubarb certainly doesn't have the same appeal, except perhaps to my other half.

'Rhubarb' by Caroline Fraser

The overiding impression was that 'big is beautiful', and that I need to 'think big'. It is possible to create big images by combining many smaller ones without the need to go large format. I was suprised to find out that Allchurch uses a small digital camera for much of her work. There is a lot of pressure to move up formats on the course, and I don't feel I could justify spending £10,000 + for a digital Hasselblad until I can recoup some of the costs ( I learnt today that Hoppen has helped Nishino with equipment costs, and I imagine that they feel the investment paid off).

Diemar Noble Gallery

Michael Hoppen Gallery

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

head in the clouds, flat on my face

Has been an emotional few days. It started with a poem from the Poet Laureate of Portsmouth; an amazing young lady called KeliAnne B. I went to my first live poetry reading and was bowled over by the fresh faced talent of a 21 year old student performing her poem about wanting to get to the sandwich shop and being stopped in the street by a charity worker, eager to take a few pounds off her. The poem is entitled "any donations welcome" and you can listen to it on her myspace page Any Donations Welcome. I was in awe of her confidence and skill as a performer, and having listed to her and another female poet called Kate Tym, I realised that they were both writing about very personal experiences in a way that was engaging to the audience; they performed poems about love, ageing and food in ways that were deeply personal , yet moving and thought provoking. I can't say I was so enthralled by some of the male performers whose poems about ex lovers were painful and soemwhat tortured in tone.
The company Apples and Snakes, who arranged the event describe performance poetry as live literature, self expression; a love of words; writing to be heard.

That got me thinking a bit about my project, and the fact that I am trying to express my own life, but in a way that can be heard. Photography can be for many reasons, and can be categorised in many ways. Charlotte Cotton's book on "The photograph as contemporary art" describes a  number of different genres for contemporary photography, such as story telling, deadpan, something and nothing, intimate life, moments in history and more. I identify most closely with the "something and nothing" approach,with themes similar to the work of Tillmans , Letinsky and Barth such as spaces within the home, windows, light, ordinary objects places. These types of photographs are far removed from the traditional holiday snapshots that put people in places to prove that "I was there, having a  happy time". They don't really sit in a traditional family photo album, and might not be understood by family members as being representative of "normal "life.

abstracted trees

In wandering around the home trying to move my project forward I have tried a number of different approaches. But then I get back to poetry. Each segment of my research has started with a poem. For my work on home I chose "Home is so sad" by Philip Larkin; I liked the references to faded furniture and the music in the music stool that never gets played. Coming back to it now, I also see that I do feel quite sad trying to take photos in the home; there are too many reminders of jobs left undone and the empty nest ( not to mention the enormous cracks that we are "watching" and that prevent a clean sweep with the decorator's brush to put new life back in the house).

So with some trepidation I approached the "group tutorial" that we had yesterday for "troubleshooting". I have to say that I felt physically sick most of the day wondering how I could explain how I was feeling without getting too emotional. My moment came......................and I threw about 50 photos onto the table in a blind panic and explained that "I can't take pictures indoors as it doesn't feel right".
The group were kind; the photos were sorted into different types; collages, straight shots of Daz and Persil in Tesco, trees and rain, rhubarb and the mirrored pictures of cherry blossom and trees that I have been experimenting with last week. These caused some interest and were described as "marketable" and also "sinister"; not an emotion I ever intended to convey. Above all I want my work to convey light and beauty.
I was advised to record my emotional journey ( which I am attempting to do here) and that work that comes from emotions is "where it starts to get interesting". We talked about how symetry is preceived as beautiful by the human eye; the more symetrical a person's face, the more beautiful they appear to others.
The possibility of exploring this area further and to consider slight asymetry within the symetry was mentioned and  is something  that I had already started experimenting with.

Centre Point, yesterday lunchtime
I felt that I was given "permission" to interpret my subject in this more abstract way, along with ongoing exploration of collage as an alternative.

I felt immensely relieved.

So much so, that I went home and took a picture indoors, of a dried up old lemon.

I hope this hurdle is now overcome, and I  can get on with photography that makes me feel alive and happy, and that is made with love for my family.

 I got up thismorning and took the dog for her morning walk. I was gazing up at the trees in blossom; she was gazing at the ground and found a large pile of CHIPS! She dived for the chips, I fell flat on my face in the mud. She is in the dog house again.

Got to get out there and capture the trees while they burst into life.

Spring is here.

Friday, 18 March 2011

the merits of a rainy red nose day and the extraordinary story of a non pregnant lady

a rainy day in Chislehurst by Caroline Fraser

Yesterday I finally figured out that I can’t work on a photographic project of subject matter that I don’t feel has some beauty attached. At last I can see a way forward.
The inner turmoil that I have been feeling for last 2 weeks is all to do with not realising and accepting this, and feeling bound to progress my project regardless.
I now realise that I have to proceed on a basis of exploring subject matter that gives me the inner calm that my photography has been giving me for the last 5 years.

My photography above all else should give me pleasure; if not I have lost my purpose.

I have been waiting for rainy day and finally it arrived. Only photography can enable me to really appreciate a rainy day. In the few minutes that I was out and about at lunchtime I was able to get a few more photos of subjects through a wet windscreen; this is very ordinary life portrayed, but in a way that I feel comfortable with. I stopped the car in a side road and grabbed a few more tree shots before returning to work for the afternoon.

tree in rain

I listened to the extraordinary story of a lady who pretended to be pregnant at a pop concert in order to get to the medical room at the O2 to get near the pop star. She was seen by an ambulance man who diagnosed that she was 37 weeks pregnant with a dead baby. The woman in question was accused of concealing a pregnancy, and the police and social services got involved. She was marched off to see a doctor, who confirmed that she was not pregnant, but rather overweight, and to whom she confessed the full story. Much time of many people was wasted due to the lady and the paramedic between them.
When I re-emerged from my office at 6pm the sky was clear, and there was a wonderful light in the sky.

another tree, different weather
I stopped off again in another side road,and spent a very happy 10 minutes watching the sky change from orange to pink to blue.
A perfect end to the day.
In future I will stick to subjects that work for me.
I feel I can now progress the project with a clear goal   .....................   beauty.

Happy Red Nose Day ; more word association

7.15 to 7.35 morning walk , Friday 18th March

I quite like photos of intimate objects in the house
especially those taken with 50mm lens.

but how to tie up with photos from outdoors?

I like being outside

Walking the dog

Flickr set “walking the dog”

all about the dog

All about being outside and the feeling that I get taking pictures in open spaces

Photos outside

collage is good

can make expansive views of expansive places

I love that feeling……………..
how would I show indoor objects?

a book?

what of?


the pig of happiness


my trophies/his trophies


postcards and stones from around the world


silver cups and sailing boats

His and hers

title of a book








likes and dislikes

a celebration of differences

life is not about being the same

would be a positive statement of marriage

family reunion

on our wedding anniversary

who would want to see such a book?

only D and my immediate family

word association in the book

colours, photos, text

A book for grandchildren

What 'grandma' and 'grandpa' like

what would they call us?

A book of colourful things

A childrens book

Could I do that ?

you can’t write a book for grandchildren that you don’t have; that’s really morbid

this project is making me feel sad

photographing indoors is making me think about the children that aren’t here

It has to be a celebration, not a look at loss or death

back to the cancer
It’s still all about dying and wanting to leave something beautiful behind

my original personal statement still holds true

it s about the fragility and transience of life

its about beauty and creating something special

it’s about beauty

How could I make a book that isn’t just for my family?

What would it be called?

Professor D and Dr C

ordinary people………

A celebration of differences

His and hers

I like, you like

that tree looks lovely next to that one

And I still like trees next to lamp posts

when will the sun be on it? I could come back when it is……

Red nose day

“Happy red nose day”

I’ll go to Sainsbury and Tesco to see how they are celebrating

See some fun

Should I wear red to work?

litter on the ground; I’ll put it in the bin

back home

breakfast time

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Inspired by Laura Letinsky - the value of attempting to re-create another artist's photographic style.

One of the joys of being a photography student is the time spent looking at the work of other artists whose work may be relevant to the subject that one is currrently exploring. This week I have been thinking about still life as a means of conveying life within the home. I particularly admire the work of Laura Letinsky who creates staged still life's as observations of forgotten details and remnants of daily subsistence and pleasure.

Through October 30 by Laura Letinsky
Laura, a professor at the University of Chicago said " I started being more interested in the stuff around the people and how that stuff was a stand- in, metaphorically and materially, for the way people seek satisfaction through things".

This resonates with my current interest in possessions and signs of human activity; the chocolate wrappers and squashed drink cans on the street , the cars and statues in front gardens and the adverts on TV that tell us how life can be better.

Today I set myself the task of trying to create a still life in the manner of Letinsky; I find that emulating the work of others' that inspires me helps to progress the creative process and encourages experimentation with new subject matter, concepts or ways of presenting an idea. You might consider that copying someone elses work is not truly creative; but isn't that how most artists learn their craft? It would not do to present an end product that looks just like the work of a famous artist, but I believe it is reasonable to explore a technique, learning from errors and mishaps in a way that allows one to develop.

To create the effect I needed an all white surface, so I worked with a white chipboard wall and a plastic Ikea table in my studio.

My studio table

I used daylight from a window on the right, and some bounced flash using a reflector to fill in the shadows towards the left. I started with some bits and pieces lying around me, including a blue plastic bag for a splash of colour. Laura uses a large format camera; I had to make do with my Canon 40D and 10-20mm lens. My new canon flash is a revelation; it does everything it says on the tin, and is a vast improvement on it's predecessor, allowing through- the- lens metering. What I like about Laura's work is the way she places objects on the edge of the frame, often close to falling off the surface used. This creates a visual tension.

Elements of a perfect life

I share a studio with Angelika, who has a roomful of toys for her art therapy.

 I moved on to playing around with objects that represent "home". I am mindful that many people in the world currently do not have such luxuries after the earthquake yesterday, and in my mind  am conscious of the distressing images of houses, cars and debris floating in a morass after the tsunami in Japan. Clean, fresh water is another luxury in many parts of the world. This image could be about how we take so much for granted.

House work

As an attempt at a Letinsky it fails.

 So I played around again with some different objects, including a feather duster that is entirely usesless, a plastic bag and the toy houses.

Reflecting on the images I realise that there can be many interpretations of what they "mean". This one could say something about the drudgery of everyday life; the cleaning and shopping. Or, depending on where the plastic bag comes from, it might convey a different message about materialism. It actually comes from The Whitechapel Gallery, another beautiful space that I have discovered as a result of doing this course, and therefore says something about the photographer.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

London Villages Project

On Saturday I attended the first meeting of a London-wide photographic collaboration of LIP members for a year long project on London villages; the London Villages Project . The aim is to cover all London boroughs and to create a body of work that is a unique contribution to the photographic record of London over the next 12 months. The participants can each choose a place that defines itself, be it a community, an emotional centre, home or street, and make their own interpretation of the dynamics and nuances of that community. 

We met in Piccadilly and heard examples of projects already underway, such as Anne-Marie Glasheen's exploration of the Excalibur estate in Catford; a unique development of post war prefabs that has survived far longer than intended, and is now under threat of re-development.

 Over 120 members of London Independent Photography are signed up to the project, and will get together monthly to discuss progress and share ideas. My intention is to focus on Widmore, Bickley and Chislehurst as these are all home territory. I started with a stroll up my own street on a sunny afternoon, and look forward to capturing it in all weathers and through the changing seasons.

Monday, 7 March 2011

apples from a farm somewhere in England; not so sure about the pineapples

Paranoia and trophies, farmers' markets and tinned meat pies

People's views on the internet and the sharing of information vary, and I have been surprisingly reluctant to tell my other half about the existence of this blog. The other half, who I shall call OH, has different views on photography and what is fair game to me.

On seeing a photograph on my computer screen of a chimneypot in my street OH asked me whether the owners of the house had come out and accosted me for picturing their bricks and mortar.
When I was caught earlier today speaking to two complete strangers in a garden centre he looked extremely concerned and asked me what I was talking to them about.

It happened that these two ladies had been watching me taking photos of plums and oranges in the garden centre shop. They asked me why I was photographing oranges, and I explained that I am doing a project on ordinary life, and was "taking photos in the supermarket". They hastened to inform me, in a very friendly discourse, that this was not "a supermarket", but a "farmers market shop". At which I had to reply that , in that case, I wondered why there were Fray Bentos meat pies in tins on the shelves, not to mention the frozen paella mix and frozen scampi in breadcrumbs. At this they became quite excited, and pointed out the pineapples and mangoes, and we had to agree that the local farmers were probably not producing most of what was on sale. They insisted that I take a photo of some "Kentish apples", which turned out to be from somewhere in the UK, but not necessarily from Kent.

Going out with a camera leads to some very jolly moments, regardless of OH's views. And like walking with a dog, it gets the conversation flowing with complete strangers, which enhances the day.

I knew that OH's thoughts on my doing a blog would be that the whole world would know everything about us, come knocking on our door and probably burgle us and steal our identities...........
On Friday night, however, the cat got out of the bag, as I knew it would sooner or later. We went  with friends to collect trophies  for the mantelpiece, and the blog was discussed in the car. We duly collected a large number of trophies after an entertaining dinner, and I am now re-arranging OH's mantelpice, as I can't cope with looking at all of them simultaneously. One was so large that the mirror couldn't sit straight on the wall. OH loves trophies. I keep mine in cardboard boxes on a high shelf waiting to be returned at the end of the year. For me the honour of any prize or qualification is worth more than the paper or silver that it is recorded upon. Let us revel in our differences and hope that all this somehow leads the project onwards.

It has been a difficult day, project wise, as I feel that I have no idea what I am doing, and that time is not on my side. OH was very helpful,  first by suggesting that I should do what I enjoy, and then switching completely to advising me to stick to the challenge that I have set myself, well outside my comfort zone, as that way I will learn more. I think he is probably right.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

what's on your mantelpiece?

One of the ideas that I have been toying with is taking photographs of mantelpieces, and the objects that we choose to bestow them with.

A good friend pointed me to a short piece on BBC Radio 4's woman's hour this week about Rachel Hurdley's work at Cardiff University on the history and function of the mantelpiece.  Like me she had preconceptions that the mantelpiece is often about status, self and wealth, with stiff printed invitations, fancy clocks and symetrical vases and candlesticks. What she found was somewhat different; much of the material displayed relates to emotions, family and memory. There may be a historical element, with photographs from the past or objects from places visited. Not all mantelpieces are symetrically arranged; some felt that this was too sterile.

I have a surfeit of mantelpieces in my house, as it is Victorian. Each one is "owned " by someone, and I am conscious that each is very much a statement of self. I intend to explore these issues with my own mantelpieces, but also with those of friends and neighbours.

What does your mantelpiece say about you? If you don't have one, where is your equivalent space, and what do you keep on it?  I'd be interested in your views.

women's hour; the mantelpice

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

working with the weather

Today I have to get on with taking some photos. I have two plans for the day, neither of which I can currently execute because the weather is wrong; I want to try a collage of some houses in my road, but would like a little bright light. Failing that I really want to try getting some more shots in the rain, but the forecast today is for high pressure. Such is life; I also tried to get a video of the dog speed-eating her breakfast, but the camera was cold from being in the car, and steamed up at the critical moments; will try again , but sadly can't give the dog two breakfasts!

Having been to Andrew Watson's talk on Monday about the Segsbury Camp project, I now understand why he mentioned researching glue when I mentioned my interest in collage; he has been there and done that. I could, of course, create digital collages, and there are even websites that will create a Hockney polaroid effect for free on any image that you choose, but having tried it on a couple of photos decided that there was no creative control whatsoever.  Andrew's work with an archeological site involved using a camera on a pole taking aerial views of the ground, something that has also been done to good effect by Andreas Gefeller in his studies of empty buildings in Japan and Dusseldorf. Both photographers have used extremely methodical techniques to create exact plans of the ground; my plan is to be less mathematical and possibly to experiment with scale on a vertical and horizontal plane.

I was amused to see that Andrew's work was displayed in large plan chests, in a similar way to work that I didn't understand at Elusive. This confirms for me the importance of understanding the intention and background of the work; Andrew's use of chests seemed entirely appropriate and practical, in allowing the viewer to get really close to the images despite the entire work being enormous. If I had been asked to look at them without knowing anything of how or why they were there I would probably have passed them by.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Art books; how precious should we be?

winter rain
Part of the symposium at Camberwell Space on self published books focussed on what constitutes an art book. A certain amount of scorn was thrown upon mass produced self published books such as those from Blurb or Ubyu by Chrystel LeBas, one of the participants in the exhibition "Elusive". Chrystel has produced her own books, working with a printer who she trusts and sourcing her own paper. Coming from a background of using letterpress and as a passionate collector of books, she did not seem to worry whether or not she recouped the costs of self publishing. She is lucky enough to know a graphic designer who has helped her with typeface and design, and has found someone to write an accompanying text. This is a luxury that I do not have. But having seen the difference between my attempt at an "art book" with Blurb, and the touch and quality of hand bound books, I understand where she is coming from. I do, however, think  that she is choosing to ignore publishes such as Steidl and Taschen and 21st editions, who have a reputation for producing beautiful limited edition volumes that become collector's items.
It was generally agreed that  art books come in limited editions, are hand made, and are produced by the artist. it seems that only a very few publishers are working with photographers in a way that satisfies these criteria. Also up for discussion from the editor of "Self publish be happy", Bruno Chessel, was the view that art books might include "zines" and pamphlets, in the manner of those originally produced for political reasons. The over riding aim should be a passion to get your work seen by other people, in what ever format you feel appropriate, and if your funds are limited then a low budget option is perfectly acceptable.