[a PDF copy of this has been sent to my tutor; this online version contains the same information, slightly reformatted]

Introduction

This post describes how I have realised my final publication for the Sustaining Your Practice module of my photography degree with the Open College of the Arts.

The project title is Remembering Forgetting. It is an examination of concepts around memory: remembering, forgetting, forgetfulness, absent-mindedness. It is intended to provoke the viewer to consider their own memory and reflect on their own memory lapses, and to think about how forgetting is a significant part of life.

The final presentation of the work is in two key parts:

  • A virtual three-dimensional exhibition on the internet
  • A printed publication to serve as an exhibition catalogue

This paper will describe and provide visual samples of each of these. In addition, it will provide details on ancillary aspects of the publication:

  • Project website
  • Supporting text
  • Funding and fulfilment
  • Audience engagement
  • Promotional activity

1. Virtual exhibition

For reasons detailed in the proposal that preceded this document, a physical exhibition was deemed not to be feasible in the foreseeable future due to restrictions around the Covid-19 pandemic.

A decision was made to use a third-party software platform (Art.Spaces by Kunstmatrix) to create a three-dimensional online gallery that can be navigated by the viewer in a reasonable simulation of a physical exhibition visit experience.

The preview version of the exhibition is online at: www.robtownsend.com/exhibition

The password required is: forgot.

Note that the live version of the exhibition will be at: www.rememberingforgetting.com 

Virtual exhibition

Contents

The exhibition comprises:

  • Large decal with exhibition title
  • Introductory poster with artist statement
  • 20x images in simulated black frames and off-white mount/mat board
  • A short video slideshow (see Audience engagement section)
  • Poster explaining how to claim the complimentary exhibition catalogue

User experience

There are three kinds of viewing experience available with this platform:

  • The viewer can ‘move’ around the virtual reality gallery space in a freeform manner using the touchscreen or keyboard on their viewing device, stopping for as long as they like on each artwork
  • The viewer can use ‘Next’ and ‘Previous’ buttons to move between artworks in a predetermined sequence, but again staying for as little or as much time as they like per image
  • The viewer can cede control to a ‘Guided Tour’ mode that moves from artwork to artwork automatically, resting for seven seconds per image 
Virtual exhibition

Timings

The exhibition is planned to start on Friday 11th December 2020 and close on Sunday 31st January 2021.

2. Exhibition catalogue

Although the exhibition viewing experience is virtual, I felt that the subject matter being memory very much lends itself to having a material memento to accompany, or remind the viewer of, the virtual gallery visit. To this end, 50 copies of an exhibition catalogue in magazine format will be produced (by Blurb) to accompany the virtual component.

Specification

A printed publication has been created in the following format:

  • Standard magazine size (8.5” x 11” / 21.6 cm x 27.9 cm)
  • 28 pages (including cover)
  • Soft cover: semi-gloss 216 gsm paper
  • Pages: matte 115 gsm paper 
Exhibition catalogue mockup

Contents

The catalogue comprises:

  • Contents and acknowledgements
  • Text introduction (artist statement)
  • Screenshot images from the virtual exhibition
  • Plates of the 15 images not used to illustrate other pages
  • A short editorial article (see Supporting text section)
Example catalogue spreads

Uses

There are two uses for the exhibition catalogue:

  • Primary use: exhibition visitors
  • Secondary use: crowdfunding supporters

The latter was required in order to fund the former (see Funding and fulfilment section). 17 copies of the catalogue are reserved for crowdfunding supporters. Essentially, each catalogue backer funded their own copy and two copies for future exhibition viewers.

Exhibition visitors will be given the opportunity to request a copy of the catalogue via a poster and links in the virtual exhibition. They will be directed to a form on my website that captures their postal address. I have agreed (and costed for) shipping anywhere in the world. Once the limited stock of printed catalogues is exhausted, a digital version (PDF) will be made available to download.

3. Project website

For the duration of the virtual exhibition the work will be hosted under a project-specific web address: www.rememberingforgetting.com

The content is actually hosted on my existing photography portfolio website at robtownsend.com and so the project-specific address is a simple redirect. 

Microsite initial screen (pre-exhibition)

Contents

The ‘microsite’ will comprise:

  • Text introduction (artist statement)
  • The virtual exhibition embedded seamlessly into the page
  • A gallery of still image versions of the artworks
  • Details of the exhibition catalogue
  • The exhibition catalogue request form (see Audience engagement section)
  • The user contribution form (see Audience engagement section)

In addition, the homepage of the main robtownsend.com website features a large banner image driving people to the Remembering Forgetting microsite, whilst keeping the rest of the portfolio content available via the navigation links.

4. Supporting text

Various types of supporting text have been created in support of this project:

  • Artist statement
  • Artist bio
  • Catalogue ‘personal essay’ / editorial piece
  • Press release (see Promotional activity section for details)

Artist statement

After several iterations, I have settled on the following as the text I use to introduce my practice and the work in the exhibition catalogue:

A couple of years ago I gave myself the challenge of photographing forgetting. I wanted to make images that evoked the sensations of ‘brain fog’, absent-mindedness and faulty recall.

Remembering Forgetting emerged from a series of walks around my local area, noting memories that were triggered by what I observed. I became fascinated by the notion of memory slippage, that an abandoned chair could make me think about having missed someone’s birthday.

The project evolved into a personal meditation on middle-aged memory; I became curious about the fine line between forgetting just enough and forgetting too much.

I reflected on the minor autobiographical facts I used to know but now cannot recall, and the lapses in momentary attention that prevent short-term memories even being formed. The work became, perhaps paradoxically, about remembering the times I’d forgotten something.

With this meander through my own remembered lapses I want to shine a light on the intricacy and fragility of memory. I’d like to encourage reflection on how a visual image or scene can trigger an unrelated memory, and of how forgetting is an invisible yet significant part of life. I use the project to explore how human memory processes work – or sometimes don’t.

Rob Townsend (2020)

A slightly shorter variation is on the virtual exhibition poster and on the website, omitting the first and fourth paragraphs, given the limits of both screen space and attention span online.

Artist bio

Following is the current version of my artist bio. A photography-focused CV is also available online at robtownsend.com/about

Rob Townsend is a practicing photographic artist specialising in projects around memory. He is in the final stage of a BA (Hons) Photography degree from the Open College of the Arts and is expected to graduate in 2021.

He has had work published in magazines such as Living North, online on photography sites such as Source, Photograd and Fable & Folk, and exhibited as part of shows by Feature Shoot and Shutter Hub. His 2017 project Two Kinds of People? is in the digital archive of Harvard College Library. He has had three previous solo photography exhibitions and this is his first virtual show.

Originally from the north of England, he lives in the south of France with his wife and two dogs.

Rob Townsend (2020)

Catalogue editorial piece

I have written a 1000-word text piece for the exhibition catalogue. I’m not quite sure how to define it, as it isn’t really an essay but more of an article, or an editorial piece. It’s about my personal journey of learning about memory through photography. I wanted to give readers some personal context about my interest in the subject, and what I got out of the experience.

Catalogue spread: editorial piece

The text is reproduced in Appendix A.

5. Funding and fulfilment

The production and distribution of the catalogue will be funded from the proceeds of a crowdfunding campaign that ran on Kickstarter for 30 days over October and November.

Funding breakdown

Full details are in the proposal that preceded this document, but in short a budget of approximately £600 was arrived at, including an allowance for my own time. The plan was to fund it 50% via the crowdfunder and 50% from personal funds. The crowdfunder generated £391 against a target of £300. After platform and payment processing fees it comes down to just over £350. Excluding marketing approaches, the project attracted 21 individual backers.

Fulfilment

19 backers are due a digital image file of their choice (two people selected ’no reward’) and have been contacted to arrange their selection and download link.

17 of these are also due a printed exhibition catalogued so have been contacted to get their postal addresses. The catalogue will be printed in December and distributed in January.

One person who funded at the highest level (£50) is also due an A3 print of their choice. This will be ordered in December and drop-shipped directly to their address.

The 17 backers who are due a catalogue will also receive a postcard featuring an image from the series; as the crowdfunding raised slightly more than expected, I decided to spend the overfunding on a little extra gift. The plan is to order a set of 50 postcards (from Moo.com) and send the remaining 33 to the exhibition visitors who request a catalogue. 

Postcard mockup

6. Audience engagement

I am keen to ensure that despite the lack of face-to-face contact between me and any exhibition viewers / catalogue readers, I can maximise the opportunities to have some kind of interaction with the audience for this work. There are four ways I aim to achieve this:

  • Crowdfunding campaign
  • Viewer contributions to the exhibition itself
  • Requesting feedback from viewers claiming a copy of the exhibition catalogue
  • An online artist talk event

I take each in turn below.

Crowdfunding

Although this reached a relatively small number of people (21 backers) and was primarily aimed at raising money, an added benefit of the crowdfunding campaign was to start to engage with an audience for the publication even before the work itself was presented. In effect, it built up some pre-launch interest and feedback.

I have already gained both exhibition feedback and content contributions (see next sections) from the crowdfunding backers.

Viewer contributions

In the virtual exhibition there is a short (1m45s) video, Forgettances, that scrolls through a series of text phrases provided by preview viewers and crowdfunding backers. I asked people to contribute their own memory lapses to be included in this animated slideshow. 

Forgettances visitor contributions video

The starting version of 20 contributions will be updated over the coming weeks as new exhibition visitors submit their own content. There is a link below the video to an online form where visitors can send me their own contributions. This form also, optionally, allows visitors to give feedback on the exhibition experience.

Feedback request

The online form for people to request their copy of the exhibition catalogue includes a section requesting their feedback. In effect, I am asking for their comments in return for the catalogue. Optionally, the form also allows for users to submit content for the Forgettances video.

I will review the feedback and, if appropriate, respond and/or make changes to the exhibition. I will also collate the feedback for future assessment submission.

Artist talk

I plan to hold an online artist talk event (via Zoom) in mid-January 2021. The format will be along the lines of a 15-20 minute illustrated talk followed by a short conversation with the host and closing with questions from the audience. The plan is that the host will be an OCA tutor (individual to be confirmed)

This event will provide the most direct equivalent of the kind of face-to-face interaction that one would get in a real-world exhibition environment, and will give both me and the audience an opportunity for true two-way discussion of the ideas raised in the work.

Online analytics

In addition to the interaction measures detailed above, I will track simple ‘footfall’ metrics via my website analytics function. This will tell me how many people visit the virtual exhibition per day, as well as giving a breakdown by user country.

7. Promotional activity

Promoting the publication is a multi-phase endeavour that started several weeks ago and will continue through to the end of the exhibition in January 2021.

  • Pre-crowdfunding
  • Crowdfunding
  • Pre-exhibition
  • During the exhibition

Each phase had a timescale and focus, albeit with some overlap. Most of the activity is online in one form or another, with a few noted exceptions. I currently have 560 Twitter followers and 410 Instagram followers.

Pre-crowdfunding

  • Objective: to generate interest in the crowdfunding campaign
  • Timing: end of September to mid-October
  • Key message: ‘watch out for the funding campaign, coming soon’
  • Platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook 
Example social media posts: pre-crowdfunding phase

This phase was reasonably successful: 29 people signed up to be notified of the crowdfunding campaign when it launched.

Crowdfunding

  • Objective: to raise funds to produce the catalogue
  • Timing: mid-October to mid-November
  • Key message: ‘support the project by pledging’
  • Platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook 
Example social media posts: crowdfunding phase

This phase was successful: the £300 target was met in six days. It’s not possible to close a campaign early so I let it run the full 30 days with no further promotion and gathered an additional £91 in pledges.

Pre-exhibition

  • Objective: to generate interest in the exhibition and catalogue
  • Timing: mid-November to mid-December
  • Key message: ‘watch out for the exhibition launch, coming soon’
  • Platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, OCA Discuss
  • Additional support: press release (see Appendix B)
Example social media posts: pre-exhibition phase

During this phase I started to get amplified (shared / retweeted) by other accounts.

The press release will be sent to a number of appropriate contacts in the photography sector, including but not limited to: Redeye, Miniclick, LensThink, Photograd, Source, Shutter Hub and British Journal of Photography.

During the exhibition 

  • Objective: to drive visits to the virtual exhibition
  • Timing: mid-December to end of January
  • Key messages: ‘visit the exhibition / claim your catalogue / attend the online talk’
  • Platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, OCA Discuss
  • Additional support: I will request a blog post on WeAreOCA

This phase will be the most intensive. I plan to post on each social media platform every other day, with a combination of:

  • Screenshots from the virtual exhibition
  • Sample images from the project
  • Visitor comments
  • Promotion of the complimentary catalogue
  • Details of the artist talk

Appendix A: Catalogue editorial

Adventures in Metamemory

On a Tuesday morning in June 2017 I drove to a small town on the outskirts of Barnsley. I was working on a photography project based on revisiting places where I’d lived. I stopped in the car park next to the post office, went to the boot of the car to get my camera bag, closed the boot and walked out of the car park and around the town for about 20 minutes taking photographs of my old stomping ground. On returning to the car park I was greeted by a worried-looking man who informed me that I had left my driver’s door open the entire time.

This level of forgetfulness threw me somewhat. I could be absent-minded sometimes, yes, but this seemed new. I stopped at a cafe and googled ‘early onset dementia’. After a little research that day and a lot more afterwards I decided that my original self-diagnosis was probably overstated. I took a few online ‘have you got dementia symptoms’ tests and the consensus was that, while I am definitely on the absent-minded spectrum, I didn’t display the warning signs of actual dementia. To paraphrase one of the tests: not knowing what you went upstairs for is forgetfulness; not knowing whose house you’re upstairs in, well that’s a lot more serious.

I spoke to friends and family – of all ages, but leaning towards forties and fifties – about forgetfulness and collected anecdotes about their own memory lapses: returning from a dog walk without the dog; forgetting words (someone who misplaced ‘sausages’ and had to ask for ‘meat tubes’); the person who found their purse in the fridge – that sort of thing. But I also started thinking about, and asking people about, longer term memory gaps: names, addresses – autobiographical facts, maybe minor ones, but things you absolutely used to know but now don’t. The memory of it has just… dissolved. It soon became apparent that everyone has a faulty memory, everyone has examples of both short-term memory lapses and long-term recall gaps.

The difference is: I started making a note of mine.

Once you start tracking your own memory lapses you realise just how leaky the human mind is. For a time I made a note of new lapses as they occurred, and after a while also started spontaneously remembering past ‘forgettances’. Usually while I was out walking the dogs and thinking about this whole memory subject, scenes along the route would trigger an oddly symmetrical train of thought: remembering forgetting stuff.

I wanted to find out more about how memory works – or,  more interestingly, sometimes doesn’t. I became fascinated by neurological and psychological theories of memory. For example, did you know that your memory isn’t like a filing system, or a computer hard drive, with memories ‘stored’ for retrieval? It’s much more like a set of interconnected ‘packets’ of information that your brain recompiles at the point of recall.

Each of your memories is constructed from component data parts every time you remember, and it becomes a mash-up of the past and the present. It’s useful to think of the verb ‘re-member’ as a kind of counterpart to ‘dismember’: memories aren’t retrieved, they’re reconstructed. And every time you ‘remember’ something, it’s like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, with the missing details filled in by your present mind.

Also: there are different types of memory failure, and people experience them all to differing degrees. There are the attention lapses, where the important information doesn’t sink in at the time (‘in one ear and out the other’); there are reconstruction errors, where you temporarily fail to make the connections necessary for the recall to happen successfully (‘it’s on the tip of my tongue’); and there are the irretrievable data losses, where something that used to come back to mind ceases to do so (‘no, it’s gone’).

Perhaps the most significant revelation from my research into memory is this: forgetting is crucial. We have to forget most of what we experience through our senses and retain the important bits. Forgetting is the blank canvas upon which memories can be drawn, have edges, take shape. The human brain constantly makes decisions about what to retain and what not to. It’s ironic that the average person doesn’t realise how much they have forgotten; their memory only tells them about the things they remembered. Where life gets tricky is when you cross the fine line between forgetting just enough and forgetting too much.

And so to photography. Much has already been written about the relationship between photography and memory, and there are untold numbers of photography projects that specifically interrogate ideas around memory. But most of these are concerned with memories, as in the contents of a memory system, not the system itself. Sometimes you’ll find a photography project that examines cognitive impairment such as dementia. But what I’m interested in is slightly different: I wanted to investigate everyday human memory and how it functions.

I really only found one body of work that I felt addressed this, a series by Keith Arnatt called Notes from Jo (1991–95). The work is essentially large prints of scribbled notes that Arnatt’s wife left for him over the years, knowing how bad his memory was: “Let dogs out before you go to bed”, “Don’t forget meat loaf”, “Dustbins!!”, that kind of thing. For me they encapsulated that level of quotidian forgetfulness that I see in myself.

With the Remembering Forgetting series I wanted to capture a similar sense of a slightly faulty memory, a perhaps exaggerated picture of what everyone experiences, sometimes. Researching memory and making these images hasn’t necessarily improved my memory, but it has reconciled me to the normality of the imperfect mind. I can now look at my own ‘forgettances’ in a  more detached, knowing way. It makes me feel better, anyway.

– Rob Townsend, December 2020


Appendix B: Press release

PRESS RELEASE

7th December 2020

New photography exhibition blends online and offline experiences
to reflect on how we remember and forget

Emerging photographic artist Rob Townsend will this week launch a virtual exhibition and accompanying catalogue, Remembering Forgetting, showcasing a series of artworks aimed at provoking reflection about the unreliability of our memory.

The online exhibition uses a state-of-the-art virtual reality platform, viewable on a standard web browser, to simulate a three-dimensional gallery space to wander around from the comfort of your own home. Online visitors can request a complimentary copy of a limited edition printed exhibition catalogue, posted anywhere in the world while stocks last.

The project uses a combination of photographs – some melancholy, some humorous – with remembered fragments of personal memory lapses. The intent is to make viewers consider their own memory and ponder how common and significant forgetting is as a cognitive experience. Visitors can contribute their own memory lapses to a video slideshow in the exhibition.

Speaking about the decision to have a hybrid virtual/physical presentation, Townsend said: “The original idea was to have a physical exhibition, but like so many things it was impacted by the pandemic restrictions. The virtual exhibition is the closest thing to being in a real gallery, and I love the idea that an exhibition about memory can have the catalogue as a physical memento of the digital experience. It’s the best of both worlds.”

The exhibition runs from 11th December 2020 to 31st January 2021 at www.rememberingforgetting.com 

About the artist

Rob Townsend is a practicing photographic artist specialising in projects around memory. He is in the final stage of a BA (Hons) Photography degree from the Open College of the Arts and is expected to graduate in 2021.

He has had work published in magazines such as Living North, online on photography sites such as Source, Photograd and Fable & Folk, and exhibited as part of shows by Feature Shoot and Shutter Hub. His 2017 project Two Kinds of People? is in the digital archive of Harvard College Library. He has had three previous solo photography exhibitions and this is his first virtual show.

Originally from the north of England, he lives in the south of France with his wife and two dogs.

Contact details

Website: www.rememberingforgetting.com

Email: rob@robtownsend.com

Images