Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Making a start

Well, we say goodbye to the summer (and it was this year) holidays. I will miss the never-ending days and the not-having-to-be-anywhere-at-any-given-time.  Now it's time to get back to real life, school, work and for me, studies. I've done little over the summer with regards my studies, other than sign on to level three.  I am in receipt of the course materials, have drifted lazily through the notes backwards, then forwards and backwards again. I have a raft of unrelated, chaotic and incoherent thoughts and ideas, one or two photographic, many more not.  I have two great tutors to aid me through level three in Jesse and Peter. 

But right now, I am feeling daunted. During my first afternoon alone, two sleeping dogs presumably wondering, like I, how the house can be so quiet. For them, dull probably, for me, disconcertingly capacious...without the distraction of squabbles, industrious and unindustrious bustling, and the umpteen requests, each crescendo-ing with a piercing 'M.U.M.M.EEEEEEE...' !

I don't know how to start the course(s) yet. I have some threads from level two to pick up on with regards:

i. female/gendered gaze and/or feminism
ii. mirrors
iii. altered landscapes in relation to the above

In addition, I have an interest in pursuing:
i. 'alone-ness' and/or 'nihilism'
ii. a collaborative approach based on the landscape
iii. developing our own experimental 'movement' with the OCA
iv. alternative manifestations of the photograph

So, to side-step tackling what I'm gonna do, I thought I would write up a blog feels like progress without having to make any decisions, or take any pictures.  Taking pictures, incidentally, isn't happening. I'm not quite sure how that bodes for a final year of a photography degree...hopefully perfectly normal!!

Think I'll go and erm, I don't know...what next...oh, is that the phone...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

About time too!

AT WHAT POINT the excuses dried up I'm not sure...the house had not, and still hasn't, entirely recovered from renovations, but certainly is now liveable with.  After such major disruption and distraction that extended over many months, I careered head-long in to an empty and silent pause...for a brief moment I viewed it with excitement. And then it started to engulf me, manifesting itself as self absorbed criticism.  A heady mix of introspection, depression and anxiety.

I am considering a number of 'ventures' to embark on, for wont of a less ambitious word, recognising that I am utterly rubbish without a focus. One of my 'occupational' staples over the past five years, and relevant to this blog, has been studying photography with the Open College of Arts. The sporadic, half-hearted injection of energy in to this blog is a fairly accurate reflection of my enthusiasm to photography of late. I found myself prickled and prickly on concluding the landscape module and whilst an enriching experience, I couldn't claim I enjoyed it. The notion of signing myself up for another mental assault has been difficult to assuage.

I have hesitated for long enough and have now signed up, with some trepidation, to Level Three. Yay! Or Yikes! Or Cr*p!! It will nourish my idle thoughts and I will, no doubt, be lost to it very soon. 

Perhaps against best practice, I will continue to use this site as a repository for the two courses; Body of Work (BOW) and Contextual Studies (CS)...I have refreshed the format, revised the signposting and will populate accordingly.  Personally, I enjoy tracking my journey, in its entirety, on one blog.

So, tutors to choose, course notes to receive and critically, brain to engage!!

Ps. and thank you to those that have been nudging know who you are!!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

How many more excuses...

The photography has stopped. Before Christmas, I rolled out my first excuse and that of 'a much-needed creative pause'. In the New Year this was replaced by my second, 'and the arrival of two rambunctious pups that needed obedience training'. Which, as a matter of interest, is going well.  Collies are remarkably bright and do pick things up quickly.  The down side being that if they pick up bad habits, like herding sheep (bad if you don't want them to), then it's really tricky to correct. And now as they reach puberty, their herding instinct is more powerful than any command I politely scream at them.

So now to my third excuse. The builders came around for a cuppa (usually an entire cup of sugar, dissolved with one spoon of tea). Soon after, the first cobbles from a wall nigh on a metre thick are removed...noisily. Shortly followed by a few more, until our pond (we removed the fish beforehand) resembled a Cumbrian Quarry but with more stone!! Much of our living space is OOB's, and we're living out of those very useful, enormous blue ikea bags and eating more baked beans than is probably wise! 

Now in to our fourth week and I'm getting bored now!! The house is still utterly filthy, no end in sight and months of work ahead of me when the builders finally look elsewhere for a sugar rush. See the pictures below, processed 'contrasteee' for dramatic effect!!

So, the photography is off the radar and my interest has waned with my semi-permanent distractions. I am still hoping to re-engage later this year and hope there will be no further excuses. Why I can't allow life and photography to co-exist I'm not entirely sure. In part, being singularly focussed is to blame, but equally, I probably need to question my motivation for returning. So, whilst it is unlikely anyone still reads this bordering-on-dormant blog, thank you for passing by and apologies for the absence of any communication, and apologies in advance for more of the same!! 

The Dining Room

The Kitchen

The Pond

The Study

The Utility Room

Friday, 31 January 2014

Some inspiration

Artists that have caught my attention recently:
  • Hannah Hoch, after visiting this exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. I have another post in draft about this visit.
  • Ice Age Art after seeing this video with the curator Jill Cook talking about the Female Gaze...a subject that is potentially a key area of study for me at level three.
  • Ed Fairburn who makes unusual but strangely beautiful portraits out of the contours of maps.
  • Rob Mullholland who makes brilliant mirror sculptures and places them in the landscape. The mirror is something I want to explore further at level three.
  • Rebecca Dagnell's Paradise in Suburbia series that overlaps and mirrors part of the image.  Reminds me a little of my Her Eyes On work and suggests a direction for my own work.
  • Early on in my studies with OCA I came across one of Manabu Yamanka's images from the Gyahtei series  (no. 17, November 2000) that is found on page 100 of Train Your Gaze. It made a big impression on me at the time. Since then, I have viewed many thousands of images, yet this one remains in my mind. I think of it often. I couldn't say it was a favourite as such, and it isn't a 'nice' image. I never saw the series, but felt that that one image, in its own right, without seeing any others, or any context, artist statement or hyperbole was, for me, a very important one, on so many levels. And it still troubles me greatly.  It is only recently I looked further at his work (a google search will bring up a few of his images, or try this website). It is not for the fainthearted. Given the general criticism to our increasing societal impunity to shocking or harrowing images, Yamanka's work sliced through that ambivalence, with ease, in my case. I found both the general content of his work and subject matter extremely harrowing and difficult to deal with. I didn't loiter too long I must admit, but feel that given the impression no. 17 has made on me, I need to make myself look at his work and approach in more detail, and will in due course write a separate post specifically about it.

Friday, 10 January 2014

T. Rubble

Well, those of you who have, or have had, dogs, or more specifically, puppies, will know what fun and chaos such arrivals bring to the family.  I grew up with Alsatians, but my memory has clearly failed me, or a child's view is significantly different from a parent's reality. Ten days in...and our two gorgeous thirteen week old border collies are truly ensconced in family life. But no amount of planning could have prepared us for such an upheaval. It is Bloody. Hard. Work.

They are weeing, pooing, stand-in-their-poo-ing, scitterish, lawless, playful, cute, lovable, fluffy balls of chaos-making joy! We do love them! But after leaving nappies and sleepless nights behind, I am, again, reduced to obsessing about excrement, sleep and obedience. The purchasing of cleaning products has rocketed, and I have discovered the 'mothercare' aisle for toys, dog chews, dog treats, dog leads, dog coats, dog bags, dog beds, dog brushes, dog iphones...I am overwhelmed (I made the last one up!).

I have read hundreds of websites, forums and blogs for advice and ideas. I have scared myself silly in the process and wonder how anybody ever copes bringing up a puppy without doggie mid-wives or health visitors. I have freshly acquired all the doggy-know-how I need to raise an impeccably behaved, well adjusted, socialised, happy, non-aggressive, un-nipping, un-pooing dog or two.  But that's the theory...and we all know the practice is quite another. Encouraging Bailey to poo outside and not when he gets back in his box after being outside, is Quite Another! Why would you?!?  But apart from the poo-ing thing, there is no doubt Border Collies are extremely intelligent. They require lots of mental and physical stimulation I am told. I can see that...woe betide the bored collie (hmmm, the clue is in its name!). So it is only a matter of time before I introduce them to the Times crossword, and I can resign all intellectual responsibility, and the kids, over to them.

So let me introduce Red and of the only photos I have with them motionless (a ball was held above my head to achieve such stillness, probably not recommended come to think of it!). I share the news of our new arrivals for two reasons. Firstly it is very exciting for us, in an eyes dilated, what-have-we-done, kind of way. And secondly, it renders me frazzled and unable to embark on any intellectual activity, of any kind, for the foreseeable future. I'm sounding melodramatic.  But I need Red and Bailey pretty much trained up over the next couple of months, so they can come off the lead safely.  (Caveat: I have already had to revise my expectations with regards dog behaviour, (and kids for that matter), so will undoubtedly amend this too).  

I will continue to catch up on the forums and make more of an effort to contribute. I really have got out of the habit and have become a distant lurker, rather than engager. Not sure why. And then, hopefully by March, I will have a Captain Von Trapp style military run operation, with two dogs running the household and paying the bills! Now that would be a result!

Monday, 9 December 2013


Tack plays a surprisingly important role in my creative life and its' absence can lead to absolute brain freeze. Sounds dramatic, but given how much time I spend in front of my computer...and particularly when browsing, rather than typing like I am now, my left hand will always search out for the same piece of sticky, malleable blu tack that enjoys permanent residency next to my keyboard. As you can imagine, it is pretty grim now, many months down the line.

But unless my left hand is busy squidging, moulding and creating shapes with it, the rest of me feels utterly bereft. And if the piece of blu tack goes missing, as has been known in the past, it can send me in to bouts of anxiety that far exceeds what is entirely necessary or acceptable. And as such, Mum's weird obsession means blu-tack has an elevated status in our house. So I bought them their own supply of new, clean blu tack so they would leave me to my own rather gross, smelly blob.

It's a bit silly really...but without it, I am at a loss.  So I thought I'd come out of denial, celebrate its existence and embrace my neediness of it!!

Anyway, after much kneading and squeezing, some fun ideas are taking shape for level three...I like these early stages, where the blank paper is beginning to colour with splats of random thoughts, ideas and threads and anything is possible.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


Having dispatched my assessment submission in October, the last few months have continued to be busy, from designing beer labels, to an intense few days on set of Emma Rydal's film TRUE. Falling clumsily under the banner of Photographer, you certainly find yourself in a diverse range of situations, it can't be a bad thing! I will update on these various projects as they develop.

Emma Rydal

So, where am I with regards my study.  I got my results back...and was very pleased, and relieved, to receive 88%. The assessors comments will follow in a week or so. But it is a comfort that the sweat and tears paid off. I guess the downside is none of it counts to the final grade!! Nevertheless, I am delighted.

I guess I always have this unreasonable hope, that something will have shifted or slightly changed in the ether as a result of a good mark. But as you would expect, the next day, everything is the same, back to business fanfare, winning lottery ticket or curator knocking on your door. So, if to all intents and purposes everything is the same, it then begs the question, why bother? why invest all the effort? And what am I hoping to achieve at the end of it?  And why?

And this is what I am mulling over right now. Perhaps I should work towards attaining a good mark at level three. Or maybe sign up to purely enjoy the artistic journey. But then will I feel the same when I reach the end of that course too or will my work (and me, possibly) have matured sufficiently to take that next important step...and venture in to the world of galleries, jurors, curators and slim black frames.

By turning the question on its head to, what if I don't sign up, what then? provides the most convincing evidence for me to enrolIf I didn't have a channel to focus my creativity energy and an incentive to keep the grey matter exercised, my world would narrow significantly. I could foresee a pristine house, no more dirty washing piles, ironing piles and to-put-away piles, an increasing need to line up my furniture symmetrically or intentionally asymmetrically, immaculately dressed kids and the children's art homework would miraculously improve overnight.

But I am kidding myself. I could never be that person...although I'm itching to do the kid's art homework. I loathe housework and if I had more time available to me, I would spend the time finding creative solutions to avoid it. As lucky and privileged as I feel to be a stay-at-home mum, it calls in to question my sanity on a regular basis. And photography provides a very welcome escape for me, and more importantly my family!!

So I will continue to think through all of this over the coming months, wait until VISA and bill are no longer joined at the festive hip and see what the new year brings.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Assessors Footnote

This post is designed to advise any visiting assessors about this blog's essentials.

The first point to note is that the blog is comprehensive up until November 2012. It has been live since commencing my study with the OCA in August 2009.  To upload all content on to one blog has always been my personal preference, so I can observe progress chronologically rather than by course. All Content headings not relevant to the landscape module have been temporarily removed, so that by clicking any of the headings in the the Contents list to the right, is specific to the landscape course and assessment only.

In November 2012, I formally deferred from my course until September 2013. Consequently, there is a marked reduction in postings during this period. Informally, I did continue to study, but any reflections during this period remained offline. I had a sense of needing to work through my thoughts independently and introspectively.  Any ideas progressed during this period are detailed within the written material of my assessment submission.  From July 2013, until I signed back on in September 2013, my time has almost entirely been dedicated to the preparation of my assessment submission.

From an assessors point of view, I can see that an eleven month deferral and shift in approach of journalling, from on- to off-line is not ideal. However, I can say with confidence, that both were essential to my continuation of the course.

In the early days of this course, I, in dialogue with my tutor, worked on a self-directed approach.  In so doing, I undoubtedly made things more difficult for myself.  I overlaid the course structure with my own challenges I wished to explore. And whilst my submission has, as it turns out, not ventured too far from the course structure, where I invested my time, perhaps did. This I will come on to now.

The concepts I had voluntarily, I repeat, voluntarily, 'procured' at assignment one, continued to preoccupy and challenge me intellectually for the entire duration of the course (and possibly the next one too). To use the oft-used phrase 'I had bitten off more than I could chew' would seem apt for how I felt around the time of finishing assignment one. Or perhaps, it marks the moment of realisation that knowing what I didn't know was a far more terrifying prospect than charging off in blissful ignorance, sledgehammer in hand, with the youthful enthusiasm of not knowing what I didn't know!

So I couldn't shake off the Domestic Sublime. Whether I liked it or not, it hung to me and in fact provided a fundamental anchor throughout my studies. Every time I explored what I considered to be unrelated subjects, I arrived back to the same themes of sublimity, domesticity, feminism and gender. They resurfaced, uncannily throughout the course. The written material in my assessment evidences this. And, whilst I have inched forward with each assignment in my understanding and unpicking of the challenge I set myself, I am no nearer to reconciling or concluding it.  I fear I will be taking Domestic Sublime with me in to level three and beyond!!

As mentioned above, there is an underlying theme that underpins all five assignments, manifesting itself differently in each one. With the exception perhaps of the portfolio, which I will explain next.

The Domestic Sublime concept was first explored in assignment one, the seasons. My enthusiastic start came to an abrupt halt and led to much soul-searching following this first submission. This in part explains the detachment the portfolio has with the rest of the assignment work. At the time, a mere fledgling to the course and four more assignments to go, I felt utterly beaten by Domestic Sublime. Consequently, I sought more pragmatic and less turbulent territory for my portfolio work, in order to move forward.

And this is where the term 'portfolio' becomes confusing in this context. The course notes stipulate that the portfolio is an extended study of the seasons work carried out in assignment one. My tutor's interpretation of a 'portfolio' differed from this, as by definition, it should showcase the best work, cherry-picked from the entire course, or failing that, fresh images developed following assignment five. Perhaps on occasion this can be one and the same. But the two did not coincide for me. Therein lay my tutor's concern with my portfolio. My portfolio developed as an independent piece of work and was not a portfolio, if you understand me. My selection of images submitted for each assignment are my best images, but the sets are not coherent to form one portfolio.  My portfolio, in the loosest sense of the word, responds directly to the seasons brief of assignment one as per the course notes, but it is not a 'portfolio' in the strictest sense of the definition.

The portfolio was inspired by the Dreams of Your Life work undertaken by Lottie Davies, which featured on weareoca. The difference being, I looked through the window and tracked the seasons from where I sat in my office most days, looking at the view of my garden, a contained landscape, a domestic landscape. It responds to landscape with a typically feminine outlook to the genre, referenced by the geographic restrictions imposed by domestic and family life. I photographed the same scene daily and on some days photographed sequences. Finishing a year with nearly a thousand images, an enormous edit was undertaken to create a manageable and physical flipbook.

Assignments two to five are not comprehensively covered in this blog. Admittedly, that surmounts to quite a big chunk of the course. Whilst there are tags relating to assignments two and three in the Contents list on the right hand side of this blog, all these posts relate to exploratory work or rejected ideas that did not progress any further, such as the cinemagraphs, the Easdale Island series and Barbed. Therefore most progress was made in the deferral period and comprehensive write-ups are included within the assessment submission.

I would be lying if I said this module had been easy or indeed, a joy. I struggled with the course notes, tuition and personal direction, with an erratic and unsteady flow of work and motivation. But perhaps that is normal. Despite or inspite of this, I can see however, that I have covered considerable ground. The course has provided an invaluable conduit, enabling me to explore a number of inter-related themes that I otherwise wouldn't have interrogated as rigorously.

I have also learnt that I must allow my journey to unfold as I travel on it, rather than pre-empting the destination. It is impossible to know. I am also aware I worry too much. I appreciate reflection and honing a critical eye is to be encouraged as part of our studies, but equally, managing my own expectations can be crushing and debilitating at times.

For level three, I sincerely hope that I can swim with the tide, enjoy the motion of the current, with its natural ebb and flow, rather than waddling clumsily upstream in waders.  But then, maybe, not unlike a hard endurance run, there is no gain without pain!! Time will tell I guess.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Just treated myself to two books:

 and TPG_Home Truths-Cover-final

Looking forward to receiving them soon.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Is Art a science?

A question for you. I blurt it out in haste, slightly under my breath in the vain hope, that by saying it quickly, with my eyes closed, hands over my ears, screaming 'la, la, la, I can't hear me' that I can somehow pretend I didn't ask it of myself and that it might go away or be slightly easier to answer...rather than the two decades I fear it might take to understand. So,
Is Art a science?
I must be asking the question 'wrongly' as Google, for once, is not at all helpful. What I am trying to articulate, is, can the decisive and evidential nature of science explain and rationalise the value and worth of Art. Are there scientific priniciples or laws that can be applied to art that if followed, elevate the quality of that artwork?  Science can explain much of life around us, so why not Art too?  Personally I hope it can't...but then I would be living in a flat world with willo-the-wisps and goblins, totally oblivious of any need for periodic tables and pi!

Science should excite me more than it does. But it takes away the magic for me, by rationalising everything. Science requires a logical reason for everything, even if it doesn't know what it is yet. Art feels more accommodating and free-thinking than this. I enjoy the fact that art is a means of expression, that cannot be wrong or right. Science would never allow such ambiguity. But I'm having this niggling doubt, that this might not be the case. Are there underlying formulas that the great masters applied to their art consciously or otherwise?  We know about compositional rules like the rule of thirds, but is there more that could be gleaned from the field of science to explain why some art is elevated to a masterpiece and others not.

A question put to readers of the Guardian Online this week 'What makes a painting a masterpiece?' generated an interesting response from a reader, backwards7. I know nothing of backwards7 or Harald Borja who he speaks of, (little came up on a google search either), however, despite this, I found his reply really interesting. It offers an  alternative and unorthodox view of what defines a masterpiece removing the talent of an artist to that of their ego alone. I include backwards7 response here in full.
The Norwegian writer and commentator, Harald Bɵrja, is regarded as the founding-father of the mikro-estetisk (micro-aesthetic) school of art criticism, although he vigorously disputes this terminology. In interviews Bɵrja has attempted to define himself as a scientist for whom visual beauty is incidental and subservient to underlying physical processes that are invisible to the human eye and all but the most powerful microscopes and scanners. He regards the universe as deterministic and therefore void of any true creativity or spontaneity, which he consider to arise from the vanity of the artist.
I will not delve any further into Bɵrja's complex opinions on this subject, mainly because all attempts to accurately translate his 2700 page treatise from its original Norwegian, in a manner that conveys its true meaning, have failed. Regrettably I do not speak the language well enough to make my own attempt. 
For Bɵrja a masterpiece is defined by details that exist beyond the scope of human perception: You or I might gaze upon Charlier's Theatre of 18th Century Man and be moved by the humanity of these sculptures which appear to radiate an inner light, as if the soul of the subjects was somehow infused in the plaster. Bɵrja would regard this as a superficial distraction. While he agrees that this artwork is undoubtedly a masterpiece his appreciation of it lies in the “whorls of particle matter” that comprise these sculptures “as if a school of tornadoes have momentarily resolved themselves in human form.”It is this methodology that often leads Bɵrja to make controversial statements. A good example is his insistence that an amateur painting of some cats that he purchased from a cafe in Zurich is worth more to the art world than Van Goph'sSunflowers series, which he regards as a collection of unfinished works in progress that will only be improved by the passing of time, an accident, or some violent act of human intervention. 
In support of this Bɵrja points to an impasto smear in the bottom right hand corner ofTwo cats which accurately reproduces a section of the Swiss Alps.As stated above, Bɵrja embraces the concept that decay and vandalism play a role in the creation of great art and cites cases where these processes have elevated previously banal paintings and sculptures to works of majesty. Regrettably a few individuals have taken his philosophy to heart and have attempted to make their own 'improvements' upon priceless treasures:In 2007, a student and devotee of Bɵrja flung a vial of sulphuric acid at Die Magd von Echternach while it was on loan to a museum in Atlanta. The damage caused to the painting proved to be irreparable. It is now displayed with a velvet curtain covering it left-hand side. 
A few months after the attack Bɵrja made a comment during an interview with the Czech art journal - Oko Jehly - that appeared to endorse the actions of the vandal, remarking that “what was once serviceable at best is now a thing of rare beauty.” 
Naturally this provoked outrage and was widely criticised as an irresponsible thing to say, yet I have no doubt that these words were spoken with great sincerity. Bɵrja genuinely believes that, in the aftermath of the acid attack, the painting is more beautiful on a microscopic level.He has a right to air this opinion, however I sometimes wish he that he would temper his word or at very least condemn the actions of those who attempt to cause damage to works of art. 
From this brief introduction to Borja's views, he is putting forward an alternative criteria on which one should be appreciating art. There is an implication that art is qualified on a molecular level. This doesn't necessarily suggest why a painting is a masterpiece, but alludes to other methods on which you could judge a masterpiece.

The neurological theory of aesthetic experience [1] is responding directly to the idea that there are neural mechanisms that mediate our views on aesthetics.  The authors suggest that:
'artists either consciously or unconsciously deploy certain rules to 'titillate the visual areas of the brain'
Bingo. I want to know more about how artists titillate. The authors suggest that the aesthetic experience can be linked to neurological theory. The article is detailed and technical, and whilst the neurological theory grounds the principles that are outlined, it is their practical applications that is of greatest interest to me:
  • peak shift effect...making caricatures. Accentuating features and contrasts. 
  • binding...perceptual groups. Gestalt principles, paraidolia. Finding patterns in things.
  • isolate...reducing subjects to an outline, or to one element to accentuate it. Removing the congestion or noise.
  • symmetry...making use of juxtapositions complementary or incongruous
  • metaphor...visual puns, allegories, poetic, classifying of dissimilar events
  • perceptual problem solving...a visual puzzle where meaning is implied rather than explicit.
Some of this sounds familiar and I can recall echoes of it from tutors and textbooks.  However, the fact there maybe a science behind art demands further investigation. Elkins (2008) has written a fascinating paper entitled Aesthetics and the two cultures [2] on the uncomfortable dialogue between science and art.
Several times I have started and abandoned a book project with the title The Drunken Conversation of Science and Painting. The title is meant to conjure a comedy of errors and misunderstandings, and the drunkenness is to imply that the two sides have some infatuation with one another, which compels them to keep talking without really connecting or making too much sense.
Elkins suggests the terminology that the two disciplines have are not compatible and are therefore are disconnected. Terms that have been explored by scientists of art such as elegant, fruitful or beautiful fall short according Elkin and would be wholly insufficient when describing a piece of artwork. Elkin evidences several attempts of scientists, mathematicians, art historians and critics to understand how an artist created a piece of art. But there seems to be an ongoing gap between the two traditions of science and art. It isn't that science isn't being applied in art, but it seems to be a facilitator or mechanism for artistic motivations, rather than symbiotic in the creative process.

Is the creative process a scientific one? No...Yes...flounder...I will need longer to read up on this...just give me a decade, maybe two.

[1] Ramachandran, V.S., Hirstein, W. 1999. The Science of Art. (Journal of Consciousness Studies)
[2] Elkins, J., 2008. Aesthetics and the Two Cultures: Why Art and Science should be allowed to go their separate ways.