Reflections on Progress as at 31st July 2012

Thoughts on feeling stuck

Instead of putting pen to paper or my hands to the keys I’ve spent considerable time over the past few weeks mulling over in my mind why I’m stuck.  It isn’t that I haven’t been taking photographs towards the project exercises or the next assignment because I have. I’ve even formatted an individual handwriting font for myself via yourfonts.com so that instead of laboriously handwriting reflections, and giving myself aching thumbs into the bargain, I can just zip my thoughts down more quickly. However, images have been processed but not written up and my thoughts on the ‘Out of Control’ exhibition remain unwritten.

There was something about a part of my tutor’s feedback (on 1st Assignment) that made me feel as if he was perceiving me as someone who had only just started on a Course with OCA even though he had also made comments about my AOP blog. It got me wondering whether all my previous study and reflection was lost somehow so that I’m starting with a blank slate. This bothered me so much that I began a new discussion thread on the OCA student site (General/Tutors Questions) on 16th July Here’s the link for those readers who are able to access the student website. 

It took a while but the thread gathered momentum with tutor responses and also from other students. In brief, what came through it is that yes, in essence, we arrive at a new Module armed with all our previous knowledge/skill/experience. This is our starting point and we are then assessed as to how we develop from there. This implies that we are assessed on an individual basis yet against the criteria so there must be some kind of levelling process. I’m thinking here of those people with lots of practical/prior experience, maybe professional photographers as well as against almost novices (which I certainly was in January 2011). Out of all that came my realisation that I hadn’t actually rounded off AOP by doing my own summary of progress. This should really form my own platform for growth and needs to be done. I also decided to keep an occasional reflective ‘diary’ that can be as in depth as I wish for my paper log but edited for my blog as I feel necessary (this post is a part of it). I will print this on different coloured paper and it will form a section in itself in both my blog and paper log

Looking for Inspiration

We spent a few days in Cornwall last week staying on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I didn’t take many photographs (part of my current lack of motivation) but we walked on the Camel Trail a couple of times where I did some shots of the ruins of a china clay depot (standing by what was once a railway line and is now part of the Camel Trail) and also of the river camel. Lovely dappled light falling through the trees and creating swirls of coloured reflections in the water. It felt so liberating to just take a photograph of something I liked and not having to bother about apparatus, props and whether I was being artistic or not.

 

When I looked at the images afterwards they reminded me of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that Swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ Wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades,  their gear and tackle trim,

All things counter, original, spare strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

There was a post on WeAreOCA recently about finding inspiration in poetry – not new to me because I had written along those lines on my AOP blog last year.  This time though it was the other way round because my photograph had evoked the memory of the poem for me. I’m not religious but Manley Hopkins’ poetry often rings true with me. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy his poetry so I’ve ordered a new book from Amazon.

Where am I now?

I was surprised to get an email from OCA before the weekend informing me that the Assessment results were available much sooner than anticipated and would be posted on the student site on 31st July (with written breakdown of different section marks and assessor comments/advice for future study to arrive in the post by 17th August). This was done anonymously rather than the intended route which had been to post our student numbers as well, with the promise that we would receive individual emails by the end of 1st August.

So, today dawned and the results were posted on the student site at lunchtime. I still didn’t know where I stood though in the variation of grades.  Thankfully, an email arrived not too long afterwards and I attained a mark of 75%.  I’m very pleased that my hard work had a good result although there is that little bit of me that worries that I’ll never be able to attain as good a result for People & Place given my current low motivation.

Hopefully I’ll be able to recover my enthusiasm now that I’m no longer in the limbo of waiting for a result.  I’m optimistic that a celebratory drink or two of bubbly, followed by a good night’s sleep, will see me waking up with renewed energy and determination to get to grips with People & Place. Watch this space!

31st July 2012

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Assignment 1 : Response to Tutor Feedback

Response to Tutor feedback on Assignment 1

My feedback came quickly with helpful comments (some positive  – some less so) and suggestions. It seems to have taken weeks though for me to get to grips it – well not the feedback exactly but this Module itself.  A part of it I know was letting go of AOP and still feeling ‘unfinished’, as I was doing a lot of reading around various writers’ views of the meaning of fairy tales and contemporary critiques.

I’ve done work towards most of the exercises in Part two so have several folders of images waiting for my attention but keep distracting myself.  I’ve also acquired some more of the recommended books for ‘People & Place” such as Charlotte Cotton, Geoff Dyer, Caruana & Fox and David Levi Strauss  and several more books on photographers – Saul Leiter, Duane Michals and Keith Carter.  So far as the photographers are concerned I think I’m still searching for a style or concept that will fit my personality, philosophy and feelings about the world and build me a stronger bridge towards People & Place.  I’m not feeling entirely negative because I have felt more enthusiastic about the Course these last few days and so it really is time to address my tutor’s comments and move on.

Some aspects of tutor feedback

Positive comments regarding my first image of Matt in the stable but the other portraits not as strong for a variety of reasons.

Printing/Processing

My tutor had noticed some problems  with a hint of blue colour cast and we had a discussion about this by email. Basically, the prints looked pretty much as they do on screen so it didn’t appear to be a calibration problem (I use Huey Pro). He had also queried whether I worked the images in Photoshop or were they jpegs straight out of the camera. In fact, I nearly always shoot RAW  and then go into PS.

Image 2.(10)

suggests a bit of a ‘lurking in the undergrowth’ look and  might have been better  substituted for this one

which was on my contact sheet and has a more natural look –  with some modifications; eg being cropped along top and left side and where moving to the left a little could have avoided the tree coming out of his head. I could also have used a shallower depth of field. The depth of field is actually f/5 and, of course, I hadn’t put this in the final selection because of the tree problem. Hadn’t thought of cropping though so I’ve had a go

Image 3 (15)

Good strong eye contact and serves well as a headshot. Suggestion I might have asked him to remove his hat for a slight difference in composition and maybe used some off camera fill flash to add a catch light. Points taken. There was a slight problem here with the colour (cyan cast) and my tutor helpfully made some alterations to this so I could see the difference – removing the cast; cropping a little tighter and increasing the contrast slightly.

Image 4 (22)

 

 

 

 

 

This was the one where I wanted a more somber, contemplative shot where it was darker in the trees (and the hat is removed) and I’d used flash as well. Comment was made that  it seemed redundant with the presence of Image 3, but could benefit if cropped as a much tighter head and shoulders shot, without the trees. Here is is with alterations:-

 

Photographs inside the house

These were considered to be less successful overall. Whilst my tutor thought it was good to experiment with the Holga lens which added another dimension, he suggested getting the basics down before experimenting.  He wrote that the main problem was the lack of eye contact. This is where I felt confused because I’ve looked at many portrait shots  that don’t have eye contact, including the examples in the Module Handbook and also portraits at the Out of Control Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery (e.g. some of those by Katy Grannan).  Also in the assignment brief we were told that the portraits should be different in type and style.

However, my tutor thought the introduction of the mirror was an interesting element and it might be worthwhile exploring this in the future.

Suggestions of Photographers to look at

Along the lines of my introduction of a mirror, it was suggested I look at the work of Brian Griffin .  I thought these were very interesting and distinctive – should also add that not all of them show direct eye contact with the photographer. I’ve copied several of them into my paper log for reference. There is one of George Melly wearing rings like eyes on his little fingers as he holds his hands up to his eyes (quite surrealistic). Len Deighton holding a book aloft and standing in between a computer and  printer (very contextual). Martin Parr – a blur of movement as he opens a door whose edge is sharp and clear. Another one is of Howard Hodgkin, painter here which has an unearthly look. the skin on hands and face is pale and paper thin and he almost looks at the point of death. You can see the hands of a woman (I think) standing behind him – right hand on her right breast and left just gently touching his shoulder. There’s a narrative there but of what?  I did a search on Howard Hodgkin and looked at an interview from 2010 – although his hair is the same colour of white his skin has much more colour. Does this mean that Griffin processed the image to gain a desired effect?  Were they talking about light/dark, thoughts of death?  The tones are wonderful and I keep looking at it..  Oddly enough there’s something about it that reminds me of ‘The Blade Runner’, where Rutger Hauer is crouching on the parapet, ready to die,  and looks almost like an angel.

Considering the work I’d done on ‘Tales with Valeria’ for AOP my tutor thought I might also like to look at Griffin’s ‘The Water People” – a series of portraits Griffin made for the Icelandic Water Board, shot through a pane of glass with water flowing over it  here . The concept is an interesting one although these images appealed to me less – the effect of dissolving has too sinister a feel for me.

Another suggestion, in respect of environmental portraits, was to look at the work of Peter Marlow,  a Magnum photographer.  The website didn’t allow me to click into his portraits to see them in larger size but it does enable one to download a pdf of his general portfolio, which contains portraits.  These portrait are less ‘styled’ with slightly more of an air of ‘caught in the moment’ whilst travelling in a car; sitting at the desk at the office; walking etc – perhaps more concentration on the person of the subject as opposed to making a creative statement for/about them.

Post-Assignment work

I’ve already written up the 1:1 session I had on simple lighting . Following this I bought a speedlite and,  new wireless trigger and set up a practice session with my husband in the garage. Here are three of the results

     

At least I’ve been practising, despite still continuing to believe that portraits aren’t really me! It’s a chicken and egg thing I think. I don’t want to have people pose patiently for me and then produce something mediocre, but the fact that the portraits are relatively ordinary leads me to think I’m pretty rubbish so I feel even less confident and that it’s not worth trying.

Other aspects I need to take into consideration

These are more general considerations for writing up assignments, following on from additional tutor comments.

In the exercises leading up to Assignment 1 I wrote that I had taken 327 photographs overall on the three long sessions I had with Matt, which I then whittled  down to 34 before filtering even more down to 16 and the final 7.  However, I wasn’t explicit about this in writing up Assignment 1 and so my tutor thought I had only shot 34 photographs and commented that this wasn’t enough.

  • I must remember to include this type of information in my Assignment write-ups as my  tutor and Assessors will  concentrate on looking at my Assignments (and re-runs of them) with much less time available to them to sample/scan exercises etc.

My tutor wanted to see more evidence of other work I’ve looked at and reading around the subject. I read Train your Gaze for the Assignment and did look at other images but wrote little about this.  I think this is a fair indication of my diffidence regarding portraits. In terms of general reading and research – this is a new blog and so this information is expanding all the time. My Art of Photography blog has a lot of this type of information and my concern is that, in a way, this is going to be redundant now in terms of evidencing my development unless I find a way to link this in wherever possible.

16th July 2012

2. Bauhaus : Art as Life – June 2012 at The Barbican

Bauhaus  : Art as life : Barbican  Art Gallery

OCA Study Visit on 28th June 2012

When I read the announcement in WeAreOCA

I decided that I really must go – firstly because it would provide an overview of  the ethos and work of a famous art school and, secondly, because this promised to be what I had hoped for from the Postmodernism Exhibition at the V&A (but didn’t get)  – an insight into how a group of people came together with a shared vision.   Another aspect that appealed to me was the linear description of what ensued.

The visit aims from OCA were to:-

  • Gain a personal perspective on the work of the Bauhaus a German School of art that combined fine art and crafts with the idea of creating a school where all the arts including Architecture could be brought together. This Bauhaus style became one of the most important influences in Modern Design influencing Art, Architecture Graphic Design, Interior Design, Industrial Design and Typography.
  • Reflect on the experience of seeing the  modern designs that influenced  the  20th century
  • Network with other students.

As preparation we were asked to read  reviews from The Guardian, The Telegraph, and Creative Review blog

As ever, it was good to meet up with other students especially those from the art and graphic design studies as, again, this added to a more integrated experience. Art tutor, Jim Cowan and Jane Horton, Curriculum Director, OCA, met us.  Jim Cowan had already visited the Exhibition and so was able to provide us with an excellent overview.

The Creative Review blog had informed me that the design agency A Practice for Everyday Life (APFEL) worked with architectural studio Carmody Groarke on the exhibition design which was  informed by Bauhaus principles of colour, structure and typography. For me there was an uncluttered feel about the space, with colours that were in more subdued hues than the bright colours I’m accustomed to nowadays (although I do remember the late 60s fashion for more earthy colours.  I’m thinking particularly of the orange-red of Mondrian paintings. Thinking about this now, maybe that’s why it took me a while to ‘get my eye in’ as it were to get a feel for the Bauhaus style.

I’m not going to summarise the story of the Bauhaus movement itself as I think the reviews do it so well and I’d just be repeating that. The free gallery guide was also very useful in providing an overview What came over to me the most was that change from a freer, more organic craft towards something more polished and streamlined in the attempt to make the Bauhaus school pay its way. Jim Cowan’s commentary as we walked around also brought the personalities involved more vividly to life.

We started on the upper Level which portrayed the beginnings of the Bauhaus, founded in Weimar, in 1919,  by Walter Gropius when he merged the Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Arts and Crafts in.  Jim drew our attention to the spiritual aspect of the School – the word Bauhaus meaning a Workshop for Cathedral Workers – and how this was exemplified by the picture of a cathedral on the  ‘Programme of the state Bauhaus in Weimar’ – which came to be called the Bauhaus Manifesto. The spire of the cathedral itself could be a metaphor for the aspirations Gropius had towards a radical, innovative, and integrated approach to the Arts, with an initial emphasis upon drawing, painting and craft . He had stated that he aimed to create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions which raised a barrier between craftsmen and artist but there was still a division in the sense of  workshops being led by a ‘master of form’ an artist who provided formal and theoretical instruction, and a ‘workshop master’ an expert craftsman who taught technical skills (Gallery guide Section 2).

Much has been written about Johannes Itten and his rather eccentric personal beliefs and persona but I think that his leadership as a ‘master of form’ in combination with his preliminary course, led to the production of some beautiful expressionist work.   I found examples of his work on a web-search.  One in particular is a swirl of colour and form.

The first thing I saw was a beautiful wooden miniature altar created by Gerhard Marcks in 1920 with a triptych of pointed panels painted by Alfred Partikel. We weren’t allowed to take photographs of course and the Exhibition book was very expensive, but I have found this altar on this website (second image down).  The curves flowing around the more geometric lines are beautiful (and restful) to see. There were other wooden sculptures as well – organic and flowing as if the glowing wood had transformed itself.  There was a beautiful tapestry in pale colours with, again, the sense of movement being contained by lines.

It went slightly downhill from thereon for me because, gradually, one could trace how geometric lines (and maybe increased structure and financial considerations) began to become more dominant as the Government became more right-wing. Johannes Itten believed that education should be for the individual – not collective and commercial and the resulting internal conflict led to him being replaced by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who introduced more mechanical processes and simplified forms. There was certainly a diversity of products, including toys. I was intrigued by the puppets. They made me remember how we made them at school and I also wondered about the link between the Bauhaus puppets; what was happening in the world outside and being manipulated into different more constrained/disciplined forms of art and Standard ‘Types’ – guidelines for industrial production.

Completing the tour of the Upper Level of the Exhibition led to a natural break and time for food,  chat and discussion.

It was enjoyable, stimulating and, hopefully this mirrored the atmosphere which became engendered at the Bauhaus when it moved into its second phase and a new home in Dessau with a site provided by the liberal mayor, Fritz Hesse. This second phase was depicted on the lower level of the Exhibition.

This was where the photographs came into play for me depicting as they do the life, work, fun, acting and play of the Bauhaus.  The Bauhaus masters, staff and students photographed each other and experimented with forms such as photomontage. One of  Moholy-Nagy’s main focuses was photography and he coined the term “the New Vision” for his belief that photography could create a whole new way of seeing the external world that the human eye could not. In addition to photomontage and photograms he  experimented further with the potential of light as a creative medium and the Exhibition includes a six-minute film – “A Light Play: black, white, grey. I gained the impression of the school as an exciting place to be with a continuing sense of a common vision and purpose (even though the vision had changed somewhat).

I’ve continued to think about the form/nature and purpose of photography there. It seems it was  a means of experimentationdocumentation/record and also advertising. In this sense its purpose wasn’t art as such but, to me, the artistic vision is conveyed in terms of composition, tone, line etc.  those particularly interesting to me included Lucia Moholy (wife of Moholy-Nagy) began a photography apprenticeship at the Bauhaus in 1923; photographed objects  and buildings for publications and also portrait series of  Bauhaus teachers and friends. There are some examples here .  Her portraits are striking – many of them tightly cropped and close-up.  Josef Albers also compiled series of portraits where he juxtaposed multiple images to capture the personalities of the individuals represented

Another compelling photomontage was Paul Citreon’s ‘Metropolis’ 1923 – a cut out and pasted photomechanical reproduction on paper of existing and speculative buildings from different cities around the world. It was meant to represent a ‘dynamic image of urban growth in the modern era” yet it influenced Fritz Lang to create the film ‘Metropolis’ which was set in the year 2026 in a dystopian society where wealthy intellectuals, who lived in towers, oppressed the workers who lived below them in the depths.  A sign of the times, those  to come or how they have usually been?

Walter Peterhans was appointed by Meyer (in Spring 1929) to lead a newly established photography workshop as part of the advertising department. The gallery guide informed me that Meyer was impressed with Peterhans’s ‘emphasis on photography as a science rather than an art’ (Section 9) and the Exhibition included several examples of exercises from his course.

Conclusion

As ever, it was good to meet with other students and tutors. Jim Cowan’s commentary was invaluable in bringing the ethos of the Bauhaus to life for me from its initial, shared creative vision to the gradual separation of ways of the individuals originally involved. Strong personalities, beliefs and temperaments  didn’t seem able to escape the twin pressures of internal conflict and external demands for productivity and revenue.

From examples exhibited it seems clear that, although products were simplified and streamlined, they were still stylish and probably a joy (at that time) to have. Lines and shapes were pleasing to the eye. I’m thinking here of the teapots where the soft appearance of the nickel plate softened the geometric shapes, and also the lamps which were made. I would guess they were also relatively expensive.

Nothing I saw though could match the beauty of the small altar and the wooden sculpture which began the Exhibition.  I hope there always be a place for such individual creativity and vision.

10th July 2012

Website References

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/may/02/bauhaus-art-as-life-review

http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=83984

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/9245868/Bauhaus-Art-as-Life-Barbican-review.html

http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2012/may/apfel-embrace-bauhaus-for-barbican-show