Major Project: Artist research – Jeff Wall

*To be completed*

A pictorial pioneer that laid the grounds for some of my favourite artists—of whom can all, I’m sure—accredit Wall’s bridging of cinema and documentary photography, in what Wall calls ‘cinematographic’, to have played a crucial role in their own works… Other than, of course, paving the way for it to exist, and further to that, for it to exist and for there to be an audience and market for it. Cinematic photography greats, some of my work’s greatest inspirers, the likes of Crewdson and Philip Lorca DiCorcia, took residency in the space opened by Wall in his earlier works.

‘Experience and evaluation are richer responses than gestures of understanding or interpretation’ Wall once commented, and this philosophy is quite clearly evidencable in his work. Photography lends itself to this sort of experience by default, a photograph is not a conversation, they do not deal in concretes, they are invitations, evocators to conversation but nothing more. Susan Sontag comments on this topic in, On Photography, ‘It [a photograph] is a view of the world which denies interconnectedness, continuity, but which confers on each moment the character of a mystery. Any photograph has multiple meanings; indeed, to see something in the form of a photograph is to encounter a potential object of fascination. The ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to say: “There is the surface. Now think—or rather feel, intuit—what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way”. Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation and fantasy’.

This is what Wall’s work is, precisely, ‘invitations to deduction, speculation and fantasy’, but, isn’t this the case for all of photography? Of course. But it isn’t always clear—in fact it rarely is—that a photograph unaccompanied, is nothing more than a evocator for subjective experiences and narratives. Though diminished in an age familiarised with the digital manipulation of photographs, the indexical truth of a photograph still persists to a degree, a degree that was much larger at the time Wall began working in his ‘cinematographic’ manner. As noted by Sontag, a photograph cannot explain anything, yet we see them as too behold some sort of narrative truth. This is itself the very process of deduction, speculation and fantasy, cloaked as truth. Wall exploited this, building scenes with the grandeur and finesse of cinematographers and filmmakers. Wall had reached an epiphany whilst working at an independent cinema in Vancouver, Canada. It was his job to check the physical condition of the prints on the reels of film and it was such that provided him with an opportunity to share an intimacy with each singular frame of an entire film. In doing so, Wall, ‘started to appreciate film as photography and started to think that it was akin to painting and to writing poetry [paraphrased]’, it was within this role that Wall realised a photograph need not to capture a decisive moment, as promulgated by Bresson, and, ‘nor did it have to be a document of an existing place or thing [paraphrased]’. Wall realised that, ‘like a film director, he could collaborate with technicians and actors to create fiction or poetry rather than documentary’, and so his subversion of documentary photography begun, and so too his melding of the fantastical world of film with the dogged notion of the indexical photograph.

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Major Project: Artist research – Tom Hunter

When reading through John Slyce’s dissection of Hunter’s series, Unheralded Stories, I was struck by his ending paragraph in which he spoke on the microcosmic politics of a community and location. Politics that he says are, ‘expressed through actions, hopes and desires’ that subsequently form the groundwork or the backdrop, from which our lives, ‘are positioned, located and lived at a collective, communitarian and individual level’. Slyce continues, noting that the aforementioned groundwork, ‘…links us as subjects through the forces and relations that organise and define the shape, tone, but so too the hopes and aspirations of the place in which we live [Paraphrased]’. He finishes in noting that such social interrelations, ‘constitute that place more so than the ground beneath our feet’.

Seeing that my project centres around a narrative which sees the protagonist left, completely alone and disconnected.. Slyce’s insight oiled a few cogs and got my idea machine up and running again. How can I construct a shot that eludes to the absence of such social groundworks? What is left of a place in their absence? How does their absence alter one’s relationship or sense of connection to a locale? And lastly, what lengths could one perceivably got to in order to restore, uphold or evoke a sense of connection? This is something that I’m very interested in exploring with one or more of my final images. Such is a topic that has close ties to my experiences with nihilism; in which I felt utterly disconnected from everyone around me. I will write up my thoughts and ideas within a separate post.

Now, back to Hunter and his work. I have Hunter’s, Living in Hell and other stories, and such is what I shall be referencing to. The first thing that struck me with Hunter’s works were their processing.. and it struck me hard, for it packs quite the punch. I must admit, I am not a fan of this kind of processing i.e. punchy colours and contrast, and I almost immediately pushed away the work and disregarded it. But having spent more time with Hunter’s work, I have grown to look past such. And what I found were images brimming with stories and theatrics, very real moments that Hunter has seen aggrandised and thus mythologised. Hunter’s work is deeply inspired by the grandeur of paintings from artists such as Vermeer, Velázquez and Manet, Michelangelo, Constable and Cosimo of which he reworks, borrowing or even so far as stealing compositions from these painterly greats. For example, Hunter’s The Way Home (figure 1) is an unashamed rip-off of John Everett Millais’s Ophelia (figure 2). And so this is the source of their theatrics and larger-than-life…ness(?) – their aggrandisement of the otherwise mundane and inconspicuous everyday. This is his niche.

A lot of what Hunter does, then, is in the recreation of existing works. But Hunter’s work are reconstructions of another kind, too. With his series, Headlines, Hunter reconstructed—albeit loosely and mostly from an intuitive first impression of sorts—the stories that he found within his local newspaper, Hackney Gazette. As noted within, Living in Hell and other stories, ‘Hunter is not a photojournalist. His photographs are not literal reconstructions of actual events. It is not the specific details of the story that attract him, rather it is the idea of the story that is provoked by the eye-catching headlines…’. I enjoy the novelty of this process. For it very closely mirrors the function of a photographic image, of which is completely reliant on the intuition and imagination of the viewer to construct a complete narrative of their very own from that of which has only been suggested to them. This is a process my work very much relies on. I do not wish for my images to be explicitly didactic, I do not wish for a title to sully the viewers’ stories. For it is a process that closely mimics my struggles with nihilism, and how I largely control it. A committal to meaning finding, story-making, awe-discovering experiences and stories, in a world that fundamentally, I see as cold and uncaring, without meaning or purpose.

Figure 1: The way home

Figure 2: Ophelia

Sources:

http://www.tomhunter.org/

‘Ophelia’ is Not ‘Hamlet’, and That’s to the Character’s Detriment

Major project: Experimentation

This shot is and was always intended to be a culmination of all that I’d learnt thus far with Photoshop – with the added bonus of being able to test out new underwater casing I’d purchased the day before. Thankfully it worked a treat.

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Base image

I believe (excuse my forgetfulness, I am writing this up some time after the shoot/editing) the above image was the base image from which I extended with subsequent shots. As you are able to see, this particular shot was taken in a moment in which the camera wasn’t particularly submerged beneath the water – this was the first thing I addressed, extending the image with other shots in which the camera was almost completely submerged (see below).

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Submerged shot

I then set about widening the image, to encompass more of the horizon either side of the crane, but to also allow more for the water to appear in motion (of which of course it was). To accentuate this motion and to the realisation that the camera in indeed submerged underwater, I sifted through the entire catalogue of images I’d taken and picked out those of which I saw to be best befitting. The water, then, is an amalgamation of three to four images – with only a little from each being taken. From the stillness of the water against the lens as seen in the past two images, below is the final image, in which the water is seen to be far more mobile:

Final image

But, as also evidenced within the previous two images (before the final image), the water was very dark and opaque. In order to rectify this, I didn’t want to haphazardly bring the shadows up as far as they could be brought up, for this would simply introduce an inexcusable amount of noise (and probably expose my dirty sensor). Instead, I opted to paint in a selective mask layer in Lightroom and in a haze effect, using the ‘dehaze tool’. This worked beautifully, and I feel it is practically indistinguishable from what would have been the genuine transparency of the water. I then added depth and shape to the water using the dodge and burn tool and then further, added bubbles with the dodge tool.

Lastly, I wanted to add an element that really pushed what I was able to do with Photoshop. That element being me. In my head at least, this would form the most challenge part of the image editing-wise. For it would take a rather large sum of money to get me to submerge myself on any-which level in a lake on a freezing cold and windy January day, and as I wasn’t offered anything what-so-ever, I instead was relying on post-processing. This meant standing beside the lake and posing myself the best I could (being that I couldn’t see myself until after the shot was taken) to look as though I was submerged underwater and slowly sinking down to the lake bed. I used to strong winds to my advantage, turning my back to them so the baggy white shirt I was wearing bellowed out much as it would if filled with water. That was all the easy part. What most concerned me, was how well I would be able to blend the images together. As is always the case with composites, consistent light was key, and so I moved the camera and myself into a shadowed area, as I felt a soft light would be far easier to work with.

Seeing that I was tasked with compositing myself underwater, I was worried that I would look off no matter what I tried, bar actually submerging myself within the icy water. Of course, light passing through murky water displays distinctly different qualities than that of the light above water. And indeed, this was the toughest part of the edit to get right… Though it wasn’t so much the differences in the light quality, instead I found the clarity and sharpness of myself to be very difficult to alter in a way that gave rise to the illusion of being submerged. After fiddling with transparency levels, dodge and burn tools, curves, highlights and shadows, levels, colour channels and god-knows what else for god-knows how long… I finally stumbled across the smudge tool. After a smidgen of smudging, it instantly felt more natural, though still not perfect, but as close as I could muster. I then exported the file to Lightroom on my iPad Pro and did some final tweaking to the colours (with split-toning) and perhaps some minor level adjustments.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the final result. Especially considering how utterly useless and terrified I was of such post-processing just a few months ago. It is a bit too, in your-face? I’m not sure, but it isn’t subtle enough for my liking and style. But it was never meant to assimilate with my normal work. As I begun, this was always intended to be an exercise in Photoshop.

 

Other image:

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Original comp image

Major Project: Visual and Contextual research – Wild Skin

‘The quiet life of a young and solitary woman is disturbed when she discovers a baby python in her apartment. This mysterious presence unleashes her deepest urges and will let her express for the first time who she truly is’.

I’ve sat down and watched Wild Skin several times. And yet, with each roll of the credits, I find myself ever more encapsulated by the peculiar mannerisms of its reticent protagonist. It is a short that slithers out from the screen, coils around us and makes its presence felt with an, at times, unnerving tangibility. Spanning but only around 15 short minutes, all 15 of which are void of any spoken narrative, Wild Skin moves us silently and seductively through a defining moment in its protagonists story. That of a dark hair, dark eyed loner, residing within the walls of an equally dark and lonely one bedroom apartment… and as we later find out, both of which are mutually odd.

Our protagonist upkeeps the short’s verbal reticency, and such is seen to be mirrored in the rather uncanny ‘reticence’ of her facial expressions, or hereby lack thereof. With an almost autonomous vacancy, she is rarely seen to break from her deadpan blank stare. Her face then, a chasm, an abyss in the void left by the seeming departure of any sort of human presence. Peering out through her apartment window at the lewd going-ons of club-goers in the street below in the opening scenes, our protagonists maintains her deadpan expression… our only glimpse into her thoughts on the matter, come in the form of a glass of milk, of which she is seen to drink the entirety of in one fell swoop, all the while maintaining her deadpan stare on the unknowing revellers.

Such gives you an idea of the subtleties one must be aware of when tasked with deducing a character’s predicament, without the aide of spoken narrative or facial expressions. Of course, one immediately deduces from their absence that all might not be well in regard to the mental state of the protagonist, but beyond that, Wild Skin asks of us to search for the symbols and subtle cues; and extrapolate from their on out, to create our own narrative. This ambiguity afforded to Wild Skin is quite evidently played upon. Later, having been introduced to her serpent spirit animal, our protagonist is seen to get somewhat libidinous as she caresses it over in bed, before slipping down out of view of the camera, in what is a classic cinematic means of implying something rather lewd. The scene then cuts abruptly, before two fingers plunge into the runny yoke of a hard-boiled egg, slightly after which I manage to wince every time at the prospect of what is seemingly being implied.

But of course, I rather expect this to be a case of signification rather than that of symbolism. The signified and signifier share an arbitrary relationship, with no logical connection, whereas symbols are never wholly such. And so, the interrelationship of the two scenes must be understood, but not then taken to be the literal meaning. The sign, then, is an emergent property of said relationship.. and to repeat, all the while arbitrary. The sign, no matter, is sexual in nature, but the relationship of the two scenes is not literally implying anything sexual existing between our protagonist and her serpent visitor. It is asked of us to dig deeper, to dust of our looking glasses and turn on our UV light.

Wild skin speaks in tongues. It is deeply ambiguous yet straightforward when an aerial view is taken. It isn’t until we allow its allure to draw us ever deeper, that we become aware of its subtle games. And it will draw us closer. I love the depth of Wild Skin, despite its unabiding silence. In a sense, Wild Skin draws on much of the same means and methods photography does in its quest to construct a spoken narrative without ever speaking, and it’ll be a piece i’ll continually revisit over the course of my Major Project. For conceptual photography relies heavily on the signified and the signifier – Wild Skin will inform my exploration and implementation of such.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signified_and_signifier

Major Project: Contextual research – Kuchisake-onna

*To be completed*

Man’s situation, even in a world bestowed with a relatively great deal of scientific understanding of the world on which he finds himself, is still one of absurdity and terror. Though we’ve also gotten very good at distracting ourselves from such musings, to the point that I sound insane to those who never bear it thought. Regardless, we’ve got it pretty good. Most of us don’t, for example, believe that thunder is the vengeful wrath of an angered God, or indeed the noise created in a collision of clouds, as Aristotle once posed (though it was far closer a hypothesis than the former). Through centuries of observation and experimentation, coupled with scientific and technological advancement, these stories have fallen to the wayside. But their function can still be appreciated and understood.

They existed in a world without explanation, without understanding. And so, the creative species we are, we created narratives. We embodied that that scared us in vengeful gods and beasts, we cloaked events in stories of myth and legend that passed from generation to generation, typically as a warning. They were stories that provided us a means of making sense of the madness, and even if they weren’t true, how was anyone to know any better? And so we can understand why mythology is filled with narratives surrounding death, disaster and natural phenomenon. But not all myths are created equally, it seems. Enter stage Kuchisake-onna, a mythological Japanese slit-mouthed woman who murders anybody who screams at the site of her face, or doesn’t say she’s pretty. Tell her she’s pretty, then, I hear you say. She’ll still murder you. Much akin to the Grim Reaper; if you are unfortunate enough to encounter Kuchisake-onna, your days are done.

But… what? Why?!

What does such a being embody or explain with regard to the human experience? As is the purpose of most mythology? Seemingly, nothing. According to legend, Kuchisake-onna is nothing more than the malicious spirit of a woman murdered by her samurai husband, who slit her mouth open from ear-to-ear after finding out she was having an affair with another samurai. As a man tormented by his doggedly logical brain, I of course do not believe that such a woman exists or ever has anywhere other than the collective imaginations of those who’ve learnt of the legend. So, why does it exist at all? Why would somebody create such a story, and why did it seemingly manage to proliferate Japanese culture as if it had any shred of credibility?

Exposure unit: Kickstarter low tier rewards

I have updated the Kickstarter campaign with two low tier rewards. Having looked at last year’s graduates campaign, it is to my bemusement at how little the lower tiers have to offer. Unfortunately, a lot of people outside of our family and friend circles, will not care for supporting individuals they do not know, without there being something in it for them. Something more than making them feel good about themselves.

Vistaprint offer 100 postcards for £17.99 at A6 size. Last year’s graduates had nothing of substance whatsoever until you pledged over £15, in which you received a single postcard. Most people simply wont be willing to cough up £15 before receiving anything of substance, back. Four pledges at £5 and we will have already made our money back. Postcards are small, non-intrusive mementos of sorts and perfectly befitting for lower priced tiers. They can also be sold outside of the Kickstarter campaign. Here’s the two lowest tier rewards:

Rewards

It is likely that the cards will not exclusively feature images from student projects featuring within the show, depending on the outcome of a group consensus. But I feel the postcards should have a broader appeal – a lot of our work may be unsuitable for use on a postcard. Nature, Landscapes, Iconic places etc. etc. – things of broader appeal. I have put these rewards before the group and received all positive responses.

Lastly, I have updated the Kickstarter’s bio, using the Universities’ status (taken from the universities’ official site) in hopes of distilling a little more confidence in potential backers:

The University for the Creative Arts is the number 1 Specialist University for the Creative Industries according to The Complete University Guide 2018 and The Guardian University Guide 2018.

Major Project: Artist research – Kyle Thompson

*To be completed*

Car graveyard

Stricken, unwanted, abandoned or forgotten. A couple hold a slumbered embrace, surrounded by memorials of a fate that is implicitly not so different from theirs. A dozen or so vehicles dot our periphery, laying atop a thick mottled blanket of grass, much alike what remains of their mottled paint. The air can be seen to be thick, though perhaps not with fog… A subtle green tint topples our notion of a light, cool fog, and instead replaces it with a noxious and suffocating smog. A smog whose malevolent encroachment on our subjects is mirrored by that of the mould seen to be festering around the bottom of the mattress upon which they embrace. The day’s light is taken hostage; diffused by the smog and held in stranglehold, blanketing the scene with the tangible weight of oppression and dread.

Forcibly claustrophobic, the scene elicits a powerful sense of unease and agitation within the viewer. Kyle Thompson has employed the uncanny and stretched it to its limit. It teeters precariously between the uncanny and the surreal, but ultimately stays firmly within the former. And such gives it its power. It strangeness is believable, relatable in some way that I cannot quite dictate. It speaks to us on a human level; somehow encapsulating something of the human experience. I’m fascinated with this sort of instinctual imagery and its capacity in communicating a distinct and seemingly universal emotional response. Perhaps we see our subjects, in the ambiguity of their situation and story, and in their forlorn slumbered embrace, to reflect somewhat, what it feels to be man. Lost together in a strange, nonsensical world, with the fact that our quandary is mutual, being our only comfort. Hold on, hold on tight.

Other images:

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‘Ghost Town’

(Yes this is a real location. And yes, I’m very angry it isn’t near me.)

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‘Untitled’

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‘Ghost Town’

legs

‘Untitled’

In an interview with Seamlessphoto, Thompson comments of the concepts and themes behind his images:

‘Most of my work is based on my emotional state, so any reoccurring theme would just depict my mood. I do a lot of images about self-destruction, often translating it a bit literally and imagining my body as something delicate and breakable like glass that is shattering.

A lot of images focus on loneliness, and I very rarely shoot with more than one subject in a scene. To keep up with this theme, the environments I shoot in are usually places that are commonly empty, like forests, fields and abandoned buildings’.

And in answering a question concerning his style of photography, he further notes, ‘I think of my images as lonely dreamscapes. The images don’t tell an entire story, and often seem a bit uncanny. I try to simplify everything in each shot, and to remove certain details, so that the images are easy to relate to, but difficult to define’. This very much ties into my takeaways from his work, as I have noted. Easy to relate to, difficult to define – This is exactly what intrigues and excites me with my own practice, and exactly what I look to continue within my images for this final, Major Project.

Sources:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kyle_thompson/with/21582418734/

https://seamlessphoto.com/beinspired/2016/01/kyle-thompson/