Category Archives: Research and Reflection

“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 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.



Heyward, H.A. the Opposite of a Muse (2016) The New Yorker 17.9.2016 (accessed at



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.



  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.


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.






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



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.



Notes on Infrared and Near-Infrared photography

I wrote about my early explorations into Infrared Photography here (2012, so long ago and in my earliest days as an OCA student!).  On a re-reading I realised that I’d included most of the technical information there, so I ditched the lengthy notes and draft new blog post, so please do read about my early explorations if you’re interested in the process. That post produced quite a lot of comments and very useful discussions on whether infrared photographer should be considered ‘tricksy’. Two of the comments pointed to elements of Infrared that are of particular interest to me at the moment:-

Keith Greenough (OCA graduate) referring to one of my black and white IR images on Flickr and how the pylons stood out strongly:-

….This made me think about whether it might be possible to use IR in a project/assignment to highlight elements within landscapes or urban scenes which would normally be overlooked. The idea would be to make the viewer conscious of these previously unseen elements.
Just a thought…

Norma Bellini (OCA graduate)

….. What is ‘reality’? Is it what we actually see, or what is really there, but we don’t see? If it is the former then ‘reality’ is a variable because we see, and interpret what we see, in different ways. If it is the latter, we are being misled by what our eyes see.

These aspects have been occupying my mind lately in considering ‘The Sublime”, particularly “The Uncanny”.  There are elements in the landscape of our lives that can’t be seen even though they exist; radio and microwaves; feelings and emanations.  How is it that we can walk into a room and sense an atmosphere or feel a cold shiver down our spine before we even know that a place is said to be haunted or that something bad once happened there.  History and memory are layered into our landscapes along with the ravages or depradations of time. Infrared photography could be used as a visual metaphor for these perhaps – just as Richard Mosse used it in his project The Enclave  (2013). Remembering of course that he used a different type of infrared and infrared film (16mm colour infrared film,discontinued film stock developed by the United States military as a reconnaissance tool during the Second World War). This film turned the landscape deep pink and the rebels’ camouflage uniform bright green – making them stand out instead of hidden. As I mentioned in my original blog post there was much debate at the time as to whether this was appropriate.

In his latest project The Castle (2018) Mosse used heat as both metaphor and index by using a military-grade thermal video camera to document refugee camps and staging sites along mass migration routes into the European Union from the Middle East and Central Asia .  Also, in her project Dan le Noir (2017) the photographer Lynda Laird used infrared film to photograph the remnants of Normandy’s bunkers, accompanying these with a diary entry from 6th June 1944 written by Odette Brefort who was a member of the French Resistance . In an interview here   Laird talks about her use of the film and how it fits with her ongoing work concerning memory and a sense of place “trying to look at what’s invisible in a landscape – what you can feel and what you can sense”.

There’s precedent, therefore for my use of infrared, although I won’t be using infrared film but a digital camera converted to use the reflected light from near-infrared. An unprocessed infrared image tends to be brick and cyan but it can be converted to other looks in Photoshop. The images below show original image; conversion using  the channel mixer (plus some work in Nik Silver Efex Pro) and the gradient filter (blue/yellow).

I doubt I would ever use the gradient filter, even though the psychedelic effect is intriguing, but it was interesting to try. The more usual black and white can be very effective but, in the case of this particular Assignment, I intend to use the original red tones because they fit my concept.




Busch D.D. David Busch’s Digital Infrared Pro Secrets (2007) Boston, MA, Thomson Course Technology

Exercise 1.9: Visual Research and analysis – social contrasts

Below are some of the photographers I looked at:

John Thomson

Street Life in London (1876 and 1877) 

This was a series of articles by journalist Adolphe Smith and John Thomson, photographer and the book is regarded as a key work in the history of documentary photography.  The book can be read online here  This book is about people more than place and focussed more upon workers, the  poor or destitute, but it does offer some views of a richer and/or healthier life as here.

“Altogether it will be seen that the commons and open spaces in and about London, are not merely useful in maintaining the health of the population, and as affording some space for recreation; but they also open out new fields of industry for those who earn their living out of doors. On the great holidays, the itinerant street vendors crowd to the Common, and are able to breathe fresh air while still pursuing their ordinary avocations.”

Paul Graham

A1: The Great North Road A documentary series on the life and landscape of this road – created during 1981 and 1982 and providing a picture of life in the 1980s. He used colour photographs here which was a move away from the more traditional black and white. We have continuing discussions on online forums and in Thames Valley group about choices between colour and black and white.  At the moment my view is that if it’s about people then in black and white they become more representatives of other people in similar situations, places, ages etc. In colour they are individual personalities.  With landscape I’m thinking that black and white landscapes in contemporary photography highlight shape, form, structure, layers of living that are like a fingerprint of the land.

His series Troubled Land(1985-86) fuses traditional landscape and war reportage – what seem to be ordinary urban landscapes morph into something else with a closer look.  I visited his Exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in May 2011 and wrote about it here and at the time I commented on how I gained a sense of him being an observer, not connected with his subjects.

Graham’s series The Present (2012) comes from the streets of New York which serve as a stage as people come and go in doubled moments – two images taken from the same location with only a brief moment between them.

Takes me back to Tacita Dean and her views on Landscape – is this street photography, documentary, landscape photography?  I could stand in several green spaces and take such photographs; in moments of time the people might change but would the landscape? It could suddenly rain, the sun could come out, a rainbow might appear – hmmmm.

Simon Roberts

National Property: The Picturesque Imperfect (2014) a series exploring the usage of landscapes in private/quasi-public hands and “how that frames shared experiences of place, a sense of cultural belonging, and the various ways this is claimed in the ways people conduct themselves, and in the company they keep.”

He travelled around the country photographing spaces and places owned on behalf of the nation and capturing ways in which visitors interacted with the landscape. “Presenting an alternative viewpoint to the pastoral idyll, Roberts highlights our shared and sometimes imperfect experience of the landscape, inviting wider questions about private ownership and public usage of land”. Reading that sentence on the Flowers Gallery website  I thought how relevant this is to what’s happening in the area where I live.  There has been outcry over Surrey County Council’s decision to charge for parking at the car parks on Chobham Common  and other Commons and Parks (see here) with parking meters damaged and Petitions raised. I can see both sides of what’s a complicated issue.

Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies Of A Small Island (2017)

Here Roberts conflates the traditional approach to landscape with social documentary, “layering ideas of national character through relationships to both place and particular moments in time. This book was released in 2017 after the Brexit Referendum.

Jonathan Goldberg

I follow Jonathan Goldberg on Instagram having looked at his Project: The Runway Stops Here which documents Grow Heathrow – an eco-village which was set up in an abandoned market garden in 2010 as a direct protest against the extension of Heathrow Airport.  The community is flanked by the runway on one side and on the other by a Holiday Inn, with  25 residents living in homes they have put together using low-impact methods see here and here .  Goldberg first visited in 2011 and his photographs “highlight the intrinsic qualities of a community of people that have chosen a sustainable way of life based on shared values, away from conventional infrastructures”.  His images show the positives as well as the difficulties, including having to live under the threat of eviction at a time when a third runway was backed by Parliament in June this year. 

<p><a href=”″>The Runway Stops Here</a> from <a href=”″>Jonathan Goldberg</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

A really interesting project – low-impact community living for an alternative life in opposition to the expansion of a commercial airport. I’m not saying I would like to live in such a way, especially at my time of life, but I admire their aims and dedication to their cause. Goldberg’s series was Exhibited during 2017 in the Exhibition Off the Beaten Track: A Glimpse Inside Low-Impact Community Living at Oriel Colwyn Gallery, Wales . He exhibited alongside Amanda Jackson, whose series To Build A Home  (2013)  is based on the Lammas Eco Village, at Tir y Gafel and the surrounding community.

Two photographs where social contrasts are present within a single image

I only have one at the moment which is one of mine taken in a small square in London.

I’ll add another when I come across it.

Exercise 1.6: The Contemporary Abyss

This exercise asked me to read Simon Morley’s Essay “Staring into the Contemporary Abyss” published on the Tate website for an overview of the sublime as a theme within visual culture.  Then choose any body of work that I feel explores the sublime, and write at least 300 words describing how I believe this work relates to the sublime, using Morley’s text to support my argument. There’s much to explore within the essay so, having done the reading, I created a mind-map.  A PDF is below.

S. Morley mindmap

I want to do more than just write about a body of work for this exercise because I also want to reflect on my understanding of the sublime. I’m interested in how the word “sublime” becomes very grand and important when the ‘s’ becomes “S”. Just as in ‘real’ and ‘The Real’ which I wrote about here. I don’t intend to go into detail here on beauty or on the sublime and the difference between the two but there’s a useful piece here.  Maybe one of the difficulties is that both are subjective so each of us could well have a different response to the same event. I’m expecting to write more when I come to the Assignment.

The Latin origin of the word ‘sublime’ means something that is ‘set or raised aloft, high up’ which has ‘the quality of such greatness, magnitude or intensity, whether physical, metaphysical, moral, aesthetic or spiritual, that our ability to perceive or comprehend it is temporarily overwhelmed’. Edmund Burke’s 1757 definition in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful focuses on experiences where our reaction is defined by a kind of pleasurable terror. However, the ordinary usage of the word is of something wonderful, perfect.

Simon Morley asks the question, “Is the word an empty signifier – one to which we can simply attach whatever meaning we need?”, a bit like the word “nice” I guess. On that basis I must try to be clear about what the word “sublime” means to me. For me, beauty is about the form of something I see – shape, dimensions, composition of individual aspects. However, a sublime experience involves is a visceral response; one that makes me gasp in astonishment; hits me in the diaphragm; brings tears to my eyes; or fills me with fear – an experience where I briefly lose a sense of myself and become suspended in a moment.  I’ve written before about the first time I entered into St Marks Basilica in Venice. I looked up and was suddenly struck by such a feeling of awe that I felt tearful. It was a shock because I’m not religious. However, on a later visit I felt nothing when I went in – it was just a large space. Thunder and lightning are frightening for me; I feel defenceless in their fury.  Yet, a rainbow always seems miraculous and my heart leaps up, as Wordsworth said. The shimmering colours are always a wonder to me. Then, there’s water – sometimes calming in still depths yet terrifying at other times when I look down at a raging torrent. I’m not surprised at all that people used to worship Nature’s elements as Gods who needed to be appeased and/or pleaded with. When it comes down to it we are still at the mercy of the elements despite our advancements in technology.

Many have sought the sublime through writing, painting, meditating and the use of chemical substances that induce altered states of consciousness.  It can be evoked from within or externally and involves a transformative experience that occurs in the here and now; takes us beyond ourselves, hits us like a punctum in a photograph, and is hard to describe.  I don’t intend to go into the nature of religious belief except that, however, it manifests itself, it does involve a belief in and sense of connection with something outside of ourselves.

Simon Morley distinguishes five different ways in the word Sublime  is now broadly used, some of which are inter-connected and he includes the role of technology in this as providing ‘our strongest sense of the sublime. I must say, though, that he does add in other descriptions along the way. The notion of the disappointed sublime, the thwarted transcendence, quite appealed to me (perhaps like my second visit to St Marks). Morley refers to the problem of the unrepresentable and that most ‘sublime’ artworks tend to be installations because it’s becoming harder and harder for painting to elicit the effects. There’s something else that occurred to me, that I’ve often wondered about anyway.  These wonderful cathedrals built to the glory of God. How much are they a glory to the architect? Think of Gaudi’s grand vision of the cathedral in Barcelona. The Sagradas Familias which has been evolving organically since 1915 with completion not expected until 2026.

James Turrell’s “Roden Crater”  is a large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone. It began in 1977 and is constructed to last for centuries as an above ground observatory for specific celestial events.  A wonderful achievement. Is it more wonderful than travelling to see the Northern Lights – the ‘natural sublime’ and stand beneath them?

Tate Modern Turbine Hall

Morley describes the Turbine Hall as a laboratory to explore the ways in which artists invited to tackle the sublime there succeed or not and, of course, technology plays a large part. Three successes, according to him, are Olafur Eliasson’s man-made sun, Anish Kapoor’s huge maroon ‘trumpet’ and Miroslaw Balka’s abysmal container. I particularly looked at the first two.  Before I write about them, though, I do want to pose the question, “Do artworks evoking the sublime have to be huge to achieve their aims?”, the reason being that, as I’ve referred to above, we might get lost in the grandness of the work, awe and admiration for the artist as opposed to getting a sense of the feeling of the sublime.

Olafur Eliasson’s installation “The Weather Project” (2003) looks extraordinary and the photograph of people in its presence  evokes for me the memory of how people gaze upon an Eclipse or, in October 2017, the deep red sun and eerie glow created by the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia as it dragged in air and dust from the Sahara . An Eclipse must have been such a frightening experience for prehistoric humans – an example of what Morley terms, the “terrific” sublime. In 2012 Eliasson also turned his talents towards a more practical use by developing Little Suns (2012) with the engineer Frederik Ottesen –  small solar-powered torches with which people could explore the galleries  in the dark at Tate Modern.  This was not only ‘artwork’ but a means to draw attention to the 1.6 billion people in the world who do not have access to mains electricity and provide a means for them to do so.

Thinking of rainbows, I’m also interested in Eliasson’s colour experiments when he was investigating the spectrum of visible light beginning by working with a colour chemist to mix in paint an exact colour for each nanometre of light in the visible spectrum. He produced twelve columns of six canvases each to produce a series of circular monochrome paintings where the progression of hues loops through the entire range, as here.  Eliasson then went on to create his “Turner Colour Experiments”  producing a series of doughnut shaped canvases, each a painted colour wheel, depicting the palette of colours used in each of seven paintings by Turner that he had analysed.

The reason I’m so interested is because of the blue paint used in the work by  Arthur Bellin TheLobsterers Landing Place, Sark(1887) that I referred to in an earlier exercise.   My aim is to see if I can reproduce this colour in Photoshop or, even better, perhaps I can ask one of our OCA art students if they can reproduce the colour with paint.

For now, I’ll just briefly mention Anish Kapoor. Marysas (2002) was an enormous maroon trumpet – 150 metres long and ten storeys high – too big to be viewed as a whole object . When I explored this more it seemed to me to be more about size and splendour than the sublime.  However, I discovered that this was recreated in ‘smaller dimensions (each end 25x8m, length 85m) as Dismemberment, Site 1 (2009) at Gibbs Farm, Kaipar’a Harbour, New Zealand. , with a title inspired by the Greek myth captured in Titian’s painting The Flaying of Marysas (1576) – capturing the terrified sublime of the satyr flayed alive by Apollo for playing the flute better than the god. How dare we humans aspire to be like gods as you cannot compete with them!    Kapoor’s aspiration with this was to make body into the sky and an outdoor location seems such a more appropriate location  The installation was compared to the trumpet that Joshua used to spy on Jericho in the Bible story. Some observers thought it represented a large sized vulva whilst others though it represented the head and nucleus of a large bright flower. There’s a lot more comment on it here .

Bill Viola

Bill Viola was one of the earliest artists to explore the potential of the video camera and “has consistently exploited its rapidly changing technology to create over 150 artworks over the last 40 years: ( To begin with Viola used video art like a controlled experiment but then chose to adapt to the rapidly changing technologies by using the opposite approach of opening his work to the spontaneity and routine of real life. He views the video camera as a “microscope for being”, creates highly immersive environments, with installations usually incorporating sound and typically created and presented in either a darkened/otherwise barren exhibition space. One example is Five Angels for the Millennium (2001)  consisting of five video sequences showing a male figure submerging in or remerging from water, playing on our primal fear of drowning whilst introducing passages of wonder.

The Royal Academy will be exhibiting Bill Viola/Michelangelo from 26thJanuary to 31stMarch 2019 so that’s one for my diary. This Exhibition draws links between Michelangelo’s drawings seen by Viola at Windsor Castle in 2006, and his own works which ask us to consider the thresholds between birth, life and death. “Both artists harness the symbolic power of sacred art, and both show us physical extremes and moments of transcendence.”

Further notes are to follow, including work by female artists.