Thursday, 16 December 2010

Silence - so hot right now/ 'Cage against the machine'

i like it.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

WHY - because it looks like fun!

MAC/VAL directed by ARNO BANI
Uploaded by arnobani. - Watch original web videos.


"There is a sensitive empiricism which makes itself most inwardly identical with the object and thereby becomes genuine theory".

Thoughts from 'A short history of Photography' by Walter Benjamin

Benjamin writes in this essay about, among other things, the early daguerrotypes taken by a man called Hill taken at the Edinburgh cemetery of Greyfriars.

"...this place could never have achieved its great effect had not its selection been for technical reasons. The lower sensitivity to light of the early plates made necessary a long exposure in the open. This, on the other hand, made it desirable to station the model as well as possible in a place where nothing stood in the way of a quiet exposure. "The synthesis of expression which was achieved through the long immobility of the subject", Orlik says of the early photographs, "is the chief reason besides their simplicity why these photographs, like well drawn or painted likeness, exercise a more penetrating, longer lasting effect on the observer than photographs taken more recently". The procedure itself caused the models to live, not out of the instant, but into it; during the long exposure they grew, as it were, into an image.

It struck me that a comparison could be made between this and the modern ability to make moving portraits via the medium of video. During what might be termed the long exposure of the video, the subject, simply looking at the lens could also be said to live into the instant, to grow into an image of themselves that is arguably difficult/impossible (?) to achieve in a single image. In my recent experiments with this, the synthesis of expression which Benjamin refers to was apparent and was, to me, one of the compelling aspects of it.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


‘I define postmodernism as incredulity towards metanarratives.’ - Lyotard

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Graham Lester George

Photographer Graham Lester George has produced portraits of a group of people connected only by being in the same place. He set up a portable studio in a pub and focused entirely on their faces, inviting visitors to "focus exclusively on the subject's unique humanity." It is definitely quite similar in style to what I am doing and formed part of the 'Contemporary Portraiture' exhibition in the Richard Attenborough centre in Leicester last year.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Contact Sheet for Images So Far

This is a really helpful way of seeing clearly the changes I need to make in order to make this work as a more cohesive project. Colour corrections aside there are clearly issues of framing and composition that need to be tweaked. I must become more specific in my method.

The Erotic Mirror: Four Female Photographers Turn Their Naked Eyes on Themselves

There are some incredible images in here, and I think it is a great concept.

Zero Degrees

Just watched the whole recording of this via a friend at the Uni here who is really interested in dance. I was spellbound the whole way. I can't say what relevance this has to any of my current projects in particular, more perhaps that is has relevance to everything I like to think about in terms of making work. A beautiful collaboration between two incredible dancers Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi, the musician Nitin Sawhney who I adore and Turner Prize winner Anthony Gormley has contributed the staging - two life-size casts of the dancers. Mesmerising. Would have given a lot to have seen this live. It explores the idea of boundaries, between cultures and countries, most importantly between life and death. My friend who introduced me to this described a review which summarises the whole thing perfectly, saying it "expresses the chaos of the human soul".

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Project two - Dan

The Portrait and The Sublime

What follows is some musings about the relevance of the principles of my portraiture project to the concept of the sublime, as described by Lyotard in The Lyotard Reader, Blackwell Pulblishers, 1993 and based on my own engagement with the ideas of presence and awareness which form the basis of how I engage with each subject in the studio in creating this work.

Barnett Baruch Newman was one of the first artists to re-engage with the concept of the sublime in the early sixties when he produced three sculptures entitled Here I, Here II and Here III. He also painted canvases called Vir Herocious Sublimis and 'Not over there, Here', 'Now' and 'Be' and wrote an essay entitled The Sublime is Now. Art critic and commentator Thomas Hess wrote that the 'Now' Newman was concerned with was that of the Hebraic tradition, the there, the site, the unknowable. Lyotard in 'The Sublime and the Avant Garde' writes;

"Newman's now which is no more than now, is a stranger to consciousness and cannot be constituted by it. Rather, it is what dismantles consciousness, what deposes consciousness, it is what consciousness cannot formulate, and even what consciousness forgets in order to constitute itself. What we do not manage to formulate is that something happens."

This thing that happens or occurrence which the philosopher Marin Heidegger called ein Ereignis, is a difficult term to define in practice. A recent translation of the word by Kenneth Maly and Parvis Emad renders the word as "enowning"; in connection with things that arise and appear, that they are arising 'into their own'. Thought is an obstacle to experiencing this now, this arising 'into their own' and must be disarmed. It is a barrier between the pure subjective experience and the event itself. If thinking is dominant, if the occurrence is being analysed as it is experienced, it is not being experienced in it's entirety. Kant takes this idea further when he claims that this agitation of the mind, referring to the activity of judgement by the cognitive facilities, is only possible if something remains to be determined. As a relationship to time it presupposes that after each event, each theory, each work of art, each sentence; another follows. There is more to know, to develop, to create. But what about the possibility of nothing happening? With this concept the first link to Sunyata, or emptiness is seen, which forms the origin of this project.

The possibility of nothing happening, of suspense and waiting has been given a predominantly negative value in modern discourse and is associated with feelings of anxiety. But as Lyotard points out it can also be associated with pleasure in welcoming the unknown and joy in the intensification of being that the event brings with it. It is a contradictory feeling in which the event or occurrence discussed above, the 'it happens' becomes a question, 'is it happening?'. The mark of the question according to Lyotard is "the 'Now', now like the feeling that nothing might happen: the nothingness now". It is the basic fundamental boredom and familiar anxiety that anyone who has sat a Vispassana retreat knows only too well, as the habitually agitated mind settles into a more alert and present state. We have arrived at the Sublime, the name given to this pleasure/pain, joy/anxiety dichotomy in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe.

When Newman therefore sought sublimity in the here and now he was seeking to bear pictorial or otherwise expressive witness to the inexpressible. Quoting Lyotard again, "the inexpressible does not reside in an over there, in another words, or another time, but in this; in that (something) happens." Longinus, quoted in Lyotard has attempted to analyse the sublime in terms of rhetoric. He claims that "there is a sublimity of thought sometimes recognizable in speech by it's extreme simplicity or turn of sometimes even takes the form of outright silence". Boileau writes, "The sublime is not strictly speaking something which is proven or demonstrated, but a marvel, which seizes one, strikes one and makes one feel'. Therefore imperfections, distortions of taste and even ugliness as Lyotard argues have their share in the shock-effect. It strikes me that this is where Pierre Gonnord's work succeeds so brilliantly; in taking those who live on the margins, who are often considered ugly via defiguring illness, scars, deformity, homelessness etc and yet depicting them in such a way as to reveal their majesty, the majesty of the human condition per se in it's rawest form. The viewer is torn between awe and revulsion, socially conditioned prejudices and unexpected admiration. In other words the contradictory feelings of the sublime.

Lyotard also references the work of Burke published in 1757 entitled Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime, in particular his assertion that the sublime is kindled by the threat of nothing else happening. Beauty gives one kind of pleasure, a positive kind but he believes there is a pleasure bound to a passion stronger than satisfaction, and that is pain and impending death. To call this a pleasure is problematic to my mind but the associated terror he goes on to describe is relevant, terrors linked to privation; of light, of language, the terror of silence, of objects, of emptiness, of life and ultimately death. Burke believed the sublime is achieved when this terror and pleasure intermingle but it is also essential that the terror causing threat be suspended and in this lessening of a threat or danger there is the pleasure of relief. The sublime therefore can be characterised according to Lyotard as;

"a very big, very powerful object threatens to deprive the soul of any 'it happens', strikes it with powerful astonishment (at lower intensities the soul is seized with admiration, veneration, respect). the soul is thus dumb, immobilized, as good as dead. Art, by distancing this menace, produces a pleasure of relief, of delight. Thanks to art, the soul is returned to the agitated zone between life and death, and this agitation is its health and its life. For Burke, the sublime was no longer a matter of elevation, but intensification".

Contemplating the sublime is particularly interesting with respect to the information age we now live in, and the capitalist ideologies which permeate all facets of modern existence. The potential richness of the human experience becomes delineated across ever narrowing parameters; profitability, self affirmation through success and satisfaction via acquisition. Our relationship to time is not what it was even a generation ago; we are always 'on' and connected. The private and public sphere demarcation is dissolving. We live in an age where the mantra is speed and the information society perpetuates the myth that all things can be known and are at the tip of our fingertips. The contradictory feelings of the sublime are hinted at in vernacular discourse. We describe wanting to 'get away from it all, to slow down' yet many people find themselves ill at ease with silence. We want space but feel lost if we are without our mobile phone for twenty four hours! We want to plug ourselves out of the matrix and yet there is an underlying discomfort at the thought of doing so, because it is in the 'nothing happens' that existential anxiety is encountered. It is my sincere belief that this dichotomy, as described above and which is at the heart of the sublime, is most readily experienced in our postmodern society when things are stripped away to their essence, when silence is encountered amidst the usual bombardment of noise and particularly in disarming simplicity.

With relation to this current project, the techniques I work with ask subjects to be partially naked in order to strip away a layer of protection, amongst other rationales. They are in a dark studio, there is silence, I talk them through techniques to come out of their heads and into their bodies. Focus on the breath. Centre themselves, empty their minds as much as possible of the ceaseless agitation. To be in what Vispassana circles is described as "here, now". When they are 'Here' they let me know by turning to look into the lens, mindful not to project outwards but remain fully located within themselves. The image is just that moment, framed against a black background. I am now starting to also work with this same process in video, although there are a few teething problems. The subject is seen focusing, relaxing, breathing, coming into themselves and then, turning and simply looking at the camera. The only thing that should be audible is the breath, unfortunately the only thing that is in fact currently audible is the air conditioning. It plays with the tension described above, the anxiety of nothing happening, it is just an ordinary person, silently looking at you via the medium of a screen. I hope that it is disconcerting because of this, we are not used to seeing people doing nothing in this way but also, that there is a beauty within it which is the inherent beauty of each human being that is part of the inexpressable; they are alive, they have consciousness, and we do not, despite the greatest efforts, know what that is! Ideally the 'is it happening' question which might arise, even subconsciously would lead to a recognition of 'being', which is what I sense in the work of Pierre Gonnord and is why it continues to speak to me. The silence takes us out of our comfort zone and is an intensifying experience in this regard. I did not set out to frame this project in the discourse of the sublime but I think there is certainly elements of it here.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Project two - more

Had a fantastic experience working with this subject today in the studio. Pleased to get another female into the mix and have three more ladies lined up for next week with a good range of ages, which I am delighted about. There are small variations in the processing involved with all of these, which as Mike pointed out recently will need to be standardised for the exhibition to give a better sense of continuity, but I can do this closer to the time once I get some feedback as to which is most effective.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Just for fun/portfolio

Trying to build up a strong portraiture portfolio while I have access to the studio and all the lovely toys in there. Here is one from yesterday I like. I was trying to get quite hard lighting to bring out the character in the face and I think it worked pretty well.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Another one

Also here is one from a few weeks ago that I hadn't put up but I really like. You may recognise the subject!

Project two- delving into moving portraits.

What a fun time I have had with this most recent character who was generous enough to come in to the studio on his day off work and get fully into the whole process behind making these images. I am delighted with the results.

Also begun to experiment with video today with a view to making moving portraits. Had to balance the camera on the tripod without connecting it properly as the connector plate was missing but Graham and Mike tell me the resulting shakes can be rectified. Once I figure out how to open it on my computer I will post it. Just did a minute clip for now to get a sense of the thing and also hard to do much longer without the actual attachment.

Monday, 8 November 2010

photo-eye | BLOG: On Carla van de Puttelaar

Thanks to Mike for this link to a dutch photographer working along very similar lines to myself, although she works exclusively with women and predominantly with nude forms.

photo-eye | BLOG: On Carla van de Puttelaar:


This is a very simple, very nice short film that is part of a series I found on a site called 'Soul Biographies'. Each film is 5-10 minutes of recording of a person speaking about some aspect of the human condition, meaning, life, consciousness etc. The format is very different to what I am doing for either of my next two projects (at this point anyway!) but some of the themes resonate. Phenomenologically they are similar. This is not academic discourse, so if you want to watch then turn off that part of your brain and put on your humanist hat (it's probably the one with a feather in it!).

Click on the link below...


Friday, 5 November 2010

Some Inspiration for Project Three

Butoh practitioner Maureen Fleming. This is the kind of feel I hope the piece will have. Obviously it's quite useful if you have Philip Glass available to do some original compositions but that is only a minor detail really. Suitable music will be found.

Project 3 - The Ikebana dance sculptures are go.

Last night I met up with a dancer and choreographer to discuss the idea of a collaboration for project three and I am happy to say that it went brilliantly and it's now definitely going ahead. He is studying an MA in theatre and consciousness here and we are entirely on the same page with the ideas I had for this project, I cannot in fact believe how much so. We are now both going to use this idea as our final MA pieces and he is someone who is 100% dedicated and driven to produce something fantastic so I think we will be both be able to work well together.

The idea now stands that we will use Ikebana principles, which he is already aware of, to produce some site specific sculptural dance pieces using both natural and non-natural locations. We will work together to fine tune the concepts I have developed already. He will then work on the choreography and finding dancers and I will create the visual aesthetics and produce a slow motion video piece, which has the capacity to be both an installation and work as a live performance.

He is also familiar with and a great admirer of butoh, which we both agree should be drawn on to inform the choreography as well as some of the principles of contact improvisation which we have both practiced, though obviously he has done this to a far greater extent than I. We share a very similar visual aesthetic as it turns out so I think this will work out well. Although ideally we would work with a total of eight dancers, he felt this might not be achievable in terms of practitioners who work in this way in Lincoln so we are looking to work with a smaller group and use some natural forms, for example driftwood, as part of the sculptural form. He felt this would also be more cohesive for this kind of work in terms of the dynamic between the dancers. We both want to have as wide a palette as possible in terms of the look of the dancers, so age, gender and ethnicity variations is something we hope to be able to incorporate.

The research will be informed by current trends in consciousness theories as well as heavily drawing on the contemplative traditions of japanese artforms. I am very excited by this. I always intended to produce one project as part of this MA that was based on these kind of principles so I am very pleased that it can go ahead.

Another Portrait

I thought this one didn't work but actually now I think I was wrong! Also have reached a new limit that needs to be crossed in my photoshop efforts, how to remove a piece of material and replace it with realistic looking skin. My efforts so far have created results that look like skin disorders! Yes, I should have made the subject hold the cloth lower down to begin with and saved myself this trouble, I realise that now. Hindsight eh!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

QUick Update about nothing particularly sensible.

Quick update; I have had one no show and one postponement in the last few days so not much to upload from the past week. Also I found a fabulous older woman with a brilliantly majestic face but alas she was not comfortable with the naked shoulders aspect! This is all fine though.

I was in the studio this evening and while I don't think I got the results I need for my project shots, the subject was loads of fun for a more laid back type of portraiture and I have finally got high key lighting figured out. It is not high art but it is useful to know how to do properly. I am pleased. Hopefully taking the flash set up out on Thursday if it is not raining, otherwise in the studio again then and at the weekend, so let's hope I have something of a project related nature to upload by the end of the weekend. All in all though I am enjoying myself. Really need to start bringing people in from the amazing universe outside the uni campus now. A bit of stalking around town is on the cards over the next few days. In the meantime, here are some photos from today, just for fun. Have another friend coming in next week who is willing to cover herself in jam and has cats. Good times.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Highlights ....gah!

Here is the latest image from this ongoing series. I love the expression on his face, and it was actually amazing to watch him get almost instantaneously into 'the zone' with it after a lifetime of performance and he was already well practiced in techniques to centre himself, so needed no instruction. However the bane of my life is now turning out to be highlights on the skin, which I absolutely do not want, at all, anywhere, not even a bit. It is actually driving me insane. It seems not to happen with this lighting set up on female subjects if they are wearing matt make-up but I am reluctant to start asking the guys to wear it too!!! I have tried varying the subject distance from the light source but then I need to shoot on f1.4 to get a proper exposure, so that's no good. I have used two diffusing sheets over the light source in this one and still it is happening. I have also got subjects to stand further back into the shadows and this I thought had solved it but having done the same process with this shoot again, still the highlights are there. I want a perfectly illuminated, natural looking light that wraps the face but doesn't glare off it. I absolutely do not want to have flashes going off as it will not be conducive to the process I am asking the subjects to work with. I wonder if using softboxes without a flash would be any better.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Shadow Catchers Exhibition at the V&A

Friday, 15 October 2010

Questions of Representation - Feedback Appreciated.

One of the fundamental assertions originally made by the photographic portrait is a declaration of being a trace of the individual, the authentic presence of the person. According to Graham Clarke (The Portrait in Photography), this authenticity is problematic.

"The photograph displaces rather than represents, the individual. It codifies the person in relation to other frames of reference and other hierarchies of significance. Thus, more than any other photographic image, the portrait achieves meaning through the context in which it is seen".

This is why I have decided to strip these portraits of as much coding as possible. Clothes which might denote era, the style of the individual, the social group to which they belong, the persona they like to present to the world and so on are removed. We are left with the subject and a plain black background. To my mind this invites a different kind of viewing, a looking inwards to gather some sense of the essence of the individual. They meet the viewers gaze directly, and if I succeed in creating the right environment and conditions for the subjects, with a contained, settled sense of presence. So if there is a displacement here it is one of moving into a void, a socially constructed interpretation becomes impossible. We know nothing of their activity in the world, only that they have sat in front of the camera and looked into the lens.

Clarke goes on to say....

"Just as the photograph flattens physical bulk, so it also frames and crops-once again suggesting presence through absence. It consistently offers the promise of the individual through a system of representation which at once hides and distorts the subject before the lens. Thus the portrait's meaning exists within wider codes of meaning: of space, of posture, of dress, of marks, of social distinction. In short the portrait's meaning exists within a world of significance which has, in turn, already framed and fixed the individual. The photograph thus reflects the terms by which the culture itself confers status and meaning on the subject, while the subject as image hovers problematically between exterior and interior landscapes".

This leads me to ask the question, what does the empty void like space which the subject occupies itself represent. Can it be read as an invitation inwards? Do the obvious painterly comparisons to 17th century (and earlier) portrait styles evoke cultural notions of status and so forth and what does that word now mean in a postmodern context? Pierre Gonnord, whose work as we have established appeals hugely to me, utilises this same aesthetic device to create images of marginalized sections of society, the down and out, the addicted, the homeless, the itinerant. Attempting to be more critically engaged with that which inspires me, it can be said that there is a voyeuristic element involved with his work, in revealing in a dignified manner those whom we do not normally look at. Perhaps the beauty of the composition and lighting in these images and the removal from the difficult social context they inhabit makes this looking easier, less fraught with tension and bourgeoise guilt! We are not called to act through looking at his images, merely observe. I however do not read them this way, and see it instead as conferring a dignity to these people not usually afforded them in society and also a seeing of 'beauty' outside typical contemporary mores.

There is something that appeals to me about not making this project about one group or another; about a 'type' of person. A spectrum of individuals with the greatest conceivable degree of variation in looks, age, social situation and temperament perhaps is another way to avoid them being coded in a particular way, so that when viewed as a series they are clearly about the individual rather than the social group and in my idealistic world perhaps this might also conversely bring out something about the universality of the human condition.

Project Two Continued.

More portraits. Pleased with the results. Going to continue in this vein, widening the subject group to include more variation in age and also ethnicity and by the end of November hopefully, once I have quite a lot of images, take a critical look at them all and make some decisions as to how to proceed from there in a more focused way if necessary. I also intend to start using HD video recordings, effectively doing 'moving portraits' and experiment a little with that. Adam has also suggested to choose some subjects who are effectively not used to slowing down, to silence and so forth and see if the tension that creates would produce interesting results. Good one Adam.

Themes are clearly emerging, silence/presence and I will explore this further over the coming weeks. Also I have decided that it is best to shoot always from mid chest level and above as too much naked skin and the inclusion of nipples does something else to the reading of the portraits. The consistency of the direction of the poses above was something I was aware of, and although I would have like to have more variation in the last two, features such as the hole in the ear from a removed 'ear spacer' and the direction of the fringe meant that aesthetically it worked best to shoot them the same way as the previous two. However much more variation will soon occur.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

"form is emptiness; emptiness is form" ~ heart sutra.

First Shoot Project 2

I did the first shoot for project two on Friday and used the 5d to begin with, spending quite a lot of time trying to get things absolutely right with the very simply light set up being used for these portraits. Essentially in the end this was a single constant light source with diffusing cloth over it, a very low intensity softbox directed at the background and a reflector. Worked a lot with the idea of emptiness, of both trying to work from a place internally in myself that was very quiet and present but also asking the subjects to look away from the camera for as long as it took to settle into themselves, find as much silence internally as they could and then to look at the camera only when they felt they were in that place. I didn't want the immediacy of relationship that being in front of the camera usually invokes but rather the mindset of someone who had been standing for some time, as if being painted. So much more passive and quiet in a sense. I have been thinking about the Buddhist concept of Sunyata, emptiness or voidness; a concept that evolved on teachings about the non-existence of self. It strikes me as an interesting (perhaps insane) way to approach a project on portraiture!!! But it's all just exploration right now and further plans are afoot to work with this approach in a deeper way to see what kind of results might arise.

All in all I am really happy with the first results, though obviously need to work a little on the skin tones, which is an exercise in futility anyway until I get my laptop calibrated this week. In addition, despite the fact that the widest aperture settings, as used here, give a painterly feel to the look of the images the depth of field is too narrow for my liking and this will be rectified. I want all the visible body to be in focus for this series, something I have only decided looking at these results. Will also be experimenting with the leaf back, probably Monday or Tuesday, depending on when the studio is free. Have located another subject who is very contemporary looking with multiple tattoos and piercings and red hair. I think he will photograph well. I intend to shoot people a very wide range of people over the next few weeks and then see what works best at that point in terms of narrowing down criteria for subjects. It is all very enjoyable right now though.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Searching for Silence

I have now done some basic test shots with both the 5D and the leaf back Hasselblad. While I think the Hasselblad gives a slightly better picture quality the lenses are definitely a limitation in terms of portraiture and I wonder now which route to choose. I am doing a proper test shot on thursday with a subject with infinite patience and have the studio for two hours so I will try both again with a slightly modified lighting set-up. It is not quite there yet in terms of lighting, but have found some excellent studio resources which I think will help figure it out coupled obviously with some time experimenting in the studio.

Been thinking also about what it is about Pierre Gonnord's style that appeals to me so much, and also that of Hendrik Kerstens, whose work is similar. I have concluded it is the silence within them. The classic painting style, simple black background, no gimmics, no overt emotional expression on the face, all focus is simply on the eyes and on the face in a state of repose. I was imagining what it must have been like to sit for an oil painter for hours, if not days on end. There is a settling into oneself that must occur, a presence, a settled gaze. This is exactly what appears to me when I look at the work of these photographers. Clearly they also use classical posing styles, the position of the body and face to camera is carefully considered. I will need to work with subjects in a slow and relaxed manner I think, as with most portraiture it is a record of the relationship between camera and sitter in that moment as much as anything else.

I am not intending to simply attempt to replicate what he has done, but this is a jumping off point that feels right and I am curious to see how it all unfolds.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Well past the midnight hour.

Yet again inspiration strikes at stupid o'clock. Have definitely now decided to do the Ikebana dance sculpture idea for project three and will be incorporating video into it. Have had a steady stream of consciousness of ideas for the past two hours, so I guess I will start trying to find dancers in this area, about eight, and get going on this as well. Having plenty of time will be of the essence, as it involves a great degree of collaboration and experience has now taught me to plan how long it should take in an ideal world........about 2-3 months ....then multiply by at least two and factoring in for potential catastrophes (exploding cameras and the like)...about three. So I will start slowly now with optimism, gathering people, mapping the eight forms involved and sorting out costumes, which will be key (or finding a costume designer which would be even better!). That way, even with all things not going to plan, it should be ready in time. I really like this idea, feels like it has a lot of soul to it and it gives me a chance to play with video, which I am really keen to do. Working in a Bill Viola inspired way, which would be perfect for this, I want a single camera position with slow movement occurring within the frame. A sort of beautiful, gradual unfolding, which works with the flower theme. Good times. It's really nice when you can visualise things with crystal clarity before trying to do them.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Simplicity is good.

SO it turns out the lighting is not as difficult as I imagined it to be to get the whole Pierre Gonnord type look! In fact it is ridiculously easy, thank you Mike for helping with that. Now that is sorted it is just a case of getting on with some shoots and I have three people who are free to come in this week, one of whom I literally cannot wait to get into the studio....such a face. I can't pretend there is a concept yet, I am basically following instinct on this one, photographing people I find interesting for now. Just simply want to immerse myself in portraiture over the next few months and see what emerges, though obviously I have some key visual strands to follow in doing so.

Going to shoot on hasselblad again, at least for this series of portraits, only this time using the digital back. No light leaks, no developing time, no burgeoning cost....what's not to like. The picture quality is fantastic, great dynamic range and I am told the digital back for the hasselblad is much better than that for the large format, so it makes sense for now. It's a one light set-up. This is all refreshingly simple compared to the last project.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Moksha by Fazal Sheikh

This book is a perfection, found it in the library today and must order one at once from amazon as I will come back to it time and time again. It is tender, insightful, moving, exquisitely photographed without shying away from the difficult and accompanied by wonderfully written text. It succeeds also in being a document of important sociological value. Here is the official description of the book....

"For 500 years the holy city of Vrindavan in northern India has been a haven for India's dispossessed widows. Cast out by their families and condemned by strict marital laws that deny them legal, economic, and, in extreme cases, even human rights, they have made their way to the city to worship at its temples and live in its ashrams, surviving on charitable handouts or begging on the streets. In Vrindavan they worship the young god Krishna, who invades their dreams, helping them to cast off memories from their past lives and prepare for new and better lives are to come. Their ultimate dream is to reach Moksha--heaven--where they will find freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth and live surrounded by their gods forever. Fazal Sheikh's photographs capture the meditative mood of the city and his portraits of the widows convey their sense of acceptance of life's nearing its end and a longing for what is to come. As in his previous books he spent time with his subjects, listening to their stories, many of which reveal the suffering caused by traditions that still govern Indian society. Through his depiction of the city and its inhabitants, Fazal Sheikh once again contributes to our knowledge and understanding of a community whose existence, to those who live outside it, remains closed."

The Medium Is Not The Message

Been thinking about things from a slightly different angle, maybe 10 degrees further north than usual. Conversations, talks, reading in the past few days have had multiple strands attached but one theme has really stood in sharp relief for me; and it's a very simple thing. "What am I interested in"???

So many of the writers, directors, photographers that I have heard about in the past week can be characterised around this one question. The work itself is infinitely varied, in many cases, but the same underlying questions appear again and again. It sounds so obvious as to be almost overlooked but I believe it is an important thing to establish. It is easy in this environment, surrounded by so many varied ideas and new concepts and with people engaged in such a vast spectrum of inquiry to lose sight of this fundamental question. It is a matter of roots, not the geographical kind but the root of each of our individual curiosity about the world.

I have spent some time thinking about project two; approaching it from, I suspect, rather a cart before the horse perspective. Fluctuating from projections to portraiture, portraiture to dance, maybe documentary and perhaps also slow motion video and back again full circle the effect is informative, as I have found many new artists I admire, but also somewhat dizzying. These are mediums, not the message, and I do not agree with McLuhan's postulations on this topic so this literally will not do!!!

So now I am asking the question, what is the message or really what am I interested in, what questions do I want to ask that I might find answers in through photography? I don't want to start with a probable answer, or with a strong set of assumptions, but I guess with more of an open mind. Otherwise perhaps it is just a form of lip service. Then choose the medium, within photography, to explore this. The nature of deadlines attached to something like an MA project means a fine line will need to be tread in order to get a cohesive body of work finished in the time allotted but for now I will attempt to embrace 'not really knowing' and go in the direction of that which I want to find out more about!

I am very clear what key questions in life preoccupy me; People, psychology, consciousness, awareness, perception, the unconscious mind, ritual, meaning or specifically what gives life meaning to people, the relational field, numinosity. It feels a bit like maths really, come back to first principles and start again from there. As usual there is something to be said for simplicity!

Extract fom Jeanette Winterson: Written on the Body

‎"Skin is waterproof but my skin was not waterproof against Louise. She flooded me and she has not drained away. I am still wading through her, she beats upon my doors and threatens my innermost safety. I have no gondola at the gate and the tide is still rising.
Swim for it, don't be afraid. I am afraid.
Is this her revenge? 'I will never let you go.' "

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The search for Pan

I can't stop thinking about the pictures below. I am driven to distraction by the mans entire portfolio. Then i remembered that a few weeks ago I saw a guy who was LITERALLY THE IMAGE OF PAN (yes the mythic one .......seriously!!) in Lincoln. Have never seen such a face on a human being and I look at faces a lot! I must make it a priority to find him again once I have begun to learn how to get this lighting in the studio and convince him to let me take his portrait. That is actually quite a terrifying prospect (what if it is Pan??) but it would be AMAZING!!!


OH WOW!! - Pierre Gonnord

I actually cannot express how much I adore these images, there is the painterly quality of Hendrik Kerstens and yet they are rawer, depicting subjects who do not possess conventional aesthetics. As the photographer himself says; he photographs the people we do not usually look at, often people living on the margins of society. His subjects include gypsy matriarchs, victims of abuse, addicts and so forth, who maintain a dignity and a strength of character that comes across to the camera. I think they are extraordinary.

How do you get light to look like this, is this large format portraiture, is it post-processing. I really want to know. Seriously!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Anais Nin

"We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are"

Nicholas Laclair - Large format Portraiture

This guy is an incredible portrait photographer, 5x4 voigtlander Heliar apparently is his weapon of choice and his website should be checked out, as it's hard to find images of his elsewhere online that I can post to support my claims about his brilliance. Here are two that I could nab of google image search though. He does things with depth of field in portraiture I have never seen with normal digital photography and it makes me want to throw flowers at him, perhaps orchids.

Thoughts on a Sunday Morning...

Thinking about portraiture a great deal at the minute and was reminded by John (thanks Mr Husdon) about the work of Chuck Close and the fantastic daguerrotypes he did a few years ago.. Was looking through his work this morning and found myself struck by the irony of the current situation; enrol on a digital imaging and photography MA which sets it's territory firmly (at least in it's sales propaganda) in the terrain of the contemporary, eschewing traditional methods of presentation and the like in favour of new avenues where technology is used instead of the traditional print!! This appealed to me at the beginning, I had some vague ideas about what I would consider doing and yet a trajectory is occurring which seems to see me heading in quite the opposite direction.

First medium format film; and this again I find hilarious. I never understood the whole thing with film, the endless rhetoric about the quality not being the same as digital, some mysterious quality being lost and so on. If I am honest I thought it was a sort of begrudging resistance by aficionados of the medium, who resented the ease with which digital technology usurped their hard won finesse and therefore dug their heels in and cried 'we shall not be moved'. But I take it back, I was wrong! Apologies to all aforementioned patrons. The external examiner suggested at the beginning of summer that I "beg, borrow or steal a Hasselblad" and shoot medium format. I like squares, they are a pleasing shape, and on the basis of that alone agreed. It is a delightful machine to use with a nice clunky shutter click but problems with light leaks and the general inconvenience of film, the dust, the margins for error, the things that just go plain wrong, saw me scanning the transparencies on Friday this really worth it? And then the prints changed everything. They DO have some quality that digital simply doesn't, a lightness of being, a subtlety perhaps, I don't really have the words yet to describe it. It is quite inconvenient really, but there we are!!!

Now in thinking about portraiture I was talking the other day to Mike about Avedon. Large format, he tells me, is the way to go!! In looking at daguerrotypes I expect the people to start talking to me from within the frame, like some of their spirit has actually been captured because the likeness, the life-like-ness is too great! This too, is bloody inconvenient. I don't know how to do either one and it is not really anything to do with digital imaging. So thoughts in my head this sunday morning are, should I actually just bite the bullet and try a bit of large format portrait photography. Would it be insane to continue spending all of my money on photography and just go to London and take a class in daguerrotypes (will I ever own any shoes again?). It would be comforting to begin at least one project on this MA in terrain I actually know something about but maybe that defeats the point of an MA? And if I add some kind of laser show or something would that sufficiently fit the remit of the course if I go all last millenium on the actual content. Answers on a postcard please.....

O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman

O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

Happiness by Raymond Carver

So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond.

One of the things in life that most inspires me is poetry and I have had one of those delightful saturdays with lots of time to read today. I spoke to a friend earlier who was talking about E.E Cummings and this inspired me to return to and read some of his gorgeous poetry, something i had not done in over a year. My favourite poem by him is the one below; evocative, beautiful and haunting and with recurring themes of nature, love, death. If you wish to read it, then read it aloud as usually with his writing it doesn't make sense unless you do this...something about the rhythm!!

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Contact Sheet for Exhibition

Botton left image needs to be rescanned as has come out strangely and not as it is on the transparency at all. Need to buy mounts as using square format so might edit the final number down due to cost.

Bill Viola

So word on the street is that Bill Viola might be coming to Lincoln!!!!! This would be a dream come true for me as I am a massive fan of his work. Until this is verified there is a great talk i found online some time ago, which he gave accepting an award at MIT. It outlines many of the themes he contemplates on in his work as well as the intentions he has in creating it and some of his philosophical underpinnings. It also shows some of his work and it's a lovely chance to hear him talk about it.

Here it is, it's very long but very inspiring and well worth a watch.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Contemporary Portraiture

In my further thinking about project two over the summer I kept trying to return to basic principles. What is it that I love in photography, what gets me most excited, what do I find most inspiring and moving. The answer always includes an element of portraiture, I love people, their stories, their faces, their uniqueness. When I think of the photographers I admire the most they are usually invariably the stand out portrait photographers.

I recently returned to the work of Hendrik Kerstens who won one of the taylor Wessing photographic prozes in 2007 for his piece entitled 'bag' and I remember the impact when I saw that incredible photograph in the flesh 'literally' at the final exhibition for the prize, which was frozen dumbstruck awe at what he had managed to create, an almost hyperreal portrait which captured the light and style of Dutch painters such as Vermeer.

Before the summer I also acquired a book of Avedon the hell does he do that? And I think that is my motivating question in all this.....

I am pretty sure then that portraiture is going to be the basic idea, the concept has yet to be refined, I have a few ideas and will try to get a tutorial and some advice on these before I make any final decisions.

Ikebana Dance Sculptures

so...project two......??

lots of ideas been running through my head about this. inspiration recently struck for a great project which combines a lot of the things I love, dance, contemplative art and mindfulness practices. The plan is to create human scuptures using the principles of Ikebana, the japanese contemplative art tradition of flower arranging. Originating from the Shinto tradition, where flower arrangements were made as offerings, it seeks to combine heaven, earth and humanity through dealing with space and form and three main elements, which can be arranged in eight different fundamental variations. It is considered an appreciation of the sacredness of the world, arising from non-aggression and appreciation with a large emphasis placed on mindfulness and meditation practices in creating the work.

I love the idea of working with dancers to create body sculptures based on these principles, working with the eight key variations and using different colour schemes in each one. One organisation who trains people in traditional Ikebana is Shambhala and I have already studied contemplative art courses with them, which I think will be an invaluable starting point.

This is going to happen but the more I think about it not for project two, as I think the time scale involved is too small for such an ambitious undertaking. However it might be a possibility for project three. this is a big collaborative project, working with dancers and ideally a choreographer and super ideally an Ikebana expert and am in the process of putting feelers out to see if i can get moving on it. Most of the people I know who would be suitable for this are in the south west which obviously makes logistics tricky. Even if it does not ever get finished within the confines of the MA I love the idea and feel realy inspired by it. lois greenfield is a great place to look for beautiful dance photography and I guess I will just go from there.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

More Square Action - II

This whole scanning thing is not going well, will wait til I get back to Lincoln to sort it out properly. In the meantime these are some more of the digital back ups, bearing in mind it's a close approximation but not the same.

I am happy with the progress being made. The images feel right to me, FINALLY!! ALthough these two seem quite different to me the theme is the same and they work well as part of the overall selection of about ten images.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Velvia 50 developments - Round 1

So the velvia transparencies have come back and from what I can see prior to scanning them the results look great. One snag however, and being an optimist am going to hope this doesn't mess things up too much; despite 'apparently' lining the roll of film up precisely to the red *start* marker the exposures seem to have overlapped slightly on the edges. Some are worse than others and three exposures have not come out at all. The five essential ones are there though. It looks as if this can be fixed in photoshop but will probably be a pain in the butt. However the colours look fantastic and the images themselves are exactly what i was after so any photoshop pain will definitely be worth the effort. hhhhmmm......the joys of film.

Have picked up a cable release and a neutral density filter in town. Now for round two.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Days with my father - Toledano

came across this today, it is not related to what i am doing now in finishing off these images from project one but it appeals greatly to me in its portrait/documentary style and its emotive rawness. It is going into the bank of thoughts from which hopefully something will emerge soon for project two.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

More Square Action

another digi backup from some hasselblad action. the ghostly figure is even less defined, on mike's suggestion and it works really well in this composition. shot another one last night as well amidst reeds at a local lake. did not have time to get a digital backup as i thought i heard some *unmentionables* in the water beside me and had to exit stage left at speed. finished the roll of velvia now and getting it developed in dublin on monday. as someone not used to working in film it all feels quite exciting and somewhat nerve wracking. the unknown quantity etc. fingers crossed. such a relief to feel like progress is finally FINALLY being made with this. and big thanks to mike for all his help with this, has been invaluable on many levels.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Once the dust settles.....

*cough cough cough*....the dust on this blog is serious!!! Anyway after a long absence I thought it was about time to update this blog on recent activity and developments. Project one ended at a beginning point having come full circle and my summer was designed to be a space where I could explore the direction this new beginning pointed to, with some very specific ideas in mind. This is currently happening, albeit later than planned for a variety of unavoidable reasons. Feedback from the external examiner suggested working in medium format, and the square pictures off Hasselblad seemed particularly ideal as I had started to crop my digital images into squares towards the end of this process. So I am going retro, using Velvia 50 transparencies on a hasselblad i have borrowed from media stores and am currently awaiting the first batch of project related results. In the meantime here is a rough approximation of what some of them will look like, taken as backup on my nikon.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

I have not vanished, can't speak for my sanity though!

ok have not updated this blog thing for weeks. been too busy trying to sort this project out. can summarise things very succintly...

'logistics and illness made me have to abandon original plan, did a cindy sherman, not satisfied with this, had inspiration, the images morphed into something else, something blurry. if that sounds familiar it's because it was my original idea? yep! so let us not speak of Jung, let us speak of the dissolving, fragmented, socially constructed self. postmodernism identity dontcha know! seems i have been forced to embrace the current zeitgeist. dammit! now if it would just stop raining and some of the clouds could please bugger off....

here are some of the pictures i like from recent days when it wasn't raining and because matthew asked. The ones in field were grabbed because the wind picked up too much at beach so camera could not be used. grabbed these on way home, like them but don't think i will be using them as final images.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Feminist Theory - representation, the matrixial gaze

I also found a piece of writing by Maggie Humm who quotes Hirsch 1986 saying "modernist women address the increasing specularity of culture, as well as modernity's visual objectification of women by interweaving the objective with the subjective in visual images which, while acknowledging the material primacy of objects, do not privilege materiality at the expense of the psychic".

Humm goes on to say the following, " Where 'strategies' of representation in the visual arts, from painting to photography to film, have been institutionalised to lure our gaze and suture our desire to that which culture wishes to fix us', Pollock argues, 'Lichtenberg Ettinger's method permits a glimpse of another kind of vanishing point, a matrixial gaze', which is 'distinct' from the usual 'confrontation between practice and popular cultures' (Pollock 1994a). The characteristics of such a method resemble Woolf's modernist experiments; a use of fragmentary images, interruptions of linearity, traces of the imaginary and intricately worked surfaces".