BEYOND THE BIAS – RESHAPING THE IMAGE
My arrival in Brighton for the 2016 photography festival, started with a parking ticket. Although parked in a loading bay while unloading my luggage from the car, I still got a parking ticket. The enforcement officer was very pleasant about it, understood my complaint and advised me to challenge the fine online which I have done.
I then managed to see a bit of the Brighton photography festival while I searched for a copy of the Photoworks publication that accompanies the event. This lead me first to Brighton University buildings where I glanced at an exhibition of gay people and the like; the festival has a photo that one sees dotted around the place on posters and in flyers of someone who looks “queer”! The black and white image portrays a man who is half naked, wearing make up and looks directly at the camera.
At the Photoworks building nearby, a woman tells me the Photoworks book costs 20 dollars, then that it is £25 for the book and membership which I am not interested in and then tries to sell me the book only for £25!
There are more exhibited photographs in the Photoworks building, this time of black dandies who one learns are not necessarily gay but possibly just flamboyant in appearance. There is a quote from the festival brochure that says “The festival explores photography’s role in defining and informing our understanding of subjects such as: gender and sexuality, the representation of the body, the politics of style, subcultures and the subversion of social and cultural norms.”
Checking my emails a little later, I come across some finger pointing messages about the OCA in the South West. One student is trying hard to organise events in the South West and seems angry at my lack of support. Why did I not answer an email sent recently? I check and see I never received it. Perhaps it is time to hand over the moderation of the SW OCA group to someone more proactive but not to someone who wants me to share confidential information. I write to the head of the OCA who I shall see in Brighton.
I click on to a link about being gay in Russia where 75% of the population are against gay people. This seems a more authentic treatment of the subject that what I have seen so far in Brighton!
The first exhibition I take a little time over is called “Kick over the statues” and features large photographs by Ewen Spencer that might be more at home on the pages of a magazine that the billboards which are placed inside an old church, now a gallery called Fabrica. The photographs depict young people, late teenage to late twenties perhaps, partying in the street … some of these are spontaneous while others look as though they have been constructed! I meet an OCA student as I come out, Hazel Bingham, and we meet for a coffee a little later after she has also seen it. Neither of us have much to say about it other than mentioning the set up and the use of lighting to dramatise the photographs in their place. There was a garage themed party last night which I missed in spite of trawling through information relating to events associated with the Brighton photography festival.In the Photoworks annual between pages 20 and 37, the catalogue I bought yesterday, there is an interview with the photographer, Ewen Spencer, and a chance to look a little more closely at the photographer and his work.
I meet Hazel who wants to talk! She is at the same stage of her studies and like me finished the landscape module recently. She discusses Level 3 which she starts soon. We discuss photography as play rather than work! One can pick a tutor from a list apparently!
We move on to Itzu where I take a pot of noodles and borrow Hazel’s phone to call home. Then we walk along Queens Road turning down Gloucester Road until we reach a hair stylist’s called Brush, advertised as a venue for another exhibition part of which is about track suits! A friendly welcome when we enter and we are allowed to browse the artworks. The main exhibition about tracksuits includes photographs on the walls as well as a video in which track suit wearers talk about their feelings towards track suits.
At the back of the shop in a tiny garden is a tent showing a video though the meaning of this is not easy to grasp. It starts with the writing of a computer code, shows images in short bursts, jumps from here to there, from TV presenter to code from a computer screen … no doubt this helps to cater for the modern mind that cannot be attentive! Hazel both find it rather meaningless although overall we like the tracksuit show that is the work of seven artists who are being sponsored by Redeye, a photographic organisation.
“The collective explores the historical beginnings of the tracksuit, the rise of synthetic materials, present day tracksuit wearers and the future of sustainable materials in the garment industry.” The emphasis here is on the relationship of the track suit to fashion.
We walk a little further down the road and come across Gallery 40 which is part of Photo Fringe. Hazel and I both find this work refreshing. I am particularly struck by small black and white prints of nature that have been made on paper from the analog silver gelatin process. For the first time, I feel I am among photographers and this work resonates with what I have been doing recently. On entry, there are a set of four photographs of country churches.
Further down the road and along the lanes are shops supporting the Dandy Lion Project exhibition. The first is in a shop window, the second both window and shop while the third seems closed and the final Magazine is an excellent shop for hard to get journals and the like. I buy a copy of Source here, a journal recommended by the college, as well as another travel journal which is nicely printed and far from being a photo glossy.
A wander back to another exhibition outside the library in the Jubilee Square. This features work by a number of students from Brighton University. This appears to centre around identity and the city. In Brighton itself, one sees a number of people who look distressed and are down and out.
I spend sometime in the library as Hazel says goodbye and goes off for some pampering in a treatment session; I do not ask too much about this!! After catching up on this blog, I leave when the library closes and prepare for tonight’s social, a meeting over dinner with fellow students.
Saturday sees the start of the OCA study visit
Jesse, Clive and Jayne are the tutors for the day. There are over 30 students when 6 years ago there was only 1.
Jesse announces increase in numbers and mentions the theme of the festival, Beyond the Bias which he does not see as particularly definitive. My question is whether defining people who might be considered different actually helps them or simply makes them more obvious targets!? Probably it is part of progress; to ignore such people would be a form of suppression. Nudity features in some exhibitions !!
Questions to consider …
How does photography enforce stereotypes?
What might be the effect of doing so?
How does the photography on show shape one’s understandings of the subject?
Photography not allowed in some exhibitions; Clive mentions the irony.
The first exhibition we see is called “Re-Imagine” and the brochure describes it as follows;
“Reimagine: Olivia Arthur and Bharat Sikka
A Photoworks/FOCUS Festival Mumbai co-commission in partnership with the University of Brighton
Olivia Arthur (UK) and Bharat Sikka (India) have collaborated for the first time to explore private and public presentation of self-image in relation to the body, gender, sexuality and fantasy.
Working with communities in both Mumbai and Brighton, cities with sharply contrasting politics of gender and sexuality, the photographers have collaborated with their participants to produce a new documentary project.
The work they have researched and developed together revolves to a large extent around individuals who identify themselves as being part of the LGBTQ+ community and importantly, a community that represents contemporary diversity in relation to sexuality and gender.
Both photographers have worked on large format film. Working in black and white, Olivia has created images that explore people’s sense of self within their sexual identity. Working in colour, Bharat has offset this reality and added an element of fiction to his private and public scenes. The public and private spheres in which the photographs are set present a contrast and raise questions as to the private and public presentation of self and the influence of locale on gender and sexuality.
Research and development supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England’s Re:Imagine India programme and the University of Brighton.”
There are untitled photographs (actually one can find the captions elsewhere but not directly beside the images) in the Reimagine exhibition. Olivia Arthur has made black and white prints on Giclee/Aluminium but these do not look specially different from other black and white work or seem to reveal the depth of tone possible with such materials.
The nudity here is different in that it is gay nudity which one may not be so familiar with; I am not so sure that I am. One might be struck by the fact that the nudity is of people from other ethnic groups than one’s own.
Bharat Sikka is the other photographer in this exhibition of one white UK female and one Indian. Interestingly, they seem to have chosen gay people from countries other than their own so Arthur photographs Indian and Sikka focuses on British people. Does it add something to the work or make it easier by being an outsider.
Donna fills me in on Clive’s use of Permajet Titanium for certain subjects such as London architecture; the paper is good for catching the London light and steely reflections. Japanese papers can be good; soft but retain detail!
Video made by Lindse Smith showing comments of people who have agreed to be photographed for the project; they give a variety of reactions. More warnings of strong language! Megha is excited to see her naked form and others reflect on how the photograph dislodges an established view they might have had of themselves.
Two rooms to exhibition, one for each photographer. One is told that these are LGBT photographs. Reinforcing a stereotype!? LGBT quite normal in Brighton at least frequently observed. In India, it has been around for 1000’s of years with men dressing up as women and dancing in honour of Krsna; this traditional role is not explored by Arthur or made clear.
LUNCH AT RED ROOSTER where there is an exhibition of mostly trees
Back to the Dandy Lion project this time on Edward Street where I was two days ago. Another student, like myself, questions the way people are being typified, put into groups is backward looking. I question the depiction of Afro-Americans and no Asians who are a more diverse group of people and potentially more culturally interesting. Stereo-typing rather than liberating … is this an underlying theme of the festival!? One might also take the view that photographs of minority groups exhibited helps them to gain greater acceptance in society; personally, I think this is the case as long as the photographs are made with respect to the subject. However, the focus on Afro-Americans limits the scope of this project and makes it more of a political exercise.
There is one photograph by an American photographer called Kia Chenelle titled The Waiting Man … one feels it might be better called the Posing Man. An interesting photograph though that attracts favourable comment.
The Dandy Lion project is huge. We go upstairs to see many more images. Different photographers are involved from different places. The photography starts to become subsumed by the subject! What exactly is a Dandy? Not necessarily gay, it speaks of a tradition in the black community of enjoying dressing up. A diverse bunch of photographs within the typology of Dandy are on show.
Next is the Desert Island Photos talk; Stephen Bull interviews Brett Rogers.
Bull now runs the B.A. photography course at Brighton University.
Brett Rogers, a female, is an O.B.E who set up photography for the British Council. Came to the UK to work at The Courtauld Institute in the early 1980’s; aware of photography as part of the fine arts. She co-curated Look at Me in 1988 also in 2002 an exhibition at The Photographers Gallery becoming in 2005 director of The Photographer’s Gallery that continues to be a cutting edge source of current photography. Most managers have been female. Print sales started with Andy Warhol Polaroids that were bought by a photographer
Brett did not find it easy to choose eight photos!
- A Fay Godwin photo of the sea with her shadow falling on it. This version looks highly digitised, much sharper than possible on paper. This dramatises the image which appears to be a reworking yet reflects the cool light her images reflect. Godwin was a woman in the male dominated world of landscape photography. In this projection, the dark areas are broken up by white noise!! A campaign photographer like Robert Adams. This image shows a lone figure!
2. A Madame Yvonde portrait. The art historian Pam Roberts had discovered her. An interesting colour palette. Born in 1893. Independently minded woman, educated in Belgium, became an ardent Suffragette. The Goddesses from 1935 is one body of work; seems contemporary. Brett believes her work should be better known. I remember seeing an exhibition of her work in London, some years ago. Early colour work.
3. A sunbathing male on a beach from 1937 by Max Dupane, an Australian photographer, who adopted Modernist photography from Europe. An icon of Australian photography but not well known in Europe. Higher contrast black and white. The beach a symbol of democratic paradise.
4. Diane Arbus image of Colin Wood, a little boy of 7 at the time who has since written about the image saying it captures something of him at a time when his parents were divorcing. Looks dysfunctional! Much of Arbus’ work has this quality. Formerly, she was a fashion photographer. A troubled artist who later killed herself.
5. The power of documentary photography to change the world is sometimes recognised. A father’s son with his nursemaid in South Africa from 1994 in South Africa. An interesting power relationship. David Goldblatt has managed to say something through this image.
6. A Taryn Simon image of different kinds of fruit and meat with a caption that gives a long list of the ingredients. The first colour image that looks a bit dull. An insight into contemporary times. Brett loves Simon’s work and might have chosen other images. Bull comments that it looks like a Dutch still life painting. Photo was made at the JFK airport in rather poor lighting condition which have not been corrected.
7. A Sally Mann photograph of a young girl smoking. Photographer’s Gallery warned by the police that they may be prosecuted for showing such images and that Sally Mann might be arrested if she came to England. The gallery hired a lawyer and went ahead anyway. Images of her own children taken on a private farm, a mother’s view of her children. Before the present public concern over abuse. Mann has also been photographically interrogating her husband. This image it titled Candy’s cigarette and is still considered controversial. About children wanting to be adults! Unsettling work but fascinating. There is also an absurd note to this image with someone on a ladder or on stilts in the background. Her family photographs still can not be shown in the USA today.
8. A sepia toned photograph of three women bought from a flea market bought on the edge of Moscow while in the city with Martin Parr who was also looking for stuff. Vernacular photography! This photograph willl be shown in a forthcoming exhibition about cross-dressing that may feature images from Grayson Perry, a leading contemporary cross dressing artist.
A talk that encourages an understanding and love of the photograph with Bull keeping a humorous at least non-serious element. Two final questions …
A. How would she like to experience the photograph on the island? As original copies.
B. If only one picture, which one would it be? Probably, the first, by Fay Godwin since she has so many positive memories of her as a friend and artist.
Bull expresses his thanks to the Brighton Biannual, the talk organisers and the audience.
The next stop for the OCA is Fabrica, an exhibition I saw yesterday. Seeing it again is fun but I did not take much from it first time neither do I second time other than the fact that tutor Clive White was once a Mod !?
After this, we walk for sometime along the sea front through wind and drizzle till we reach Brunswick Square.
At number 13, there are a couple of exhibitions that do not interest me greatly. One is of architecture, the other I do not recall. Upstairs however, is a different story. Sam Laughlin is a former student of OCA tutor Jesse Alexander and this is perhaps the reason we have been brought here. However, this is also the most engaging work I have come across all day since, as I see it, it is about the photograph rather than the image. For example, Olivia Arthur’s work was made on negative film using a large format camera yet the images showed none of the tonal subtlety such an approach can produce while Sam working in a similar way (black and white film but not large format necessarily) has produced photographs that are very low contrast yet do have the tactile effect of a tonal range in which there is a subtle quality. It makes me want to use film again though I consider digital capable of such richness. Sam’s imagery is nature based and he mentions James Mac Farlane’s writing and various other books and authors who are part of the New Naturalism with which he apparently identifies. Here is someone with whom I resonate at least in his subject matter and the low contrast way in which he deals with it; he even calls himself a grey photographer rather than a black and white photographer! I recall a quote by John Sexton on the importance of grey in photography rather than merely black and white. The subject matter is intriguing and consists of rock faces, flowers in grassy fields, a dead stag, a wave, a cloud, while one body of work is about nests and is printed larger than life size showing the background of reeds as these are warbler nests that have been paratised or are subject to paratism by cuckoos.
Sunday sees the review of our work with help from a tutor ; we meet at a room in the Jubilee Library at 10.00 a.m.
Michael Colvin (ties that bind on blogger; www.tiesthatbind.blogspot.co.uk) produces imagery relating to the treatment of homosexual prisoners during World War 2. More gays died in prison than non-gays; attempts were made to cure people of being gay? The work is presented as photographs on pyramids. Tutor Clive reckons they ought to be bigger so one could actually walk through a collection of them. Need for text later but not text that foreshadows reading of image!
Mike Pickwell, retired teacher, shows photos made while walking. Nature images with a little text about being a human being rather than a human doing !! Reconnecting with the world through nature. Used a tripod for most shots. Enchanting feel. Ordered so there is no narrative to his walk, he is not taking us on a walk; the last image in the series was taken at dusk. Clive comments on tosh about nature and the need to examine the path. Square images work! Sara Maitland Gossip from the Forest.
IDEA Photographs of nature made to reflect qualities of person then digitised together to make a portrait of that person. Interesting idea but does it work!? Could be developed but photographer does not seem interested in developing the necessary skills.
Catherine starts to show her work but runs in to technical problems. She has just started Level 2 and a new course on Digital Imaging. Shows a collection of imagers from the day her parents got married to make a kind of mental map of the event. Includes messages from her father to her that were passed on via her mother. Photographs of her and her mother, photographs from Egypt where her father was … questions are raised about how these images might be brought together. “Ghost of War” by Dutch photographer Jo Teeuwisse is referenced by Opale, a Level 1 student.
Jonathan a Level 1 student is next. An interesting video made around a trumpet, a graveyard, soldiers, grassland, boots, medal … to the music of the Last Post played on a bugle. About his son growing away from himself. Music effective. His son likes the work. “Strong emotive quality, profound even!” comments Clive. Why was he making this work? Answering this might reduce the work.
As talk goes on it becomes increasingly clear that some students are unlikely to get much if any air time! The self indulgence of art for me is something I find discouraging yet people like to talk even if they may not be saying very much.
A completely new student, female, is next. Her images are on the net and viewed small scale on a laptop. Her first assignment about the square mile around her house. She is thinking of moving after having brought up children in the house and so this work has particular resonance for her. All the images are made inside her house, close ups rather than images revealing the environment. Too closely cropped, need for space for viewer to inhabit the space. Loose space!
My own work invites questions! I choose not to reply since I want to invite comment based on the imagery rather than knowledge of what the photographs are actually about although this slowly comes out. Catherine asks whether my model (not perhaps the right word here) is a signifier? Is she the subject? I reply that I am not really prepared to go into the complexity of semiotics here and prefer to use the word indicator although I do correspond with her later about this …
There has in the past been the suggestion that by not giving prominence to the figure, I am in some sense suppressing the female; however, this does not emerge here! I am not her employer but her fellow worker; my mother is the boss. What one person comments is that the figure represents my inner female, a Jungian interpretation, and sees my attempt to present a continuous presence that reflects on the body of work. OCA tutor Clive says nothing. The suggestion that I make photographs that show the model in her own light as a beautiful radiant female seem irrelevant; such photographs I have made of her, one of which appeared in the local newspaper, seem almost like propaganda while I am trying to make ordinary images that are attempts at realism rather than the constructed nature of so much photography.
I decided to write to the model during this session …
I did show the sequence of photos today to other students with a tutor present. Unfortunately, one student was present who has already commented on the images saying she would like to see more of you and that my refusal to do this implies that I am suppressing woman and treating her as a subject. I did not get drawn into what I feel is a discussion about ideology!! I am not your employer but your fellow worker.
People asked me what the photos are about and I asked them to tell me as I did not want to programme their minds rather elicit a response. One woman who comes from a Jungian background said she thought you represented my inner female! Well, I do not think the photographs are that personal but that you exist like some kind of ethereal spirit, a wood nymph perhaps!!
Why don’t you like these photos of yourself? Maybe because they make you look ordinary, they are nothing that special, unlike most photography which is constructed and aims to boost the subject, to create a new reality about them or it. In the photographs of you picking apples, you look gorgeous, such images have an immediate appeal, yet they also look a bit like propaganda that one might find perhaps in a Soviet newspaper telling citizens what wonderful apples the country produces and how they are picked by beautiful women.
My photographs are an attempt to be honest, to show the world the way it is not how some people want it to be because they are trying to sell you something. I wonder if this makes any sense!?
Clive later remarked that he wanted to let others talk. He noticed that there was a Victorian feel to my imagery. The model is in service as a carer, she is following in that great tradition of house maids and the like. I wonder if I might find inspiration from imagery of those kind of people!?
Sarah Jane comes from a psychological background who wants to explore art. Never made a video before so there is a big learning curve. I think she is going the right way as a student. Clive encourages the student to make an opinion, take a stance, develop one’s own perspective. She is doing Understanding Visual Culture and has a good blog.
Formal analysis and interpretative analysis … what is the difference? There are different kinds of analysis which can be googled !!
Opale is doing Expressing Your Vision. Photographed a Samba group. Talks about the different subjects, the best way to reproduce the excitement of the event. Clive comments that context and narrative are required. Need to show what is going on in the background rather than just illustrate what might be considered the best dances or key parts of the festival. Not every image can be a Bruegel say Clive; need to join and connect images. Close ups and wider views … there needs to be something other than these two basic approaches. Opale wants to learn more about the carnival to develop her coverage. She has too many photos and needs to select fewer. Digital allows one to edit as one goes which is not necessarily a good idea.
The study visit ends with the PHOTO FRINGE which is at the Phoenix. The main exhibition is by Dana Ariel and called Encountering Perforated Ground, a collection of landscape photographs about the way in which land has been impacted on in various ways. “In these stunning landscapes, that have been meticulously hand printed by Ariel, traces of past activities overlay and stain the ground, remaining invisible and concealed, as they tell a story of political erasure and displacement.”
Significantly, the area photographed is Israel and Palestine; knowing this, immediately contextualises the work and gives it a political framework. Might one’s view of the work be coloured by political possibly religious conditioning in the mind of the view even though no statements of this kind are being made.
Why in different formats? There is a book and a collection of prints of different sizes, some in black and white others in colour; a book secured to a plinth. One photograph I like is a patch of green with a small tree growing on the edge of it while all around are arid rocky areas. A square format which the photographer uses quite a bit although there is a huge panorama that shows two tracks veering off in different directions, a powerful symbol perhaps for the Arab-Jewish divide.
What makes this work remarkable might be the sensitive way in which it was handled.
At one point, text is projected onto the wall in both English and Hebrew yet significantly not Aramaic which makes me feel the view is biased and does not truly represent the other. I also experienced this unwillingness to engage with the other in Olivia Arthur’s work on LGBT in Mumbai which showed the contemporary experience without referencing the traditional LGBT community that Dayanita Singh has photographed in her coverage of a eunuch.
Watch some video! One piece is an imaginative record of the influence of Chinese shipbuilding, a kind of Made in China, but based on imagery rather than a journalistic narrative although this is hinted at in text that appears on screen. In another video, it is interesting to see how the camera moves slowly around sometimes at almost ground level.
There is a slide presentation from Lens Culture of portraits from around the world. These are selected and are competition winners; 39 photographers from 16 countries. Excellent work that is more intriguing perhaps than the National Portrait Gallery annual photographic competition.
Very touching is a collection of 17 photographs exhibited by Photo Voice which have been made by young people who have suffered some kind of trauma. There is a photograph then a comment from the person who has suffered written underneath; the images reflect the personal experiences in a variety of ways. Interesting to see the way in which the children gave symbols to what they went through!
The visit is over. One feels photoed out as there has been a lot of good work to absorb. Nice to connect with other students some like Brian from Eire who I have not seen for awhile. Now for the long drive home