As noted in a recent post, I have identified three final steps to get this work ready to submit to the tutor, which were:
- Finalise the images
- Write a short introduction to the work
- Write the 1500-2000 words of evaluation of my whole BoW journey
Having drafted and received peer feedback on the first two, it’s time to draft out the third.
Given that this is intended to be a personal evaluation, I’m not wholly sure whether it’s appropriate to ask for comments from any readers! But if anyone does have any feedback or suggestions – particularly people who have been through this themselves and had feedback either from a tutor or at assessment – I would appreciate them before I finalise everything for submission.
For the submitted version I intend to add in some images – sample photos from assignments, book dummies, a couple of examples of sources of inspiration etc.
The course handbook offers a series of prompt questions to frame the evaluation, looking back through Body of Work and ahead to Sustaining your Practice. I found the questions useful in framing my thoughts, so I present this as a self-interview, with some general remarks to close.
1. Looking back
Where have you come from?
For my Body of Work I decided to investigate memory, or more specifically forgetfulness. I had become fascinated by the fragility of the human memory after realising how many things I have forgotten, especially in recent years.
I have been searching for ways of visually depicting not only the sensation of forgetting something specific but also the cumulative sense of becoming more forgetful with age. The journey from Assignment 1 to 5 has been somewhat bumpy and twisty, but I believe I got there in the end.
Assignments 1 and 2 were experiments in different approaches which were ultimately set aside.
Assignment 1 used digitally manipulated versions of my snapshot archive to suggest a future self no longer able to recognise previously familiar faces. I agreed with my tutor Wendy’s feedback that the work was too shallow; under-thought and over-designed. It did however get me started.
For Assignment 2 I made a portrait series of elderly people in a singalong group, many of whom had cognitive impairment such as dementia. The idea was to capture people who might not remember much in their everyday lives at the point where they recall something joyful. Though proud of this work (it has been exhibited locally) I felt that it was a diversion away from one of my main objectives, namely to make work that is personal to me.
Assignment 3 was the start of the thread that became my final BoW. I collected images of lost gloves that I had seen in public, and paired them with text statements of things that I had forgotten; the glove as metaphor for a lost memory. I produced a set of 21 such text-image pairings and created a simple handmade book.
Assignment 4 was a variation of Assignment 3 but with a layer of visual abstraction by way of projecting the lost glove images on different surfaces. I had intended the projection/re-photography method to become part of the memory metaphor. As explained below, I feel I went too far in the wrong direction here.
By Assignment 5 I had taken my tutor’s advice to maintain the metaphorical backbone of the idea (that scenes observed in public trigger memories of previous memory lapses) but expand the subject matter repertoire beyond gloves. Also the projection idea was shelved and the approach reverted to a more straightforward photography style.
What have you learned? What mistakes did you make?
I’ve previously preferred shorter projects and getting work to completion then moving on – I took this ‘episodic’ approach to my first few assignments. Working though Assignments 3 to 5 I gradually realised that there is much satisfaction to be had in revisiting, refining and generally going in deeper on an idea rather than delivering its first iteration and moving on.
I’ve also learned to listen to advice from others, whether my tutors or my student peer group. My wobble around Assignment 4 could have been avoided or minimised if I’d listened to particular advice earlier. Having a peer group is invaluable on Level 3, and I have had a regular set of about 10 people to share and discuss my work with throughout the process.
For Assignment 4 I went too deep and narrow into what I ultimately agreed was overly repetitive subject matter. I had also tried to make Assignment 4 more interesting by constructing a layer of visual detachment but with hindsight I concede that this was to compensate for the lack of breadth in subject matter.
More generally, if I had my time again I would try to pin down my overall direction earlier. Whilst using Assignment 1 to experiment felt appropriate, taking on then rejecting a second idea wasted me time that I could have used to better develop my ultimate approach. I gave myself a lot to do between Assignments 4 and 5, and would have preferred to have developed this work over one or two more stages.
What were the low points? High points?
Low points: the tutor feedback – justified – on Assignment 4 that I had gone too far down that particular path and needed to regroup and refocus. This knocked my confidence for a short while. However, it was ultimately the kick that I needed to push on through.
High points: public sharing of my work-in-progress has been gratifying. As well as exhibiting locally, I took my Assignment 2 work to an open portfolio share event to present to a group of other photographers. An early draft of the Assignment 3 book dummy was included in a local photobook fair, and another iteration of it has been featured on a photography blog.
My tutor’s positive feedback on Assignment 3 was a big boost for me, which is probably why the less positive feedback on Assignment 4 was disappointing.
Who influenced you?
My Level 3 Hangout group, as noted.
A significant body of scientific and critical theory on memory, including but not limited to Whitehead (2008), Yates (1992), Shaw (2016). My Contextual Studies tutor Garry Clarkson was a really useful source of material in this regard.
Visually, I got a lot out of William Eggleston’s The Democratic Forest: Selected Works (2016), Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Cig Harvey’s You an Orchestra You a Bomb (2017) and Iain Serjeant’s series Out of the Ordinary (2016-2019).
Conceptually, a constant touchstone for me was Keith Arnatt’s Notes from Jo (1995), for its ability to evoke a sense of forgetfulness in a simple but affecting way.
With regard to the (often problematic) positioning of text with images I acknowledge the inspiration of Gus Powell and Karen Knorr in particular.
A bookmaking workshop I attended in 2018 gave me lots of ideas around editing and sequencing, as well as the practical side of book production.
How are you critically positioned within photography as a result of your work on this course?
I finish BoW with the realisation that my favoured use of photography is to investigate intangible or invisible concepts, to provoke a thought or emotion in the viewer beyond a response to the subject matter physically depicted in the frame. Before tackling forgetfulness I had produced assignments examining/depicting ideas such as loss, hunger, grief, overwhelm, midlife crisis, tribalism and creative block. I therefore consider my practice to be conceptual photography, with a small ‘c’.
How might what you’ve produced impact on your future projects? Have you found a personal voice that you’d like to develop?
Although I am not wedded to a particular visual style and like to experiment with creative approaches, the underlying drive to investigate and depict ‘unseen’ concepts is what I believe I will take through to new projects. In addition, the depth of research and development that BoW gives you – the ‘pushing on through to the other side of an idea’ – is something that I believe will influence my practice going forward.
How did your technical decisions impact on or impair the final outcome?
The most impact that technical decisions had was around Assignment 4. Digital manipulation plus projection plus rephotographing plus further digital manipulation led to a highly ‘constructed’ version of the developing work. I simplified the aesthetic significantly for the final outcome.
Were you true to your artistic intentions?
Yes, in the end. My intention was to find a way of visually evoking ideas of personal forgetting and forgetfulness, and I am satisfied that the final outcome does this.
What did you learn from the editing process?
That there are many potential versions of a body of work and you just have to commit to one at a particular point in time for a specific outcome. I have re-edited and re-sequenced the final work several times, and at the time each edit seemed ‘right’, but that verdict didn’t always survive a few days of thinking about it. The edit and/or sequence might change again during SYP. So I’ve learned to stop treating the edit as ‘final’ and treat it as a snapshot of how I see the work in a particular context and at a particular time.
What are the main lessons you will take away as a result of this course?
To keep continually taking photographs, even if I don’t always know why. A few of my final images, whilst taken during the BoW course, were taken long before I knew what was going to do for my final submission. And almost all of my final set were the result of multiple meandering walks around my local area, and I wasn’t always consciously sure why I was taking a particular photograph. Take photos, put them away, take them out again later and have a think about why you were attracted to the scene in question.
To keep experimenting and to treat ‘failures’ as waymarks on the path to success.
To maintain contact with a creative peer group, for mutual inspiration, encouragement, challenge and motivation.
To show your work to strangers, even when you think it’s not ‘ready’.
2. Looking forward
How would you like your audience to experience your body of work? Do you have any ideas for venues or production formats?
I’d prefer any viewing of the work to be as a series, ideally in the given sequence, as I intend there to be a loose sense of narrativity between the beginning and the end. I believe subsets of the work can get across the idea, but suspect that individual images out of context might be a little harder to interpret,
So far I’ve visualised it as a book, and produced book dummies for the last few assignments. I have an idea about a potential dual format publication, with a one-off ‘artist’s book’ version and a lower cost replica available for purchase. However, I am not totally wedded to the book format alone, and happy to consider an exhibition. This is something I aim to work through in the early stages of SYP.
What do you need to do for this to happen?
I’m already in discussions with someone who specialises in handmade bookbinding for one-off books, with a view to commissioning them to collaborate with me on an artist’s book built around the body of work. For the ‘mass-produced’ variant I have begun research and acquired samples from appropriate companies recommended to me by other artists and students.
Do you need to make any changes to your portfolio?
I envisage a book version to have more than the 15 images presented here; an earlier version (Assignment 3) had 21 images, which feels more like an appropriate amount for a book.
3. Closing remarks
As noted above it has not been a straightforward journey through BoW. I am however satisfied with the ultimate outcome. I believe that it meets my artistic and communication intentions, and that it has eventually solidified into a coherent and meaningful set of images of which I am proud. I am now confident that I have made work that conceptually articulates aspects of remembering and forgetting that I wish to encourage the viewer to consider.
The course has stretched my skills of creativity, problem-solving, research, critical thinking, managing my workflow and taking on board feedback from others. I feel as though I have come through the two-and-a-bit years of BoW (and CS) having learned more about myself than in the previous four years of OCA study.