Sunday, 9 September 2012

OCA Photography Students Residential Weekend, Leeds, Aug 31st to Sept 2nd 2012

A residential weekend had never been attempted before, so I’m not sure any of us quite knew what to expect.  However, I’ll start off by saying a big thanks to Penny and Eileen for their great organisation and development of an excellent agenda.  There were 20 delegates and a dozen or so of us gathered on the Friday night at the New Ellington Hotel in Leeds (I’d give this a good recommendation as a city centre base for this type of small event).  An intrepid eight set off into the night to seek food, and after a false start at the originally booked venue, we all settled down for Italian and putting names to faces and OCA avatars, before adjourning to the hotel bar to catch up with the rest of the Friday arrivals.

The first morning started with individual introductions and I was pleased to discover that I was far from the only person there from a science background and concerned about the ‘arty’ side of things!  The first session was a discussion with Peter Haveland and Jesse Alexander, ‘volunteer’ tutors for the weekend, on the subject of transition and expectations at levels two and three. Although I am at an earlier stage of the course than most of the rest of the delegates, it was still a valuable experience to hear of the trials and tribulations of those who have trodden the path before.  I don’t think that those on Levels 2 and 3 felt for the most part that they got as much out of this session as they had hoped for, but it certainly provided me with some useful pointers for the future.

After lunch we had a session from Mishka Henner, whose appropriation art gathers material from sources such as Google Earth and Google Streetview and generates photobooks and web shows from the resultant materials.  The photo works he specifically referred to are all available on his website and were 51 US Military Outposts (various American permanent and temporary forward bases in countries where their existence is not formally acknowledged) from Google Earth, Tulips from the Dutch bulb fields and a rather depressing collection of street prostitutes called No Man’s Land from around Europe who were originally located from a website that apparently geotags their whereabouts on Google Streetview.  The actual book sales were alarmingly low, just counted in handfuls, but it was interesting to hear the absolute conviction and confidence that Henner had in his work.  Other projects he discussed were Less Americains, where parts of Robert Frank's existing The Americans images had been digitally ‘reduced’ to remove key elements, and probably the most fascinating, the work he had done with portraits gathered of the same individual over the years and reduced to 3% opacity before being overlaid .. quoting from Henner’s websiteCollected Portraits presents the accumulated portrait archives of various photographers whose works span the history of the medium. Reducing individual portraits taken by a photographer to near invisibility and layering them over one another results in the emergence of a new face.” These are well worth a look at the vimeo clips here.

I contacted him after the event and he kindly agreed to allow use of a couple of images in this blog.  The one I selected from Tulips was Near Blokker, 2012 because I liked the striking diagonals in the image, one from Less Americains because it had more removed than many of the others, yet seemed to suggest more (at least to me!) and one from No Man’s Land because I liked the road sign pointing away from where the girl was walking.

Near Blokker, 2012  Used with kind permission of Mishka Henner
From Less Americains    Used with kind permission of Mishka Henner
From No Man's Land   Used with kind permission of Mishka Henner
The next session was a ‘Photo Book Workshop’ lead by Jesse in which we broke into four groups and reviewed each of four quite different books, each group presenting their views on one of the books in the last plenary session of the day.  The objective was to look at the design, presentation and narrative of the books together with thinking about whether they were self-explanatory or contained additional material.  There is an excellent and detailed review of each of the photo books on Jesse’s own website.

The books were Shelter by Henk Wildschut, Ristatuta by Bianca Brunner, The Hitcher by Chris Coekin and finally What we already know by Richard Page.  The last of these was the book that the group I was in presented back on.  It had a cover and inner leaf that were vibrant and clashing colours (lime green and bright blue) and contained a number of images that ran over the gutter in the book and were hard to see completely.  The photographs were taken with a large format camera and therefore had an exquisitely narrow depth of field which I felt made the shots of open public spaces feel claustrophic and creepy.  Page has an excellent blog which talks at length about the project, but quoting briefly, he say .. “Presented as cinematically luminescent lightboxes, What We Already Know depicted an unsettling and unsettled landscape. The shallow focus lending the spaces the appearance of a model, where scale becomes deeply deceptive, a strange doubling takes place; reflecting an uncanny quality in which familiar territories become unfamiliar, at once real and certain but also unclear and deeply troubling. The images are taken in areas on the fringes of cities; anonymous places which reflect a new breed of generic architecture, familiar across cities throughout the UK, places and sites so commonplace they almost function subliminally.”

On Saturday evening some of us headed to the White Cloth Gallery (good suggestion from Tim) where Peter Dench's Best of British ‘England Uncensored’ photographs were on display.  The works on view provided an at time irreverent and occasionally depressing overview of the great English public at play as they threw themselves into the various absurd things that only we can get up to.  In a lot of ways there were strong similarities with the works of Martin Parr and both artists give us a good laugh at the typically English behaviours portrayed, although at times both touch a raw nerve and I do sometimes feel embarrassed to be a part of it all !

An early start on Sunday saw us hurtling through breakfast to get into a session from Peter on ‘Semiotics, symbolism and metaphor’.  So, starting from when I first saw the agenda, the Oxford Dictionary defines semiotics as the study of signs and sign processes.  Ferdinand de Saussure was referred to a number of times in Peter’s lecture and Saussure founded his definition of semiotics in sociology as It is... possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, 'sign'). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge ..”  This is discussed in David Chandler’s book “Semiotics for Beginners” which I need to read at some stage.  Peter’s notes from the lecture were also provided for delegates, but I’ll not reproduce those here.

The next session was Jesse Alexander again, describing his MA studies as an example of evolution of a major project.  His ‘Threshold Zone’ project shows dark subterranean spaces where light is a temporary intrusion, hence his use of extremely long shutter speeds to capture the images from available light.  Further details can be found on his website.

The final presentation session was given by Peter Rudge from duckrabbit who talked about the art of photo film making for various charities (such as Medicins san Frontieres) and the BBC.  Some of the examples shown were poignant narratives showing the work of MSF in Africa and it was interesting to see where the production went from photos and narrative to use if video clips to make the point more strongly.  It was fascinating to hear that it is pretty much essential to have a successful ‘hook’ for the audience in the first ten seconds to have a chance of getting a successful ‘watch through’ by the web viewer.  It’s a very valid point and one that I will need to bear in mind in relation to putting narrative sequences of images in the more appealing order to retain viewer interest.

The final part of Sunday was dedicated to delegate’s portfolio review and we were split into two groups to get through all twenty sets of prints.  I needed to leave early so was only able to hear the comments on four of the portfolios, but this session in many ways was one of the most revealing parts of the weekend.  I used a subset of my images from the work I did for Elements of Design, which I based on my visits to London and the South Bank and Embankment areas.  The main technical point I heard was to leave bigger margins and consider printing on A3 if I wanted to keep the photographs at an A4 size, and also not to use gloss paper as this potentially raises difficulties in the environment of the formal assessments.  Peter spotted vertical patterns in many of my images (railings, windows etc.) which were not specifically part of what I was photographing but which made the images sit quiet well together as a series .. I had not seen this before, but it was quite obvious when it had been pointed out! Note to self to be more observant and look beyond the main subject of the picture!

Finally, it was a really enjoyable weekend from start to finish and I learned a huge amount as well as being able to put names to faces.  I left feeling connected to the course, which is obviously important in distance learning, and hopefully will be able to catch up with some of the delegates a future OCA study visits.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyable reading Dave. It constantly amazes me how other people spot things I'd missed about my photographs in terms of how they fit together. It was good to meet you and I hope you've got on okay with the re-jigging you were going to do.