Major Project: Final proposal

Page 47, Chapter 4, Human Character as a Vital Lie. Ernest Becker’s, The Denial of Death. It begins with a quote. A quote from one, Jose Ortega Gasset, and it reads as follows:


‘Take a stock of those around you and you will hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas of the matter. But start to analyse those ideas and you will find that they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover that there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal visions of reality, of his own very life. For life is the start of chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality, and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his “ideas” are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defence of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality’


Jose’s insight struck me. It hit home, for I have suffered a great deal at the grappling, gauging hands that punch up through the green grass, and attempt to pull you into the bleak world of pestilence and horror that lies just the other side of its veneer. Just the other side of our delusions. I’m not one for labels, but I cannot deny the fact that I am a nihilist. And it is my experience with this very fact, that I look to explore within my Major Project; The Last of the Material Men. The Last of the Material Men will provide the narrative framework and setup the parameters and guidelines for my images, a function that I feel is vitally important in insuring my project remains engaged and focused on its context. This is a narrative that will not be dictated to my audience, however its presence will be evidenced in the visual cohesion of the work and the narrative such forms. With TLOTMM, the protagonist will be, as implicitly suggested by the title, the last biological human on earth; left behind after a technological rapture, in which masses uploaded their consciousness to the ‘cloud’. Though, as aforementioned, this will not be dictated. This setting functions as a metaphor for the extreme social disconnect felt at the hands of nihilism; the sense of being out of touch, utterly alone yet seemingly but in arms reach of everyone around you… A dreadful sense of being left out, of being forgotten, with no hope of assimilating, no hope of making it back to ‘normality’. It will also, as is the case with all ‘post-apocalyptic’ scenarios, place scrutiny on the legitimacy of social institutions, the mythologised everyday and that of which we place importance or hold weight in our lives (money, status, material possessions, petty grudges/arguments/complaints etc.)  – again, something I felt completely unable to assimilate with or understand during my darkest days with nihilism. Less didactyly, I hope to varying extents, to elicit a sense of the isolation, despair, absurdity, ineffability, confusion, betrayal and deceit I felt during the long days, weeks and months I spent in bed. Within the last frame, it will be shown that the images are in fact self-portraits taken by the protagonist, the setting in which this reveal takes place, will throw into question the true nature of the protagonist’s situation. Neither confirming that these are images created within his fantasied world, or the world as is. Though it will be weighted towards the latter. For this is much as is my daily experience with nihilism as it stands today; a perennial agitated flux between the world of absurdity and meaninglessness, and a committal to meaning-finding through my photography. My creations acting as, as too for the protagonist, ‘scarecrows to frighten away reality’. The protagonist’s world, then, being in my eyes no different, no more bleak, no more meaningless than our own. His situation an aggrandization of my own, of course, but at its core, no dissimilar. But I do not wish for this project to be all doom and gloom. For the protagonist’s committal to meaning-finding—to finding beauty in life’s absurdity—is the very thing that had me fall back in love with the world. And so it can be seen, that this project looks to mine the totality of my experience with nihilism.


Lighting and posing test shot

After struggling for a small eternity to exteriorise what it was I wanted the context of my Major Project to be, I am now left with the task of extensively researching the contents of its new focus. For I have spent the last couple of months, banging my head against the wall, trying to assimilate the type of images I wished to produce with a project interested in the sham of the ego. After much head banging, and the realisation of just how difficult such would be to achieve (with thanks to my struggles with my dissertation on the same subject), I was forced to abandon ship. And so, following is my updated plan for the coming months:


December – January:

Extensive research into the project’s themes and interest, namely:

  • Nihilism
  • Neurosis
  • Social Disconnect
  • Isolation
  • Post-apocalyptic films/books/stories etc.
  • Existentialism
  • Absurdity (philosophy)
  • Futurism

Aesthetic research:

  • Cinematic photography/photographers (Crewdson, Lorca Dicorcia, Jeff Wall etc.)
  • Films, TV shows, Shorts
  • Editing techniques: Compositing, Distortion, Toning etc. (Photoshop, Lightroom)
  • Lighting research
  • Continue shooting test images (lighting, location, posing, props, mood etc.)
  • Initial location scouting


January – May:

Long production period:

  • Contextual research will continue during this period
  • Aesthetic research will continue during this period
  • Finalising of first image plans
  • Finalising of props, clothing, equipment etc.
  • Finalising of first shoot locations
  • Continued test shoots
  • Begin shooting first final images
  • Peer critiquing sessions (outside of uni)
  • Allow time for the images to develop organically and for adjustments and amendments
  • Consider outcome (publication, print size, installation etc.)
  • Mounting (end of period)

Library literary search:


Exposure unit: Martell – Commission inquiry

My plan to gain work and opportunities through a social media presence, as outlined within my submission for Ori for the Art World brief, has again proved effective. Today I was contacted by cognac (a type of Brandy) distillery, Martell – who wish to work with me in a ‘paid collaboration’, which is a roundabout way of commissioning me to take images that promote their products/business. I will update in subsequent posts as the opportunity develops.

Martell commission

Martell products


Major Project: Artist Research – Lucas Samaras


AutoPolaroid, 1969-71. Dye diffusion transfer print (Polaroid film)

Looming over the viewer with a crazed, glinting fixation, is the rather unnerving sight of Lucas Samaras. As if a big bristly chinned baby has picked up his mother’s polaroid and accidentally fired a shot, Samaras has thrown caution to the wind and taken his headshot from beneath – the ‘double-chin’ angle, if you will. It is a subject-viewer perspective that we might only expect to find ourselves caught in the midst of in moving image; as the victim or victim-to-be of some heinous crime, such as Woody found himself at the hands of Sid and his new-found sun manipulation torture tool, the magnifying glass.GloomyCavernousCamel-max-1mb Looking through Samaras’ work, it is clear he is not a man who adheres to conventions, with perhaps his only rule being that there aren’t any. Samaras’ series, AutoPolaroid, marks an interesting moment in his work. The moment in which his psychological paintings and more-so conventional photographic imagery that preceded the body, merged and exploded in a profusion of colour, patterns and distortions.

Much to the disapproval of Polaroid, Samaras had discovered that the emulsion of Polaroid prints remained malleable and therefore, easily manipulable, for a period of time after exposure. A characteristic that he employed in bringing the psychotic nature of his paintings, and indeed a level of a somewhat painterly aesthetic, to his photographic work. Though a lot of Samaras’ work is a little too abstract for what I intend to produce, I am particularly fond of his self-portrait taken within the kitchen and subsequently distorted with a needle or something similar (below, top left). The end result being nothing short of a narcotic trip of sorts. But more specifically, I am very fond of his use of lighting. From left to right, we begin with a soft incandescent light, filling the sink and imprinting the gentle diffused shadows of pots and pans onto the wall. Samaras, with a hand behind his back, then splatters the scene with a harsh blue light, that can be seen bursting from his back as his front bursts forward.

This seemingly inconspicuous light, completely changes the image, but only in the way Samaras’ has implemented it. Had it been off to the side, out of view of the camera, it would have been too diffused and provided nothing more than its colour. Holding it behind himself and projecting it onto the wall with proximity, bestows the scene an entirely different context. Samaras has objectified the light, offered it as something material. It is important to remember such; that lighting is more than just an aesthetic choice, that it carries a context, and when used creatively such as Samaras has done, it can become an object in its own right and weight.


Major Project: Artist research – Juno Calypso

I was struck by a certain monotony within the work of Juno Calypso. And it isn’t the monotony one might expect of me to comment on, if you too share an awareness of her work. No, I am not speaking in reference to Calypso’s passion for pink, but instead her repeated use of a particular space, which yes, just so happens to be very pink. Calypso, in her own words, notes that her work explores ‘the laboured construct of femininity’ through a persona named Joyce. A persona who is seen to be utterly consumed by her appearance and notions of beauty, that she sees it fit to subject herself to a rather disquieting array of beauty products and regimes.

My interest in Calypso’s work, is not so much so within her work’s political voice, for it doesn’t speak much to what I intend to investigate within my own work, rather it is in the recurrent use of props and—as aforementioned—locations within her work. Being that Calypso’s work tackles femininity and notions of beauty, it is of no surprise that there exists a strong recurrent element; likely a reflection on the unabating beauty ideals and pressures that are peddled by mainstream media. In this context, Calypso’s use of repetition, can perhaps be seen to be representative of a sense of entrapment, obligation and/or anxiety in the face of incessant feminine and beauty ideals. And it works.

It often feels within photography, that it is expected of us to attempt to rewrite the history books with each and every image, and furthermore, that repetition is generally frowned upon as lazy or uncreative. But it is important that your images so reflect the nature of their context. Calypso use of repetition, specifically in regard to the series of images shot within a heart-tubbed bathroom, pummel into us a palpable sense of the subject’s mental imprisonment. We are at the same time, made to feel disquieted and sympathetic towards the subject. Conflicted, at once dishevelled and frightened by our subject’s seemingly maniacal levels of narcissism, but also at once sympathetic and wanting to help. A conflict that ultimately leaves us feeling overwhelmed and confused by what is expected of us, and I rather feel that was Calypso’s intention all along. For, and I am speaking not through experience, as a male, but nonetheless; this is an experience much akin to that evoked by the ideals women are felt they should assimilate with.

As my project looks to tackle contexts that themselves are associated with such feelings—of imprisonment, anxiety and disconnect—Calypso’s recurrent use of spaces and props and the subsequent effect of such, has been a reminder to pay attention to the psychological nature of my images as a whole, as a series.



Major Project: Artist research – Alex Stoddard

I hear the terms ‘mental landscape’ and ‘mindscape’ being thrown around a lot within the world of conceptual photography. To put it simply, a mindscape is a ‘landscape’ sculpted from an individual’s thoughts, ideas, memories, fears and so forth. How I imagine it is that thoughts are the perpetual spring tricking down from a mountain of memories that is peppered with varying amounts of snow (snow being a metaphor for fear. With your worst fears being yellow snow, perhaps), depending on how much of a worrier you are – or something like that.

Okay, but really. It seems to me that ‘mindscape’ is used as a substitute for the denotation of deeper meaning and context. If you don’t know what the hell you’ve just made, it’s probably a mindscape, yeah that’ll do nicely. This is what art ultimately is for a lot of practitioners; the exteriorising of inner ‘landscapes’, if you will. It isn’t so much about exploring a context or ascribing meaning, rather it is an act driven by a blind volition of sorts, and an act with meanings unknown to its creator. I think this is especially true for a lot of the conceptual photography I’ve been inspired by within my recent work.

This, I feel, is because there is a large degree of ineffability surrounding the contexts I try and explore within my work. A lot of what drives me, and a lot of what I’ve been trying to achieve within my work, is my personal experience with existential despair in the face of nihilism and the desire to capture something of what it was like. Specifically, the last few weeks of a severe spell of depression in which I was bed-bound for several months. I wrote about this experience in a piece I never ended up using:

‘Right at the end of this period, when I had wholly and utterly given up, surrendered myself to my fate. I finally succeeded. Facing my fate, with an intimacy and immediacy, completely nullified all of my sources of anxiety and angst. For having surrendered, I felt I was finally able to let go, it was all said and done, and no longer mattered. Anxiety and depression live in the past and the future, without a care of which, they fell to the side.

I will never forget those days. What I had imagined would be the darkest days of my life, where filled with a beauty and ecstasy that is seemingly ineffable. I cannot cloak the experience with words’.

This ineffability is both a source of frustration and inspiration. I know, fundamentally, that I’ll never make sense of it, but I somehow still believe I can, and so continue anyway. I feel this is the strength and allure of conceptual photography; it speaks to life’s ineffability, it speaks to what it is like to be human in a world so utterly absurd. Alex Stoddard’s images are largely what I have been speaking about; mindscapes – that without context. And that is absolutely their power. For they are product’s of this ineffability, a shout, cry or raging, ‘something in this speaks to what I am feeling, what it is to be human’. And so they speak to us all, for their scope is universal. Their context, in a sense then, is their lack of.

Aesthetically, Stoddard’s images seem to teeter between dreamy and nightmarish, and are subjected to a high degree of digital manipulation (composites, grading, expansion, visual effects etc.) in realising the surrealist worlds of such states. Image two (below) sees Stoddard immersed in a large fish-tank-turned-watery-grave in the woods, another (image seven, below) sees the searching arms of a lightning bolt inaugurate, seemingly, an act of creation that nods to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. I’ve always been interested in realising ideas and concepts in this manner, my Major Project will finally see such come to fruition. And so, Stoddard’s images will be of invaluable reference and inspiration for the aesthetics of my images.

Image one, ‘The air up there’

Image two, ‘Sanctuary’ 

Image three, ‘Abyss’

Image four, ‘Spoiled rotten’

Image five, ‘Product of privilege’ 

Image six, ‘Tiny fluttering wings’

Image seven, ‘The spark’

Image eight, ‘You only live twice’

Image nine, ‘This is it’



Major project: Why I do what I’m doing – A retrospective

It came to my attention—amidst the suffering, exhaustion and despair that was (and always is) the initial stages of my project’s conceptual formation—that a lot of what I had produced during my studies, dabbled in a degree of mythology. Not in the sense that they explored existing mythology, but rather in the sense that I mythologised life events/experiences through a mixture of embodiments, theatrics/degrees of aggrandization and metaphorical storytelling. But why?

Ultimately, I feel that my art is a rejection of absurdity; the meaningless of life, through a commitment to meaning-finding. I refuse to accept its reductionist attacks on the majesty and mystery of life, I refuse it utterly. And so, I exteriorise and mythologise my experiences–my hopes, fears, dreams, anxiety and depression–and so subvert them; my images are the antithesis of their components. They allow me to find life’s majesty using the very tools of its destruction.

This is what makes my heart pound and this is why I do what I do. I nearly lost my life to nihilism and the crushing depression it subjected me to – but my how it drives me now.

My Major Project will explore this further than ever.

Bomb shelter 3 compressed

Major project: Artist research – Yasumasa Morimura

Albert Einstein, Che Guevara, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Hitler, Mona Lisa. ‘Okay… uhm… what about them?’ Is probably a fairly accurate reading of what’s going through your mind right now, or perhaps it’s something more along the lines of, ‘What a beguiling mix of people, how on God’s earth is he going to argue that these should be grouped together in any which way?!’. Well… take cover because I’m about to drop a truth bomb (is that still a cool thing to say?). THESE ARE ALL THE SAME PERSON. I’m sorry. I watched a few conspiracy theory ‘Top Tens’ before I wrote this, and I’m feel rather peppy – not helped by the fact one of them had Requiem for a dream playing in the background. But my point still stands… Just not as implied at face value by my aggrandization of the matter. No, these individuals are not all—literally—one individual; neither as some sort of hive mind, or as one of David Icke’s shape shifting lizards. Well, at least not the originals. But there is an imposter amongst our midst, and for as good as his masquerades are, he may as well be one of Icke’s lizards.

Yasumasa Morimura is a Japanese appropriation artist who, since the early 1980’s, has been infiltrating pop-culture, art history and mass media under a myriad of guises, that mock, pay homage, and subvert not only their subjects but too the viewer’s relationships with such. Morimura notes that, ‘Taking photographs is generally an act of ‘looking at the object’, whereas ‘being seen’ or ‘showing’ is what is of most interest to one who does a self-portrait’, an act that he proclaims, ‘denies photography’. I found this proclamation to be very intriguing, for within my dissertation that, as aforementioned, looks at the work of Cindy Sherman—who similarly assumes guises—I wrote that I felt her photography was a means to an end – that it (the act of photographing her guises) was secondary, with the act (of assuming them) proceeding and transcending it. Which is as much to say, Sherman was denying photography. But what does it mean to ‘be seen’, yet be completely obscured by an act of masquerade? Well I hate to be one that doggedly pushes one’s agenda, but God-damnit I can’t help myself.

Morimura’s self-portraits, just as Sherman’s, to me speak to the nature of self and the ego. I mean, of course, right? They’re self-portraits after all. But that would rather be missing my point. As Morimura notes, self-portraits deny the photograph, deny it as an object that we simply ‘look at’… By masquerading as the other, both Morimura and Sherman are deny photography’s tendency to objectify the self; to reduce it to a purely aesthetical realm. It is an act that opens the photograph up—a rejection of reductionism—by means of symbolism. It asks us to go beyond the surface of the image, the object as it where, and read between the lines. We know from the offset, that these are self-portraits, and so relate somehow to an individual, and so by their obstruction (through masquerade) we are knowingly pushed to go beyond the image. We realise it is required of us to read more so than what is intrinsically on offer, and so the images take on another dimension. In this way, it could be argued that the masquerades offer us more on the nature of the true self, than that that can be offered without them. And this speaks on a broader scale, too.

I was reading a Wikipedia article *hiss* on ‘True self and false self’, that contained a catalogue of sorts on philosophical insights into the nature of true and false self. One such insight, was that of a Susie Orbach, a British psychotherapist and psychoanalyst (amongst other things), who claimed that, ‘[paraphrased] …the false self is an overdevelopment of certain aspects of the self at the expense of other aspects—of the full potential of the self—producing thereby an abiding distrust of what emerges spontaneously from the individual him or herself’. I see Morimura’s work, as too Sherman’s, as a flirtation with this spontaneity, a sincere but not serious exteriorising of aspects of the ‘true self’. The masquerades function exactly as they should, by providing a false self, but it is a false self that is a double bluff of sorts. It isn’t a false self in the same sense that Orbach speaks of, that forged from parental pressures, as in it isn’t a false self that has been built into us from external forces. It is strictly a face, a pretence, that functions purely aesthetically, skin-deep as it were. It allows Morimura, and Sherman, to try on aspects of their true-self without letting on. It provides a sense of authority, for these faces are not beholden to anyone, they are a lesser creation of our own and are so indebted to nobody.

This is the power of assuming a persona, and it is a power that I am deeply interested in. For I intend to assume a persona of my own within my Major Project, and so Morimura’s work has provided a lesson in what it means to become the other, and what it says about us.