I had my video tutorial with my tutor Wendy McMurdo today. It was an insightful though somewhat challenging and occasionally uncomfortable (for me!) appraisal of where I am with this Body of Work. I came away with lots of things to think about and an expanded idea of what the end result of this BoW might look like.

The summary feedback is (and I’m paraphrasing rather than quoting here) that there is the kernel of a good photographic project in here, but it needs quite a bit of further development.

One thing that Wendy said that really struck home was that this is the kind of work-in-progress and development discussion that should have happened at around Assignment 2 rather than Assignment 4. I can’t argue with this, as it fits my bumpy experience of Level 3 so far – namely that I lost time and progress on two false starts on Assignments 1 and 2, and only started on this particular concept at Assignment 3.

Despite the long gap (several months) between Assignments 3 and 4 I didn’t actually make enough significant progress between the two iterations. So I am playing catchup to develop the current work into a more mature (if not necessarily “finished” form) in Assignment 5.

To break the feedback down into the two key parts:

Subject matter focus

Might as well face it, I’m addicted to glove…

This is the part of the feedback that I was half-expecting and so easiest to take on board. Wendy felt that the overarching concept of photographic representations of memory fragments is strong, but that the glove as sole metaphor repeatedly carrying this idea throughout the set is repetitive and lacks depth. I need to use a wider variety of images to serve as metaphors for lost memories.

In Wendy’s words:

My main comment on the project to date is you need to consider breaking up the edit to include something besides lost gloves. These are in danger here – with these images – of losing their impact and merely ‘standing in for’ your ideas. Think instead about how you might for example, use landscape, figures, blurring, scale, distance all as metaphors for forgetting and perhaps break up your edit of lost gloves by more subtle evocations of memory, forgetting, loss and remembering.

This is a valid critique. In the few weeks since I submitted the assignment I’ve had time to think about the subject matter point, and find it hard to disagree with Wendy’s conclusion here. I remember both my L3 tutors telling me early on that memory is a vast subject and I needed to narrow it down. I now realise I narrowed it down too much, or in the wrong way…!

The scary bit is, of course, working out what these other images might be; I’ve been clinging to the (self-imposed) subject matter restriction for too long. To mix metaphors, the glove is now a combination of comfort blanket and ball-and-chain…

This is not to say that the gloves are being completely jettisoned; they may be scaled back to become an intermittent motif in the next iteration rather than the sole subject.

We discussed techniques/approaches that could help me to unlock this question of wider subject matter. Firstly the notion of using the broader palette of my everyday environment as a ‘way in’ – a “meandering walk” (or several) around my environs with the camera, seeking out scenes that interest me and relating them to the themes of forgetting, loss, memory. This sounds a little like being a flaneur, but with a particular focus on finding images that evoke a particular response, rather than a traditional psycho-geographic intent.

Another way of looking at it is to acknowledge the personal nature of the project (particularly the text aspect) and to consider it as a kind of absented self-portraiture approach. A third related suggestion was to read out and record the text fragments to see if this helps to unlock connections or subject matter opportunities – to consider the act of narration of the text as creating a sense of narrative.

Visual presentation

Wendy challenged what the projection / rephotographing approach adds. My initial response was that I intended to create a layer of visual abstraction to heighten the sense that viewers where looking at memories rather than scenes.

However, there is another aspect to this approach which I confess I had not adequately considered. Wendy’s advice is that such layers of presentational artifice might be unnecessary over-complication at this stage and would, if appropriate, more naturally fit into the Sustaining Your Practice module:

You have begun to work with what you describe as ‘a layer of abstraction by re-photographing versions of source photographs’. Whilst I can see this working in an exhibition context (perhaps as part of SYP) I think in terms of a BoW portfolio submission, you would be better advised to use the images themselves alongside text.

Since the tutorial I have been thinking about this rephotographing aspect of the presentation. I still believe it was a valid addition to this particular set of images as I felt I needed something to prevent the set looking too much like a simple typology – but an updated series of images with a wider subject focus might not need such an approach. I need to think about this some more. My current thinking is that I will first of all build up a series of images for Assignment 5 without the rephotographing overlay, then determine if it does add any value or not.

All that said, I still feel that projection is a strong metaphor for memory – I just need to carefully consider whether it needs to be in the next iteration, or if it is something to set aside and return to as part of SYP.

I now also think producing a book for this assignment was another mis-step – too soon. Makes it look as though I consider the work to be more ‘finished’ than I really do. With hindsight I should have just produced some loose prints.

Next steps

While I don’t feel that this is a ‘back to the drawing board’ moment, I do consider that I am at a kind of ‘regroup and refocus’ interlude. I need to strip the concept down to its basics and rebuild it as a set of images that more successfully communicate the ideas that I wish viewers to consider.

So my plan is to:

  • Re-state my intent, as clearly as I am able to
  • Identify the aspects of the Assignment 4 version that successfully carry my intent
  • Identify the specific images in Assignment 4 that successfully carry my intent
  • Ruthlessly strip out the majority of the current images
  • Take several meandering walks with my intent in mind and seek out new kinds of imagery that can act as a vehicle for representing notions of memory, loss and forgetting
  • Gather a longlist of candidate images as ‘straight photographs’ before experimenting with any layers of abstraction (projection or otherwise)

Finally, as a practical step have started looking into the extension process for Level 3, as I have only three months left on BoW and CS – might need a little more time to get this work where I need it to be.