For this assignment I had hoped to work with four local artists and some dancers that I know quite well; both projects started quite well, but both were set with some difficulties.
The initial discussions with the ‘dancers’ was very positive, I explained what it was that I trying to achieve – that the performance is an adoption of an identity and that I wanted to capture these dancers when they ‘presented’ that identity to an audience or judge. The first session went very well I thought; I went to a rehearsal studio to watch them work and created some images, which whilst they weren’t going to directly contribute to the assignment would provide some creative ammunition. I then created a small studio area and made some images, which I thought went well. I had thought about this concept after considering the work by Marion Gronier whose piece “Les Glorieux” I saw at Arles where the artist worked with circus performers and tried to capture the moment directly after a performance and before they resumed their state of normalcy. My concept was to try and capture the moment of projection, where the performer presented an identity to enforce their apparent submersion into the character. Unfortunately, for reasons I am not aware of, the dancers decided not to carry on with the project for the time being. I hope to come back to this at a later time.
The artist project did complete, though it took much longer than I had anticipated. My idea with the artists was to create portraits of them as ‘artists’ as a specific part of their overall identity, to narrow the view of them as people and focusing on their creative element. None of these artists are full time professional artists; none of them rely on their work for an income stream, though they all have a need to create. The work with these artists isn’t meant to be a comparison on how they work, the work they do or indeed the status of their work within an art historical context. Rather it is an exploration of how their identity as an artist might me expressed with a few images and a singular purpose.
These artists are all known to me; some for many decades some for much less and all were readily agreeable to participate in the project. These artists all have a ‘place’ for their art, a place that separates them from their other lives of partner, business, family and what I noticed about all these spaces is the sense of a quiet space. Light being a fundament to the artist, all of them situated their work area in the place that had the best light available and when I look at the images that I made this light seemed almost designed for purpose. The light into Sue’s work area seemed designed for very intricate dexterous work, whilst the painters all seemed to work in very soft light – ‘north light’ and, again, the painters all have studios with light, or white walls bouncing the light around the studio space.
I talked to the artist about their identity as an artist and agreed with them that they would provide a ‘statement’ of what their art means to them and that I would use that ‘statement’ as an anchor in their portrait as an artist. For the images I tried to keep the range of capture to a minimum set of perspectives. I wanted the art to be sublimated in the portraits, I wanted the creations to have primacy in the photographs which is why, though all the artists agreed to have their portraits taken, that I haven’t used any formal portraits of the artists in this submission. I asked them to allow me to take an image of a piece of work that best summed them up as an artist; this work could be recent or early, finished or work in progress, but it was important to have a piece that the artist felt best described their work. I also wanted to make a photograph that held them reflecting on a piece of their work and another of their workplace and possibly of them at work – in each case the photographs of them working were posed for the series. The work is here:
The brief asks that I find out which of the images each of the sitters choose and print it out at A4, which I will do as part of the submission and then make a choice of my own. The brief doesn’t suggest a reason for the choice, so I posed the question thus :’Can you look at the attached and decide which image of the three you most prefer. The preference can be for any reason and I don’t need to know, but if you do tell me than I would be interested.’ I should then choose one for myself, again it isn’t suggested on what basis I should choose, so I have decided to use the reflecting images. I have included their statement as a reflection of the conversation I have had with each of them. The images selected offer an interesting question. The three women have chosen their work spaces, whereas Dirk has chosen the one of him reflecting his work. I wonder if that may be because Dirk is relatively early in his journey as an artist, or whether it is a gender based response? Lots to ponder I think.
Where I think this work works is in a number of areas: the sense of quietude in the work/studio area does provide a sense of ‘place’, an area when these artist can adopt the mantle of artist, by disrobing that of their other lives before entering. And together with the way the images are lit and set out, it provided a strong sense that they are intent on taking their art seriously. Incidentally, when I was discussing the project with Sue, she told me that she had a slight fascination with other artists studios and loaned me a copy of ‘Artist Studios’ which added a dimension of pressure to the process… I certainly enjoyed working with these artists on the project and am very grateful for their participation.
Where I think I could have done more is to have spent more time with the artists in the studio; the work would perhaps have benefitted from spending more time with the artists at work, working with them as they worked. I am mindful that there is in this course a underlying tone that tends to try and push things a long a bit, and in my case preventing a deeper engagement with the subject – though it has to be said that the reason this assignment took so long as one of the artists had some issues that prevented me from getting to their studio for some weeks. However it has to said that I haven’t yet mastered the compromise between involvement in the subject, and my perception of expediency in dealing with the brief.