Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Assignment 5: Tutor Response

I finally made it, sent my assignment to Simon on the 17th May, left for vacation on the 25th.  My course time ran out on the 7th June, at which time I was sitting on a plane returning from the Maldives.  This was cutting it too fine for me, but hopefully now my mid-course crisis is over so I can consider Level 2 complete and start turning my thoughts towards enrolling on Level 3.

However, after the experience of hitting the time limit on this course I am not in a hurry to enroll on Level 3, I plan to have a breather over the summer and then embark on the final year in the Autumn.  Summer is a very busy time for me work wise, so I do not want to overload again.  There is still plenty to do, starting with my response to tutor feedback on the assignment and then preparing for assessment.

This was not an easy assignment, in particular I struggled to develop a conceptual basis for presenting the images, working around German law and the increasing hostility of people towards photographers.  My resolution of this problem by working with the law to describe a people without actually presenting the people felt risky.  Perhaps the fact that I felt uneasy contributed to making this a better set than it would have been with a more conventional photo-documentary style focusing on people, their interaction and expression. The treatment also aligned with my own feeling of separation from the society I live within.  I look at a world of structure not people, I rarely have time to interact, my foray's into the world of the street are generally a rush to grab some food and get back to the mountain of work I face each day.  This resulted in a very personal view of the world I live in that at the same time looked distant, I am an observer not a participant.

All in all I was quite concerned about how my tutor would see what it is that I have created. His opening statements suggested that I had made the right decision to go with my own interpretation of the brief:
It’s good to see the realisation of where your interests lie and if nothing else then this module will have been successful in this respect.
Your decision to go with the privacy laws and concentrate on making the absence of people a virtue in telling the story of Richard-Strasse is both sensible and successful.
You have taken the brief and made it your own. Your images observe and report on the place and done so in a way that goes beyond a straight recording of the physicality to draw attention to the character of the people that inhabit the place.
There were a number of critical issues that Simon raised and I need to address.  The first was captions.  He was unsure whether the images needed captions or not.  I had deliberately avoided the use of captions, trying to tie the images together with a written narrative..  In previous courses and assignments I have always added captions or technical notes to my photographs, this was the first time I have not done that.  I still think this is the right decision, each photograph was chosen carefully to contain it's own message, adding a caption risks the viewer reading the text and not the photograph.  However, the set still needs a narrative text to link the images together.  In a magazine this might be an essay, in a gallery I could envisage a wall of large text telling the story of the street.

Presentation was a key question that was posed several times in the comments and relates to the question of adding captions.  When I was preparing the photos and the strip image I had given some thought to combining them, at least providing some sort of key that located the individual photographs within the strip.  I concluded that this would not work well with the presentation as an assignment, however, in a gallery setting I think it would work well.  Below is a rather rudimentary sketch of an exhibition space for the photographs:

The viewer would enter the room and be faced by a wall opposite on which would be a textual narrative of the street and it's people containing a few images that relate to the development of the space, e.g. Google street view as used in my submission.  Then on either side of the narrative the two walls could contain the "Street", the strip photo running along each side from North to South as you walk into the room, East on the left and West on the right.  The individual photographs could then be located on the wall roughly at the position relative to the strip at which they were taken.  For this to work I would need more than the 15 images used in my submission.  If exhibited in the locale local people could then add there own photographs to the wall, adding in the people that are absent in my imagery.  If they take the photo and exhibit it themselves, they bypass the legal issue.  Perhaps a series of "selfies" taken using a polaroid available in the exhibit space which would then be attached to the wall where they live.

This also brings me to the vexed subject of the strip photo and the fact that one image is inverted.  I am not alone in this treatment, Ed Ruscha did the same, and I suspect for the same reason.  On the strip the photos read from South to North, with the West side at the top and the East at the bottom.  This enables the viewer to metaphorically walk along the photograph looking left and right.  If I was not to invert the East side, then the photos would not align correctly.  The alternate would be to have South to North on the top and North to South on the bottom, then the photos could be correctly aligned.  However, in that case I think it might be better to have the photos as two separate objects, as there would be no spatial  relation between the top and bottom.  I have yet to resolve how I will print and display this image.  The OCA specifically states no rolled art work, however, a scroll might be the logical way to present this.  I am considering buying some continuous feed paper and creating a single very long image.  This will keep me busy for a while.

What pleased me most was a comment that this work showed the ongoing development of my own voice.  This is a critical piece of feedback as I have felt that during Social Documentary that I have somewhat lost my way and my photographs no longer reflected my perspective on the world, rather a series of objects designed to meet a brief.  That is not a problem in of itself, meeting a brief is key to a commercial approach to photography, however, I am doing this for the art not the money.  My own voice is very critical to me.  I want my photographs to reflect who I am (good and bad) and to be an outlet for creativity.

I will need to carefully consider how to present this course for assessment, address the fact that I have not completed all the projects and also express what I have learnt and how that will inform my ongoing studies.  To conclude, this has been the most satisfying of all the assignments I have undertaken for this course, because I chose to bend the rules ad take a risk with both presentation and content.  That is a key lesson and one I will keep in mind...

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