A Dozen Eggs

Jose Navarro introduces students to “A Dozen Eggs” exhibition

What was it that made me travel up to Sheffield and back in a day to see an exhibition? Over eight hours of driving through poor weather conditions to see a group of 12 photographs in one room that are all visible on the internet. There was however, another room that functioned as an installation for here Harry had created a space with family photographs that included various artefacts of his work such as a mug, a jigsaw, a book and so on.

Premier Inn SHeffield

I was fortunate enough to be given a lift by my tutor, Jose Navarro, and his partner Bridget who drove me most of the way so that even with a 5.30 a.m. start, I did not have to put myself under excessive pressure; the weather was poor but we made it to Sheffield in good time and after finding the gallery, Bank Streets Arts, we had a recuperative beverage in a nearby Costa Coffee bar (a company that apparently does pay UK taxes unlike Starbucks that seems to have found a way around them). The coffee bar was situated in the foyer of a Premier Inn and rather liking the scene that presented itself, I decided to take a photograph. No sooner had I done so, a woman who had been sitting behind a desk, appeared and asked me why I was taking photographs. Was I perhaps from the press?  It was company policy not to allow media intrusion. We chatted a little about this incident which for me reflected the paranoia that exists about media in general. People object to the action of a lone individual but not to the constant stream of images that are being made of us by CCTV cameras as they are acting for our own safety.

Bank Street Arts Sheffield

Jose pointed out that this exhibition was by an OCA student who had received one of the highest marks possible at Level 3 and was considered an A+. Harry had worked at something close to his heart which was personal and yet also universal (i.e. the family). The photographic prints are well crafted, technically accomplished, and there has clearly been successful interaction with the sitters. These are a good series of portraits of his “nearest and dearest” and there is a painterly quality to some that have a Vermeer like quality. The photographer has not only produced an exhibition, there is also a book which was the medium presented to the assessors of his work. There is also evidence of photo-therapy as made photographs were presented to those pictured in them who then commented in writing on A4 sheets that were also seen in the exhibition alongside the photographs.

What surprised me about the conversation that followed was that while individual images were scrutinised, there was no general discussion of the project as a whole and it took me a little time to realise, for instance, that these were 12 photographs of people who all shared the same mother (and also one father although this was not immediately evident). In fact, this common denominator was seen with her face on an egg box in a glass in the centre of the room where the prints were on display; the egg box had “Made in Salford” written on it, a reminder of the subtle wit that seems to underpin this body of work.

The third photo which features Graham, an obese middle aged man, is discussed first; it is featured on the card that acts as a guide to this exhibition. A low camera angle has been used here presumably to emphasise this character’s grossness. As with all images in the exhibition, the portrait format is used.

The sixth photograph features Margaret who sits behind her Dyson cleaner; she appears to be fixating on it. Has the Dyson become her fetish? There is a Freudian reading to be made but comments focus on the role of woman as housewife.

I can not help but feel that it is all too easy to jump to conclusions when reading a photograph.

The seventh photograph of Harold is presumably a self portrait by the photographer. Is the lamp visually “growing” out of the subject’s head a prank by the photographer? It is the kind of thing that photographers consider inappropriate.

Photograph number 8 is of a woman posing yet not in a very convincing way; the architectural background is asymmetrical (similar asymmetry is noticeable in the fifth photograph taken inside a caravan). There is an informal feel to all these photographs in spite of their having been arranged. Jose thinks there is a rapport between photographer and subject in most of these photographs except for the ones of younger subjects.

Photograph number 11 is of Antony standing outside a house looking to one side. He is criticised for being different by other students but I can not help but feel he is more a rebellious youth. He is the only one to have treated his A4 paper on which all subjects are encouraged to write a phrase as a horizontal rather than vertical document.

The sitting room installation

Most of  the settings are domestic but not all. The relationships with the backgrounds are relevant.

The last subject is Danielle who is clearly retarded in some way, possibly with Downs syndrome. Her pose looks like something from a classical work of art as she looks up towards the light which looks like it has probably been created by flash owing to a well defined shadow (in fact it was natural light). Has the dark ceiling been burnt in during post-production? There might be questions concerning the photography of a learning deficient individual yet it appears that such people have been used as models by artists in the past.

In my view, although most of the subjects look towards the camera none look directly at it.

One of the strong points of this exhibition is the consistency within the series of images as well as their technical excellence. Although these images might appear banal, they do convey some of the atmosphere of family life. Idea that some photographs are too banal and there is a lack of cohesion!? The prints in the exhibition could have been bigger!

A blog of this event by fellow student Rob Birrel is worth reading. After writing this blog about the exhibition, I emailed the photographer and received the following reply …

Hi Amano,

Thank you for your views and questions. I read your blog and your questions with interest (it always fascinates me as to what different people read into the imagery – some of which was intended by me as the photographer, but others that were not).

Are you in the Navy or were you? Apparently you run a wedding photography business with your wife/partner!
I am in the RAF (in which I have served for 16 years) as an Education and Training Specialist. As part of my Service, I worked in Media Operations (for 5 years), leading photographic teams in the likes of Afghanistan, and working alongside the world’s press (organising news events, documentaries etc). As a ‘side’ business my wife and I have a small practice doing wedding and lifestyle (mainly ‘Vintage’) work, alongside working on private projects (we have 13 projects ongoing, some collaborative and some independent).
Your self portrait has a lamp growing out of your head – deliberate? You could have edited it out!!
No, not deliberate; however, I’m less worried as a photographer about getting all the compositional elements of an image right (that doesn’t mean that composition is not important, but more that the image context and meaning from a documentary perspective is the driving force behind the imagery). All of the images within the project (even my own in many ways, although as a self-portrait not entirely) were taken candidly. Of course, there were decisions made in terms of camera angle etc, but these were taken naturally as the day progressed with each shoot. I would never edit something out in post-production within my personal work.
Did you do much in the way of post-production? The ceiling in the Daniella photograph looks like it might have been burned in. However, this photograph appears to have been made with flash so perhaps not.
I do very little (if any) post-productive work, other than minor blurring/dodging and maybe some exposure/cast alterations (I pretty much stick to what I catch in camera – as if I was dealing with film). I do not crop the images (unless I have to for fitting into pre-arranged formats necessary for magazines/books) – I try to really look at what I’m capturing through the viewfinder before I commit my finger to the shutter-release. I do not use flash (unless I’m doing studio work) within my personal work, favouring natural light where possible.
Is Daniella the youngest of your siblings? It appears you have ordered them in terms of birth date.
Yes, Danielle is the youngest and I have ordered them in birth date around the room (starting obviously with Godfrey, my eldest brother, on the left). The spacing (and sizing) of the images was very much determined by the size of the exhibition space that I had available. If the images were produced any larger then I would not have been able to fit them comfortably around the room, considering that space needed to be left for the Comment Cards as well (and I didn’t want the gallery space to feel cramped). In an ideal world I would have laid them on a single wall at A1 size, but you have to work with what is available.
I noticed that none of the subjects were looking directly into the camera. Was this intentional?
No it wasn’t. Taking the images was a very informal process; they were simply asked to relax and we would spend the day together (at a place of their choosing), whilst I took shots of them. After a while they completely forgot the camera was there and we just chatted and spent the day as any normal siblings would do (lots of other people were around as well, it was rarely just me and the subject). It is important to note that I know (and get on well with) all of my siblings, so they are completely comfortable with me. They also know what I do with photography (and I have been a practising artist – with drawing, painting and writing – all my life), so they are very comfortable with me having a camera (or a pencil/brush and paper) with me constantly. Creating images in all different forms is part of who I am, and my siblings understand and accept that, which made it very easy to take candid imagery.
As a point of note, you mention in your blog that you thought there were different fathers. This is not the case; we were all fathered by the same man. However, my mother and father divorced soon after the birth of Danielle (my youngest sister), and he developed mental health issues which casued a huge strain on the relationship that we all had with him. It wasn’t deliberate to leave him out of the project – it was more of a necessity because I (we) haven’t seen him for about 15 years since he left home.
Did you write the flyer for the exhibition?

The card/flyer was written by me (but based upon some of the text and discussion that I had had with Elizabeth Underwood who was in charge of the PR for the exhibition), which I got printed myself using a local printing firm in Norfolk. I based the design of the flyer on the many that I have picked up over the years from the likes of The Photographer’s Gallery in London.

Lastly, have you sold any copies of the book? Don’t imagine it being a best seller but it is interesting.
I have sold a couple of copies of the book as an e-book (very minimal cost to cover basic admin costs on my side). It was never really intended for commercial sale as a printed venture; however, I am going to explore the possibilities of a very limited edition self-published artist book.

6 thoughts on “A Dozen Eggs

  1. I think Harry was very generous in the amount of personal information he gave you in his reply Amano. Hope as well that you thought it was worth the journey to see his work. I was impressed with Harry’s work and sorry I couldn’t go to his Exhibition. I got the e-book though.

    • I thought it well worthwhile to make the journey to Sheffield. My blog is an attempt to understand what made this body of work so exceptional rather than applaud it as that can so easily be patronising. I wrote to thank Harry for his feedback which was shared with all the other students who attended the day. Don’t wish to draw conclusions and continue to mull over his work. Trust that my comments are not demeaning and would welcome any feedback that challenged them. Yet to hear about other students who might also have blogged.

  2. Certainly what was coming over to me was your attempt to understand what made the work exceptional. You didn’t come to any conclusions about this at the end and write now that you’re ‘continuing to mull over his work’ so it has left me wondering what it was that you weren’t quite connecting with. RobTM has also blogged about the visit http://www.iamrobtm.co.uk/blog2/stuff.php
    Maybe see you this coming Friday at the National Gallery to discuss more?

    • Thanks for your comments also the link Catherine!
      I like to keep an open mind.

      Next friday – am already working up a lather at the National Gallery using photography to tell us how great art is!
      I may arrive with a bag of custard pies ready to be thrown at anyone who makes objectionable views !!? With any luck there’ll be a tutor or two to righten any wrongs and the custard pies can be consumed rather than thrown!
      See You.

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