[a PDF copy of this has been sent to my tutor; this online version contains the same information, slightly reformatted]
This paper evaluates how I realised my final ‘publication’ for my photography degree with the Open College of the Arts.
It begins with the presentation strategy chosen and the rationale behind key decisions. The second section evaluates the experience of the publication being live in terms of engagement with the audience. The final section proposes some lessons learned and ideas for further development.
Remembering Forgetting is an examination of concepts around memory. It aims to provoke the viewer to consider their memory and reflect on their own forgetfulness.
The public presentation of the work was in two key parts:
- A virtual three-dimensional exhibition on the internet
- A printed publication to serve as an exhibition catalogue
1. Publication development and decisions
My Sustaining Your Practice module began in spring 2020, so from the start was affected by Covid-19 restrictions. During Body of Work I had envisaged a physical exhibition in autumn 2020.
My rationale for an exhibition was related to the work itself, as the underlying construct aims to resemble a kind of walk. Though mine was not a single continuous walk, I was positioning the work in the context of the ‘walk as art framing device’ strategy used by e.g. Richard Long (1967 to date) and Hamish Fulton (1972 to date). This approach was encouraged by an early portfolio reviewer (Mourant 2020).
To emulate this sense of walking and remembering I wanted the viewer to move between artworks; this was closer to the intended viewing experience than a book or a simple online gallery. I had produced book dummies for BoW and considered the format overly static.
Similarly, I had some project images included in online group shows by Source (June 2020) and the Association of Photographers (July 2020) but in both cases they were presented as simple web pages. Whilst I was pleased with the exposure, it reaffirmed my intention to present the work in a less linear manner that allowed the viewer to move around.
Although I had got as far as identifying possible venues, pandemic restrictions meant that a physical exhibition was difficult to commit to, so during the summer I developed a fallback plan to present the work online. By October it was clear that the physical exhibition proposal would remain on hold due to Covid-19, and so the fallback plan became the final publication.
A virtual exhibition appealed as it’s the closest simulation of physically moving around a gallery. I evaluated three software systems and took advice from other students. I chose Art.Spaces from German arts platform Kunstmatrix. It combines ease-of-use with configurability and is inexpensive to run (€9/month). Crucially for my intentions it was the system that felt – as a viewer – most like moving around a physical space.
The exhibition was online at: www.rememberingforgetting.com.
As for a physical exhibition I had siting-related decisions to make. These were:
- Room layout
- I chose one with internal walls and a raised platform, as I wanted viewers to wander around to see everything
- Wall colour
- I started with green, to pick out the colour from a handful of key images
- But subsequently took advice from peers to go more neutral
- Image style
- For a physical exhibition I had envisaged borderless prints on foam board
- But advice from a portfolio reviewer (Mourant 2020) was that the images would suit being framed in black with a decent-sized mat, so that the text stood in relation to the image as a combined artwork
- I emulated this aesthetic using Art.Spaces
One key objective was to encourage people to reflect on their own memory. The exhibition included a short video entitled Forgettances, a slideshow of text statements from other people on their memory lapses.
Visitors were invited to add their own contributions via a webform.
Although the exhibition was virtual, I wanted a physical aspect to the presentation, due to the connection with memory.
A 28-page full colour exhibition catalogue was designed and a limited run of 50 copies was printed by Blurb. The catalogue production was financed by a modest crowdfunding campaign, which also gave me the opportunity for pre-exhibition online promotion.
The catalogue was offered free to anyone who requested it, as long as stocks allowed. About a third of the catalogues were set aside as rewards for crowdfunding supporters, meaning that each supporter funded their own catalogue plus paid for an additional two people to receive a copy.
In addition to the virtual exhibition and printed catalogue there were:
- A set of 50x postcards featuring the exhibition images
- A project-specific microsite (www.rememberingforgetting.com) within my existing portfolio website
- A press release and press kit (photos) sent to 12 photography journalists / publications
2. Audience engagement
Exhibition: quantitative feedback
The exhibition was live from 11th December 2020 to 28th February 2021.
There were 581 unique visitors to the domain and 492 views specifically on the Remembering Forgetting exhibition page.
There were spikes at launch and at intervals when I promoted the exhibition though social media. Conversely, if there was no promotion on any given day, visitor numbers were low.
- 55% direct links (includes sources such as OCA Discuss forums, emails etc)
- 34% social media (of which 22.5% Facebook, 9.5% Twitter, 2% Instagram)
- 11% search engines
The low conversion rate of Instagram was disappointing; I spent more time on Instagram than other channels, including a series of posts discussing each of the 20 images. See Learnings and next steps.
Virtual exhibitions work best with a larger screen and so I hoped that most of the visits would be on devices larger than a mobile phone. Thankfully this was the case, though not overwhelmingly so:
- 65% desktop / laptop / tablet
- 35% phone
Exhibition: qualitative feedback
I built a feedback mechanism into the exhibition by asking people to provide their comments on the catalogue request form. Others gave feedback by email or social media.
Some comments were on the visual imagery:
- “Excellent images with great titles. Very imaginative concept. Love the format.”
- “I think your images are superb and there is a sense of humour in them too.”
- “Your images are really beautiful you know.”
Others were about memory:
- “I loved your virtual exhibition – really triggered something in me in terms of memory.”
- “It has made me think about how my own memory is affecting me in middle age and how it is almost making me reconsider how I live my life.”
- “I found this work really fascinating and it made me think about how many times I forget things.”
This was, for me, the most successful aspect of the whole publication experience; I wanted to encourage exactly this kind of reflection.
Additional comments are in Appendix A.
This was one of the less successful aspects of the exhibition. I had positive feedback from people viewing the video, but not much in the way of additional content. Beyond the 20 pre-launch contributions, during the exhibition I only received seven new submissions. See Learnings and next steps.
I held an online ‘in conversation’ artist talk event via Zoom with tutor Garry Clarkson on 11th February 2021. The format was a 20-minute talk by me followed by a conversation with Garry and closing with audience questions.
45 people attended live and five others have seen the recorded version since the event.
The event was a success. The conversation with Garry and the audience questions gave me an excellent opportunity to discuss issues around memory that I have been using photography to investigate for the last few years.
Whilst I was pleased with the final proof, there has been a practical issue that has prevented this aspect of the publication being wholly successful.
While 43 of the 50 available catalogues have been claimed, none have been sent to their recipient yet. The catalogues were printed in December 2020 and delivered to an unmanned locker at my UK address, awaiting my return in January.
However, I have been grounded by travel restrictions at my other home in France since early January and haven’t yet got the catalogues. At the time of writing I am expecting that the earliest opportunity to dispatch them will be April 2021. See Learnings and next steps.
Looking for the positive, this setback gave me an opportunity to use the promotional postcards, which I’ve sent to catalogue requesters to apologise for the delay.
Another area that was not wholly successful was offline promotion. I contacted 12 photography journalists and publications with a press release and press kit (photos). I received only one reply, and that was a polite decline. See Learnings and next steps.
I briefly mention this here rather than in Publication development and decisions as it does not form part of the public presentation of the work, nor was it planned or requested by me – rather it was an unexpected response to the work.
More details are in Appendix B.
3. Learnings and next steps
As noted, Instagram gave the lowest conversion to exhibition visits despite being the channel into which I put most effort. With hindsight, Instagram’s limitation is that it doesn’t allow links in posts, and requires users to navigate to a user bio in order to leave Instagram. This level of friction meant that hardly any exhibition traffic came from the source into which I had invested most time.
Main takeaway: continue to use Instagram for promotion but at a lower level; place more emphasis on channels with greater user engagement (Twitter, Facebook, discussion forums).
Only seven exhibition visitors offered content to the slideshow; more people left comments about how the exhibition made them think about their own memory than offered an example memory lapse.
Main takeaway: perhaps some people felt embarrassed (even though I was partially anonymising the contributions)? I would however do something similar again; despite low engagement during the exhibition, I had enough content from preview visitors to make the video installation worthwhile.
Not being able to dispatch the catalogues due to travel restrictions is frustrating, but beyond the pure hindsight of having them delivered to a different address in the first place, I’m not sure there was much I could have done differently.
Main takeaway: that there is always the possibility of something being out of your control, and that you need to accept what you can’t change and move on!
With hindsight, exhibition timings were not in my favour. I sent out the press releases on Monday 14th December as the exhibition went live the Friday before. I now wonder whether journalists start to wind down for the Christmas break earlier than I expected.
Main takeaway: to not run an exhibition over the Christmas period. I had assumed that it made sense as people have a lot of spare time over the end-of-year break, but I had neglected to consider the poor timing of promotional efforts in mid-December.
For the immediate future I will focus on packaging up my SYP experience for assessment, but I aim to return to this body of work in the medium term.
I would still like to see the work in a physical exhibition. I have no firm plans as yet, although I’ve tentatively begun to establish a photography network in my new home country. Exhibiting the work in France may require translating the image-text; I am comfortable with this as it’s the universal concept of forgetting that I aim to evoke.
Another avenue to explore more is getting the work featured in both printed and online media. Later this year I will recontact publications and journalists from the December press release campaign with a view to promoting the work itself rather than the virtual exhibition.
Finally, on an ongoing basis I am entering the images into relevant competitions and open calls, such as the Conceptual Effect contest run by More Art Please (2020).
While the purpose of the last section is to highlight learning opportunities, I am broadly happy with the main elements of the publication campaign. I would repeat and build on most of these experiences in a future publication situation.
An unexpected effect of working through Sustaining Your Practice has been to boost my confidence as a practicing photographic artist. The breadth and depth of preparation, planning, production and promotion made me re-examine this particular series of images. I realised that I finally felt that I have a legitimate body of photographic work that deserved to be brought to a wider audience. The last 12 months has provided me with a solid foundation for my future photographic aspirations.
At the end of this experience I feel less like a photography student and more like a practicing creative photographer.
Tate (2007) Richard Long: A Line Made by Walking. At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/long-a-line-made-by-walking-p07149/ (accessed on 10/03/2021).
Tate (2004) Hamish Fulton: Seven Days Walking and Seven Nights Camping in a Wood Scotland March 1985. At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/fulton-seven-days-walking-and-seven-nights-camping-in-a-wood-scotland-march-1985-p77618/ (accessed on 10/03/2021).
Mourant, A. (2020) Portfolio Review: Revolv Collective. At: https://robtownsend.blog/2020/04/27/portfolio-review-revolv-collective/ (accessed on 10/03/2021).
Zealous.co (2020) The Conceptual Effect. At: https://www.zealous.co/elena1/opportunity/The-CONCEPTUAL-effect/ (accessed 10/03/2021).
Appendix A: Written feedback
The following comments were received by webform, email or as social media comments between 11th December 2020 and 28th February 2021. They have been anonymised.
Comments on the images
“Excellent images with great titles. Very imaginative concept. Love the format.”
“Super well done. Looks really professional and a moving contemplation on age.”
“Well worth visiting for wonderfully crafted images and a few minutes of reflective time!”
“Interesting concept. Many of the prints are sad; empty of memories sometimes. Well done.”
“Absolutely fascinating exhibition – thoughtful, sensitive and evocative.”
“Wow. Quite simply just wow. The exhibition was like a breath of fresh air, changing visuality and creativity at every corner. Simply stunning.”
“I was amused and touched by your images – and found your image framing and colours and textures really involving.”
“I think your images are superb and there is a sense of humour in them too.”
“I really enjoyed looking through your exhibition, your photos are very captivating and you have captured the beauty in many things that we often overlook.”
“Your images are really beautiful you know.”
Comments on memory
“I loved your virtual exhibition – really triggered something in me in terms of memory.”
“I can certainly empathise with it.”
“It made me think about time and loss.”
“It is the striking of the thought or memory that occurs to us all out of the blue and seemingly at random that as we age, begins to make us consider if we too are entering a stage of life where a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or one of the myriad types of dementia is only a visit to the doctor’s surgery away.”
“It has made me think about how my own memory is affecting me in middle age and how it is almost making me reconsider how I live my life.”
“Opens up the depths of your mind that you don’t often venture and what a beautiful message about memory.”
“I found this work really fascinating and it made me think about how many times I forget things.”
“In many ways I can relate to the images and the situation of fading or altering memory.”
Appendix B: Handmade book
As noted in the main body of the report, this was not a planned part of my publication campaign. Instead, it was the result of an offer from Paul Gotts, a photographic acquaintance who had seen the virtual exhibition, to produce for me a one-off handmade book version of the project as a personal memento.
He was sufficiently moved by the work to offer to make me the book free of charge. In return I gave him high resolution copies of the images and free rein over the main material and production decisions.
In effect, the end result is a remote collaboration between the two of us: my images and his bookbinding expertise. The final physical artefact is effectively more Paul than it is me, which I am very comfortable with. I took the unexpected offer and the final artefact as legitimising this body of work as having lasting artistic validity.