For my first assignment I have been given, six to twelve photographs to convey my response to the welsh concept Y Filltir Sgwar ‘The Square Mile’. This concept deals with how photographers have found inspiration in the environment around them. In Professor Mike Pearson’s words “– site of discovery and putting names to things – people and places – working with difference and similitude – favourite places, places to avoid – neighbours and their habits, gestures and stories – textures, smells – also of play, imagination, experiment – finding the best location for doing things – creating worlds under our own control, fantasy landscapes’” (Photography 1 Expressing your vision course pdf).
I am required to ‘use this sense of place’ as a basis for beginning my assignment, there is emphasis on not taking individual photos, but to try and link each image to collectively communicate my idea. This statement left me wondering how I would convey such a thing. I then learned that this idea is actually known as ‘conceptual photography’ I ended up looking at the Tate online gallery where it gives a brief statement about conceptual photography “the term ‘conceptual photography’ began to be used in the 1960s, coinciding with the early explorations into video art and Conceptual Art. The phrase can refer to any use of photography within the Conceptual Art movement”. “The aim was to make simple, realistic images of the artwork that looked as documentary as possible, artists adopted this approach as far back as the early twentieth century”. Tate – conceptual photography
In the brief of this assignment, I was given a list of artists to look into. I found that each photographer had a different style and concept when it came to photography. I feel this really benefited me as I got to experience different ways of working, which in turn gave me more opportunities to look into other artists. On the Tate website linked above there were also some artists mentioned that I look forward to reviewing.
Keith Arnett 1930-2008
Keith Arnett was a British conceptual artist. He lived and worked in London, Liverpool, Yorkshire and Monmouthshire. He had studied painting at Oxford School of Art in the early 1950s and later at the Royal Academy Schools in London. When I looked at some of his work I found it simplistic yet so effective at provoking thought. I found his piece ‘Self-Burial’ so intriguing and quite of a childish nature. I related to it in the want to escape. My favourite of his work is ‘Walking the Dog’ the concept that dogs are like their owners. Being a dog owner myself I found this an interesting idea. He spent three years of his life documenting dog and owner, going about their business with the same expressionless faces, I love the idea of consistency throughout a series of images and may use this when I come to do my assignment. He has introduced me to minimalism and land art. I find minimalism fascinating and went on to research more about it.
Minimalism (definition) “design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect” Collins dictionary – minimalism I went onto the OCA library and searched for minimalistic photographers and an article by The British Journal of Photography came up about a past UCA Rochester student, Jade Perry. She followed a minimalistic approach to her photography and began exploring “the notion of beauty with a humorous interpretation highlighting the “stupidity of our drive for perfection” which I completely agree with! At the start of the article she is asked what she is inspired by, she goes on to say “the rigid and minimalistic style” of photographers such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Bettina Von Zwehl and Rineke Dijkstra”. The British Journal of Photography article on Jade Perry I went on to research these minimalistic photographers and can see a consistent style within each that correlates with Jade Perry’s unique style.
Rineke Dijkstra and Bettina Von Zwehl
Both photographers have an interesting relationship with their subject, each photographer wants to capture an intensity from their subject within the frame. Both styles of photography are quite similar, very minimalistic and focused entirely on the subject, with complete white backgrounds being a common occurrence.
Rineke Dijkstra was born in 1959, Denmark, she began as a conventional portrait photographer but gained international recognition with a series of beach images consisting of a single figure against the sea from a low angle which she made from 1992 till 1996. The most famous, named ‘Kolozberg, Poland July 1992’ was known to have looked like Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus and was shown in the Tate Gallery. Online Tate Gallery of Rineke Dijkstra
Another series consisted of men and women who have just been through a life – threatening experience. The men, bullfighters from Portugal, where the object is to hold the bull down rather than kill it. The women are mothers holding their babies a short time after childbirth, still wearing the maternity underwear. Both are depicted against totally white backgrounds. Online Tate Gallery of Rineke Dijkstra – mother and child
Bettina Von Zwehl was born in 1971, Munich, Germany. She got a BA (hons) in Photography in 1994 and then went on to get an MA in Fine Art Photography in 1997. The slight difference between these two photographers are that Von Zwehl likes to take more historic approach to her photos. “She specialises in 19th century studio methodology, her practice is an ongoing enquiry into the possibilities of portraiture and the descriptive power of the format”. Artimage Reference for Bettina Von Zwehl
I feel as though I have learned how important planning is and how to not over think things, that less is more especially in circumstances like portraiture, I look forward to experimenting in the future but I feel that I shouldn’t do portraiture for my first assignment as my initial response was to focus on land art.
“Land art was part of the wider conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s” also known as ‘earth art’ it was a way of using the earth to create artwork then document it with photography. “The most famous land art work is Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty of 1970, an earthwork built out into the Great Salt Lake in the USA. Though some artists such as Smithson used mechanical earth-moving equipment to make their artworks, other artists made minimal and temporary interventions in the landscape such as Richard Long who simply walked up and down until he had made a mark in the earth” Tate online Gallery – Land art
I am truly fascinated by this idea of creating art that’s man made yet can be left to be destroyed by the elements. Its not being made in a classroom or protected in a gallery its simply some earth being moved. I feel this is a true crossover and a great example to anyone who thinks art and photography don’t go together. If something won’t be preserved then it must be documented and photography is the perfect way to do it.
Robert Smithson and Richard long
Robert Smithson born in 1938 and died in 1973. He was an American sculptor and land artist, he studied at the Art Students League, New York from 1955-1956. “His practice as an artist had its origins in the Minimalist preoccupation with the context around the object and the same mistrust of the marketable art object that had been one of the motivations for Conceptual art”. He had began taking photographs and getting maps of the locations he visited. He seemed especially interested in geology and the earth itself. His most successful ‘earth art’ was the one mentioned above from the Tate online gallery reference, Spiral Jetty 1970. It consisted of him moving lots of basalt to the Great Salt Lake in Utah and arranging the basalt in a spiral shape of mass proportion. To this day it is still there although the tide comes in and it becomes temporarily out of sight. “One aspect of Smithson’s thinking was the idea of ‘entropy’, that the world inevitably moves towards disorganization, and his work as an artist incorporates this”. I found this fascinating as it is a true representation of life, the world moves on and things go from orderly to disorderly. Oxford Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art – Robert Smithson
British artist Richard Long was born in 1945. He studied at the West of England College of Art from 1962-1965 and then at St Martin’s School of Art from 1966-1968. His work ‘A Line Made By Walking (1967) which is briefly mentioned above in the Tate online gallery reference, really did consist of him walking up and down a hill, till a line was drawn in the grass. Its so simplistic yet effective, there is something so appealing about his work. “The work becomes a compound of action, trace, and documentation”. This then went on to become a regular thing and Long began collecting twigs or sticks to be used in the gallery showing. He then went on to use mud and clay to do paintings which in my opinion are very effective. Long brought nature inside and placed it in a unique form, he separates the busy world from it, so we end up forced to appreciate and acknowledge it’s beauty. Oxford Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art – Richard Long
Both artists are very minimalistic and like to achieve the most impact on the spectators. I feel both artists have shown me how less is more and that you don’t need twelve different things in order for a shoot to go well. I love that they have incorporated earth into their work, we take nature for granted and this is a fresh reminder to look after our planet. This idea of making history which is then documented is so inspiring, even if its as simple as walking up a hill multiple times, it makes you question who walked there before, if anyone!
Born in 1976, Welsh photographer Gawain Bernard studied at the University of Wales where he got his BA hons degree 1996-1999 and his MFA Documentary photography 2007-2009. He also studied at Cardiff’s University to get his PGCE in 2004-2005. He has also been shortlisted for the 2018 Athens Photo Festival and is currently a teacher at the University of South Wales. My favourite of his works is ‘Tomorrow 6am’ the use of nature is so simple yet effective. How the lighting really portrays the mood of how sleepy and quite things would be, it is a great thing to reflect on myself, what lighting I could use to get a desired effect when I come to do my assignment. I find how each individual person isn’t looking into the camera very effective, it gives a sense of reflection; almost like they are too busy thinking of what the day ahead will bring.
“When people say that there is a distance, a stiffness in my photographs, that the people look like they do not connect, my answer is, that this is the best we can do. This inability to show physical affection is in our heritage” – Tina Barney. In this particular quote I find it fascinating how honest she is and in my opinion she’s right, family dynamics and human relationships in general are not perfect. She focused on what surrounded her, she took realistic candid’s in a large-format, an 8-by-10-view camera enabled her to create highly detailed images that kept their focus and vibrancy even when made into four-by-five-foot prints. She was one of the first photographers to present colour on a grand scale. I find this kind of realism very intriguing there’s often the sense that your subject must pose or that you should stage a background but this is very normal, unexpected and in the moment. She has a kind of minimalistic approached in the sense that she is looking for one thing when regarding her subjects and that is for them to be themselves and show her and the camera something no on else has.
Tom Hunter reconstructs stories, memories and myths to create a psycho-geographical landscape in his local neighbourhood of east London. Born in 1965, Dorset; Hunter has a clear passion for the mythical world in his work we see gods and goddess, dusk lighting with lots nature, he has been known to recreate other works of art as well. My favourite collection of photos are titled ‘Unheralded Stories’ this series consists of whimsical images, dimly light with a single figure as the subject, these photos are quite simple yet effective. My favourite from this collection would be ‘Anchor and Hope’ based on the structure of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, 1948. A young women lays in a nude dress surrounded by a green field staring at the horizon in which we see some dilapidated buildings. These images make me question the story behind them; did she used to live in those buildings? Perhaps she grew up their and played as a child? I find this work very engaging and would like to achieve this with my own work. His photos are almost like individual stories, which is what makes them to engaging I believe. This work is quite similar to Rineke Dijkstra and Bettina Von Zwehl in regards to their being one subject as the main focus. Tom Hunter – Unheralded Stories
A former student of OCA, Mansell took his assignment on landscapes to a different level. He decided to show how a disabled person gets around, one of my favourite photos of his is the scuff marks on the bottom of the wall, the effect of having and using a wheelchair at home, I relate to this very much as I myself am disabled and use a walking stick so this was a fascinating concept to me, I may refer back to this in future, as its personal to me. Another collection that I love is ‘Paralysis Unseen’ every photo that is taking is something that he either has to do to himself or something that he uses to his aid as he has no choice. His photos are of the stuff people don’t see and more specifically don’t want to see and I really relate to this, I am classed as disabled but am not in a wheelchair therefore people presume I am lying and see what they want to see. Personal photos like this are so important as it promotes awareness to those that are sick that they are not alone and lets healthy people know how difficult times can be.Peter Mansell – Paralysis Unseen
Taylor, also a former OCA student, focused on her childhood and the theme of nostalgia. I really love this idea because we all know photography and nostalgia go hand in hand, I love looking at old photos of my family and friends. “For this project I want to photograph places that form memories from my childhood. I am currently living back in the house I grew back in after several years away from the family home so there are a lot of memories within the house itself and surrounding areas” – Jodie Taylor. This idea that our childhood memories shape who we are, is so intriguing to me. When looking at her work I felt really inspired, I’ve spent the majority of my life living in the same town that my family grew up in so there are a good few generations in this town and a lot of history. I feel inspired to do something relating to my hometown.
One initial idea I had was to follow my mammy for a day. The bond between us was to be the focus of my ‘Square Mile’ as I still live with and speak to her daily, but I didn’t feel it fitted the brief well and thought it could be a little too easy and that I would struggle to find real context apart from the fact that I love her. Rineke Dijkstra’s work referenced above ‘mother and child’ was really what provoked this idea. When looking into Keith Arnett, which then lead to me looking into minimalism and land art, I was thinking of a way of applying land art to the ‘Square Mile’ and I thought, instead of creating land art I would go and photograph the land art that’s all ready in my city and what better place than the Free Derry Corner in the Bogside where I also went to school as a child. This gave me a personal aspect and when looking into Jody Taylor I loved the idea of going back to my childhood, it gives context because of the history of the Troubles and all the murals now painted in memory of those who died, and would challenge me to try something new as I have never photographed the murals before.
Extra references not mentioned above are as follows,
Idea to planning
After much thought and research I have decided to focus on my hometown, I have walked down the same streets for years; my childhood memories are littered everywhere. I feel I should focus on the artwork around the town depicting the history. I am hoping to take multiple pictures and then eliminate them down to twelve. Knowing that Keith Arnett, Jody Taylor, Land Art and Minimalism have all inspired me I decided to look over my research and write down in my notebook that I will be taking with me on the shoot, all the things I wish to incorporate into these images. What things inspired me from each person or genre. (please find image attached of the list below) I then decided to write down where I was going to go specifically to get good photos. I have planned to do this the next day and have arranged for my friend to come with me. I decided to shoot in automatic mode as I was told to do so in the brief and will bring two lenses one telephoto lens and 55mm lens. My camera is a Nikon D5300 and I have decided not to bring my tripod.
Execution of task
I went and shot my photos unfortunately it was raining but I still think the photos turned out well. I went to all the locations listed above as I had planned and overall the shoot went well. I feel that planning in advance was vital for things going smoothly and I will continue to do so in the future. The one thing I regret is not taking my tripod as some photos are shaky and not well aligned. The following are my contact sheets. I deleted the photos that were either blurry or had water marks on them because of the rain but with those gone I took around 100 photos in total. The following are my contact sheets,
Final set of photographs
I feel I have conveyed my childhood and my surroundings well, these photos are what I would have seen at least twice a day going to school. It was weird being back there, I would have gone on mini school trips walking through these streets, had festivals and done community projects. When doing my research I stated I liked the idea of consistency throughout a series of images, I feel in my work that I stayed true to what I stated. Through-out my work you can see wall after wall decorated with murals, this is a running theme. Artwork is the consistency, not only does it make the images eye catching, the vibrant colours make the city eye catching. I feel I stayed mostly true to what I wanted to incorporate when originally planning my shoot, there was colour, a simplistic style in the sense that the murals do the talking and it is thought provoking; what was it like to be living with all that fear of being shot or your loved ones getting hurt in the cross fire etc. I am not sure if these images are nostalgic to those who don’t live here in Derry but they certainly are nostalgic to me. The ‘Your Are Now Entering Free Derry’ wall is not normally pink, it has been painted pink to publicise the fact that its Organ Donation week, the month before the wall was bright yellow to raise awareness of Sarcoma cancer. It is normally white, but ever since I can remember it has been painted different colours for different reasons for example pride month. I feel I could of lined up some photos better, the use of my tripod would have greatly improved this outcome. Teaching myself how to create a contact sheet was very hard, I mainly used google and YouTube as my main resource as I had never made a contact sheet before. The most difficult thing was narrowing down my photos to 12, I spent almost 2 hours trying to pick which photos would convey my idea best. I kept picking favourites, that didn’t necessarily say anything about my childhood. If I was to do this again I would take my tripod and spend more time getting better quality photos rather than rushing around while the rain was off. I would line up my photos better and wait for a sunny day as there were very few tourists and I love seeing other peoples reactions to the city. This concept was very out of my comfort zone, I don’t really photograph my surroundings unless I’m in a new city, I prefer to photograph people. I was a tourist in my own city and it felt very strange!
The above is my evaluation.
Reflection on Formative Feedback
In my tutor report, I completely agree with everything my tutor said. It was mentioned I needed more self-initiated research and I will make more use of my resources in the future. It was suggested that I try to apply a consistent visual strategy to my final work to give an overall perspective and composition, I will try to apply this in the future also. He very kindly included two artists for me to go look into which I find very helpful and look forward to researching them in the future.
If you have any feedback please comment below on what you think of my first assignment, it would be much appreciated!