Summary of a 15 minute telephone interview with Erik Kessels conducted on 26th October, 2016.
For Assignment 3, “We are all photographers now” my essay led me to an analysis of the language used in the 2011 Arles Manifesto “From Here On” drawn up by Erik Kessels, but I had some questions for which I needed specific answers. I wrote to Erik Kessels about 3 weeks before I had to submit my assignment but the answer did not arrive in time. Instead his PA asked me to phone him. Although I had permission to record the interview, I was not allowed to use it as such for any other purposes. What follows is a summary of the points discussed.
My contention was that the language used in the manifesto was very similar to that used in the Futurist Manifesto drawn up by Marinetti in 1909 and published in Le Figaro in France. I asked if this had in fact been the inspiration for it and was very surprised to hear from a very surprised curator that it was not and that it was very much a collaborative effort among the 5 male curators: Clément Chéroux, Joan Fontcuberta, Erik Kessels, Martin Parr & Joachim Schmid.
In the manifesto it was apparent that the 5 curators at the Arles photo festival were trying to make a break with the past – ‘yes it was a niche idea at the time’. ( Marinetti may have said the same thing had he been interviewed about his Futurist Manifesto.) The internet imagery was a starting point for the exhibition.
I asked about the composition of the curating team: could there have been a woman included in the team? Joan Fontcuberta had brought the team together and Kessels said that one of the main criticisms of the exhibition was that it was quite male orientated. He subsequently and very kindly sent me more information and material about the exhibition. Gosh! Male is the key there! He said that he would not like to be a full time curator because as a photographer he would find that boring. He did not have any other explanation for having had an all-male curating team.
He spoke quite colourfully about the experiences the curators had in deciding which images went in and which not.
It was a very interesting experience for me &, although I did not feel nervous at the time, the recording makes me sound very nervous. I will have to practise more of this, it would seem!
Recently, I signed up to do a 6 week poetry workshop through Coursera because I want to sharpen my ways of expressing myself. I know that this is a photography blog but I feel that the succinct ways of expressing images are very similar in the 2 forms of expression – it depends on the tools that you use to achieve your aim.
Make a still life, a portrait of something using literal images only: the image of abstraction in which the title is the catalyst for the poem
My title: Sucked out: the green bottle of love.
You’re full, full of air
bubbles that enlighten, air
bubbles that fizz and ting, air
bubbles that vanish before the
last trace of water;
bubbles of love
that enlightens, love
that vanishes as the last
touch is crushed, love
sucked out and the stopper
is in place – love’s
hope exhausted, love’s
2. Write a poem where you limit all your figures of speech. Refer to a general thematic unity e.g. a single set of ideas
This poem is animal-related.
Shiny like a snail trail you slug through life;
Sharp as an eagle you target your prey;
Sure as a dung beetle you shape your treasure;
Slinky as a sloth you reach the tree tops;
Sheer as 15 deniers your scales cover the snake.
3. Develop a conceit = much stronger than a metaphor: find two things that are wildly and radically different and make a poem which argues their similarity.
My conceit is the difference and similarity of the phone and the guillotine:
One of the topics for discussion at the last Thames Valley Group meeting was ‘sketchbooks’ and how we use them. I only started using one, as an experiment, in April, after I had started the DI&G module . Why was everyone insisting that they were an indispensable tool in their practice? Why are so many esteemed photographers including their sketchbooks in exhibitions of their work? I have suddenly realised that my starting with sketchbooks came after an OCA study day to see the “Gathered Leaves” by Alec Soth exhibition at the Science Museum, London, in which his sketchbooks, which I could barely see in the vitrines because I was in a wheelchair, made a very big impression on me. It also helped that I found his work so inspiring and could see its development in his sketchbooks.
I am putting the first 2 pages of my sketchbook experiment here because fellow TVG member, Anne, blogged that she was not sure how to start her sketchbook & I couldn’t upload my images in the ‘Comments’ section of her blog.
Perhaps ‘sketchbook’ does not seem to be the appropriate word at this stage but, later on , this happens:
We met at Bordon which, for me, meant an overnight stay with my eldest and another 90 mins drive on Saturday morning into the depths of I don’t know where but it’s a good thing that Fran in my SatNav knew!
It was a big meeting with 13 members, two of whom were new, plus tutor Jane Taylor.
What did not go well:
Last time I attended a TVG meeting I came away with some good ideas to take my work forward. This time, although we had some time at the end & I could have put my line out to see what others thought of my ideas, I felt that we had had a long day, people were tired and weren’t prepared for this. So perhaps in future, a slot could be programmed into the meeting for discussing people’s current work.
What went well:
I enjoyed seeing the continuation of the work ‘Lifting the curtain’ Keith Greenough has done since his graduation. I particularly liked the b/w images which seemed like pen and ink drawings which, combined with the art paper he chose to use, made the images look like art miniatures.
I was glad I showed my messy workbook so that those who weren’t used to keeping a sketchbook did not feel they have to be neat and tidy. Having said that, I did appreciate the neat sketchbooks on show as they looked like works of art in themselves and something I might aspire to in the future.
Although the discussion on the series “The Century of the self” by Adam Curtis did not start off well, there were several ideas being batted around the room which made sense to me. I was pleased to have spent the 4 hours watching the series because, although it was not explicitly about photography, it was about how we see ourselves and how others see us & can choose to exploit what they see for their benefit, purporting to be doing it for our benefit. The concept of politicians using focus groups to garner information about what people want in order to then use that information to keep themselves electable, reminded me of teaching practices in the last 20 – 25 years. From my viewing, I particularly appreciated the comments made by playwright Arthur Miller on the idea of suffering & I shall be going back to them.
Everyone appreciated the effort Richard Down and Catherine Banks put in to organise the meetings to enhance our learning experiences with the OCA distance learning courses. This made me feel that I ought to be helping Amano organise events in the SW as the expense of attending the TVG meetings and the study days in London is becoming quite prohibitive.
Fellow OCA student, Catherine Banks, had sent me this information in February because she knew I would find it tempting:
Join us for this residential week as we explore our relationship with landscape with Fiona Benson, Richard Povall and special guest artist – Garry Fabian Miller. As part of Schumacher College’s Art and Ecology Programme. Transcribing Landscape is convened by poet Fiona Benson and artist-researcher Richard Povall. Our special guest is the renowned photographic artist Garry Fabian Miller
Given that I had decided in April that I was going to sign up for the Landscape photography module with the OCA, I thought that this opportunity to explore landscape, photography and poetry, although very expensive, could not be missed. As it turned out, I decided to switch to Digital Imaging and Culture instead, and, although I did seriously toy with the idea of dropping the Dartington residential, I decided to spoil myself & carry on with the course.
So much time has passed since then that the paper I used has gone yellow, the poems I wrote are vaguely familiar, and some of the names of my fellow participants forgotten!
Four days of going away on a residential course, even if it was only 6 miles from home, doing the 3 things that I loved doing the most seemed like a dream / a fantasy time and I felt that the reality could never match that dream.
Day one: 11.30 arrival and what seemed to be an interminable litany of administrative chloroform. By mid afternoon I had had enough and went to sleep only to wake up 2 hours later, much refreshed, to catch up with the rest of the information. The peace and tranquility of Dartington and its staff are pretty soporific at the best of times.
Introductions – there are 9 participants, 1 of whom is a man and 2 were from overseas: Canada and USA.
Richard Povall introduces us to mapping. We then listen to the sounds around us: the windows are open & I am quite close to one so what I hear is mostly what comes to me from outside & this is what I draw:
this was the view from the window of the work room:
We then went on to map reading and locating various improbable sounding places on Dartmoor:
Followed by writing a line to a story under the name and description of the place, folding it over and passing it on. This is a place to which I contributed:
Ten pm and we were ready for a sleep. All the meals we had during the week were exceedingly tasty.
Day 2: What I did not realize was that we had college duties: cleaning the toilets in the Elmhurst Centre; dishwashing; cooking & food preparation! Today it started: my duty: clean up and wash up after breakfast (there were 3 of us in the group).
The participants presented an example of their current work and a piece by someone else which they liked. Walter’s photography of his town, presented in tabloid form, was really impressiveI took a collage I had worked on recently:
Poetry with Fiona: poetry linked to place name poems: Dindsenchas / Dinnsean We listened to Seamus Heaney’s Anahorish – it was great particularly the lines:
Anahorish, soft gradient
of consonant , vowel meadow,
How evocative of the landscape are those lines!
We were then asked to write our own poem based on map reading:
This was the start of another one which was never finished:
At some point in the morning we read various poems, particularly the second extract of Alice Oswald’s ‘Dart’. We were then asked to envisage a part of our history as a landscape and draw it on a given piece of paper: mine was 2 meters x 50 cm and I could see it was going to be blank for a long time so I left it on the floor. All I could see in my mind’s eye was a patch of uniformly green grass with nothing on it so I decided I would phone my daughter who was heading for an interview.
Fifteen minutes later, I went back to my sheet to find depressions in it as if people had walked on it (which they hadn’t) and I could see indentations which you find in a landscape so I coloured them in. We went back in to work room & were asked to write a few words on the sheet of paper in 5 minutes; when we re-gathered we were asked to write a poem about our landscape. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this and started my poem on which I would spend a lot of time over the next 3 days.
After lunch we were asked to go out into the gardens where, in pairs, we were to guide one another blindfolded round the borders, up & down steps. I kept getting dizzy as I was blindfolded & my partner, Paula, had to steady me between bouts of giggling! We had to then say something at a particular spot where the acoustics were a special feature. No knowing what or where that spot was, I burst into song not realizing that the others were sitting not 50cm away from me! That exercise was a lot of fun in which I got to know & had to trust my partner. Although I have led such an exercise, I have never done it myself.
Later on were given a place in the landscape which we had to explore and find a story. We then had to tell the story in some way. My partner, Sonia Overall, and I decided that we would present a conversation between the 12 Apostles (Irish Yew trees) and the massive Sweet Chestnut trees across the yard from the Yews: we presented the Yews as subjugated, conforming characters who accepted the new order of life on the estate, while the sweet chestnuts were the domineering, stifling bully boys of the sketch which was very well received.
On the programme we had: “Overnight ‘sit’ by the River Dart, probably starting around 11pm and going through to breakfast with artist/naturalist Tony Whitehead.” I love such sorties & was really looking forward to it. Rain was forecast so there was the danger of cancellation. At 11pm we heard that we would go down and four participants braved it. We went down to the river through a forest where we wwere encouraged to be absolutely quiet & we had all the birds and animal noises identified. We were absolutely quiet &, under the moonlight, I could see cows in the field. I told my partner Anne from Canada that there were cows & she asked if they were dangerous. No wanting to frighten her I told her that they were curious animals but only in the day time! They came towards us and we had a quiet chat with them & then went on our way to our place on the river bank. I had set up my camera before I left the residence so I knew I just had to press the silent shutter every now & then. Would it work? No! I didn’t realize then that 2 days later the camera would have to be sent away to be repaired – I still don’t know what went wrong with it. In our silence, we could see ducks drifting up & down the river; we heard a loud plop as an otter jumped in & then he too swam up & down, as curious about us as we were of him & his tiny green eyes. Just before 1 am we heard the rain coming up the river & that’s when we packed up and high-tailed it back to the residences.
The next morning we were telling the others about our nocturnal excursion & we heard all sorts of excuses for their non-appearance.
This day was going to be a highlight for me because we were going to spend the day with a camera-less photographer:
‘Garry Fabian Miller is one of the most progressive figures in fine art photography. Born in 1957, he has made exclusively ‘camera-less’ photographs since the mid 1980s. He works in the darkroom, shining light through coloured glass vessels and over cut-paper shapes to create forms that record directly onto photographic paper. These rudimentary methods recall the earliest days of photography, when the effects of light on sensitised paper seemed magical.’ – Martin Barnes (Curator of Photography at the V&A)
We started by walking to Wistman’s Wood & spending all morning there talking about it, taking photos and ‘experiencing’ it. I had always gone through it but never sat looking down on it so that is what I did & took some shots of what I found interesting there.
We then went to Garry’s house & studio. We were to take off our shoes before going into a white cube following Garry reverently and sat on benches where, for the next hour, we listened to Garry’s journey to the white cube. He sat on a white chair between two of his ‘photos’ and where he was very much part of the exhibit. We were blinded by the white which could not be dimmed and Garry could put on his straw hat to shield his eyes a little from the intense glare from this mid-summer sun. The squinting faces show how painful the experience was. I asked him if this studio was his plinth & we were all sitting in it.
After the introduction we went into the dark room to see how Garry produces his work which was fascinating. His work is printed on some special paper which is no longer manufactured so he is nearing the end of his production in his current system. Apparently his entire darkroom is being moved to the V & A when he has ended his working days, to be a museum to his work.
Day 4 was dedicated to poetry map exercises and tutorials on the work we were to present on Friday.
The best part of the day for me happened accidentally. I had been working with Richard on putting my video clip & poem together which took far longer than anticipated; we went to join the others for a leaving party at the pub. There one of the participants, Fiona Candy, started working on her work for the next day. Seeing that she had to be in 2 places simultaneously: operating the light source & photographing the effect. I offered to help because I had my camera with me & we started working at 11.30pm going right through to 2.30am. What struck us both was how easily we worked together & how energized we were to get our images. We seemed to spark off one another as easily as if we had known each other for years – which we obviously didn’t. We had a terrific amount of fun & got some terrific images which Fiona used to present her project on oak trees. The others were quite taken both by the super project and by our collaboration.
The images which I like the most are the following:
Setting up under the huge oak tree in the gardens outside the Great Hall, Dartington
Dressing the oak!
Changing the slide to textile image.
Changing the slide to portrait images taken from 1940s calendar shots;
I was fascinated by Paula’s line drawings inspired by the landscape and elements in it, framed by circles inspired by Garry’s photography.
The project I presented on the last day consisted of 3 elements: two short, fused video clips of grass seeds about to be released from a grass seed head which reflected a performance by Karen Christopher on Tuesday; the long map I had drawn also on Tuesday to illustrate my poem, and my poem which was read by Karen because I knew she would have read it better than I could have.
The grass seed heads (this is a screen shot of the video clip which also has birdsong which seems to have choreographed the seed dance):
Before the seeds dispersed.
After the seeds had gone.
I have asked a friend, Julia Rich, who is skilled in putting AVs together, to combine my poem, videos and reading on to 1 AV. It can be seen and heard Grass seeds disperse poem..
Reflections on the week:
What could have been better:
The photography content was rather disappointing because the setting was uncomfortable in the extreme. I was fascinated seeing Garry’s work but it would have been good to try some of his techniques in his dark room since there aren’t many about these days. Whereas I have applied my awakened poetry skills since my time in Dartington, the photography element of the week has not informed my practice at all so far.
What went well:
1. The poetry: I thought Fiona Benson’s skills as a facilitator in a poetry writing context are unparalleled. She combines superbly varied knowledge of her field and craft, enthusiasm and encouragement which enable those in her group to make the most of their poetry writing skills. This part of the week surpassed any expectations I had of it. I had bought one of Fiona’s poetry books before I attended the programme and, to be quite frank, had not engaged with her poetry possibly because it was about motherhood and it was not a subject which is close to my being.
2. Working with Fiona Candy, who was a complete stranger, was energizing, fulfilling and much more creative than I had ever experienced in collaborations. I had not anticipated working with others at all.
3. Working with Sonia and Fiona was very rewarding in different ways and I had not anticipated such a positive outcome.
4. I really appreciated the performance elements of the week by Briana and Karen which again, I had not anticipated seeing.
5. I appreciated the kindness, welcome and hospitality of the reception and academic team from Schumacher College – they could not do enough for us. Richard Povall put a great programme together.
The results are out & I have passed with a 2:1. There were many positives in the summative assessment:
“Overall Comments and Feed Forward
The assignments and related research were clearly laid out and easy to access on your learning log. It was clear that the research carried out during the course of this module has fed directly into your practical work. Your assignments reflect the fact that you have read and looked widely at others who work in similar fields. Good studentship is an important part of the course. As you mention yourself on your blog, further work needs to be done in terms of the quality of your printing. Attending to this in your next course of study will certainly help strengthen future submissions. The assessors particularly liked assignment five, where you presented a coherent concept, with consistent quality throughout.”
If you want to see my assignment 5, go to: https://annasocablog.wordpress.com/category/assignments/assignment-5/
I have just successfully and on time finished the 6 week course produced by MoMA & offered by Coursera. The course was very informative, the reading extensive and the contemporary photographers mostly thought-provoking.
The 3 photographers I found most thought provoking and who will, in all probability, influence my future work were:
Walid Raad, founder & sole member of “The Atlas Group” (1989 – 2004) & his testing the veracity of photographs in his work “My neck is thinner than hair”(2003 – 2004)
Ilit Azoulay: subjective visual archive of the cities she has visited in which the meaning of the images depends on their context and on the audio support to the exhibitions. I enjoyed the following work because of its topological layout which reflects the topography of its subject city :
“Shifting degrees of certainty” (2014)
Anouk Kruithof: Subconscious traveling deals with image circulation and obsolescence. Her work uses empty film sleeves she found in a family album. She arranges the sleeves in a random manner to depict a fictitious journey. She photographs the arrangements using a flash which gives a bleached spot on the image and presents the arrangement behind glass: the viewers then project their own fictitious journeys when the see themselves reflected in the glass. This seemed absurd to me initially until I thought about the panoply of images reflecting where we have all been through other people’s images & here, we take a journey nobody else had taken: one found only in your own mind & it’s that fictitious landscape that interests me.
There were 10 question quizzes on each of the 6 sections & I really enjoyed those. I have received the following email from the course planners and no, I am not certificating because I don’t see the point – I was in it for the ride not the ticket, besides which, the email does the formalising as far as I am concerned.
anna goodchild, congratulations!
Completing an online course is no simple endeavor. It requires time, dedication, and commitment, so when we say “Congratulations” – we mean it! Take a moment to reflect on your hard work and enjoy your completion of Seeing Through Photographs. You’ve earned it.
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As we entered we were told that we could not take photos with our cameras. Could we take them with our phones? Yes. So we did.
The former power station is a cavernous venue which could have dwarfed the exhibits had they been just framed and mounted prints, but they weren’t. The prints, in A4 or A3, were pinned up on to an exhibition stand totally informally, with a brief write-up about the subject on a board next to the massed portraits.
Apart from the stands, there were also projected image stands which were much bigger and more imposing. These were the images you could not touch. There were vast windows above the stands which meant that when you looked up to the images, you were blinded by the light.
The chairs were arranged in a semi-circle so that people could discuss what they saw which was a good idea.
Off the main hall, there was a reading room which was heated so rather packed with visitors!
3 positives about the setting:
great & adaptable space.
it was very informal & so you felt closer to the images
it was great to be able to sit & leaf through the books by Leibovitz and others
1 negative response:
the light from the windows was blinding at times.
Example of work: The piece which meant more to me than others was of a person she could not have photographed, in fact it was not her photograph at all:it was an image of the desk of Virginia Wolf photographed by Susan Sontag in 2003:
I really liked her composite image of Cindy Sherman (1992):
the informality of the presentation and location
the projection of many images in loops meant you could think about them before you saw them again
that photographing a significant artefact of a person (in this case Virginia Wolf) is just as valid as photographing a face
making up composite images of a subject gives the viewer the chance to see many facets (!) of the subject and therefore present a wider portrait.
What I took away with me about the work:
the informality of the location and of the way some of the subjects were placed does not detract from the seriousness of the photographer’s intentions
the beauty, bravery, creativity of a person is sometimes only seen in photographs
often art galleries and museums, where photos are kept, do not encourage talking but this did
we see unique women but we are aware that we are seeing them through Leibovitz’s eyes
What I took away with me about my work:
I constantly shy away from portraiture because of what I see as examples set by iconic portrait artists. Leibovitz has opened up the repertoire by showing women, brave, not always self confident, in a different light.
the OCA maintain that for assessment, ‘presentation is everything’. Te assumption is that polish is the key. This exhibition showed me that how you present your work depends on what you are trying to say.
Notes & next steps:
vary the space
vary presentation format
use my curiosity about people and place to determine what image I take rather than go out with a specific end in mind.
Star rating: 4* – the light stop viewers from seeing the images on the screens.
Photography, photomontage, paintings and mixed media exhibition
Imperial war museum, London.
Date of visit: January 24th, 2016
Curator: Richard Slocombe.
Location, setting, atmosphere:
Paradoxically set in the Imperial War Museum which, presumably, houses pro-war memorabilia. It was set in four spaces all dealing with different aspects of Kennard’s take on wars in general & the Iraq war in particular. The spaces were relatively small so you were very close to the items on display which made it quite oppressive.
wide historical catchment implying that the principle factors apply to all contemporary war settings.
the spaces could accommodate large as well as small exhibits.
you could get close to the exhibits even though the reflections off the glass fronts meant that you had to dance around the pieces.
not well publicised: I had actually come to the venue to see the Lee Millar exhibition & stumbled on this one by accident.
Examples of work:
His art work is superb & I had not realised that his Decoration series was a series of paintings.
The collages & photomontages were exceptional for their time & are still relevant & valid today.
His blunt use of numbers every where echoes the apocryphal statement:” A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic” attributed to Josef Stalin in 1943. The magnitude of the statistics made me feel incapable of comprehending the scale of human suffering – I felt number numb after having seen the exhibition.
His small oil paintings of faces emerging from the black background without a context, titled Face (2003), are starkly different from the rest of the work. It still talks of globalisation – where does the face come from – Kurdistan or London? It still talks of communication – or the lack of it – and still trying to tell a story. We are implicated in their story – are the powerless trying to emerge or are they going back into obscurity? They are voiceless – Kennard has not given them mouths – can we empathise? This is the question the author forces us to ask ourselves throughout the exhibition.
The physical layering of the material (see featured image) which consisted of photos, statistics , business cards of those companies which profit from the wars & the information cards pasted on the railings, all present a very different way of conflating the information & making it make sense.
What I took away with me about the work:
The immense talent of the author in his ability to make us react to his work through the vast range of his expression.
The commitment of the author is relentless.
Words are of secondary importance (but the concept of numbers is essential) in understanding his ideas.
What I took away with me about me:
I could never hope to achieve such a standard of expression.
The more exhibitions I see the more I realise that I do not have to restrict my practice to photographs only. I must try collages & photomontage – perhaps in a sketchbook!