Author Archives: Catherine

Brain Pickings: Maria Popova on Brian Greene

Maria Popova produces Brain Pickings   a free Sunday digest of inspiring articles across art, science, philosophy, creativity, children’s books, and other strands of the search for truth, beauty, and meaning. There’s always something I find interesting and today’s newsletter was particularly so because it linked in with some of the other reading I’ve been doing.

One of the articles is about Brian Greene and his book Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (2020).  His view is that human’s creativity stems from the knowledge that we will die and the world will go on without us – a search for meaning. I immediately linked this fear of nothingness with my readings of Brian Dillon’s book In the Dark Room (2019) which I have recently written about.

‘As we hurtle toward a cold and barren cosmos, we must accept that there is no grand design.  Particles are not endowed with purpose. There is no final answer hovering in the depths of space awaiting discovery.  Instead, certain special collections of particles can think and feel and reflect, and within these subjective worlds they can create purpose.  And so , in our quest to fathom the human condition, the only direction to look is inward. That is the noble direction to look.  It is a direction that forgoes ready-made answers and turns to the highly personal journey of constructing our own meaning.’

I now have the book so there may be more to come on this.



Exercise 5.7 – Project: Artist’s Statement

Project: Artist’s statement


  1. Statement of intent – what you hope to achieve with the work
  2. Marketing device or describing practitioners’ interests
  3. Specific body of work or may talk about practice more generally
  4. Will probably contain information about any training relevant to their practice, prizes, grants, awards won etc.
  5. An Artist’s statement not the same as an artist’s CV – NB yet CV also contains information on training etc, so pretty much a repetition seems to me.
  6. Huge variety in styles and formats
  7. Often written by another person (or designed to sound as if it is by being written in the third person – definitely not my style).

Exercise 5.7: Prepare your artist’s statement

A link is provided to a statement on the Purdy Hicks website re the work of Ola Kolehmainen, but this comes up as ‘navigation error’.  Instead I looked again at a statement on the same site about the work of Jorma Purenen whose work ‘Imaginary Homecoming’ I have written about here.


Jorma Puranen

Jorma Puranen (born 1951, Helsinki) has become known for his conceptual images of northern landscapes and readdressing historical portraits. In his work he explores the themes of history, culture, identity and memory, creating a dialogue between the past and the present. Puranen often uses archive material as his point of departure, but instead of concentrating on the objects themselves, he studies the reflections, shadows, brushstrokes and cracks on their surfaces; the layers of uncertainty in between the object and the viewer. As he writes, ‘Photography’s capacity to register reflections is actually its singular gift. What other medium deals so expressively with the play of light and shadow?’

Jorma Puranen is one of Finland’s best known photographers, with his work held in many major international photographic collections. His distinguished career has included a long tenure as Professor of Photography at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki.

Written by another person, succinct yet certainly describes his work as I’ve viewed it.  It also includes a short quote from him,  ‘Photography’s capacity to register reflections is actually its singular gift.  What other medium deals so expressively with the play of light and shadow?’  I thought that was an interesting quote to use as it turns what is so often a problem into a positive aspect and, indeed, one of his series Shadows and Reflections (2015),  photographs of painted portraits , includes ones showing lighting glare on the surface of the painting. Page is here 

Hrair Sarkissian

I then had a look at the website of Hrair Sarkissian   – whose work I have referenced in my Assignment 4 Critical Review.  His biography is divided into three sections – Selected Solo Exhibitions since 1998, Selected Group Exhibitions  since 2014 and then a very brief biography which has an added statement from him about the way he uses photography – the how, why, the process of the work and the effect he wishes his work to have on the viewer.   I then looked at one of his specific artist statement – for his project Last Scene (2016) 

Last Scene’ (2016) is a series of 47 photographs of places in The Netherlands that were chosen by terminally ill patients to go and see as their last wish.

The project centres on the power of a well-loved place to compress an outlook on life into a telling scene that is at once melancholic and joyful. The simplicity of each landscape or scene heightens attention to an inner journey of remembering the past and envisioning a future that no longer includes you.

In contemporary culture the notion of death and dying is often consciously ignored. This project gives the viewer a way in to grapple with the question of where we come from, and where we are going. The images turn into mirrors: on the one hand you try imagine the person who looked at the scene for the last time, while at the same time it encourages introspection: what would my wish be?

These scenes were photographed at the date and time of the actual last visit.

Archival inkjet prints, 42 x 50 cm

Every photograph is different, of course, but the images are held together by the title of the series.  I felt somewhat lead by the sentence ‘The images turn into mirrors: on the one hand you try imagine the person who looked at the scene for the last time, while at the same time it encourages introspection: what would my wish be?’, I didn’t so much try to imagine the person actually but wondered what it was about that particular scene that drew them.

Lewis Bush

His biography has a short and a long version, with a short, written description of his projects since 2012.  He provides a separate list of his Awards and Commendations.

I looked at his statement for the project The Memory of History (2012) 

Three paragraph – a) Clarifying what is for him in this project, the meaning of  ‘nation’ and that of ‘European Union’. b) Process of project and what it does and c) What the project comprises. Links to relevant reviews, to look at the Memory of History box and to order books and prints.


Possible Statement for Assignment 5

Short Version

In H.G. Wells’s book The War of the Worlds (1898) the Martians land on the sandpit on Horsell Common in Woking.  I lived near to the Common for several years, walking there often, and so I decided to re-visit it, taking photographs of anything that caught my attention, to see if I could enter into the mindset of H.G. Wells and gain some understanding of what inspired him there to make it one of the subjects for his book.

When looking through my photographs I re-envisaged the Common as a liminal space, redolent with the history of all those people who passed through it and where the remnants of its ancient landscape constitute a meeting place for memories, sensory experiences  and future imaginings

Longer Version

Books and reading have always been a very large point of my life since I was small and I’m very interested in the way we use the landscape as the subject or background for the stories we tell.  I live very near to Horsell Common which is in a town called Woking in Surrey.  The Common has a large sandpit – the remnants of an ancient river – and this is the place where the author H.G. Wells had his Martians land in the book The War of the Worlds (1898) before they went on to destroy the people and places of many areas of Surrey.

My first idea was to visit all the locations in and near Woking which are mentioned in the book, but I quickly realised that I was being too ambitious in scope and it was better to concentrate first on Horsell Common as this was where the Martians chose to land. I wondered what was about it that lead it to become one of the inspirations for Wells’s book, particularly the sandpit. I hoped that reading up on the history of Woking, particularly what was happening there in the late 1890s, combined with several visits to the Common, could open the door of an H.G. Wells Imaginarium for me to enter.

I’ve walked on the Common many times in past years, but not for a while, so I decided to walk around the Common with an open mind, taking photographs of anything which caught my attention.  When looking at the photographs afterwards I realised anew what an unusual environment this is.  I was looking at the remnants of an ancient landscape; sand the colour of the desert; pale silver birches in the sparse soil, thin trunks like fingers reaching to the sky and skewed branches clinging together on entwining roots as if hanging on to life in a changing world. It seemed to me that this place provides a liminal space; a threshold between past, present and future imagining where I was able to stand alongside H.G. Wells looking together at our surroundings as if through a stereoscope.




Further Reflection on my Concept for Assignment 5


The themes for me from the start were:

  • Aggressive invasion by the English in Tasmania, which disturbed H.G. Wells to the extent that he turned this on its head by describing the Martians behaving in the same way but being ‘beaten’.
  • Lack of communication and empathy with others who are different
  • What would it have been like for H.G. Wells to live in the Woking area briefly at the time?
  • What attracted Wells towards Horsell Common and sparked his imagination?
  • Destroying habitats and ways of living and being – Tasmania; European colonization generally; why the Martians had to leave Mars and find somewhere else; the struggle now between competing forces – the need for housing therefore attempts to develop green belt land or nibble at the edges of it; fights to protect it; fears now of increasing Climate Change; the Space race now to construct the technology to travel to other planets; my fear that if we eventually live on other planets we will slowly destroy their environments as we are doing on Earth now.

I knew that the Assignment needed to be more focused so decided to think myself into Wells’s mind-set and visit locations which are mentioned in his book.  I soon discovered that I was being too ambitious in scope and it was better to concentrate on Horsell Common since the Martians chose to land there. The Common is familiar to me and I’ve photographed there many times in the past, but it did seem different this time. I decided to take photographs of anything which caught my attention in some way rather than plan to walk in specific places. That and the fact that I hadn’t visited there for a while helped too, I think, as there had been interesting changes.  I realised anew what an unusual environment this is with its unusual and striking features and ‘uncanny’ aspect. I decided on the title of ‘The Eve of the War’ to portray the Common just before the Martians landed and with aspects of it that would act as foreboding signifiers – portents of a danger to come.

Our monthly meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group took place after submission date but, knowing that it had been submitted as a draft and that my tutor would be providing formative feedback, I took my ‘draft’ set of photographs to gain some peer feedback – see here   The feedback was positive but, as can be seen,  comments indicated that there was some confusion as to my narrative around the choices, the point of view I was taking and how that might affect my sequencing of the images.

My tutor sent me some interim notes the day afterwards, ready for discussion, and although generally positive, she also asked questions along similar lines but more challenging.  What war was I referring to; was I searching for Wells’s imaginary war and his prophetic ideas of how we have waged war against nature/our earth.  Is my project about climate change, space exploration or a visitation? If my series is about climate change then, unless this is in the sense of the apocalyptic, this is achieved by Wells’s story rather than this particular landscape and my images of it. Therefore, is this why I would feel that this is what makes the story so resonant today.  My tutor suggested returning to the images to question what they are really saying – sense of the unease, other-worldly, nature looking alien – is this notion of the ‘uncanny’, “unsettled” of more interest? In which case there are other images I could also use.  Alternatively, is this about a visual means of exploring a place that has been turned into a visual one through TV and film; to absorb the ideas that Wells was expressing and see if I could find traces of it on this site?

The issue has been that, for me, there are so many aspects which is probably why the book has been such a success continuously through the years with its various editions and other media stemming from it.  This fits very much with Tom Lombardo’s description of science fiction as ‘The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future’ (2015) with archetypal, mythic, and cosmic qualities.  (I wrote about his book here

Thinking over it all now I’m aware that all those themes were at the back of my head as I was walking around the Common, but I felt involved in what I was seeing and also connecting with its history. The sandpit, part of the Bagshot Beds, formed millions of years ago when the ‘Great Bagshot River’ deposited thick sands; all those people passing through history.  It was as if I was actually walking alongside H.G. Wells each of us with our different thoughts – looking at our surroundings as if through a stereoscope.  Looking back at my original proposal for the project I see I entitled it, ‘The War of the Worlds: Projections from the past to the future’ but I don’t think that quite fits now.

Looking at the Project in another way, I wanted to look at an area I know well through the mind and eyes of H.G. Wells to understand why he thought that the Sandpit on Horsell Common was a good place for Martians to land their Spaceship.  I have always thought that Horsell Common was an unusual place, something out of the ordinary, but this time I saw it with slightly different eyes through allowing myself to become even more in tune with it. I was looking at the remnants of an ancient landscape; sand the colour of the desert; pale silver birches in the sparse soil, thin trunks like fingers reaching to the sky and old trees, skewed branches clinging together on entwining roots. Hanging on to life in a changing world. Perhaps that’s the conversation I would have with H.G. Wells if we had ever met.






OCA Thames Valley Group meeting: 15th February 2020

This was an informal group session with eight of us present. We began with Jonathan bringing us up-to-date on place for the rest of this Academic Year’s sessions; had some discussion about latest notifications from OCA re tracking of students’ active learning and then moved onto discussion of works in progress.


Has been preparing a PechaKucha Presentation on her MA Body of Work ‘Digital Afterlife’. I was amazed how much information she was able to provide with such a short time slot available. (I found a good resource here  for further general information).  Dawn also had an image in a recent book, Women – Inspiring Quotes and artistic Responses Vol. 2.  Dawn had responded to an open call she had seen on CuratorSpace asking for women artists to provide a quote from an artist or writer who inspires them, together with an artistic response to this. CuratorSpace looks very useful; it’s a project management toolkit for curators, organisers, galleries, and artists, which is designed to simplify managing exhibitions, competitions etc, by allowing organisations to create open calls inviting people to submit ideas, projects, and art work quickly and easily. I’ve now subscribed to their newsletter and they are also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.


I had taken along 7×5” prints of my current choices for Assignment 5 which has H.G. Wells’s ‘War of the Worlds’ as inspiration and Horsell Common as a subject. I asked for feedback on the sequence and suggestions about suitable texts (as there is no text at the moment)also showed the postcards I had selected.  I also showed the vintage postcards I had bought from eBay as I was thinking about ways in which I might be able to incorporate them, and explained I would like to create a handmade book and have also thought of an ‘altered’ book as I have several copies of ‘War of the Worlds’.


Everyone was very interested in and positive about the sequence and the concept – one comment being “There’s plenty of meat in this”.  However questions were asked which indicated to me that I needed to be clearer about my choices/sequence and what I was portraying. Was I looking at Horsell Common from a Martian’s point of view, is it about  the Martian War itself, before it happens or when it’s ended?  Suggestions were made that I could follow the sequence of the story/part of the story which covers Horsell Common; or insert a link to a Martian tripod by photographing trees from underneath. Another suggestion was that, if it’s connected with the Martian having landed then it would be appropriate to end the sequence with the creeping tree roots.

So far as adding text is concerned there was a consensus that I should include quotations from the book.  Regarding the ‘altered’ book, one idea I’d had was to paint a watercolour overlay over my images (cf. the work of Aletheia Casey ) or even parts of the book.  Another suggestion was to convert my photographs to black and white and then paint over them which is something Gerry has done in the past using acrylic ink rather than watercolour because it’s brighter and easier to use.  Gerry also referred to a book he had seen where the pages got gradually redder.  So far as the postcards are concerned, I could perhaps paint over copies of the postcard and then insert them in the book.


He is continuing to enjoy the book design course and showed us a zine he created for Assignment 1. ‘My Life in Books’. It looked very professional and he is also planning to create a photo-zine.


Used his iPad to show us some of his work for Assignment 3 ‘A Journey’. This is on his website and he has created a map of the journey a with accompanying slideshow. It’s a very effective and creative way of presenting a walk .  We discussed whether ambient sound relative to the place would support  the concept of change over time e.g. even the sound of breathing, also a suggestion that instead of right to left perhaps  it would better show the direction of the journey relative to the map if left to right. Jonathan is also planning to create a giant cyanotype of the stones he collected on his walk. His Assignment 5 will be a project on land art, including a clever, and artistic, possible way of influencing walkers on a public right of way to stay on that as they walk through a private field.


Work for Identity & Place. A series which utilises a processing technique he developed before studying with OCA and incorporates landscape scenes with objects which are important to him. Very distinctive prints with a slight HDR effect and printed on Permajet Pearl paper.


Talked us through the process and shared work produced in collaboration with an artist – part of a collaborative group submitting work for the forthcoming Edgezine online magazine.  Each responded to work created by the other, from which new work was created.



Shared work he had done for an Assignment for the Illustration Module.  He experimented with using the cheapest possible ink and a foam brush. Really effective and a pleasure to look at.

During our lunch break Jonathan told us about a YouTube film which shows a 3D printer in the desert using solar energy and making glass Dawn showed us some work by Songwen Chung who has created a robot that will draw with her ,and also some wonderful work by Helen Douglas on Weproductions . There’s some ‘Poempondscroll’ (2010) a 5.7 metre x 21 cm scroll, printed on Chinese paper with ultra chrome inks. (out of print unfortunately)

The reflective expanse and circle of the pond at Deuchar Mill inspired Douglas to explore the scroll format, and gave Valerie Gillies the idea of writing a poem in Chinese form using couplets to encircle the creatures which live in the pond. The result, poempondscroll, is a horizontal hand scroll over 5 metres long, which visually evokes light and reflections on water, with an integrated text that merges and disappears within the rendered details of water insects, rushes and the pond itself.

 Evolving out of the first scroll was ‘The Pond at Deuchar’ 14 metres x 27cm, continuing Douglas’s exploration of Deuchar Pond in deeper and richer colour and at greater length. This is also out of print but there was also a digital version of this and, if you have an iPad it can be accessed from here  .

It got me thinking that perhaps I could create a scroll book for Assignment 3 ‘Silent Pool’ must discuss with my tutor.


A very useful and supportive meeting demonstrating, once again, the value of sharing work with fellow students and asking for feedback.  For me it’s actually more useful than online sessions because I can see the physical prints and books etc.

Actions for me are:-

  • Reflect on my overall concept for Assignment 5 to make sure is it links coherently with the images
  • Find suitable text from the book “War of the Worlds” to add to the book
  • Do some experiments with watercolour paint or acrylic ink as a layer over some of my Assignment 5 images
  • Discuss the idea of a scroll book for Assignment 3 with my tutor
  • Richard created some beautiful handmade books when he studied Landscape so I will get in touch to ask for more details on his process.




Brian Dillon (2005) In the Dark Room (2019) London: Fitzcarraldo Editions.


My tutor recommended this book to me in her recent feedback, with regard to ideas of home and memory.  In the Dark Room is a meditation upon mourning and an excavation of memory, how it works emotionally and culturally. “It is narrated through the prism of his experience of losing both his parents, his mother when he was sixteen, his father when he was on the cusp of adulthood and of trying, after a breakdown some years later, to piece things together”.   I recognised many of Brian Dillon’s way of coping having lost three of the most important people in my life suddenly.  I wouldn’t describe this as a sad book which I think is due to the strategies he uses to allow the memories to emerge and almost float around him. The book has many thoughts and quotations on theory and philosophy to explore so I’m taking it slowly – a book to read in quiet periods of reflection.  I’m about three-quarters through now but decided to jot down thoughts and relevant quotes particularly in relation to house/home and also photographs so far as this blog is concerned as I wouldn’t want to ‘spoil’ the reading of it for others.

The book


Fairly small in size (slightly less than A5) with 266 pages and a heavy, matte, white paper cover with fold-ins – the kind that you think you can use as a bookmark but only ever works for a few pages. has 266 pages, plus a list of readings, and so this makes it quite a thick book for its overall size. The front cover has a dark blue, all capitals title and author’s name which complements the white background.  The size, thickness and cover of the book give clarity adding to the overall impression of a contemplative and serious book.

Dillon begins his book in 1993 at a time when he is standing in the house which he will shortly leave for the last time, some years after the death of his father. The use of the word ‘excavation’ is a good one I think because he explores memory through objects which he places in five chapters; – ‘House’; ‘Things’; ‘Photographs’; ‘Bodies’ and ‘Places ‘.  He does so slowly and methodically,  describing every object in minute detail, allowing the memories to emerge at a pace which, I imagined, allowed him to cope with the pain of the remembering; the grief which he had been unable to allow to surface for so many years.

I’m noting below some themes that interested me (quoting Dillon in italics, amongst my own reflections). He writes in the present tense so that brings a sense of immediacy – the here and nowness of the emerging memories and reflections; the reader stands alongside him seeing what Dillon sees, listening to his thoughts.

House pages 21-67

Upon leaving a house that has been a family home:

We start to see it as a sort of ruin, or rather as a pair of ruins, one of which exists only in our imagination.  The other is the real space in which we drift about, disconsolately or impatiently, depending on the circumstances of our leave-taking.  (p.26)

The notion of the house as a repository of memory is an ancient one. (p.28) Cicero said that architecture is the model for well-ordered recollection – if you want to remember something you put it into a particular room of the house … the images of the things will denote the things themselves, and we shall employ the places and images respectively as a wax writing-tablet and the letters written on it.  This is an ‘ideal’ house though not ‘home’.  the mention of wax-table made me remember Freud and the palimpsest of memory. Dillon writes about remembering a sense of what it felt like to move around a house in which he’s lived again a phenomenological approach.

We’re always present in the house of our memory but to see it empty, walk around it for the last time, …. Is to catch sight of a less tangible image: the ghost of ourselves, wandering from room to room like a bad student of classical rhetoric failing to find the proper places to deposit his lesson. I identified with that – time contracts somehow, the spaces between past and present join together. I feel suddenly very small, as if I’ve been dropped into a sort of ravine which recalls me instantly to my childhood perception of this spot.

Dillon refers to Tacita Dean’s film “Boots” about an elderly man who walks around the house creating a narrative for each empty space, apparently recalling some of the former inhabitants. (p. 36).  Boots invents his own memories. I watched Dean’s film with a growing sense that I was seeing something very familiar: the moment when one moves through a space both intimately known and at the same time utterly alien  … the space itself seems to have dropped out of history, drifted off (like the massive ocean liner it resembles) into unchartable seas of memory. The film reminds Dillon of Rachel Whiteread’s work “House”  – the solid cast of the interior of a Victorian house, ‘exhibited’ in situ – not actually seen by him but photographs of it. Once demolished it showed itself not as a solid mass […] but a collection of vacant concrete boxes held together by an invisible interior armature.  He reflects that the true house is the space within which we move. It is the empty volume that we get used to, that makes our bodies move in particular ways, that forms habits and physical attitudes which persist, awkwardly, after we have left.   […] Nostalgia is no longer the word to describe the moment when we see the space around us for the complicated void it really is.  At that instant – the instant, for me, of seeing the house empty for the first and last time – it becomes properly uncanny (which is to say: ‘unhomely’). (p. 39)  Having a sense of each room being a separate passage into the past (referring to Virginia Woolf’s diary) a Chinese box in which each new discovery jostles for place to claim priority in his memory (p.41) and so the memories come to him – at the age of 5 his father distressed after the death of his own father; later years remembering how his mother’s illness gradually tooke over her; changed her.

(p. 47) De Quincey on “The Pains of Opium” and its effects on his dreams, imagination and memory – concluding that there is ‘no such thing as forgetting possible to the human mind’, and also using the term palimpsest to refer to the human brain.  De Quincy recounting seeing the corpse of his younger sister when he was only six years old and remembering the sensation of a specific space. The image develops like a photograph: the author illuminated between the light from the window and the dark mass of the bed where his sister’s body lies.

 (p. 60) Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space” and how the childhood house marks us physically. It is not only the place itself that stays with us, but a capacity for reflection which is forever bound up with the way we moved within it

Photographs pages 117-167

(p.118) Acknowledging he needed help for the depression that was clouding his life; realising that medication and therapy were helping him and feeling well enough to look at the roots of the depression. Dillon had earlier begun to look through the thirty-six photographs he took from the family home. He now began to write about them; to describe what he saw in them, […] rather than to indulge in any excessive reminiscence or conjecture about their significance. Wanting to record what he saw and test them against his misery – with Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida in mind. Bare essentials clear to him but details foreign (similar to experience described by Barthes).

(p. 125) I had never seen most of these photographs of my parents until they were dead – that sentence so reminded me of sitting on my parents’ bed; going through the envelopes of photographs and recognising some but not others; ones of my grandparents too. In the past years during my studying I have often brought out these photographs, written about them and thought about their young lives. Like Dillon I too wonder why they never brought them out and talked about them, even though they talked about their parents. In fact, now, particularly regarding my father I’m realising that some of these photographs were actually sent to me by my cousin. Could it be that her mother, the oldest of my father’s six siblings was the one who held the family archive?

Dillon writes movingly of the early daguerreotypes and the fragility of the images in their wooden cases, including images where the surviving relatives are shown gathered around a daguerreotype of their deceased parent, which is often invisible, reaching to touch it. Remembrance included ancillary objects such as hair strands in a locket or dried flowers. Also, the photograph could be sewn into a cushion or inserted in a shrine. (NB as an aside  photographs could often be taken with the dead On the one hand this seems macabre and yet…)

(p. 128) Looking at the photographs, in a disorganised state, realising that not all were kept by him whilst some were – artistic merit, in line with a ‘family photographs, allegorical images of his own state of mind – whilst still without meaning for him On the one hand Dillon will soon have had these photographs for longer than his parents were married, whilst, on the other hand, photographs of them might have been hidden away in the albums of other family relatives. Realising that he knew very little of his parents lives before he (the oldest) was born.

(p.135) Beginning to remember now some details of family history and taking note of how his parents looked.

(p. 142)  Photography, and the proximity of death, tear the face from its home and memory and set it adrift in time, where we find that we have failed to recognize the faces we know best finding a photograph of his mother as a child with her parents and her face being, […] quite unlike that of the being I knew… I could find nothing of her there, and therefore nothing of myself. And this absence, this feeling that she was manifestly present but just out of reach, was distinctly painful.

 (p.146)ical fact which puts his father in a distant past. And yet this is also the photographic instant at which I have imagined that my father comes alive in my memory. Recognising a facial expression he knew and thus turning to look at a photograph of his mother, seeing an aura about her which is different from that of her companions which then leads him on to looking at his parents as a young couple, imagining the moment – could it be their first photograph together? Struck by the thought that this was a past before him.

(p. 155) St Augustine was the first writer to look back on his childhood and experience this sense of vertigo while trying to reconstitute a lost self. Relating to Augustine as an inaugural autobiographer in his “Confessions” who imagines a time before himself, with birth and death, both are entirely mysterious, twin voids at either end of existence, supporting between them a time which seems to have meaning if we concede their meaninglessness. Their mirrored terror resides in the fact that there has existed (and will exist again) a time in which “I” do not exist. Reading those words of Dillon’s reminded me of the times I have also approached that thought and shut down on it as quickly as I can on that terror , existential anxiety of the void.

(p. 157) Reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography “Speak Memory”, quoting an extract where Nabokov has a similar experience. Dillon writes of beginning to recognize other snapshot where he appears as a baby and this actually reminded me that I do have three photographs showing me pregnant with each of my three children.

Dillon acknowledges to himself that there are no photographs between one of his mother not long before she dies and his father’s death nearly ten years later so that his adolescence was entirely undocumented – a void – something he joked about in his early adulthood. What would photographs then have looked like; describing a 1914 photograph of August Sander entitled, ‘Widower with Sons’. Had we been photographed, I thought, we might have looked like Sander’s dismal grouping: the iconic presentment of bereavement, but also of the failure of the bereft to find a way of addressing their loss.

(pp.164 ) This section ends with Dillon’s description of a photograph which he used to let slip to the bottom of the pile – the final photograph of his parents some weeks before his mother died in 1985, also the last image of his father. As before he describes the photograph in detail and the change in his mother made by illness and writes that he can’t help relating it to the one taken 25 years before of his parents – both are the only ones in which they appear alone together. The photographs (all photographs) say to us that their subjects are alive and dead at the same time


Project and Exercise 5.6: Context and Meaning

Project – Beyond the gallery: site as context

There is a YouTube video –  ‘Artist’s insight: Jorma Puranen|Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present |National Gallery ‘ (3 Dec 2012). where Puranen gives his perspective on Franciso de Goy’s portrait, ‘The Duke of Wellington’. He says his work is based on thinking of past and present and somehow the juxtaposition of past and present concerns. He has photographed paintings in Museums for many years. He tries to create some kind of living context to reconsider the lives of the people in the portraits. And also considers the biography of the painting (like the cracks in the paint).  In effect he approaches the painted portrait as if the living person was in front of him. You have to remember what the lighting would have been like in their day , e.g. no electricity in the living room so you have to learn to look at the paintings when it’s dim, and when there is almost no light – they speak to you in a different way in the darkness and that’s the way the people come alive to you. He hopes that in his photographs of the paintings the people ‘somehow hover between beyond and behind the material layers of the very painting itself.

In his work Imaginary Homecoming (1999), Puranen takes this approach steps further with Lapp portraits photographed on glass negatives by G. Roche when he was employed as photographer on an expedition to Lapland in 1884. Puranen came across these photographs in the archives of the Musee de l”homme in Paris.  Puranen found that he new people whose ancestors appeared in those photographs and he decided to create an imaginary homecoming of the portraits and return them to their original landscape.  He re-photographed the portraits, printed them on film; attached these transparencies to acrylic sheets and transformed them into a fell landscape photographic installation.

I think this work is wonderful and a perfect way to exhibit such portraits.

Exercise 5.6 Context and meaning

 In the past I have ‘installed’ photographs for a day in the place where I took them –  see here  .  So far as my current Assignment 5 is concerned, though I’m not entirely sure that the Sandpit would be good place to exhibit them.  Depending on the weather conditions they could be strung between the trees that border the Sandpit or maybe somewhere in the car park.  The Wetlands area of Horsell Common now has a café with outdoor seating if the weather was good there could possibly be room for a display stand.  I’m trying to think now of the wall space inside the café.  To complete this exercise properly I’ll have to go back and look at the spaces again before I draw a diagram.

John Walker (2009) Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning

Notes (my reflections in blue)

Reading the first paragraph reminded me of the discussion we had at the January OCA Thames Valley Group meeting see here  where we did discuss how the context of a print – whether framed or not – will also be changed by where and how it’s placed and this also links with the previous exercises looking at differences between exhibiting in a gallery and in an online Exhibition.  Jorma Puranen’s siting of the Lapp photographs in their original landscape also changed their meaning from that of interesting photographs in an archive to ‘these are the people who used to live here; think about them and their lives”.  (A montage relationship)

‘No figure can be perceived except in relation to a ground’ (Gestalt)

The actual context needs to be made clear – a different gestalt is created according to this and relative aspects of the photograph. I like the example of commuters crowding and sheep crowding.  Also reminded me of Mark Tansey’s ‘The Innocent Eye Test” (1981).

Movement of paintings and sculptures from original location lost their connection with it.  Effect of mechanical reproducibility of photographs appearing all over the place. Does this lessen the importance of architectural or physical display context?  Walker thinks it does but I’m not so sure. Changing the meaning is different from changing the importance of something. It depends on the context.

There is a need to examine the life of an image as well as its birth; consideration too of circulation and currency (term borrowed from John Tagg). Example of Jo Spence and series of photographs depicting her from age of eight-and-a-half months to her forties exhibited at the Hayward Gallery. Already seen by Walker previously in two different contexts – public library and femininist magazine. Shock value for different reasons in both contexts. Spence also talked of the effect on her family. By including conventionally unflattering photographs of herself in the family album, Spence undermined the norms of perception induced by such albums. Also enabled her to make visible the stereotyping of women within various photography genres, particularly in representations of women according to a work/leisure division and also the use of private images used by advertisers. (see here)

Different aspects highlighted according to the context – public library private/public; Hayward Gallery critical work upon photography.  NB display context only one amongst many, plus Spence’s work was self-reflexive and had a didactic aim. To judge how this worked we need to know more about motivations of visitors to art galleries and a survey of visitors would hep to establish a typology of responses. NB two-way influence though between meaning of a photograph and meaning of context  (I’m thinking here of Anna Goodchild’s Exhibition last year in Plymouth – her work was about redemption whereas the Exhibition space was in what used to be the cells in Devonport Guildhall, which were about punishment and containment, see here 

Mental context or set:-  the ‘beholder’s share’ (Ernst Gombrich).  A viewer is not a blank slate. Examples given. (very interesting point in terms of documentary and how the photographer can stress different aspects of people – touch/weak,pathetic.)  Stress how?  Posture, clothes, stance. However, a lot of experience is shared within social groupings, ‘pictorial stereotypes do not merely exist externally in the world of the mass media, they inhabit us.’

One image amongst many – how to judge its effect? Can affirm/reinforce existing dominant conceptions until social context changes dramatically as in a revolution, e.g. smashing of icons and power in Paris during 1871 Commune and, more recently, guerrilla campaign of the women’s movement against sexist advertising – ‘this example reminds us that although our freedom to decode or read images is highly restricted – the structure of the ‘text’ structures the way we experience it – we can still make an oppositional response. Example from 1933 statue in Poland. Context so often lies outside control of artists, e.g. re mental context, work is usually produced with specific audiences in mind or adapted to suit local circumstances.

NB original article 1980? Reprinted in The Camerawork Essays: Context and Meaning in Photography, ed Jessica Evans (London:Rivers Oram Press, 1997) pp. 52-63. Prefaced by an introduction: notes as follows.

Re argument that because an image can have so many meanings it must be meaningless – denies the fact that consensuses are reached regarding the denotation and implied/intended meanings of images; also undermines the educational process by making the lecturer’s efforts to discuss photography and meaning vacuous. (reminded me here of ‘the man in the street’).

Re ‘mental effect’ (taking into account variability of viewers) expanding branch of criticism and history-writing ‘reception aesthetics/history/theory’. – emphasis from cultural production to cultural consumption, from ‘authors’ to ‘readers’ (Roland Barthes and 1968 ‘the Death of the author’ had been translated to English in 1977). Reception theory   – ideal reader implied by a text or work of art, while reception history tends to be concerned with actual readers and readings that have taken place over time.







Personal Reflection on Assignment 5 (Draft)


My draft Assignment includes an evaluation but I thought it would be useful for my personal development to reflect in more depth.

I have mixed feelings about this Assignment.  Time pressures/deadlines meant that I had to take a fairly narrow focus and be disciplined about not getting involved or side-tracked into wider avenues.  There was little time either for experimenting with different approaches.  On the other hand I surprised myself by how disciplined I could be, developing an inner voice that kept me in check, especially as I’d always been interested in Horsell Common as the site of the ‘Martian’ landing – living across the road from it from 2006 to 2014.  I think that newly developed inner voice is going to be good for me in the future – new learning even at my relatively advanced age.

It was only during Assignment 3 and the Basingstoke Canal that I realised how ‘new’ the modern town of Woking is (as distinct from the earlier Settlement now known as Old Woking). It isn’t so obvious because Woking Borough as an urban district took in the older villages Byfleet, Horsell and Pyrford – all of which are mentioned in H.G.Wells book “The War of the Worlds”. I also hadn’t taken in the import of Woking being a ‘Cemetery’ Town either and the influence of the London Necropolis Railway Company. The historical reading was important in giving me a sense of the Woking of the 1890s and why H.G. Wells thought this was a good place to live with its Railway line to and from London and with surrounding  areas to explore.

During my own walks and photography sessions I came to understand the fascination of Horsell Common and its Sandpit for H.G. Wells. This transferred to me and I think it improved the way I was using my camera to focus on areas of the Common that I thought could have been of interest to him. I gained a new sense of looking at an area I had known well which was also helped, I think, by the fact that I hadn’t been back there very often since 2014.  Come to think of it I was also looking with new eyes because of two lots of cataract surgery during the past couple of years!

I took some test shots with my iPhone to begin with, to accompany my Project Proposal and also showed them to member of “Bridge” Group – a group set up by Anna Goodchild which is an extension of South-West OCA Group.  Members of “Bridge” were very supportive, see here   under the entry for November 2019. The photography sessions proper started in the New Year.  I took quite a large number of photographs, so the editing process took some time; a good exercise though because I think I’m becoming more able to let go of images that don’t fit with others even though they appeal to me.  I made strong efforts to concentrate my choices on images that would fit together as colours and shapes as well as provide an underlying narrative ‘uncanny’ effect without being too obvious; which is why I left out the gloomier images.  I’ll be pleased though if I can make use of their darker mood in my future experiments.

The time factor meant that I played it safe, didn’t experiment with different approaches or technique .  I had thought of using a Holga lens and maybe polaroid photography but decided against this in the end.  A holga pinhole lens could fit with early photography certainly though which is something to remember for the future.  One aspect I haven’t explored up to now is whether H.G. Wells was interested in photography; I’ve got an idea he probably wasn’t, but I could be wrong.  I kept a note of interesting artists which I summarised separately here and, with more time and space available for experimentation, I have made a plan of action for further work.

There were several themes that occurred to me during my walks and the major one for H.G. Wells at that particular point was his disquiet at the behaviour of the English in Tasmania.  Another current theme closer to home but connected is in the wider area where I live so much has happened due to land speculation intended for the profit of the developer rather than the inhabitants.  This type of speculation, whilst not always apparently making a profit, has shaped the land. Even now, as I’ve written before, there are further large developments proposed without an existing infrastructure to support them and which will take away land such as Horsell Common.  I feel thankful that so many years ago, the Earl of Onslow was philanthropic enough to ensure that Horsell Common, at least is safe – so far as we know. It could be said that I am looking backwards as opposed to what might happen in the future but I don’t think that’s the case because what I’ve been doing is looking at the choices that have been made about land ownership and management over time and the results of this for our present generation alongside the stories that we build around our environment.