Tuesday, 31 May 2011

a book is born

We are getting near the end of the road; a few days until all the work has to be handed in. My book is published today, and a copy will be sent to the British Library as a requirement of publishing with an ISBN number.

Monday, 23 May 2011

When is the best time to do research for a photography project and the art of hanging an exhibition

Forest © Caroline Fraser 

Getting near the end now; just had a talk on how to hang a show; I thought I knew a fair amount about that, but then I wasn't planning to suspend a TV from the ceiling or create a rigging to suspend my precious art works from the ceiling. After a 90 minute lecture from the technical manager of the School of Art, interrupted regularly by the sound of his frog croak mobile phone ring-tone, I am now au-fait with the likes of spring toggles, SDS drills, strap hangers and the joys of high quality tools.

As I am showing three regular framed prints fixed with mirror plates (which, after this morning's talk, I now know should be placed 10% above the half way point of the frame's vertical ), most of this was more information than needed, but at least I know where to go if I do ever branch into more exotic hangings. The most useful tip was to mark your drill holes and spacing onto masking tape, so as not to leave pencil markings on the wall.

Two weeks before all the work has to be handed in I finally have time to reflect on what I have been doing for the last 9 months. The traumas of trying to settle on my project meant that for some weeks I have been unable to concentrate on reading anything related to my subject topic. I am now emerging into the light at the end of the tunnel and have found I can read again. This is a little late in my view; or is it?

One of the things that research does is inform the work that you are doing; I have been unable to inform my work as until quite recently I was not clear about my purpose. I believe my project to be about searching for beauty amongst the chaos and order of nature, both at Hawkwood; a relatively wild spot in suburbia, and on the streets around my home.

Looking on the library database I find very few books that contain both "suburbia" and "vegetation / garden " or "photography" as key words. One I have already enjoyed is "Suburbia" by Bill Owen written in the 1970's. This is primarily about the people who move into a new suburb and how they individualise their personal spaces. It focusses on the people and their home interiors, thoughts and beliefs. It does not, however look much at the outdoor vegetation, except a cursory look at the importance of a well-tended lawn.

The only other titles that came up on my search are " How Britain got the gardening bug" a BBC4 2009 DVD which I have not yet managed to see, and "Paradise Now" by Peter Bialobrzeski  , a book published in 2009 with what I consider to be stunningly beautiful images of Asian metropolises filmed mainly at twilight. Peter was born in 1961 in Wolfsburg. link to his website ( in german)

Paradise Now #13, C-Print, Größe 60 x 75 und 126 x 160 cm
Paradise Now #13, 2009 , Peter Bialobrzeski

These images were created on a 4x5 Linhoff large format camera, some with exposures of up to 8 minutes. The long exposures mean that people disappear from the captured image. Bialobrzeski quotes Walker Evans at the opening of his book " I am interested what any time present will look like as the past". My original concept that started me on my project was a desire to capture something of my life for those left behind when I am gone; I thought they might be interested in how my home looked, or what I had for dinner. I soon found that I was unable to enjoy these subject matters. What I have created is my personal view of the area where I live. Devoid of people, but with human presence acutely evident in the neatly trimmed hedges and pollarded trees, I have, in essence shown how 2011 suburbia might look like as the past. Like Bialowbrzeski I have shown the urban dwellings as a back-drop to the vegetation. His images are described in the commentary as "very beautiful" by Alex Ruhle. He seems drawn to the chaotic element of the vegetation in the same way that I am drawn to nature's chaos in most of my photography.

But behind this beauty he has a point to make; he is concerned with the environmental impact of all the bright lighting that is used in these urban spaces, and how much longer this can be justified. When the time comes for sensible restraint in the use of urban lighting and energy supplies, then comes the time when his images become "the past". He comments that "decadence and stupidity almost always look quite pretty", and that " the pictures will become historical as the responsibility requires us  to resort to technologies that put a halt to this waste".

Paradise Now Nr. 18, page 45, C-Print, Größe 60 x 75 und 126 x 160 cm
Paradise Now #18 by Peter Bialobrzeski
 These words get me reflecting on what underlies my "Springtime in Suburbia", and what message will be conveyed. Will viewers understand my preference for chaos over order, and does it matter if they don't? What will the images say to people in the future? Do they give a fair comment on my locality or am I giving a false view of reality. Walking past the subject of my "magnolia" image today on a dull morning, when the blossoms have faded and there are now leaves instead of flowers, I realise that the view I have created was only there for a moment. I had to stop and think how I had achieved the perspective that I used. I created a momentary reality and that is so often what photography is all about. If suburbia were suddenly devoid of human habitation for any reason, the trees and plants would rapidly regain control and break into the chaos that is their natural tendency.

Since most photography is about a moment captured, we can never hope to truly to convey what is "now" for those who chance upon it in the future. What we are doing is giving our own very perspective on the world around us, and that leaves me quite content, even if I don't have a deeper message to convey.

As for when is the right time to do research,  sometimes it might be before you start on a project in order to find a starting point, and sometimes, as in my discovering Bialobrzeski , it is near the end, when you start to reflect on what it all means. Having seen his work, I now want to try some shots with movement in, to contrast with the very static, formal images I have been collecting...........

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Hawkwood Press is born ..................... making your own barcode from ISBN

my barcode made using an on-line barcode maker

It is early in the morning and I feel under tremendous pressure; there is much to be done before the 6th June when all our project work has to be submitted. Between now and then I have to make a hand made book, a Blurb book, a portfolio of work, and complete my workbooks and analysis of the project.

It was with great relief, then, that my ISBN numbers came through from Nielsen yesterday, which means that I can get on with my books. I have 10 numbers, the first of which is shown above. This is allocated to "Hawkwood" , my personal project of a poem and images in a limited edition hand made book. The second will be allocated to a Blurb version of the same book for a wider audience.

On Monday I had a chance to show the two strands of my work to a tutor. She feel that I should show the suburban images rather than the Hawkwood images in the final show. This is not the work that I feel so emotionally attached to, but this probably means that I am not able to be objective about it. The images of Hawkwood were described as visually appealing and "suitable for an image library". That worries me as the images that I like best are more abstract and I would not wish them to end up in an image library. The suburban shots are not attractive in a  conventional way, and I wonder whether they fall into the category of conceptual art, not something my work has ever attempted to be before. They will not necessarily appeal to non photographers or even some other photographers; during the tutorial I could sense some students questioning the advice that was being given, and my other half, for one, was deeply disappointed with the change of tack.

Hawkwood by Caroline Fraser
This leads me to considering how much to follow my heart, and how much to follow the advice of very experienced tutors. There is one image from the suburban series that I feel does truly represent my feelings and has a beauty of its own. It is of cherry blossom and telegraph wires. I shall compromise by accepting the advice given, and making this the key work.

I am in the fortunate position of having a two week show in Chislehurst in September as part of the Chislehurst Festival at which I can show the Hawkwood work to local people who will have an affinity with it by nature of it being on their home territory.

Monday, 2 May 2011

blogging and the art of finding an audience

I started this blog as an experiment, to see firstly what it felt like to try and write in order to promote my photography, and secondly, whether it would be useful as an ongoing exercise.

Self promotion as an artist is vital, but somewhat uncomfortable. As I have mostly been writing about my thought processes with regards my final project, it is not necessarily of any relevance or interest to others. A blog really  needs to offer something to its readers; either interesting comment on a subject that grabs the reader, or "how to" do something. There is no shortage of blogs discussing "how to create an effective blog" or blogging tips or how to increase your website traffic. The more I read these, the more I realise that creating traffic for your blog is yet another job that needs attending to on a regular basis.

So what have I learnt about blogging?

  • don't expect people to chance upon the posts; they don't! I have posted some posts directly to Facebook, and left others quietly to themselves to see what happens. Traffic to the site rises dramatically for a few hours after posting to Facebook and then drops almost to zero within 24 hours. Other social networks such as Twitter are also recommended, but I have yet to try.

  • my subject matter is not generally appropriate for a blog, being a personal project that has little relevance to the outside world. If  I am to continue blogging after the course is over, I will need to be more concerned with photographic techniques and regular updates with images, without all the theory that I am currently including as part of my working for the final output at Central St Martins. The material needs to be less dense and more punchy. The aim should be to create something of value for readers that they want to share with others or enter into a discussion about.

  • I have come to understand more about the importance of keywords. By working on the keywords for my website Caroline Fraser Images and linking it to my blog I have doubled  visits to my site. The importance of linking blog titles to keywords cannot be underestimated.

  • I am now experimenting with IMAutomator which puts link building onto automatic, and Ping-o-Matic which updates search engines when new content is released. Initial impressions are that these quickly increase traffic.

  • One thing I have not had much time for is creating traffic by commenting on other people's blogs; another essential ingredient to successful blogging that is universally recommended in " how to blog" top tips. By commenting on respected sites, leaving your own blog/website details as part of your signature, you can build your own audience. Similarly, posting in subject related forums can be effective.

  • being consistent with posting e.g. daily or once weekly depending on your aims, is important for maitaining readership, as is respoding to readers' comments and inviting readers to particiapte in discussion.

I am not going to list all the miriad of suggestions that can be found on the web, but most of the points I have raised are mentioned at Write-a-Famous-Blog, one of the more user-friendly "how to" pages. The more research you do about how to blog sucessfully, and the more you analyse what is happening with your blog using Google Analytics, the more efective you will be.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

the sound of silence

the sound of silence by Caroline Fraser
the sound of silence, a photo by Caroline Fraser on Flickr.
how often do we experience true silence?

One of my selections for the Bartur award on the theme of communication.