To Par Away

Research : Final Major Project

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5

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Figure 1

A Synthesis

The current BBC series, Civilisations provides historic and cultural contexts for artistic expression. During episode 6, series 1, ‘First Contact’, the historian David Olusoga sets out the flow of people, ideas and visual techniques via trade and the immediacy of expression via the paintings, sculpture and drawings that capture the diffusion that sparked new thinking.

Of particular note was the work by the late Eighteen Century Japanese artist, Maruyama Okyo who, based in Kyoto, a trading city with the Europeans,  makes a rather beautiful work known as Cracked Ice, fig 1.  This is made using ink on paper and it is a cultural synthesis of technique, the simple line of the ink pen on paper but with the added ‘visual depth’ allowing the eye is drawn deep across the scant, icy surface by the thinning of each line.  This was opposed to the flat, two-dimensional representation of typical Japanese art.  Olusoga notes that the work “Imperfections and impermanence typical of Buddhism and Japanese philosophy”, this appeals to me; the cracks are the imperfections in the purity of the ice sheet, the impermanence of the melt mean the scene would soon simply melt into a changed state; the solid simply passes the melting point and cracks have no place to be.  A metaphor for life, human and environmental, for the liminal moment, for the pause state, hence my fascination with it. 


Figure 2

Within my practice, I seek to place the lens to achieve a sense of place (the perspective, fig 2) and evoke the surface (as if the ink, fig 3), often in a frame that compresses and excludes the peripheral to draw the eye to the essence.


Figure 3

On Taking Tea

The Maruyama Okyo piece is cited by the British Museum website, where it is held, thus “Painting, two-fold screen for tea ceremony (furosaki byobu). Cracked ice: patch of ice just beginning to form; lines of ink along white surface. Ink on paper with sprinkled mica. Signed and sealed”

There are curator’s comments by Smith et al 1990, “As a young man, Okyo was employed by a Kyoto toy merchant, Nakajima Kambei, to design prints and paintings incorporating Western-style ‘vanishing-point’ perspective, for use with novelty viewing machines that contained a mirror and a lens to accentuate the three-dimensionality of the images. Okyo applied the lessons of these early experiments to his mature works which, for the first time in the history of Japanese art, have a structure based on integrated spatial recession”.

Under ‘further reading’ the site references Saint Louis Art Museum, ‘Okyo and the Maruyama-Shijo School of Japanese Painting’, Saint Louis, 1980.Hizo Nihon bijutsu taikan Vol 1′ “This work was likely used as a ‘furosaki’, or small, low screen placed near the hearth in a room devoted to the tea ceremony.”


Figure 4

With the reference to the tea ceremony, I am reminded about the writings of Juniper on Wabi Sabi, the Art of Japanese Impermanence (2003:40-42) the liturgy of the tea serving is epitomised by another son of Kyoto, Sen no Rikyo, who had trained as a Zen monk and became known as the master of masters, centred on this ritual.  He eschewed the decorative chinoiserie elemental parts and chose to have simple clay utensils crafted for his routine. He created spaces to undertake the procedures in a “tearoom inspired by the simple and restrained designs of Zen temples. At every turn he aimed to par away everything that was not strictly necessary to leave only the most austere and yet sublimely refined the environment in which to enjoy the sharing of tea”. The cleanliness and preparation were epitomised by the account that Sen no Rikyo asked his son to spend a whole day preparing the steps and spaces in readiness for a ceremony; after triple cleansing the son was satisfied that perfection had been achieved, yet “Rikyo then went over to a Maple tree that was crimson with the autumn leaf and shook it so that some of its beautiful leaves fell randomly to the floor. He let the artistry of nature put the finishing touches to the earnest in endeavours of the son, and in so doing a perfect balance between the two. Wabi Sabi is not solely the work done by nature, nor is it solely to work done by man. It is a symbiosis of the two”.

spag 6

Figure 5

In the method applied to the Pause Project, the handcrafted line, surface, space is often counterpointed by the unexpected or the unintended; the dust, the litter, the random, fig 5, that simply is, not designed, not crafted, just left, fig 6.

RH 45

Figure 6


Civilisations, BBC (accessed 30.3.2018)

Juniper A. 2003. Wabi Sabi, the Art of Japanese Impermanence. Tuttle Press.  Tokyo

Okyo,  (accessed 30.3.2018)


1 British Museum – see above

2 Philip Singleton, Great Hampton Street, 2018

3 Philip Singleton, Snow, Harborne, 2018

4 From Wabi Sabi, the Art of Japanese Impermanence, see above.  PP 32.

5 Philip Singleton, Spaghetti Junction, 2017

6 Philip Singleton, Roundhouse, 2017





Hockney & Bradford

Research : Final Major Project

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5


Figure 1

I took the opportunity to spend some time in a city I had long since visited, Bradford, this week.  From its Centenary Square water feature, fig 1, to the launch of Mat Collishaw’s Thresholds, fig 2, it was a visually stimulating few days.


Figure 2

I always take the time to visit the galleries and in this instance Cartwright Hall where the diverse range of David Hockney’s work is staged in the city of his birth.  This was a treat as I had not previously seen the array of his media from photographs to sketches to collage to paper mache.

It was, as ever, useful to observe numerous things that are applicable to my own thinking.  One of the man thematic panels was illustrated with text and select images, enabling the related section (Hockey and Fashion) to be contextualised, fig 3.


Figure 3

Hockney’s “Le Plongeur (Paper Pool 18) 1978. Colored and pressed paper pulp 72 x 171″ caused me to halt and look very closely at the surface and the modular nature of the method used to create this vibrant piece, fig 4.  A technique for a printing background to be tested post-MA.


Figure 4
Figures 5, 6

His collage technique applied the view of his Mother at Bolton Abbey, 1982 caused me to take a close up of his pumps; the artist appearing in his own work and thus he links himself to his forebear, figs 5, 6.


Figure 7

The Hockney quote about the city of his birth, fig 7, is applicable to my Pause Project centred on Birmingham; “there is a magic in it if you look closely”


Figure 8

Finally, the map used to locate Hockney’s work was a powerful panel and underlines my own thinking about using a map.

All images my own using an iPhone.

Stefano Canto

Research : Final Major Project

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5

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I make a point of keeping up to date with Materia Gallery in Rome, as it represents Stefano Canto.  Interestingly an exhibition opens this coming week solely focused on Canto’s latest work, entitled ‘Sotto l’influenza del Fiume. Sedimento’ (translated ‘Under the Influence of the River. Sediment’).

This looks to be part of Canto’s evolving practice focused on his work with the materials of construction to express his interrogation of history and its meaning in contemporary life.

I met the owner of the gallery, Niccolò Fano at Unseen 2017, where we discussed Canto’s work which became a key point in the development of my own practice. In the knowledge of this new exhibition, I am making contact with him again, via email, hoping that he responds by allowing me access to this show’s essay by Lorenzo Madaro.

From the introductory page on the Materia website regarding this new show it states, this “furthers Canto’s long-established research the field of contemporary archeology, the subject matter of liquid modernity and the cornerstone of his practice: architecture.” This, in my view,  cites Canto’s appreciation of Zygmunt Bauman’s view of the fluid discarding of the recent to adopt the next.

Detailing the exhibition, the evolution that invites the new and discards the old to a miasma of sediment “Canto states: The Tiber is the starting point for a reflection on the metropolis, its riverbed is where the city can be found in its true form, characterised by a state of constant mutation. Architectural fragments belonging to different timeframes, alongside organic and non-organic matter of all kinds are accumulated and muddled in one single and homogenous grey mass composed of infinite layers and stratifications in constant flux”.

A further extract begins to express the need to understand sculptural form and the space in which it is placed “Canto’s sculptures reveal the result of a dual and binary process, closely tied to the accumulation of matter and its creation, to specific architectural notions alongside an uninterrupted meditation on the medium that in the past few years has spurred the artist to question the concept of form in his sculptures and their subsequent transformation within the space occupied”.

I shall be exploring this exhibition in greater depth.

Links accessed 25. 3. 2018

Mack & the Art of the Photobook : Parr et al and its Future.

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Research.

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figure 1

Michael Mack, interviewed by Alexander Strecker in a recent post in Lensculture, sets out a really personal account of how he ‘ticks’ and what makes the quality of his production such a desirable and tangible thing.  Strecker sums him up thus  “there are three core beliefs that underpin everything Mack has done: first, mentors are essential; second, human relationships are paramount; and finally, that personal enjoyment is the key to long-term success”.

I make no apology in extracting substantial tracts of the interview as they serve a strong purpose, especially as it sets the agenda for my ambition to make a photobook at a future point.

On his motivations Mack says “I’m driven by a very simplistic, life-affirming notion: I want to keep enjoying what I’m doing. I don’t want to only be running a business, because much of that is quite tedious. You could be selling widgets, if all you’re focusing on is the Excel spreadsheets. In the end, the reason we are doing well is because of our attention to detail and the specificity of each design. I don’t want to do more books. I’d prefer to produce fewer titles that are higher in quality.

On the place for the tangible as opposed to the digital “there was a supposed revolution about to happen in relation to the book and ink and paper. This simply did not occur. In fact, just the opposite: the ever-expanding digital realm created the capacity for small, light-footed entities, both publishing houses and individual artists, to create their own content and market it through digital platforms. That continues to define the moment we’re in right now. It has resulted in many, many people returning to analog, physical forms for various art objects”.

A glimpse about his collaborative approach for which he is renown “Whether someone is working on the street or in their studio, we have to be sure that a book is the best possible presentation for their work. It’s never simply a catalog, a gallery takeaway, we have a studio space where the artists come and work. We bring in our designers and we sit, edit, and talk. We’ll do three days of intense work together, and then they’ll go away for a month. Then we come back together, allowing things to distill further. We give things time”.

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Figure 2

A Magnum website discussion between Olivia Arthur, Martin Parr and Fred Ritchen they review the 20 year march of the photobook; here Arthur opines “People still have a huge desire for the book, for the printed object that they can hold.” which is good to read as the future looks positive for the medium. Parr lays down the challenge for both image making and the need for purpose in a publication Photography is the easiest thing in the world but also the most difficult. It’s very easy to take a body of work and in an afternoon turn it into a book that looks contemporary and exciting but it has no soul, no message, no real substance. People believe they have made an important contribution to photography but they haven’t” 

The audience ‘span’ is addressed by Ritchin “Photobooks are having a golden era but the concern is that we are making them for each other,” and he goes on “It’s not sufficient to just talk to each other at this point. I’m looking for something that restates where we are in different ways.” and Arthur expresses her aspiration “I think we see this big cloud which is the photobook audience and what’s interesting is trying to go out and think about things differently and saying I’m going to reach these people because this is what I want to do,” and she volunteers this “We aspire to be like each other, too much so.”

Practice Planning

I aspire to create a photobook on the Pause Project.  I therefore peruse photobooks and seek out, not only the product, but the process to establish the timescale, costs, qualities and, overall, the purpose and visual/textual messaging that would create value in the widest sense of that term.  Both of these articles provide a good context to the qualitative positioning of a book.

I have started discussions with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce about presenting the Pause Project, with a view to widening shooting opportunities but also the potential for sponsorship of a book project.  To maximise this I will be researching the sponsorship model, knowing full well that it will be often seen by sponsors as a return on investment and as such may be viewed as a form of crowd-funding modelling that will require the offer of a tangible benefit/asset upon completion.  Watch this space in 2018.


All quotes on Mack and image, figure 1,  taken from (accessed 11.12.2017);

All quotes on Mack and image, figure 2,  taken from (accessed 11.12.2017);


Three Good Leads

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Research.

A while ago I popped ‘artists that work in concrete’ into my search engine and began to uncover a series of intriguing but not wholly useful pages.

The serendipity of conversations that include the phrase “I am now working in concrete” has solicited responses from Jesse Alexander, Paul Clements and Argentea Gallery.  The age old technique of talking has reaped some super leads to three artists for three reasons;

Rebecca Fairley 

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figures 1, 2, 3

Fairley teaches and experiments at the Open College of the Arts with fabric and its interface and infusion with concrete in its wet form which cures into beautiful and intriguing results.  See figures 1, 2, 3.  She writes  “What I love about concrete is its form-finding behaviour. The mould materials and the concrete work together to create something exciting. I am never quite sure what the results will be and I find this exhilarating. I learnt that this hardwearing material is actually very sensitive, it picks up the smallest details of a fabrics surface, giving me the opportunity to create fine concrete textures” and approaches it from a gendered view “It struck me then that the concrete was no longer a masculine cold unforgiving material; in my hands it had become tactile, intriguing and feminine. This has led me to believe that there is a language of materials and a dialogue that occurs in the hands of the maker”.

She also cites a group that cast repetitive elements of work at the Tactility Factory  in Belfast –  their output looks quite exquisite; figure 4.

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figure 4

Both these processes and organisations I will be exploring and possibly meeting as my concrete work evolves.  I photographed a linen drawing in the summer and the possibility of reproducing that and moulding it with a concrete substrate has taken a step closer.

Samin Ahmadzadeh

screen-shot-2017-12-10-at-14-56-06.pngScreen Shot 2017-12-10 at 14.56.24Figures 5, 6

I was fortunate to see a solo exhibition by Ahmadzadeh in the Summer 2017 at Argentea Gallery, Birmingham.  She creates interwoven images bonded onto plywood (see figures 5, 6) and, I have discovered, via an email conversation with her, this week, that she coats them with acrylic varnish.  Her work is appropriate to my experimentation as she bonds (in her case) to a substrate (thus bears some similarity to my work) and most importantly protects the vulnerability of unique woven prints from damage and UV light by the use of this varnish.  My initial experimentation with concrete has led to a severe washing out of the imagery which was printed only on thin, standard paper, but nevertheless has drawn out the need for a solution.

Michelle Henning

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figures 7, 8

Having written about Henning’s Tate presentation in my journal, I have been signposted to I have discovered that she has a width of skills in the image world.  Not only is she a long term collaborator with PJ Harvey (see figure 6 for an example of her art work), thus providing an other ‘photographer/wider artist’ example, but she has written a book being published in 2018 “Photography – the Unfettered Image” which argues that this mobility of the image was merely accelerated by digital media and telecommunications. Photographs, from the moment of their invention, set images loose by making them portable, reproducible, projectable, reduced in size and multiplied”. But also as a photographic image maker she has created these ‘through the glass’ images which my work has echoed.

figures 9, 10

And she has explored construction sites, figures 10, 11

figures 11, 12

So, for me, another one to watch.


References (all sites visited 10.12.2017)

Rebecca Fairley

All images from :

Samin Ahmadzadeh

All images from :

Michelle Henning

All images from :


figure 7 Birdshit, Bristol to London (2009)

figure 8 Dirty Sunset, Bristol (2012)

figure 9 Ealing Shop Window from The White Album

figure 10 Closed Shop, Weston-Super-Mare | from The White Album

figures 11, 12 “Construction Work is an ongoing project of photographs of half-completed or abandoned construction sites. It is based around an implied analogy between the work of artistic construction and of building. Appropriating aesthetic devices from late modernism it takes accidental arrangements and reinvents them as staged spaces for action”.

Henning and PJ Harvey work:

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Melancholia and Image Therapy

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Research.

Partaking in two symposia in close series has provided me with a moment of review of other artists’ work, all of which held my a theme which I call “Melancholia and Image Therapy”.

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figure 1

During the Tate Cartographies session in 2017, Susan Philipsz extolled her sound art projects. In these, audio, with meaning locked into the locale, is set across landscapes at a city level (Edinburgh) but then across huge tracts of land in Scandinavia.  Perhaps her work at the Kassel Hauptbahnhof, Study for Strings for Documenta 13, in 2012 was the most steeped in a dreadful history.  The contemporary reworking of a piece composed in the Theresienstadt concentration camp which was performed by detainees who were then all killed by the Nazis, with the exception of the conductor.  The reworking, with silences and reduced score, to emulate the death of the participants, was played across the station platforms in 2012 via the PA system, figure 1.  Philipsz visually records all her work via still and moving image which provides a remnant of the perforative work for review but also captures the people witnessing the sounds and their responses.  Philipsz naturally responds to place and its history with her work with deeply researched feel for human history.

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figure 2

A few weeks later at the Grain ‘Responding to Landscape’ symposium in Birmingham, two presentations echoed the human tribulation and the response of making images as a way of dealing with family illness and death.  Matthew Murray has made a series of work on Saddleworth Moor, a place with an etched meaning for anyone in the UK with a sense of twentieth century history.  Murray spent days and nights with his assistant walking up, over, down and around the moors, image making, whilst a member of his family was dealing with tragic illnesses, perhaps as a counterpoint and empathy to that heaviness and sadness.  See one example of his work in figure 2.

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figure 3, 4

Murray was followed by Jem Southam who eloquently expressed his response to a bereavement by walking along rivers and by ponds with his camera and making work about place over and over again, figures 3, 4.  Walking and walking was expressed in his imagery.  His voice cracked as he retold his method as he gently rolled through a series of images.  One could not help but feel the sadness but also the beauty and infused pathos in the making and walking.

It was perhaps not necessary for me to look for wider affirmation that walking and looking through the lens to deal with life’s tough stuff is manifest; these visually powerful examples offer evidence alone and I add to that my own history; yet this piece my Bryce Evans in PsychCentral, about the saving nature of camera-work cites these outcomes “motivation to get outside and connect with nature, provides a shift in perspective (you’re literally looking through a new/different lens, often seeing the world differently), you begin searching for and finding beauty in the world”.

One concludes, making images is a therapeutic activity.


References (all accessed 10. 12. 2017)

Tate Symposium

Grain Symposium



Image Sources:






“Incontestable Meanings”

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Research & Reading

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Figure 1

Michelle Henning in her paper given at the Urban Encounters/Cartographies Conference at Tate Britain (figure 1) on 11th November, which I attended (and subsequently obtained the paper via Paul Clements), tabled the notion that we, in the current age, draw too large a distinction between digital and pre-digital depiction (what we now call analogue) in her paper entitled “Optical Transformations: Between the Analogue and the Digital We are Here, but Where are You?”  In this account I draw mainly on sections of her argument.

She launches by stating that “I want to challenge some of the assumptions about the pre-digital image that new theories of the digital re-circulate. I am going to argue that in order to draw a sharp distinction between a digital networked visual culture and earlier forms of visual culture, theorists of the digital have been too selective about the characteristics of pre-digital photography that they emphasize”.

She notes that theorists “argue that the digital image is not principally visual, that it is also a surface manifestation of data, determined by specific algorithms, invisible to the observer of the image. As a consequence, it is argued, we have moved beyond representation and this constitutes a significant break between analogue-chemical photography and digital photography”.

She challenges this “I suggest that the notion that we have moved beyond representation is based on a specific understanding of representation and of its role in photography — which involves, first of all, the idea that an analogue-chemical photograph was organised around resemblance and perspective, and that it was dependent for its meaning on its status as an analogue trace. While this is true of certain kinds of photographic practices, it is not invariably or essentially the case.  More worryingly, digital image theorists sometimes repeat ideas about photographs that photography theorists might have thought had already been quashed. For example, William Mitchell writes “Images in the post-photographic era can no longer be guaranteed as visual truth — or even as signifiers with stable meaning and value” – the problematic part of the sentence is that “no longer” – as if photographs had ever been guaranteed truths, or had stable, incontestable meanings

“In my view, theories of the digital have a tendency to exaggerate the break between digital and analogue and to assume that all photography prior to the digital image can be lumped together as one medium, one technology and one set of practices. I want to give some perspective, to temper a little this notion of a dramatic historical rupture, and to complicate the notion of photographic representation”.

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Figure 2

Figure 2; John Gutmann’s, We Are Here But Where Are You? taken in San Francisco, in either 1936 or 1937.

Henning continues “This is a photograph that almost completely erases itself as photograph and presents itself as just a text or surface to be read”.

“Guttmann is attentive toward the grain of the wood, but the boards are not just scrawled on but stabbed, burned or shot, peppered with tiny marks. …..the whole surface is the result of human activity. And yet, there is no-one and almost no-thing in this image: “We are here” it says, but no-one is visible. The question “where are you”? is clearly written for the absent addressees, Sophie and Mae, but it also implicates “you”, the reader-viewer, raising the question of where you (or Gutmann ) are standing. We are given a date that Sophie and Mae were present but, at the point when the photograph is taken and at the point when it is being viewed, they are gone. The photograph is not simply a trace of the past, but a trace of a trace of the past: and while we can safely assume the message is no longer still “live” eighty years later, it is unclear whether it was already a dead letter, a defunct piece of communication at the point when Gutmann took the photograph”.

“We find ourselves now in a period where “the vast mound of documentation seemed to have buried reality rather than to have clarified it” as TV Reed (puts it in the review of 1930’s practice). Digital culture theorists point to what else this process of incessant documentation is producing — they suggest what is at stake here is not what is depicted but what happens in the process of taking and circulating the image, what kind of data is being accrued and exchanged. This is important, but to take our eye off representation, to abandon the visual as mere surface manifestation, is to develop another blind-spot, this time towards the making and reading of nuanced and complex representations of our own reality. In opening one secret passage, we might take care not to close another”

In summary, Henning pleads for an appreciation of the representation in the context of the plethora of image making; not to loose one of the main causes of photography in the world of data making.


Figure 2, sourced from accessed 19.11.2017

Programme of the symposium at Tate Britian accessed 19.11.2017