Assignment Five Tutor Feedback

Posted on February 12, 2015


The main thrust of my submission for this final Assignment was about presentation of my work. I submitted a detailed paper on this. Perhaps too detailed as my tutor found it a little confusing and was puzzled by the large number of options I discussed. She suggested that I make it very clear in my assessment submission what I am proposing.

I have been working on my pack for presenting my work at assessment and I plan to present an overview of the project as a whole on two pages. I will also present more detailed papers on both the contextual framework and presentation strategy for those who want to dig deeper…

My text presenting an overview for Lifting the Curtain has these four paragraphs on presentation:

I intend to present Lifting the Curtain in the form of a hardback book and an exhibition, which is how Booth also published his work. My plan is to link the presentation of my work to a fundraising effort for Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, raising money for them through sales of the book and exhibition prints. Throughout his survey Booth and his team used Toynbee Hall as their headquarters. Its charitable work is still going strong today and its vision remains ‘To eradicate all forms of poverty’.  I believe that this approach will help me to promote my work, both to potential ‘customers’ who might buy my book and to gallery owners who might agree to host my exhibition. At the same time it would enable me to give back something to East London, in the spirit of Charles Booth. Toynbee Hall has agreed to work with me and has written a foreword for my book. 

The book has been produced in 8×10 inches format, with a cloth hard back and dust cover. The images and texts are placed on opposing pages of a two-page spread with both centered on their respective page. The text is on the right hand page and the image on the left. My intention is that the text be read first — eyes of the Western viewer will naturally fall first on the right hand page. The text is centre-justified and broken up/arranged so as to differentiate it from a simple caption and to place emphasis on key words at the end of lines. I use an old font style that closely mirrors that used in Booth’s book. The narrative takes the form of a series of episodes. The start is a point of arrival in East London – a landing stage on the Thames where many of East London’s immigrants would have disembarked in Booth’s day. Subsequent image/text pairings are sequenced according to the social issues to which they relate – housing, working conditions, class and race relations and so on. I return to the river for my final image/text which comments on the outcomes of Docklands re-development, past and present. The book will be sold as a limited ‘signed’ first edition of 40 numbered copies. I hope to sell these for £25, with the aim of raising £1000 for Toynbee Hall.

The exhibition will take the form of a series of image/text diptychs, each comprising of 80×60 cm photograph and a 10×8 inch text panel. Both will be mounted in black frames and placed side by side on the wall. The framing of the text is intended to emphasise that it is not just a simple caption and the relatively large-scale photographs will I allow the viewer to immerse themselves in the scenes depicted. I would hope to stage the exhibition at a venue close to Toynbee Hall, as part of the East London International Photography Festival, PhotoMonth in the autumn of 2015, enabling me to benefit from the publicity for the festival. I will decide on the pricing of the prints at a later stage.

I plan to publish the book first. Splitting the book launch and exhibition will enable me to promote my work over an extended timeframe. Copies of the book should be available for sale from April onwards. Promotion of both the book and the exhibition will be by direct email to personal contacts, through social media, and via press releases and a poster campaign. To date work from Lifting the Curtain has been published in the September 2014 edition of on-line magazine #Photography and exhibited at the East London International Photography Festival Open in November 2014 and [Memories] exhibition in Oxford in May 2015.

I believe that this is now very clear but would be happy to receive feedback from people reading this blog.  I am not really expecting the assessors to have the time to dig into the detail so getting these summaries right is very important.

The next pointer my tutor gave related to the degree of creativity shown in my work. Interestingly I was marked relatively low on during the Advanced Assessment. She felt that ‘the creativity you are showing might get overlooked because it isn’t a particularly quirky or specifically individual submission’. I can understand this as I do work in a systematic way….as indeed have other photographers not least many of the Dusseldorf School. I think that this is why I am drawn to the conceptual work of photographers such as the Bechers and Thomas Struth. My tutor felt that I should stand up for myself on this issue and should set out my thoughts on where I come into this work and to show what other ideas I have for new work.  I am producing a Reflective Account for inclusion in the assessment package. Here again I need to get my points over clearly and succinctly. I plan to produce a one page summary of my reflections in which I could deal with this question. This would be along the lines of:

For my Major Project I wanted to explore linkages between East London’s past and present. My concept was to do this by juxtaposing photographs of modern day places with historic texts about these sites. My first idea was to use East London’s connection with immigration as the catalyst for the work. It didn’t work. I seemed to be re-presenting a number of well-worn clichés. I considered a range of alternatives and finally decided that I would use texts from Charles Booth’s socio-cultural survey of 1889 as my conduit to the past. The idea for Lifting the Curtain, my major project, was born. The experience of discarding my early work was a painful lesson. Sometimes ideas simply don’t work and it’s necessary to move in another direction.

In the process of developing Lifting the Curtain I have learned a great deal about how image and text can be used to create an open dialogue, both from my own practical experimentation and from studying Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco and many artist/photographers. I also now better understand how aesthetic considerations, such as making all the images in a series at a particular time of day, can reinforce an underlying concept. Whilst it is certainly the case that I have been influenced by other artist/photographers, I believe that I have created something original. Lifting the Curtain deals with broad social questions rather than reflecting on specific events from the past. It sets out a dialogue between two voices, Booth’s and my own — his representing the past and mine the present. I believe I have achieved my original aim but not as I had first imagined. I got there through experimentation and persistence.  

At the outset, I had little experience of how to present image and text in a way that encourages the active involvement of the viewer/reader to complete the meaning of the work. I spent a great deal of time researching how other artist/photographers had approached this challenge. Working through designs for my book and exhibition installation has been a valuable experience. I came up with the idea of linking my presentation strategy to a fundraising effort for Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel. Back in 1889 Booth had used Toynbee Hall as a base during his survey. I believed that this would help me to sell my work, both to potential ‘customers’ who might buy my book and to gallery owners who might agree to host my exhibition. At the same time it would enable me to give back something to East London, in the spirit of Charles Booth. Toynbee Hall has agreed to work with me and has written a foreword for my book. 

Outside of the immediate demands of the course, staging the ‘[(6)]’ exhibition with five fellow Open College students was my most significant learning experience. This event took place in July at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. I have also had my work published and shown at several group exhibitions.

I have many ideas for ongoing work. I have just started a new personal project about Thames Valley suburbia, inspired by the dystopian writing of J G Ballard. Exploring the use of text and possibly voice in Landscape Portraits offers another exciting development. I also want to explore the transformative nature of traditional printing processes used in conjunction with digital photography. My enthusiasm for photography is at a high. I will have a short break and then consider enrolling for the MA.

I also presented my tutor with an updated artist’s statement for Landscape Portraits. She seemed to like the linkage I have now made with Barthes ideas about the connotative nature of the background in a portrait. In fact this was my intention all along. I have just now made this clear. She felt that I needed to say more about the gender angle in this work, which I plan to do. She also pointed me in the direction of Clare Strand’s work and in particular her Gone Away Portraits. In this subversive work Strand places homeless people in a studio setting with an Arcadian landscape as the background. The disjuncture between subject and background draws attention to how the latter conventionally influences the reading of a portrait. I like her work and want to find out more. I plan another post this soon.

On my blog posts she suggested that I try to give reasons to back up your opinions a little more when discussing the work of other photographers. I will look through my blog before assessment to see if I can ‘upgrade’ my comments a little. She also suggested that we get together to talk about assessment at some stage soon.

All in all a useful and wide ranging set of feedback.