Research

In a couple of weeks I’m working with the local school where we’ll be looking at performance photography. I’ll introduce the class to the idea of it, give examples, do a drama workshop aimed at creating tableaux to illustrate a story they’re looking at, teaching them some basic photography re light and composition, and then photographing their work alongside them. I’m looking forward to it as it will be a great chance to play with some of the ideas I’m working on for OCA S&O1.

I wanted to store this link to some work by women published on Lensculture: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/musee-de-l-orangerie-who-s-afraid-of-women-photographers#slideshow  The Morgan image harks back to some experiments I did when I first started learning and may be useful to create the illusion of menacing giants for the class.

 

Exhibition of own work: Portrait of a pub

Intro

Last year I was approached by friend and local businessman, Brendan Conway, who had bought an old and somewhat faded Victorian pub, the Grosvenor Arms, and asked to document the process of refurbishment as well as capture some of the people who drank there. I had only been in a couple of times before Brendan took over.

The pub is across the road from a local restaurant which school mum friends and I had been to as we walked home after a night out, when we squeezed in a last drink and enjoyed karaoke there. The first time we went, it was a little bit like we’d just walked into a saloon in an old western film; strangers from out-of-town enter, everyone stops and stares, a moment’s silence and people turn back to their drinks and carry on as before, or a fight breaks out!  But in real life, within a few moments we were welcomed by the barman (I would later learn, named Mitch), and despite being the very end of the night were able to put our names down for a quick but extraordinarily bad rendition of Island’s in the Stream. I seem to remember being an intensely annoying, more than tipsy idiot and showing off by taking images of people on my phone and then editing them to look a certain way as we chatted with people there. I also remember being mortified the next day and deleting them from my Instagram account as they were rubbish, and also felt vaguely patronising.

Middle class twits in an environment that had so far escaped the homogenised,  plasticised fate of so many other pubs in the area. (I will say more about class in my current OCA S&O project very soon). To be fair, there is a pub further along the road, nearer the shops that has successfully retained an authentic pub feel and also attracts a broad range of people who drink there regularly. But the Grosvenor was not like that. A few of the dads from my children’s school drank there occasionally and a friend of mine who grew up round here remembers going to the same karaoke evening, hosted by Bob & Maureen when she was a teen. But otherwise it was a place I walked past and hardly noticed. When Brendan bought it, it might have been taken over by a property developer and turned into flats and a mini supermarket. Brendan feels he saved the old Victorian building from that fate, was eager to breathe life into it again, and hoped to recapture something it seemed to have lost. He also felt strongly he wanted to create a space that welcomed the usual regulars as well making new clientele welcome. What he felt really compelled to do was make sure we captured some of the stories the regulars told him, relating to the pub and their relationship with it. This has yet to be done fully really and may be the next stage.

You can see various iterations of the work I did in the pub in the following links:

Grosvenor Arms Events

Documenting changes 

Short edit on my website 

Other short reflections about the work 

Exhibition

This is the third time I have shown my work locally and invited people to come along. Recently someone spoke to OCA students about exhibiting work and made it sound like a huge undertaking that would take over a year to plan and needed a massive committee, and I wonder if he potentially put people off. He was, however, discussing a relatively high-profile event involving many artists, and my somewhat more humble approach has been quite different. Yes, it’s been daunting every time, mostly because putting yourself out there is unsettling. But I do feel I have benefited from taking manageable bites to begin with, and allowed myself to become accustomed to being exposed in this way in a relatively safe format before stepping things up a bit. In November I will be showing work with other artists somewhere more akin to a gallery space, as opposed to a coffee shop or a pub. This steady step by step development has suited me although it may not be right for everyone. But I would also say that smaller community venues will always be important to me especially as I’m interested for now in how communities operate.

Things I learned this time

I am becoming obsessed with making sure images are not obstructed by glass, reflections and anything else that has the potential to act as a barrier. I have not exhibited without glass before and it comes with other problems, which I need to think about in future. These images will be given to the people in them after the exhibition and so it’s right they are mounted and framed traditionally. The glass will be placed in the frames then too. There is some spray you can use to protect the images but this needs to be put on before mounting I think (ideally). Images are vulnerable without glazing. And not having glass in mounted images doesn’t stop the weird warping and warbling of some types of paper which made me cross to see, although I think this is down to the mounting process. I needed to print the number I did for this display as we had lots of wall space to fill and they will be gifts, but in future I might prefer fewer images and have them all on aluminium rather than paper/mounted. I used a very textured paper for other work I showed last year which also doesn’t tend to warp and warble in the same way.  I suspect pinning in some instances might also be an option and Sam Laughlin’s work which I thought so much of was all pinned last year in Brighton.

Brendan was both a collaborator and a patron as he covered the costs of so much and paid me to document his events. But I realised in the midst of the process I must have agreements in place when working with anyone on a non-commercial basis and have since drawn up and implemented these for any subsequent projects.

Context

I always try to write some context but this time I needed to incorporate some of Brendan into what I wrote. He had after all written his master’s thesis around the development of this space and what it means to him and his community. His work ties in very much with some of the things I’m concerned about. After sharing my draft online, many students (and an ex student who helped separate out paragraphs more effectively)  and tutors suggested shorting it slightly. I agreed in principle but the Conways, both academics and professionals themselves, felt what I’d written encapsulated and communicated their own ideas and ideals so well that we agreed to leave it at its original length. There is more to say about this but perhaps not in this format.  A PDF can be accessed here.

I am not sure I have avoided “the slimy and uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism” (Valentine, 2017) quoted on my S&O blog when thinking about Imperial Court. I very much hope so but this sort of work always risks an element of that .

Reception

I am happy to say people who attended the anniversary party were all very positive, including some of the people in the images. But people are generally kind to your face and who knows what they say when they get home. I hope the people in the images will be pleased with the gifts Brendan will give them – but understand this type of imagery is not everyone’s taste. I’m sure I may hear more in future and there seems to have been a local journalist making copious notes there too, which was alarming for me… we’ll see what she has to say soon enough.

Finally…

I never know when a project is finished but this one certainly doesn’t feel complete. Brendan’s ideals provide him with many challenges to overcome, both personally and in broader terms. I have not had time to continue documenting as other projects demand more of me, but I am planning to take advantage of Brendan’s desire to turn his venue into an art hub by making use of the upstairs room to do some work related to Self & Other, and perhaps in time put some sort of document with stories together.

Image (c)SJField 2016

LR Grosvenor Sarah-Jane Field 2016-0306

Some people who have been visiting the pub for years, since they were teenagers and can tell stories about having visited for the first time when the floor was still covered in saw dust.

Work in Progress: Oxford House

Yesterday I went to Oxford House to look through some archive material as part of my research process for the work I will be doing with John Umney and Keith Greenough, both OCA graduates. I was incredibly pleased when they asked me if I wanted to be involved in a collaborative project culminating in an exhibition at Oxford House in November. Any revenue will be donated to Oxford House to fund their building programme. Of course, this is an exceptionally good opportunity to make some work and get it seen at a good venue, as well as learn about a part of London I don’t know much about.

I have had several ideas in relation to what I might do for this but for now am focusing on working with a ballet class that takes place at Oxford House. I am not yet sure if the Ballet class will provide all the material but it is a place to begin. My initial working context as as follows:

Oxford House was started with the ambition of helping people in the community by Victorian Christian men. Historically it was a place where local men and boys would be provided for. Over the years as changes to the way we live took hold Oxford House’s objectives have evolved. Today we live in a very different world and Oxford House continues to be a venue that provides space for the local community but in far more egalitarian way. Gender is irrelevant, as is religion, or the colour of one’s skin. The area in which Oxford House exists is a multi-cultural, and a terrific example of people from all over the world, or many second and third generation residents living well together. At a time when the world is showing acute anxiety about boundaries, borders and changing definitions, Bethnal Green is a vibrant example of why we should not be afraid. By concentrating on children in this project I aim to explore the future and celebrate these young people, along with the concept of multi-culturalism, and look forward their positive contributions as adults.

There are some risks inherent in the working context but as I say it is a starting point and will develop and evolve as time moves forward.

Some of the photographs I saw yesterday made me think about using them as points of reference. There were a good few of children since Oxford House started in the late 19th century, and of course at that time some of the images were drawings. Since some of the images are copyrighted I am not sure if I can post them here but have them logged in a private file to return to when if and when I want to.

I have a  meeting with the head of the ballet school soon and we will discuss the issue of child safety and protection along with ideas and options for taking the work forward.

More news as it develops….

Research: Prison visit

Earlier this week I joined a programme called In their Shoes run by a charity called Welfare Kingston whose aim is to support families affected by imprisonment. I was able to go on this as I have volunteered with a local charity, Paradise Co-op, who help to facilitate a monthly Family Day where children are able to visit fathers in Wandsworth prison.

There are several things to say about Family Day. Only 25 prisoners and their families can be accommodated. There are 1600 prisoners in Wandsworth Prison. Prisoners do not automatically get onto these days and must earn the right. The day allows for four hours rather than the usual one or two, and inmates do not have to wear any uniform. The day is deliberately designed to be more relaxed and family friendly than usual visiting times.

In their Shoes was conceived to give people working with families a glimpse of what it feels like to visit someone in prison.  We went through a different process entering the complex, compared to the usual way for volunteers. What is immediately apparent is the whole process can be immensely tiring and stressful, and especially on Family Days when 25 families are entering at one time. You must wait in a small centre before anything happens, then when staff are ready you will go through a biometric registration. You have to queue on the steps outside and then in small claustrophobic corridors as this takes place. Next you go through security where you are searched, and any contraband clothing or items are removed; then you’re made to wait again. If you’re wearing the wrong thing you might be turned away, or offered prison tracksuits to wear instead. Once staff are ready you are then taken to another holding pen with no windows (and when were there a very strong smell of cleaning products). A large TV was on and the volume loud. Eventually you are taken into the visiting hall. On usual days the prisoners are not allowed to get up from the table but on Family Days it is more relaxed and they can interact with young children. There is a play corner but it is often locked and so not accessible. A charity provides a small refreshment shop and visitors often queue for some time on busy visits to get a drink or snack. This can significantly eat into visiting time. Visitors with young children are compelled to use the shop if their children need anything as they cannot take items in. After seeing the visitor hall we walked through the centre of the prison to a chapel, which families would obviously not experience. Once there we met and spoke with five prisoners who expressed some of their frustrations about being separated from their families. The process of entering often takes an hour or more with waiting, and sometimes eats into the visit. The snack shop is expensive and has limited (unhealthy) stock. The queue can be long, also eating into the visit time. Prisoners also talked about keeping the fact they were in prison secret from young children, which Welcare Kingston does not encourage, and of the impact in the community on their families.

I was extremely grateful to Welcare Kingston who provided such an interesting and educational programme, as well as Paradise Co-op. I am looking forward to the volunteering days. The staff at Wandsworth Prison who guided us seemed exceptionally good at their job; humane, firm, but friendly and respected by the prisoners we interacted with.

I have long been interested in prison, the way in which it exists in the community but is hidden from society. When I was on TAOP I wanted to do a project that explored prison but soon learned that getting inside prison, never mind with a camera, was not all that easy. Everything I’ve learned about photographing people in the last couple of years means I have little desire to exploit people already in a hideous situation, although I do think there are plenty of stories worth telling and possibilities that would be beneficial in some way. I do eventually want to do some work related to prison and volunteering is a way of discovering more about this hidden part of our society, as well as providing a tiny jot of support to a sector which is struggling immensly with government cuts.

Looking at Foucault last year on UVC was useful as was this BBC short news  documentary. I will write more as and when necessary.

Finally, one of the Welcare Kingston social workers said that more people were affected by prison than divorce which is a statistic I need to verify. It is surprising but if true something that is quite astonishing. Am looking into it. (See below for document from Barnardo’s which has details of numbers of children affected sourced after first publishing this blog).

Image (c)SJField 2016

Ref:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-36327325/seven-days-inside-wandsworth-prison

http://www.barnardos.org.uk/everynightyoucry_briefing_final_double.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/25/norwegian-prison-inmates-treated-like-people

Article: How meaning is derived

The article I am reposting here interests me, not because of its criticism of a branch of psychology, rather because of the content within the argument relating to how meaning is reached, and information about plasticity of the mind. The article quotes from a text by neuroscientist Brad M Peters of St Mary’s University which is reviewed favourably.  ‘Collective community of mind” is a phrase that I will no doubt return to.

“Now let us turn to the human mind. Evolutionary psychologists want to say that meaning and information are objectively pre-programmed by our inherited biology. However, it would appear that we extract much of our information, and the meaning it contains, from a sociocultural cloud of symbolic representations that belong to a shared human subjectivity, or something Raymond Tallis refers to as the community of minds. Our subjective mental states are thus socioculturally structured and shaped through our reliance on an agreed-upon language and agreed-upon sets of subjective human meanings. The brain is only one part of the picture: it facilitates the mechanistic activities of the mind, but it does not solely cause them. Human meanings, which belong to the collective community of minds, will thus often transcend the underlying mechanisms that represent them.” (2017)

Read more: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2017/05/05/history-will-judge-evolutionary-psychology-as-the-phrenology-of-our-era/#ixzz4gHDQYnqu

Extract here: http://modernpsychologist.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Peters-Evolutionary-Psychology-Critique-2013.pdf

 

Work in Progress: This Family Too – Experiment

As I said in yesterday’s blog I planned to use the WordPress random slideshow to experiment with the idea of finding a way to show these images in a slideshow that displays them in an ever changing and arbitrary sequence. I have added some word fragments too. While I’ve watched the preview the images are not random which is annoying but it may be that only kicks in after being published. I will see.

The plan would be be:

Context – to include something along the lines of “Every time someone watches this collection of images it is different. It only exists online and comes to ‘life’ when you or someone else finds this page and watches it or leaves the page open. I do want to add music and a voice track although how I would go about doing that randomly is anyone’s guess.

Lastly, before I publish and see if this random generator actually is random, I tend to listen to specific music when I’m working and in the absence of the piano I want to add, I have been listening to Steve Reich Phases, A NonSuch Retrospective.

All work as ever (c)SJField 2017

Mmmm… after publishing it seems the WordPress random facility is not random. So I must find out how to do that. Seeing it has been useful though. So now, I wonder if it’s even possible! I guess it must be though. – Added at a later date: Actually, each time I come back after a period of time it seems the images are random. I need to add the phrases below and see if I can find another way to show this randomly online in a bigger format.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Adding fragments of words I’ve seen or thought of here:

And then I was like

It seems haunted

Work in Progress: This Family Still

Each year I visit a small village in Umbria called Ferentillo where my mother owns a house. While there, like most mothers I take lots of photographs of my children. Ferentillo is one of two places in  Italy with a strange and unusual history relating to mummification. Beneath the church, Santo Stefano, in Precept, one of two sides to Ferentillo, there is a crypt where 20 mummies are displayed. The bodies become mummified due an unusual micro-orgamism in the soil. You can read a little more here. After reading a paper via a fellow student’s blog which links the mummies to photography I decided to explore this further since I had already made work for an early module in the photography degree I am doing while visiting Ferentillo about my family called This Family. In the previous project I documented my family and combined words in a short book. You can read the full paper which has inspired this continuation of that work, titled, The interphototextual dimension of Annie Ernaux and Marc Marie’s L’usage de la photo‘ by Ari J. Blatt here. What caught my eye was the following:

“If Bazin offers a compelling theorization of the photograph as mummified presence, in his wistful recent book Mummy, mummies Alain Fleischer plays with that paradigm and examines the mummy itself as evocative of the photographic process. In this combination of essay and fiction that focuses upon a group of mummified bodies housed for eternity in the museum crypts at Ferentillo and Palermo in Italy, Fleischer conceptualizes the relationship between mummified and photographic traces: ‘Mummification and photography are united against the disappearance of appearances: they are alike in their materiality, their techniques, and their codes of resemblance.’27

I have taken a ridiculous amount in photographs but I have identified a small edit that I think I can work with on this project. I explain more here.

 

Blatt, Ari J.(2009) ‘The interphototextual dimension of Annie Ernaux and Marc Marie’s L’usage de la photo‘, Word & Image, 25: 1, 46 — 55, 27 – Alain Fleischer, Mummy, mummies (Lagrasse: E ́ ditions Verdier, 2002), pp. 15–16. Translations mine. (Blatt) Available at: https://www.tcd.ie/French/assets/doc/BlattOnErnauxMarie.pdf [Accessed: 24.May.2017]

Mummy Museum of Ferentillo Available here: https://www.umbriatourism.it/en/-/cimitero-museo-le-mummie-di-ferentillo- [Accessed 24.May.2017]

(c)SJField 2017