In which I think about cutting my mum’s head off.
I’m having a day where I don’t seem to be achieving much, after a whole summer of difficulty settling, which was hot on the heels of a year of sodding about. It’s difficult to settle down to one thing, even though I have a list of images I need to take and I know what I need to do. So, I’ve been out for coffee with Neil. I took a book with me; The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art (1). But I didn’t get a chance to read it. I did get a chance to mind map some of the ideas that came up in my first assignment ‘Square Mile’ and that was good because I’ve been meaning to do it for ages, but also because I found that ultimately, and surprisingly, all the themes lead to an underlying theme of ‘control’. Now I have a page with ‘Aesthetic possibilities of control – ? (How does control work)’ written in the middle of it. That was the point where my coffee, toast and marmalade turned up, so that’s where it’s been left for the moment.
I came home and read the rest of the George Orwell essay I had originally been directed to when reading the section of How We Are: Photographing Britain (2) that is written by Kevin Jackson. In his writing, Jackson is talking about the themes of Britishness running though the exhibition and referencing Orwell (3). Orwell is writing in the early 1940s during WW2 with no idea what the outcome will be, but he seems to have some underlying faith in the British people and our way of life; I am desperately trying to take on board his observations to hold onto. However, Orwell does say that “The insularity of the English, their refusal to take foreigners seriously, is a folly that has to be paid for very heavily from time to time.”(3) He points to a British hatred of almost all Europeans (except the Germans) which is based primarily on class lines; the middle class are more European in outlook, the working class are not. Perhaps that is still true today. Certainly ideas around class haven’t changed as much as he clearly hoped they would and there are photographic possibilities in that.
The Photograph as Contemporary Art, & what makes you an artist anyway?
I have been thinking about taking images in London for my next assignment, and I’ve been reading bits from ‘The Language of Cities’ by Deyan Sudjic (4). The part I read today was about ‘how to make a city’ which clearly involves destruction as much as anything else, but again it is about control. Next I had a quick look through ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’ by Charlotte Cotton (5). I find this book very difficult. It comes as part of the course materials and when I first looked at it it actually made me feel quite annoyed. I read the introduction again and felt differently, but I don’t think I can get past the idea that she seems to me to be presenting, which is that because someone has a label that has been confired on them by some part of the art establishment, then an image they make is somehow ‘art’, and an image made by someone without that label is somehow less thought out or isn’t as valid and is not art. So, if my son takes a photo with his smartphone and cuts a friends’ head out of the picture, that would just be seen as poor photography. However, if someone confired the label of ‘artist’ on him and he made that same image then it’s an exploration of the fragility of the human condition and their friendships, etc and is a valid artwork. It could be printed and hung in a gallery and people might talk about the aesthetic qualities of it and the messages it conveyed.
Now I think about framing without a head as an idea, it’s not a bad way to represent my mother. She suffers from a mental illness and when I think about the idea of a photograph with the head out of the frame, she comes immediately to mind. Not in a ‘she’s lost her head’ Alice in Wonderland kind of way, more of a dislocation of her head from reality. It would actually say something quite important about the way I see her. So maybe art is all about intention, I don’t know. I don’t think my mum would ever let me point a camera in her direction and I don’t think I could. She would read too much into it and I would be too heartbroken by what it revealed. No head is also, of course, the way we all see the world. Without mirrors, I’d only really know I had a head by reference to everyone else. I might not really have any head at all because I can’t actually see it and I don’t feel like I’m getting a view though two eyes.
The Photographic Medium
As it is, my eldest son (Nathan) never ever takes a single photograph, and my youngest son (Daniel) mainly takes pictures of his friends that he can use on Instagram to do ‘upgrade’ images on because they all find that hilarious. Otherwise it’s Fuji instant images of the kittens for Daniel. It is interesting to me that he uses different mediums for different subjects because I do the same thing. He is very concerned about the growth of the kittens, so perhaps important and rapidly changing things (kittens) have a physical outcome, unchanging (in his eyes, he and his friends don’t change rapidly) things are a good subject for digital? I feel this raises important questions about the medium, but honestly I can’t frame them at the moment; it’s more than just digital being so instant and available and therefore almost disposable though. Daniel wants to be a film director and he has his own digital video camera, but doesn’t film the kittens; they are definitely a photography subject, despite being black and so quite hard to get a decent photograph of. He knows how to use Adobe After Effects better than most, but is always taking time to create practical effects in his films, and wants a ‘proper’ film camera, with actual 16mm film in it. He and I both know the film itself will cost a huge amount of money for a film of any length of time, but we both understand the need for it. We have an understanding that ultimately the actual physical film would give a different, more coherent or beautiful result somehow that would be impossible to capture on digital. I have the same feelings about digital and film photography so I totally get it. It’s just strange that a 13 year old who has grown up with digital gets that too.
Anyway, having said all that about ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’, on page 151 a photographer called Nick Waplington is mentioned and the description of his work talks about ‘views from moving car and train windows’. This caught my eye, so I visited his website (8) and I have to say that I really like his site. I like his images and I like his writing too. I have just clicked around his site at random and can already see someone who is asking the same questions that I, and clearly a lot of other people, are asking. There is not only comfort in that for me, but also a connection that makes me keen to explore more of his work.
Alvin Langdon Coburn
I think I might be a little bit in love with Alvin Langdon Coburn, which is quite a good trick on his part as he died nearly a decade before I was born. There is something about his images that I find totally arresting; I think I could look at them all day. I read that he gave up on photography and destroyed 15000 glass and film negatives (6); I nearly cried. I am writing a separate post about him, but I am nervous to put any of his images on this site, despite the fact that Wikimedia Commons (7) are saying that they are public domain, as I am not quite sure what the rules on this are as far as the OCA are concerned. More things for me to find out….
As I look at my Instagram feed, I think I’m making some progress with my images. However, my camera is an endless frustration to me; it’s an Olympus OMD E-M10 II. I just cannot get the hang of how it works and really I’m not a technophobe or anything. I’ve been using both auto and programme mode at the moment (as suggested in the course materials), but I am constantly having to use Lightroom to bring down highlights, increase detail in the shadows and slightly boost saturation and sharpness. The lens measurements make no sense to me at all. I have a 14-42mm lens and a 40-150mm lens. These bear no resemblance to the lengths I am used to and the lengths referred to in the course materials. Also, for the UV filters I always buy to protect the lenses, I had to get different sizes as one lens uses 37mm filters and the other 58mm. That means that if I want polarising filters or anything like that, I have to buy two. Thankfully I could pinch the 58mm filters from my old Canon SLR, but it’s a nuisance. I don’t know if it’s something I am doing wrong, but to me, the colours are awful. Reds just don’t work on this camera at all and I find that strange as in the past it’s always been blue or purple that’s been a problem. If I use a long focal length it doesn’t blur out the background. I have no idea why not. The ISO does all kinds of crazy jumping around from one image to the next. The dial that sits under the shutter button also seems to control the point of focus and so that keeps jumping around; I can’t work out why it won’t focus and then I have to go through menus to find out it’s because I have the focus set, yet again, in some odd place like the top left corner and I just want it to stay in the centre. It might just be me because it has fantastic reviews, but honestly every time I use it I feel like chucking it off the top of a very tall building and going and buying myself a new Canon, which is what I should have bought in the first place. Hence I keep returning to my iPhone SE, which I think gives me better results than my Olympus and is certainly easier to use. Never mind, it’s my birthday soon and I’m getting a new Canon, but not before I’ve had to take the images for assignment 2 on the bloody Olympus.
N.B. The featured image for this page is my mum, aged about 16, and was taken by my dad Les Jacobs. Not by me. Obviously. That would be impossible.
- The Guerrilla Girls’ bedside companion to the history of Western art. (2006). New York: Penguin Books.
2. Williams, V. and Bright, S. (2007). How we are. London: Tate Publishing.
3. Dag, O. (2017). George Orwell: The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius — Index page. [online] Orwell.ru. Available at: http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/ [Accessed 7 Sep. 2017].
4. Sudjic, D. (n.d.). The language of cities.
5. Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.
6. En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Alvin Langdon Coburn. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Langdon_Coburn [Accessed 7 Sep. 2017].
7. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page accessed 6/9/2017
8. http://nickwaplington.co.uk accessed 7/9/17