In Conversation With: Shona Waldron

Shona Waldron

Shona Waldron is an interdisciplinary artist based between East Sussex and Cornwall, UK. Working across a diverse range of media including photography, painting, moving image and installation, she articulates a world of uncertainty, frequently using a combination of digital and analogue techniques to manipulate the periphery of fact and fiction. The blurring of these demarcations plays a crucial role in exploring ideas centred around time, space and the nature of existence, presenting life as a source of wonder and infinite possibility. Investigating states of change or metamorphosis is also a recurrent theme as she uses her work to illustrate the transition into a future which is impossible to predict or control. 

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Primordial Loop from Shona Waldron on Vimeo.

Shona Waldron Sensorium

24th – 28th June 2021

The Fish Factory, Penryn, Cornwall

Private View: 24th June 2021: 6pm – 9pm 

BtL: Your upcoming exhibition Sensorium opens on the 24th June 2021. It brings together works from several of your recent projects. Can you sum up any overall themes in your practice?

SW: Sensorium is a collection of work that encompasses moving image, photography, painting and installation. The title draws inspiration from the sensory apparatus of the human body which is responsible for receiving and interpreting external stimuli. Intended to be viewed as part of an immersive experience, each exhibited piece explores themes surrounding the intersection of art, science and technology, evoking the idea of new realities that are activated by our perceptual encounters with the space.

Although my work often makes reference to scientific language and taxonomical systems, there is equally a free-flowing element that induces feelings of fluidity and life in a constant cycle of evolution. There are also parallels made between the organic and the technical, with a blending together of analogue and digital media to allow the subject matter to exist in a transformed state that surpasses the limits of its original definition.

BtL: You seem to be interested in visually exploring the relationship between the technological world and the natural world. Why is it important for you to incorporate a range of media into your practice?

SW: The incorporation of a variety of media and processes is definitely very important. I find that moving beyond the boundaries of a purely photographic practice allows the work to function in a universal context which is useful when dealing with these expansive and broad themes. This mixed media approach makes it easier for my work to emphasise connections on multiple levels, whether it be visual, auditory or as an entire sensorial experience. I think this way of working is helpful in creating a sense of dynamism, something that is of particular interest in light of my ideas surrounding the mutable relationship between technological and biological forms.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

BtL: The title of your video work Primordial Loop seems to both juxtapose and connect the idea of new possibilities / the inter-connectedness of man and machine; the technical and the organic…

SW: Primordial Loop is an experimental video piece that incorporates 3D modelling and animation. Its title draws inspiration from ‘primordial soup’, a term often used to refer to the blend of biological conditions that first enabled life on our planet. In addition to looking back towards these early beginnings, the work explores our immersion in the digital world by reinterpreting natural environments through the screen-based society we inhabit. The study of evolutionary processes is also of great importance as this ultimately evokes a transcendental journey through the past, present and future as well as a fusion of the organic and the technical.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

Emphasis is placed upon these themes from the very onset of the piece which opens with an animation of cells dividing, a sequence that delineates a point of origin and the genesis of new life. The cells then fade out of view to be replaced by jellyfish that float across the scene, gelatinous in form with iridescent hues of purple and blue. Although included due to their    their correspondence with the cells, the jellyfish are notable in presence since they are one of the oldest species to exist on our planet, residing in our oceans for more than 500 million years. This remarkable timescale predates the dinosaurs and is fascinating in light of my ideas surrounding primal states.

 

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

Following this, the video transitions into a haze of violet light which dissipates to reveal the shapes and structures of tree branches, rocks and mountains as scenes of a digital jungle emerge. Moving deeper into the landscape and through the undergrowth, circular patterns begin to appear with organic matter converging into the centre point where the panels of the video meet, creating a hypnotic effect that is reminiscent of a kaleidoscope.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

BtL: Do you think your process of digitally constructing the work is important as a way of situating these primitive visual landscapes within the conditions of the 21st Century?

SW: Absolutely. The digital process allows nature to exist in a computational form and suggests that it is not estranged from technology in the way that we might initially imagine. In the text Novacene – The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, (2019) the scientist James Lovelock reiterates this view. He proposes that ‘computers work purely in zeros and ones; from   that they can construct entire worlds … information may indeed be the basis of the cosmos’ (2019: 88). It is this description of the cosmos being made up of information, that is referenced in a literal sense within my work.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

This environment visually resembles many of teamLab’s installations such as The Infinite Crystal Universe. Presented as immersive experiences, teamLab encourages us to reach infinity and oneness by seeking to ‘transcend boundaries in the relationship between the self and the world, and of the continuity of time’ (Pace Gallery 2014). Computer programmes and algorithms are widely used in the creation of these works, engendering the belief in a computational universe in the same way that my work intends to.

teamLab (2015-2018) The Infinite Crystal Universe

BtL: You seems to situate your visual practice across a variety of thresholds. Can you give us a few examples?

SW: Further influential research includes the concept of the technological singularity, a term first popularised in 1993 with Vernor Vinge’s essay The Coming Technological Singularity. In physics, a singularity is defined as a point of infinity, such as the centre of a black hole, where matter becomes endlessly dense and physical  laws break down, resulting in the merging of space and time. In relation to this scientific definition, the theory of the technological singularity hypothesises that we will soon cross a threshold where machine intelligence will surpass biological intelligence, an advancement that will lead to irreversible changes to civilisation.

Ray Kurzweil, futurist and author of The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, suggests that ‘machine intelligence could become indistinguishable from that of its human progenitors within the first half of the twenty-first century’ (2005: 3). What this will look like for humanity is unclear as both a dystopian and utopian scenario would be possible. Either way, it is the notion of transcending current limitations that is most intriguing. It is also speculated that the universe began by such an event, meaning that there was a singularity in our past as well as one potentially in our future, demonstrating the way history repeats itself in a loop.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

This notion of the singularity manifests in Primordial Loop when the screen becomes increasingly pixelated and the motion accelerates, referencing the exponential rate that we are approaching what is often referred to as the ‘event horizon’ (Kurzweil 2005: 7). Once this is reached, the centre of the screen unfolds to reveal a passage into a new space-time dimension.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Primordial Loop

The final scene reveals the culmination of this journey into a post-singularity state. The video fragments, breaking apart from its original structure and transforming into multiple screens floating within a dark void. The plurality of the work opens up new ways for it to exist, with the panels constantly moving across the X, Y and Z axes. The music also shifts from its electronic sound to something choral and celestial. At this point in the video, space is perceived in a more fluid way, it bends and stretches, becoming something that we develop a heightened awareness of.

Yayoi Kusama (2019) Infinity Mirrored Room: Dancing Lights that Flew Up to the Universe

This exploration of a boundless existence relates strongly to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms, another key inspiration for my practice. The installation, Dancing Lights that Flew Up to the Universe, is described as a perceptual experience that functions as ‘a harmonious and quiet place for visitors to contemplate their existence, reflect on the passage of time, and think about their relationship to the outer world’ (Hirshhorn 2017). The title of Kusama’s piece acts as an expression of hope and resonates with my own feelings of reverence for the infinite. A sense of spirituality is embodied within the ending of my work, suggesting that it has indeed transcended in the same way that it is predicted that we, as humans, will one day transcend our own experience of reality.

BtL: The photographic strand of your practice, titled Merge/Melt, seems to explore similar notions to Primordial Loop through amalgamating technological and natural elements to create something that exists in a transformed state.

SW: Merge/Melt experiments with the use of digital tools to build new forms and structures, revealing warped patterns and textures that suggest  the physical world is melting into an electronic one. During the production of the series, photographs of jungles and cityscapes were fed into an algorithm and then merged together to generate new entities.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

The Deep Dream algorithm was used specifically for this purpose as it was able to draw out interesting shapes within the depths of the images. Deep Dream is described as a convolutional neural network and was originally developed in 2015 as a means of providing AI researchers with an insight into what an algorithm sees when it analyses an image. Since its inception, however, it has primarily been used as an artistic tool with results that are psychedelic in appearance. The artist Mario Klingemann is one of the pioneers of working with neural networks in this way. The works Archimedes Principle and Parting From You Now, draw attention to the pareidolic details that can emerge from an image, in the same way that humans are able to observe random shapes in passing clouds. The ability of Deep Dream to provide an algorithmic vision of our environments relates to the computational form of nature seen in Primordial Loop, epitomising the suggestion that ‘computation is existence’ (Lloyd and Ng cited in Kurzweil 2005: 342).

Mario Klingemann (2016) Archimedes’ Principle
Mario Klingemann (2016) Parting From You Now

BtL: There is appears both a visual and conceptual fluidity to your practice, yet also a sense of chaos and the unexpected.

Artist and theorist Joanna Zylinska’s text AI Art: Machine Visions and Warped Dreams also feels especially relevant. Zylinska refers to algorithmic art as ‘an ouroboros-like circle of random variations’ (2020: 72), a description that encapsulates the chaotic nature of my work but equally observes the connectivity that is so integral to its construction. The effect of this merging process is the predominant feature.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt
Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

In some images, it becomes difficult to distinguish city lights from stars as the sky dissolves into the architecture and structures blend together like coloured inks, a liquid yet luminous appearance that could almost be the result of street lights reflected in a pool of water. Due to the alteration and enhancement of certain hues, some of the images look more industrial and synthetic whilst others, with jewel bright shades of green and blue, are more jungle-like, allowing each composition to exist on a continuum between metropolis and nature. It is this fluctuation that I find most inspiring as it underscores my interest in the creation of multiplicities.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

To clearly communicate a sense of things evolving, I present my images as animated video sequences on screens and opted for a circular format in order to create a stronger comparison to the concepts explored in Primordial Loop. These circular shaped pieces embody a more pronounced mutability and link back to Zylinska’s reference to the loop of the ‘ouroboros’, reflecting wholeness and infinity. They additionally have the look of portals, perhaps acting in a similar way to black holes. This creates a further parallel with my video piece which also leads us through into a new dimension.

Shona Waldron (2021) from Merge / Melt

BtL: You are a graduate of the BA Photography course at Falmouth University. Any tips or advice for current / prospective students?

SW: My advice would be to view university as a time to experiment with photography, to try out new ways of working and push the boundaries of the medium. Over the course of my three years at Falmouth, I feel fortunate to have been able to expand my practical image making skills, both with analogue and digital processes. Although it can be strange to do something unfamiliar, I would completely recommend it as it will enable you to develop new areas of interest and gain a broader experience of the arts. And, it goes without saying, to make the most of the university facilities and technical workshops in addition to opportunities for collaborative working whilst you are a student as this provides invaluable support.

BtL: What can we expect from you next?

SW: I am planning to develop more work that expands upon the themes seen Sensorium and incorporates a variety of techniques, I will be continuing to practice in other visual disciplines alongside my photography. In addition to lens-based media, i will be continuing to branch out into other areas such as painting, sculpture and installation – and continuing to experiment. Who knows?

Showcase Portfolio: Shona Waldron

Shona waldron

Strangers (2019) The term ‘stranger’ conveys a sense of distance, anonymity and perhaps even a slight uneasiness. These images explore the way we construct internal barriers to shield ourselves from others, a physical separation which is epitomised by the blurred areas of the work. The notion that ‘photography only depicts the surface of things’ (Ruff cited in Rehberg 2017) encapsulates the way we might perceive a conversation from an outsider’s perspective, blind to the personalities of the subjects as well as the original context of the exchange. Although concealment is the primary intention, some images paradoxically reveal pieces of faces as each stranger was asked to hold and position the rips and scratches in any way they felt inspired to do so. This idea of enabling the subject to be an active participant in their own depiction reflects the way we constantly adjust which facets of ourselves we reveal to others.

  • Shona Waldron (2018) from Light of the Mind

 

Light of the Mind (2018) turns to nature to externalise inner psychologies, creating a world where warped patterns and textures begin to emerge. This intends to replicate the landscape of an unsettled mind, capturing strange resonances which exist somewhere on the margin of our everyday reality. Through burning the negatives, the construction of each image is a two-fold process as, even though the original print is destroyed, it is reconfigured into something entirely new. This transformative effect relates to the power of the human subconscious to build a place home to both material and immaterial forms.

Organic Body (2019) Through the use of bold combinations of colour and shape,Organic Body conveys anthropomorphic presence within the natural world in an abstract, less defined way, blurring the definition of what we are able to identify as human. The physical manipulation and transformative quality of the work encapsulates the notion of life in an ‘alien everyday reality’ (Debord 1994: 153) as the subject matter becomes estranged from its original context. By creating something unfamiliar and alien-like, the images intend to evoke a futuristic vision – a contemporary renaissance in a sense – which questions what it means to live in a world on the constant brink of evolution.

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The Materiality of Wolfgang Tillmans and Marlo Pascual

by Louis Stopforth (9th december 2019)

In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes proposes that ‘the Photograph is flat’ (Barthes. 1993. p.106). However photographic materiality has come into question by artists, curators, and critics alike after much deliberation in regards to the medium, procuring that the photograph no longer was to be read as ‘flat’ but that it had a tangibility to it that could be felt and experienced. This exploration of the medium refuted that a photograph was merely an invisible vessel for information, but rather it could be an object of interest in its own right as well as having its materiality contribute to its place as a descriptor.

Figure 1: Photography into Sculpture Exhibition (1970) MoMA

 

The Photography into Sculpture held at MoMA in 1970 (Fig.1) was a seminal exhibition in allowing artists and photographers alike to begin the exploration of photographic materiality as the focal point of their work, superseading depiction. Peter Bunnell, the curator of this exhibition, one year previously wrote a short essay ‘in which he identified a body of work ‘calling attention to the photographic artifact’ (Batchen. 2002. p.110).

 

 

The importance of this exhibition was how ‘the primacy of the image was traded for the primacy of the object, where each work was not ‘’a picture of, but an object about something”’ (Statzer. 2014).

Since then numerous artists, works, exhibitions and essays have focused on the physicality of the photograph, and to more experimental and conceptually charged extents. Two artists I explore here are Marlo Pascual and Wolfgang Tillmans, who have both produced works discussing the materiality of photography but in quite dissimilar ways.

Figure 2. Marlo Pascual (2010) Untitled. Two C-print, photographs, mounted on plexiglass.

Marlo Pascual (b.1972) and her distorted, ruptured, torn, and intervened with photographs (Fig. 2) instantly defies unawareness to the photographs material presence; ‘the photographs two dimensionality is revealed as a fiction’ (Batchen. 2002. P.110). The recognition of photographic materiality is one that does not effortlessly come to our attention, like other art forms, hence Pascual’s contentious alteration of the photograph.

She states ‘I want it to be physically imposing’ (Pascual, 2012). Pascual’s work discusses materiality in the most extreme of ways, aggressively intervening with the photographic object.
Figure 3. Wolfgang Tillmans (2007.) Lighter 46. C-print photograph, in artist’s frame.

Wolfgang Tillmans (Fig. 3) on the other hand is an example of how photographic work can deal with materiality in both a physical way as well as a photographically representational way (a photograph in its ‘institutionalized’ sense). In contrast to Marlo Pascual, Tillmans work in regards to materiality speaks more intrinsically to photography itself as it does not use exterior materials to itself. For this to be appreciated one must observe two projects simultaneously: Lighter and paper drop.

Figure 4: Wolfgang Tillmans (2006) Lighter III. C-print, photograph, in artist’s fram

Tilllmans’ exhibiting of Lighter (2005 to present) consists of an ongoing series of prints that have been folded and bent, protruding into space (Fig. 4). They speak universally of both photographic process and photographic materiality due to there being no personal vision in the trace ‘image’ of the work. If there were clearly recognizable depictions on the surface of the image it would become misconstrued and associated with something rather than the photographic self. Instead the abstract coloring we are presented with is a comment on the process of making a photograph (the colours being the effects of variations in the conditions of light in the darkroom on the photographic paper). Whereas the folding and bending of the paper talks about all photographs material nature. ‘Lighter invite(s) us to think of photography not in terms of an image, but structurally’ (Eichler. 2015. P.11).

Alongside his more dimensional pieces, however, Tillmans uses photography in its more traditional sense of depictional representation (Fig. 5) as a way of personally investigating the broader notion of all things being dimensional.

Figure 5. Wolfgang Tillmans (1991) Still Life Talbot Road. C-print photograph

With his paper drop (Fig. 6) prints he uses photography typically how it is expected; creating a visible and recognisable trace of a moment. Despite this, these prints discuss materiality much the same as the Lighter works as when they are displayed alongside each other, and when we view the flat surfaced paper drop photographs the same as we would any other photograph, we observe that what is depicted is a physical photograph ‘folded back on itself forming a reclining tear-drop shape’ (Eichler. 2015. p.11).

The result of this is that Tillmans produces a ‘study of photography looking at itself’ (Eichler. 2015. p.11); displaying its physicality without manifesting itself into something with more form than itself.
Figure 6: Wolfgang Tillmans (2011) paper drop (green) II. C- print photograph

Therefore it is possible to be attentive to both reference and representation whilst the concept of the work is still dedicated to the physicality of the photographic self.

References
  • Barthes, Roland. (1993) Camera Lucida. Published by ‘Vintage Classics’ in 1993. Originally published in French in 1980.
  • Batchen, Geoffrey (2002)  Each Wild Idea. Published by ‘MIT Press’, London, in 2002. Paperback First Edition.
  • Eichler, Dominic (2015) Wolfgang Tillmans: Abstract Pictures. Published by ‘Hatje Cantz’, Ostfildern, Germany, in 2015.
  • Pascual, Marlo (2012) Marlo Pascual: Selected Works by Marlo Pascual.  Saatchi Gallery [WWW]
  • Statzer, Mary (2014) Mary Statzer on ‘Photography into Sculpture’, New York, 1970. Aperture [WWW]

‘What is a Photograph?’: International Center of Photography (2014)

What is a Photograph? at the ICP (2014)

blurring the boundaries: when does a photograph stop being a photograph? (and does it really matter anymore?)

‘By foregrounding a photographs means of production and malleability of meaning, by making the photograph both a material thing and a philosophical question, it asks us to really look at what and how we are seeing’ (Batchen, 2014, p.60)
What is A Photograph? (ICP, 2014) exhibition view

The ICP (2014) show What is a Photograph? was described by its curator as ‘Bring[ing] together artists who reconsidered and reinvented the role of light, color, composition, materiality, and the subject in the art of photography’ (Squires, 2014, p.9). This session aims for participants to take both a critically informed and a personally evaluative stance to such exhibitions and thier intent.

‘The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art […] more, rather than less, real to us’ (Sontag, 1964, p.14)

this session could be run in conjunction with:

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to consider the nature of contemporary photography and its relationship with other media
  • For participants to take a critically informed personal stance to evaluate exhibitions / works and the curatorial rationale and intent.
  • To reflect on the nature of the gallery context and questions of taste, value and judgement. Is it ‘good’?
  • Participant Outcome: To critically evaluate an exhibition of thier choice, considering curatorial intent, selection of works, and reviews. Would thier own practice fit into this and why? *Participants could also be encouraged to ‘curate’ thier own exhibition / include thier own work in this and consider the curatorial rationale.
‘Having an opinion is part of your social contract with readers’ (Schjeldahl, 2004)

Showing from January – May 2014, Carol Squires curated What is a Photograph? an exhibition of 21 artists who have pushed the boundaries of a so called / traditional photographic practice. Like John Szarkowski and Stephen Shore before her, this was questioning and attempting to explore the nature of the shapeshifter we call ‘photography’. Whilst the title of the show poses an excellent, (though never quite answered), question, the critics were mixed in their responses. Is this due to a failure in the curatorial rationale, or simply that the slippery nature of the photograph itself (and all its contexts of consumption) eludes such a single and simple definition?

Carol Squires (ed.) (2014) What is a Photograph? New York, International Center of Photography

 

‘Photographs are both images and physical objects that exist in time and space, and thus on social and cultural experience and are thus enmeshed with subjective, embodied and sensuous interactions’ (Edwards & Hart, 2004, p.1)

‘You must be putting to the test, not just the artwork, but yourself in your response to it’ (Schwabsky , 2012)

presentation: What is a Photograph? (ICP, 2014)

‘Artists around the globe have been experimenting with and redrawing the boundaries of traditional photography for decades. Although digital photography seems to have made analogue obsolete, artists continue to make works that are photographic objects, using both old technologies and new, crisscrossing boundaries and blending techniques (Squires, 2014). Yes, this is certainly the case, but the emphasis of this critique is on Squires term ‘objects’, and it is clear that there is an overbearing concentration on the physicality of the photograph-as-object throughout the show / in the practice of the artists included. This seems to be rather surprising given the ubiquity of the photograph today, and all of its digital forms of reproduction, in a show curated in 2014, Is it just the wrong question / title? Is it too broad? What would Walter Benjamin have to say?

This point was not lost on the critics:

‘Unfortunately, the works chosen to investigate this question, are, simply put, not very strong. What’s worse, while many of them are cartoonishly bad, a few are magical and get it just right. The resulting exhibition is maddeningly close to being good, but it is hobbled by some serious and almost headache-inducing failures that can only be blamed on a lack of curatorial judgment’ (Pollack, 2014)
‘It’s a strangely blinkered and backward-looking show. Nearly all the work on view have more to do with photography’s past than with its possible future’ (Johnson, 2014)
‘It is not that this show looks backwards (which it does), but rather, that it looks backwards to produce a certain history which at once marginalizes photography’s digital transformation and yet at the same time is a product of that shift’ (King, 2014)
‘In a day and age where the majority of photographs exist in ephemeral form, tying an inquiry into what a photograph actually is, to experimentation by very art-world centered humans around materials simply misses most of the excitement’ (Colberg, 2014)

However, Squires responds to the chameleon-like nature of the photograph as she is also quick to point out that ‘We are in a moment – which may stretch on for years – in which the photograph shifts effortlessly between platforms and media’ (Squires, 2014, p.42), Indeed we are, so why, in this show, might we be presented with a question and selection of images which one could argue has more in common with painting and sculpture, and the associations of value, judgement and aura that these media might connote. Is this a return to 19th Century photographic values? Is the photograph so confused / de-valued as ‘art’ that it must resort to mimicing painting and sculpture to make the gallery its ‘home’/ Or is this a direct response to the digital age and the plethora of images that come with it?

That said, perhaps Squires question is a useful one. To return to Olin’s (2013) definition as the photograph as evoking both ‘vision and touch’ as well as Batchen’s (2014) reminder of the photograph as a ‘means of production with a malleable meaning’, and Edwards & Hart’s (2004) notion of it as ‘images and physical objects’. Perhaps this exhibition serves us with an important reminder of the shifting nature of the photograph and the relationship we are invited to have with it, to instigate debate and exploration of it’s usually transparent and often more functional nature, as it continues to shapeshift between contexts and media.

’Emotion without cognition is blind, cognition without emotion is vacuous’ (Scheffler, 1991, p.9)

suggested Session Outline:

‘The best photographs always inspire curiosity, rather than satisfy it’ (Soth in Schuman, 2004)
  • Ask participants to conduct in depth research into the work of at least 2 of the practitoners included in What is a Photograph? at the ICP (2014).
  • Ask participants to read and compare at least 2 of the reviews below. Do they agree with the argument being made? What are the similarities and differences
    • Colberg, Jörg (2014) ‘What is a Photograph?’ in Conscientious Magazine (31st March 2014) available here
    • Johnson, Ken (2014) ‘Digital, Analog and Waterlogged’ in The New York Times (30th January 2014) available here
    • King, Jacob (2014) ‘What is a Photograph?’ in Aperture Blog available here
    • Parsons, R. Wayne (2014) ‘A Puzzlement: What is a Photograph?’ in The New York Photo Review available here
    • Pollack, Maika (2014) ‘What Is a Photograph?’ at the International Center of Photography and ‘A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio’ at the Museum of Modern Art’ in Observer Culture (2nd December 2014) available here
    • Rexer, Lyle (2014) ‘A New Exhibition Asks, What Is a Photograph, Anyway?’ in Time Magazine (30th January 2014) available here
  • If you were the curator: Of the practitoners included in the show, which work would remain? And which would be rejected?
  • If you were the curator: How you adapt the show given the critical response? Are there any new works you would include? By whom and why?
’If I like a photograph, if it disturbs me, I linger over it. What am I doing during the whole time I remain with it? I look at it, I scrutinise it’ (Barthes, 1993, p.99)

Picturesque Perfect?

a MYTHOlogical Arcadia (or not?)

‘Does landscape photography remain encoded within the language of academic painting and the traditions of landscape art which developed during the 18th and 19th Centuries’? (Clarke, 1997, p.55)
Karen Knorr (1986) Pleasures of the Imagination: Connoisseurs

In this session, participants are encouraged to consider a historical relationship between painting and photography in the context of thier own landscape environment. They will consider ideas of the Picturesque and considerations are made as to how such visual mofifs may be culturally / visually reproduced to create a myth of the constructed land as a rural arcadia – as it is transformed into a land-scape.

Participants are encouraged to independently research the Pictorialist movement in photography and the work of Peter Henry Emerson

‘A ‘landscape’, whether cultivated or wild, is already artifice before it becomes the subject of a work of art. Even when we simply look, we are already shaping and interpreting…Landscape pictures will breed landscape pictures.’ (Andrews, 1999, p.1)
Claude Lorrain (1629-1632) Landscape with a Piping Shepherd

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

‘Whether noble, picturesque, sublime or mundane, the landscape image bears the imprint of its cultural pedigree. It is a selected and constructed text’ (Bright, 1985)
Roger Fenton (1859) Mill at Hurst Green

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To consider vernacular / stereotypical representations of the local environment / landscape
  • To investigate the relationship between painting and photography as it applies to representations of the land
  • To understand the nature of the picturesque as it applies to photographs of the land / a ‘tamed’ land
  • Participant Outcome: 1 10×8 digital print
Ingrid Pollard (1988) from Pastoral Interludes
‘The picturesque is enlisted in the definition of what the country means: it becomes a patriotic term, a touchstone of national characteristics’ (Taylor, 1994, p.25)

You will need:

  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • Tripods
  • Flashguns if you plan to practice lighting techniques
  • An Introductory Brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
Uta Kogelsberger (2007) from Picturing Paradise
‘The act of naming is an act of taming. From its inception photography has been involved in investigating and detailing environments, helping culture to appropriate nature’ (Wells, 2011, p.3)

Research: Pictorialism & work of Peter Henry Emerson

Preparation Work:

  • Ask participants to read Fergus Heron (2018) ‘Built Worlds: Photography, Landscape &. Different Natures’ from Photography & Landscape / The Photographers Gallery available here
  • Ask participants to watch Jem Southam in Conversation (2014) from the onLandscape Conference / Green Room available here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers / image editing software
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors
Takashi Yasumura (2003) from Nature Tracing
‘It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real’ (Baudrillard, 1994, p.2)

Presentation Ideas: A mythologicAL Arcadia (or not?)

suggested Session Outline:

 

Photo + Graphy = Light + Writing

/fəʊtəˌGrɑːf/: drawing with light

Sir John Herschel phrased the term ‘photo-graphy’ in 1839 in his Royal Society paper on photography (1839),  it is based on the Greek φῶς (phos), meaning ‘light’ and γραφή (graphê), meaning ‘drawing / writing’ – together meaning ‘drawing with light’ (in Schaaf, 2013)
Pablo Picasso / Gjon Mili (1949) from Light Drawings

 

In this session participants will produce images using light painting techniques / artifical light sources in order to explore the idea of the constructed image, the dependence of the photographic process on light and time, as well as further consolidating learning of photographic exposure / shutter speeds and the representation of time and motion

 

 

 

 

‘if I should ever seriously photograph, it would be…the flux of things. I wanted then, and still do, to express the ‘thing’ as part of total flow’ (Morgan in Morgan & margolis, 1980)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Barbara Morgan (1940) Pure Energy and Neurotic Man

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to visually explore the nature of photographic seeing and constructing images using light
  • For participants to understand how exposure and shutter speeds can influence the image
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: At least 3 different light writing photographs
Matthew Murray (2012-2018) from Saddleworth

You will need:

  • Digital Camera with a manual exposure setting
  • Tripods
  • A darkened room / studio or shoot outside at dusk / night
  • A selection of movable light sources (e.g. torches, phones, glo-sticks, maglights, fairy lights, flashguns, bicycle lights etc) *if you are outside, car headlights can also illuminate a space
  • Shutter release (for self portraits etc)
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessment
Man Ray (1935) Self Portrait from Space Writing

 

While the signature was of course apparent to [Man Ray], the photograph remained for many years an “abstract image” to others. The discovery of this inscription is both a revelation and a resolution. Now, seven decades after he made his own game of Hide-and-Seek, we can finally look back at Man Ray and say: “There you are!” (Carey, 2011)

preparation Work:

  • Plan at least 5 different approaches to drawing with light and make sure you have all materials. Think about;
    • Light Drawing: The light source can be seen by the camera, during a long exposure the artist uses this light source to draw, write or create a design within the frame
    • Kinetic Light Painting; The lights in the scene generally remain stationary while the camera itself is moved about during a long exposure to create color and design within the frame.
    • Light Painting; The artist uses handheld light sources to selectively illuminate parts of a scene during a long exposure photograph.
  • Ask participants to read A History of Light Painting Photography available here
  • Ask participants to think of and draw out some initial ideas for constructing images using light. There are a number of introductory videos to be found online but a good example for beginners is here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it (6×4) make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space in the session to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to a darkened room, printers or projectors
Dean Chamberlain (1977) Two Polyesthene Bags and a Chaiselonge
‘The viewer is instantly confronted with how frequently we take for granted the light in our everyday lives, not to mention its role in traditional photography. After all, how else would one make a photograph without at least a minimal amount of available light in the environment? One look at [Chamberlains] works and it becomes clear–there are other ways. While Chamberlain paints with light through time and space, the light itself becomes the primary subject matter, shifting the focus from the subject/object to the very element through which the work (and our lives) are revealed’ (Meta Gallery, Toronto, 2008)

presentation ideas: drawing with light

‘Light used in its own right, as in light pictures, gives to photography the wonderful plasticity that paint gives to painting without loss of the unmatched reality of straight photography’ Wynn Bullock (in bullock Family 2019)

lightwriting: activity ideas

You might:
  • Draw a picture
  • Outline a person / object
  • Spin some fairy lights to create an orb
  • Do a double exposure
  • Use flash / torches to light certain aspects of an internal / external scene
  • Write a message / your name
  • Use glo-sticks to create abstractions
  • Use movement (either object or camera) to create abstractions

Suggested Session Outline:

 

 

 

 

Into the Deep Blue Yonder

The Light (and Delight) of the cyanotype

In her preface to Photographs of British Algae, Atkins argued that the ‘beautiful process of cyanotype’ did away with the difficulties involved in making accurate drawings of natural objects, particularly objects as ‘minute as […] the algae and conferva’. However skilled, no draughtsman could hope to match the unprecedented reality-effects produced when images derived from ‘impressions of the plants themselves’ (Castle, 2015)
Anna Atkins (1843) Cyanotypes of British Algae

In this session participants will make cyanotype images from photograms and from acetate negatives in order to consolidate learning of the basics of analogue processes. It also serves as an introduction to the idea of constructed images, the dependence of the photographic process on light and time, as well as basic analogue development principles.

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Barbara Kasten (1974) Photogenic Painting
‘My work often begins with an exploration of materials, and my initial attraction to photography stemmed from an interest in how the photographic process could provide innovative means to create paintings. The photogram, free from technical restraints and training, offered a direct way to merge a painterly technique with light-sensitive emulsions…The interdependency of shadow and light is the essence of photographic exploration and an inescapable part of the photographic process. I see the play between these two phenomena as basic components of photographic abstraction, with their exchanging roles of solidity and transparency. In my work, shadow transforms the three-dimensional space of my constructions into the two-dimensional surface of the photograph’ (Kasten in tate, 2018)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to discuss and visually explore the nature of photographic seeing
  • For participants to experience and understand the nature of cyanotype processing
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: At least 3 cyanotypes
Barnaby Irish (2019) from Light Senstitive
‘I find these forms both beautiful and disturbing; they resonate as something familiar, but closer inspection makes them feel false – the depth and shade created by software instead of photons…My work imagines realities and dimensions we can’t yet sense, or only get glimpses of through meditation or psychedelics. I’m aiming for the resonance of something you recognise with the mystery of not knowing what it is.’ (Irish in Elliott Halls, 2019)

You will need:

  • A selection of small objects / materials to make cyanotypes with (participants can also bring / find objects / materials)
  • Some watercolour paper
  • If you are using the sun to expose your cyanotype – a normal photo frame (mask off the glass with electricians tape) / perspex, cardboard, elephant clips will suffice.
  • A Foam brush / measuring materials / trays / gloves / glasses / aprons *re Health & Safety requirements
  • Cyanotype chemicals *available from Silverprint
  • An Introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
  • See also the BBC GSCE Revision Guide here

Preparation Work:

  • Make sure you have all of the required materials (including some objects / acetate negatives)
  • Make sure you have booked the darkrooms if you are working on campus / have chemicals, lights, trays, perspex, etc if off campus and are adhering to Health and Safety requirements
  • Are you going to prepare your cyanotype mix / coated watercolour paper in advance?
  • If you are working with Primary School participants you could ask them to make a montage with some / the objects you have chosen on A4 paper and draw or photograph it. In the sesison / in advance, younger children can also cut out shapes and images from magazines (and mount onto card) as ‘objects’ to make storytelling photograms with.
  • Are you going to produce / ask participants for a negative scan to invert and print onto acetate in advance? *More contrast works better in an acetate negative

Cyanotypes: ideas for Photograms

Angela Chalmers (2018) The Kiss of Peace

Cyanotypes: ideas for making Acetate Negatives

Boris Mikhailov (2006) from At Dusk
How accurate can a picture of the world be, one’s inner village-idiot wonders, if everything we see in it — not just yellowy-greeny-goldy-maroonish-brown seawrack — is recast in alchemical shades of blue? From one angle, the all-blue world of cyanotype is as hallucinatory a domain as the one Alice encounters when she wanders through the looking glass…So, whose algae is more realistic: the photographer’s or the painter’s? (Castle, 2015)

Suggested Session Outline: see josie purcell’s website here

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A Walk on The Wild Side

(timed) Travels with a Camera

‘We cannot claim to have really seen anything before having photographed it’ (Zola in Sontag, 1977, p.87)
Todd Hido (2016) from Bright Black World

This session encourages participants to ‘notice’ the world around them, as well as ‘seeing’ it in individual / subjective and  photographic terms. Through a single walk / trip (with timed alarms for photographing) it encourages participants to notice the world around them, explore the role of aesthetics, framing, vantage point and depth of field, and investigate the idea of a more subjective ‘photographic’ voice as the ‘group’ walk / experience of the world is transformed / constructed into an individual and subjective vision.

Photographs substitute for direct encounter; they act as surrogates, mediating that which was seen through the camera viewfinder’ (Wells, 2011, p.6)

This session could be run in conjuction with:

Hamish Fulton (1985) Wind through the Pines

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to notice the world around them in a subjective manner and explore the nature of a ‘photographic’ way of seeing and framing the world. Are you merely photographing? Are you constructing? Are captions / text important?
  • For participants to consider the ‘intent’ of thier work: What are you ‘saying’ about the world around you?
  • For participants to conduct in depth research on the work of Robert Frank and apply these ideas to thier practice
  • Participant Outcome: 5 6×4 digital prints

Research: The Work of Robert Frank

‘Robert Frank…he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world’ (Jack Kerouac in Petrusich, 2019)
‘Seeing THE AMERICANS in a college bookshop was a stunning, ground-trembling experience for me. But I realized this man’s achievement could not be mined or imitated in any way, because he had already done it, sewn it up and gone home. What I was left with was the vapors of his talent. I had to make my own kind of art’ (Ed Ruscha in Casper, 2019)

You will need:

  • A planned / dedicated walk of a local area (with printed maps)
  • A planned study visit / school trip to a designated location (with printed maps)
  • Timers (egg timers or phone alarms will suffice) for timing of when participants will make thier photographs on the ‘walk’
  • You need to decide whether participants will photograph all at the same time / in small groups / individually
  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using analogue cameras, Camera phones, Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessment
Uta Kögelsberger (2007) from Getting Lost

Preparation Work:

  • To design your walk / trip and provide maps. Walk the area yourself in preparation and note the times / any interesting features
  • Create a Google Map of your walk.
  • To identify alarm timings for participants taking photographs (either all together / in small groups / on thier own)
  • Ask participants to read Jelani Cobb (2019) ‘How Robert Frank’s Photographs Helped Define America’ in The New York Times (11th September 2019) available here
  • Ask participants to investigate the nature of the ‘road trip’ and watch the Aperture Foundation video The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (2014) available here
  • Ask participants to independently research the work of Robert Frank
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it (6×4) make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors

Presentation Ideas: Travels with a Camera

Suggested Session Outline:

  • Introduce the session / walk and the importance of really looking at the world around them, considering what they are trying to say about the object / scene / person etc and consider scale, composition, angle, vantage point, depth of field, etc
  • Give the presentation Travels with a Camera (or devise your own) to introduce particpants to the idea of photographing on a journey etc.
  • Ask participants to set thier alarms to go off every 5 minutes (if you want them all to photograph from the same point) / provide individual times (if you want them to photograph at different times along the walk)
  • Walk / photograph – give examples of what you might do and again remind participants of visual variety / typology etc.
  • Make a note of location on the map every time you photograph. You might use Google Maps here
  • Upload / edit / print photographs
  • Project the Google Map on the wall (large) and pin up / scan and insert the photographs at the locaitons in with they were taken
  • Critique / discuss
  • Photograph / save the projection of the map with the images on – you could print at 12×16 for each participant.
Mads Gamdrup (2002) from Renunciation

 

Sculpted by Light

The Light (and Delight) of the Photogram

‘I am doing Photograms! I am having such fun. They reveal the most beautiful new world of light & form’ (Hepworth in Bowness, 2013)
Barbara Hepworth (1932-33) Self Portrait Photogram

 

This is a fun session in which participants will make photograms, as well as learn the basics of analogue processes. It also serves as an introduction to the constructed image, the dependence of the photographic process on light and time, as well as basic darkroom development principles.

 

 

 

 

‘A photogram is not a photograph, not really. Sure, it is usually discussed as a subset of photography, and it was born around the same time, from similar chemistry, but is practically and conceptually only remotely related. A photogram is a 1:1 scale negative record of a shadow. It is unique and unpredictable. Photographs tell sweeping, barefaced lies; photograms tell the truth, but only a thin slice of it. the ocean of images that surges and swells around us is mainly photographic; we are awash with manipulated half-truths and shameless fictions’ (Griffin, 2019)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Lloyd Godman (1993-94) from Evidence from the Religion of Technology
‘An automatic reproduction by the action of light’ (Niepce (1839) in Trachtenberg, 1980, p.5)
‘It is not an instrument which serves to draw nature but a chemical and physical process which gives her the power to reproduce herself’ (Daguerre (1839) in Trachtenberg, 1980, p.13)
‘By optical and chemical means alone [the image is] impressed by Nature’s hand’ (Talbot (1839) in Wood, 2001, p.192)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to discuss and visually explore the nature of photographic seeing
  • For participants to experience and understand the nature of darkroom processing
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: At least 3 photograms
Dan Peyton (2015) Forsythia Elegy

You will need:

  • A selection of small objects / materials to make photograms with (participants can also bring / find objects / materials)
  • 10 x 8 inch Ilford Multigrade Paper
  • A Darkroom / Darkroom chemicals
  • *if you are working off-campus you will need a light tight room, chemicals, trays and red lights
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • * Access to Photocopiers with a scan function / Scanners, Printers etc if you are planning on making digital photograms
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
‘Photography can lie as to the meaning of a thing but never to its existence’ (Barthes, 1980, p.89)
Jochen Lempert (2010) Glow-worm

presentation ideas: The Light (and Delight) of the photogram

Preparation Work:

  • Make sure you have all of the required materials (including some objects)
  • Make sure you have booked the darkrooms if you are working on campus / have chemicals, lights, trays etc if off campus.
  • Set up the enlargers (with carriers / lenses) and easels (9×6) in advance of the session
  • Introduce participants / teachers to darkroom processes / photograms by asking them to watch ‘Making a Photogram’ (2017) for Ilford available here
  • If you are working with Secondary School / College participants to read Jonathan Griffin (2019) ‘Out of the Light / Into the Shadow’ for Tate available here
  • If you are working with Primary School participants you could ask them to make a montage with some / the objects you have chosen on A4 paper and draw or photograph it. In the sesison / in advance, younger children can also cut out shapes and images from magazines (and mount onto card) as ‘objects’ to make storytelling photograms with.
  • You might encourage participants to make digital photograms using a photocopier / scanner. Some useful ideas are available here
‘For the first time an image of the world is formed automatically without the creative intervention of man. The personality of the photographer enters into proceedings only in his selection of the object to be photographed and by way of the purpose he has in mind. Although the final result may reflect something of his personality, this does not play the same role as that of the painter’ (Bazin (1967) in Trachtenberg, 1980, p.241)

Constructing Photograms: objects & Visual ideas

Suggested Session Outline:

Down the Rabbit (Pin)Hole

Looking Through The Pinhole

Gina Glover (2010) from Liminal World

This is a fun session in which participants will make thier own pinhole cameras to take away, as well as learn the basics of pinhole photography. It also serves as an introduction to apertures, shutterspeeds and basic darkroom development principles.

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to discuss and visually explore the nature of seeing like a camera
  • For participants to conduct in depth research on the work of Justin Quinnell and apply these ideas to thier practice.
  • For participants to expereince the nature of darkroom processing
  • For participants to understand how to scan and inverse images using Photoshop
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: A pinhole camera and least 4 pinhole photographs

Research: The work of Justin Quinnell:

You will need:

  • 1 x 500ml Aluminium can per participant
  • A Can Opener
  • Black Duct Tape
  • Black Card
  • Black insulation / Electricians Tape
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • 5 x 7 inch Ilford Multigrade Paper
  • A Darkroom / Darkroom chemicals
  • *if you are working off-campus you will need a light tight room, chemicals, trays and red lights
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • * Access to Scanners, Printers etc if you are planning on inversing and printing the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments

presentation ideas: Down the Rabbit (pin)hole:

Preparation Work:

  • Make sure you have all of the required materials.
  • Make sure you have booked the darkrooms if you are working on campus.
  • Have some 5×7 Pinhole work ready in a box to demonstrate development
  • If you are printing digitally in the Photo Lab – make sure they know when these images will be sent and when you need them back by.

Suggested Session Outline:

  • Ask participants what they think the characteristics of photography are. (e.g. light, time, fixed, reproduction) Are these specific to certain ‘types’ of photograph? Is the word ‘photographies’ more appropriate?
  • Deliver presentation / brief and encourage discussion and debate
  • Show Pinhole camera
  • In small groups – make Pinhole Camera
  • Break
  • Have some 5×7 Pinhole sheets ready to demonstrate development
  • Darkroom Induction
  • Explore Pinhole cameras / develop
  • *Scan and inverse Pinhole work into positives. Print analogue or digital.
  • Critique and give feedback with the group