MODULE: SURFACES & STRATEGIES.

WEEK 1.

Images for COHERE Installation, May 2019

So, as I begin Surfaces & Strategies, the second module in the MA, I want to take a bit of time reflecting on what has been going on for me developmentally during the month since Module 1 finished.

To begin, my main focus has been on creating work for COHERE, a Refugee Week project commission, as well as juggling all my commercial commissions. This has entailed thinking on my feet, as the time-frame for COHERE from commission to submission has been a matter of weeks.

For this work, I reached out to individuals and to the three organisations that I mentioned in my project proposal: CORAM, Body & Soul, and Bromley-by-Bow Centre (BBBC). At this stage I am seeing these connections as the beginning of ongoing relationships that will contribute to my wider MA project and not just exclusive to the COHERE commission. All three organisations help immigrants and refugees, though in different ways, and it is my intention to work alongside them to contextualise and deepen my project work. Though what that looks like at this stage I’m not entirely clear. In the short-term they have been exceptionally helpful and supportive of the work I’m doing for Refugee Week as part of COHERE.

What I did recognise from making this work (and reading around the subject too) was that there are interesting notions and feelings for these people around the sense of being both overly visible and invisible. That either there is this intense focus on their status and background or none at all depending on the situations they find themselves in. I think thematically this is interesting – it also offers up something else I can respond to visually. Something about it sits well with my thinking around the spaces between reality and fiction that form the core of my project and which i expanded on in my project proposal.

Alongside this there was also interesting discussions about some people having two different names one for each of the countries they had lived in (e.g. one from their birth country and one for their new residential country). Interestingly this resonates with me as I have had ‘two’ names given through my dual heritage, although my Italian one is not an official one more a familial ‘nickname’ but even so there is this sense of being two people which I find very intriguing. So, not alter egos, but distinct parts of the self that can go by different names given or acquired.

Whilst creating this work I really had to cleave to my motivations and be clear about what (and why) I was making these images, especially during editing. Otherwise I felt like I was in danger of appropriating cliches. I had to be really aware of the individual I was with and root the process in their uniqueness as well as exploring the ‘otherness’ of the moment. In this I realised how much of a collaboration shooting like this is: the subject has to lead without imposition from me. I have to be ready to respond.

I explored two main areas for the images, expanding on the hand images initially created for my project proposal, and also work that sought to create explore something of the term ‘resident alien’.


All this has led me to an awareness of some methodological changes happening.

Firstly, during the editing process I started standing up as opposed to sitting at my work-desk, and working from more of a distance from my monitor. It seems a small thing but there’s something about the physicality of standing and the space between me and the images that makes my choices and processes more critical. perhaps it is literally just having more distance to see better? I’ve also begun to develop a deeper interest in limiting colour palette in an image or across a series of images. I think this is also a challenge to my usual ‘style’ as I like to shoot with a flash alongside ambient light to make colours ‘pop’: so one thing to explore moving forward is how I might work against that.

Lastly, I’ve become really curious about the edge of the frame, especially where something enters the image from there. I wonder how an image could sustain interest if subject/s were at the edge of the frame, with the centre becoming less important? I like how this strengthens the idea that something is happening just outside the frame. That ‘story’ is occurring just there out of shot. I like that this could put the onus on the viewer having to engage their imagination or question what might be occurring.



Re-reading Train Your Gaze by Roswell Angier and I was struck by Joel Sternfeld’s use of the field camera, especially in terms of portraiture/environmental portraiture. Because of the technical aspects of the camera he used, the image foreground starts 40 feet from the camera. For portraiture this is something of a revelation to me. I always shoot portraits close up with something around 35mm focal length if I want to include the environment, or 85mm upwards for head and shoulders, believing my proximity aids the intimacy. But maybe by choosing something like a 135mm or even 200mm, and being further from the subject something more intimate happens, rather than the other way around?


Finally, I spent some tine being completely seduced by the editing app nception which, as you can see, plays with image mirroring in some interesting ways. I’m not sure I’d ever use this for project work but the way it forces ‘duality’ in images certainly opens up possibilities.


RANDOM THOUGHTS

Tableau vivant: from French theatre in the 18th century. A perfect moment, a climactic point in the narrative, when actors formed a clearly composed visual image, at which point they would freeze until the curtain came down. DiDerot believed ideal narrative was a succession of tableau, each one a self contained moment in which past, present and future coalesced. This work that I’ve been doing recently is like small moments of theatre for me, tiny Tableau that hint at greater narratives.

from Train Your Gaze by Roswell Angier. Bloomsbury, London 2015.

Note to self: Could I find male and female stand-ins for myself? Alter egos?