As I’m nearly there on this assignment – just printing and self-evaluation to go – it seems like a good time to reflect on some changes to my working process that I’ve been trying out on this work.
It largely boils down to showing more work-in-progress, earlier, and taking on board feedback throughout the process rather than just at the end.
‘Quick and dirty’ first draft
Apologies if the phrase offends or confuses any readers, but in a former life in software development the notion of a ‘quick and dirty’ piece of work is simply a rapidly put together test of the basic components of a product, knowing it’s not perfect, just to get something delivered as a baseline to subsequently iterate from. I kind of did this on this assignment.
As previously noted, I’d been carrying the basic idea around in my head for a few months in parallel with doing the first two assignments. Very soon after delivering Assignment 2 I wanted to blitz a basic draft of this lost gloves idea as it had been buzzing around in my head for so long. I was at this stage still struggling for a title; as a working title I had started with A la recherche de gants perdus, as a pun on the seminal Proust work on memory. However, discussing the draft at a student hangout soon persuaded me that French puns might not be the way to go! Apart from the niche audience, outside of which it just looks pretentious, it was pointed out that it could make the work more whimsical than I’d intended.
Show Your Work!
I decided early on that the idea would suit a small book format. Serendipitously, while blitzing the first draft I found out about a regional photobook open organised by a group called Lens Think, of which I am a member. I decided that I wanted to submit the draft book dummy even though I knew it wasn’t complete (or maybe even coherent) at this stage. I found myself inspired by a book I recently re-read, Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work! (2014).
The book dummy, by this point renamed with the Anglified working title In search of lost gloves was selected and shown as part of a photobook display in York for the month of April, and I weren’t along to the launch event with study buddy Stan Dickinson, who also had a book in the show.
It was simultaneously exciting and scary to see people looking at, and commenting positively on, my work – even more so as I knew it was a work-in-progress. But I wanted to get something ‘out there’, and I achieved that.
Then do (almost) nothing
I actually did very little new on the work for a good two months. I spent some time concentrating on Contextual Studies (the literature review) and developing my nascent photography business. This project remained at the back of my mind for quite a while, percolating away quietly.
The one thing I did do one this couple of months is take more photos of lost gloves. The original batch included some that pre-dated Level 3 (I’ve been shooting lost objects for about three or four years, on and off). I wanted to include more images that I had taken with the intent in mind. I also wanted to get some better quality images, technically.
As an unexpected offshoot from the Lens Think photobook show, I was approached by Charlotte Cooper, whom I met at the launch event, to contribute to the launch version of her curated blog of photography projects, Fable & Folk.
The blog featured 10 of the images from the book dummy, which I re-edited to run the text underneath rather than to the left (an approach I subsequently moved away from). An added benefit to me was that I was asked to write some words about the work, which effectively gave me a starting point for the subsequent artist’s statement.
In a sense it feels to me like it fits less well on the Fable & Folk blog than the other projects there; they are mostly documentary / storytelling projects, whereas I saw mine as more conceptual, certainly in the form into which it has subsequently developed. However, I remain very pleased that it was featured in its work-in-progress version form.
I did eventually realise that the positive feedback I’d got at the photobook show and on Fable & Folk were really only of use to boost my ego, rather than providing any useful insights that I could use to improve the work.
To get genuinely helpful feedback I needed to bring the updated work back to the world of peer review by fellow students, who would be (politely) honest with weaknesses in the work and inspire me to move towards improvements.
A few key points came out in this final round of feedback, some that I have addressed already and some that I am still mulling over for future developments. It’s always fascinating to discover that others see things in your work that you hadn’t seen yourself – sometimes I still don’t see the work ‘their way’ (which is fine, of course) but other times the external viewpoint makes me see my own practice in a different light, and I need to work out what to do with that new information.
One peer reviewer pointed out something that I hadn’t seen in the work before: that the dyptich format resembled panels in a comic, and she pointed me to Scott McCloud’s excellent book Understanding Comics (1994), which I read only a few months ago! I hadn’t made the connection. McCloud talks about the ‘gutter’ between comic panels acting as transitions between two visual items – a space for the viewer/reader to make the connection between the two ‘panels’ in their mind. It’s a parallel that hadn’t sprung to mind before Selina pointed it out. It didn’t make me change anything, but it did make me see it differently. Most of McCloud’s transition types are more pertinent to storytelling than anything more conceptual, but his sixth category, non-sequitur, seems appropriate here.
A few people commented that my title at this point (“oh hang on“) wasn’t making a lot of sense, which surprised me as I thought the phrase was a common exclamation of realisation, which is a big part of my intent. But it turns out that not enough people made the connection, so I needed to change it. Instead I used a fragment from a line of poetry I’d discovered: “Both are lost” (the full line is: “When one glove is missing, both are lost“, by Roger McGough, 2000).
Three people made the same observation on the placement of the glove, that some of them looked like I’d photographed them exactly where they’d been dropped while others looked like they’d been moved by an intermediary (onto a wall, for instance). I hadn’t picked up on the possible different interpretations this might evoke – is there are different implication to a ‘pure’ found object and one that has been disturbed by an unknown intermediary? I confess this is something I am still thinking over, and I haven’t changed the edit based on this insight.
The biggest lightbulb moment, however, came when Stan suggested that I could do more experimentation with the background colour of the text. Prior to this I had shared a question with the study group on how best to make the text act as an ‘equivalent’ to the image rather than a caption (relay rather than anchorage text), and even though I had added a very slight tint to the text background in the first final draft, it was rather too subtle and still risked being read as caption rather than an entity in its own right.
Based on Stan’s comment I experimented with making the background colour of each text panel match the main colour of the glove itself – to make a visual connection that says “A=B”. This simple change transformed the work to a place I am much happier with.
Now the two parts of the diptych look more like equals; the text no longer looks like a caption, and the colour makes the connection to the glove.
The conclusion of this ramble is that I have found the process – of sharing my work earlier and more often, and taking on board feedback throughout the development cycle – hugely beneficial. I’d like to carry on working in this way as I feel it’s helping me make sense of my ideas more effectively and more clearly.
Kleon, A. (2014) Show Your Work! [Kindle edition] Workman Publishing
McCloud, S. (1994) Understanding Comics. New York: Harper Collins
Fable & Folk https://fableandfolk.co.uk/portfolio/in-search-of-lost-gloves-2015-2018-rob-townsend/ (accessed 03/07/2018)