Project

Final Major Project: Future Directions

The end of this module and the MA course has arrived so quickly. With my head still spinning from the whirlwind of activity that preceded and encompassed the exhibition and website launch it is difficult to rationalise what might come next. 

I was surprised to be asked a number of times at the Reaching Out Into The Dark private view“So what’s next Justin?”, and as the reality that I’m soon going to be a former student starts to sink in, I’m obliged to start trying to come up with some answers.

Visitors to the ROITD Private View

Visitors to the ROITD Private View

Here is what I have so far:

Project

The work so far in this project feels very provisional, like only a surface scratched, with the FMP outcomes simply demonstrating the potential audience for the work and also how many more facets of this theme there are to uncover and explore. 

I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far but already have a clear idea of the next few steps for the work, visually, which include:

·     The urgent need to include older people in this work. This is especially important as I’m confronted with lonely older people every day in my job, such that it feels almost criminal not to give them a platform in this project and a prominent one at that! There is also the need to represent younger people (adolescents mainly) and finding a way to reach this group and engage them with this work will be a future challenge no doubt.

·     A need to better represent the internal world of solitude and loneliness, both with more images of interior spaces, and by finding an effective way to visually depict the internal emotional landscape. I think my work already does this to some degree (hopefully), it certainly reflects my own internal emotional landscape in a sense, but there are a variety of emotional responses to this subject (not all of them negative of course) that would be really interesting states to explore photographically if this could be done in a manner that wasn’t too obvious and was based on a coherent visual strategy. My initial goal had been to explore solitude, this gradually evolved to me wanting to explore solitude and loneliness as I started to research the theme and understand the topic more. This further developed into a desire to better represent the positive aspects of a solitary life. Latterly though, I’ve thought a lot more about specific scenarios and how they could be explored, such as feeling alone despite being in a relationship, or the feeling of being alone among a large throng on a busy street in rush hour – all these experiences that are broiling away internally but which may never be discernible on the external surface of our persona, yet have a profound impact on the way we experience the world and relate to each other. This is a really interesting area that I am keen to explore further. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since the exhibition concluded and it might even be separate project, or sub-project, as the potential ground to cover is vast.

My internal emotional landscape?

My internal emotional landscape?

·      I also want to examine the role that technology plays in our modern solitude. There’s an irony that while we were all sold these devices as ways to better connect with each other, we spend most of our time now experiencing daily life with our heads down fixated on a small screen whenever we are out in the world, such that the happenings of the world around us and the existence of other actual humans is no longer necessarily a vital part of our daily experience in the main. We thus live a voluntary solitude, detached from each other and hypnotised by our personal mini computers. It’s not clear whether these were the intended consequences of these devices but this is the reality we are faced with and it’s interesting to consider what that means for our emotional and mental health and what it means for our wider communities and societies. 

·     Reconsideration of the outputs and how best to use them is another element that can further progress the aims of the project. I’ve learnt a number of useful practical lessons during FMP, particularly from putting together an exhibition. Reflecting on the aspects of the planning that worked well and what things I’d wish to do differently in the event of a future exhibition is important learning to take forward. I’m also more convinced of the need for a book as an eventual output for this work. I arrived at this conclusion after seeing the work take shape during the website build and getting a clearer understanding of how the interaction of text and image might work to successfully communicate to the viewer on a page as well as a screen. Continuing to refine and mature the work over the coming year or two will gradually make a book project seem like a foreseeable future milestone of the project I believe and will offer yet another way to present and experience this work.

Considering one of the aims of this project is to stimulate dialogue and help to facilitate discussion about the experience of loneliness and solitude, I’ve always been keen to find a way to take the work outward in the form of a workshop. This had formed part of an (as it now seems) ambitious FMP project proposal, but it remains an important pillar of what I would consider to be a fully realised project.

Shutter Hub’s   Camera Amnesty   campaign to help homeless photographers

Shutter Hub’s Camera Amnesty campaign to help homeless photographers

To that end, I’ve already made initial contact with Shutter Hub, an organisation that has a lot of experience of delivering talks and workshops, about how we might collaborate to bring this work to a different audience in that format. Shutter Hub have already been working with potential target groups in their own outreach work and so it would be a potentially mutually beneficial collaboration that would align with their existing corporate activities. 

 

Practice 

Moving forward I have to consider how I will balance my photographic practice with imminent changes in my job, working pattern and place of abode. The MA has given me a much better understanding of how to approach trying to communicate through photographs and associated/accompanying media, as well as a grounding in how to carry out research to support one’s visual aims. I’ve also learned practical skills that will benefit my practice and my ability to connect and collaborate with other practitioners. The aspects of my practice that I will be concentrating on in the immediate post-MA future are likely to include:

·     Continued regular contextual research to support the ongoing progress of this project but also to provide the basis for potential future work of a different nature. It’s not always possible to directly quantify how the research done contributes to the final work but it certainly does, and this is one of the aspects that sets my current work apart from what I was producing before starting this course. My work now is supported by extensive research of visual and written media and prolonged reflection, whereas before I was just taking photographs that interested me for no clear reason. That’s not a bad thing in itself of course, but I can say that the work I’m producing now is a more eloquent expression of my ‘voice’ than anything I produced previously. This is only due to the research and consideration which underpins it and thus I look forward to further clarifying my voice with ongoing research and learning.

·     Writing will become an increasingly important element of my practice moving forward. I very much enjoyed writing for this project, in the process reawakening an interest in creative writing that I’d had in my much younger days. While continuing to write more critically during the course as well as book reviews elsewhere, I envisage less constrained writing being a larger proportion of my future output. I’ve found writing to be a good way to synthesise my reflections and the conclusions I’ve made about the work I’m doing, and so the writing serves to further my thoughts and offer another conduit to connect with the emotions that I always want to bring to my work. Thus, in the time that’s freed up after the completion of the MA I intend to take a writing course to help develop my competence in this area and will continue to write at every possible opportunity. 

Excerpt of my review of Robert Hirsch’s book  Seizing The Light  on   Amazon

Excerpt of my review of Robert Hirsch’s book Seizing The Light on Amazon

·     Another aspect of my practice that I will be concentrating more on in the future is networking and self-promotion (horrible as that sounds!). The exhibition cemented the importance of this for me, as the private view was attended by a number of people who became aware of me on social media. Edo Zollo, a photographer I’ve looked up to for years, was kind enough to visit my private view and stated that he’d been following me for years and that I was one of his favourite photographers. This was very surprising and obviously great to hear, but it also highlighted the importance of presenting yourself online. He’d never have heard of me otherwise and it’s currently the best way to connect with your audience, communicate your motivations and describe your practice in ways that people will hopefully identify and engage with. I saw this in action during this FMP and I have to take this aspect of my practice more seriously if I hope to reach a bigger audience, position myself for future professional opportunities and connect with potential collaborators. I’m by no means comfortable with what can at times seem like relentless self-promotion but I have to find a happy medium where I’m regularly nurturing this audience of supporters and steadily adding new followers as well, people who are supporters of my practice in one way or another. There is a lot to learn too about how to promote and market specific events. My exhibition only came together at very short notice, so it wasn’t possible to build a solid buzz about it with a long lead-up. In future, the planning of the exhibition will take better account of what’s needed to promote it effectively to give it the best possible chance of success. These practical lessons are one of the most useful takeaways from the MA course for me. Being an artist is great, the licence to stay in your head where dreams live, the onus to be creative, to challenge conventions and to bravely explore new territories. Yet there is no escaping the practical realities involved in researching, producing and promoting the work. I’ve learnt some of these realities first hand (my credit card can certainly give you some chapters about the harsh realities too!) in these final weeks and have a more pragmatic appreciation of what is required to continue making good work, that people will want to see and possibly support, in the future.

Final Major Project: Critical Basis For Presentation

As I reflect on nearing the end of the FMP, I’m obliged to consider what has and hasn’t worked in the way the work was presented on the website and at exhibition. The two key decisions about the presentation were 

·      grouping the images into triptychs 

·      presenting the images alongside text

I will endeavor to explain these decisions in this post.

Prior to starting this course I’d always thought of making photographs in terms of trying to create the single killer image, something as interesting and as beautiful as possible for its own sake. I’ve written in earlier modules about how repeated exposure to the work of professional practitioners on this course, and the opportunity to hear many of them discuss their work in interviews, gradually forced me to reconsider the importance of creating the single impactful image. It’s certainly easier to appreciate the value of a thoughtfully curated series of images when you feel the impact of the work either in a gallery or in quiet contemplation of a photobook. The potential for communication of a series of images is exponentially increased over what’s possible in a single frame. This understanding of the true importance of stringing images together arrived for me around the same time as I was trying to understand how to create visual narrative, for which analysis of Gregory Crewdson’s work was particularly helpful. 

So, I was struggling with the idea of narrative and how to create this both within an image and within a series of pictures. At this stage I was still shooting empty urban scenes exclusively and was not able to create anything that I felt effectively communicated the project’s themes. Feedback was always along the lines that the pictures were nice enough, but that the underlying message was not discernible.

Big lightbulb moment came at this exhibition

Big lightbulb moment came at this exhibition

Visiting the London Nights exhibition in May was a key moment, as I’d been wondering about how to solve the narrative question for quite a few months without feeling any closer to figuring it out and so was unsure how I’d be able to produce a successful Final Major Project. At London Nights I saw lots of inspiring work, but a series of images presented in triptych really stuck with me – the connections suggested between each photograph were close yet non-specific enough, that the viewer was able to make links of their own without feeling that the photographer was being too didactic. 

Attempted diptych

Attempted diptych

At that stage I’d already experimented with a couple of diptychs, which I’d found unsatisfactory, but the third image seemed to bring balance and a plethora of additional narrative possibilities. The whole narrative thread opened out in front of my eyes and I resolved to try this with my own work. It was a ‘lightbulb moment’ in the journey of this project.  

Attempt to create an image with some internal narrative

Attempt to create an image with some internal narrative

Once the penny had dropped, I tried creating semi-staged images, in a nod towards Crewdson, to see if I could create more visual intrigue in this way. Unsurprisingly, it did not work too well. The triptypchs didn’t work too well either initially and I felt this was mainly because they didn’t have an entry point – a way to invite the viewer into the story. I realised this would be best achieved by portraiture, using people to spark off the narrative, with the other two images inciting further questions. Images by artists such as Tom Hunter came to mind, whose portraits can on one hand seem almost mundane, but on the other hand are deeply suggestive and sometimes carry layers of additional meaning. I thus used work such as this as a role model to work towards. 

Living In Hell  by Tom Hunter, from   his website

Living In Hell by Tom Hunter, from his website

The key then was to make more portraits and as I was also convinced of the importance of including myself explicitly in the work, I accepted that self-portraits would be required too. I felt a responsibility to match the degree of exposure that my collaborators had offered to the project, and that the work would not be complete without an attempt at honest self-examination of my own state in relation to the issues under discussion.

Making more portraits confirmed that introducing people into the work was the key to bringing the triptychs together. The stories that each portrait suggested based on my own personal knowledge of the subject, or on elements that were suggested from the image itself or from discussions during the shoot, guided further shoots to create images that worked with the portraits or that allowed links to be made with other images made during the project. 

I had also explored the use of text earlier in the project and subsequently abandoned the idea as I felt that I’d somehow lost my way in telling the story I wanted to tell. One of our tutors had also commented to the effect that I’d lost my own voice in trying to seek the views of a large number of other people and I’d taken this to heart as it was a very perceptive observation. I continued to collect writing from collaborators though and to interview the people I was shooting. I was also writing poetry inspired by the project theme and in response to some creative writing that one of my collaborators had written. 

Page example from  Hackney By Night  by David George

Page example from Hackney By Night by David George

Once the triptychs started to take shape and I felt more confident that they’d be able to suggest a story, the potential interaction of words with these images was again interesting to me. Works like Hackney By Night by David George and London Ends by Philipp Ebeling, where text either accompanied the images in a standard ‘image facing text’ (Hackney By Night) kind of way, or in a more whimsical thread running through the book (London Ends) also proved that this might be an effective way to present the work. 

Page example from  London Ends  by Philipp Ebeling

Page example from London Ends by Philipp Ebeling

In each of the above two examples, I was particularly interested in the fact that the text did not necessarily appear to relate directly to the image(s) it appeared with in the presentation. This seemed to offer another opportunity to introduce interpretative uncertainty for the viewer, keeping them a little off balance when trying to understand the work and seek for answers within the triptych. I definitely didn’t want to end up with captions, but with text that further opened out the potential interpretations of the pictures, with the aim to offer as broadly applicable a perspective of the issue as possible, such that the viewer is more likely to be able to connect with some aspect of the work. 

The writing in Hackney By Night is a great example of writing that expands the mood of the images without seeking to directly explain them. Again, as I was aiming for an emotionality in the work, I very much wanted to use any device that could increase the emotional temperature of the work and support the mood I was trying to create for the viewer. 

The way the text was finally used to accompany the work differed on the website and the exhibition. On the website, each triptych is accompanied by text and can be considered as a self-contained ‘packet’ of narrative information. At the exhibition, I chose not to accompany each triptych with text directly, preferring rather to position text in the space in a way that gave the text more independent emphasis and allowed the viewer to reflect on the writing and then move towards another grouping of images in a more flexible way. 

Exhibition visitor reading text

Exhibition visitor reading text

It was interesting to see then, that exhibition visitors seemed to respond in equal measure to the text as well as the photographs. There were a number of people who took pictures of the writing and posted to social media for example, demonstrating that they’d received the text on an equal footing to the images rather than as a narrative sidekick. This response again confirmed the benefit of staging an exhibition, as providing an alternative way to present the work and allowing it to be received and interpreted differently.

Exhibition visitor posted text on Instagram following the private view

Exhibition visitor posted text on Instagram following the private view

Another element that I experimented with during the exhibition was of combining triptychs to create larger narratives. These groups of six photographs came about when planning the exhibition layout on my computer and realising that grids of images gave the work a different feel again. Having two portraits in each group suggested potential relationships between people that were not seen in a single triptych. This was quite fun to play with and the typical response from visitors to the exhibition was of trying to make connections when confronted with the six images, which kept them engaged for longer and forced them to reflect more deeply on what they were seeing. These 6-image grids were the most talked about element of the exhibition without doubt, and the aspect that provoked the most questions from visitors. 

6 image grid on show at the FMP exhibition

6 image grid on show at the FMP exhibition

It was really satisfying to get direct feedback on the mode of presentation, when the viewer was finding a single or multiple implied stories, but was not able to satisfactorily resolve them immediately and was thus provoked to ask a question about the work. Having viewers arrive at widely varying interpretations of the same set of images was even better!

Overall then, I believe that the decisions to present the work in triptych and alongside text were both successful at this stage of the project. It is possible that as the work continues and the range of responses to the issue increases, these decisions may no longer serve the best communication of the themes and I would be happy to concede them as they are by no means non-negotiable. As stated previously, I feel that there’s still a long way to go with this project and the work will no doubt change course again before reaching its natural conclusion. As I look ahead, I anticipate the addition of video to the work as well as a wider variety of scenes and portraits but there will almost certainly be other unexpected developments and I look forward to steering a course into the future.

Final Major Project: ROITD Website Outcome

Early on in the planning of the potential outputs for this project I envisaged a website as a significant, and possibly the most important, outcome of the FMP. As the FMP period continued and the chances of staging an exhibition appeared to recede, I further concentrated my focus on producing a website to display the work and which could serve as a hub from which the project would continue to grow and deepen post-MA.

I had purchased a suitable domain some time back in preparation for building the website, but only began outlining how I wanted the site to develop in the last month or so as the project and the planned triptych format started to take shape. 

The aim was to produce a visually interesting and informative website, that would be able to provide a deeper experience than available at the exhibition. In keeping with the breadth of responses to the themes of this project, I was keen to present information in a range of formats – 

·      factual information and links

·      contextual information about the issue of urban solitude/loneliness

·      interview excerpts from those who’d collaborated in the project 

·      creative writing from collaborators and myself

·      songs that respond to the theme

Due to the multi-format nature of this information I was confident that a website would be a perfect platform for presenting the work. The challenge was to do so in a way that was engaging without being overly dry, or that took the emphasis away from the images.

Example of a page from Raphaël Dallaporta’s work  Domestic Slavery    from artist’s website

Example of a page from Raphaël Dallaporta’s work Domestic Slavery from artist’s website

Useful references for this work included Domestic Slavery by Raphaël Dallaporta and Imperial Courts by Dana Lixenberg. These two examples showed that communication of the themes and message of a project could be enhanced and its impact amplified, by accompanying text (Domestic Slavery) and that a multimedia presentation can result in a richness and depth of coverage of a theme that isn’t possible using still images alone (Imperial Courts). 

These projects, particularly Imperial Courts, were exemplars of the sort of treatment I was aiming for with my own website. I have always felt that this project will not have been fully explored without film, more creative and investigative writing and potentially full interview transcripts also being presented alongside the photographs. This deep exploration of a theme really appeals to me, as it allows me to continue my enquiries following completion of the MA and also because the scope of this topic is so broad as to almost demand more than the 6 month treatment available during the FMP.  

As the image-making started to come together, so the potential website layout also became clearer. I was thus able to start building the website at the beginning of November, using placeholder images to give a sense of what the eventual layout would look like and how the text would relate to the pictures in the final presentation. 

I was fortunate to be able to draw on some rich textual material from my contributors and the beginning of the website build coincided with further written submissions. I’d also been working on some writing of my own which continued alongside the website draft. November was thus a busy month of more shooting, website planning and building, writing and exhibition planning and I was pleased with the progress I was able to make in a short time.

Once the date of the exhibition was decided, I aimed to have the website ready to publish on the day prior the exhibition. This was to act as a primer and public introduction to the topic and would also be available to support the physical exhibition (e.g. I was able to refer exhibition visitors to the website for more information and images when meeting them at the gallery).

Text presented alongside images on the project website

Text presented alongside images on the project website

At time of launch, the website consisted of 36 images in 12 triptychs. Each triptych is presented with an accompanying text excerpt. The text being of varying length and type (interview transcript excerpts, creative prose or poetry) and in some instances chosen to seemingly reinforce the putative theme of the triptych and in others to challenge it. 

The website also includes information and statistics about the issues of solitude and loneliness and the emotional and psychological impact it has. In addition, the website includes contact information for agencies that are somehow related to this issue. 

Information about solitude and explaining the project in more detail on project website

Information about solitude and explaining the project in more detail on project website

The reaction from people who’ve visited the website has been very positive. I have received comments on the images, the impact of their presentation alongside text, the usefulness of the information that adds context to the topic and the value of including contacts to helpful organisations. 

I’ve been gratified to hear from a number of people that the work on the website has moved them emotionally, including a couple of visitors who have been moved to tears by the work. This was pleasing to hear from the point of view of confirming the success of a key project aim, that of engaging with the viewer’s emotions and producing work that carried an emotional weight. Again, I feel this was more successfully achieved by combining text and images than would have been achieved simply by images alone.

Links to relevant organisations on project website

Links to relevant organisations on project website

The website has also acted as a starting point for dialogue with people who are themselves interested in investigating this issue and with agencies who are already doing so. I have been able to refer them to the website for a quick appraisal of where I am with the work so far and what my standpoint is, and this has been a great platform from which to discuss potential collaborations or to launch ongoing dialogue about the issues involved. 

Overall then, I would say the website has been the most successful aspect of the project, because of its permanence and the fact it will allow the work to be visible and accessible in a way that suits the viewer. Based on the responses I received during the exhibition, there’s also likely to be a benefit from the ability to engage with the work online anonymously and at one’s own pace, my suspicion being that people are more comfortable engaging with and reflecting on this work when they feel under no pressure to react to it for an external observer or where they are not in danger of having a potentially emotional response noted by someone else.

In the near future I aim to add a short movie to the website, as well as more transcripts from recent interviews that were conducted just prior to the website being published. I will also continue to add images as the project continues in the weeks and months ahead.

Final Major Project: Exhibition Engagement

One of the key aims of this project has been to stimulate dialogue about the issue of solitude and hopefully contribute towards a more open communication about this difficult topic. 

This aim underpinned the decision to hold an exhibition in a gallery, as one of the intended consequences would be to bring people together in the same place for a shared experience and hopefully some discourse about the issues explored in the work. 

During the MA and particularly leading up to the completion of this FMP I have made largely unsuccessful attempts to provoke discussion about the issues on social media. Aside from the occasional comment agreeing that it’s a topic worthy of examination, it has been difficult to get people to participate in any meaningful way or to volunteer to talk about things more deeply in a more private setting. 

I was thus hoping that by bringing the audience into a physical space there may be opportunities to engage with them in a more immediate way than had been possible via social media. 

Another aim of the project had been to produce an online space that would allow the work to be explored in more detail, and that will hopefully continue to evolve into a richer and deeper resource as the project continues after the MA as the scope of the work naturally broadens. I thus created a project website, which launched the day before the opening of the exhibition. In another CRJ post I will outline how this site developed and the response it has had so far.

ROITD Project Website

ROITD Project Website

As the exhibition was only of short duration I felt it was important to try and maximise its impact as much as possible. This would be partly achieved by it being supported and accompanied by the material on the website. The location of studio1.1, in a busy and traditionally creative part of East London also helped in this regard. I had preceded the show with an Instagram poll asking what solitude meant to the viewer and received only a few responses. However, I posed a similar question to exhibition visitors and placed comment cards to allow anonymous responses to this question. 

Comment box placed at the front of the exhibition

Comment box placed at the front of the exhibition

Once the exhibition was finished I was delighted to find that in the two days the show was open there had been a really encouraging response to this very broad question. I received a number of intriguing answers and what was reinforced is that these experiences are not easily generalised, as everyone experiences being alone differently.

If forced to organise these responses, I would say that they fell into two main categories – those who value the opportunity to connect with themselves, and those who are silently battling against unwanted isolation while maintaining an external façade that all is well.

Comment cards collected during the exhibition

Comment cards collected during the exhibition

Another benefit of holding an exhibition was the opportunity to get into conversation with visitors. It was so heartening when a passer by stopped in, spent some time looking at the work and then unprompted volunteered that they felt this was an important topic that needed to be more frequently discussed, and then went on to share personal experiences or reflections on solitude and loneliness. This happened on many occasions over the two days and was the definite highlight of the exhibition for me. 

This validated a number of ideas: that it is an important issue that merits exploration, that more people than is immediately evident are experiencing (suffering?) this in silence and that it would therefore be a desirable objective to try and stimulate a more open and inclusive conversation about it. Having seen the sequelae of loneliness in a medical context for many years, mainly in older people, it was illuminating to have clear evidence that this issue affects younger people of varying demographic profiles also and this was reflected in the conversations I had with visitors over the two days. 

Another element of the work that was validated during the two days was that of the visual approach taken in this project. I’ve written previously about narrative and how I’ve struggled to find a way to tell stories visually. I have spent a lot of time looking at the work of Crewdson, Soth and Hido in particular during the latter part of this MA and this research, as well as having a revelation while attending the London Nights exhibition earlier in the year about how using a series of images together could be an effective way to suggest a story, I had been convinced that this would be the way to create narrative in this work.

As I had continued to reflect on this and also realised the importance of including people in the work, I’d settled on triptychs as the vehicle to tell this particular story, each anchored by a portrait. In the exhibition I also experimented with combining triptychs to create even larger stories. It was really interesting then to see how visitors responded to these series of images. The various interpretations of the image combinations, particularly those that were presented in a group of 6 images, were really interesting – people finding all sorts of different elements, which were on the whole very different from my nominal intention when grouping the images together. This is exactly what I’d been aiming for. It did mean though that a number of visitors were frustrated when, after asking me to tell them whether they had gotten the ‘right answer’ when trying to interpret the images I replied by telling them that there wasn’t a right answer and that the fact they’d arrived at a completely different interpretation to myself, or another viewer, was exactly what I’d intended!

Holding the exhibition therefore served to allow direct engagement with the audience, in a way that had not been previously possible via social media. The accompanying website definitely worked in conjunction with the exhibition to provide different ways to access the work and explore it in depth at a time that suited the viewer. The exhibition also provided direct feedback about the success or otherwise of the work in communicating the themes and achieving the aims of emotionality and open-ended narrative. Judging from the verbal and written feedback received during the show, I am reassured that these objectives were largely met and this is very encouraging when considering how to take this project forward after the finish of the MA course. 

I was asked on a couple of occasions during the exhibition – ‘what’s next?’ – whatever the answer to this question, this exhibition assures me that the work is on the right course.  

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. 

Final Major Project: Nights Out

Last week I attended a talk at the Museum of London, an event accompanying the current London Nights exhibition there. The evening involved a panel of practitioners discussing how the night time feeds into their creativity. 

Obviously, this topic was right up my street and I was glad to be able to attend. The panel consisted of Vanessa Loera, a Central St Martins graduate and cross-genre practitioner, Damien Frost a photographer and Inua Ellams, a writer and founder of The Midnight Run, an arts-filled night time cultural journey. The evening was chaired by Amy Lamé, who is London’s ‘night Czar’ and a significant and renowned figure in her own right.

The panel comprised of Amy Lamé, Vanessa Loera, Damien Frost and Inua Ellams

The panel comprised of Amy Lamé, Vanessa Loera, Damien Frost and Inua Ellams

After an introduction by Lamé, each practitioner delivered a talk about their own practice relating how their work is influenced by the night. It was notable that despite having widely varying approaches to their work, or even how they go about navigating and utilising the opportunities the night time creates, they were each able to articulate specific and tangible benefits that accrued to their work from practicing at night, which they are not able to garner during the day time.

Loera, in particular, made a profound comment about how her practice of wandering the streets alone at night as a young woman was not only a cultural comment about the role and agency that women have traditionally been afforded in art history, but also directly linked to her own sense of self-worth, that to walk alone was an expression of her own personality that allowed her to know herself better, to be more connected to herself. This really resonated with me at the time, and continues to do so, connected as it is to the idea of solitude as a necessary part of self-knowledge and self-development. This is something I feel to be true personally, and as my research continues, seems to be a very important strand to represent in this project. 

The work will benefit from an equality of voices representing both the positive and negative aspects of solitary living. This is certainly an evolution from the original concept which would have been that of quite a bleak tale of isolation and loneliness with little positive to say. 

I’m aiming to produce work that suggests narrative without being explicit either way. I hope there’ll be enough space in the work for the viewer to see a range of possible experiences arising from being alone. The idea is to achieve this using combinations of images that suggest multiple interpretations and allow me to introduce people into the work. We’ll see how this actually works once I have a selection of images that I’m happy enough with to start playing about with some combinations. More to come on this shortly.

Sustainable Prospects: What’s It All About?

“When a person picks up a camera and starts to feel photography is for them, it is usually for reasons so complex that simple biography will not do. If you suddenly find that a camera really is your means of expression, it is not so much because it gives you the chance of a brave new start, but because it’s a way of drawing on the unspoken experience of your life lived so far. Making photographs is so often an act of recognition, conscious or otherwise, that what is before you resonates with things that came before. Those things might be direct experiences. They might be movies, picture books, music or novels. We can never know for sure.”

David Campany, Intimate Distance, 2016

I wanted to write a little about something I’d briefly mentioned in an earlier post, which is the change of direction in my project that has occurred during this module in response to advice and feedback received from my tutor and peers.

As I’ve outlined elsewhere, I’m really interested in the idea of urban solitude and how we experience this state and how we articulate and contextualise this experience. I’m also really interested in commonalities amongst us, in the idea that there’s this unspoken network of loneliness where people are closely packed yet living in silent isolation and I believe that if we can stimulate an open debate about this issue then we’d be on the way to being able to challenge taboos, while also accessing and offering support.

My project had increasingly sought to invite contributions from others around this issue, in various methods that felt right for them. I’ve found this aspect of the project really rewarding, providing as it has an insight into the emotional world of some people that I know well and people whom I hardly know at all. These insights have been incredibly privileged, as well as confirming my initial supposition that there’s a rich seam to be explored. The topic is so big, with direct and indirect links to issues as varied as mental health, social mobility, the link between music and memory…there are so many threads that can be explored.

Of course, the potential breadth of this topic had caused some difficulties. It’s a challenge to be able to provide structure to a project when the topic is so vast and the potential responses from people are limitless. I also found that I was increasingly being thwarted by practical and attitudinal obstacles. For example, many people had agreed to contribute to the project and then, despite gentle but persistent prompting on my part, failed to follow through.

In an attempt to gain some momentum and in an effort to further broaden my appeal to potential contributors/collaborators I contacted Georgina Lawton, a journalist who had written a piece for The Guardian earlier this year about her experiences with loneliness.

Georgina Lawton in The Guardian, 19/8/17

Georgina Lawton in The Guardian, 19/8/17

I asked if she would be willing to contribute to the project in some way but she was unfortunately unwilling to do so.

Overall this failure to engage people with the project was increasingly disheartening.

At the same time, I was feeling a growing disconnect between the story I was trying to tell through others and the origin of the inspiration behind this project which undoubtedly had come from within, and which I had gradually drifted away from without even noticing. I’m unsure whether this was due to an implicit unwillingness to confront the issues that a deeper examination of my own feelings might unearth, but I had certainly become a little emotionally detached from the work and this was affecting the quality of the work and my motivation to produce it.

A comment from Krishna (our module tutor) a few weeks ago really pierced the fog, as she challenged the direction I’d been taking with the project. She felt that the work produced and inspired by others would be better as a standalone project and that the focus should be on my own perspective and vision at this stage. This view seemed to be shared by my class mates who were present in the webinar and I left the session feeling quite shaken. I wasn’t sure at first why this advice was so discomfiting, but on reflection it was due to all the reasons I’ve outlined above – the imperceptible drift that had occurred from the original heart of the project, the fact that this advice challenged a possible reluctance to truly examine my own motivations for pursuing this project in the first place and I realised that I’d thus gotten a bit lost and had needed an outside view to ‘bring me back to my senses’.

I reflected on this and the pitfalls I had fallen into in the project to date. I’d certainly suffered due to a lack of structure. Listening to various practitioners describe how they approach project work, one of the key themes was the idea of a narrative impulse that infuses the work with life and allows the photographer to know when the project reaches its natural end – when the story has been told the end has been reached. Of course, if the narrative structure isn’t clear and if themes haven’t been clearly defined, it’s difficult to know how to proceed and it’s impossible to know when you’re off track. I had certainly suffered in this regard.

So I went back to the beginning.

As David Campany writes above, the reasons we shoot are often complex but are almost always connected to our own experience. I have tried to examine this much more closely, seeking to understand what solitude and loneliness mean for me and why I am drawn to articulate this visually. I think I have a clearer idea about this now and as this clarity has been restored it’s been interesting to note how my motivation and passion have returned.

#1726 as displayed on Todd Hido's website

#1726 as displayed on Todd Hido's website

I’ve been considering the work of others that's inspired me and still resonates with me, people like Todd Hido and Lynn Saville (to name just a couple) and examining why I shoot at night, why the issue of solitude is important to me and what my own feelings and memories are of loneliness, how it resonates with my emotional world.

Alongside this, I’ve been re-examining the aims of my project – how I hope to tell the story, who I hope to reach with the work and why would they care.

I’m confident that this change of direction and period of self-examination will result in a stronger project and a more coherent practice moving forward and I’m excited about moving forward.

Reference:

·      HIDO, Todd., CAMPANY, David. and TYLEVICH, Katya. 2016. Intimate Distance: Twenty-five Years of Photographs, A Chronological Album. New York: Aperture.

 

 

Surfaces and Strategies: Week 9 Reflection

The end of the module seems to be hurtling towards me. It’s always a bad sign when the weekly seminars and activities die down, indicating that we should be entirely consumed with final preparation for assignment submissions. I don’t seem to have anywhere near enough time to submit the work on time, so I’ve been distracting myself with cutting up pieces of paper and firing off a stapler for the first time in years…I’ve been making a zine!
 
Everything about my work seems provisional at the moment. The project I originally envisioned has been subconsciously evolving and growing throughout this module. This may not yet be entirely evident in the output I’ve produced so far in this module but the ideas continue to bubble up, with material changes to my methodology slowly resolving themselves in my mind as I keep moving forward. 

Zine mock-ups

Zine mock-ups

An example of this is in the creation of the zine. When I set out on this project, I envisaged a photobook submission as a key outcome of the project. The type of books produced by Hoxton Mini Press, for example, felt like the sort of direction I should be aiming for with my project. Where the work is at present, with so much in flux and an anticipation that there will be further significant changes in my methods and output in the coming months, producing a photobook with the attendant suggestion of a completed piece of work seemed inappropriate. 

In addition to this, as the project has become increasingly inclusive and the emphasis has shifted slightly - being less introspective and towards more of a dialogue between contributors, the use of the photobook, which often denotes and propounds a determinedly monocular perspective just doesn’t quite fit for me at this stage. 

Contacts page - signposting resources and organisations that are relevant to the project

Contacts page - signposting resources and organisations that are relevant to the project

I wanted the tangible product of the work to this point to feel accessible and without pretension to high art - rather a provider of information than an exposition of my personal view. I wanted it to feel like a class companion rather than the course lecturer, something to be discovered and that hopefully stimulates further inquiry, but which doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

’m aiming for three one-off zines at this point, with a variation of content, layout and paper type. Putting the first one together was in some ways more complicated than predicted, while in other ways it was quite an intuitive and rewarding process.

This...

This...

became this!

became this!

In the week 9 reading, an interview with Daido Moriyama (2009) I was struck by his flexibility when approaching the physical output of his own work, taking varying degrees of direct ownership of the processes of collating, sequencing and printing his images at different stages of his career and as the particular project dictated at the time. He certainly hasn’t been wedded to one particular form of production and has a great awareness of the role the physical production of the work has on the way the images are received. Moriyama states:

“An actual photographic print creates one type of world that is totally different from the world that comes about from printed matter. That difference is something I really like. Sure enough, I still think the same thing. The photograph comes to life through the printing. My photographs are made complete on the printed page. Even if the same photograph appears in different magazines, and differs based on the printing method of the particular media, the way in which the photograph is seen also changes. That transformation is something that I find really interesting. That is why the same photograph can have a different look based on the media that it passes through. It takes on a different meaning. It has a different way of coming to life.”
Kaneko et al (2009:27)

Having produced the first zine, I understand what he means and can see this exemplified in my own work. Putting together the zine has given me a different view of the work and how it might best be presented. Holding something in my hands has also triggered various thoughts about paper type, page size, printing method etc that all cumulatively contribute to the effect of the work as a whole. Having produced a book via Blurb in an earlier mini-project, I can’t help but be more interested in being more hands-on in future printing of my work when comparing the Blurb book with my homemade zine, which though a shambolic amateur affair still seems to have more to say than the glossy professionally printed Blurb effort.
 
As always, much to reflect on, and hopefully I’ll aim to experiment more with papers, and printing techniques in the upcoming module break.

Reference:
Kaneko, R., Vartanian, I., Moriyama, D., Martin, LA. and Wada, K. (2009) Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and '70s, New York: Aperture. 

Photo Elicitation

A key aspect of my project proposal was identifying and interviewing people about their personal experiences and perspectives of urban solitude. Quite early in this module however, I was challenged to review the way I’d proposed to engage others with my project to avoid unduly influencing subject’s responses and so narrowing the potential scope of the responses I might receive. Initially I planned to use my own images and set questions to provoke dialogue about the topic, aiming then to feed the interview responses back into the ongoing work. It didn’t take long to realise this approach would be too directive and could hinder freedom of response to the theme.

Image by Rupa Dawar

Image by Rupa Dawar

I was keen to ensure that the interviews didn’t simply end up as my own views being reflected back to me via someone else and so I needed to loosen my approach.

I therefore switched from the idea of straight interviews to a more flexible approach to capturing responses to the theme. I decided to offer various strands to respondents to express how they felt about solitude in the hope that a less structured approach would allow people to choose the method that suited them best, encourage people to be more honest and allow them to more easily access their own feelings on the issue. Aside from the questionnaire, which remains a part of the process, I also offered people the opportunity to submit images that they felt were relevant to the idea of solitude or in some way reminded them of times when they had felt this way. 

It’s been really interesting to see how varied these submitted images are. Of course this was to be expected, but it has highlighted how a wide avenue of investigation would have been lost if I hadn’t chosen to open out the offer to respondents in this way. 

My own response to the submitted images has been interesting too, both in terms of an instinctive reaction to dismissing images that don’t immediately resonate with my own perception of the theme but also how, in reacting in this way, I’ve validated the absolute importance of having sought out perspectives that diverge from my own and how I'm obliged to honour those perspectives and not allow my own individual bias to dominate, as this would ultimately be to the detriment of the project’s aims. 

Image by Leanne McMahon

Image by Leanne McMahon

When all is said and done, I of course retain a curatorial role and I’ve chosen to represent the submitted images in different ways, guided by no particularly criteria. Some images have been used to accompany text or quotes from the respondents, others have been used as projected images to be re-photographed while others have been composited to create entirely new images (allowing me to improve my processing skills too). 

Composite of two images by Leanne McMahon

Composite of two images by Leanne McMahon

When deciding to ask for images I hadn’t thought about what I would do with them or how they might be useful to the work. I suppose I imagined them being inspiration in some way to the ongoing creation of my work, simply feeding into my own vision. I did not envisage that they might ‘become’ the work themselves. This has been an unexpected but very welcome discovery in the project so far. As I collect more images there’s much scope for developing this further.

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.

Positions and Practice: Week 12 Reflection

This week saw the submission of the two final assignments for this module, a project proposal and accompanying work in progress (WIP) portfolio. The production of this work has been quite a traumatic, but ultimately very enlightening process that will be formative for everything else that I produce moving forward on this course.
 
The difficulties approaching this work were largely due to a lack of structure in my thinking and in the approach to my own work. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve not really had any kind of ‘practice’ to speak of before starting this course, which should have probably been a clue that struggling through the ‘Positions and Practice’ module was a possibility! 

Project Proposal front page

Project Proposal front page

For a number of reasons I found the task of delineating a question for the proposal, explaining why it was important and proposing how my practice would be equipped to examine it unbelievably hard. Some of the reasons were bound up in my own perceptions of what a photographer is, some were a result of my sporadic practical work which in some ways inhibits creativity, while I also just felt ill-prepared for this sort of academic challenge having not previously had to write any such document.

s the deadline approached, it seemed to get harder and harder to narrow things down into a coherent idea and while all my time seemed to be taken up trying to do this, the production of practical work also suffered. My head was throbbing with pressure, and nobody ever produced anything interesting with a throbbing head! 

Speaking about the difficulties is kind of redundant now though, as the deadline passed and the work was submitted. What is useful, is to outline some of the lessons I’ve learnt from the process. 

Forgive me for introducing these in bullet-point format, it just seems kind of appropriate (nothing like a good bullet-point to make it seem like you’ve got something sensible to say!).

Proposal Lessons:

  • The act of writing a proposal is useful in itself, helping to shape up vague ideas and obliging you to flesh them out, structure them and consider how you can actually make them come to life.
  • If you can’t sell your idea, then no-one should be expected to buy it.
  • Being able to articulate what you want to get out of the work is not a bad thing. It’s not something to shy away from or be coy about.
  • Writing a proposal is a bit like a contract and a road map. In the case of these personal projects, it’s really a commitment to myself to continue working at this idea, and now I have the beginnings of a clear direction to take with the work and an idea of where I’d like to end up. None of these would have been present without writing the proposal and I have never approached making images in this way before.
  • Opening up one’s work and ideas to external scrutiny is incredibly valuable. It’s definitely daunting, but also a tool for genuine epiphanies and growth.
A draft image that didn't make the final WIP portfolio

A draft image that didn't make the final WIP portfolio

  • I have to give my work attention and the room it needs to develop. By that I mean I need to take my practice seriously. The clue really is in the name ‘practice’! I found that in the final week approaching the deadline, the act of getting out and making photographs really helped to explore and solidify some ideas, while also throwing up other ideas that I intend to explore now that the looming deadline is out of the way. I’ve spent a lot of time in this first module reading and researching, but one of the key lessons I will take away from module one is the need to put as much focus on visual research too. It really pushes the work forward. I also have to thank my classmates Chris Chucas and Rita Rodner for proving to be great examples of this in their own work throughout the last few weeks. Ultimately you need to ‘make the work and get it out there, because otherwise it’s just in your head and that’s not a good place for it to be’ as the esteemed Dr Wendy McMurdo herself would say. This is a massive lesson learned in the production of the proposal and WIP portfolio.
  • The possibilities for your work are almost limitless once you stop to really think about it. It’s important to be open to the work of other artists, to be willing to soak up ideas and to be open to collaborating with other practitioners.


Meeting the challenge of adapting to this course and the mindset required has been difficult but also great fun. I’m so glad that I decided to do this, and I’m keen to reflect on this module and put the lessons into practice.