“Over Hills and Seas”: Tim Andrews – 26th October 2018

Tim Andrews, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2005, at the age of 54.  He was working as a solicitor at the time.

“Having PD mean that I was able to retire and being able to retire meant that I could do all the things I wanted to do but never had the time i.e. watch cricket, go to the cinema and go out and have a coffee and do the crossword. As it happened, these things were not enough as they were all solitary experiences and I missed the daily, hourly contact with other human beings. So, when my photographic project came along, off I went into to the stratosphere.” (online blogpost 25thFebruary 2016)  

His self-instigated project  began in 2007 after he responded to an advertisement in “Time Out” magazine looking for 100 people to pose naked for a new book by photographer Graeme Montgomery .  Within the next two weeks there were further requests listed from two other photographers so he responded to those as well. In 2008, he discovered that Graeme Montgomery was advertising on Gumtree and whilst searching for photography he found a lot of people, mainly students, looking for people to photograph. Thus, his project really began.  In total, from 2007 to 2016, Tim was photographed by 425 photographers and he brought his project Over the Hill to an end in 2016 wanting it “…to be complete, to put it into a box, tie it with ribbon and place it on a shelf so that, every so often I could take it down and look inside and marvel at all the great times I had with these wonderful photographers”.

Tim took the box down this year however having decided to present another exhibition of 32 photographic works from both the project and subsequently, with the theme of Landscape (including Seascape) – the purpose being to examine how these photographers changed their approach to photograph Tim.  Here’s a view of it – be aware it’s marked “Mature” :-

 

 

Tutor Jayne Taylor had organised for us to meet with Tim Andrews, after the Exhibition at the Regency Town House closed for the day, for a guided introduction.  I experienced him as a very engaging speaker, full of anecdotes about his experiences with the various photographers and obviously immersed in his project and enjoying being in front of the camera and having attention.  I’ve always enjoyed watching Gareth Malone, the English choirmaster and broadcaster giving a singing voice to people who never thought they had one but gave it a try anyway. Gareth Malone describes himself as an “animateur” and I think that term perfectly describes Tim Andrews in the way he contacted his potential photographers; directing proceedings (often collaboratively); posed in all weathers; starred in the theatre of his performance and collected and curated this Exhibition which is all about himself. His enthusiasm and energy would be impressive in even a fit, young man.

The theme of nudity does crop up quite often so I was surprised to read In an interview with Vice.com magazine (pub. 4thAugust 2016)  that the percentage of nude photographs of Tim is less than 20 percent. Maybe he chose a higher proportion for this Exhibition; I was more aware of them just because he was nude or because he spent quite a while standing talking to us in front of a photograph of himself nude, painted blue all-over and wearing a turban  – the photographer being Karen Knorr.

What did I gain from the talk and the Exhibition?

I was reminded of Isabelle Mège (who I read about in a blog post by my student colleague Sarah-Jane Field  a medical secretary in Paris who, over two decades, persuaded many renowned photographers (mostly male) to take a photograph of her with an initial request of,  “I would like to see myself from your point of view”.  Mège amassed a large collection of photographs, in a large variety of styles, not all of which could be called portraits, but they all depicted her body. In 2016 Anna Heyward of The New Yorker interviewed one of the photographers, Fouad Elkoury who had photographed Mège in 2002. He told Anna Heyward that he had agreed to Mège’s request because, “I could tell this project came from an obsessive mind, this strange project of being photographed by photographers she liked—not those she thought were famous, but those she liked.” He was taken aback when they met. “She was veryordinary, a very normal-seeming person. I had thought, based on her letter, that she might be unusual.”

The philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy wrote in an email to Anne Heyward that the key to understanding Mege’s work was that it was an act that made her an artist of some sort; one whose medium is other artists He invented new words to describe this “It’s a selfothermade ….. not an auto-portrait…. But it’s not an alloportrait either”.  Somehow this takes it beyond notions of the male/female gaze into another realm – a work created through some kind of projective identification between subject (initiator) and artist. There is a video about her on YouTube but I won’t give the link here as it contains a fair amount of nude photography.

Returning to Tim Andrews and his Exhibition – I was very impressed to see so many different versions of Tim by so many photographers, although I would need to do much more research on them all to gain a sense of how much was their own way of working anyway and how much they were responding to Tim ‘in the moment’.  My favourite photograph overall was the one of Tim wearing his grandmother’s dress (also exhibited) from 1904 – shot by photographer Clare Park. There was something very poignant about it for me with his wistful, painted face as he holds the golden dress against him.

The series that attracted me was

A section of a larger piece by Tina Rowe Sixty Minutes (2015)

Tim wrote of being ‘hooked’ by Tina’s work after seeing it in a Photomonth brochure in 2014 and so he wrote her a message asking her to photograph him, “What she didn’t know was that it wasn’t purely portraiture I was after. I wanted to be in a photograph taken by her. I liked the way her mind worked.  In particular, I liked her series ‘My Mother’s House” as I very much identified with this having made a documentary about my own mother’s house a few years ago.”

Tina writes about the session here .  She had intended to use a wide angle pinhole camera with camera flashes for a particular effect before she met him, “…but when he walked into my studio I realised that he isn’t the sort of person who should be summed up in a single shot …..I had looked at the work of other photographers in his project and there was a wealth of different interpretations of him as a human and as a canvas.  They didn’t really help because they are all so different. Just talking to him made me drop the one idea and pursue the other”.

So, there we have the two different types of personal alchemy resulting in the series created through joint authorship. The photographs were taken with a hasselblad camera and using a pack of fuji instant film.  The emulsion was then lifted from the instant film and placed on oak blocks. Reflecting on the whole process, Tim wrote in second blog post at that time “I love the fact that these are so delicate and are not digitised”.    I agree with him very much.  There’s something about those small vignettes, taken in the moment, catching him in various poses.  The wooden blocks look a bit battered now – perhaps grown into the metaphor of his life – but their oak remains stout.

 

References

Heyward, H.A. the Opposite of a Muse (2016) The New Yorker 17.9.2016 (accessed at https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-opposite-of-a-muse28.11.2018)
http://timandrewsoverthehill.blogspot.com

https://timandrewsoverthehill.blogspot.com/2015/05/ten-into-sixty-tina-rowe-part-one.html
https://timandrewsoverthehill.blogspot.com/2015/09/60-minutes-by-tina-rowe-part-two.html
http://tinarowe.co.uk/portfolio/objects/60-minutes-with-tim-andrews/
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/jmkmg7/parkinsons-over-the-hill-tim-andrews

 

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Phoenix Brighton: 26th October 2018

 

Collaboration and collective working are the core aims of Brighton Photo Fringe   and, in all, they presented eight Collectives this year, selected from open submissions and showcasing new photography in all its forms.

 

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  1. An afternoon at Phoenix, Brighton. 

I arrived slightly late for the meet-up at Phoenix, Brighton, due to having got lost and driving round in circles trying to find my hotel.  This meant that my attention was scattered once I did arrive – looking around to see who I recognised and for some familiar faces whilst trying to key in to the works that were being discussed, but my attention was caught by this

Zoe Sim

Friston Forest Glitch – Exhibited in the Artefactcollection which comprised work by artists from Metro Imaging’s Mentorship Programme in addition to Metro’s own team.

Zoe uses infrared photography to oversaturate landscapes into pink worlds, believing that “…the aesthetics of pink can trigger contradictory emotions because pink is associated with many politically charged stereotypes. Zoe’s use of pink connotes a futuristic environment where technology is beginning to seep into nature, whereas I used near-infrared in Assignment 1 to signify what we are unable to see in the world with our normal vision. Furthermore, Zoe also uses asymmetric and jagged shapes to add to the surreal and ‘uncanny’ effect of her sublime. There is an interesting article here about some earlier work where she used pink in a different way to create a more dream-like world and critique female objectification by mimicking classical poses from paintings – I was reminded here of the work of June Calypso and her use of pink.

Now feeling more ‘at home” I went off to explore the other rooms.

Glen Turner

Rose (2018)

Glen Turner, a mixed-media artist, was exhibiting with the Ontic Collective  – a collective of lens-based artists working in Brighton. who aimed to present “a wider joint narrative about artistic practice post digital revolution ”

His series information states

In this series I have merged 3 elements resulting as the 4thelement.  The 2 photographic layers were made by winding back an analogue film and retaking the next layer, creating random compositions. Roses from Preston park, layered with a familiar suburban and industrial walk, with a textured traced layer from a plastic Braille map of England leaving a gold/graphite layer upon the surface, make up the total form of the images.

 David Cundy

Also exhibiting as part of the Ontic Collective.

 

 

An installation of framed prints on the wall and small images on top of variously sized ‘blocks’ arranged on a plinth. The narrative behind the presentation of these pinhole photographs concerns the execution of Lady Jane Grey in 1554 (see also)  She was beheaded on Tower Green and the ground keepers at her home are said to have marked the occasion by pollarding the oak trees on the estate in a symbolic beheading.  A chilling event and a very effective presentation.

Although this work does not appear on David Cundy’s website it does on his Instagram feed .  Whilst looking at his website I also took note of his use of image and handwritten text.

 Creative Storm

Curate with us.

A collective pod comprising two different exhibitions where two artists each brought a developed body of work and, over an afternoon, attendees discussed and contributed to the decision making in curating and installing work.

This was the outcome of one of the events.  I liked the idea of such an interactive event and a way of involving viewers in the work. I think it was the work of Tom Heatley as I recognise the roof and chimney pots.

New Grounds Collective

This collective invited viewers to, “a space where we speculate and delve into the ‘conjectural’ facts regarding the fluctuation of the natural, urban and cultural environments.

Idil Bozkurt

 

Deconstruction with Walter in Gallerio Umberto I(2018)

This is a representation of a shopping arcade in Naples, built between  1887-1891, designed by Emanuele Rocco and named for Umberto I, the then King of Italy.

It’s a one-off Installation piece – suspended transparent prints on a frame-based substrate I found it fascinating and had to keep going back to have a look at it.  Peering through the stacked translucent layers, trying to work out how it was done and admiring the 3D effect. Also for sale at £10,000 in Phoenix Brighton online shop I’ve just discovered.

I talked with fellow-student Karen Gregory about this installation and she said she’d created something like that which she has – see here

I think it’s a very effective and different way of representing depth in an urban landscape.

London Alternative Photography Collective

Their show brought together artists who ‘point’ their cameras at the sun and included alternative processes such as pinhole solargraphy, lunar photography, motor-controlled time-lapse and chemograms. It was good to see work displayed by many of the photographers I already follow on Instagram.

 

I was so busy discussing this installation with Karen and acquiring  very useful information on how to create pinhole images that I forgot to check the name of the photographer, which is really annoying. I think it’s from Pauline Woolley  Large versions of pinhole images on the wall and a display of the cans that held the photopaper. I am now collecting cans to use as containers!

MAP6 Collective

A group of nine photographers who work together to make new work about the complex relationship between people and place.

The Shetland Project

On this occasion they worked in the Shetland Islands for six days and I think the work produced is a wonderful example of the way in which collaborative projects can work – exploring the same place/location yet producing individual and distinctive interpretations of it.  It’s the kind of project I would very much like to be involved with one day.

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This was a full afternoon with so much to see and absorb and I took much away with me about the nature of collaborative work presentation/installation and alternative processes. Still a late afternoon/early evening  visit to come with a walk to The Regency Town House, Hove to see Tim Andrew’s Exhibition Over Hills and Seas, with a personal guided introduction by him.

 

 

References

https://glenturner.myportfolio.com/roses-1

https://newgroundsuk.wixsite.com/newgrounds

https://www.cundy.net/projects

https://www.instagram.com/creativestormbrighton/

https://www.instagram.com/map6collective/

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bo4OHrCl8uo/

https://www.instagram.com/photofringe/

http://www.map6.co.uk

http://www.map6.co.uk/the-shetland-project

https://www.ontic.photography

http://www.pinkthingsmag.com/photo/infrared-venus

https://www.tomheatley.co.uk/there-we-have-it#7

 

 

Exercise 2.2: Explore a road

This gave me an opportunity to drag myself out of the woods and think about the built environment. The first part of the exercise is to take a new look at familiar surroundings and the second is to write a short review of a ‘road movie’ of my choice focusing on how the road features in the film’s narrative.

Part One: My Road

My walking route took me firstly from the nearby copse to walk into the village centre and on another day to walk from the recreation ground/memorial fields to the main road which I then crossed into the village centre.

 

 

On the first occasion I was aware how I was paying closer attention to the road and its buildings. There was yet another sign indicating pending roadworks. I don’t think there has ever been a clear road around Ottershaw since we moved there. I was surprised as well when we moved here to find some light industry such as building supplies and haulage firms and I mused as I walked now whether they would disappear in the light of the push to build new houses to meet government quotas. The small nursery and pre-school caught my eye.  This is in an old school house which I think was a school in earlier days and I hoped that this bit of history wouldn’t disappear into new housing.

Around the corner and there was a building that’s been on my mind for a long time.  It used to be a County Council residential home for the elderly then, under new structuring, it became ‘an elderly resource centre’ before coming up for sale.  It looks as if I’s closed but I can’t be sure as cars are parked there.  So far as I’m concerned it’s an example of changes in social care and the removal of local care for elderly people.  I mean, what better place could there be than to be somewhere near to family and in the centre of the community. I’m guessing it’s likely to be turned into an expensive nursing home where only the rich can go.  I hope I’m wrong I really do. Walking on I noticed another house for sale sign and wondered how much they were asking.

On the second occasion I thought the memorial plaque at the first entrance to the memorial fields was worthy of attention.  Apparently there used to be another memorial at the crossroads further along but it was moved when the roundabout was built.  The roundabout was built in the 1940s (more of that later) to control the amount of traffic caused by the fact that the main road (A320) was the major road leading from Woking down towards the hospital and Chertsey.  The road is even busier now we have the M25 nearby, plus the prospect of new and large housing developments.  This likely to cause much greater congestion and the planners’ solution is to re-build the roundabout eight times larger and re-site it a little further down the road, removing our local car park used by shoppers who live too far away to walk and also users of the Village Hall (Brook Hall). I’ve written about this before so won’t repeat further. The village also has a Social Club (founded in 1883 ) and, very near the roundabout, a Carter & Miller Steak House – fairly new and replacing a Harvesters which itself replaced an old pub “The Otter” which I remember from the late 1970s

There are also other older buildings that still stand and are used for other purposes.  The old dairy is now an estate agents and the blacksmith’s foundry now hosts a family-owned used car sales business.

Below are further contact sheets identifying my areas of interest/current concerns.

 

 

Of those I think that a wider audience might be interested in new/continuing use for old buildings or how villages are affected by the growth in urban sprawl.

Part Two: Road Movie

I’ve expanded on the objectives here as there are three movies that interested me for different reasons.

Ottershaw Roundabout

A while ago I came across an old film b y British Pathe The Battle For Beauty (1940-1949) –  whilst looking for old photographs of Ottershaw on the internet. A real find because it was about residents’ feelings when the current Ottershaw roundabout was being built.  This is a great resource if I ever get to do a series on the proposed new roundabout. Only time will tell!

London Road (2015)

This is a verbatim-theatre film musical adaptation and book of a play that was a success at the National Theatre. Verbatim theatre is one where the text is generated from interviews with ‘real-life’ people and the book and lyrics of London Road are based on Alecky Blythe’s extensive recorded interviews with the real residents of London Road, Ipswich and the composer Adam Cork’s score is a response to the melodic and rhythmic speech patterns captured on those recordings.  The film stars Tom Hardy. Olivia Colman, Anita Dobson and the entire original cast of the National Theatre Production. It traces the impact on the community around London Road, Ipswich of a series of murders committed by Steve Wright (the occupant of No. 79) and the frenzied media interest that followed. I haven’t seen the play or film and, to be honest, when watching the various videos I found on You Tube, I felt rather put-off by the sing-song effect of the score. Maybe it’s something you have to listen to for a while to get used to and appreciate.

What interested me was the text generated from interviews with ‘real life’ people which of course, lends itself well to either video or a photo-book with captions.  Also, this is a story about a road, the people who lived there and had to cope with a traumatic event, and how they healed and came together again through a gardening project.

 

Locke (2013)

This is a two hour ‘road’ film with only one person, Locke (Tom Hardy again) seen on camera. Locke is a happily married man with two sons, except that he had a one-night stand with Bethan, a work colleague, seven months ago and she became pregnant. Bethan has gone into premature labour and is in a London hospital and desperate for him to be there at the birth as she has no family to support her. Locke has never forgiven his own father for abandoning him as a child and is determined not to make the same mistake himself even though he has no ongoing relationship with or any particular feelings for Bethan.

All this happens the night before he has to supervise a large concrete pour in Birmingham – the largest non-nuclear facility pour in European history.  Despite this and the fact that his family are eagerly waiting for him to go home and watch an important football match, Locke decides he must go to the hospital.

This complex plot is revealed through the thirty-six  phone calls that Locke has with family, work colleagues, his deceased father, Bethan and hospital personnel during the course of his two hour-drive to London. All the action takes place in his car, driving in the dark, with lights of oncoming cars flashing in his face, and also on the tears in his eyes as time goes on, with the lights of roads and cities outside creating double exposures which mirror the competing demands on him. Locke remains outwardly calm throughout whilst chaos surrounds him – fielding frantic calls from his assistant who he coaches through preparing for the pour; pleading phone calls from Bethan; his sons regaling him with progress in the football match, and his wife, Katrina, collapsing on the news of this impending birth and telling him not to bother coming home.

The film ends as Locke drives through the hospital grounds shortly after receiving a phone call from Bethan sharing the sounds of the baby, having had a successful caesarean birth.

I was surprised how this film held my attention throughout. It’s all quite nail-biting. Will his wife let him home, “I want to know that I will still be driving back when the sun comes up” to which his wife’s response is that she’s tired of his focus on the job, plus “You leave concrete wherever you go” which seems to have deep undercurrents given his stoic demeanour as he voices “I’m trying to fix it”.  Will the concrete get poured; will Locke get to the hospital without crashing; will be baby be born okay?  All this achieved, I think, by the steadiness and strength of Hardy’s voice and presence, plus the chaos signified by the flashing lights and looming vehicles.

Of course, something along those themes could be devised through video work but can it be done through photography?  There would need to be a fixed camera looking inside/outside.  I know iPhones have been used, also cameras like the Go-Pro. Presentation maybe through a slideshow/video with soundtrack, captions at the side. Something to think about.

 

OCA Showcase at Oxo Gallery, London: October 2018

 

SHOWCASE was an Exhibition of work by Foundation, Under- and postgraduate students to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the founding of the Open College of the Arts.  The Exhibition – held at the Oxo Gallery, London, from 24th to 28th October 2018 –  also marked the launch of JUICE (the journal of Useful Investigations in Creative Education) which is a collaboration between the University of the Creative Arts and OCA.  JUICE is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal which contains a multi-media collection of material and you can read more about it here 

I was determined to get there on the first day of the SHOWCASE Exhibition despite the chaos caused by the combination SW Rail strike and a signals failure – and was very pleased to be their second visitor.

Overall impression

The Oxo Gallery   is in a busy tourist area so has the prospect of inviting many visitors. However, at first I thought it was an empty shop, waiting to be set-up, and almost walked past as the front display space looked quite bare. A good idea to have the OCA Timeline around the walls but I think that would have been better placed in the area at the back of the building.  The concept of “Showcase” was the most important for me – to celebrate the multi-dimensional, creative work of so many distance learning students.

I had been expecting to see artwork and photographs spread around the walls and to see small sculptures as well as be able to handle sketch books, photobooks and textiles, read and listen to poetry and music. That’s what I was wanting to see and to feel proud of belonging to a group of so many creative people who inspire and support me.

High points

Being met by the three smiling invigilators, Stefan, Johnathan and Sarah-Jane and then talking with Eddie from OCA office.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to see work that, up to then, I’d only seen on-line; to be able to handle the small sketch books and photo-books which were on the shelves along one wall; peer through the glass display cabinets at small prints; see video work on a larger screen than just my computer or laptop and talk with some of my fellow students about their work.  Below is a small selection:

 

Stefan Schaffeld’s object-box was very inviting but it took me a while to accept his invitation to ‘unpack’ it. I was surprised what came up for me about making a mess of things and wanting to make sure that everything was put back in its proper place.

How can I use this experience?

I’m asking myself this due to being co-curator of the Exhibition being held by some of the members of the Thames Valley Group in February 2019.  I enjoyed being able to handle and look at small sketch books and photo books and interact with Stefan’s object-box. It was also good to see video/film work projected on the walls at a larger size than on a computer.  However, it felt odd not to see photographs, paintings, sketches, drawings on the walls.  It could be that I’m just pre-conditioned to expect that in a gallery and sometimes the size of a gallery dictates what can be exhibited and how. A large gallery with separate spaces can offer more scope than just one room (which is what we will have in what is a fairly large gallery and well-known gallery in a busy Town). I certainly hope that Thames Valley Group will expand exponentially to include even more members from the other Art disciplines as I’m increasingly attracted by the idea of having larger multi-media Exhibitions.

I hope that the OCA Student Site will show some videos and/or photographs of the Exhibition and the Private View.  If you’ve been and read my review here please do leave a note of your own blog post on the visit.

I subscribe to JUICE  now as well and one of the earliest articles is by OCA tutor Doug Burton who writes about ‘the benefits of time and distance in the delivery of HE at the Open College of the Arts’ and I really identified with his description of ‘slow creativity’

 

About JUICE
https://www.oxotower.co.uk/venue/galleryoxo/

 

 

Exercise 2:1: Territorial Photography

 

Part 2 – Landscape as Journey

Project : Surveys

Exercise 2:1 – Territorial Photography

Read an essay by Joel Snyder in Mitchell, W.J.T. (ed) (2002)Landscape and Power, Chicago. The University of Chicago Press. Summarise key points then find and evaluate two photographs by any of the photographers Snyder mentions.

The book was first published in 1994 and was said to reshape the direction of landscape studies by looking at landscape not as something to be seen or a text to be read but as an instrument of cultural force, a central tool in the creation of national and social identities. Joel Snyder is a photographer and member of the art History faculty at the University of Chicago. Expert in the history of photography, and the theory of photograph and film.  His aims in this essay are:-

  • To probe the motivating factors behind two American western landscape practices of the 1860s and 1870s in order to come to some understanding of why these photographic landscapes look the way they do.
  • To emphasize the specificity of approaches to photographic landscape in the period between 1860 and 1880

I’m presuming that it also forms part of the ongoing debate about the nature of photography and whether it is Science or Art and, if the latter,  what fits into what genre and why plus should it appear in the Gallery or a Museum. I  am also viewing it in relation to the essay by Rosalind Krauss Photography’s Discursive Spaces(1982)  which I wrote about here 

Summary

Snyder gives a brief history of Photography’s early development up to the late 1850s and I have summarized these by creating a force field analysis – it’s quite basic but working at it helped to get timeline changes in my head.

Snyder goes on to further explore  two differing American landscape practices through case studies of Carleton Watkins and Timothy 0’Sullivan and the role each of them played as photographers with exploration surveys in the American west.

Main points

Carleton Watkins and Yosemite

Carleton Watkins acquired photography skills when he was taken on to work in a San Francisco Studio two years after travelling there in the hopes of finding gold. He travelled to Yosemite and produced some of the first photographs seen in the East. Subsequently Watkins worked on commission for the California State Geological Survey, mining and lumber interests and, by the 1860s, for the Pacific railroads. Within his images he harmonized the landscape with industrial progress – playing man-made designs against the natural environment in his compositions; reducing highlights and shadows to a smooth continuum or producing rich mid-tones.

Watkins’s audience were encouraged to see the land as a site for potential development whilst being offered reassurance that it could withstand endless mass migration and industrial exploitation.  There was no recognition of the land’s original inhabitants who lived in mean reservations away from it.

Watkins combined technical excellence with conventions derived from picturesque and sublime modes of landscape depiction.  He was emulated by nearly every important photographer of the American West up to and including Ansel Adams and thus set the standard for commercial landscape photographers of the American West.  Neither Watkins nor his audience thought of his work in terms of art-historical analysis and there was no recognition that he might have created his images to produce particular impressions in viewers. His images were instrumental in the fight to preserve Yosemite as a national park and one of its many mountains is named Mount Watkins in his honour.

(Carleton Watkins, Yosemite Valley 1865)

A rolling landscape, harmonious tones, soft water reflections. Depicting a place where the visitor could sit and contemplate peaceful surroundings.

Timothy O’Sullivan

Much less is known about Timothy O’Sullivan, although he is known to have worked for Matthew Brady, one of the earliest American photographers, as a teenager.  He was subsequently commissioned in the Union Army then rejoined Brady’s team after his honourable discharge. Following this he followed John Pope’s Northern Virginia Campaign and subsequently had photographs published in the first Civil War photographs collection after joining another studio – that of Alexander Gardner, who published the Collection. It has been written that O’Sullivan moved beyond traditional war images, which usually portrayed armies at rest to capture instead the grim and gruesome realities of armed warfare.

From 1867 to 1869, O’Sullivan was the official photographer on the United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, under the direction of A.A. Humphreys by Clarence King, his job being to photograph the West to attract settlers. O’Sullivan later acted as photographer with the team searching for a canal route in Panama and was subsequently associated with a series of surveys in the southwestern United States, during which time he also photographed Native Americans. On his return East he was appointed first photographer for the newly established United States Geological Survey and, in 1880, on the recommendations of Brady, King and Gardner, was appointed chief photographer for the Department of the Treasury. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 42.

This website notes that “More so than other western expeditionary photographers, Timothy O’Sullivan explored alternative strategies of photographic composition …… through the conscious ordering and visual presentation of bold forms, which emphasized the abstract qualities of the landscape.”

Snyder describes O’Sullivan’s work as being ‘singular’ as opposed to that of other Western photographers as his images portray a bleak, inhospitable and god-forsaken land.

I have previously written here concerning Rosalind Krauss’s 1982 analysis of O’Sullivan’s photographs in relation to her criticism of the way in which photography historians in the 1980s were attempting to disassemble and then reassemble the photographic archive. She compares a print of a photograph (1868) and a lithographic copy of it produced for a book, Clarence King’s Systematic Geology (1878) asserting that the print belongs to science whereas the photograph operates with 19tcentury discourse – itself organized around an exhibition space – its wall. Her view was that O’Sullivan was a maker of scientific “views” and not of landscapes.

Joel Snyder refers to Krauss’s view in his essay and states that it is correct if the claim is that O’Sullivan did not conceive of his work in the same way, but Krauss claims that the scientific nature of O’Sullivan’s photographs somehow precludes an investigation of their pictorial character. The problem for him is that Krauss’s view assumes what is to be proved in that it assumes O’Sullivan went to the West as a scientist and his enterprise was scientific in character.  However, both of his chiefs argued that photography was incapable of producing pictures useful for scientific purposes so each of them needed topographical draftsmen as well.

Snyder points out that, if we dismiss Krauss’s claim, we are left with no explanation of what O’Sullivan was doing in the West. For Snyder, the short answer is that O’Sullivan was making illustrations for the interim and final reports published by the surveys, and the long answer was that he was making illustrations for an audience of two – his two chiefs –  his job being to provide generally descriptive photographs of the places he visited, which function to give a sense of the area but not to be used for the findings of the various authors of the reports.

Snyder explains that very few of the photographs reached an audience of non-professionals and they dropped from sight until Ansel Adams discovered a handful in 1939 which he sent to Beaumont Newhall, then acting curator of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Adams described them as “technically deficient ……. But nonetheless, surrealistic and disturbing”. Beaumont Newhall viewed the photographs as prototypical modernist photographic landscapes and published them in some of his histories. Therefore, O’Sullivan’s photographs entered into the modernist history of photography where they have remained. Having used the photograph Sand Dunes near Carson City (1867) to analyse how O’Sullivan achieved the composition and the placements of human figures as being dwarfed by immense vistas that obliterate individuality. Snyder goes further.

He suggests that each type of photograph – either refusing to bow to the conventions of contemporary landscape photography (O’Sullivan) or exemplifying the values found in the work of many other western photographers (Carleton Watkins, William Henry Jackson or others) served the interests of the expeditionary leaders. Whilst Watkins et al portrayed the landscape as a scene of potential habitation and exploitation, O’Sullivan’s photographs present the interior as ‘terra incognito’ and this fitted Clarence King’s belief that the inhospitable territory of Shoshone required a field of potential scientific enquiry that was properly the jurisdiction of scientific experts rather than the previous military explorers.  Joel Snyder believes that O’Sullivan’s photographs mark the beginning of a continuing era in which expert skills provide the sole means of access to what was part of our common inheritance.

There’s a very interesting essay here  by Frank Goodyear (2011) which looks at an early photograph of Shoshone Falls (which might include William Henry Jackson)  and uses it to gain insights “into photography’s role in mediating the public’s understanding of the American West and in concealing/revealing the diverse populations and complex network of interconnected relationships that existed in southern Idaho during the 1870s. Shoshone Falls is apparently thirty-six feet higher than Niagara Falls and known for its sublime beauty. Bringing home photographs of it was vital to record the achievement of those who climbed and photographed it and their role in opening up the territory.

Goodyear quotes a remark by one of the members of Clarence King’s party “there is in the entire region of the falls such wildness of beauty that a feeling pervades the mind almost unconsciously that you are, if not the first white man who has ever trod that trail, certainly one of the very few who have ventured so far (2011:272) and Goodyear goes on to describe the methods used to convey this sentiment – a single individual within the larger view (even though there were16 people in all in the party) with the single individual acting as a surrogate for the viewer of the image. e.g.

View of Shoshone Canyon and Falls – in the Idaho Territory, in 1868
(Timothy H. O’Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

And there is one in a similar vein here of the Grand Canyon with the small figures dwarfed by rocks.

Wall in the Grand Canyon, Colorado River – in the Idaho territory in 1868
(Timothy H. O’Sullivan: Google Art Project)

 

Thoughts

  • Timothy O’Sullivan had been a war photographer – perhaps seeing such gruesome sights caused him to suffer from post-traumatic disorder and contributed towards a depressive apprehension of the landscapes he photographed.
  • At the same time, how could his views be described ‘scientific’ when he was conveying a ‘feeling’ towards the environment and using specific methods to do so?
  • Perhaps Timothy O’Sullivan was one of those artists who were un-regarded at the time because his photographic vision was different from that of most of the others.
  • Perhaps he really was a forerunner of the modernist style or of documentary photography.Maybe even photo-journalism considering his war photographs taken on the battlefield.
  • The discussions around both photographers highlight the way in which historians and critics of photography apportion photographers to contemporary styles/genres which did not exist during that photographer’s life style.
  • Reading about these photographers reminded me of all the different techniques which can be used to compose and convey the sense of a place that the photographer wishes to impart.
  • I’m taking note of this continuing debate around photography and what should or shouldn’t be either considered art or to ‘fit’ in the gallery.

 

 

Reference

Frank H. Goodyear III (2011): An Early Photograph of Shoshone Falls: Uncovering a Network of Communities in 1870s Idaho, History of Photography, 35:3, 269-280

 

Performer and Participant: Tate Modern 8th October 2018

This Display space invites viewers to discover how artists working between the 1960s and the 1990s opened up new spaces for participation. At its core is individual and collective action – artist directed or as political activism – and in different forms – a proposal for action, recording an event or artwork being activated by the use of viewers’ bodies. I walked around  with fellow students Gesa and Sarah-Jane and the Exhibition below particularly interested me:-

Ana Lupas

The Solemn Process  1964 -2008 . . A long term Project that began as a traditional ritual involving communal craft work in rural Romania and ended with the ‘relics’ of the work being sealed in metal ‘tins’ as a form of presentation.

My understanding is that Lupas utilised an already existing activity – the weaving of wreaths for harvest festivals, and transformed this into a performative, artistic activity whose main purpose was the making of the structures themselves rather than for a celebrative ritual based on long tradtion. Lupas defined her role as ‘a bridge between the ancestral and the future’ in that although the original structures might gradually decay, the artwork itself would remain as the process continued and new participants were drawn in. the work continued in phases but economic and social changes in Romania eventually made it difficult for participants to continue so the straw structures became relics. Lupas tried to preserve the structures by restoring then drawing them but in the early 2000s she developed a practical technique of sealing them in metal ‘tins’ and a way of combining the natural and ‘traditional’ wreaths with modern/industrial techniques.

 

I found a link here that provides more information on this and another project which ran alongside (although beginning later).  I don’t know why but, for some reason I began to wonder about finance – was this a commission, did the local people also receive payment for their artistic efforts?

There were two other aspects of interest for me which linked with other artistic projects based in the landscape and/or natural processes.

So far as the wreaths were/are concerned their only purpose lies in being ‘art’ products – unlike sheaves of wheat which are dried then threshed to separate the grain from the stems which then become straw and used for other purposes such as animal bedding or providing an energy source. On the other hand an artistic project such as Phytology (which I wrote about here )  provides herbs for people to use; has an educational aspect; a space for other artists to create new work and enables the continuation of the site as a community garden. The use of wheat also reminded me of the artist Faye Claridge and her Fern Baby (2015) which I wrote about here   a huge corn doll created as part of Claridge’s response to some of the photographs in the  Benjamin Stone Collection, held in the Library of Birmingham, and her collaboration with young people to re-interpret customs using artefacts from the Marton Museum of Country Bygones.

This led me on to further questions around the nature of art. Why is it that I would see sheaves of wheat in a field and think, “Oh, it’s harvest time again”, yet go to a museum or art gallery and it becomes ‘Art’? Similarly, in respect of a garden. A garden produces vegetables, herbs, flowers etc and might be beautiful to look at but how often do I consider it as the ‘art’ of the gardener; yet it can become an artistic project.  I also read an interesting piece here on the opening of the Switch House in the Tate Modern  in 2016 and the opening of the New “Performer and Participant” Gallery. Bryony White comments on this work of Ana Lupas as a metaphor for the relationship between performance and the museum:

Lupas’s process seemed to ask the same questions that performance historians, curators  and artists have been asking for many years: ‘how do we preserve this’? How do we put a frame around these potentially (and not necessarily de facto) unstable objects’? How do we continue to resuscitate or give life to actions’?

The question, “Why should we and if so by what criteria” isn’t asked.

 

Reflection on Assignment 1

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I’ve found it very useful to look back over Part I and see how much the Projects and Exercises contributed to this Assignment in leading me into the world of colour, particularly red.

Tracing the links between the conventions of painting and early photography (Ex 1.3) I realised that it was intense colour I was drawn to in 19thCentury painting and the drama it could add drama to more intimate scenes.  All the elements of composition were there but the use of colour worked to loosen this and produce more expressive scenes. So far as mid-20thCentury photography is concerned, whilst I appreciate the artistry of photographers such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and their use of leading lines in perspective and layering of tones, I have to admit that I am much more inclined towards colour photography than I am black and white, even though I grew up surrounded by the latter.

The Mind-map I completed during Ex.1.6 was particularly useful in enabling me to keep a hold of all the strands in Morley’s view of The Sublime and, again, it was colour that stood out for me most.  I think that was because earlier I had been so struck by Tacita Dean and her search for the green rays of the sun during my reading around her Exhibition visit. I followed the colour theme through the work of Olafur Eliasson and Anish Kapoor and was pleased to discover Caroline Jane Harris whilst working on my eventual chosen Assignment topic.  Whilst writing this now I am reminded that the assignment I most enjoyed at Level one was based around a photograph of a girl with red-gold hair 

My tutor suggested I look at the work of Lauren Jury (Aldridge) and Helen Sear during our email exchanges regarding my first idea for the Assignment (Ex 1.7). Although I’ve parked that first idea for now, it’s interesting that these photographers used colour (particularly red) as contrasts in landscape photography and to draw the eye to the female figure – as do Elina Brotherus and Susan Trangmar. “Seeing red” as it were confirmed my decision to take the leap fully into the ‘red’ world of infrared before it’s processed and to use this and the forest as metaphors for the wild and unknowable – a place where we more directly meet ‘other’. I’ve long been interested in the ‘uncanny’ aspect of the Sublime so it was a good fit for my idea. Oddly, the unexpected did happen as well in reading the story about the place of execution and then coming across the piece of rope hanging from a tree.

So far as the technical is concerned, I could have used a red filter I guess but this would have given a different quality. Infrared photography has a quality all its own which contributes towards creating an atmosphere of ‘otherness’. All-over red could easily become a blur so I was careful to choose more structural elements in a scene when this was available and then chose the photopaper that seemed the most appropriate. Although prints would be a first choice I’ve also thought about other types of presentation that could be used., such as printing on transparent film as an overlay, or printing on tracing paper.

Reading the above, and thinking of assessment criteria I think I’ve met all of them to a reasonably competent standard. It took me longer than I’d anticipated to complete the Assignment, partly because I became side-tracked into experiments with alternative photography such as cyanotypes and leaf prints – still to be written-up – and also because I abandoned my initial idea after realising from the direction I was heading in that it would be a longer-term project.  Thinking back over my previous Modules, my creative process does appear to be one of following different strands at the same time.  In this case, I think I hung onto my first idea for too long which is why I got in touch with my tutor for advice, yet, at the same time, I felt more energy from working with two ideas at the same time.  How do I get the balance between hanging on grimly to an idea that doesn’t seem to be working and being like a butterfly seeking nectar all over the place. I’ve written above how creating the mind-map helped me to keep hold of the Sublime strands but does the structure of a mind-map actually increase my tendency towards lateral thinking because I can see lots of strands that interest me?

I’m also aware that I enjoyed the research into the Sublime and extended both my understanding and knowledge regarding artists who reflect it in their work.  However, I didn’t refer much to the Sublime itself in the write-up of the Assignment. Maybe I was taking it for granted that viewers/readers would understand my approach when I should have been explicit.