FINAL MAJOR PROJECT. WEEK 14.
In the opening essay for the retrospective book Ballenesque (2017), Robert Young uses the word prehensile to describe photographer Roger Ballen’s portraiture. It’s a surprising word to use in the context of photography. We usually hear it when an animal’s ability to use an appendage allows it to seize or grip an object. Yet the febrile plasticity it infers makes sense in the context of Ballen’s most infamous work and, to me, photography in a wider context.
It is also something that resonates for me in my recent work. Supporting what have become surprisingly direct, physical, and playful images. And underlined this week at a tutorial. Something of a cause for celebration after the difficulties I have had with the FMP. It’s encouraging when others’ responses chime with one’s intent and motivation and the work invokes a response.
This has endorsed the playfulness and pleasure I’ve been bringing to (and exploring in) the work. I think it comes down to the fact that in any creative activity one cannot help ones personality and character coming through. Even if the thematic context might be different, it’s expression will be made complete by the presence of the personality of the maker/s. My inherent trickster (see this post from Module 4 Informing Contexts), and my acuity with playfulness and improvisation, have had to have air time here. I see this in Ballens’ work and also in, for example, Jacques Henri Lartigue ‘s images. And others of course. But these two come readily to mind. Especially in their willingness to make room for a certain lightness of touch and the acknowledgment of physical pleasure and, at times surreal, play in their work.
Lartigue and his love for moments where the body temporarily (and sometimes improbably) untethers itself from the confines of gravity and the earth: jumping, leaping, and the impact of speed.
Or Ballen with images that seem to have been wrought from the pages of childhood sketchbooks, hopes, dreams, memories, and fantasies.
It’s been very easy to take this FMP process too seriously. The consternation I have experienced around the direction and value of my project has been overwhelming. I’ve written about that at length elsewhere in this CRJ. Add to that the current mood of the times – the pandemic, Trump, Brexit, climate change etc – and it could have been easy to get consumed in more direct responses to these in my work. Indeed, these things have influenced a degree of limitation and fear in my practice. Consequently I made a determined effort to move away from them and the idea of being a ‘serious’ photographer (whatever that means) in order to continue my MA journey. Although the work does have a serious thematic backbone to it the joy, pleasure, and hospitality inherent in food, and the relationship people have with it, have become influences that I’ve been unable to stop. Willingly so. It also makes a huge amount of sense in the context of my personal history and the loss of my father and brother whose mutual connection to food pervaded almost everything we did as a family.
It’s been interesting (and a relief) to see that my work has begun to communicate. And, even more, that what it is communicating is deepening and growing through recent activity.
Adedotun, H (Ed). 2019. Jacques Henri Lartigue. Paris, Flammarion.
Ballen, R. 2017. Ballenesque. London, Thames & Hudson.
D’Astier, M and Ravache M. 2015. Lartigue – Life In Colour. New York, Abrams.
Rodiers, H, 2019, Photographer Roger Ballen’s journey into the depths of the mind, Bruzz – viewed 30 September 2020. Available at: https://www.bruzz.be/en/culture/art-books/photographer-roger-ballens-journey-depths-mind-2019-11-12