for Kath... Assignment Two

Assignment Two
Question: How often should we meet?
I would really like to meet once a month - but obviously with us both working full time and not being in the same town, this is going to be an issue. I'll work on it though and see if we can come up with a plan that works well for both of us.
Question: How often should we engage online?
I am really enjoying the way it's developing so far.  I've no idea how this is supposed to work, but the "assignments" that you're "setting" and my responses feels more like an extended conversation that we're having over time and distance. I like the pace and the lack of "rush" to any sort of "goal". There is time to think and explore and that's what I'm really getting into and enjoying.
Question: The poets/composers/songwriters (the non-photographers) who inspire me - what ties them together?
As a photographer It's very easy to look at lots of other photographers (and painters) past and present, and see which ones make the work that inspires me and then to use what they've done to shape my own work. I've always felt that I want to take pictures that create a visceral reaction in the viewer. Images that stir you up inside the same way that a song or lyric or poem can. Barthes "punctum". The "OOOF" of the universe landing a sucker punch in your guts or burning that image in behind your eyes so you'll never, ever forget it.
There are a few of these artists whose body of work continues to inspire me. I think that what links them together - for me at least - is their ability to create those vivid, visceral images with just a few well-chosen words. Hockney says that great artists as they get older use fewer lines. I think the same is true of really great writers, songwriters and poets.
I think this economy of a few words well used is similar to the reductiveness of the composition of great photographs. With "great images" for me it's not just the little that's there, but the 'everything that's been taken away' that makes it stand out.
Even if it's not a 'great image", take everything that's unnecessary out of the photograph and what remains is the best possible version of it. People say that photography is "painting with light" but I think of it more like sculpture without a chisel. Take away the bits you don't need and what's left is the work.
Tom Waits
"I like my town with a little drop of poison
Nobody knows, they're lining up to go insane
I'm all alone, I smoke my friends down to the filter
But I feel much cleaner after it rains
And she left in the fall, that's her picture on the wall
She always had that little drop of poison..."
Like Bowie*, Waits is an incredible artist - a brilliant lyricist. Unlike Bowie, Waits has never needed to change his persona or constantly reinvent himself as an artist. Despite this, his range of work is so large and varied, I doubt there's anyone who likes all of it (I certainly don't and I'm a huge fan). HIs bizarre stories and the fantasy tales he likes to spin (as potentially real) blur at the edges this world that he's created in his lyrics.
He seems to me a grainy nicotine growl of a man in a Donegal and cap sitting at the end of the bar, lost in his own thoughts and the racing form. The image I have of him - and the ones his songs create - are the dark shadows deep blacks in and around the edge of the imperfect images I look through when I edit.
*Bowie has actually said in various interviews that music "doesn't actually play a big part" in his life. He's on record several times saying that his work is all about "fragmentation and then pulling all the elements together" - that he's an artist and that "music is just my paint".
Thom Gunn
"At worst, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still".
Gunn is a poet (who was born in Kent) I've only read bits of and I'm not sure I love it all. Certainly his California stuff is "trying a bit too hard" for me. But his attempt to capture the power and movement of the mid 20th Century American youth and especially gangs is heady and powerful stuff. Also some of the motorcycle gangs stuff veers too much into the Tom of Finland world for me, although your mileage may vary. But his descriptions of movement... I love to use blur and de-focus in images - often to frame or sub-frame the subject. And I actually live by his words above.
TS Eliot
"Till human voices wake us, and we drown".
Eliot is big. Too big. And The Wasteland is way too big and dense.  You could spend your entire life pulling apart all the references in it. It's magnificent but I prefer his other, shorter works. they're easier to digest and they're like sketches for his main event. Prufrock is both wonderfully sad and funny. Much of Eliot's work reminds me of Bruce Davidson. Especially Davidson's earlier photos of outsiders - circus life, gangs. Stories both seen and hinted at. Other peoples' lives glimpsed. I've often thought about taking Prufrock - or maybe lines from it - and trying to take pictures out in the world to illustrate it. Not studio setup illustrations, but shots of real life that bring to life Eliot's lines.
Dylan Thomas.

"It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea".

That repetition of "sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack" gets me every single time. And it's just his way of saying "the wood runs down to the sea".

I love the life and power in Thomas' words - his mastery of rhythm and he way his characters just jump off the page. It's this motion that I try and capture - the "gesture and movement" bit of my little list. And I think - for me at least - it's the hardest to do. You can work with the light (or move it) and move yourself to work with the lines. But movement and gesture are unpredictable, fleeting and often very difficult to anticipate. I think it's about putting yourself in situations (the end of Deal pier, watching people watching football in pubs, hanging out in Normans and Soho), where people are likely to be relaxed and expressive. And if you're there long enough, they get used to you and some magic can happen. If you're really patient and lucky you may become invisible. I'm a great believer in Jim Richardson's quote: "If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff".

Do: Re-read Roland Barthes Camera Lucida. Done

I had read Barthes Camera Lucida before, but it was a while ago - about 2019. Having read around photography a bit more now (and looked at a lot more pictures). I've loved it a lot more second time around.

I can see that he's trying to see if there is a particular feature of photography that may explain its genius (as opposed to painting and drawing). He explains that the photograph does not exist without a subject since it's this we see and not to photograph itself.

The stadium/punctum co-presence is a great way of articulating the difference between a photograph that "works" - that it is a good image of the particular subject judged from moral or political perspective. It may be a good photo or a banal one - but it's doesn't move us. We move on.

The punctum. The thing that pierces us. Maybe even after we've looked at a photograph. The hook into us that allows the spectator to fill an image with personal meaning. That's what I'm looking for. Creating feeling/emotion/reaction in people who view my work. This It's what I'm working towards.

I also liked his description of the "four image-repertoires that intersect here and, oppose and distort and pull on each other".

The one I think I am
The one I want others to think I am
The one the photographer thinks I am
The one the photographer wants to exhibit in his art

I've gotten a lot out of re-reading Camera Lucida. I now have a bit more experience of taking and editing pictures. And revisiting it and reading around it - summaries, critiques and especially The Photography Reader has been a huge help. But, Christ on a bike, Barthes is endless with his justifications of (almost) every clause of (almost) every sentence. For me, it almost made his work unreadable - I've had to really stick with it and stick at it. But then he's a philosopher and French, so it's a translation. And I'm now really glad I have. There are diamonds here.

Do: Look at a) Avant Garde and b) romanticism with regard to art and photography

Do: Look at Casper David Friedrich
Do: Look at the documentation of James Turrell's Roden Crater
I can't believe I was so close to this in January and had no idea. Even though it's not open, it would have been great to go and see the hill. It's beautiful - both the pictures I've seen and the idea. It brings to mind the huge projects of civilisations long gone - the Pyramids, the Mayan's, Stonehenge, It's designed as an eye and an ear on the cosmos, a giant camera obscura (among other things). While it's always going to be utterly exclusive (I doubt I'll ever get to go) I love the idea, the beauty of it. I love the thought and effort that's gone into this. It's art on a celestial scale that will be at its most accurate in 2000 year's time.
But sadly, I have a horrible gut feeling that less than a century after he's dead it'll be a dusty, sad and lonely space used by skateborders (or whatever they've been replaced by).  I hope not. It's due to open next year partly thanks to Kanye West who might well be the next Republican President by then. Who said God doesn't have a sense of humour? I'm looking forward to seeing how it is received.
I've seen Acrosanti - the experimental Arizona desert community north of Pheonix that looks fantastic in pictures. Up close it's tired '70s concrete forms with wind whistling through dirty glass. The world has moved on. 
Look: William B Post's work with regard to his inspiration by a Japanese aesthetic. 
Think: If I had been making the tree pictures with a Japanese aesthetic in mind, would it have changed the images I made?
I'm really not sure. I was just playing with the camera's "snow" settings for JPGs that I'd just discovered and was more focussed on them and exploring the camera on an otherwise boring ride. The trees passing by in the snow were the only thing I had to consistently point the camera at so that I could see the effect that changes made. I almost deleted the lot (about 150 shots) as a test batch.
But it has made me think. Taking everything I know (which isn't much really) about Japanese art and culture could I have made them with a greater intent? Would they have been better? I know I would have wound down the window at least...
I'm guessing that as it came in the editing stage, I had started to think about Japanese woodcuts as I edited the images, so in that sense at this point there was an influence. I re-edited all of them them a number of times to try and increase the Japanese aesthetic and make them work as a group. So yes, I think if I had started with a Japanese aesthetic in mind, I would have ended up with similar shots (and fewer technically bad duds) that needed less editing to bring them together as a coherent piece of work.  
The Four Rules: Think: Are these a mantra or security blanket or a scaffold? Should they be modified or expanded?
I guess it's a bit like being a kid and being sent down the road to get a few bits of shopping for tea, I'd always recite the list of things in my head as I walked along so I didn't forget them. Now, when I'm wandering around with the camera and actively looking, the list goes through my head to remind me of the things I need to accept, organise or discard for any particular image.
This list has definitely improved my shooting and editing. Is it exhaustive? Probably not, but - a bit like the work itself - something would have to work damn hard to get itself onto that list. I've worked really hard to boil down the elements that make up a photograph into a short list that I could remember. Maybe context should go on there. I'm not quite sure how it fits. We probably need to talk about this...
The other thing - alongside the list - that has improved my work is knowing how to work the scene and not to be rushed. I love looking at contact sheets because you can learn so much about actually taking pictures. I love this one from Elliot Erwitt.  It allows you to see how he carefully worked the scene, making very small deliberate adjustments and reacting to the changes the guy and the dog made naturally. Erwitt made a lot of pictures of dogs but (for me at least) this one really stands out. You could write an essay just about this contact sheet.
Question: By doing the exercise of pulling together the images that you felt were successful and those that you felt did not work, what did you learn or notice about how you discuss your emerging art practice?
One of the things I think I've realised is that I don't have a particular, singular or specific road that I travel down (or want to travel down) with my photography. I feel like my work and projects all go in very different directions. But what I do know is I want to try and find and identify that thread that connects them. The bit of "me" in each picture. I would like to develop a unique signature that is present in all of my work.
I've also realised that my work is improving. I'm making better choices at every stage finding a scene, working it, composing the images, and then editing them. At every stage I'd say that I have improved. I still take shit pictures, but I now take fewer of them.
Question: Are you up for looking at photography that is informed by art?
Absolutely yes. 
Look/ Think: Photographs that are informed by art - Luc Delahay, Jeff Wall
Luc Delahay clearly turns turns war and natural disaster into "an uncomfortable art". His work blurs and subverts traditional genre boundaries - art, reportage, documentary, photojournalism. I don't think he calls himself a war photographer or photojournalist any more - interesting then that he's recently been to Ukraine... His work definitely asks more questions than it answers. You could look at some of his large scale images can compare them with traditional landscape paintings - although the Constable's hanging in the National Gallery have a much lower body count.
Jeff Wall is another photographer whose work is difficult to pigeonhole, again creating large scale images. Wall's fictional images are staged rather than any sort of reportage and created using all of the modern digital artist. One thing I've noticed about his pictures is that he really does do very well in creating space in his images. I wonder if this is linked to the fact that he's not just taking a photograph but using bits of images as a sort of (detailed) photo collage?
Read/Think: Context.
This is the big one.
Back in the 90's Bill Gates came out with the line that "content is king". It wasn't long after that author Gary Vaynerchuck said "context is God".
Interesting that both lines come from corporate/technologists/brand/marketing people and not artists... This picture did it for me. Both feature the same woman in works of art from respected artists. 
Having worked through all of the above, I've come to understand that for me to make a picture that has that delivers the effect I'm looking for - the "punctum" for as wide and audience as possible, creating images that are rich in context is a must.
I realise that I need to work to provide the spectator with  visual links and clues within the work itself if it's going to be just more than a "nice picture". I need to give them the tools to understand what it is I'm trying to say within any image or body of work. 
And I think this also maybe ties in with my dislike of detailed captions. I've never been a huge fan of captions that tell me exactly what (someone thinks) I'm looking at. If the contextual links are there within the image, does it really need any think more and a basic caption?