Finished work, and an unfinished camera.

Well, the crit seemed to go ok, the feedback that I got was all along the lines of the stuff that I’d been thinking about when I was preparing and selecting.

Having given it a days thought, I shortened that in the critique to a verbal “I’m interested in how photography can make icons of ordinary things.”

My little wee 5×7″ print all on it’s lonesome, well, it does have a couple of vents to keep it company I guess – incidentally that’s the name of the gallery – “Vent” – not sure which one is ‘the’ vent – probably the one above my pic.

It’s quite a hard thing to view, cos it’s really as much a mirror as a print in an odd way – it’s black on black, but how you look at it determines the tones you see,

Also a wee bit of a trick to photo, I love that to represent it here I first had to decide what I wanted it to look like ๐Ÿ˜€

And, I’m reaching a point where I’m starting to see what a camera I’m building will look like – it’s a half plate camera for dryplate (the hole at the back is 7×7″ – it’s a big camera by my standards).

The front will be friction focus and will have front tilt, no other movements are planned in this iteration – I’ve been working on it for about a month on and off, I guess there’s another week or so of work to go.

And the obligatory studio shot;

Yup, mildly ordered chaos – yes, I have three power drills, handy things. – And what’s happening on the bench (typically three things at once).

The aluminium curve is my cyc, the animals on it are just there cos they are, the makings of two camera’s in the foreground, and all the little black dot things are wee screws out of a plate back.

That’s all.

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Anticipated artsy thingees.

I guess this is where I do the ghost of Christmas future, having done present and past. Though to be honest I watched the Dr Who version of that story recently and am currently thinking of the flying shark, so, be warned, I may not be channelling Dickens in an academically appropriate manner.

In my art practice, what are my ongoing concerns;

Firstly the very idea of representation, and re-presentation are important – the former is a means of denoting something that stands for a meme or an idea it is conceptual – much in the manner that a (ostensibly female) model could stand for femininity (or a range of feminine ideals), the god awful “The two ways of life” (which admittedly someone had to do so I shouldn’t be too derisive of poor Oscar, dear chap) stands as an allegory for the choices that upright Christians must necessarily make between the left and right paths and suchlike – it is allegory, and metaphor, and as somebody who loves writing (note I didn’t say ‘good writing’) this interests me deeply.

Re-presentation on the other hand – and this is a purely personal distinction in terms – is when something is taken from it’s natural state (indeed, it’s original presentation) and re~presented by an outside agency as an original artefact, realistic and whole – think of how different contentious (or merely targeted) demographics have been promoted by their detractors – this also intrigues me, though I feel that somehow it is necessary to differentiate these terms, they are problematic in that each shades to the other, but identifying the extremes is nevertheless a worthwhile use of intellectual energy, even if it does lead to tone arguments and arbitrary distinctions.

The Photographic – the writing with light, or even Skiagraphic – writing with shadow (I have no idea how to format that sentence formally), is a fascination of mine also – this entails a whole spectra of options, from human vision to human failure of vision – to set arbitrary boundaries which are pseudobinaristic, but more properly merely a spectrum – I am fascinated by Light, Vision, Articulation, and the boundaries of my own senses. The Claude glass, and the infra spectral.

Sensory phenomena – not merely visual – I have hearing loss in a major way, though compensated otherwise, and work daily with a range of perception issues – some give me a sensory deficit, and some give me extra ordinary senses (as in more than usual, but they’re ordinary to me – colours glow complimentary in darkness (dimness?) for instance and I can track chocolate like a champion). Much of the video/audio work that I have done is along these lines. I still have no idea how to present smell adequately as a painting medium, despite having attempted and failed at this since circa 2000 – (the chocolate secret is all mine (my prechusss).

Yes, I am fascinated with the semantic, and the semiotic. these distinctions, when used thoughtfully can lead to a crystalline elegance in description – I appreciate the difficulty of stepping into this wavelength, but the elegance of distinction is more than worth it when I get it right – I know that a few people can follow what I say, even if many cannot, or perhaps simply cannot be bothered.

And media (see what I did there,? no?), I am simply in thrall of media, I love… not the stuff – as someone recently stated, but, what can be done with the stuff (‘stuffness’ is not a real word btw). Camera’s are neat, but so are paint brushes, and they’re a damn sight easier to learn how to make. I have a lot of media which I will draw from. I like physicality, both in art media, but also in myself and the world at large – from the martial arts I have done, I would say that the most important thing I’ve learned is where my body ends and the world begins – the extent of my influence as it were. My body, my art, what i make, and what i leave behind – these are important in terms of the trace i leave. Media is broad.

Though I am not entirely sure that identity politics (arguing them at least) is important, I am interested in how identity sits within the world. Personal, national, sexual, whichever. As a means of distinction this ties straight back into representation – and there we have a loop, already, after a mere seven hundred fifty odd words.

And I hope you know that my answer would be different tomorrow, cos my interests aren’t narrow at all – even if I am capable of focussing them rather sharply as need be.

The mechanism and the meme.

I’m currently being asked to define somewhat precisely just what it is that I’m wanting to study and why, and the short answer involves a lot of Ummm’s and ah’s…

So instead I’m going to break it down, starting with why I’m utilizing the medium of photography – and going for the long answer, even though this is messier and perhaps less elegant than the words I’d spin to hide my un-sureity about the conceptual terrain I am moving to occupy.

The mechanism and the meme.

(or why I do photography)

There seems to be an assumption, especially from photographers (though not exclusively) that people use photography as a medium because, one, they inherently are photographers, and two, because they wish to work with light – these a maybe partially true in my case (particularly the latter), but they are also somewhat misleading.

My earliest art practice, when I was a child was the written word, story telling, and poetry especially, to shape words in order to describe moments and events, this tendency to describe is still a very central pre-ocupation for me. Being reasonably articulate in forming the written word allows me to use the medium in a manner very much akin to how an artist uses charcoal to sketch in the details of a composition and to concretize a thought or situation in a manner which they can de/reconstruct, and which other people can access.

This can be a loose little snippet which implies a greater whole;

“As I crept along the musty hallway the cat food like smell gradually resolved into a far stronger cat food like smell…”

Or it can be a more insular and encapsulated (polished?) description;

“The man sits alone on the footpath,

disheveled, hunched, mumbling to himself.

People make him invisible as they pass swiftly by,

a child’s hand is firmly grasped…

I don’t look to see where the other cops are”

 

This tendency to draw, or to sketch thoughts using words has seen me expand the visual art media which I can use in a similar manner, pencils, charcoal, paint, and other similar media which have a similar fluidity when used in a looser, more reflective manner. By this I am not meaning an unfinished quality, but rather I am implying materials which can illustrate ephemeral concepts and momentary situations – at times the path to these places can be involved, time consuming, and deeply procedural, but they can inscribe the fleeting, the momentary, the insubstantial in all of it’s gossamer finery – obviously this can be done in nearly any media, but I am describing a personal sensibility which is served in my case by particular media far more than others.

I have also, over time, picked up a lot of process skills which can be brought to bear on a concept working with materials such as metal, fabric, print, and even supposedly non-art materials such as programatic coding. It wasn’t till I was 30 that I paid any particular attention to photographic media, though like everybody for a few generations I suppose, I had used camera’s for different purposes according to my needs or desires, albeit not in a manner that was deeply considered. I didn’t intend to pick up photography, or darkroom practice at all – instead I was kicked out of the print workshop at a former school when a new tutor decided to reconfigure the facilities and decided to occupy some time by having a nosey. Fate being what it is I quickly discovered that photography, as a medium, is one which is deeply capable of facilitating the sensibilities which I had developed already, though this necessitated a several year long investigation into process.

In photography, I have found a medium which to my mind produces a reflection – the camera itself is merely a lens which can focus and fix that reflection, I do not feel the popular analogy of a magic mirror to be relevant to me in the slightest, I don’t feel that there is anything magical about camera’s, or even process at all, though these can certainly shade to arcane in places – even when serendipity creeps into the equation (as it so frequently does), it is typically repeatable and a reflection of my working practice rather than an intervention by the ‘photo gods’.

The reflection that the medium can produce is really what draws me to the medium, this reflection as a sketching medium is about the closest thing to story telling that I have discovered in the visual arts, both in it’s speed of application, and indeed in how incredibly nuanced the reflected image can be. That which is reflected can be controlled, not just visually, but also in terms of what is implied, which is really the most important thing to me about photography as a medium. In the case of the urban landscape/vernacular photography that I have spent considerable time on, the control is a matter of peripatetic gathering, of movement, time, and selections which I largely make instinctively – in short, being there at the right time, and making choices both at the time, but also later in editing, printing and presentation (these are at least as important to me as the act of photographing).

Right now though, I’m more concerned with constructing and manipulating narratives, and in analyzing just how it is that a particular image/photograph/text can be taken to stand for a particular theme or meme, which doesn’t preclude working in the above manner in the slightest, but it does open up a lot of possibilities in terms of a more purely studio type method of constructing this reflection.

This in essence is why I choose to work with photographic possibilities as much as I do in my practice, it is because the medium allows me to sketch concepts and thoughts in a manner which is sympathetic to my intentions, and which I intuitively link to the manner and the methods in which I have previously worked.ย The narrative aspect and the questioning of assigned/valued meaning is the meme which I am working with – the medium is simply a mechanism.

Beginnings.

With a few of my projects I’m lucky enough to know what triggered them, for instance the ‘dead birds’ one was actually triggered a year or so after I took the first shot.

The first shot was of the dead pigeon on the road, which I exposed just cos it was there and the blood made an interesting pattern. But it was a year later and another couple of shots that I actually had the trigger happen.

I was sitting in the photo room of my old school, just chatting and doing paperwork (2/3rds of my photo practice is filing.) when I looked up and saw a thrush flying straight towards me, I had enough time to say “No” before it slammed into the window.

I went outside and the bird was on the footpath, and the bird was lying there, still obviously alive, and obviously trying to get up, though it would never move again. So I very gently picked it up, and could immediately feel that it’s neck was badly broken and it was only holding on by fighting like hell.

This whole time I had a girl from photo excitedly chattering and suggesting that I should break it’s neck or something – I wasn’t listening to her, in fact I was trying very hard to ignore her. I was talking to the bird, trying to tell it that it had reached the end of it’s life and it was time to relax and let go.

Gradually the bird calmed down and stopped fighting, I was prepared to help it die, but it would not take it’s life from it. When it said that it was ready I let it’s head fall gently back and felt it’s heartbeat start to slow down and a few moments later it passed over.

The last time I had felt that was holding my daughters hand while her life support was turned off many years ago, both of these things were playing in my head as the birds heart stilled, lying in my hands.

I put the bird in a garden, I didn’t bury it, it didn’t feel necessary.

Since that time my photographs of the dead birds have been part of my engagement with the possibility of a photograph being an eulogy, a moment of our lives and our history (or of a strangers) that can never be ‘here’ (in a psychological sense) again. It is an investigation of the fact that I can never go back to the places, or to be the person I once was.