I haven’t signed up for the Undergraduate BA Hons Photography degree with The Open College of the Arts as yet (January), but I’m aware of the first assignment. With this knowledge I’m preparing some preliminary research.
My photography will take place in an area of London which is known as the Square Mile (also known as The City). My initial idea was to explore the disparity between visible wealth and poverty. However, with my left wing views its easy to discriminate against what my idea of the wealthy are. I’m fascinated by people and I want that fascination to be explored more fully during this assignment.
Browsing some books for sale in a church I noticed one called “The City – The Traditions And Powerful Personalities Of The World’s Greatest Financial Centre” which I will use as the starting point of my research.
Fig. 1. The Bank Of England (1982) “The Chief Gatekeeper and the Assistant Gatekeeper dressed in full livery and carrying the staff of office, in the entrance hall of the Bank of England.”
My research will include “Humans Of New York Stories” by Brandon Stanton. This work becomes relevant as I aim to make portraits of the people whom I encounter and involve a brief interview so that I can present image with text about the person.
This post is at the beginning of my research and I will update this as I progress.
Figure 1 Lowe, J and McLachlan, S; 1982; The Bank Of England [Photo]; In Lowe, J and McLachlan, S; 1982; The City – The Traditions And Powerful Personalities Of The World’s Greatest Financial Centre; London; Quartet Books LTD; pp 94
Firstly, I would like to say that I am going to stick with the title “Some Emotional States Of My Anorexia And Strengths Of Recovery”. Initially I had some reservations about the length of the title, but I find that its appropriate as an anchor to the work which I have produced.
I would like to thank my tutor Jayne Taylor for the level and quality of feedback and interaction that I have received from her throughout the course. I would also like to thank the Open College of the Arts for the standard of the coursework, and for their excellent support and kindness with regards to the difficulties that I have experienced with my health, and the impact which this has had on my ability to study. If you are considering studying any of the creative arts, at foundation or undergraduate level then I would highly recommend the Open College of the Arts. You will not be disappointed. Although the OCA is based in the UK, they also accept international student. All of the courses are open/distance learning. Please check out their website here for further information.
There a few points that I would like to comment upon
“It was very significant that you allowed the strong autobiographical themes to emerge through your work, and the leap forward can be seen through your assignment output across the course. You’ve worked incredibly hard and have put a lot of time and energy into your work, and this is all very evident here – well done indeed.”
The coursework leading up to assignment three was a turning point for me. It was during this section that I began to explore how I could use photography to explore and express my experience of life. The course material gave me the opportunity to try the exercises in the style of different photographers, and I was able to create a mini photobook called A Hermits Journey, and a sequence called Sick of Bulimia. I gave of myself in both of these pieces of work, and A Hermits Journey was featured in WordPress Discover and received over 1,000 hits.
There were many bullet points relating to Jaynes perspective of the of my assignment in which she draws out my methodology and how thorough I have been with my preparation and progress. But I would like to comment upon this
“The use of your own self-portraits in the work shows immense growth in your confidence, both personally and as an artist, and this is heartening to see.”
For me to use self-portraits is a scary experience. I have been working up to this over the past two years, gradually taking more steps from using my shadow, the use of face masks, and now revealing my face. My reticence to present and exhibit this piece of work, but I do aim to exhibit my work, I have a gallery in mind, and I am going to need Jaynes advice on how to approach them. I believe in the quality of the expression and technique, and this work deserves exhibition. I am worth it, despite my fears of showing my face.
“You had some reservations about how to make the embroidered snake have the same visual impact as the other works – hopefully the Google image search we did has helped you see how a stronger silhouette might be all that’s needed to make this work. The important thing is to keep looking until you find an image you feel enthusiastic about working with. The snake image seems to have special significance, being linked to medicine and alluding to the transition from sickness into health – so take your time and enjoy it! (Might a gold thread work here, as a kind of alchemical effect, maybe?)”
In Native American Shamanism, the rattlesnake, called Utsonati, symbolises medicine, which I interoperate as turning poison into medicine. It would have made an excellent finale to the series. However, all of the embroidered animals so far have been flying animals, and I think it’s important to provide visual consistency, and the snake would offset this. So, I am considering embroidering a stalk onto the final portrait, with the stalk symbolising new life, and recovery from an eating disorder is in many ways developing a new life.
“Good documentation of your process all the way through. Nothing to add, except to say that the process is as important as the end result, especially while studying, so this is an excellent practice to maintain.”
The process is the most important part for me, and I love how an idea can change, alter and develop given time and space. During this assignment I have rarely embroidered for more than two hours per day, and I have had a break after the first hour, often a few hours before returning to the embroidery. When I begin to sew in the morning, I spend time looking at the developing artwork before stitching, and looking at the guide photo. I thoroughly look and see what I am producing. Without the seeing the quality of what I am producing would be diminished. Working more than a couple of hours per day would be unwise for the same reasons, because the level of focus upon the embroidery becomes too narrow and fixed.
The research was also important to me, and I have tried this exercise using three different styles, two of which have been a permitted collaboration which makes use of Laura Letinsky’s series Ill Form and Void Full. Although I have decided not to use them for this assignment, I will show them here at some point in the future. My research was thorough for this assignment and included exploring other photographers who work with hand stitching on photography, shamanism and the use of masks.
My ideas and research can be viewed hereas well as here.
Throughout this assignment I have recorded how my ideas have been refined as well as reporting on my progress and the processes. When I view fellow students work, I love to see the process of how they make photography, from the initial idea to the end result, which is often reworked. I have also had the opportunity to receive feedback on my progress from fellow students at the OCA London Regional group.
I have to be honest and say that I am proud of how much effort I have put into this assignment, and amazed at what I am producing. I did not expect this when I began this assignment. My sole aim was to see if I could develop a new technique to carry forward into the undergraduate degree in photography, and I was willing for this assignment to be a failure. It has been entirely the opposite.
What a fabulous time I had last weekend. Six of us met at the Hayward Gallery to see the exhibition Kiss My Genders, to have a social chat and to critique work that we had brought along.
Kiss My Genders was a wonderful combination of photography, art, collage, film and installations by 35 artists from around the world. The exhibition explores gender identity, the politicalisation of gender, gender fluidity, and discrimination. “Crime Scene” by Zanele Muholi portrays the horrific murder and violence committed against the black lesbian and transgender community in South Africa. Hard Hitting!
￼Crime Scene by Zanele Muholi
The whole exhibition was fascinating and has left me with questions; What is gender? Who decides or claims ownership of my gender by labelling me? Why do people commit violence against people who don’t conform to historic social norms?
I identify as gender fluid and currently living in the male role, I’ve questioned my gender and identity a lot over the course, so it was a refreshing exhibition for me. However, I did feel that the exhibition lacked some emotional depth in places, and portrayed gender fluid and transgender people as being about clothing, make up, and performance (drag). Gender and identity are so much more than these limited aspects.
A View from Elsewhere, Act 1, and She Postures in Context – installation by Victoria Sin
Seeing the exhibition before we had coffee/tea/lunch etc, was a wonderful way to break the ice. It provides a platform for discussion and that cut through the nervous tension of being in a group. I need that because I struggle with being around people, but I settled and I really enjoyed myself.
Two of us had brought photography for critique and a third person had brought a draft exhibition proposal to be reviewed. What I liked about this part of the afternoon was the non critical way the critique was given. Questions were asked rather than statements being made. I particularly liked the feedback I was given on one of my embroidered photographs. It helped me to clearly see how I’ve moved from the technical approach of learning a new skill, into bringing my emotion to the forefront of my art.
The next London Regional OCA Group will be in September, although we’re unsure of the date and venue. We are a cross genre group so any OCA student is welcome to attend.
Firstly, I must say that although I’ve now completed Foundations in Photography with the Open College of the Arts, I have not finished the 5th Assignment. However, I had my final tutorial last week, and the assignment continues as part of a body of work on eating disorders. I intend to continue with “My Emotional States of Anorexia and Strengths in Recovery”, of which I am still embroidering on the photography. Once completed I will write an artists statement and an exhibition proposal.
Sounds big to me, and what’s amazing is that exhibiting my photographs is a possibility, a possibility which I would never have imagined when I started Foundations in Photography.
One year prior to enrolling on the course I was desperate, scared and unable to leave my home for more than a five minute trip to the chemist to pick up my medication. A good friend said that I needed to do something different to rebuild my mental health, and so I bought a camera. My camera gave me a life. With a camera in front of my face I was able to gradually build up the time I spent outside. On top of this I discovered the peace and mindfulness of photography.
I set myself small projects to try and develop technique and style. Photography became a passion, it set fire to my soul. That spark is the reason that I enrolled on Foundations in Photography.
Being on a low income meant that I was worried that I couldn’t afford to apply for the course, so I applied for the Open College of the Arts bursary. I put together a written statement which was accompanied by 10 photos, with explanations of why I had taken them. I recieved the full bursary, which is half of the course fee’s. Looking back on those photos I can see that they were pretty poor, but I had a good understanding of why I had made them.
Beggining Foundations in Photography was a daunting experience, but I found the course material to be clear. My approach was to follow it to the letter as I was afraid of getting it wrong. I had no idea of how to use my camera in manual mode, but I soon got used to it by following the guidance in the course handbook.
The first assignment was a thoroughly enjoyable exercise. It was the first serious attempt that I made on researching and planning a photo shoot. I managed to produce three or four strong photo’s.
Assignment One (2017)
However, I really came to life during the third section of the coursework, specifically exercises 3.3. I broke away from the brief, I tried a few different styles of photography, and developed my own interpretation of the exercise.
My best photo’s come from a place of authenticity and exploration of self. That’s not the only Photography that I do though. I’ve explored portrait, and I am improving in this area, and I love macro and events photography. Going out and making developers my photographic eye, and keeps my enthusiasm going. The OCA encourages that we continue shooting for our own enjoyment outside of study.
My favourite assignment was the fourth one, Responding to a Theme. I produced a hard hitting piece of work on the themes of self hatred and self love.
Self Hatred – Self Love (2018)
Although I’ve now completed the course, I am continuing with assignment Five, which is part of a body of work exploring which I’m producing about eating disorders. This is a mixed media art project in which I’m embroidering on photography. I wouldn’t have had the idea or confidence to attempt to learn an additional skill if I hadn’t studied Foundations in Photography.
One of the most important aspects of my development has come from the Foundations group email. It developed into an opportunity to critique each others work. It’s been such a helpful practice. It’s not easy to have my work critiqued and to analyse others photography, but it’s developed the way in which I view photo’s, and consequently, the planning and production of my own work.
The written aspects of the course have been enjoyable as well. I like to think and write, I find studying to be rewardingso I’ve put a lot of effort into it. My use of Photoshop and Lightroom were poor at the start of the course, I still have a long way to go in this regard, but I have developed some useful skills and techniques as well.
My tutor has been invaluable. Not only have I been given guidance and feedback on the assignments, I’ve also recieved ideas and information for further development, and suggestions on which photographers to research and review. This feedback has been tailored to the work that I am producing and my personal developmental needs. Thank you Jayne.
The student support services have been on hand as well. I became ill during the course, and needed to seek an extension. They took my difficulties into account and they checked up on my health and well being every few weeks. The level of care and compassion was wonderful. Thank you Lia.
My goal now is to complete my current project about anorexia and then sign up for the BA in Photography, and I’m going to study again with the Open College of the Arts. Open learning suits me very well and the OCA coursework and support has been top notch. Studying this way suits my life style and keeps the pressure off of me. I’m feeling very grateful this morning. Thank you OCA
This piece of embroidery has not been easy. Once I had pricked the photo I was overwhelmed with the amount of holes and the complexity. It’s necessary to make all of the holes before trying to work out where the hell to embroider and which threads to use. This photo has been demanding in terms of energy and focus.
The process is enjoyable though. I’m seeing the commitment as running parallel to the effort I have to put into recovery from my eating disorder.
My working title remains as “emotional States of my anorexia”, however the embroidery is about recovery, change and growth, and this needs to be reflected in the title.
Embroidering onto my self portraits has started to feel like an act of self love, whereas initially I felt neutral towards the process of pricking and sewing upon myself.
My tutor and I will be discussing my progress next week, and I look forward to her guidance, especially in relation to one of the remaining animals (I’m not happy with the snake) and with regards to mounting them. The electrical tape which I use to secure threads is bulky in the areas where I’ve taped several loose ends.
I approached Jessa Fairbrother via email in order to receive feedback/advice about how best to keep the reverse of my embroidered photography tidy.
Although she didn’t give direct guidance, she did say that I was clearly doing things ‘right’ and that we all sew differently, and my development would come with time and exparience.
Part of me feels child-like by asking for direction, as though I can’t stand on my own two feet. However, the reality is that I wish to be an exhibiting photographer, and I will benefit from seeking and accepting the critique of others.
Fig. 1. Minor Constellation 1; 2018
Jessa Fairbrother sews on top of photographs to use “the body-as-site to explore communal meanings and is concerned with making explicit the moment when performed gesture and gaze of the viewer collide.” (Fairbrother; 2019). She uses needlework as exploration and reclamation of her body.
The National Portrait Gallery hosts a regular Friday night activity, and this week it hosted a conversation between Margaret Iversen, professor of art history and theory at Essex University, and John Stezaker, artist and photographer.
Stezaker has an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which includes collage from found photography and a film called Marriage. The film is shot at 24 frames per second and is made of still photos. The photos are collages of a male and famale face which have been joined together.
Fig. 1. Marriage VIII (2006)
Stezaker believes the series encourages the viewer to find a way to reconcile the two imdovidials and return them to being a couple.
It’s not what I see. The collages leave me asking what has happened to the couple that leaves them broken and on the point of divorce. There’s a good learning point here for me as a photographer :- I can never know how the viewer will interpret my photography.
Fig. 2. Marriage 1 (2006)
Here are some bullet points from the evening.
Viewer naturally wants to reconcile them
Found photos, postcards, newspapers, magazines
Fascinated with images since childhood
Not a conceptual photographer – the image is all there is
Collector of images
Collages don’t need to align precisely
Analogue – to much of a temptation for precision with digital
Although I am working with masks in very different ways, I am reconciling my innersel by producing masks to explore my mental health. I aim to produce an opportunity for my viewers to explore their mental health and the qualities they have which help them through their difficulties
Viewer naturally wants to reconcile them
Found photos, postcards, newspapers, magazines
Fascinated with images since childhood
Not conceptual photographer – the image is all there is
Collector of images??? Image library?
Collages don’t need to align precisely
Analogue – to much r temptation for precision with digital
Although I am working with masks in very different ways, I am reconciling my strengths by producing masks
I aim to produce an opportunity for my viewers to explore their mental health and the qualities they have which help them through their difficulties
David Lynch is best known as a film maker/director (Blue Velvet; 1986) and (Mulholland Drive; 2001). He has written TV shows and he’s a photographer.
My tutor suggested that I read his book, Catching The Big Fish because he discusses how he uses meditation as part of his creativity. The “big fish” are those big creative ideas, which then refine themselves as he is producing film. He practices transcendental meditation.
It was a wonderful read for me because I use meditation as part of my idea creation and development. That’s not technically accurate, I meditate because I enjoy it, but I know my creativity will develop as a result. Sometimes ideas come up during the meditation, but mostly they develop because my mind is clearer. As a result of reading Catching The Big Fish, I am going to learn transcendental meditation this weekend.
My approach to assignment 5 was that I wanted to learn a new skill to carry forward to the degree in Photography. I was prepared to fail, which can be an important part of learning. However, things are going better than imagined. Here are two snap shots of the embroidery. It’s such a wonderful and enjoyable process.
The top photo is part of a peacock, embroidered on to a self portrait (I’m not posting the completed photo until I post the completed assignment). The second photo is a work in progress of a butterfly.
My recovery from my overdose and consequent surgery is going well, which is good for my photography and art.
I’m so grateful that I have the energy and desire to continue with my final assignment. I’ve managed a few hours of embroidery over the past few days. By making use of the research I conducted, and adapting the input from others, I now have a very good technique for embroidering on top of photography. Result!
I have several pressure sores. Some of these were acquired whilst unconscious following my overdose, and one which I acquired in hospital whilst under sedation. A good friend suggested that I photograph the one on my arm, the one acquired in hospital, and create some documentary photography.
I liked the idea but felt it was not particularly practical. So instead I decided to photograph the consequences of a failed suicide attempt. During my stay at the Heart hospital (they saved my life) I was in a single room, which gave me the freedom to make Photography of my experience. The Heart hospital is where I had surgery to remove a septic abcess and part of my right lung, and where I had a cardiac arrest.
The critical care unit at the Whittington Hospital was the first ward that I was on. They somehow managed to bring me around from my overdose. It wasn’t expected. They informed friends and family that I wasn’t expected to pull through. However, I survived. I was in no fit state to take photos in the Whittington until just before I left, so I have very few photos from there.
During my recuperation with friends and my cousin I’ve taken some photos of my recovery. I shall evaluate and collate all of these and put together a documentary series.
Of note:- during my coursework I reviewed a documentary series called “Ray’s a Laugh” by Richard Billingham, (see here). I feel that documenting my failed suicide attempt is similar to the style of Billingham, and has opened my mind to the value of documenting the everyday. Many people try to commit suicide, and considerably more survive than die (over 15 successful suicide attempts per day in the UK). This is why I use the term “everyday”, I’m not dismissing the tragedy of suicide or attempted suicide. There is good work being done to prevent suicide and I hope more will be done in the future.
Documentary photography in the style of Billingham, and my own series, creates a space for reflection and discourse, and this can create connection and change.
Here are a couple of photos from my series. Not quite sure when I will get the time to put my series together as I have so many medical appointments.