Category Archives: General Photography Talk

Jim Mortram ‘Small Town Inertia’ Study Visit

Pre-Exhibition and introduction

This was my second study visit to the Bank Street Arts centre, and was no easier to find this time around! The subject of this visit was an exhibition of prints by Jim Mortram “Small town inertia” which was curated by OCA tutor Andrew Conroy so we had both the benefit of a tutors experience with the background of putting this work on show. We began the visit with a coffee and a discussion, the usual pointers of what we should be looking at, some background on Andrew’s involvement and an overview of Jim and his work. Having already seen Jim’s work in the BJP and on the BBC webpage, I was looking forwards to seeing this in reality. Part of the pre-reading for this visit was to look at Julie’s story by Darcy Padilla and to read comments on the We are OCA pages to fuel a debate on documentary photography. Thoughts on Padilla’s work were varied as expected and there was very much a feeling of exploitation, while a relationship was developed between the photographer and Julie, it seemed to be a case that it was more one sided than the other. We were bearing this in mind as we all then headed upstairs to view the gallery.

The exhibition

Refreshingly the prints were just mounted to the wall with white push pins, no framing or mounting and the simplicity of this certainly gave me hope that putting on an exhibition would be within reach at some point.

The plan was to look at the images and then to get together and discuss a few key prints that had been identified. All the images were monochrome, with the varied ranges of tone adding to the atmosphere with the subjects; it also added a feeling that you couldn’t always date the images. One image had an old silver cross style pram in it but when you looked further, you could see a shop advertising sim cards so putting it in more recent times. I certainly got the feeling from the subjects that they were comfortable with Jim being in their homes and taking photographs, and then later on this was explained further by our discussion with Jim where he explained his process of getting to know them, listening to their stories and then taking photographs when the time was right, not having a set agenda, if it didn’t happen there would be another day.

After we’d all looked around the images, we then discussed a number of images and how we felt about them. Some of us were struggling to feel anything about the series, there was a sense of detachment from the subjects within. I thought that in my case it was because I’d seen quite a few before in my pre visit study, but there was some discussion that it was more to do with the lack of captions (a considered curatorial choice) and information on the subjects. When reading the images, we were very much looking at the camera angles, the positioning of the subject, the surrounding location and possessions and making a view that was influenced by our own backgrounds. The choice behind no text or captions was very much designed to force us to make our minds up and to make the connection.

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Video and Discussion

We then went downstairs to watch some videos of the subjects. The first one was images set to music, the other two were photographs mixed with an audio of the subject talking. At this point I think we all suddenly clicked, seeing images and being able to relate them to a voice speaking about an accident where they went blind, or losing their partner because they couldn’t get an ambulance to come really hit home and when the videos finished there was just stunned silence. That would have been more useful before we saw the images as now we really did have the emotional connection. The highlight of the visit had to be when we were all huddled around an ipad having a skype conversation with Jim, this wasn’t without interruption on both sides as we were moved out of the room we were in, and Jim had his enthusiastic dog wanting to join in but that’s very much in keeping with his photography- fitting it in around his commitment as a full time carer, and for us students who often have to juggle work and family commitments with our studies, snatching opportunities where we can. Listening to Jim wasn’t like listening to a photographer, it was like a conversation with a friend or a fellow student, his passion and enthusiasm came through and having that insight into his work and the processes was illuminating. We got from this conversation information that you would never get as a part of a photography exhibition. Jim gets to know the subjects and builds a relationship with them, not planning the images but just taking them when he feels its right to, some days it’s just conversation and a chance for both him and the subject to have some contact with the outside world. Whereas some photographers have their subject and once they’ve got the image that’s it done, Jim keeps in touch with them. While we wondered whether some of the subjects had seen their images, especially with a debate over the less flattering of images, we discovered that no-one had ever complained. I admit I took pages of notes, not all of them are here, and some are just in my art journal as I don’t think I can do justice to the day.

The people

While Jim was passionate about his photography, what really came across was his enthusiasm and dedication to listen to peoples stories, to document his local community and to provide a positive voice to people who aren’t being heard. This isn’t a short term project, this is a lifetime of work, a collaboration of trust and community, taking and giving back. To hear and see these people brings them to life, I might never visit their town but I can know who they are through this work and it does provoke a desire to do the same in my local area. As Jim said “these are the stories that need to be seen”

Summary

– Conversation with Jim- being able to hear first hand his thoughts and processes around the images and how its an involved process giving a voice to the community

– Seeing images presented in a non framed way- much more immediate

– Catching up with other students

Pre-reading and thoughts

Just been doing some pre-reading for the study visit to Bank Street arts on Saturday. The visit is to look at Jim Mortram’s work but in the notes we are pointed to an article on We are Oca on the Julie project by Darcy Padilla. Reading the comments first, I was surprised by the wealth of feelings this had stirred in people. I then went onto the website, first look was that it was an interesting project, hard to do getting close to the subject and going from photographer to friend and then watching Julie’s last days.

I then revisited this and read through all the text and saw the work as a whole and that’s when it hit me, the images are horrific. To see someone so frail, in such poverty fading in front of the camera and to be honest, reminiscent of the films we watched of the concentration camps when I studied a level European history in this modern age was sickening. As what point are we going to move from the rich and the poor segregated into two worlds that never meet, and why don’t we feel guilty about this? Are we just ignoring it? Its work like this series that puts it there for you to see, the whole raw emotion laid out. Of course there is a part of me that says that 18 years cannot be all bad, there must have been some happiness, or contentment but its not those images that cme back to haunt or raise a tear.

This will be something that will be there for a long time to come and it needs to be seen by a larger audience.

Book reviews

Over the Christmas period I got a couple of library books to read. While both differ in their content, one is images only, the other is images and writing they were both worth some time reading through and making notes on.

Henri Cartier-Bresson ‘A propos de Paris’

Featuring a selection of Cartier-Bresson’s images of Paris, this spans a number of years and different subjects from the grand architecture of Notre Dame through to the people going about their business in the city.

All the images are monochrome and the captions for these are not found with the image but in a list at the rear of the book leaving the viewer to come to their own conclusions first on what they are seeing. When you do refer to the captions, there is very minimal information included, the majority don’t seem to have a name, just untitled, and where there is a line, it doesn’t provide much information to help ‘read’ the photograph. I also found the occasional blank page inserted between the images but it wasn’t clear why as they didn’t seem to be any pattern or obvious sections that needed this in place. I would have liked to have seen larger images as where there is a lot of smaller detail, its harder to make it out in a book compared to within an exhibition for example. It’s an interesting introduction to his work, but didn’t stand out to me and wasn’t something I’d find myself revisiting.

Approaching photography by Paul Hill

This book focuses very much on the reading and understanding of photographs as opposed to the traditional how to technical books. While there are references to compositional techniques and use of light and shadow for instance, these feature as an aid to understand the content and interpretation of the images.

Broken down into different chapters, Hill covers areas such as seeing and thinking photographically, self-expression, art and communication and forms of exhibiting from books through to galleries. Throughout the book, images from different photographers such as Chris Steele-Perkins and Bill Brandt are used to support the different sub topics. As an introduction to understanding what you see in photographs and also how to keep this in mind when taking your own, this is a good starter book and certainly one that the reader can come back to again and again. I noted a few relevant quotes down that will support my writings and assignments, as well as some new advice on captions, portfolios and exhibitions that I need to bear in mind for future reference. As a standalone the wide selection of images featured are also worth dipping into and more than worth looking at in their own right.

Highlights for me include:-

– Information on discerning themes within your photography

– Sequencing prints for display

– Finding your own voice

This is a book which not only acts as an introduction that is easy to read and understand but also smaller pointers and paragraphs which provide useful advice for any photographer wishing to improve and grow, and I intend to refer to my notes and to try and keep these in mind as I look to progress to the next level. I borrowed this from the local library and would recommend it for level one students to help introduce the key concepts and as a refresher for other levels.

Experimentation and new starts

Over the Christmas break, I’ve been catching up with reading (trying to anyway) and experimenting with my new toy- a Lensbaby Composer.

Tried to get out and do some coursework but people and dry weather events are few and far between.

I’ve decided to give another go to the one photo a day project, I’ve been meaning to do it for a while so will see how I go, hopefully I’ll remember to have a camera with me and then when I’ve got a few images I’ll upload them into a new blog.

Back at work tomorrow but got a few things to look forwards to including a red eye photography event in Manchester.

Update

I’ve received the feedback from my first assignment, its always a bit nerve wracking with a new tutor and getting used to how they prefer things and how they feedback. I was quite pleased with the feedback and some pointers to progress. I won’t post my full feedback on here but I will just put some points that I aim to focus on as these can help other students too

– Try not to have a commercial head on- focus on the quality and meaning of my images first

– Try not to miss any important photography shows in my local area

– Try and get to some of the London exhibitions

– Undertake write ups of the books I read and post in blog and ensure if I do this, links are included in my assignment when I send them in (if relevant of course)

I’ve already started to address some of these- the first point I’ll try and keep in mind as I progress.

As I’ve reached a bit of an awkward time of undertaking the exercises for assignment two. Trying to find an outdoor event that is either in daylight or when I can get to it is proving a little tricky. I spend a couple of hours with my camera at Liverpool one last week and after viewing the images, I’m not happy with the attempt so I’m hopefully going to a local park and gardens at weekend to try again (weather pending) It was suggested that I try a smaller less obvious camera than my Canon, I do have my Olympus Pen but its only got a small lens so I might try this and see how I get on.

My plans for Christmas are to catch up on some reading, I’ve got some library books to read through, Train your Gaze and I’ve just ordered Reuters Our World Now 4 as we used it on the seminar I went to last week and wanted to see more of the images within. I’ll be thinking about getting the rest of the collection in the New Year I think.

Plans into 2013 include lots of visits so far I’ve booked onto the Richard Billingham talk being held in Manchester by Redeye. I’ve got visits pencilled in for the Look photography festival in Liverpool, the Mishka Henner exhibition at the Open Eye gallery and I’ll be booking onto the ‘Lecture upon a Shadow’ study visit to the Open Eye on 9th February as soon as I can. I do want to try and get to London now that I’ve discovered that there are affordable Saturday return fares. I’ve got my name down for the Moriyama/Klein visit but it’s a long waiting list in front of me. I do plan to get to London at least once next year and see some of the exhibitions, but its hard to know what to see and there are so many, I’m also getting distracted by some of the costume and non photography exhibits too.

Photojournalism Workshop at FACT

I stumbled across this photojournalism workshop by chance, I was looking at the FACT website when I saw a link on the page and discovered a free workshop. I’ve been on paid and free photography courses/workshops etc. before and always found a difference between the two, but today’s was as good as any paid course. The tutor and photographer Adam Lee was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and with a different mix of people in the room, we had some interesting thoughts and discussions. We looked at pathways to disseminate our images, social media, new websites and looked at Cam360 where I was the guinea pig who signed up for this. Outside of the workshop this is something that I will investigate and make use of.

The afternoon was broken into a number of parts, we paired up and looked through a selection of images from Reuters One World Now, picking what we thought was the strongest image and discussed why we felt it was a good image so the usual, colour, composition, story etc. Then we attempted to write a caption for another image we’d chosen, comparing these to ones in the book- obviously ours were much shorter and less descriptive than the correct one. We then had a chance to get out and about to take images, by this point it was after four so getting dark and the light rain turned much heavier while we were out. Not everyone had cameras but we managed to get some shots and once back inside the warmth of the studio, we worked in pairs again to write captions for chosen images, and whether it captured the photographers opinion and feelings of Liverpool.

Moving on from this we discussed tagging and tips on how to choose these effectively, then the last part of the day was on consent and permission. As usual with this topic there are some grey areas and some confusion. Interestly enough I’d used the cleaning cloth supplied by Amateur Photographer with photographers rights all over one side of it to dry off my soggy camera. This added to the debate of photography in a public and private place as the wording on there was approved by the home office.

Things I learnt

– Street photography in the UK and Liverpool is tricky before you even consider getting a consent form completed.

– If the photograph tells the story- don’t necessarily need to include a really long caption

– Captions are a mix of some of the visual things going on within the image and also describes the things that you can’t see

– Tags- take some of these from the caption

– Tags- consider the feelings that the image evokes, put these into tags

– Tags- put your name into tags so the images can be linked back to you

– Consent- don’t need adult consent if the image is not for profit

– Consent- consider getting video consent if an event where it’s not feasible to use paper forms

Liverpool Biennial (24th November)

Revisiting some of the Biennial that I missed after the study visit in September, I decided to pick up some of the photography exhibitions that I’d not had time to go.

While I saw lots of interesting exhibitions and sculpture, I’ve primarily focused my thoughts onto the key photography pieces.

Tate Liverpool
Keith Arnett- A.O.N.B
(Area of outstanding natural beauty)
– look more like areas of dereliction and while Arnett explores ‘beauty and banality’, the fact he has chosen to show the worst side of these areas in my opinion doesn’t make me question the British landscape, but question as to how these places are listed as AONB as I can’t see a point in any of these images where this could have been the case. There seems to be no hint of beauty or glory days compared to AONB that I have actually visited and I think some more information on where these areas are and how they were classified would help the viewer to consider the contrast between beauty and the negative

Sophie Calle- The Hotel
A mixture of narrative and images, this series by Calle really caught my eye, on its own her diary style writing on the guests in the rooms is interesting and it made me wonder about the people staying there, but with the images it just takes it one step further, part fascination but also part voyeur and that engages me as a viewer but also makes me look at this from the other side. What would I think or feel if I’d walked into this exhibition and realised that the description was about me and my possessions were on display? It suddenly loses its anonymity but a very interesting theme to take up.

Gilbert & George- C*nt Scum (edited for my blog)
This was more subtle than I imagined it to be and was quite striking. I loved the social history aspect of the monochrome images of the people of London that seems to place this into the past (and just checking 1977 so a little earlier than I thought) While the work is based on images of graffiti in the Spitalfields area, described in the information as home to immigrant communities, the images are strangely lacking any hint of these diverse influences and communities.

Pak Sheung Cheun- A Travel without Visual Experience
I didn’t actually manage to see all of this as my camera flash wasn’t quite co-operating in the sheer darkness of this exhibition. The concept of the flash revealing the images and making your way around this in the dark was both a fun and terrifying experience as you can’t see anyone else and then suddenly there is a flash of light, I felt blinded and tried to make sense of things in a split second before it vanished. It certainly emphasises that I need light for photography.

Martin Parr- Common Sense
This was overwhelming compared to some of the other understated and almost neutrally coloured images, as per usual these were very bright, vivid and over saturated. Filling a large proportion of the gallery wall, the images all close together were too much to me, they had impact but didn’t inspire me to take the time to look at each one in turn.

George Shaw- Scenes from the passion
The images of the derelict garages where Shaw had removed people and contemporary additions to inspire nostalgia failed on me, as I felt that with the background and graffiti, the image wasn’t as timeless as Shaw wanted to put across and it had a more modern feel to me   

LJMU Copperas Hill Building
City States

I had a walk around the old royal mail building and while the exhibits were interesting in there, I was more fascinated by the old building and its remnants of its previous life. I love walking around old and empty buildings and this was well worth a visit.