For this self-directed assignment I return to a subject area touched upon in exercise 4.5, my grandfather’s survival of the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak, moored in Scapa Flow, Orkeny in the early months of World War 2, with over 800 men and boys losing their lives. The work centres around his letter to his wife describing the horrific experience and is a personal response to his words and to Scapa Flow as a place. There is an emotional investment in the work, which I’ve found makes it difficult to talk about; without his survival, I would not be here, nor would my children. In a way it is fundamental to my identity.
There has been extensive research and several edits to arrive at the finished work. For much of the process, I envisioned the work as a book but in the end have reserved this for family purposes as it feels that there is too much more to say than is possible in the context of a course assignment. Full details of my process, including the use of historical photos, books read, museums visited, personal effects photographed, documents scanned and photographs taken on Orkney, are included in A5 preparation posts here.
Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:
Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
Effective use of a range of visual materials to prepare final composites. I feel that I’m beginning to understand the application of visual space and pacing within a series of images.
Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
Extensive research was performed into the subject and I feel the final series conveys powerful emotions. It has been a long path to arrive at the final work and this has resulted in a piece of work that I believe is properly finished, benefitting from time spent and shaped by feedback gratefully received.
Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.
Creative approach to combining historical documents, photos of personal memorabilia and photos of Orkney landscapes.
Following some reflection and feedback received during a portfolio review (see here), I’ve reworked this assignment so the subject focuses around my grandfather’s letter, which started my journey into this part of family history. I will present the work as a series of photographs and retain the book format only for family purposes, possibly later extending it to deal with a broader aspect.
During the workshop I attended at Impressions Gallery (see here) I had an opportunity to share my work on assignment 5 as part of a portfolio review session, which included feedback from Yan Preston and the gallery curator.
Due to printing issues / lack of available time, I was only able to show an iPad version of the work, but was nonetheless keen to obtain feedback. The version shared is linked here:
As well as it being an interesting experience listening to other talk about their work and the ensuing discussion, I had 15 minutes to discuss my own work and obtain feedback. A few notes on experience:
It was the first time I’d spoken about this work, which has a personal subject with emotional attachment. I did not expect it, but I found it quite challenging emotionally to talk to, particularly when asked to read a little from the letter.
There appeared to be a good level of interest in the project and subject matter (I’d provided a brief historical background) and I explained that I found the edit challenging because I felt close to the story and there was obviously a family interest in the work.
After some discussion there were a couple of significant pieces of advice that I will take on in the next draft of the work:
The powerful story was from the letter; the only record of his horrific experience that he never again discussed. This is perhaps the central theme of the work, rather than my journey to discover more about his experience. It was suggested that I take phrases from the letter to accompany the photographs (this would be similar to the original exercise based around the letter – here).
Some of the photoshopped work was thought to be distracting from the photos. The suggestion was that the photos were left to stand alone, accompanied by selected words from the letter.
I would still retain the current version of the book as a personal project / family record and perhaps build on it in some way, but for the purpose of the assignment and art, I will rework.
Today I attended a workshop and portfolio viewing hosted by the Impressions Gallery in Bradford. Ten photographers from a variety of backgrounds and experience attended the workshop. The guest photographer and speaker was Yan Wang Preston, who is currently exhibiting her work ‘Mother River’ in the gallery (see OCA visit notes here), and the members of the gallery staff also provided advice and feedback on portfolio presentation and the process of curation.
The day started with a brief tour and discussion of the Mother River exhibition, with Preston explaining the background to the work, which had left me with unanswered questions following the earlier OCA visit. The project was four years in the making and involved photographing the Yangtze River at 100km intervals along its over 6000km route. The photographs are banal and not necessarily visually stimulating, without an apparent message or perspective. However, I learned that it was Preston’s intention to subvert the typical images of the river, whether iconic, based on traditional myths or environmental perspectives on pollution or the damming of the river and clearance of local populations. To show the river just how it is – her process of selecting ‘y’ points at 100km fixed intervals was designed to facilitate this view, along with some unwritten rules (eg not photographing ruins). The work as received wide critical acclaim and been exhibited in several countries. At this point in time, I find the work more interesting conceptually than visually but also admire the determination and commitment in delivering this challenging body of work. It was also a great lesson in how to talk well about one’s own work.
Next, there was a presentation by Yan Preston on planning, researching, and funding long-term projects with an opportunity for questions. Here, a few notes from what was a very interesting presentation:
Be able to clearly explain your project:
what exactly is your subject?
what are you photographing? / is the aesthetic appropriate to the subject. In this context, a point was raised on Nadav Kandar’s Yellow River and the mist always being slightly yellow (as that is the aesthetic of his pallet); Preston observed that this can mean the mist is perceived as pollution (yellow smog), rather than white mist, which it mostly is in her experience.
what is your relationship to your subject? Preston considers this as fundamental to a project / something that represents an artist’s unique perspective.
‘Taking pictures is not that hard – it’s the bit that goes before’.
From the curator, after the discussion on the importance of research around a subject; worries when photographers approach her saying that they are ‘doing there own thing’ without reference to what has gone before. It is not that she is expecting original ideas (there are none) but something that builds on what has gone before, and that the work has substance, supported by research.
On getting known (in Yan Preston’s order of preference):
Exhibitions / publications
And overall, be selective, strategic and effective in approach
Above all – make good work.
In the afternoon session, there was a portfolio review / discussion. I took along my work on assignment 5, so have made a separate post in that section of the blog here.
A very enjoyable day, and I would certainly attend future events.
For assignment 5, the output is to be a photo book. Having experienced frustrations with LR book module on previous outings, and feeling the same pain again in A5 preparatory work, I decided to make the move to ID with an upgrade in my Creative Cloud subscription (only an additional £6/month at student rates). This post notes some of my initial explorations into work flow.
LR does not alter original image files, it keeps a catalogue of changes, it makes use of virtual copies (which are virtual), so there is often no tangible file to pull into ID until something is exported. The question is how to do this efficiently, particularly when LR collections and virtual copies are an important part of my current workflow. After some experiment, my approach is to create a publish service in LR that publishes tiffs to a hard drive location. Published folders can be created within the service, where collections can be drag-dropped and published automatically as tiffs. If a change is made to an image, it is flagged for re-publishing and I guess it will automatically update in an ID document once republished. So not too painful!
To view and work with the files easily in ID, Bridge / Mini-bridge seem to be convenient. First install Bridge, drag the working folder for the images to ‘favourites’ to make it easier to locate. Then the magic is to open mini-bridge in ID and the photos are there ready to drag-drop into the document.
Using ID for making a basic photo book was reasonably straightforward with the help of a couple of good Youtube videos to get me started. It was refreshing to have flexibility of layout and output, something simply not there in LR book module. I guess Adobe would understandably not want too much overlap in their products, otherwise there’d be no reason for photographers to buy ID!
In theory, the output can also be shared directly online through Adobe Publish – embedded in this post below.
This draft follows comments received following draft 1 (see here); feedback on content was positive, but several people commented they wanted to know more.
Several people found the files difficult to open. This is perhaps a file size in relation to device processing power and internet download speeds. For this version I’ve looked more closely at the files sizes and relationship with the JPEG quality settings in the LR book module pdf export settings. For draft 1, a setting of 85 was used (generating a 3.4MB file for book contents pages). Interestingly settings of 50 and 60 produced the same reduced size of 1.2MB – at this size there was clear evidence of compression at work. At 70 the size was 1.8MB and a noticeable quality improvement. 80, takes the size up to 2.3MB again with a quality improvement, but less marked. So, here I’ve settled for a quality of 70 on export.
Draft 2 is in fact edit 3 – edit 2 was an attempt at a landscape format, but it somehow felt too informal for the content despite working better with some of the landscape images. The main changes in this edit are to add more textual information (hopefully not too much), a few more images, and to reduce the number of double page spreads with images falling into the gutter of the book.
The pdfs linked below are the cover sheets and inside pages spreads of draft 1 of the photo book for this assignment, used for collecting feedback.
Viewing instructions – click to open pdf in new window. Right-click to view using pdf view (eg Preview for Apple) and view as ‘2 pages’ for correct display of the page spreads. Not suitable for viewing on mobile phones.
Positive feedback through the OCA forum with some suggestions and several comments that people wanted to know more. A general issue seemed to be technical difficulties in opening the files (perhaps because of size). For the next edit, I’ll also look at technical aspects of pdf sizing for LR export.
Attached are scans of the few documents relating directly the HMS Royal Oak story. The telegram was sent 5 days after the ship’s sinking, when my grandfather and grandmother were not yet married. The extracts from the letter that describes my grandfather’s escape were 6 years after their marriage and it seems that he never discussed what happened with his wife before the time of the letter, and perhaps never again. We cannot know; but he would not talk about it with any other family members.
The photo is a portrait in his naval uniform – there is no exact date, but my mother dates it from early in his naval career as there are no signs of rank on the uniform.
The documents were scanned using an Epson photo scanner, placed on the plate to ensure the paper edges were captured. They will be considered for using in the photo composites for A5.
Three visits in one day with Derek Trillo – sounded like it might stretch my powers of concentration to the limit, but the time seemed to fly by. Good company and good art.
No photographs were allowed throughout the exhibitions, which is going to mean this write-up will lack visually. I do feel exhibitors are missing a publicity trick here – I would share iPhone snaps to Tripadvisor or Facebook and perhaps others would be encouraged to visit. Do they really imagine anyone’s going to make a high quality reproduction with prints behind glass and gallery lights shining on it?
Britain in Focus at the Science and Media Museum (SMM instead of NMM, I suppose we now call it) accompanies the excellent BBC 4 TV series exploring the history of British photography from the 19th century to the present day. The series was presented by photographer Eamonn McCabe – it is no longer available on iPlayer, but I assume can be purchased from the BBC store. Many of the artists featured were already familiar to me, including the ubiquitous Martin Parr. But John Bulmer was not, and his colour photographs of Northern England were particularly striking, standing in stark contrast to the b&w work of Bill Brandt using similar subject matter.
This exhibition was interesting to compare to the one I saw during the previous OCA study visit, which featured international photographers’ work about Britain, The Strange and Familiar. At the time of the previous exhibition, I was bemoaning the fact that much of the work we study is that of American photographers and it feels like there is an under-representation of native culture. It could simply be down to Americans often being masters of publicity that they achieve higher profiles, or that there are more of them, but I find it strange nonetheless. Again here, the Britain in Focus exhibition was confined to a single room only, to cover the whole of British photographic history, whereas I lost track of the space taken with the Strange and Familiar exhibition it was so extensive. There is perhaps something to learn about the power of publicity in all this.
The Poetics of Light pinhole photography exhibition, also at the SMM, was a surprise to me and I think many of the other students. Prior to the visit I wasn’t expecting much and I thought of pinhole cameras as toy-like. However, I was stunned by the quality of work on display, so much so that I’ve order the catalogue of the exhibition from Wordery online (£15 less than the £50 at SMM). The experimental nature of the cameras used (including a VW camper van, a soup can, cigarette packet and underwater contraption) and the work produced was fascinating; some of the work was surreal, as if we were viewing our world through alien eyes; some cameras featured multiple pinholes.
I am drawn to experiment with pinhole photography, which would inevitably mean getting my hands dirty with some old-fashioned chemicals – I’m somehow not so attracted to modifying a digital camera into a pinhole camera, though one fellow student mentioned that she was already doing so. The output from these primitive devices is very different in quality to standard photographic output and I suspect the photos marketable as unique objects.
The last exhibition, Mother River, was in the Impressions Gallery across the road from SMM and generally received with less enthusiasm than the first two exhibitions of the day. My impression was that the process of taking equidistant images along the course of the Yangtze river was more of a priority than taking images that were visually stimulating. This can be contrasted with Zhangkechun’s work, linked below, which focuses on the same river but engages the viewer in questioning what is happening in the images with their powerful juxtapositions of landscape with the unexpected. However, I will not say too much about Preston’s work at this time, as I will soon be attending a workshop with her at the Impressions Gallery and I hope to gain further insight then.
A thoroughly enjoyable day and great chance to catch up with some familiar faces and see some new ones.
Over the weekend of 6 May, I attended a two-day artist’s book making course at Hotbed Press in Salford. It’s purpose was to provide an introduction to various book formats and book making skills, producing a number of my own books over the weekend (without content of course). In addition there was some interesting discussion about the nature of books and the relationship between form, materials and content; how this can change a viewer’s experience of the work.
The course was taught by Elizabeth Willow, a fine artist. Creative Sketchbook (linked below) show some examples of her work.
My reason for attending the course was to learn how to make my own photo books – I’ve become interested in this after seeing Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood and a video of him constructing the book, combining photos and documents. I might ultimately use these skills to turn my assignment 5, ‘A story not told’ into a book.