The Gaze

The more I look the less I see; perhaps this is the nature of research? The more I see the more it reveals of the depth there is in the subject that I have yet to illuminate. The notion of feminism as an idea expressed though art, and maybe more specifically through a visual art medium has more hurdles, pot-holes and potential cul-de-sacs than any other subject I have considered. And these impediments in the flow of travel of knowledge have many roots, my own gender of course will provide a crucial limitation. The level of conversation entered into by women into this subject has been surprisingly (and to my mind, woefully so) limited. I have tried to engage with over a hundred women, all of whom I thought might have something to say on the subject of feminism, let alone feminist art and have had very few conversations.

The Way Home  reprinted by kind permission of the artist Tom Hunter

The Way Home
reprinted by kind permission of the artist Tom Hunter

One area with very little engagement was the area of ‘Gaze’. Berger covers it in ‘Ways of Seeing’ by writing “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” suggesting that from the Renaissance women have been portrayed as idealised visions, something that Laura Mulvey discusses further in ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’. However I found very little on the concept of the female gaze. Male gaze, in a patriarchal society, has had a privileged position, but the  idea of it’s counterpart in women seemed only to present itself, to any great extent, in lesbian texts – that of Tee Corinne for example and others – which was also concerned with the female form. I was therefore interested to discover Karolin Klüppel whose work seems to address this notion head on.

Ontario, reprinted by the kind permission of the artist Karolin Klüppel

Ontario, reprinted by the kind permission of the artist Karolin Klüppel

Hunter, in his work, has often re-presented what are deemed to ‘high-art’ paintings and situated them amongst the ‘people’, those of the Hackney area where he lives, the strip clubs, pubs and has suggested that for many men -those that do not go to galleries or have access to the ready cash to commission works of art for ‘private viewing’ – the only way to see a woman, to gaze at a women, is to frequent these places. The ‘places’ of course continue to perpetuate the to position of women as subjects of Male gaze (and more),  Klüppel replaces the woman with the man and flips the objectifier to the object.

Pirus: reprinted by the kind permission of the artist Karolin Klüppel

Pirus: reprinted by the kind permission of the artist Karolin Klüppel

Klüppel doesn’t flinch with the notion of female gaze “…also another aspect, taking place outside oft the visual dimension of her work: contrary to the traditional depiction of the female nude, which was produced in the history of art mostly by the male artist, and is mainly the male gaze exposed the viewer, stands in this case behind this sexualized male image as a creator a woman.” from her website.

Leda, Paul Delvaux - Tate

Leda, Paul Delvaux – Tate

Arlet: reprinted by the kind permission of the artist Karolin Klüppel

Arlet: reprinted by the kind permission of the artist Karolin Klüppel

These are objects presented as much for the delight of the viewer as ever Cranach’s images of ‘Eve’ disporting her genitalia for the onanistic pleasure of it’s commissioner. We are invited to consider these as objects of pleasure (the series was I think part of her final years project of her degree), I think the irony works in a different way to Hunter’s because of the ‘flipped’ roles, as she says on the press release for the work: “.. Her photographs do not only question the familiar structures of perception and stereotypes, but also succeeds an ironic revaluation and updating of certain motifs, which are transported into the present and with the distance to tradition she captures, in an amusing manner, the nature of the human condition of the presence.

In 2013 she was awarded a residency in India and discovered a remote community where the society is structured matrilineally and has produced a body of work called ‘Mädchenland’ The artist has decided to provide me some text to underpin that work which I suspect could well be an interesting context to support it, I am looking forward to that.

 

How should, or why should we regard the pain of others?

Why so much suffering

Why so much suffering?

What compulsion is there or should there be to purposely view the suffering of peoples both near and far. When Sontag wrote her analysis into how we might concern ourselves with depictions of atrocities in Rwanda or Cambodia; modern conflicts that she rightly points to the echoes of past atrocities, Serbian death camps in 1992 would recall Nazi death camps in 1945, Pol Pot becomes mirrored in Rwanda, Nanking perhaps in modern day Aleppo? These visual and partial descriptions, even in 2003 were becoming a rarer sight on television screens – the urge to view these scenes today is being militated against by the further fracturing of the media by which we, the would be spectators and proxy witnesses, can participate in the comprehension and subsequent conversation into these events.

Professor Stewart Purvis, former Editor in Chief ITN News suggests (here) that we might all try a bit harder to find these documentaries by searching the digital channels, “…for example Al-Jazeera English has good work… viewers will have to try a bit harder to see them (digital channels available on Freesat et al)…but its worth the effort…” Whose job is it anyway to provide these stories (a curious noun for a process by which the authors would have us believe is the truth) of untold misery and suffering. It is current in the depths of the news that the Syrian government ordered the making of photographs of all those it has killed and tortured. Why a regime would inflict this bureaucratic process on both the photographer and it’s victim is difficult to comprehend, but these pictures are now slowly being released – not in a Wikileak way, with a deluge of information – no the authorities are drip feeding their introduction into the mainstream accompanied by statements like “our experts have confirmed they haven’t been “photoshopped’ in any way” – they must therefore be true! A further study, mentioned in the news article, is here.

My view, from the work quoted above, is that the competitive framework of media, and particularly news media, makes decisions based on viewer figures. The decision to relegate ‘good work’ to the backwaters of the digital network is a complicit acknowledgement that networks are afraid of viewer figures. Peter Rudge of Duckrabbit told the OCA students that the frame update rate of news media on a news media site needs to be around or less than four seconds otherwise the viewer will ‘surf away’. This is a statement about viewers who have made the decision to go to a news media site, recognised a story they want to engage with – but only if the image refresh rate is no more than four seconds! This appears to chime with the ‘remote’ censor, if the image on the television screen isn’t charming the viewer they will ‘graze’ and turn their gaze elsewhere.

Sontag suggests we don’t have to look, the notion that this video here is a reflection of. If the viewer doesn’t want to see pictures then why not withhold that imagery – perhaps insert advertisements over the commentary? A detergent advert cleansing us of any sense of involvement? Susie Linfield in a piece entitled ‘Advertisements for Death’  writes: “The documentary photographers of the early 20th century, and especially the early war photographers, believed that the revelation of violence and oppression would lead to saving action. Some even dreamed of a world without war and exploitation. I don’t think they ever imagined that the camera would become a tool with which to proclaim and affirm, rather than fight against, the most hideous aspects of war and the most fearsome authoritarian regimes. Their dream has become our nightmare.” And I think I have to agree; only photographers seem to hold the view that by representing the victims of war they might militate against the barbarity of man’s inhumanity to his fellow human. The descriptive and reflective analysis of the word is still perhaps the most vehement of truth tellers. As Sontag mentions, even the imagery gathered by networks, staged by the military in the ‘Shock and Awe’ of the Gulf war in ’91 “…American television networks weren’t allowed to see footage acquired by NBC (which the network then declined to run) of what that superiority could wreak: the fate of thousands of Iraqi conscripts who, having fled Kuwait City at the end of the war, on February 27, were carpet bombed with explosives, napalm, radioactive DU (depleted uranium) rounds, and cluster bombs as they headed north, in convoys and on foot, on the road to Basra, Iraq – a slaughter notoriously described by one American Officer as a ‘turkey shoot’”. And whilst no-one appears to want to see these images – who would? – the likelihood is that not only are we being ‘saved’ from them – the current Syrian atrocities a very current example, but the networks would rather we watched another reality cooking programme.

Reflections on Tutor report, the Calendar, Barthes and advertising

Suffering?

Suffering?

In his introductory essay to the Phaidon 55 Joan Fontcuberta issue, Christian Caujolle cites the artist, who had spent some years in Marketing, describing advertisements as “…designed to provoke desire, then the ‘consumption reflex’ in those who look at them…”

The company calendar, that is the output for this assignment, has been synonymous with the development of consumerism since the industrial revolution and the advent of the machine age. The brief requests the photographer not to ‘focus’ on the product and my choice of a ‘support group’ within the auspices on the NHS certainly fitted the bill. The ‘product’, if that is how it might be described, is that of support through difficult periods to both patient and their partner/carers. There are no logo’s for either the Group or the umbrella organization that provides the service. So all in all I realized that I had pulled away from a lot of the assignment requirements as much as I thought I could, and, though I explained it to my tutor I had largely positive remarks in response to it.

I have been working this group for much of the time during this course and my tutor is concerned that this may be affecting my judgment as I seem to be prioritizing it over developing a broader photographic base. I fully accept that view and can sympathize with that perspective, and given only this courses assignments as a view I might well come up with that conclusion. So I will not use my work with the group for the final pieces on the course, despite having a less of a concern in that respect. One of the principal academic areas in this module was the notions of Barthes from Camera Lucida and also Semiotics from Saussure, and whilst I have done quite a bit of research in those areas in Level one and in the other Level two course Documentary, I haven’t detailed any thoughts in this course and my tutor thought it might be a good idea to remedy that by looking, and critiquing some of the images I used in this submission, to see how well I thought they carried the ‘message’ that I wanted to convey. I will come to that.

The ride on public transport is an opportunity for thought and reflection, and sometimes the odd encounter that helps to provoke more thought. Returning to the ‘Park & Ride’ car park on the lower deck of the bus I noticed some reading material on the floor under the seat in front of me. And whilst this isn’t something I think I would normally do I picked it up and started to consider what I found. The front-cover of the magazine was a search for two answers to two questions and it is to this image that I want to first consider, in relation to both the module I have been working on, the assignment brief and response from my tutor and then perhaps to where I have travelled to thus far.

Thinking about the semiotic values of the main image. Maybe half of the image area is taken up with a woman with her arms around a young child, the older woman is looking off to her right whilst the child on her left is looking toward the face of the woman – their eyes do not meet. Behind and to the right of these subjects is a scene of devastation, directly above the girl can be seen crumbling buildings, rubble covers the middle ground between the subjects and the edifice in the distance that still has smoke pouring from it. To their right is what appears to be the burn-out wreck of a car and even closer is, seemingly, bullet ridden metal sheets, perhaps another vehicle, perhaps a shelter, it is difficult to discern. The text is white and emblazoned in white on the dark clothing of the woman, capitalized and sequenced in two sentances: WHY SO MUCH SUFFERING? WHEN WILL IT END? The words ‘suffering’ and ‘end’ are ‘boldened’ as if to amplify their meaning.

What does all this denote? Well we have a woman, whose demeanour  is of a carer, probably a mother to the younger girl, the idiom of ‘Madonna and child’ would be difficult not to connote. The woman isn’t looking at the child; she is perhaps searching for an answer, a solution to their current predicament; again we might connect this to Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ similarly looking distantly to her left. The text is a call for help, the child’s demeanour and expression echoes and amplifies that plaintiff call. The connotation is one of a forlorn hope.

The crumbling and devastated landscape that is in the process of enveloping them is mirrored in their dirty faces, they have survived whatever has befallen the land – at least so far, we might denote that they have with force of character; the will and the luck to be where they are. Can I connote that they have been chosen to be so lucky so far?

Both the subjects aren’t dressed shabbily, their hair is still shiny and clean, they are clearly still healthy and nourished – a little wind blown perhaps – but their faces are full, they appear in most instances to be healthy. We might connote that they could have lost their way? Or perhaps been caught up in something, a natural disaster perhaps, a war zone?

Looking closely around the head of the woman there can be clearly seen a bright ring surrounding her, demarking her from the crumbling of the building to her left and merging with the brighter light of the sky to her right. I wonder whether this might be a fortuitous or purposeful development of the Madonna theme by the photographer either in the framing or perhaps in post processing.

I notice also that it’s a square image, I find that interesting in that not many photographers take a square format camera to either a battle scene or a disaster scene, they are too cumbersome. Digital imagery is important for a number of reasons, the capture quantity is huge when compared to film (of course it could be a digital square format, but they are normally associated with art based or studio based work and this is very definitely in the reportage idiom), the speed of operation is a very distinct advantage, the ‘connectivity’ to the mediums which use this type of image makes it much easier to connect with. So this is tending to suggest that this image has been cropped, most likely to focus the gaze on the woman and child situated in this disaster zone. The picture editor has probably cropped this image, troubling perhaps but not disturbingly so.

The tones of the image are muted, nothing distinguishes this as an exaltant image in any way. It places the narrative of these two surviving females in the context of extant disaster very clearly. Denoting that these two are in some peril, all about them is cataclysm of almost biblical proportions, there appears no rest-bite from our perspective from impending and enveloping jeopardy.

In Barthesian terms these are all ‘Studiums’ and semiotic responses to the image. Whether contrived (staged/posed) this image impels the viewer to consider the plight of the subjects. Connoting and denoting with visual triggers to what are in the main, sociological conditioned responses.

The ‘lead’ subject is a white woman – much as Lange’s ‘Mother’ was, posing the rhetorical question, would it be less of a ‘story’ if the character was a male, or a dark skinned male or perhaps a hijab wearing middle eastern lady? But then I go back to the image, where it is situated, what the assignment is. It is a photograph on the front cover of a magazine found on an Oxford city bus. It is also an enticement to covet the answer held between the covers.

So what about the ‘Punctum’, that response to an image that Barthes describes as “..that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” That personal response to an image that is probably not seen when first encountering the image, but because the image stirred a ‘Studium’ response meant that the eye dwelt and in doing so discerned a puzzle, posed a question, disturbed the continuity – or however it made itself manifest forcing the arrival of the ‘prick’. Barthes describes it as a personal response, to which of course my ‘Punctum’ is mine alone, no other has trod my path. There are though multiple ‘Punctums’ in this image for me, and most have been situated by the title of the publication, which associated with the text puts this in a very clearly defined place. I am though concerned a trifle with the lighting; above and to the main subject’s left is a large light source, high enough not to register in the eyes beneath a very furrowed brow, but catch her shoulder, open enough to catch the young girl’s nose and forehead and almost rim-lighting her beseeching profile. This divine light is despite the gloom everywhere else; a break in the clouds perhaps to shine a light on these two survivors I suspect this is a staged shot and probably a composite, there is no photographer attribution inside the magazine.

The “Watchtower” is an organ of the Jehova’s Witness and is not for sale, this image was almost all of the front cover – I redacted the banner title. My research into disaster photography has led me to undertake some interviews with charity organisations that specialize in ‘relief’, namely ‘Oxfam’ and ‘Pump-Aid’. Their view was that imagery needs to be sensitively nuanced to elicit attention, to engender compassion for the cause and, as Fontcuberta states provoke the ‘consumption reflex’; to not portray the people as ‘victims’ in a hopeless cause – why would you want to donate to a hopeless cause? How does that relate to a magazine whose sole purpose is the recruit new affiliates to its own cause? By providing answers, the texts within the magazine spell out very clearly that within their bible are the answers to all these problems, I won’t describe or quote from them but rather stay focused on the comprehension of the image. Charities, fund raisers, and religions are all in competition both with each other for funds and across the spectrum. The charities I spoke to are very aware of the competitive nature of their place in the consumer milieu. They appreciate that they need to attract donators who are prepared to give money, that their good-work is more important to the donators than any other good-work-doers. The images that are chosen by those charities are carefully selected under very clearly defined rules, which do not denote ‘victim’, do not denote ‘helpless’, but rather independence under difficult circumstances. The Oxfam person suggested that religious charities tend not to adhere to these sort of notions, that the ‘lost’ are often featured. This image and others that are used in connection with relief from strife and suffering are then advertisements, designed to induce desire (the desire to help), to satiate the viewer’s desire to ‘come to the aid’ of these victims, whether hopeful or however hopeless.

As Barthes deliberated, as much as his ‘Punctum’ is what bruises him, my ‘Punctumis all mine and mine alone; informed by who I am and what critical referencing I have or am bereft of; I denote and connote in a sphere of my own consciousness and a lifetime less interesting than most. But so are others similarly informed, the marketing person isn’t wholly interested in the connotations, the primary motivation is in adherence to the image for however long is needed to implant the seed of desire. The Company Calendar has used many forms to attract itself to it’s market, Pirelli offers this as it’s current ‘cause to desire’. Some might suggest that it is still in the ‘dark-ages’ in it’s approach, however it would not present such a product without the conviction that it will continue to ‘cause the desire’ and the ‘compulsion to consume’. These decisions are base decisions, much as the Jehova’s Witness considers it a straightforward choice to offer redemption and deliverance guided by the depiction of a Madonna in flight from a Sodom and Gomorra landscape to, perhaps an Edenic deliverance. It works because they use its visual narrative, if it didn’t work they wouldn’t. Pirelli still uses passive women in overtly sexual poses for exactly the same reason. Marketing and Sales works. The first rule of the advert is to obtain attention; the second rule is to obtain attention of the target audience. ‘Punctum’ may do the rest. The passive bare breasted, posterior exposing female implores the ‘Studium” response to any who consider themselves in the bracket that Pirelli want to talk to, the audience provides the vernacular response dwelling long enough to want to be associated and remember the ‘brand’ the next time they are in ‘Quick Fit’. Others, who seek ‘answers’, might feel inquisitive enough to satiate that yearning with a visit to a congregation and ‘support’ them there. From an image perspective I see no difference in the two intents, the liminal and subliminal content have the same narrative, their reliances on the Barthesian observations are coincidental as all images have the capacity to provide overt and covert, purposeful and un-purposed narratives, its just that advertisements are all determined constructs designed purposely to invoke reaction, form associations and deliver that desired instinct.

As a photographic artist the desire to invoke reaction is perhaps only concerned with developing the notion of a constructed ‘Studium’, the composure, the narrative structure, the contextual referencing which are left within the frame to develop the discourse between creator and spectator. Forming a basis for intercourse between those two parties have different bases from which to launch any conversation. Brent Stirton’s continual drive to ‘go one better’ in the presentation of images to win prizes is part of that capitalist drive that is no different in moral turpitude than that of Pirelli or the Watchtower, they all want us to part with cash, or perhaps cash is the driving force behind the click of the shutter release. To review one’s own work from a disinterested perspective, to attempt to derive the ‘Punctum’ from the frame is, I would venture to suggest, difficult for as an artist, the content of the frame is a construct. What is it that drives the need for this level of subtlety in this sort of image from Stirton? And the direct connection from all the base desires on display in this frame collide with mine, and that is of course cash. The detritus surrounding the supplier and receiver in Stirton’s image situates them in the fringes, the ‘Edgelands’, of Kiev and of a society coming to terms with both capitalism and political upheaval. Cash is the stimulus and the encumbrance of these two and also the ‘Punctum’ that binds them together.

From session one

From session one

But to attempt the task bidden by my tutor it is the nails that I didn’t notice in the girl tenderly nurturing the ‘nest’ that she is constructing that might provide the ‘Punctive’ element; I didn’t notice it when I asked her to pose in that way, the ‘Studium’ was an attempt to deliver that nurturing element, both as a means by which the spectator might connote that this child had a depth to her despite her difficulties. That it finds her in this group, but also reflecting that the group is a nurturing facility to its users; a mirror to her place in the group/society. Those few nails that have the sense of toil, of exertion, of struggle perhaps.

From session two

From session two

And equally in this image of a boy masking himself which offers both the ‘Studium’ as the means by which to engage the viewer, the careful handling of the clay, and then as the ‘Punctum’ by the masking of the boy to anonymise him in a society that has less and less regard for individuals who can’t, for whatever reason, contribute and conform to those norms that Pirelli would feel easier in.

This chap who is full of joy at the surface level, enjoying the pieces and interaction with others in the group, whilst the subliminal question might be to ask why, what has led him, this apparently healthy and alert person to be with this group? I might ask the question, its joyous facade for me is pregnant with association as I have a knowledge, not a complete knowledge but a vested comprehension of what underpins his activity and presence. The viewer will denote I am fairly hopeful of his rapture, but maybe not any sense of grace.

These generations huddled in consideration of a common subject, in a common place with a common cause, we denote those characteristics of the image, we might also denote the inclusiveness of the group based on gender, race and age – all subjects equally valued in the frame and respected as such. We might also connote the active participants are the two on the left of the image, both with writing implements, both expressing are in active control, whilst the elder two are more reflective and receptive in this instant of capture.

Fontcuberta’s posit regarding advertising is one that I have a great deal of sympathy for. The notion of action/reaction is a visual paradigm going back to the dawn of the industrial age, the means by which the image could be replicated as embedded into the capitalist construct. My images in this ‘calendar’ were never intended to solicit emotive responses similar in intent to those of the Watchtower/Pirelli or Stirton. In the images my intent was to inform, to add to the discussion about the value of existence for those in the group, not to have judgment made about whom was a clinical user or a volunteer or clinical professional.

And finally, I fully appreciate that the descriptive potency of these words has permitted a transformation of interpretive comprehension on all of the images from a disinterested spectator. I hope that I haven’t extinguished whatever value I had vested in these portraits, but I know I have changed them forever.

Decisions

The Echoes Group met for the last time this year at the University History of Science Museum – the oldest purpose built museum in Europe (which probably means the world, it was the original site for what is now the Ashmolean) – to view at a private session the work they had contributed to the project (see above). Not al could make but those that did were impressed with the setting and the way that Helen had curated the pieces. It was a moving moment to see the work sublimated in this way and to see how precious they become once in a ‘gallery’ setting.

Haiku

Haiku

Discussing the work

Discussing the work

Listening to a talk given by the curator of the Museum

Listening to a talk given by the curator of the Museum

 

Getting ready to open the Museum after the private session.

Getting ready to open the Museum after the private session.

It was agreed that Fusion Arts would host an exhibition of the work, Helen will provide some of the prints that were made by the ‘users’ and I will make some prints of both the creators and of the ‘artwork they created – these will likely be combined with the Haiku pieces that were written as part of the process – some sixteen pieces in all – which will determine the number of photographic prints I will need to think about making, some thirty two, but the biggest concern is, as ever, the edit! The exhibition will likely transfer to the Artscape Gallery at the Warneford when it closes at Fusion.

I am wondering whether I could combine the calendar project with the first exhibition, in that the image editing I do might inform the edit for both…… something to think about.

Portraits

This series has been a long time coming. In the end it was a close thing whether I asked for their participation, but these portraits come quite close to what I wanted to achieve. None of the photographs are named, they are all users – though not all the users who attended on this day agreed to be photographed, but all those who did were happy to agree to pose. I had two portraits in mind, the one above that I have chosen and another square on to the camera. I felt I needed to keep the image creation time short, the sensitivity of the process was apparent in my mind, though I am quite prepared to be told that I have overplayed that sensitivity, had these not been users of the Group, then I would have encroached on more of their time. This portrait had the subject looking out of a large window that provided soft light, even in summer this window has that property, so I had envisioned the space. I wanted them to be looking to the light, I wanted them to not be smiling, a couple of the subjects had difficulty in not smiling, and this was to do with them providing a contemplative pose in an attempt to equalise them, to bring them to a similar place before the lens – to not differentiate them as either clinically needy or otherwise. The alternate pose had too much variety in the poses and the sense of artificiality seemed to me to be too evident. The users all work on ‘art’ projects and this portrait session was slotted as and when they/we completed the final piece of the current project, a large communal print:

The final print

The final print

I have been working at the centre now for most of this year. I have had some ups and downs, but mostly ups. I usually have a sense of inspiration after attending these sessions, and whilst I have a strong feeling that I am benefitting significantly from working with this group, the various artists that attend – which is allowing me to build a new network – I am very mindful that I don’t want to appear to be using them. I hope I am now trusted within the group, that I contribute from more than just another pair of hands perspective, that I bring to the group something that benefits both parties and that this final print is a signifier of that spirit of the group; all the users, including me, contributed a piece to the print and we all worked on bringing the piece to a conclusion.

The final print is likely to be included in the exhibition of the project that I have documented to date, the exhibition will be a ‘Group’ show. I will make a lot of prints and perhaps a book and we will include work from the users (both prints, and text). The next few weeks will decide on whether the show will go ahead; the exhibition will probably take three months to put together and it might be a project for the group early next year, or a joint project between Helen and myself to be hosted at Fusion Arts, who appear to be positive about the idea.

On the Gallery wall

On the wall at the Artscape Gallery in the permanent art space at the Warneford are twelve of my images created as part of the memories project with the Echoes Group. I am very happy and somewhat proud that Artscape has put the work up and I saw them up for the first time today.

John

John

 

Peter and Graham

Peter and Graham

And further good news today is that Helen –  current project artist – and I have agreed to collaborate on an exhibition of the latest project which will likely be a mixed media show and, hopefully, a book of the current project which finishes next week with an exhibition of the work at the History of Science Museum, where it all started about three months ago.

 

 

Two shows: Uncertain States annual exhibition in Whitechapel and the John Goto show at Art Jericho, Oxford.

What connects these twin exhibitions is Goto’s work Lewisham which appears to have had their first outings at these events and that leads me to consider the effect of context, of the artwork in a situation, but I’ll come to that later.

Uncertain States is ‘a lens based, artist led collective Releasing a quarterly newspaper we attempt to expand a critical dialogue and promote visual imagery. The work reflects some key social and political concerns and challenges how perception is formed in a society like ours, on issues as diverse as politics, religion and personal identity.

In a time where the proliferation of imagery is rendering itself insignificant and meaningless, the artists in Uncertain States are concerned with the intention of the work. All the work published is made to be viewed with consideration and concerned with the meaning and reading of the photograph.

Uncertain States aims to showcase both established and emerging artists also through our exhibitions and web based publications. We include work from all photographic genres. Releasing a quarterly newspaper we attempt to expand a critical dialogue and promote visual imagery. The work reflects some key social and political concerns and challenges how perception is formed in a society like ours, on issues as diverse as politics, religion and personal identity.

In a time where the proliferation of imagery is rendering itself insignificant and meaningless, the artists in Uncertain States are concerned with the intention of the work. All the work published is made to be viewed with consideration and concerned with the meaning and reading of the photograph.

Uncertain States aims to showcase both established and emerging artists also through our exhibitions and web based publications. We include work from all photographic genres.’ Website here

The catalogue for the show lists nearly thirty artists with, perhaps notably, Kennard Phillips, Tom Hunter and  Roy Mehta amongst them. Most of the work has a price tag, indicating a selling show. I had arranged this visit with Fiona Yaron-Field with whom I had contacted after visiting the Taylor Wessing 2013 show where she had been selected for her image ‘Becoming Annalie’. Fiona spent some time discussing the work with us, I was joined by two fellow students: Catherine Banks and Keith Greenough and her generosity was very helpful as we discussed the work and the artists behind them.

My overall impression of this ‘Group’ show is how difficult it was for me to comprehend the diversity, the inclusiveness of all the works on show. Spencer Rowell’s physically layered work that used dimensionality as part of it’s aesthetic explored the notion of self portrait from many perspectives, the layers of narrative matched by the application of layers of substance. The context of the work – which also interested me because of its use of text as a vital component – anchored in the written word became cogent only after Fiona provided the circumstance of the work and that opening to the work was extremely important to my comprehension – at least partways. Julian Benjamin’s ‘experiments in social fiction’ interested me in its use of a fictive narrative to develop ideas – in this case – as he says: “These are not pictures of things, these are pictures of ideas. I’m not saying this thing happened, I’m saying this idea happened.

And this is the photograph to prove it.”

But, as Benjamin says in the catalogue, he uses digital manipulation to create fantastic events, the photograph is evidence of it’s own truth and therefore is a self depiction of the real.

Frederica Landi’s examination of the transient marks on the human skin initially made me think of scarification but when I contemplated further I saw that these marks – the crumpling of skin, the marks of hair and the pressing of clothing to the skin’s surface were all transient marks, these marks reminded me of some work I have planned to explore about love and to which I hope to think about about starting soon.

Fiona Yaron-Field’s work continued her exploration of Down’s Syndrome condition.Ophir, her daughter, was born with is and I have written about it previously here and here. This new work looks at women – the 2% of expectant mothers who know they are carrying a child with this condition but who choose, for many different reasons, to carry the baby to term. It maybe the end of the project for this artist, but her discussion surrounding the work, her motivations were very interesting to hear in the context of the gallery.

So to John Goto’s work Lewisham. The artist spent some time in the 1970’s photographing young black people either singularly or as couples in front of a very makeshift backcloth before he left for Paris and a photographic scholarship that resulted in another work called Belleville. The Lewisham series were represented in Whitechapel by three images which were denoted as being printed by Micro piezo printing. Initially I wondered whether this technology was related to Piezography which I used in it’s very early introduction to the UK as a carbon based pigment ink system. It turns out that Goto was using he term as it relates to every inkjet printer and so I now wonder why, what I thought must have been an aesthetic choice that I couldn’t fathom is perhaps instead a simple issue of technical incompetence – which I can’t understand at all. These Lewisham Lover’s Rock series all have colour casts that I found distract from the observation of the subject. It may be that this colour casting is a deliberate ploy to add a tension to the image and in my lack of comprehension I gave up wondering and asked the artist himself. He very kindly provided me with other information but to the question of colour he hasn’t yet responded.

Now, whilst I am perplexed about the Lewisham series, which have a notion of Sidibe’s work about them his other work Belleville is another aesthetic altogether. These are moderately sized images one achieves a 20” x 16” size, but most are smaller, printed on Agfa Record Rapid with Neutol WA, these are works of beauty in and of themselves. Their consistency of tonal structure is at great odds with the digital prints, their stillness as images are though very similar. What I found myself thinking about is how now through a perspective of nearly forty years hence both sets of images are about memory. The instant generation of memory by the recording of these youngsters in Lewisham and the old architectural studies of Paris which were already steeped in memory as they were photographed.

The Belleville studies were of shop windows, old streets and doorways, old pictures in dilapidated condition, these images were layered in patina after patina of echoing and aching memory, marked by the presence of the jetsam of life and, as in a few images, the depiction of peoples long forgotten in old photographs. These images were still, marking the passing of a time and now, printed as they are in a process and on a paper that no linger exists they are images of something that is no more, just as much as the fleeting capture of the Lewisham Lovers Rock portraits are of a people and a place no longer there – though the genre of Lovers Rock is making something of a comeback – perhaps that is why these images turned up at the gallery in Whitechapel and not the ones that had been selected by the artist originally?

Which leaves me considering the way in which these prints were created. The wider expansive digital prints, from scanned negatives with clear and apparent digital artefacts about them and the gorgeously toned lustrous warm tine, moderately sized prints, printed to express the images in the best possible light. I am confused. Goto kindly provided a link to a Photomonitor article where he suggested I might find the answers to the questions I posed to him earlier today. I’ve read it a couple of times and this question of aesthetic still eludes me.