Why Square? Work in Progress Portfolio

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

Figure 1

Format

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.

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Delivering a Workshop; Rephotography Photowalk, Birmingham UK

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 9

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Figure 1

I was fortunate in having an opportunity to build upon three previous workshop style pieces of work I had done with three different communities in Birmingham to create the fourth, a photowalk around the city centre for 2 hours on 22nd July 2017.  The theme was Remaking Birmingham; experiencing the historic and contemporary ways in which the city is being reconfigured.

This session was slotted into the Developed in Birmingham programme of photography activity as an 8 week long festival of lens based experiences.  Whilst the session was two hours long, inevitably success depended upon the thoroughness of preparation.  This spanned back to the first discussion and framing of the walk in April 2017 and agreeing that it should be a digital version; the parallel and complementary walk used pinhole cameras around the city during earlier weeks.

The session sold out in the previous week, meaning there were 12 attendees.  I regarded this as an ideal number as I wanted to be able to have both group and individual conversations and avoid herding a larger group across roads and into clusters to talk, listen and image make.

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Figure 2

The workshop was based upon rephotography.  I obtained maps from 1839, photographs from the late Nineteenth century through to late Twentieth and etchings from the Eighteenth century along with an 1828 poem.  These were stapled into a 15 page A4 set (figure 2) of papers, along with other information in 12 tote bags.

As part of my preparation I was able to present the draft set of information to a tutor and peer group during a webinar on 20th July.  The feedback included ensuring I understood what the audience would expect out of it, ensure that is delivered and seek feedback at the end.  I should, at the introduction, show what was meant by ‘rephotography’ via a quick demonstration.  I implemented all of this advice.  I also invited the group to use the hashtag ‘remakebrum’, having checked that it wasn’t active with an overwhelming level of images.  I checked with the group that they were familiar and happy to use hashtags.  One participant wasn’t and he asked if he could send via a transfer site, which of course was fine.

20170722_140244Figure 3

The introduction (figure 3) took circa 5 minutes (including a reading of the first two sections of the 1828 poem that lamented the amount the city had changed as the poet was returning to his city of birth 20 years on), then we walked to Paradise Circus, spotting a Walcott camera and Raspberry Pi live streaming kit from a window en route, then around the edge of the revitalised New Street station, comparing the map and photographs on the way, then through the new entrance to the station, via the interior and out to the new urban space to the eat of the station, then via St Philip’s cathedral yard (viewing an etching within that space for a brief dwell time to explain that the cathedral would have been, in 1858, the tallest building in the city) and on to the Grand Hotel which has been very substantially stripped back to its origins in order to create a new hotel operator to occupy the original structure.  We were able to spend time hearing about the story of the life of the hotel from the building owner and use the three inertial images I had obtained from 1891.

Figures 4,5,6,7,8,9

The images show amply the variety of locations we spent time in creating an opportunity for the group to find the best location from which to create their rephotographs moments, discuss what they were seeing and the pace with which the city changes. The audience of participants was pleasingly diverse from every perspective, but not least the fact that there were 10 women and two men, plus Pete James the photographic historian and a friend of mine (who was able to document most of the process – which was fortunate as I had little time to record the press).  Feedback forms were completed at the end but I have yet to have sight of them, however the verbal response was very positive from the whole group.

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Figures 10,11,12

A number of images were deposited during the session using the hashtag.  I would have liked there to be more.

Learning points

The A4 paper packs were quite fulsome and may in future be best printed out at A6 to make it easier to hold the images and shoot to create the rephotographs.

Work in Progress : Portfolio Building

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 8

Methodology : Pause    Defining : The moment of discontinuity : The state of in-between.     Acting : To dwell in the moment and capture the interstitial state.

In pursuing my working methodology ‘pause’ I managed to negotiate my way with the West Midlands Police to gain access to the Steakhouse Lane Police cells.  The announcement of closure was made a while ago and within the last few months the last detainee was held in the spaces.  The building is Grade 2 listed and as such it is protected (depending on its exact listing citation) from substantial change.  Thus the pause state may persist for sometime until a new use is found for the overall structure that dates from 1892.

I show here the group of images made during the exclusive access I obtained in July 2017 for circa 3 hours.  My normal mode is to seek out the human trace – the signs and scars of ‘life’, the human intervention and marks.  There were very few in this case.  I suspect this is due to the fact that the wassail in the class and common areas were coated thickly with paint, one can assume to prevent the detainees’ scars on the fabric from lingering.  I was struck by the blue vinyl that was everywhere on the soft elements, such as the thin bed matting and pillows.  A singular counterpoint was the ominous bright red suicide prevention pack.

I am developing the technique of shooting perpendicular to subjects where possible, this making ‘flat’ images with occasional depth, such as a view to spaces beyond.

I sense that the solitary, harsh and chill of spaces devoid of any real comfort.  Lying staring at a small hatch beyond which life is heard but rarely sighted, a stainless steel bowl occupies the corner space, the flush chain handled externally by request.  There are no windows, no connection with the city beyond.  A bleak pause.

Links

Birmingham Evening Mail; Article regarding the cells and the history

Historic Steelhouse Lane Police Station - where Fred West was held - closes down

The move ends a 125-year link with cops in city

BYALISON STACEY

15 JAN 2017 UPDATED13:35, 16 JAN 2017

The landmark Birmingham police station which held mass murderer Fred West has closed down – ending a 125-year association with the city’s force.

West was caged in the custody block at Steelhouse Lane in the city centre .

The site also housed members of the infamous Peaky Blinders gang who inspired the smash-hit BBC drama of the same name.

The Grade II-listed custody block, which dated from 1892, closed down last year.

And now the police station, built on the same site and opened in 1933, has also bitten the dust in a cost cutting drive.

It has been replaced by a new station inside West Midlands Police’s Lloyd House headquarters in nearby Colmore Circus.

And new custody blocks have been opened in Perry Barr and Oldbury.

The decision to close Steelhouse Lane, along with stations in Edgbaston and Aston, was announced in March, 2013.

Then police and crime commissioner Bob Jones said the changes would mean “substantial” savings in the longer-term.

Chief Supt Chris Johnson, of West Midlands Police , said: “As much as we all love the site on Steelhouse Lane, it’s almost 100-years-old and struggling to cope with the demands of modern policing.

“The age of the building means it’s expensive to run, there’s lots of repairs, there is no level access for wheelchair users or people with prams, the public space is incredibly small with nowhere to expand into – the list goes on.“This is all about providing the best service possible to people.

“While we are all quite sentimental about the place, as a building it doesn’t provide value for money or the facilities modern police teams need, nor the public deserve.” Current commissioner David Jamieson said: “The officers and staff who have worked out of Steelhouse Lane over the years have given great service to the people of Birmingham and the West Midlands.  “I pay tribute to them.”  Serial killer West was held at Steelhouse Lane before he was moved to Birmingham Prison, charged with 12 murders.  He was found hanged in his cell on New Year’s Day, 1995, before he could face trial.

Experiment : overnight

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 7

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figure 1

A quick update on the acquisition of an Akaso EK5000 camera, fig 1.  I bought this on 15th July 2017 as an alternative, and possibly an addition, to the Raspberry Pi plan I am hatching (see previous post).  After some experimentation I set it up on a 60 second timelapse for 7 hour overnight using its 170 degree fisheye lens.  I have made a short movie (see fig 2,3) using iMovie of the gathered images to provide an experience of a space as the light of dawn begins in its blueness to pervade the sky, then the window frames and interior.  I will continue to sophisticate this process with the intent that it will be left over a 24 hour period in an abandoned building to allow me too record ‘a day in the life of’ the space for presenting in a multimedia way as part of my final project.

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figure 2

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figure 3

Practitioners

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 7

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figure 1

In my search for improvement. learning and experimentation I search out practitioners as a constant.  In this series published in Format Magazine on 28th June 2017, entitled Dalmatinka, The Ghosts of Croatia’s Abandoned Thread Factory by the photographic artist Nada Maleš.  These are empty spaces of an abandoned factory in former Yugoslavia founded in 1951, once a leading thread maker. Maleš explains. “After an economic and political crisis, Yugoslavia broke up, bringing along privatisation and bankruptcy and hence losing a large part of the market.” This lead to the bankruptcy of the factory, and it eventual closure in 2009″.

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figure 2

The article Jill Blackmore Evans commentates on the images and cites the human trace and thus Sontag “In these remarkably quiet images, Maleš is searching for what the factory workers left behind. The small human traces she uncovers give personality to the huge, empty space of the former factory: a cluster of wooden chairs, a red thermos left behind on a desk, a cross hanging on a shadowy wall, a clock stopped just short of 10:30”.

Personal Reflection

I was pleased to see this work published; it has a political connotation – the failure of local industry and also a very strong parallel with my own approach to practice – that of trace, loss and pause.  The wide view alongside the intimate is an approach I use.  There is a role for the visual communication of recent past in a none romantic method.

Links

Figures 1 and 2 extracted from this article https://www.format.com/magazine/galleries/photography/abandoned-photography-dalmatinka-factory-croatia?utm_source=Format+Magazine&utm_campaign=0cb6d17bc7-formatmag_newsletter_2017_07_7&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_aebd9a4403-0cb6d17bc7-101832633  accessed 16th July 2017

Practice http://www.nadamales.com/

 

 

Prototype : Photobook One

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 7

I have been reading about the design, making, graphics, market for photobooks and looking at many online – both actual books and retailers and exhibitors.  They are complex constructs.  I have been grappling my own images, with formats, tonal variations, awaiting the delivery of my book binding kit, avoiding digital format tools and concluded that I needed to create a ‘fixed point’ around which I could navigate thoughts.  I thus decided to trim all ‘white’ excess from my loose prints, then place in an order that flowed and was in my view well considered.  This meant that all the landscape format images were, for the moment, put to one side, despite some being my favourite images.  

Prototype 1

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figure 1

This move allowed me to then experiment with a ‘cover’ that is a slice of a large A3 print of a concrete facade and fold that into a front and back cover combined. The first and last leaves are test printed onto tracing paper.  These translucent sheets took ink relatively well (I need to overcome some fine dragging problems); in prototype 2 I would alter the justification of the text to the right and alter to a degree, so an obvious learning point there.  The use of a bulldog clip to act as my binding mechanism has allowed the mock up to take a book form.  The video, complete with Radiohead and a siren in the background was made holding my iPhone in my right hand and turning the small pages (circa A6) to show progress to date. I then spent two hours attempting to upload the video, then applying mp4 conversion software and repeating the upload, all to no avail. I have as a third option uploaded to Facebook (not my preferred choice as it is a public posting).  So the use of dummy here certainly applies, but work in progress https://www.facebook.com/facilitateurban/ (note look for the post entitle ‘test dummy of photobook’ as there will be subsequent posts on that site) – see figure 1 for still from video.

A Review work in progress

The prototype was presented to peers and my tutor Stella Baraklianou on 13th July 2017.  W discussed the dilemma of orientation and the exclusion of portrait images, once suggested method was to print the portrait images to the right of the page and leave a white space to the left hand side.  There was much discussion about two sided printing.  The text on tracing paper was thought interesting because it was a foil to the standard inkjet print.  We discussed fine paper solutions to printing and the potential for binding multiple paper types into one set. I tabled the idea of a ‘set of postcards’ that people could combine into their own self-made books using the bulldog clip to hold together, with a guidance sequencing sheet and a box to contain it.  Prototype two will learn from and mature these ideas.  I also need to devise a method of trimming each sheet to exactly the same dimensions as I currently have a number of variations.

Audience

I am focusing this on a long term view that the work will be most appropriate in book form and I suspect it will take several volumes as time passes (through and beyond the MA). For this module it will be on display for viewing at a relatively high end restaurant then in the sister bar from September onwards alongside the hung work.  So, the audience here will be the business, financial, development and political communities of Birmingham, as both the bar and restaurant are anchors within the CBD and those groups are the clientele.  These are the decision makers and of course potentially commissioners.

Design

I have acquired Adobe InDesign as I have a drive to create stronger graphic work, focused especially on the use of text.  This will help create a consistency of message and appearance.

Core Methodology

I am continuing to use the statement about my practice;

Pause.  Defining : The moment of discontinuity : The state of in-between.  Acting : To dwell in the moment and capture the interstitial state.

I am negotiating working with a design business and thus the quality of work and its presentation will gain increasing importance and relevance.

On Developing Photobooks

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 7

My first step towards crafting my own photobook was to read and absorb the first section of the book Understanding Photobooks by Jörg Colberg Routledge New York 2017.  Colberg writes in a simple style and is frank and observational about the definitions used in making and marketing photobooks.  Hew writes about monographs, thus excludes catalogues and ‘albums’.  He opines that ‘albums have become outdated’ (pp1).  He defines a monograph as being a compositional whole, as each image has a specific relationship with the next, the connective tissue being the overall layout including any narrative.  He describes the holistic approach as being ‘a medium of visual communication in its own right’ (pp2).

It is perhaps obvious, the distinction between an exhibition and a photobook, but Colberg regards it as being worthy of a paragraph.  Exhibitions operate and occupy a specific space, thus the physicality is important; the light, walls, proximity and so on.  Although the digital world can blur the distinction by deliberately emulating walls and spaces and thus veer into the territory of the ‘page’ layout found in a book.  An exhibition in its rational sense has a limited life span, whereas a book has an almost indeterminate length of life.  The ‘terms of engagement’ are determined by the viewer when taking hold of a photobook; she may flick, dwell, reverse the read and so on.  We can assume that this experience is a solo occupation and thus there is a personal response to the work. Colberg cites Richard Benson in the afterword to Lee Friedlander’s In the Picture; self portraits, 1958-2011 the differences between books and exhibitions thus ‘the book became the ultimate venue…not the transitory one of he gallery show’…instead ‘a visual structure that lasted and could repeatedly reacquaint us with what we thought we already knew’…’we can look long and hard, without distraction, and return to it again and again’ (pp9).

Colberg derives the physicality of the book, the texture, touch, turning of the pages, the beginning, the end, the overall balance and proportion, the perception of value or cheapness.  The quality of print, the risk of colour casting, the font, the title, the binding.  Is the making an act of love or a short cut to ordinariness?

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figure 1

The market place is reviewed and the world of publishing with the wider options available now to work with established houses or self -publishing.  Colberg advises aspiring photobook composers, i.e. photographers, to assess with a basic business mentality the impact of working with a publisher who will be experienced in the costs and processes and thus the investment required before any sale is achieved, alongside the lengthy and detailed process of going down the self publishing step by step route.  Colberg co-founded the website http://selfpublishbehappy.com/ (fig 1) which is a welcome and useful resource with many examples the page turn through.  Colberg draws the important dissection between the regular book sale, the independent market and the collector’s market.  Regular books are in quantity and sold via channels such as Amazon.  The independent market embraces small and self-publishers; he notes that working in this area the ‘bookseller discount’ (pp21) applies and must be sufficient to allow the ‘retailer’ to function.  Websites such as http://www.25books.com/ (fig 2) reflect the simplicity of a specialist independent seller.

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figure 2

A market has developed whereby the ‘regular’ version of a photobook by be parallel produced with collector’s editions.  The print run will be on higher quality materials, including the paper and binding. and a specific number for sale.

Colberg’s advice reaches to the production process whereby a set of images is transformed into a coherent photobook, these are;

  • Defining the core concept of the book
  • Editing the source photographs
  • Sequencing the edit
  • Production of the text components
  • Design of the book: layout of photographs, design of text components
  • Decision-making: materials, printing, and binding
  • Preprinting file preparation
  • Printing (including ideally press checks)
  • Binding

In conclusion, this book has provided me with a greater and deeper understanding and appreciation of definitions, methods and marketing of photobooks.  I recommend it for its straightforward approach to the whole subject.

Links and references

Colberg J. Understanding photobooks. Routledge. New York 2017

http://shop.selfpublishbehappy.com/product/self-publish-be-happy-a-manifesto-and-diy-manual-to-self-publishing-photobooks-by-bruno-ceschel