I was pleased to take part in the first hangout to be organised by students currently studying documentary with OCA. In my previous course, UVC, I found hangouts to be an invaluable resource which helped to address some of the issues associated with distance learning. To make contact with others who can identify and empathise with the difficulties of studying alone helps with feelings of isolation that can be a strong factor in preventing progress. Certainly in the case of my UVC group, the hangouts and frequent emails to each other have meant we have built relationships that will hopefully continue through our respective OCA journeys – although many of us are continuing onto separate courses we intend to continue to stay in touch and continue having regular meetups. As I progress through documentary I hope their viewpoint and opinions will be helpful for critiquing my work especially since they will provide an ‘outsiders’ view of what I am doing.
In all there were 8 of us on the call (Anne, Bryn, Johnathon, Maurice, Miriam, Selina and myself with Leonie joining at the end.) Initial conversation inevitably focused on introductions and an overview of where we are at in the course ranging from myself at the beginning to Selina who is approaching the end having just completed assignment 5. The dynamics of the group may prove to be interesting with a diverse range of locations for the participants and everyone being at different points of both this course and the degree programme with OCA. This led to some free flowing conversation about the course content. A couple of notes I made that caught my attention: some parts of the course (the articles we are asked to read were mentioned) seem dated while others are more timeless; the course often introduces ideas to research and think about only to immediately throw them on their head; the difference between art and documentary photography in terms of intent was discussed with Bill Brandt being an interesting example of a photographer who moved from traditional approaches of documentary towards a more art based practice.
Three students had asked the group for feedback on their work in advance of the hangout – an approach which enabled us all to consider the work and what was being asked. Here are my thoughts along with some points discussed:
Selina Wallace: before. and after. (assignment 5)
Selina sent a pdf of a book mock up for her assignment 5 along with some explanatory text. Her project, entitled ‘before. and after.’ is a response to her memory of a difficult time in her past when her father suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage in 1999. The images are in a variety of styles, some of which use manipulation and compositing. None are from the time which immediately provokes thoughts about the accuracy of memories which is compounded by Selina’s choice to respond to this clearly traumatic event in an abstract way. For example, one of the first images is of a wave crashing against rocks with a bird which appears to be dead superimposed over the top giving the appearance of the sea spray violently erupting from the bird’s head. An arresting image in itself but one that gains added meaning combined with the introductory text as it clearly refers to Selina’s fathers medical emergency. Maurice said he found the images interesting but not accessible as for him there was not enough explanation and asked Selina to tell us more about them. She described that the pictures represent her memories of her feelings at the time and were divided into three distinct points – the point her father had the haemorrhage, the surgery he had soon after this and his subsequent recovery. She then talked about a number of images and their meanings, for example, the final image is a view of the horizon meeting the sea. It is predominately blue image from top to bottom with varying intensities of blue except she the image has been altered at certain sections along the centre putting the horizon line at different points which represents the disruption caused to her fathers health due to the incident. Although the horizon levels out on the right of the image, interestingly, it does not appear at the same height as the left side. Another image is a self portrait with Selina in the foetal position inside a children’s play tent. This represents her distress at what was happening and a desire to return to childhood.
I find the way Selina has conceptualised and responded to this assignment inspiring – the images are not just visually arresting but have a level of ambiguity I find appealing. The explanatory text succeeds in giving just enough information to be able to form a response to the images and while I enjoyed hearing Selina’s specific explanations of why she has chosen particular pictures (a scarred tree which echoes her fathers scar after his operation for example) for me the project works because of the potential multiple meanings for the images and the personal responses that they provoke.
Maurice Tillermans: The surveillance of Mrs. T. (assignment 3)
Maurice requested that we look at his images first before reading the explanatory text so we can make a response to the pictures without being led into what they mean. The set features 12 images of a woman apparently taken without her knowledge presented in suspension files set on a wooden desk. A variety of styles is used – some pictures look like they are shot with a long lens from a distance, others look like they are taken by a hidden or CCTV camera. The last image shows a post it note on which is handwritten “the photographs are true. The story told is fictional.” which anchors the set in the central paradox that Maurice is exploring about truth and representation in photography. Stylistically the photographs are often low quality which adds an authenticity that Maurice was seeking to achieve. There are suggestions of jealousy, suspicion, guilt and suspected infidelity due to the nature of the story being presented. It seems that we are looking at pictures from a private detective and that the woman (Mrs. T.) is suspected of something presumably by her husband, and yet, the content of the pictures themselves reveals almost nothing about what is potentially going on. Despite this, it seems likely that they could also be used to show something that the suspicious husband is looking for. Maurice said that although the images were staged for a specific reason, the fact that they are of his wife and are loaded with connotations of suspicion and potential wrong doing means he finds them difficult to look at. This is a response I found interesting as it confirms my personal reaction to the set in terms of the images unsettling ambiguity and also how photographs can be powerfully provocative even if we know what they contain is far from the truth.
In his written introduction, Maurice cites Christopher Nolan’s film ‘Memento’ (2000) as an inspiration which I found to be an interesting reference point as memory and the ability for photographs to show a truth that the viewer wants to see are themes of the film. For me the series also evokes countless films that feature a private eye in pursuit of someone which personally carries a great many connotations and helps with my response to the project.
The photographer Phillip Toledano who produced a series of self portraits dealing with fears of what he might become in the future was mentioned. Toledano is not a photographer I am familiar with but this work sounds interesting and I will have to research further. An initial search found this article from The Guardian in 2015:
Wiseman, E. (2015) The many lives of Phillip Toledano – in pictures. The Guardian, 11th July 2015. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2015/jul/11/the-many-lives-of-phillip-toledano-in-pictures [accessed 19th February 2017]
Bryn Davies: Attending a Protest (working towards assignment 2)
Rather than show a finished assignment, Bryn asked us to look at his explorations towards assignment 2 and give our thoughts. I found his approach in experimenting and then reflecting on what he may do for the assignment an inspiring way to work and one that I am going to steal and use myself! Bryn is currently living in Seoul where regular protests against the President are taking place. The protests happen each Saturday and according to Bryn are strangely encouraged by the South Korean establishment as a way of demonstrating freedoms that are not available in the North. The image he shows is of a protester taking a selfie at the demonstration and we discussed at length how our relationship with technology and social media is changing the way we behave and represent ourselves, leading to people no longer living in the moment. Other images Bryn has shot centre around people being photographed unaware engaging with technology. He talked about feeling uncomfortable about taking pictures without consent as this is not the way he likes to work which led to discussion about the ethics of this approach. It was interesting to listen to Bryn talk about his experiments and where the project may lead him and I found this to be further proof that this is a way of working that has potential for myself.
It struck me that Bryn was able to speak confidently and articulate well his approach to his work which impressed me. This is something I am not very experienced at doing or very comfortable with. It seemed apparent that in contrast this is something Bryn has practice of doing and this helped me understand the benefits and need for me to push myself out of my comfort zone as part of my development going forward.
At the end we agreed to plan meet ups every three weeks at the same time and it was good to feel that everyone had taken some benefit out of the session. Personally, I am looking forward to building relationships with my fellow students and aim to be able to show some work and gain some feedback at the next hangout.