Major Project: Final pieces

Following my final tutorial with Dallas, it was suggested that I use Photobox for my prints. I contacted another student who had used them for their final prints, asking how satisfied they were with the final products, and was given a good referral. I’d used photobox a few times in the past: Portfolio book (years ago), Canvas prints and a wedding book – all of which I was very happy with the quality of. So, I wasn’t too hesitant in ordering from them again. Rather conveniently, they’d had a 40% sale on, which included aluminium mounted prints, and so I set about deciding which images would make the cut. I simply couldn’t afford to order all 8 prints, and so looked to edit it down to 5 or so, wanting to keep an odd number if possible.

I edited, of course, with the project’s concept in mind, looking to retain a selection of images that I felt best realised such, and best formed a narrative. And further to that, the images the explored the most prominent of my experiences with nihilism. But I also kept in mind the responses I had received to the images over the course of the project, from peers, tutors and family alike. I had been quite proactive in sharing my work and getting critiques, opinions and even just gauging reactions, and so had a good idea of which images were most well received. I also, as a photographer, and I would hope, have an intuit eye for this sort of thing, and indeed feel it is largely a process of such nature. There of course has to be some considered decision making behind it, as I have described, but a lot of such editing is simply down to the eye and seeing what feels right and what works.

Final selection

And so, the final selection. Social disconnect is a huge part of my experience with nihilism, and so it was of utmost importance that this was well accounted for within the edit. Other features of prominence are that of rumination, escapism and deception. With the larger topic of repression, and my dysfunctional relationship with such, being explored, yes, within individual images, but also as an emergent narrative of the series once whole. I ran this edit past Dallas in my final tutorial, and he was very much positive in his feedback, exclusively, in fact.

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Major project: Artist research – Edward Hopper

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The brooding blue forest plays refuge to the cold and its secrets, its crowded embrace as opaque as the night’s sky, yet starless and without hope. Its fringes march ever closer, and against it they lean in quite curiosity; a crowd gathered around a fight. The late summer winds whip off the planes and stir them into a cheer, bringing forth a weight of dread, as our fate is whispered through the branches of our cold, brooding forest. The leaves dance and fall, shedding our secrets with each passing wind. They are carried away into the abyss, a ceaseless pruning, the fading filtered embrace.

Hopper’s work is as viscous honey, without any of its sweetness. He coaxes us to stick our hand into the hive, and so with the promise of beauty, and blindly and stupidly, we allow ourselves to be stung. With such subtlety and maturity, Hopper gently rocks the viewer from their slumber and sobers them, exposing them to their deepest repressions. With every passing moment we share with them, our mythologised embrace falls away and the weight of the wind fills us. Our stomachs dancing like the cheering of the planes. Our delusions shedding with our falling repressions, until we see the vastness of that starry night through the cracks of our delusions… And shudder, coil and wince.

Desperation

‘Escapism’ (place holder title)

One of the greatest painters of recent times, Hopper inspired a generation of artists, from film makers, to photographers and beyond. Of obvious note are the works of Gregory Crewdson, of whom it is no secret I’m a big fan of. But, where Crewdson’s works reach the heights of fantasy, Hopper’s are far more tamed, far more grounded. So subtle in nature, that they arguably, as a result, behold even more power, and pack an even greater punch. They are existential giants that tear us apart in a tug-o-war between terror and comfort. Terrified by what they comment on our mythologised lives, and yet comforted by the very same. Hopper’s refined style was a huge inspiration for a number of the images within my major project, most notably that of ‘Escapism’ and ‘Rumination’, though, I tended to opt for a middle-ground between the work of Hopper and the work of Crewdson.

Further imagery:

 

 

Major Project: Artist research – Joel Sternfeld

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It is about a country convinced of its independence and freedom, but that when photographed appears chained to a set of principles and dreams powerfully manifested in its architecture and in the lives its people have chosen to lead.

The beauty of this fate-filled moment wasn’t lost on me as I read the above quoted text on ASX just as the ‘Sultans of swing’ was rattling my beside table. I was struggling how to begin this piece when I began reading up on Sternfeld’s infamous, American Prospects, and stumbled across this quote, heading the post as it does mine. I immediately drew connection with this insight on Sternfeld’s work, with what I had written about Larry Sultan’s, Pictures from home, just two days ago. Within that post, I commented on how man’s struggle with death anxiety manifested itself so pungently within the idyllic American dream:

‘Nothing epitomises repression and self-delusion for me quite as much as the utopic dystopia that is the idyllic American suburbia. A space which sees the already disquieting order and routine of commonplace suburbia, taken to all new heights, and what was once odd, now becomes something quite terrifying in its own right. Entire communities, home after home, sit as shining examples of man’s futile struggle against absurdism and meaninglessness. Their mythologising of life manifesting itself in their dogged routines, in their perfect lawns, their budding hedgerows and flowerbeds, their everyday suits and dresses, their sparkling cars and immaculate driveways. Their unwavering ways of doing and seeing, that has indeed become so entrenched that there exists a seemingly genuine belief that it all really matters’.

A sentiment that the author, with amazing similarity, shares in regards to Sternfeld’s work, commenting:

‘Underneath what the camera is showing you, not to the left or right, but beneath the American lives that you see, there is something sinister at work. Like Lynch, Sternfeld never shows us what that thing is, but in the suburbs brushing against farmland, the forlorn tennis players and cities sprouting out of the desert, there is a visible tension between Americans’ lust for freedom and their need for order. This struggle is most apparent in the suburbs (which are well represented in this book) where a desire for the freedom of land and independence produces a crushing uniformity’.

And too add to that, an affinity to Lynch’s work was also drawn, just as I had made with that of Sultan’s. A fact that seems to point to the existence of a collective consciousness on the matter, and it mustn’t go amiss that all of these works were released within five years of one another, mid 80’s to early 90’s. A time often remembered for its materialism and consumerism. Following a short economic depression and thawing cold war tensions, America saw an economic boom, and perhaps Sternfeld’s, Lynch’s and later, Sultan’s works where a direct response to these rapid socioeconomic changes. Documenting a nation already infamous for its excess, materialism and consumerism as it slipped further into its agreed madness.

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Again, I must refer to Ernest Becker’s, The Denial of Death, (please forgive the frequency of my referencing of this work. It played a huge role in my project and so I will continue to be referencing it), in which he comments on this agreed madness, noting that man,

‘…literally drives himself into a blind obliviousness with social games, psychological tricks, personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality of his situation that they are forms of madness—agreed madness, shared madness, disguised and dignified madness, but madness all the same’.

And so within its pages, we come upon an escaped circus elephant collapsed on a rural road, a baby in a pen on the top of Hoover dam, a firemen buying a pumpkin as fire rips through a house in the background, a basketball hoop inexplicably placed at the end of a desperately uniform street and an upturned car sitting at the bottom of a landslide, beneath an unsuspecting desert abode. All shot with a disconnect, all shot without fanfare, as if there’s nothing out of place or out of the ordinary. As if you, the viewer, are the mad one. This disconnect was something I very much tried to play on within my work, especially in ‘Rumination’ and ‘Mr. Blue Sky’, and as the project continues post-graduation, I will be looking to comment far more on consumerism and materialism within the work I produce. Sternfeld’s iconic works here, will continue to inform my work.

Further imagery:

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Major Project: Dissemination

From the get-go, I have produced the work for my Major Project with exhibitions and galleries in mind. I have and continue still, to produce images that are rich with detail, soaking in ambiguity and thus loaded with potential stories and adaptations. All of which I hope opens the work up to a larger potential market. For though the work, of course, has it intended context, I hope that it also remains ambiguous enough that it is able to accommodate others. I never wanted it to be a finished story. And further, as I have discussed in answering a previous question, we are in the midst of an age of ‘soul searching’, if you will. In our growing secularism, we are increasingly finding ourselves unable to defer our existential angst, unable to cloak our fates with stories of salvation and so unable to live with equanimity. This is the reality and cultural relevance that situates this work, and its audience is wide.

In realising these hopes, I will be submitting my project to relevant competitions and publications, as well as of course, gallery spaces. The latter being the ultimate goal, the former means of gaining exposure and interest upon which I can build upon to achieve such. I will also be frequenting gallery spaces in person, and indeed have a printed portfolio book containing images from the project, as well as past conceptual work. The idea being that frequenting events as to coalesce with artists, curators, hosts, judges and so on, will enable me to network, to build a rapport and become a familiar face. Ultimately, getting to know those who matter, the key-holders, if you will.

I also have no intention of stopping the project here, and am indeed continuing to work on it even now. The project was always intended to be indefinite, and so carry on as long as I deem fit. Moving forward I want to expand it to entertain the forth coming Virtual Reality revolution, of which we are sitting at the foothills of at the moment. But even without such, I feel there is a lot more I can touch on with this project, for its context is vast. And as such, I will be looking to apply for grants, funds and fellowships for its continuation.

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Printed portfolio

Metro Student awards – submission

In putting some more of these plans in motion (I have already, as evidence here and elsewhere on this blog, started visiting gallery spaces, and as pictured above, included the project within my printed portfolio), I have submitted an image to the Metro Student Awards. This, as explicitly suggested by the title, is an award open exclusively to students, of which I am still, just about, one. It is also open to all photographic disciplines and topics, an anything goes affair. I entered my final shot, tentatively titled, Escapism, which is pictured below and included the following short description:

‘With ‘The Last of The Material Men’ I sought to mine the totality of my experience with nihilism, and attempts to repress such. I looked to explore the latter’s role in a new light, and as ultimately the cause of my nihilism. Exploring my own relations with such a process as that of a clear and conscious attempt of self-delusion and escapism, as crude and incomplete, desperate and pitiful’.

Desperation

Entered image

Metro

Evidence of entry

Supporting notes:

Death by suicide is a global epidemic on a harrowing scale; the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 800,000 people die annually at their own hands, as victims of suicide. Now, to put this into greater perspective with the numbers of deaths by armed conflict and natural disaster; in 2016, a little over 102,000 people died as direct result of armed conflict, and 600,000 people died from natural disaster… In the twenty years from 1995-2015. The problem is huge.

Major Project: Visual research – Stranger Things

Set in the 80’s? Check. Set in the 80’s in small town America? Check. Set in the 80’s in small town America with a dark plot, and beautiful cinematography? Check. I was sold. It taking pop culture by storm, of course, also played a significant part in getting me to watch it – I watch practically no TV, so it takes quite the storm. Episode by episode, I crawled through them over the course of the summer break, I’m not one to binge watch and only watched two episodes a month, at best. But with each episode I watched, I was more and more blown away by the level of cinematography in what seemed at first to be an unsuspecting first season of a show. Story-wise, it was intriguing and engaging, but nothing incredibly – in fact, it ‘borrowed’ a lot of ideas from other shows and films. And though I of course stayed for its development, it was its cinematography that really kept me interested. Had it been mediocre, I doubt I would’ve given it the time of day.

There were too many gorgeous frames to recall, not helped by the fact Netflix doesn’t allow you to screenshot the show, so I couldn’t actually save any of the scenes I really liked… Regardless, Stranger Things was a huge source of visual inspiration, and ultimately guided the visual direction of my project. Falling so in love with its visuals I became wholly impelled to great imagery of the same merit, and moved away from any ideas of creating a documentary project. Cinema, theatrics and drama – the aggrandising of the everyday, mythologising it and thus transcending its limitations, if only ever so briefly. My Major Project very much explores this mythologising of the everyday, and so I could see nothing more befitting visually, than that of cinema.

Imagery:

Major Project: VIVA Questions

What is the project’s context?

With ‘The Last of The Material Men’ I sought to mine the totality of my experience with nihilism, and attempts to repress such. I looked to explore the latter’s role in a new light, and as ultimately the cause of my nihilism. Exploring my own relations with such a process to be that of a clear and conscious attempt of self-delusion and escapism, as crude and incomplete, desperate and pitiful. As a dysfunction which ultimately leads me to feel deeply isolated and disconnected from those around myself, unable to throw myself at the going-ons, forever sitting at a distance. In my failings to subdue my consciousness of this process, I find myself incapable of escaping the grips of my nihilistic world view. An experience that this project has further hopes of mining, in its totality, and thereby seeking to elicit a sense of the wider experience – one of isolation, despair, ineffability, confusion, desperation, betrayal and deceit. The exploration of this dysfunction, through this project, itself a shining memorial and exemplification of the very process, and a further struggle. But, and most crucially, the refusal to give up the search, the refusal to let the light go out.

What photographic methods have you used throughout the project?

Going into this project, I had little to no post processing skills past basic dial and lever adjustments. But over the course of the summer, I had become deeply fascinated by the process of constructing an image from elements of multiple images as a means of realising one’s idea. With the majority of my work tackling deeply philosophical issues, I often dreamt up grand ways of visualising such emotionally charged topics, but could never realise them, either at all or with the impact that I had sought for them to behold. Inspired by up and coming artists Alex Currie’s and Alex Stoddard’s work, I set about learning the basics of these techniques. In all honesty, I hadn’t much hope for ever producing the work that I ended up producing here, for the post processing techniques that went into these were utterly foreign to me, and I had a built a complex about ever truly learning to use Photoshop. But on discovering that the rich depth of the aforementioned artist’s work was not achieved in camera, but in fact through post-processing and a method known as expansion, and having then watched a few video tutorials on such, I felt that it was just accessible enough that I could throw myself at it and give it a go. And from that moment on, I was hooked and had an insatiable itch to carry on learning. I’d finally broken the ice. All but the final image in this series are composites of varying extents and of varying levels of complexity. The hosepipes and the suitcase proving to be the trickiest of my subjects. But a lot of the process of expansion was directly transferable to more advanced masking and compositing.

I also purchased my first lighting kit at the very formation of the project. Although I didn’t end up using them too heavily, at least in relation to what I had planned, such did allow me to realise the aesthetic that I wanted the project to take on, that of cinema. I experimented with these quite heavily, just simple self-portraits in my bedroom at night, as to get somewhat of a tentative grip on sculpting light and being a little more intuit with such. Though, as aforementioned, I didn’t go on to use artificial light to much of an extent, my success in overcoming this, what always felt to me, giant roadblock, really instilled a great deal of self-confidence in my abilities. Of which I carried throughout the project’s duration in knowing that if such lighting was ever needed, I could most probably get it done.

What is sophisticated and innovative about your work?

In this age of attention crisis, of if you don’t think you’ve got ADD, you’re probably not paying attention… of epidemics in neuroticism; depression and anxiety, and of unprecedented global suicide rates, we have quite clearly lost our way. The stories of old are failing us and our problem is, we are not replacing them and this is a grave problem to have. As author, Leo Tolstoy once said, ‘Man’s inability to live without a way to bridge the finite with the infinite is severely under threat’, and we are now beginning to see the implications of such. In our secularism, we need to find new ‘bridges’, new ways to connect to the ‘infinite’. Creativity is one of such bridges, though the importance of its role within our lives is criminally understated and under-appreciated. Through exemplifying this process myself, leading by example if you will, and as I begun, I wish to emphasise the importance of such, of immersion through creativity and a committal to meaning-finding. And although the search cannot provide a solution, it does at least impart a sense of control over our angst, and thus a sense of relief, no matter how small that may be. In exploring my nihilism and so my dysfunctional relationship with repression, through the medium of photography, I am exemplifying this very search, advocating its indispensability, whilst acknowledging its futility.

How have you sustained your engagement over the period of the unit?

Having never had such a large amount of time at my expense during my studies, it was an ever present concern that I’d lose track and touch of what I was doing. And this indeed happened on a few occasions, mainly due to the former. At times it was hard to remember what I’d done and why I was moving in the direction I was. Tutorials where very useful in refocusing myself and my project, and I also found dedicating an hour or two an evening in which is simply revisited artist’s work and then sat with my iPad drawing up sketches for any ideas that came to me. Even if the work was unrelated, I would sometimes expand a single element and form a whole idea. Of course, the main function of this practice was to keep myself motivated and inspired, which is easy to lose over the course of several months. A lot of my images were produced as a direct result of this motivational boost.

I also read a lot. Ernest Becker’s, The Denial of Death, played a vital role in the formation of my concept. It was through reading its pages late summer last year, that the idea to explore the sham of the ego came to me. And subsequent to that, as the project developed, it evolved as a direct response to further reading of this works. Taking the failed concept of the falsity of selfhood, evolving it into an exploration of the mythologised everyday and then so finally nihilism, with the wider scope of my dysfunctional relationship with repression, which is of course, the act of mythologising one’s world. I continued to revisit Becker’s words over the course of the project, reading back over what I’d read before, again as a means to refocus and re-centre myself. I expanded my research to encompass moving image, as well as textual and verbal sources, rather than what my research would usually exclusively consist of, i.e. photography and still imagery. This was with the further hope of sustaining my interest and keeping the task of researching interesting and fresh. Which it did. As my project evolved, I made a conscious effort to maintain a level of malleability and a process of cross-pollination between the visual and contextual aspects of my research. I tried my utmost, for example, to explore similar areas within my Dissertation as I did my Major Project, and then so allow both to inform one another.

How have you chosen to present your project and practice appropriately and to best effect, how have you considered your audience and the dissemination of your work?

From the get-go, I have produced the work for my Major Project with exhibitions and galleries in mind. I have and continue still, to produce images that are rich with detail, soaking in ambiguity and thus loaded with potential stories and adaptations. All of which I hope opens the work up to a larger potential market. For though the work, of course, has it intended context, I hope that it also remains ambiguous enough that it is able to accommodate others. I never wanted it to be a finished story. And further, as I have discussed in answering a previous question, we are in the midst of an age of ‘soul searching’, if you will. In our growing secularism, we are increasingly finding ourselves unable to defer our existential angst, unable to cloak our fates with stories of salvation and so unable to live with equanimity. This reality and cultural relevance situates this work, and its audience is wide.

In realising these hopes, I will be submitting my project to relevant competitions and publications, as well as of course, gallery spaces. The latter being the ultimate goal, the former means of gaining exposure and interest upon which I can build upon to achieve such. I will also be frequenting gallery spaces in person, and indeed have a printed portfolio book containing images from the project, as well as past conceptual work. The idea being that frequenting events as to coalesce with artists, curators, hosts, judges and so on, will enable me to network, to build a rapport and become a familiar face.

I also have no intention of stopping the project here, and am indeed continuing to work on it even now. The project was always intended to be indefinite, and so carry on as long as I deem fit. Moving forward I want to expand it to entertain the forth coming Virtual Reality revolution, of which we are sitting at the foothills of at the moment. But even without such, I feel there is a lot more I can touch on with this project, for its context is vast. And as such, I will be looking to apply for grants, funds and fellowships for its continuation.

For our graduation show, I will be offering the prints for sale in an addition of five. And as per the advice of my tutors, pricing them between £750-£1000.

Supporting notes: Death by suicide is a global epidemic on a harrowing scale; the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 800,000 people die annually at their own hands, as victims of suicide. Now, to put this into greater perspective with the numbers of deaths by armed conflict and natural disaster; in 2016, a little over 102,000 people died as direct result of armed conflict, and 600,000 people died from natural disaster… In the twenty years from 1995-2015. The problem is huge.

How have you developed your extended body of work and your visual language through synthesis and application of advanced creative methodologies and skills?

I covered a lot of this within answering the previous question about sustained engagement. My main tactic when carrying out research for this project was to maintain a high level of flexibility and openness in my approach to such. Within all my past projects at uni, I felt that my research was rather limited in its scope, for I only ever really payed attention to photography based work. With this Major Project, I have been open to much more sources, from painting, to film, to lectures, to essays, to books of which I took elements from each source and amalgamated them into the shots I produced and the ideas behind them. I also insured that I remained engaged, visually, with the sort of work that my project strived to resemble. I set aside hours upon hours over the course of this project in which I would disconnect myself from any distractions (phone, laptop, internet, games etc.) and just sit and go through these images and works. Whenever I was feeling in a rut, demotivated, confused or uninspired I would take these moments to re-centre and refocus myself. I found it to be hugely useful, many of my shots, if not all of them, are a direct response to one of these sessions.

I also tried to reach out a lot more to peers for feedback, support and advice, and frequently exchanged work critiques, outside of those set up as part of the course. And finally, I spent a lot more time immersing myself in the sort of settings I had visions of shooting in. Again, most of my previous works from past projects were shot then and there. I knew of the locations, but I would never go out and scout them as to really plan an image. I scouted a lot more with this project, but more importantly, I made efforts to simply visit the location and spend time there, with pen and paper, and write or sketch anything that came to mind.

Major Project: Artist research – Larry Sultan

Bobby Vinton’s ‘Blue Velvet’ reverberates between my ears in a space somewhere in the back of my head, its lucidity ebbing and flowing like the ticking of a clock in the silence of the night. Every tick pulling forth ever more vivid scenes of a hypnagogic American suburb. White picket fences delineate the bounds of a meticulously kept lawn, lush in its summer coat. Inky rich flowers dance at its fringes, punching through my pupils and burning themselves onto my retinas as they jostle for attention under the unsullied blue sky, enveloped in the day’s warm sunlight that is golden sweet and as viscous as honey. Then the curtain is pulled back and we find ourselves in a setting rather too reminiscent of David Lynch’s, ‘Blue Velvet’, sharing a moment of quiet curiosity, unsure as to whether we are the spectator or the spectacle.

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Nothing epitomises repression and self-delusion for me quite as much as the utopic dystopia that is the idyllic American suburbia. A space which sees the already disquieting order and routine of commonplace suburbia, taken to all new heights, and what was once odd, now becomes something quite terrifying in its own right. Entire communities, home after home, sit as shining examples of man’s futile struggle against absurdism and meaninglessness. Their mythologising of life manifesting itself in their dogged routines, in their perfect lawns, their budding hedgerows and flowerbeds, their everyday suits and dresses, their sparkling cars and immaculate driveways. Their unwavering ways of doing and seeing, that has indeed become so entrenched that there exists a seemingly genuine belief that it all really matters. Larry Sultan, in his series, ‘Pictures from home’, photographs one of these small worlds, that of that occupied by his elderly parents. And of course, it does really matter. As anthropologist Ernest Becker noted within his book, The Denial of Death, ‘The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive’. We must forge out of our lives the means to feel that what we do really matters, and so the means to act with agency. Our routines the very shrinking Becker speaks of and the boundaries of experience we set ourselves that allow us to exist within a fantastical place of meaning and purpose, in a world utterly devoid of such. Worlds that are reinforced over and over and over again, day in, day out. And so become almost uttery inescapable, utterly blinding.

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Sultans work provided me with the perfect reference point in my attempts to visualise such repression. As an agreed madness of sorts, and as subtle and well invested to the point it is almost persausive, but ultimately wholly unnverving.

Further imagery:

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