‘In short: Photographers’ intentions are to inform others and through their photographs to immortalise themselves in the memory of others.’
– Vilém Flusser : Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1983)
I hadn’t had a break from my OCA studies since I started The Art of Photography in April 2014, so – feeling tired and mojo-less on completing the final assignment for Landscape, Place and Environment – I decided to take three months off to recharge my batteries and gather my thoughts a bit before pressing on with the third and final level of study for the Photography BA. The three months inevitably expanded to be more like six, as I organised LPE for assessment and then worked through the new process for moving from level two of the BA to level three.
Part of this consists of writing a short statement of intent and compiling a selection of our earlier work in preparation for a discussion with one of the course leaders. I think this was a really useful exercise so, by way of an introduction to where I think I am at photographically as I commence with Practice and Research, here is a rewritten version of that statement.
By the time I had completed the second level of the OCA BA course, I had come to the conclusion that the main thrust of my further study would not centre on a direct examination of landscape. Rather, I wanted to return to the themes I had begun to examine during the preceding course, Digital Image and Culture when, as the pandemic limited my ability to get out and about, I became increasingly focussed upon the sheer mass of… well… stuff that I had managed to accumulate during pretty much my entire life.
A lot of it had been gathered while travelling, but I suspect I have used photography as a way of making sense of the world around me ever since I was given my first camera, aged ten.
Over the last thirty years, travelling widely for work, I have always tried, to set aside a day or so to go out with a camera and see what sort of place I have visited this time. I found that a repeat trip usually produced better, more interesting images, freed from the need to take pictures that simply reproduced what it was that I expected to find there in the first place. I had always thought that my primary subject matter was linked to this idea of place and of its meaning to me.
At first I hoped that – having recorded the contents of my study/studio – I might reach a point where I would be able to get rid of some, if not all, of it but – probably inevitably – it quickly became an exercise in curation rather than one of zen minimalism. I began to use the photographed objects to create a picture of the person who had amassed them. There is still much to do if I am to clear my shelves and cupboards, while making some sort of sense of who I am and how I got here.
I had hoped that I would be able to incorporate some of this into my work for LPE, but never managed to do so satisfactorily, in ways that dovetailed with the assignments. So now, freed to define my own project, I would like to continue this examination of minimalism – in the Maria Kondo, as well as the narrower, artistic sense – and continue compacting my accumulated junk into two rather than three dimensions. I shall combine the resulting photographs into collaged virtual, or physical, groupings and try to attach some greater sense of meaning to the resulting Schwitters-esque ‘hypermertz’ and to link the objects to the places and times when I first acquired them.
This could tend towards something baldly autobiographical of course, but I do not want to make elliptical self-portraits or digital ‘equivalents’ that pickle my emotional state at the moment of their making. While drawing on the work of – among others – Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch, I shall try to sidestep the situation described by Abigail Solomon-Godeau in her 1983 essay, The Armed Vision Disarmed, where politics and history were first pushed to one side and then elided altogether as the revolutionary formal experiments made by Rodchenko et al in the nascent USSR were adopted and adapted by photographers in Weimar Germany and then the USA, losing their political payload.
My work can still be political, in a ‘the personal is political’ sense, even if it does not touch directly on the activity of multinational (or indeed national or local) corporations. I struggled to engage photographically with the climate crisis in the large-scale, activist sense examined in LPE’s revised part 5; I find it much easier to reflect on my – and by extension, society’s – need to curtail our use of carbon and to consume less through an examination of the detritus resulting from my own lived experience.
I like to experiment and push myself technically, and also to make sense of what I am doing with reference to theory. I grew up absorbing much of the prevailing photographic orthodoxy during the fag-end of modernism; but now, I am much more comfortable artistically with what has followed, and with the conceptual approaches to images and image-making associated with post modernism and whatever it is that has followed on from that…
I think the work I produced for Digital Image and Culture – both in the exercises and in terms of assignment outputs – was more interesting than my work for Landscape which I feel was a bit too staid and not nearly fun enough! Now, moving on, I want to recapture the playfulness and excitement that I felt during DIC, investigating ways that I might combine the various strands of my OCA work, linking mementos to memories to places and on to a bigger picture of where we might be collectively.
The series of posts that follow this one contain the seven groups of practical work that I selected to support this statement of intent, interspersed with more specific contextualisation. I hope they will provide me with a number of thematic starting points for the series of projects that make up my response to the level three courses.