Why Square? Work in Progress Portfolio

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies

Figure 1


This module has encouraged us to talk to people who publish photobooks, take a closer look at photobooks we own and read about the business of editing, crafting and publishing into this popular medium (or surface) to exemplify practice.

My practice is not about Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ it is instead a negotiated reveal of spaces that are otherwise unseen, the work is a carefully considered insight into the intimacy of surfaces and spaces and thus I presently feel that in the long term the collected works would suit a photobook form as a form of documentary memory of change in a city.  This decision led me to consider the image making and editing process in the current work in progress portfolio.  In some instances I have not shot using a square frame in situ, rather I have created a square frame within the shot frame, in other words I frame on site and frame again in the post production phase.  I was satisfied with the outcome of this proposal as the ‘desktop’ review facilitated a greater degree of focus and determined editing.  As I anticipate a square sheet page layout in an ultimate book I believe it advantageous to the visual framing to adopt a substantial ‘white’ border around each image; this is reflected in the work in progress submission, figure 1.

The Four Projects

As I reminder, my Pause practice is about defining : the moment of discontinuity : the state of in-between.  My work in situ is about acting : to dwell in the moment and capture the interstitial state.

The images capture a reflective, meditative, intimate view of Birmingham’s buildings that are in a pause state, life has left them, they await death by demolition or new breath through new use.  Often the marks and scars of use are recorded on walls and surfaces, but human life has departed.  One set of images are of a project in Birmingham’s rural hinterland being revived and redimensioned by a Birmingham based architect; the Bake House is silent and disused.

The body of work is growing as each building at risk is accessed through careful negotiation and recorded as a memory to be shared.  I see this as an important gathering of memories as Birmingham (which I regard as my city) embarks on the  pains of massive regeneration. 

A Commentary : there are 4 buildings represented in the portfolio;

The Bake House is in Bromyard on the fringes of Herefordshire.  It has lain unused as a bakery, retail shop and home for a long time.  Its domestic scale, quirks, such as a cupboard within a wall, faded colours and fittings convey a maker space and a home; handles, cistern chains, shelves and paper bags are suspended, the left-overs from the last days yeasty smells and conversations.  The opening image holds a key in place adjacent to a smudged out window, views without and within hinted at but not revealed, like a sleepy eye.

This building was chosen for its domestic character (relative to my other projects) and it is the first project to manifest from a new ‘artist in residence’ agreement I have reached with K4 Architects which is based in Birmingham.  It is expected that this residency will provide me with a rich seam of subjects toward my MA major project.

The Steelhouse Police Cells are on the fringe of the central business district in Birmingham.  I had heard the West Midlands Police were planing to vacate as part of its property efficiency programme.  It is just entering the pause state.  The Victorian building is substantial and a side door leads from the street down into the basement cells, used to detain people arrested before the first trial stages or release. Despite an appearance of apparent cleanliness, such as repeated layering of paint on cell walls, attempts to cover history have not succeeded.  It was a hurried shoot with little access time and it was upon download and reflection that I saw the marks on walls emerging through paints and dirty corners – the places where detainees would stare for hours at a time.  The edit was radical in this series as I had captured the familiar Victorian architectural flourishes extensively, but this seemed to me to be less relevant to the story of the actual cells.  The three images are intended to capture the bland, claustrophobic nature of existence.

Icknield Port Loop is an emerging body of work. It is also a departure for my practice as I am dealing with looking in from beyond fences and walls towards a large scale regeneration project that has been years in waiting.  The work is a little less intimate and demands a more overt voyueristic approach.  The three chosen images are all about conveying closure, protection and security.  The ambition is to create an open and inclusive community; these images say there is a long way to go.  I anticipate this project expanding over time.  I have been visiting early on sunday mornings to gather these images.

The Municipal Bank is, like the Police cells, protected by listing.  If it were not it would have been removed already as it finds itself enveloped by new neighbours 4 or 5 times its volume.  It is a classical form and has been in its pause state for many years. It is a hollow building with the exception of the rather richly coloured and detailed vault containing hundreds of deposit boxes that each contained a drawer for small, precious items belonging to the bank’s customers.  Again I was in a basement; I chose to work with the found light as the quality of reflection from each open door was striking. I was advised that Chanel had booked the space recently for an ad’ shoot.  The most poignant image is looking through the doorway into an office with the deposit box perched on the desk, suggesting an interaction that was the last.


Image display : A Review

As part of the Informing Contexts Module at Falmouth University we have considered the status of the image and how it is consumed.

This is a review of display methodologies from Format, the Derby (UK) based, biannual photo festival 2017, visited on 8th April 2017

This year’s Format theme was Habitat.  I was able to to visit seven venues.  The festival ran from from 24 March to 23 April.  The scale, light conditions, fabric, lighting and environment varied hugely across the whole city. Image viewing aside, it was a very positive opportunity to visit so many venues in one visit including buildings that are not normally open to the public.  All areas were free to visit with the exception of the Cathedral tower which was a timed booking for  a small fee of £1.

As part of my practice I am considering constantly the scale and medium in which to display my work and the successes and pitfalls of display extremely useful way of gaining a deeper appreciation of the curator/director’s role and challenge.

I carried around with me a small camera on the day, this is a series of images chosen because they illustrate the numerous aspects of image exhibition.  Images are all my own with the exception of figure 6 which is from my colleague Chris Northey.


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figures 1, 2, 3

Figure 1 was at Quad,  this end of the gallery was blacked out which provided the right environment for both the floor standing and suspended screens, to create maximum impact.  The suspended projectors threw an image slightly wider than each screen to create a completely lit panel, the overspill light was lost into black fabric behind.  The two screens worked in syncronicity with a blend of video and stills.

Figure 2, also at Quad, was a conventional wall projection, it was possible to pass in front of the image as it was a closer ‘walk’ than figure 1.  Both figures 1 and 2 were strong and successful.

Figure 3 was in an old, disused school venue known as Pearson. The projector was at ankle level and the angled screens were approx 1m high and floor standing.  A half sphere was placed in front, to emulate a human eye.  A more intimate project. Engaging and successful.



Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 20.16.28

figures 4,5,6

An engaging installation into Cathedral Green featuring work in 5-sided back-lit boxes (of differing heights) as well as a series of horizontal panels set into the walkable grid, some 150mm above the normal grade.  The work viewed at night is especially dynamic and the quality of the transparency prints was very high and consistent.  As far as on could tell this piece was being viewed by festival goers as well as passers by. It was commissioned by Format and First Art and captured images locally as well as from international artists.  This was particularly of interest as I am hoping to work on a project as a permanent installation in Birmingham.



figures 7,8,9

Simply to show the difficulty of working with glazed frames and overhead lights not installed for display, in these instances from stairwell lighting and windows opposite (figure 8).

Using the Space



figures 10,11,12,13

These images demonstrate the diversity of spaces and responses in Pearson building. Figure 10 illustrates a tower of interlocking, card mounted images.  Figure 11 board mounted prints mounted off the wall to create a shadow gap away from the wall surface; a counterpoint of highly refined images and the cracked and neglected wall surfaces. Figure 12 neatly shows a through colour acrylic sheet with image printed onto the outer surface and then suspended in front of another image on an mdf shelf.  Figure 13 provides a whole room view of two wide screens made from OSB board painted on some surfaces and left raw on others (one assumes a curatorial device to set off each type of image group).  The tall space and the related windows were masked to prevent too much light spillage into the space.  The lower portion of windows was utilised for naturally back-lit images.

Hanging Sheets


figures 14,15

Figure 14 was taken in Pearson Building and showed a composite image printed onto translucent sheet, with excess unprinted areas above and below ingeniously used to frame the image and mask the frame beyond and also provide a high level suspension. Figure 15 was from Pickford’s House (part of the Derby municipal museum group) and simply used the main trusses passing through the space as a rail to suspend large fabric drapes with images printed upon them as an intervention across the centre of the main upstairs space.

Striking Backgrounds


figures 16,17,18

Figures 16 and 17 were found in Quad. 16 uses a repetitive image pasted across the screen wall to act as a vibrant backdrop to a line of high colour production prints (red framed!).  17 shows a paper print pinned to a panel of timber; a slightly distracting backdrop as it did not bear a reflection of the image (as 16 clearly does) and I made the assumption that it was used to create a suitable surface for pinning a number of prints.

Figure 18 is a simple freestanding screen which acts as the pinning surface for a series of 8 images which were actually printed on a single roll of paper.


Main website http://www.formatfestival.com/

BJP Review http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/03/format-festival-the-low-down/