Digitalarte

Final Major Project: Reaching Out Into The Dark Exhibition, November 2018

The ROITD FMP exhibition took place this week, November 27th and 28th, at studio1.1 gallery on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, London. The decision to actually hold an exhibition was only taken earlier this month, so pulling it together from conception to opening occurred in the space of 19 days.

studio1.1 London gallery

studio1.1 London gallery

The progress of the work during this FMP period has been slow and hindered by outside factors, such that I initially felt that trying to hold an exhibition would prevent me from focusing enough time and energy on actually having enough work to submit by the December deadline. I was also discouraged by preliminary enquiries into potential exhibition spaces. Space hire seemed so prohibitively expensive and difficult to arrange that I figured I should concentrate on putting the work together for online presentation in the form of a project website, which I’d always envisaged as the main repository of the finished work.

I had wanted to present the images in triptychs, aiming to suggest quite open-ended narratives, and had decided that each triptych would be anchored by a portrait. After completing a couple of portrait shoots in the last six weeks or so, I saw this vision finally begin to take shape in a way that made an exhibition now seem possible.

Triptych

Triptych

Additionally I was encouraged by a conversation with tutor Wendy McMurdo, an incredibly accomplished artist in her own right, who seemed to confirm that the work was heading in the right direction and encouraged me to keep pushing forward. She perfectly understood the internal conflict that I was having – ‘that’s the artistic process Justin’ – and this reassured me that I wasn’t going crazy and that I could possibly pull it off after all. 

I also realised that without an exhibition I’d be missing a great opportunity to engage with the audience, to ‘reach out’ as I had always been aiming to do with the work. Reflecting on this aspect of the exhibition is something that I’ll discuss further in another CRJ post.

So, once decided upon, it was key to find a space to show the work. I was really fortunate that studio1.1 were able to accommodate me for two days at the end of November at a discounted rate that was within my budget. I had enough time to pull everything else together and also make more work, which at the time of deciding to have an exhibition was still necessary.

The initial plan was to show 12 to 15 images, but it quickly became clear that to do so would not allow me to articulate the idea well enough and would also not fill the space that the gallery afforded. The final exhibition consisted of 18 images presented with accompanying text panels taken from the project research, as well as some additional contextual information about the issue of urban solitude and loneliness. 

Following on from my recent experience with the Shutter Hub Open, I explored the possibility of using newspaper for the printing and made enquiries with Newspaper Club about the papers and sizes available. The price to print on newspaper was certainly very attractive compared to my usual printer Digitalarte (approximately 10 times cheaper!) but once I was clear about which images I wanted to show and considering the subtlety of tonal variations and deep shadow in many of them, I ended up going for the tried and trusted, and much more expensive fine art method. 

Once the space was secured I started promoting the exhibition via Instagram and Twitter and received a number of tentative responses suggesting that people were interested and planning to attend. The private view was held on the evening of Tuesday 27th and I’m really happy to say that it was well-attended.

Visitors at the Private View on 27th November 2018

Visitors at the Private View on 27th November 2018

The show ran for two days, 11am to 6pm on both days, with the private view from 7 to 9pm on the first day. I would have ideally held the exhibition for longer, but the gallery only had two free days available and it was difficult enough getting time off work for this period as it was. All in all it worked well, allowing those who expressed an interest in attending to do so. I was really gratified that people travelled from outside of London to see the exhibition and the feedback was generally really positive, which validated the expense and effort that had gone into putting the show on. 

Overall, I’m really glad that I made the effort to arrange an exhibition. It was an incredibly valuable learning experience, both in practical and organisational terms, but also in terms of helping to better understand how to present work to attract and engage an audience, what considerations are important when planning what one hopes will be a successful show, as well as helping me to gain a better understanding of how different outputs can connect differently with audiences and thus how to more strategically present one’s work in order for it to have the maximum reach and impact. 

I will write more about my reflections in this regard in a subsequent post. 

Surfaces and Strategies: Week 3 Reflection

This week we’ve been looking at collaboration and participation in photography and the practical and ethical issues arising from these methods of working. This seemed to be timed perfectly to coincide with a developing train of thought about my own project which made the reading and research this week of particular interest. 

There are many, like Azoulay (2016) who have moved beyond trying to convince of the need for, or importance of, collaboration in photographic practice, arguing that it’s ‘unavoidable’1and thus no longer worth anguished discussion. They seek rather to analyse and codify this practice, examining the ethical implications and challenges that arise from creating work with the contribution of others. 

Even in my own practice, which I’d previously considered to be a very self-centred and introspective one, I readily concede that I have had a long and very fruitful collaboration with my printer George, at Digitalarte who not only helps me to realise my prints in the way that optimises the visual impact of my work and stays as faithful as possible to my original vision, but who has also had direct and positive influence on my photographic practice and workflow over the years I’ve been working with him. So, I am easily convinced of the inescapable need to collaborate. 

What I hadn’t previously considered in much detail, and what is increasingly relevant to my own project, is the dynamic of the relationship between collaborators and how that can influence not only the way that contributions are elicited and made to the work, but also the integrity of the results gained by this collaboration.
 
Like with anything, there’s always a power play at work and it’s important to acknowledge this as a photographer entering into collaboration, in order to mitigate it if that’s what will serve the project best. To use a topical example, a proposal to highlight the plight of the Grenfell Tower residents by giving them cameras and asking them to document their terrible experiences would be open to a number of very searching questions depending on who was giving them the cameras and what the proposed outcomes were likely to be – a project suggested by the Conservative Party publicity office would be received and interpreted very differently to one sponsored by an independent charity.

So, as the photographer I have a responsibility to consider this relationship with my potential collaborators and how I can create a framework that allows them to contribute in a free and  unbiased manner, and that is also sensitive to how their involvement in the project might compromise their own integrity or privacy. 

My project, aiming to examine urban solitude, originally planned to interview selected people about their own experiences and use their responses to feed into the work. The more I think about this initial plan the less comfortable I am with it, as it feels too much like simply using other voices to tell my own story, rather than allowing these voices to speak sincerely for themselves, telling their own story in their own words, however divergent they might be from my own concept of the original idea. I will write more about this in a separate post, but there will have to be changes to my project methodology as a result of closer consideration of the implications, and benefits, of a more collaborative approach to the work.

Reflecting on the work this week, I realise that I must work harder to ensure that my collaborators have their own agency and that they are given the right platform on which to add their own unique voice to the project as it develops.

References:

 

  1. Azoulay, A. (2016) ‘Photography Consists of Collaboration: Susan Meiselas, Wendy Ewald, and Ariella Azoulay’, Camera Obscura, vol. 31, Number 1 91, pp. 187-201.

Lapenta, F. (2011) ‘Some Theoretical and Methodological Views on Photo-Elicitation’, in Margolis, EM. and Pauwels, L. (ed.) The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, London: SAGE.

Chalfen, R. (2011) ‘Differentiating Practices of Participatory Visual Media Production’, in Margolis, EM. and Pauwels, L. (ed.) The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, London: SAGE.

Reflections on a Collaboration

Earlier in this module I took part in a collaboration with my classmate Chris Chucas whose work I’ve increasingly come to admire throughout the first weeks of this course. We had both missed the chance to collaborate during the scheduled activities but agreed to try a little side project after discussing it in the webinar that accompanied the work in week 3.
 
I’d been really impressed by the work produced by the other collaborators. I felt that given the constraints of time and distance separating people, everyone had produced interesting and thought-provoking images. Chris and I decided to do something together and set about deciding on the parameters of our own project.

At the outset, I have to admit that I’ve never considered myself to be a collaborative photographer, AT ALL! One of the things I value most about photography is the ability to preserve my own individual vision. In fact, it’s one of the few areas where I feel that I can express myself entirely, without having to defer to external standards or expectations. I approach all aspects of making images in a very protective way, from the way I shoot to the way I process the work.
 
One of the reasons to write this reflection now though, rather than a few weeks ago when it was more contemporaneous, is that one of the real revelations of this first module has been the realisation of how much of what we all do involves collaboration on some level. It’s something that I have had reason to reflect on repeatedly throughout this module and not just specifically during the work with Chris. Even in my own practice, I’ve had a long and fruitful collaboration with my printer George at Digitalarte who I have been working with for more than three years now. Not only has he taught me a lot about printing but also many other things that have fed directly into my practice and improved my work and workflow. I have had a similarly fruitful association with my framers Oaksmith Studio. I've also benefitted from the collaborative environment that my photography group members have created. 

When you look at things more closely you realise that all image making is to some degree a collaboration. With your subject, with your equipment, with your audience. For me personally this has been a useful realisation, liberating me as it has to some degree from the narrow myopic viewpoint that refused to allow external light to illuminate new and better ways forward.
 
The project with Chris was framed simply. We would both shoot two images, in landscape format, that would ultimately be combined in some way. Our general theme was ‘loss’ or ‘being alone’ and we briefly talked about some shared inspirations. Chris had posted some lyrics up on the class forum that had got me thinking, from the song Church Street in Ruins, by Bangers:

Hearing the Beach Boys playing on this rainy high-street
Makes me chuckle at the amount of surf shops here.
I've tried, there's just no waves in this town.
Just more coffee shops that we could ever hope to drink in
And I don't care how cheap their drinks are,
I'm better off at home.
I kind of find it offensive that everything's for sale,
Coupled with the realisation that there's nothing here I need.
It's strange, I don't hate my job and I'm not living on the breadline,
But spending money still seems strange to me.
On the plus side when I'm outside I repeat mantra-like
"The last thing I need is any more things".

We spoke a bit about how we interpreted some of these thoughts and I managed to slip in a Tribe reference, because frankly there’s always room for A Tribe Called Quest!

One of the pleasures of this project for me was finding shared perspectives with someone whom I didn’t know beforehand and whose work was so different to mine. Also, the fact that by being open to others it’s possible to derive inspiration from places I wouldn’t usually find it (my knowledge of Punk is zero!). In speaking with Chris and sharing ideas I not only found affirmation of some of my own feelings but also was challenged to broaden my views and think beyond my previously perceived boundaries. Reflecting on this experience and on the output of the rest of the group, as well as the various practitioner interviews provided where people discussed how they had entered into their own collaborative relationships, I would say this is one of the real benefits of collaborative working.
 
We agreed on a loose deadline by which we planned to have shot our images, and I went out on the streets of East London one night after work. I was feeling really uninspired, and usually in these circumstances I would have given things up and headed home just accepting that it wasn’t my night. Having a responsibility to someone else though prevented me from doing that. Now, it wasn’t about me and my own selfish view point. I had a responsibility outside of myself, to the shared objective of our collaboration. 

Justin_Carey_Photography_Street Cinema_750kb.jpg
Images for collaboration - shot February 2017

Images for collaboration - shot February 2017

At this point, Chris had already sent me his images (I hadn’t looked at them though), so I was even more aware of a sense of not wanting to let the side down. I think there’s a lot to be said for deriving external methods of inspiring work and a work ethic, particularly if one wishes to pursue a professional path in photography. ‘Not feeling it’ can’t be an absolute obstacle to producing work, there has to be a way to keep shooting through it, and developing a productive routine that is almost independent of notions of inspiration, is one of the benefits that collaboration might also offer. In general, that is certainly something I must do better at as the course progresses.

nother element to our collaboration was that we would process each other’s photographs. For me this was a massive step. I am super obsessive about processing, always have been, and so the act of sending my RAW files into the ether and just allowing someone else to take charge of the final presentation of my images was both incredibly daunting, but also very liberating because ultimately, no one died! And that’s a lesson in itself, that sometimes by loosening the tight grip on the reigns you might be allowing magic to happen. Another lesson for me.

Image for collaboration -   Chris Chucas

Image for collaboration - Chris Chucas

Image for collaboration -   Chris Chucas

Image for collaboration - Chris Chucas

The final images were put together by Chris and I was blown away by them. I’ve never presented work in a diptych before, so again that was another way in which my practice was challenged and broadened by this collaboration. Both composite and diptych have caused me to consider different ways in which I can sequence and present my work in future and I’m grateful to Chris in this regard.

Chris Chucas - Justin Carey Collaboration

Chris Chucas - Justin Carey Collaboration

Chris Chucas - Justin Carey Collaboration

Chris Chucas - Justin Carey Collaboration

Overall, both in this exercise and on reflection throughout this module, I feel that collaboration is something that is not only unavoidable, but is also a positive force that can be harnessed both to produce work that transcends individual practice but can also strengthen and develop individual perspectives. I’d certainly be open to collaborating with Chris, or other practitioners, in future. As this module draws nearly to a close, I feel I have a better idea of where I want to go with my practice and significant parts of that will involve collaborative working, whether it be in producing images or in developing work to accompany, support or discuss photographic practice.
 
You can see what Chris thought about our collaboration here.