April to July: TS Eliot Research Group update

Since the Turner Contemporary TS Eliot Research Group came into being in August 2015, I have been documenting all the meetings and activities.  I have also been part of the Evaluation Team, which has looked at all processes and activities to gather feedback, to enable the group to move forward and progress effectively.

To date although the number of members attending has diminished from the earlier meetings, there is now a strong group who attends and contributes regularly.  The group have collaboratively put forward suggestions for pieces to be included into the final exhibition and is now at the stage of putting these forward to the curators to see whether or not these will be available to exhibit in 2018.  These are some of the suggestions that I put forward for inclusion.

Subway Drawing – Henry Moore 1941

art-museum-moore3 --levagedepoussiere Dust Breeding – Man Ray 1931

nighthawks

Night Hawks – Edward Hopper 1942

The group is now on its summer break until September 2016.

26 March: Looking further at the work of Zarina Bhimji

I have found by going back and looking again at both her work and that of Zineb Sedira that there were aspects that became more prevalent, and more similarities between them I was first aware of.  I first saw the work of Zarina Bhimji at the Whitechapel Gallery, London in December 2012.  This exhibitions covered 25 years of her work and at that time I was particularly motivated by her use of photography and film together in an exhibition.   Like Sedira she was born in 1963, and her family moved to the UK in 1974 following the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians under the Idi Amin regime.

She works with photographs, large-scale film installations and  mixed media artefacts, and her work seems to be a constant exploration of cultural identity and history with reference to India and East Africa.

Her first film that received critical acclaim was Out of Blue (2002) which is a visual journey across Uganda with accompanying sounds of fire, birds and human voices.  One thing that is particularly noticeable in her work is the absence of the human presence, although in Out of Blue there are fleeting almost ghost-like figures that briefly appear, but the viewer realises that she is more interested in the surroundings and creating an atmosphere.  She explores the buildings and what has been left behind; a row of machine guns and rifles lined up against a wall, suggesting the aftermath of violence and war, yet abandoned as they stand.

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This image formed part of the exploratory work which she undertook and later became the film Out of Blue.  It shows the inside of one of the buildings at  Entebbe Airport, a place of departure for the Asians leaving for the UK.

In 2012 her film Yellow Patch (2011) was nominated for the Turner Prize and this will be explored in more detail in my Mixed Media Essay.  Bhimji was interviewed by the publisher Phaidon about the film, where she states that she is not interested in people (http://uk.phaidon.com/aganda/art/picture-galleries/2012/january/18/zarina-bhimjis-world-without-people/) but she is interested to “… conjure stories about those who were once present and urge us to question why they are no longer there.”

The film looks at the landscape and architecture, with smooth slow panning of the scenes, an accompanying soundtrack of thunder, birdsong, radio broadcasts and the sounds of the government buildings as they must have been when they were busy and bustling with people.  They are now abandoned and in varying stages of decay, almost as if the people left in a hurry, with files still in evidence on the shelves.

Yellow Patch 2zb-image-06

Screen Shot 2012-03-11 at 14_00_20

One thing that is very apparent throughout her work is the amount of research she must have undertook and also the fact that the artifacts were made available to her to document and film.  Her work She Loved to Breathe – Pure Silence (1987) was an installation of eight photographic tinted images sandwiched together between plexiglass sheets and suspended by indivisible wire from the gallery ceiling.  One frame includes a pair of latex gloves with a government stamp on the back.

ilr15 schermafbeelding-2012-01-16-om-11-19-25The exhibition book, entited, ‘Zarina Bhimji’, 2012, The Whitechapel Gallery, London: Ridinghouse, refers to the exhibits as evidence of a Home Office procedure whereby Asian women arriving at Heathrow Airport in the 1970s, were forced to undergo virginity tests, to determine if they should be allowed to enter the UK for marriage.  This procedure was subsequently proved to be illegal but seems truely shocking to find out that this had taken place.

The work by Bhimji appears to be very politically motivated however the way it is presented leaves it very much up to the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions.  She is not preaching but merely stating the fact that this was how it was.

21 March: Looking further at the work of Zineb Sedira

The final part of my Mixed Media assignment now involves writing a 1,000 word essay that relates to the project and research I have conducted so far.  Apart from the challenge of restricting the essay to a small number of words, I have decided to look and concentrate in more detail at the work of the two photographers who have also worked in other mediums such as film namely, Zineb Sedira and Zarina Bhimji.  This will help to hone in on the important aspects of their work and to highlight any similarities or differences in their approach to their work. The search for a sense of national identity is apparent  in the work of both Sedira and Bhimji as both their respective parents left their homelands in periods of political conflict, and both return to aspects that are important to them in their work.

ZINEB SEDIRA (b.1963)

She was born in Paris to Algerian parents but now lives in London. Her work covers aspects as diverse as photography, film, installations and  object making.  Her website, http://www.zinebsedira.com states that she has gradually changed her focus of interest to “more universal ideas of mobility, memory and transmission … (and) also addresses environmental and geographical issues, negotiating between both past and future.”

An image from her early work (2002) Mother Tongue, which was a three screen installation is shown below.

4844201571_3a86759b22The film shows three generations of women, each speaking her own mother tongue.  Luxonline  (http://www.luxonline.org.uk/artists/zineb_sedira/essay(1).html) states that “their roots are audibly distinct, yet visually interconnected … (and demonstrates) how fractured and fractious communication can become when the mother tongue isn’t passed on.”   Her earlier film Don’t Do To Her What You Did To Me (1998-2001) reflects the loss that can be experienced when generations of families are no longer able to communicate, thus instigating isolation and discomfort.  Sedira however merely acts as a spectator and an interpreter, and provides no intervention in the events.  She is leaving the spectator to reach his or her own conclusions.

Sedira first visited Algeria 15 years after the end of the Civil War (1991-2002) and her parents later returned to live there.  So she in turn has explored the culture and themes of provenance, separation and return through her work.

Her film And the Road Goes On (2005) was recorded at speed from a moving car moving along a coast road in Algeria,  where objects almost appear as a blur.  The colours of the landscape provide a strong visual effect almost like a painting, and it is only when a person or another vehicle is passed that the film slows, almost concentrating on the human presence for a brief period.

and-the-road-goes-on..

Her more recent work show her strong interest in the sea as a metaphor for estrangement and isolation, her parents having to leave their homeland and in turn her investigations into her own national and cultural identity through her work.

Her film Middle Sea (2008) depicts a solitary male figure who wanders the decks of the ship almost aimlessly.  She has used audio to suggest rather than state, with noises of the engine, a radio trying to tune into a frequency and sounds of a group of people who are not seen.  This emphasises the solitary nature of the figure and the almost precariousness of his situation.  This links with the anxiety which must have been felt by her parents when they first left Algeria.

sedira_middlesea_2008_1Her more recent work has also included references to the sea, such as her film Floating Coffins (2009) which was filmed in Mauritania where the world’s shipping is beached and broken up, representing a hazard to shipping and a threat to the ecology of the area.  It also links with the area’s port of Nouashibou where African migrants left for Europe.  The work was shown on an installation of 14 screens and Sedira states that “Floating Coffins is a space where life, death, loss, escape, abandoned and shipwrecked journeys meet.  It’s both a toxic graveyard and a source for survival and hope.”  (http://www.iniva.org/2009/zineb_sedira)

ZS still 2009 Floating Coffins

Her work Lighthouse in the Sea of Time (2011) comprises a series of videos and photographic evidence of her visits to two Algerian lighthouses, depicts her interest in oral history, and the importance of memory and story telling.  She describes the lighthouses as witnesses to past history and the fact of their existence as preserving their stories.   It is depicted as a four-channel video presentation with photographs showing the lighthouse keepers’ logbook and museum views of artefacts.

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It is proposed to consider further her recent work Guiding Light (2013) which uses a mixture of video, literary references and artifacts, for the written essay .

c5_Sedira_Zineb_Guiding_Light_2013

7 Feb: Research – Tacita Dean

The most recent film by Tacita Dean (b.1963) entitled Film was shown at the Tate Gallery between 11.10.2011 – 11.03.2012.  It is a 10 minute 35mm film projected on a tall white monolith, at the end of the darkened Turbine Hall.  It is part of The Unilever Series and it  celebrates the techniques of analogue as opposed to digital film making. Although it is a silent film, the YouTube video also depicts the ambient sounds within the gallery and the silhouettes of visitors watching the film, which can be rather distracting at times.

She is a British artist who is now based in Berlin and has worked as a draughtsman, photographer and filmmaker.  The Tate website (http://www.tate.org) describes her films  as acting “… as portraits or depictions rather than conventional cinematic storytelling, capturing fleeting natural light or subtle shifts in movement.”  Her work involves static camera positions and long takes. She states ( Tate Shots) that she is interested in old film techniques that create illusion.

The following image entitled Beautiful Sheffield (2001) shows her use of her photographs in the development of her ideas.

Tacita-Dean-Sheffield

I found her work interesting as a crossover between photography and film and like Zarina Bhimji, has worked in both 16mm and 35mm film, and the human presence is incidental to what she is endeavouring to capture.  Her short film The Green Ray is interesting as there is merely a single shot with a commentary from Dean herself.

Prior to Film she exhibited a 16mm film at the Frith Gallery between May and June 2010 entitled Craneway Event (2009).  This shows the choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919 – 2009) and his dance company rehearsing in the former Ford Assembly Plant in San Francisco.  Whilst the human presence is vital to the film she is interested in the ever-changing light and uses this to fall in with the rhythm of the dancers movements.

Craneway_Event_sum_1636842c

I now plan to look at the work of several other film makers who have produced short films to see how they have worked to produce their results, particularly if minimal human presence and narration has been used.

6 Feb: Research – Zarina Bhimji

I first came across her work when I visited the Whitechapel Gallery in November 2012. To now go back and spend time looking at it in closer detail has been exciting and inspirational.  She works in different media from installations to photography.

She was born in 1963 in Uganda with Asian parents, and came to the UK when Idi Amin expelled all the Ugandan Asians in 1972. Her first film Out of Blue (2002)  was made with 16mm film and was an exploration of what was left behind, old crumbling buildings with traces of human habitation.

zarina_bhimji_outofblue_still_0 zarina room

This was followed by Waiting (2007).  She is now using 35mm film and although there is some human activity in part of the film, he is given minimal importance whilst she concentrates on the activity and the textures around him.

11_BhimjiShe seems to be on a search into her past and her most recent film Yellow Patch (2011) was also made with 35mm film.  The audio tracks give some clues to the visual images with a mix of ambient sounds, music and radio broadcasts from the time the buildings were occupied.  These give an almost ghost-like impression of human activity and a second layer of narrative to the film.

Zarina Bhimji Yellow-Patch--007

Zarina Bhimji

There is very slow panning of scenes and time spent still merely regarding what is in front of her, whether it is a muslin curtain blowing in the breeze, flaking paint, decaying edges of paper or old ropes and strings.   There is no human presence although a scene captures the beauty of a peacock amongst the desolation.   The film provides evidence of her work as a photographer through the careful composition of the shots.

She writes in her book (2012, p.23) which accompanies the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition about, ” … the sensitivity to the way in which painful experiences resist language”, and further states that, “I am interested in the tension between lyrical, intense beauty, and sociopolitical language.”  TJ Demos adds (p.27), that “the individual details of her films are essential in trying to speak of the unspeakable that wants to be spoken.”   Her work is described as a “post documentary approach that relinquishes information and factual presentation in order to probe the poetic and aesthetic elements of colour, texture and rhythm.” (p.11)

It was not possible to download her films but they can be viewed on her website at: http://www.zarinabhimji.com

The work has led me to much thought about how to relate this approach to my own work and the fact that I need to take everything down to a slower more contemplative level.

24 Oct: Thoughts on the assignment

INITIAL THOUGHTS ABOUT NEW TECHNIQUES AND PORTRAITURE

I have been thinking about investigating a new technique to use in my work but one that will still enable me to show my own voice.  I looked at the work of the following photographers which I felt had produced some very interesting results.

TRENT PARKE (b.1971)

‘In Street Photography Now’ Parke is quoted as saying, “My photographs are more questions than answers.  I use photography in a way to help me understand why I am here.  The camera helps me to see.”   He is interested in exploring the urban space and particularly the influence of light on a scene.  He says that, “Light turns the ordinary into the magical.” (pp.138-143)

Trent Parke Summer rain in Sydney

This image very much puts him in the scene and yet also as a spectator. He appears to be dry yet everyone else is wet, so there is an element of conflict which raises questions for the viewer.  The capture of the light emphasises the main elements in the scene.

ALEXEY TITARENKO (b.1962)

He uses long exposures in his work making his figures appear ghostly and ephemeral.  ‘Street Photography Now’  (p.199)  explains that his style was influenced by ‘the technical constraints of nineteenth century French photography.’  His work adds an element of timelessness and personally I find most interesting and possibly something to experiment with.

Alexey Titarenko Havannah 2003

Havanah, 2003

With the forthcoming assignment in mind, I have initially been thinking about further portraiture work and possibly trying to depict a new aspect or use a new process to achieve my aims.  The more I look at the work of other photographers, it seems to be an impossible task to make anything new and original, but is it merely the fact that my doing it makes it original in its own right?

I have been looking at the work of previous photographers who have produced portrait work.  Does this work give us any clues about the people themselves?  It has in turn made me question why people take self-portraits?  Are they as an anchor point, a way of establishing that person as an identity?  Self-portraits nowadays are everywhere, on book covers, blogs etc. and it leads to the question of why the ‘selfie’ image has emerged or this is merely a passing craze?  In this fast-moving world, we are almost being swept along and the self-image is a way of almost re-establishing our position.  I am here, do not ignore me, I have something to say.

There is also the painterly tradition of the self-portrait as demonstrated by artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh. They felt the need to show the public what they were personally like visually.  Perhaps by doing so people feel more of a connection with the artist and hopefully are sympathetic and interested in the work they are producing.

RANKIN

On 16 October, the photographer Rankin produced a TV  programme to coincide with the opening of a large exhibition of the work of Rembrandt at the National Gallery, London.  In the programme he worked with several well know people such as Una Stubbs as shown below, and recreated a painting into a photograph using the celebrity as the subject. However I was not able to access the resulting ‘Rembrandt’ image at this time.

Rankin with Una Stubbs

The programme was interesting from a photography viewpoint as the viewer sees how Rankin works.  We feel part of the exercise and as if we have helped in the creation of the end result.  It was also interesting to see his interaction with all the people involved in the shoot.

So if I wish to further continue my portraiture work, I need to look at the work of other photographers to see what particularly is of inspiration for me.

5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation of MPP Project – Living on the Edge

Final Statement

Whenever I am asked what I like to take pictures of, I hesitate.  To be out taking images wherever I happen to be is a most exhilarating experience.  Initially my work with the Catching Lives Open Day Centre in Canterbury started as a documentary of their activities, but has since developed into looking at the lives of some of the clients who are helped there.  Through photography, I have heard their stories, learned about some of the challenges they face, together with their aspirations for the future.

The images were mainly taken during three ‘Photo Days’ held at the Centre and were an opportunity to interact and develop my relationships with people I might not otherwise have come into contact with; even if at times this contact was brief.  They are mainly taken using ambient light inside the building, although the interior fluorescent lighting itself presented a great challenge at times.  However to be with and photograph people is the most challenging but the most rewarding experience,  as can be seen particularly by the images taken during the portraits ‘Photo Day’.  I have also endeavoured to tell their stories factually and without sentiment, but also to treat them sympathetically.

It has also felt a privilege to be allowed a glimpse into their lives, and in turn experience the enjoyment they felt at seeing the work they had helped to produce emerge as a final print.  It has also allowed my photographs to bring attention to things that people often overlook.

Evaluation of the project

Looking back over the past six months since the project began in earnest, I have learned a great deal  and my reflective thoughts are as follows:

  • I chose to continue my work with Catching Lives as I had built up a good working relationship over the 18 months and they were receptive to my carrying out the project with them.  It was also an opportunity to develop this link and find out more about a subject which is of interest to me.
  • I learnt more about my strengths and weaknesses through a period of extended study and investigations.  This helped me to focus on what I needed to do to succeed and in turn to question as to whether or not I was achieving the results I had hoped for. If I had gone off at a tangent was it worthwhile to explore further or did I need to rethink about how the project was progressing?
  • It was vital to never place any limitations on time that was needed to be put in and to be prepared to drop everything at a moments notice if the project required me to do so.
  • Although the project was my first priority I also felt that I was in return contributing something back for the benefit of both the clients and Catching Lives.
  • It was a valuable experience as regards developing further my visual communication skills and to speak photographically to the viewer.
  • Although documenting the lives of the homeless has been tacked by many others, I have also endeavoured to produce something that had not been done before at Catching Lives. Initial planning to ascertain if the project was feasible and any financial constraints involved needed to be taken into consideration.
  • One important outcome of the project was developing contact with the clients, finding out about their stories and some of the challenges that they are facing. This in turn was helped by my own interpersonal skills and experience.

The main pages in the blog:

These show the developing project, the successes and set backs as follows:

15 October: Initial thoughts

16 October: Further thoughts

6 November: Meeting at Catching Lives

18 December: Catching Lives ‘Photo Day 1’

13 January: Pre ‘Photo Day 2’ visit to Catching Lives  

12 February: ‘Photo Day 2’ at Catching Lives

14 February: Follow up at Catching Lives

28 February: Thinking about the project so far

11 March: Update on the project

19 March: ‘Photo Day 3’ & Bishop Trevor

20/21 March: Follow up visits

The images that were chosen: 

As the project developed in differing directions following on from my ‘Photo Days’, it seemed a logical progression to put the images together into a photo book which consists of 38 images in total.  I have also submitted the five main portraits as separate prints to accompany the book.  These were amongst those taken on the first ‘Photo Day’ and appear in the ‘Portraits’ section of my book Living On The Edge. These images are as follows:

Ben 1- Portrait

 

Courtney 1

Frank 1

James 1

Kevin 1

The following images are taken from each of the main sections in the photo book:

CLIENTS & STAFF:

1-Head shaving

1-1-IMG_0648-001 (4)

POSSESSIONS:

1-Robert -Possessions 1

1-Possessions 2014-03-21 at 10-21-58

THOUGHTS:

1-Wishes3

OWN WORK by KEVIN:

1-PICT0017

My photo book entitled ‘Living On The Edge’ can be seen by clicking the title or go direct to my Book Page.

1-007

Future Challenges

This is a project that still feels almost as if it is in its infancy.  One challenge will be to find innovative ideas for future Photo Days which will involve minimal financial outlay, as the days are self funded and to date I have purchased 40 disposable cameras with only two having been returned to be developed.

They also need to be low-key, so that the clients do not feel under any pressure to take part; and they will feel that they have achieved something through the experience. Perhaps macro photography is something that could be looked at.  It also needs to be something that can be carried out within the safety of the Centre environment.

11 March: Update on the project

7 March:  I called into Catching Lives to see if any more disposable cameras had been handed in, but there have been no more so far.  As the weather has now taken a turn for the better, it is to be hoped that the clients have now taken some pictures and will return their cameras in time for the next Photo Day on 19 March.    If they do then hopefully I can include some of their work in my photo book which will accompany this project.

  • During the week I have been looking very closely at the images which I have taken so far to decide what to include in the book.  This has helped towards planning the layout of the sections of the book e.g one for portraits etc.
  • Initially I wanted to put a portrait, piece of writing, an image of their possessions and a photograph which they had taken themselves  together for each person. However each time I visit the centre some more of the clients that I had met previously have either moved on or are now in accommodation which emphasises the fragile, transitory nature of the lives they are living.  So  I have decide I will include a selection of the best images even if I only have one item about that person.
  • I have spent some time looking closely at individual images to see if any minor adjustments are needed.  This in turn has led me to decide that the portraits are more powerful in black and white but the possessions in turn are better in colour. There also needs to be uniformity within each section to provide coherence.
  • I also spent some time making sure the image sizes were correct and all are 300dpi.  I have had some problems with sizing in the past so spent some time seeing where I had gone wrong so that when I send them off to be printed they will come back exactly as I have requested.
  • I also realized that as I have now about six weeks before the submission date I have time to get some printed to see if I am happy with the result .
  • Looking at the work had also given me the opportunity to think carefully about what I may wish to exhibit in the Graduate Show in June.  So when the final copy prints are ordered I merely need to double the order to perhaps save having to repeat the exercise.

To return to 5 April: Final Statement  & Evaluation – CLICK HERE