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.

Up Close by Fiona Yaron-Field

It is natural, I know, to want one’s child to appear an individual, to be able to express it’s own individuality and to make it’s way finding their position in life. It is almost without contradiction that one also wants their child to belong, to become part of the maelstrom that calls itself society – to fit in. One wants them to excel or to at least find their métier in life and become content, happy, fulfilled; accepted by the main stream of society instead of being washed to one side. Parental love, that unquestioning, unrelenting and unremitting love that is sometimes unrequited, unfair and undeserved and which is part of the mix for parents, is what is described in this book.

 

Up Close” – a mother’s view by Fiona Yaron-Field is a photo book that depicts (primarily) the feelings of the author towards one of her two daughters, her first-born child, Ophir.

 

The author relates her feelings almost from the moment her daughter is born to the current day (the book was published in 2008). It records the everyday life of mother and daughter, about the growing up, the fun days, the sad days, through the thick and thin of emotional turmoil as Ophir develops her independence, her character, her personality. These emotions depicted in the very tender, poignant, funny and sometimes-stark images that are accompanied by text revealing much of the emotion associated with rearing. The what-if’s the maybe’s the hopes and fears; from page 52..

 

“I’m practicing trust, consciously practicing.  I’m in the kitchen, Ophir is somewhere in the house, I think in the basement where the computer is. I’m not going to check. There is a toilet, sink, washing machine, dryer, freezer, some bikes. No, I’m going to stay in the kitchen. Not even pretend to do the laundry. The door is between us. I’ll finish washing the dishes and put some music on.

 

Practicing trust.”

 

The image opposite on page 53 is one of a ‘scraped’ knee and lots of hands cuddling, reassuring, holding.

 

The photographs in this photo-book come in differing shapes and sizes, monochrome and colour, the consistent narrative that holds the piece together is the subject Ophir, or perhaps to be more specific, the mother’s love for her daughter Ophir, and which is perhaps best summed up by the daughter herself in her statement which is used as a postscript by the author:

Page 93 –

“This book is all about me, and my life and my mum. It is full of photographs and writing together. The photographs show me and my friends and what we’re doing. The writing is about Mummy.

I like the pictures of when I was a baby best. I am being held by lots of hands in the water. When I was a baby I was in hospital, there’s a tube in my nose. It makes me feel I want to be a baby again. I like the funny writing, when Hannah and I said ‘ssshhh, kit-kats.’ It tells the story of Hannah and me. She is a really good friend and so is Amy.

I am at the summer fair, there are lots of children and I am standing there being bored and doing nothing. I still like the photo because all my friends are there.

I don’t like posing for photographs but it was ok for Mum to take them of me and Noa. Sometimes the book is funny and sometimes it is a bit sad, not too much though.”

 

The writing is indeed about ‘Mummy’, and for that description perhaps the opening two paragraph’s in the book set up the journey that the narrative takes the reader on.

 

Page 1 –

“The numbness starts before they take me to the quiet room. Like a crash survivor wandering along bleeding. I am numb when I stare into the incubator at this tiny blue baby, so bereft of her inside me and so unable to reach out to her.

 

Then here I am, sitting barely dressed, frightened I will bleed on their chairs. As the doctor explains the diagnosis, images flash, not of my baby but a woman in a girl’s dress, white ankle socks, flat shoes, holding her ageing mother’s hand in a street, in a supermarket, or on a bus. And as though she’s read my mind I hear her say: ‘Things have changed’ – but I don’t believe her.”

 

An inspirational book that reveals a very personal reflection of the relationship of two people who happen to be mother and daughter, at times raw and others amusing, but it appears always honest, and I book that I would aspire to.

 

Fiona Yaron-Field

I suppose the hope of attending an exhibition is about how one might discover something, how the process of serendipity might lead to the possibility of revelation. When I took the opportunity that arose because I had to go to London for a meeting along The Strand it seemed a good idea to have a look at the Taylor Wessing show that I have written about here. It was with this chance of good fortune that I happened upon Fiona Yaron-Field’s work ‘Becoming Annalie‘, which in turn led me to her other work some of which can be found here.

Fiona Yaron-Field has used photography to find ways to deal with issues that she has decided to confront. In the work ‘beyond the wall’ the photographer has chosen to depict her own very personal reaction to the conflict between Israel and Palestine – or, to put it more precisely between the people of Palestine and the people of Israel, Israeli versus Palestinian. To do this “in country and across the divide” she negotiated with her

Man number 6. Published by kind permission of the photographer Fiona Yaron-Field

Man number 1. Published by kind permission of the photographer Fiona Yaron-Field

subjects, via third parties, in order to photograph men from both sides of the divide in what is currently, on 20th November 2012, a war zone again. To provide, via the medium of photography, a space that by its very nature presents a confrontation between two opposing peoples and by doing so re-contextualizes the conflict in purely human terms. The prints are hung on the four inside walls of a white cube, they therefore face each other, there is no delineation of ethnicity appended to the prints – so only they, the subjects, and the photographer know their lineage. They peer, rather than idly gaze into the room and directly opposite is another person, from the same geographical area staring right back at them. The viewer in the room is offered a view that these peoples are more alike than dissimilar; the viewer has no concept of where these people whose portraits stare at them come from and is left to judge by appearance only.

The project, as described in this interview, was a deeply personal response to the situation, Fiona Yaron-Field seemingly felt compelled to construct her own personal response to a situation she finds deeply troubling and puzzling, one that she felt she could no longer ignore. This is a work that is probably not going to provide any difference to a conflict that in all likelihood has already spread across their collective borders into neighbouring countries. A statement on a hostility that she fully accepts is worth is no more than a grain of sand on a very long beach, but that saying something was much better than saying nothing.

Whilst these socio-political issues remain unanswered other threads can be considered alongside the work’s original purpose. I was particularly struck by Fiona’s use of the ‘other’. When the work was conceived the ‘other’ was certainly the Israeli versus the Palestinian and vice versa. However when the exhibition was hung she noticed women’s reactions to the space. The white cube now had a set of men all looking into the room, and they seemed to be looking at whoever was in the room, the viewer started to notice that all the eyes were watching them. Yaron-Field noticed that the women would start to view the men as if they were deciding who was the most attractive male in the group. I wondered also about gender specific reactions to how it might feel, about whether the women might feel the weight of the patriarchal gaze of the men and what that might suggest to them, or whether male viewers would feel a sense of being scrutinized closely by other men, suspicious of their presence.

I asked Yaron-Field about the effect of scrutiny and she replied: ” The scrutinisation was in my mind when I hung the images, only it wasn’t exactly as I thought it would be. I hung the work with the viewer in mind, I imagined them in the space surrounded by the men and thought about their experience and how they will become part of the work. The viewer understands the political nature of the work, he understands these are men who are in conflict with each other but it is by his experience of the space that the idea begins to exists. He needs to make the connections. What I hadn’t anticipated till I stood in the space was that the men  did not appear to look at each other but at me the viewer. The sense of being surrounded by them was very powerful. I am sure everyone’s experience would be different depending on their own personal history. For me  I realized that I had been unconsciously working on another layer, a layer which is psychological and is about masculine and feminine parts of ourselves. As a woman I had been photographing these men to somehow connect to my own masculine power. I saw how I had made these men look very vulnerable and soft, almost feminine and that by facing these men, using the camera and being in the position of power it had made me more male. Connected me to my own masculine self a part of me that after many years of childcare had almost disappeared. I think its not about gender, its about ‘the other’.”

I was reminded of the WeAreOCA thread that was started by José recently and by how, by comparison to the comments in Source magazine they seem at odds with how deeply embedded this photographer is with her work, not just the work with her daughter, where she describes how she worked through her feelings after giving birth to her daughter Ophir that she has documented in a book here (another book ordered and on it’s way!), but also the work ‘beyond the wall’.

Becoming Sarah. Published by kind permission of the photographer Fiona Yaron-Field

Becoming Abdul. Published by kind permission of the photographer Fiona Yaron-Field

Becoming India. Published by kind permission of the photographer Fiona Yaron-Field

As mentioned earlier I came to this artists work via the Taylor Wessing  2012 exhibition at the NPG and this image in particular – Annalie, a striking and very simple portrait of a young woman.­­ Fiona’s approach for this particular series is described here in a response she made to me: “When  I first took a picture of a teenager with Downs syndrome against a wall, it was my daughter and actually it was the wall I wanted to photograph and I asked her stand in front of it. It seems obvious that she is up against a wall, that her horizon is blocked and also that I’m not sure as a parent I even want to look beyond the immediate and see into the distance. I don’t think any of this was in my mind when I decided to photograph her friends against walls only that it would make a great background and I wanted them outside in the world but not in a define recognizable place.  I wanted their individual style to come through and I also wanted them to be ‘real’. The wall reflects more of their inner state rather than a specific position in the outer world. Maybe this is not dissimilar to Beyond The Wall”. I had wanted to understand the use of a wall in this work with the teenagers, about whether it had any significance and how that differed from the metaphorical use in ‘beyond the wall’, it appears that the photographer just likes walls and they provided a very useful back-drop, and the better for it.

Fiona’s book “Up Close” hasn’t arrived yet and I will add my comments to this entry when I have looked at it. I suspect I will find a lot to be inspired about, just as I have with her work that I’ve seen so far. Here is a link to a Guardian piece on “Up Close