Monday, 30 January 2012

on photography as poetry ; inspired by Zarina Bhimji

exhibition catalogue

My other half  and I finally made it to the Whitechapel Gallery this weekend to see Zarina Bhimji's work, including the new video installation "Yellow Patch" (2011) inspired by trade and migration across the Indian Ocean.

This 30 minute installation is exquisitely made; slow, contemplative and with a haunting soundtrack of the sounds of people and their activities that are long gone from the deserted buildings and offices that the film portrays. A shipyard with unfinished boats, a defaced statue of Queen Victoria , deserted colonial  offices in Mumbai, crumbling Haveli palace interiors. The subject matter is a photographer's paradise, but seeing the images as a film transports the viewer into the landscape; watching the wind blow cobwebs and papers slowly back and forth adds a poignancy that the photographs displayed on the gallery walls that accompany the installation cannot convey. The passage of time is slow and allows for a sumptuous feast for the eye.

Her use of very slow panning in, or out, of a subject forces the viewer to really see, to think and to enjoy the colours and sounds that the conveys. It feels as though one is watching a series of individual images, with time to savour them due to the slow pace.

My only criticism is the lack of information about the installation; it is not clear how the places that she includes connect with each other, or why she has chosen particular venues such as  a stark landscape of dried soil and apparently dead shrubs. One would have to buy the catalogue to get a real understanding of her thinking.

Upstairs other works by Zarina are both beautiful and disturbing; malarial mosquitos sit alongside architectural fragments and lightbox presentations that give new depth to simple studies of faded plaster walls or a pomegranate tree in a garden. They are beautiful to look at, but lack explanations that give real meaning to the viewer. The juxtaposition of still photographs and the video installation give cause for contemplation on the merits of the single, static image over video; in this case, video wins hands down.

There is a Flickr group currently offering a competition for photographs inspired by her work.

offering © caroline fraser 2012

It seems to me that her work is about fragments or representations of a life that has now moved on. It is about seeing something in what remains; a contemplation of what has been rather than what is.

It fits well with my series on litter, but in a more poetic and beautiful way of seeing.

fragments © caroline fraser 2012

 Other half, dog and I went for a walk this weekend. Zarina's work was on my mind, and consequently I took the picture seen above.

 Where previously I have photographed lambs in this barn; today I photographed the evidence of their passing. 

 I had hoped that I wouldn't see too many cigarette packets out in the weald of Kent, but there were plenty beside the road and deep in the woods. 

..........there appears to be a better class of smoker in the countryside; here's a detail from a cigar tin found in the verge. Beware of  smoking.......... who knows what effect it might have on your offspring...............  female cigar smokers have no need for concern.

"smoking can damage your sperm" says the warning on the tin..........

enough said.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Inspired by Bill Bryson on a walk in the woods; a little more on litter

pillow talk © Caroline Fraser 2012

I missed my train to London on Sunday, as I got caught up with my self imposed automated directive to photograph each discarded cigarette packet on my short walk to the station; there were at least seven, along with some papers from the House of Commons 1983 blowing around in the gutter. I picked one up, and then wondered why I had, and put it in the next litter bin. I don't plan to extend this project to include government papers as well as health warnings.

As I strolled I pondered on this mild obsession; I recalled the graduation lecture given to my first born at Durham University a few years ago. It was given by Bill Bryson, who entertained and amused graduates and proud parents alike. He had three pieces of advice for a happy future

  1. Never let anyone stop you from doing what you want to do in life. 
  2. Don't moan; no one likes a moaner.

These words have stayed with me, and I whilst I haven't got involved in the campaign for Rural England's  campaign against litter and fly-tipping that Bill Bryson supports, I do spend a lot of time noticing what people have dropped and feeling concerned that our local woods are full of plastic bottles and sweet wrappers. Local volunteers do a great job  of picking up the litter, led by a delightful man in his late eighties who leads them into battle with his litter picking stick.

I  wonder how long the pink pillow that I found in the undergrowth will remain before someone clears it away. It lies just a few feet from the path, and as I walk with dog, I ponder on how it came to be there, and why the owner didn't want to take it back home again. I imagine creating a story book full of short tales based on the items found on the ground, or a photographic A to Z of found items. Was it an innocent romance, or something more sinister that brought the pillow to its resting place.

fragment © Caroline Fraser 2011

And what about this small fragment of cloth; what story does it tell?

butterfly © Caroline Fraser

Or this pink butterfly that cheered me on an otherwise ordinary day?

Any suggestions for a storyline gratefully received; I am still hoping that a poem might emerge from all of this pondering; but as you can see it is not possible to get bored on a walk in the woods.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

naturally sun ripened artery clogger ; on litter and health warnings

naturally sun ripened artery clogger © caroline fraser 2012

I have a little obsession currently with cigarette packets; this is the one that started me off; on my daily walk around the block with dog I inevitably see at least one discarded cigarette packet in the gutter, if not more. This one grabbed my eye as it appears to show a caesarian section - is that a baby's face in the doctor's hand? The closer I look, the less I am certain, but one thing is for sure, it isn't a pretty sight, and I am drawn to the contrast between the upper text and the lower ........ they don't really fit well together.

I wonder how much attention the owner of the packet paid to these words, and doubt very much that they were influenced by the warning.

Maybe this one is more powerful?

smoking kills © caroline fraser 2012
Personally I find this one "smoking kills" more impactful, but as I don't smoke it hardly matters. I shall carry on with this little project  until my family discover the dirty packets that I am hiding in a not to be revealed location and demand that I quit.

Monday, 9 January 2012

What's your story? the joys of automated directives

Yesterday I watched a video of the incredibly bubbly and enthusiastic illustrator and educator  Kate Bingaman Burt, assistant professor of graphic design at Portland State University, lecturing on the subject of "automated directives"............

Portland/CreativeMornings - Kate Bingaman Burt from CreativeMornings/Portland on Vimeo.

She describes the value of directives, which are self-imposed, on her creative process. By limiting her work within defined criteria, she produces bodies of work that have a purpose, are fun and that lead to new ideas and new bodies. For example, she has photographed all of the "free boxes" that she finds outside homes around her home town, and then sometimes goes on to draw the contents.

She clearly has a brain that works a little like mine; I have an idea to photograph all the litter on the street around my block, but as yet the project hasn't really inspired me. Above all she stresses that any project that you set yourself has to come from being obsessed and finding what you love, otherwise it will go no-where.

Marlboro © Caroline Fraser 
The key to working in this way is that there should be

  • a restriction on format; if photographs, then she advises not to get too hung up on how they are taken
  • a framework for content 
  • a restriction on tools used
  • ideally a sharing and engagement with those who view the work
She describes this process as one that will allow you to surprise yourself.

I wonder how it differs from photographic typologies, such as those of Nigel Shafran's "compost series" or the Becher's water towers

from Nigel Shafran's compost series

Becher's water towers
I am not sure that there is a difference, as typological works seem to meet the criteria that she sets above. She does , however, use her material to inspire new projects, drawings and graphic projects such as e-zines and books , creating something new and, as she says, ideally coming full circle with her material, bringing what she has produced back to where it originates from, such as a supermarket chain stocking objects that use her designs inspired from a project that started in the supermarket with a look at consumerism and what people buy.