Square Mile: Photographers Research

9th January 2021

As part of Assignment one I was asked to ‘research practitioners who work within their locality and/ or in an autobiographical way.’ OCA Expressing Your Vision course folder p.15

Keith Arnatt

Pictures from a Rubbish Tip 1988-9

Pictures from a Rubbish Tip 1988–9 is a series of five large colour photographs by the British artist Keith Arnatt featuring close-up shots of rubbish that has been dumped at a local tip. In each photograph, the lens focuses upon select pieces of discarded food – such as bread, chicken bones and vegetables – that lie on clear and pale-coloured plastic bags. These bags both reflect and diffuse the surrounding daylight, highlighting the varying hues of the rubbish so that the scenes appear brightly coloured and partly abstract. Although the types of rubbish shown and their exact position within the compositions varies slightly, each is presented at an apparently fixed distance from the camera and this, as well as the similar lighting effects used across the five works, creates a sense of cohesion in the series.

Michal Goldschmidt, 2014 tate.org.uk

My initial response to Arnatt’s Pictures from a Rubbish Tip 1988-9, is how clever the concept is. This is a subject that I have shot many a time, however Arnatt took the usual shots one step further by using a pale-coloured plastic bag to alter the subjects light and colour and to add texture to the content of the image. The use of the bag mimics the way that photographers would use their light diffuser and reflector equipment but at the same time it connects with the subject matter.

When researching other shots Arnatt had made in the series and viewing them together on a webpage the content took on more detail, keitharnattestate.com. I was able to notice that the plastic bag also acted like a back drop and table covering to the inanimate discarded objects so that they visually became even more like a still life subject.

I also found that by including the plastic bag the objects are surrounded by a milky transparency which acts as a top layer to colours, patterns, textures to other objects hidden below it. This in itself adds yet another dimension to the images. The milky transparency of the top layer that the objects lay on, give just a little clue to what lays beneath the focus objects and this in turn adds enough detail to give the images an abstract artistic quality.

Walking the Dog is a series of forty black and white photographs of individuals standing outside with their dogs. While the locations depicted in the photographs vary from street pavements and country lanes to parks and gardens, all forty images share consistent formal characteristics: in each case the single owner stands full-length in the centre of the image facing the camera with the dog at their feet, and no other human or animal can be seen within the tightly framed square shot.

Sylvie Simonds, 2014 tate.org.uk

Arnatt’s photography series Walking the Dog 1976-9, at first glance can be perceived as a series which just consists of portraits of people and their dogs. However, if one takes a lingering look at the subject matter within its immediate environment, a story begins to emerge.

The relationship between the 40 images in the series is not just that of the portrait which consists pre-dominantly of expressions, clothes and dog breeds. Each subject is also personalised by the environment in which they stand. These environments varied from portrait to portrait and included locations such as streets and roads, parks, fields and woods. To make the locations part of the image importance they are also showing details in their backgrounds such as railings and walls, close-ups of parts of houses and shops, towns, rivers and countryside walkways etc… The locations are therefore very diverse and for me, personally, makes the settings equal in importance to the subject.

A sketch of a screen shot taken from Google: Keith Arnatt Walking the Dog annotated.

Another aspect that I like with this series is the connection each subject has with the viewer. They stare straight out at me and it feels like they have literally stopped on their walk and turned towards me to engage in conversation. This oneness could have produced the opposite effect if not constructed well enough, and each person could have looked just as though they were staged and performing for the camera intentionally.

At first, when I saw the isolated image on the Tate website tate.org.uk, I groaned and immediately jumped to the conclusion of how boring and uninspiring this series must be . Yet again, Once I had seen the images together on one webpage, the whole concept changes and with it my viewpoint.

It shows that for me specifically, I must stop jumping to conclusions when seeing isolated images. Research is important especially when viewing a series because one cannot make an educated and personal response to them by looking at one or two of the images in isolation.

Miss Grace’s Lane 1986-7

Arnatts Miss Grace’s Lane series shows two contrasting themes whose juxtaposition causes a shock effect. The shock and disgust that I feel when looking at the images within this series is made stronger by their collective title. By reading the title ‘Miss’ I am given the information and imagery connected with a young female who is innocent and I begin to formulate a narrative in my mind.

The images show the juxtaposition of the man-made pollution which has been left behind and within a natural living environment. The sense of place in the work becomes corrupted and I am left with a feeling of anger because it shouldn’t be like this. The innocence of Miss Grace’s Lane which is nature and life has been defiled by man-made rubbish formed of plastics and rubbish that is harmful to the environment.

The contrast in subject matter is strong. Nature is living and beautiful to look at and rubbish is a pollution, it is a death that chokes that which is living and looks ugly. In the background we have the living natural world, in the mid ground we have the decaying natural world and soil piled high. In contrast in the foreground we have the dumped rubbish in bright man-made coloured plastic which jumps out at me and just shouts ‘I don’t belong here!’ ‘Look at me, Look at me!’

This series holds a message for us. If you compare the decade in which this series was shot to our modern day era, nothing has changed, so the theme of time is also present within this series.


9th January 2021

Gawain Barnard

The Sky’s Too Bright

The first series that I was quite intrigued by, although by no means unique to Barnard is his series, The Sky’s Too Bright. It only caught my attention because it is presented with a poem of the same name by Dylan Thomas. I personally couldn’t make the relationship between the two but having another art form presented with it gives a sense of depth.

The images themselves were interesting. As previous said above, the subject matter is not new but when I saw Barnard’s square images they immediately made me think of parts of a painting from the Romanticism period.

So for me, the reason I wanted to comment on this series is because it has text presented alongside it. It reminds me that photographs do not have to be presented in solitude and can be influenced by more than just our surroundings and concepts that we champion, meaning that the initial stimuli for a series can be from the written word for example, poetry, music lyrics, passage from a book or a letter etc…

Maybe We’ll be Soldiers

Maybe we’ll Be Soldiers is an intimate project that exposes the anxieties, hopes, suspicions and the excitations of growing up through a series of portraits of young people captured on the cusp of adulthood. 

Tranquil yet unsettling, the cool expressions caught in the camera’s lens belies the hidden turmoil that comes with approaching maturity. Softly lit faces stare with apprehensive eyes into the uncertain spaces beyond the portraits’ borders. 

Barnard’s images, interspersed with photos of the natural environments that his subjects inhabit, reflect the sense of disturbance following the realisation that the lingering summers of youth are about to come to an end.

Gewain Barnard gerwainbarnard.com

In this series to strengthen his concept Barnard has used two images presented side by side. The viewer can see the foliage from trees which are cropped in tightly and the mid way to head portraits of the youths. I didn’t get the connection of the nature to the portraits believing it was just symbolising a rural life. Many of the army barracks that my Mum was brought up in and around were always in a rural area, but by reading the description that accompanies the images I do not think that is the concept.

Re-reading the interpretation of the work’s concept on Barnard’s website I can see how the natural background of trees can represent youth. I spent so much of my time in woods when I was younger whether in appreciation by walking through, playing hide and seek or 40/40 or as a young photographer trying to make abstracts out of the branches. The woods for me do represent a time of free care and innocence.

If you put this sentiment next to portraits of young adults and assign a title to the series, Maybe We’ll Be soldiers, a narrative is created. However as stand alone images the concept and narrative, for me personally, could not be reached.

I also took note on how this series has been presented on the web page. Unlike most photographs which are presented in lines, square grids or a slide show, the presentation of this series is more complexed. This can be seen in the sketch below.

Boredom to Burn

My pictures are from a body of work about wildfire burning that takes place each year at the end of each spring in the South Wales Valleys. The work is concerned with youth and landscape and has a particular association with my time spent growing up in the Rhondda. The project is semi-autobiographical as it draws on memories from youthful summers spent mischievously burning the hills in the hope of being chased.

Gawain Barnard gawainbarnard.com

The images for this series are simple. They are all taken above the subject matter and the angle and the closeness of the shot isolates them from their surrounding environment. I feel the concept sounds better than the completed series due to the fact that they just look like objects that have been burnt.

In my mind I would have liked a little more narrative in the form of the back of people running away even if it was the back of their trainers doing a ‘runner.’ The series leaves me with wanting to know more, whether about the location the objects are in or the people that left them there or burned them.


10th January 2021

Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter (born 1965, Dorset, UK) explores themes depicting his local neighbourhood of East London, drawing on art historical references. He reconstructs stories, memories and myths to paint a psycho-geographical landscape…

…The series, Figures in a Landscape, 2018, is a personal odyssey which transports the viewer through a world imbued with myths and legends. On this magical journey, from the hillsides of the West Country to the marshes of Hackney, the viewer encounters ancient gods, goddesses and mythical monsters which inhabit the landscape and battle for supremacy between the other worlds and the here and now.

Tom Hunter purdyhicks.com

At first glance of the title, Figures in a Landscape, I thought the work would consist of people in different landscapes and coupled with the extract above from his website I imagined these figures either dressed up or perhaps posing in relation to a myth or a well known historical painting. After my initial thoughts I began to research Hunters work and realised that the word ‘figures’ was illustrative in that it represented more than a body of a person.

In Hunter’s work ‘figure’ relates to the personification of objects and drawings in history that are found in within the landscape. These ‘figures’ include, Wayland’s Smithy which is a chambered long barrow in Ashbury, Aphrodite which is a beautiful sculpture which looks as though it is beneath ground in a watery tunnel of some type, White Horse Cult which is a photograph of the White Horse in Salisbury, Wilmington Giant on Windover Hill, East Sussex to name but a few.

It is the concept of ‘figure’ that I find interesting because Hunter has brought together many objects that ordinarily would not be in a set at all. However, there is a hidden depth to this series which a viewer can access when you know Hunter’s themes that he explores. If you look at the individual images with their title you gain a visual input which yo can appreciate more aesthetically than intellectually. However, if you include information from myths or a place in time, the images bursts with a narrative and then the simple visual content becomes deep with meaning.

If you visit Tom Hunter’s website there are many works in series connected with the themes of people and environments. I found his site rich with information and visual stimuli that had me thinking for quite a while to the different directions one can take themes and images. I found the amount that I learnt through Hunter’s work encouraging and very informative to my own practice as an artist and photographer.


10th January 2021

Peter Mansell

It was nice to see how Mansell had chosen a small amount of his images for assessment on a topic that is very close to my heart. I have taken many images within the same concept although each image differs in content. My best friend is a wheelchair user and when I am out with her I always take my photographs at her eye level. The concept has always intrigued me as you see the world different from a wheelchair users perspective including the scuffs on doors as Mansell also caught. So it was nice to see someone else photograph a subject that I do and for me especially to see his presentation technique for example the simple text and square format.


Mark Rees: http://www.r-i-p-e.co.uk I did not open this website as my computer deemed it unsafe and would not load it.

Jodi Taylor: http://www.weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia the images are missing on the webpage

Tina Barney: http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/story/barney.html the exhibition story is missing from the webpage.

Bibliography

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