Wendy McMurdo

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. 

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.