As if one weekend of photos wasn’t enough, this weekend, Unveil’d saw me signed up for another one but this time, I was treated to photographers talking to me and many others in the auditorium at The Exeter Phoenix. And by that, I mean communicating on so many different levels! Six of them presented papers and less formal presentations, most of them graduates of universities in the UK, and with diverse but very personal projects that I felt I had been with them on a world tour.
The first to speak was Jack Latham talking about his fascinating project “Sugar paper theories” about a criminal case in 1974 in Iceland in which six people were found guilty in 2 murder cases despite the facts that no bodies were found and that nobody could prove that murders had been committed. His concept is based on the theme of tainted memories which arise out of forceful interrogation techniques and dodgy practices by police and government officials. Do we question what we see or are our conceptions, on seeing certain photographs, tainted by narrative and dubious discourse/ questionable evidence? A truly fascinating project involving several conspiracy theories which had me on the edge of my seat to see if the photographer was going to get implicated if the case opens up again next month. I asked him if he was afraid of such a thing happening &, in a lengthy and credible response he said he wouldn’t. He is exhibiting his project in a garage in BRIGHTON this coming weekend! GRRR! I shall try to convince him to have it here too given that he has so many converts after his talk.
The second was Dutch photographer Maurice van Es who had us in stitches about his work! So much so that photography professor Jem Southam asked him, in all seriousness, if he had considered a career as a stand up comedian using photography as his m.o. Van Es has exhibited at Arles – what more do you need to know?!
When he stood up to talk after Jack Latham, I thought that things for him were going to go horribly wrong – HOW could you follow on after Latham’s intrigue, exhaustive global research, his art & superb photography straddling genres: historic b&w, contemporary clean, & getting you involved to see how much you were being lead to your conclusions by the text. It only took a few minutes and he had switched us from fearful to giggling & then laughing spontaneously. He takes details from his own house – his poor mother had quite a ribbing with her ocd house keeping practices. he said “My mother makes installations. Artis something which does not want to be art & it’s something my mother makes – she piles everything up.” He photographed his grandfather taking off his pullover & set it up as a triptych; his girlfriend caught unexpectedly on camera, although judging by the number of back shots, she should be aware by now of what he’s doing when she can’t see him. He photographed his father’s car – his father would always go and fetch him when he called – so he made a series of it. He is quite poetic too: he maintains that poetry starts with two lines separated by a space in which the reader fills the space & it’s the same with his books: the viewer fills the space between one book in his series and the next. His poetic inspiration came from the poetry of Wistava Szymborska who could make poems about very ordinary, simple things.
His project: Now in Milan translated into 40 meters of 40 images taken of his 10 days in Milan – then he deleted them from his memory card.
How inspiring and disarmingly simple in concept his images and banter were!
I had seen Felicity McCabe’s work while I was researching an essay in my documentary unit last year so I recognised some of her images and was quite excited to hear the presentation. The monotone delivery was very off-putting and her justifications for how she had shot her images repetitive. I am glad for her that she is doing so well with her photography and that she is getting so many awards.
And so, after lunch I was very excited to hear Feiyi Wen who is also a multi-award winning photographer and who is now doing a practice based PhD. Unsure of her English, she read most of her paper which lost me at times, probably due to my own ignorance. Her work crossed geographic boundaries and she sought her photographic peace and pieces in nature: plant life and water mainly. She spoke about how self-conscious she was at school and how photography and her curiosity about everyday objects was her way out of this feeling. She saw in the banal a kaleidoscope of possibilities. She is fascinated by considering reality against illusion and sees photography as a mirror with a memory which captures ambiguities. Poetry has moved her photography and sees that the meaning is sometimes outside the photographic space. I asked her if she ever wanted to collaborate with other photographers and, when she said yes, I asked her which one, living or dead, but she said she would have to consider the question & I never got a reply.
Norwegian Erik Lovold, a recent graduate from a London university, followed this with a similar feeling of being between cultures. His work “Solitary flight” (2013-15) spoke of his notion of home through landscape. He shared his very personal relationship with his Norwegian girlfriend with us through reading the text he wrote for his book which was too personal and private for my comfort. He had hoped to let go of his past when he left Norway to start reading for a degree in London but he discovered that he couldn’t. I particularly liked one of his images in which the people are very small in a vast and indistinct landscape:
He was dismissive of his photography but I really enjoyed it. Part of his inspiration was the work of Jem Southam who was in the auditorium but whom he had evidently not met. Jem was very complimentary about his work.
The final speaker was another multi-award winner Sara Sandri who must have been exhausted after having waited all day to do her presentation, but she did not show it.
She presented her degree work (LCC) entitled Su di lei about her relationship with her mother who was born in Bolzano, Italy, but who has lived for the last 26 years in Portugal. She spoke about how she felt displaced and so wanted to reconnect with her mother’s origins in Italy. During her degree years she also did some ceramics & sculptures using sea sponges and made them part of her degree installation. She shared her insights on photography and I noted the Roland Barthes quote from Camera Lucida: Photography is what cannot be repeated existentially. She shared the names and work of those who had inspired her work: Esther teichman, Ana Mendieta and sculptor Simon Fujiuara. Recognising her quest to find her roots, I asked Sara if, after her research she had found herself & she said she didn’t know who she was – much like my conclusion after my reading of Nikki S. Lee’s work Projects. Her degree show installations had 2 videos – one with sound ( a whispered conversation in the dark with her mother about Portuguese accents) and one, about coastal landscapes without sound. Her project speaks of displacement, communication and layers of meaning.
All three of the last speakers were artists who have been working outside their native homeland and all three reverted to photographing natural forms and subjects to communicate their ideas and sentiments to the world.
What a great day! So much inspiration for assignment 4 – once I have read all the required bits, some of which are not on the student website !