As noted last week, I decided to try out my work-in-progress Assignment 4 on a (mostly) new crowd of people at the OCA group crit session held as part of the study visit to the Format Festival in Derby, run by OCA tutors Helen Warburton and Derek Trillo. As per the details at the above link, I decided on taking 10x A3 prints of the projections work, with text on the bottom border, in two different font styles.
The feedback I sought
I had two questions, one general and one specific:
1. General response
I’m highly aware – even more so after visiting several exhibitions – that lots of folk (me included) will often go straight to looking at photographic images on display before (or in some cases, without ever) reading the contextualisation that is the written artist’s statement.
To this end, I gave the crit group the bare minimum context as follows:
My body of work is concerned with memory processes – how the human mind remembers and forgets. Not so much the contents of a memory system but the system itself. I’m aiming to use photography to visualise memory processes and memory problems.
… then asked the question: what does the work make you think about? what responses, connections or thoughts does it trigger?
2. Text presentation
I had used two different fonts through the set – one imitating handwriting and one that resembled faded newsprint. I was looking for opinions on which fit the work better.
The feedback I got
The response was really very interesting indeed, and ultimately led to new questions rather than answers, some of which I have had time to think about and others I’m still mulling over.
1. General response
Overall, people did NOT immediately ‘get it’. I needed to answer quite a few “why did you…?” style questions before I managed to get across the concept of the projected gloves representing memories of things I have forgotten.
This was a very important lesson for me! The deliberately brief introduction was NOT sufficient for people to engage with the work in the manner I intended. I have been very close to the work for a long time and have understandably internalised the visual language to the point where I assume it’s more accessible than it is. I think part of me kind of knew this, but needed to experience it in real life.
Some specific reactions were quite informative:
- One person gave me the dreaded “well it’s still early days, you have plenty of time yet” comment! ;-)
- which I always interpret as “hmmmm… there’s something there but it needs a lot of work”…!
- One tutor gave a reaction along the lines of “this makes me think about the things I’ve forgotten myself”
- this is very close to my intent
- One student said that each glove made her think about the person who had lost it, and what their story was
- whilst a totally valid response, this isn’t really the angle that I was thinking of in creating these images, so I consider that a ‘negotiated response’ (Hall 1973)
- Another asked whether the projection was intended to emulate my preferred display method i.e. would I project these in an exhibition environment
- my response was no, the projected-image-printed IS the presentation method; the projection is part of the picture
- he did suggest looking into lightbox presentation (worth a thought, I will check that out)
- Someone else felt that the difference between ‘losing’ and ‘forgetting’ was too great for the metaphorical connection to make sense
- I’ve had this feedback before, and I have to say that I’m OK with it – I strongly feel that to forget is to lose something, and I consider the metaphorical connection to be strong, so I will continue :-)
- A tutor asked about rephotographing projections – what it adds
- my response was in two parts: first, I wanted a ‘layer of abstraction’ to try to make these images look more like memories than scenes (i.e. the projection = a memory, so I am trying to photograph a memory)
- second, the Freudian concept of ‘screen memories’, which are ‘replacement memories’ for suppressed memories – a slippage where the thing remembered represents something other than itself (which rather suits the concept, I thought)
- Comments on individual images / groups of images: some seen as generally more successful than others:
- the more muted / less saturated colour palettes
- the more distorted projected shapes (projected onto uneven surfaces)
- where the projection surface is more apparent (gives an additional layer of visual interest and could encourage longer looking)
- the ‘grungier’, more abstracted ones where the glove is more embedded in the ground
- the ones where the glove implies a hand gesture
- By comparison the ones that felt out of place:
- the ones with brighter colour palettes
2. Text presentation
Text presentation is my bête noire, my achilles heel, my blind spot, my nemesis…
There was, in hindsight, something that I did recently that made the work harder to access, and unnecessarily distracted or misdirected people. Separate from the choice of font, I found myself circling back to the basic question of where and how to present the text fragments.
A slight rewind: from the early days of developing this work back in Assignment 3, right up to last week, I was very conscious of the potential for people to misinterpret the text fragments as being captions or titles; that they would look like they were trying to describe the work… that they are anchor text rather than relay text (Barthes 1977).
And yet last week I threw out that particular concern and decided that for prints I would place the text directly underneath the image… which was, I see now, a backwards step :-/
Everyone who referred to the text used the word ‘caption’, e.g. “I don’t get the relationship between the caption and the image”. I should have stuck with my gut and kept the text away from the images!
One suggestion by a tutor was to move the text to the artist’s statement / introduction, as examples rather than the whole set. I am planning to try this approach. I also have my own ideas on how to address the issue, which I will come on to shortly.
The font choice was briefly discussed, and the useful takeaway from that was that if I go down the handwriting route I should use real handwriting rather than a font – which is fair enough. I have done a handmade book version of an earlier set and I used my own handwriting in that.
I spent the two hours driving home from Derby musing on all the feedback I got, and formulating a plan on new things to try. I’m reasonably happy that I have got potential solutions to the key points raised.
I agree that I could definitely give the viewer a little bit more of a ‘way in’ to the work. I also however maintain – again, this is my own experience – that not everyone will read the artist’s statement (I will of course aim to make the artist’s statement helpful in framing the concept and context of the work, whilst simultaneously accepting that some people will dive right into the images).
To this end, I feel like I should revisit the title, as this is hopefully the minimum amount of textual information that most viewers will absorb. The present working title is “Where is my Mind”, but I now feel that this doesn’t give enough of a key to unlock the work; I believe I might need to get a word relating to memory into the title itself.
I am currently considering picking up on the phrase that I referred to earlier and calling the work:
I’ll live with this title for a while and see if it sticks.
Image selection and presentation
There are a few things I’d like to try here:
- Shoot new glove images with the feedback above in mind (I found three in Derby and three more on a walk this morning, so it’s definitely still glove season!)
- Re-edit the existing set for a more coherent colour palette / mood
- Shoot new projections onto different surfaces (maybe looking at linking the surface to the projected image in some way?)
I’m definitely going back to the previous self-imposed rule that the text should not be mistaken for a caption.
My current thinking is that rather than pairing text fragments with images, I will try alternating text-images with text-free pictures. By this I mean treating the text fragments as images in their own right, so if the work is exhibited, every other ‘picture’ is simply a line of text on a plain background. The text fragment no longer needs to be seen in relation to one specific image, I’d simply be alternating text-images with photo-images.
This could, I believe, evoke the sense of ‘equivalence’ that I seek to imply, without being mistaken for caption text. Similarly, in a book format each page turn would show the viewer either a text fragment or a photograph, but not both together.
This might make more sense when I mock it up…
One very specific idea that got me quite excited was a bookbinding format that a fellow student Hazel Bingham showed us a version of.
There is a product by a company called Pinchbooks that is a re-usable, spring loaded gripping hardback spine and cover into which one can insert loose prints to form a simple book dummy. It’s surprisingly professional looking! Everyone who saw Hazel’s book dummy assumed it had been professionally bound, until she revealed the spring-loaded spine.
I researched Pinchbooks and was delighted to see that they do a book with a window in the cover.
My current thinking is that this window could emulate the projection idea, whilst simultaneously allowing me a space to insert the book/project title.
I have ordered a black cloth A4 windowed Pinchbook and very much looking forward to playing with it!
Before I finish, some thanks
This has been a long post (sorry) but I must finish by thanking some people:
- I won’t name them all individually but all the students who took part in the crit – your feedback was incredibly useful and informative
- Helen and Derek for planning and running the session, and hosting the whole weekend
- Amano for the group crit photo at the top of the page
- Hazel for both the book suggestion and for taking notes during my segment – much appreciated as I can’t remember everything (that much must be clear by now, readers…!)