Nan Golden. Weekend Plans

Yesterday I went along to the Irish Musuem of Modern Art in Dublin to meet a group of Irish students all studying with the OCA.  We were going to see an exhibition of Nan Goldin’s work that spans her career from the late 1960’s up to more recent work all side by side.  It was so big that I didn’t manage to get around everything.  I began with the ballad of sexual dependency.  I must confess I didn’t know very much about the work before the visit and what I did know was based on assumptions I had made of it based on the limited single images I had seen in the past.  This work was presented as an audio slide show that is 48 minutes long.  The images are accompanied with music and Golden says that the songs provide the narrative to the piece.  I found the Ballad of sexual dependency compelling viewing.  I felt like I was privy to a very personal visual diary – Godin herelkf describe the work as the diary she allows others to look at, something I read after seeing the work – that is portraying a very honest and intimate life with all its ups and downs, its highs and lows.  The images are unflinching, even visceral.  We see the birthday parties, the weddings and funerals as well as moments of sexual intimacy, domestic violence, grief and more.  Larry Clarke’s Tulsa images came to mind, I guess because both photographers were making work that came from their own personal lives, of their friends.  The strong colour really stands outs too as well as the use of flash all of which give some of the images a high contrast, harsh feel that really conveys a mood of the time I feel.  I felt I could see similarities between some of the images in this series and Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi too.  It was interesting too to see the way the work was delivered via an audio slideshow.  Not something you see to often but in this case it really worked.  I think the scale of the images on the screen was really effective and it felt like I was seeing a short film.  If I had seen the images as prints on a wall I am not sure they would have had the same impact.  Also the sound track was very interesting too.

Also on display outside the projector room was a large selection of other works by Goldin including a lot of work from Ireland.  Goldin is friends with an artist, Vivienne Dick, who is originally from Donegal.  Dick herself is an accomplished artist and has a show, 98% stardust which is in an adjoining gallery.  The two women visited Donegal and Ireland together over many years.  The Irish work also has a very personal and intimate feel to it.  One image in particular entitled Vivienne at her mothers grave stood out for me.  It’s an image of an intensely personal and private moment that I found myself standing and staring at for a long time.  The image captures the expression on Vivienne Dick’s face in a way that words can only fail to do justice to.  The show is on until October and I fully intend to revisit it more than once.

Clare Strand/ the Surrealists and psychogeography.

I’ve been looking at the work of Clare Strand and thinking about the way she uses research and introduces an element of randomness into a lot of what she does.  I have been thinking introducing (but not implementing) some playfulness into my practice by the introduction of randomness for a while now because I feel a bit flat about my photography at the moment and thought it might help encourage me to get out to make some new work.  I spent sometime on Tuesday last searching around the internet for a random poetry generator without much success, every random poetry generator was either too generic, too broad or too complicated to use.  What I was thinking of doing was creating verse about Ireland based on text created about Ireland and using it either to help me choose what to photograph – use it as inspiration I suppose – or as a set of randomly generated instruction, with the best will in the world I am not sure I could create something like the happenstance generator though I do find the idea inspiring.  I was wondering if there might be some way I could use the exquisite corpse methodology which was first pioneered by the surrealists to choose locations around Ireland to photograph the way Roger Palmer used the Starry Plough to choose locations to photograph.  I was also thinking that I might start real simple and local by using an OS map of this area and a glass.  Draw a circle on the map, attempt to walk the circle and record the journey.  Finally I have settled on beginning today by using a phone app called Drift that I came across when I was searching/ surfing psychogeography a couple of days ago.  It generates instructions and directions.  That’s todays focus.

Out of a dense fog by Bernadette Keating

This work by Bernadette Keating was one of the references given to me by John Duncan at a recent portfolio review because it looks at an aspect of Ireland that I myself am exploring in my own work.  Keating in her short but direct statement about the work mentions the Irish tourist board and its affect on Irish identity, cliche, the use of iconic images and the contention of authenticity.  This is a contemporary portrayal of Ireland that also references our continued attachment to a past that we have largely reimagined while at the same time our national need to be seen as a thrusting and modern 21st century country.   On the one hand the tourist board constantly seeks to portray us as a country that has been frozen in time while at the we are appealing to foreign direct investment by displaying ourselves as bright and modern, well connected and hip.  The Ireland portrayed is one that I can identify with, full of contradiction and cliche.

There are several visual references to Irelands past, an image of a man gazing up at a vertical white structure surrounded by green fields while his children sit behind him obliviously enjoying their ice cream.  The structure in question is in fact the cross erected for the visit of Pope John Paul the 2nd in the phoenix park, Dublin.  This moment was the absolute apogee of the Catholic church here in Ireland and I doubt the younger generations today would understand the power they held in this country at the time.  Also there is another image taken on a road at night of some crosses which are dimly lit which I read in a similar way.

What I like about this work is that it is a sophisticated visual description that also personal.  The images are strong but there is no didacticism at play here, no preaching.  The work has an authorial stamp but there is still room for a viewer to interpret and reflect of the meaning within it. The work can be viewed here .

Belfast Photo festival: Snake by Clare Strand

Last Saturday I went North.  North to Belfast, a city that I had, until then, never set foot in.  I had driven by it many times and seen the outskirts but never had a reason to go there.  Until Saturday.  As a Southerner I am not entirely comfortable north of the border.  It’s not that I am suspicious of the folk who live there but borders, whether political or geographical can do strange things to your perception.  We are the “Free Staters” and they are the “Nordies”.  We occupy the area collectively known as the South and they live up “the North”.  Part of my unease comes from years of crossing what in now politely termed a hard border which was manned by British Army check points and armed soldiers.  I was usually passing through on my way to Donegal and, once or twice Scotland.  I remember heading to Scotland in the late 80’s or early 90’s and the feeling of fear we had upon hearing that, around the time we crossed the border, the IRA had just committed another atrocity.  Even though thats all in the past still to this day when I cross that invisible border I pass from comfortable familiarity to slightly dazed confusion and a feeling of not belonging.  Maybe its the flags and other tribal symbols that do it but it tends to put me a little on guard.  All of these thoughts are running in the background even if I am not aware of them.  The truth is of course that the North of Ireland is like any other place and is filled with friendly, helpful and pleasant people and my experience in Belfast was a positive one.  I will be returning in the near future to take in some more of the photo festival and specifically the graduate shows at the Ulster University.

As I had bought the book of this work recently it seemed only natural to begin my northern odyssey with a visit to Belfast exposed to see it hung on the wall.  To be honest I was a little perplexed by the book.  This was a good experience.  I found myself unable to decipher it, which naturally made me exclaim to my wife one evening “I don’t fxxxking get it”!.  Once those words were uttered out loud you could say I was found out….  I began to think about what that said about my own response to the work and the need to “get it”, to understand it’s deeper meaning, perhaps to be able to explain it.  Would this enable me to place the book proudly on my  book shelf for people to see and admire?  But what if there is no deeper meaning?  Or perhaps more likely; what if there are many possible meaning?  At first all I could focus on was my visceral reaction to the images of snakes. On deeper examination of this reaction it would seem that there is something potent about the combination of women (or should that be girls??) “playing” with snakes.

The exhibition itself was relatively small, with 7 large framed prints on show.  I found the scale of the prints made a difference as there were details that I could see in these large images that I had missed in the smaller book.  For instance the focus of most of the images is centred on the hands that are holding the snakes.  Also many of the women pictured are smiling and admiring the snakes.  These are small details but I found they altered my reading of the images.  Each image had text imposed over it that seemed to be perhaps verse, either one or several different verses.  Also there was a projector that repeatedly projected verse onto the gallery wall.  I asked where or what was the verse and the attendant explained that this was a random poetry generator that had been loaded with an algorithm that randomly selected words preloaded to assemble unique one-off verse.  The words loaded were selected from Strand’s collection of books that the images were also culled from.  The text imposed over the images is generated in the same way.  I personally love this idea and the random element to it.  It reminds me a little of surrealism and Dada and makes me want to know more.   Just as I was leaving the random poetry generator spat out a verse on paper which I was lucky enough to get my hands on:





A poem not by Clare Strand.

Portfolio review with John Duncan

Recently I answered an open call for photographers working in the UK and Ireland to submit work to the editor of Source magazine as part of the Belfast photo festival.  I was very pleased to attend a meeting with John Duncan last Saturday at the offices of the magazine.  John suggested that I bring around 30 small postcard size prints to the meeting so that he could look at and edit my work and not to worry about finished prints.  I brought all of the images in the final BOW edit and some more besides and had them printed in a camera shop in Dublin.  For the presentation I bought a small portfolio clamshell box so that they would look smart, at least when I took them out of my bag.

The review was arranged for 4 pm and at exactly that time the door was opened and I shook hands with John.  We climbed the long, long stairway upwards to a small, packed office full of back issues of the magazine as well as screens and a small round table in a corner with two chairs.  I am getting used now to talking about the work and each time I am heading into a meeting I find I come up with a slightly different way to speak about it.  Although I included an artist statement and some text about the work I find that each reviewer wants to hear it from the horse’s mouth so to speak.  This time I had been considering and aspect of it that I had written for the end of BOW about where the work and my practice might sit in a broader photographic context.  I had been thinking about John Taylor’s description in A Dream of England of a group of what he termed oppositional photographers who make work that questions the coherent world that is so often described in the imagery used by tourist and heritage imagery.  And that is how I set my own work in context on this occasion.  I explained that I was initially interested in the contrast between the west of Ireland portrayed in the wild Atlantic way and the experience of living here but also how I understood that the function of tourist imagery was to sum up a place in a single image, to represent the whole place in a single image as coherent and easy to know ands understand.  My work in contrast was an attempt to portray the complexity of the west, perhaps to question that orderly world portrayed.  Also indirectly I explained I had often thought about the possibility of how showing a place as a continuously empty landscape might be part of the challenge facing rural Ireland.

Again John felt that the work is unfinished.  He suggested that there was a lot of repetition in it and that this was something to beware of.  he edited my prints down to 12 images in the photographs below and asked me to send him a power point presentation of these images next week.  He also suggested that I take a look at the work of Bernadette Keating and also Ian Walker.  We also spoke about portraiture and including images of people in the series to break up the landscape and it reminded me that I had been shooting a lot of portraits at the beginning.  I did bring some but he cautioned me to beware the facial expressions on the subjects face lest the image be read as an illustration of a country bumpkin type.  All in all a very useful and enjoyable experience and I will be pinning these images  to my wall.  It wasn’t the edit I was thinking of obviously but I feel it would be more complex portrait of a here and I think thats a positive.   IMG_7826

Portfolio review with Laura Noble.

I recently had an online portfolio review with Laura Noble.  I sent her a PDF of my body of work with an artists statement and some text to place the work in context.  This has changed since assignment 1 quite a bit.  The review lasted an hour which is quite long but the time flew by.  She began by suggesting that I remove the images of a single figure in the landscape – I take it that she meant the first image in the slide show of the young girl gazing at the landscape.  She suggested that I concentrate on the images with text in them and that I also drop most of the bill board images although there were some that she suggested I keep too.  Another useful suggestion she had was to look at the colour palette across the series and to try and make it similar.  She did mention several times that the white balance appeared to be different across some of the images but I personally can’t see what she meant.  She also suggested that the text that accompanies the images would be better written in the third person although I forgot to ask whether this is perhaps a kind of a fine art tradition or her own personal preference.  She suggested that I ask someone to write an essay to accompany the work and thereby broaden my audience.

Her attention to detail was impressive and she pointed out a few small mistakes in my website text that I hadn’t spotted.  She also suggested that the domain name was very long and perhaps difficult for someone to remember.  These are on the surface perhaps things that may seem irrelevant but could make a difference when it comes to presenting the work to a gallerist or an editor and so deserve consideration.  Another suggestion she had was that I should consider removing my old website or altering it considerably as it is really aimed at another audience and not the fine art world.  I have been thinking of doing this for a while, the website is old now and the content does not reflect my current practice.  She suggested that it would be possible to create two websites, one with commercial work and one with more fine art work and gave me references for one or two photographers who have done this.

Her opinion was that the work is not yet finished and that I should continue working.  Overall I was very happy with the review.  I would tend to agree with Laura that the work is not yet finished and that I need to continue to edit as well as to shoot more images.  The phrase Kill your darlings came up several times and I think that perhaps it points to a degree of repetition in the current edit and also that perhaps there are some images that throw the set off.  This is similar to feedback from Angel Luis Gonzalez last year.  I have a long list of artists to look up and consider, some are new and some are already familiar.  For instance I am going to return to relook at Walker Evans American Photographs again.

Boyle camera club talk

I was very pleased to be given the opportunity recently to talk about my body of work and show it to the members of Boyle camera club.  Initially I was terrified at the thought of standing up in front of a room full of people, in fact I will admit I did contemplate saying thanks but no thanks – but given where I am at with the course and also with the work I wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip through my fingers.

I spent a lot of time preparing and one of the early decisions I made was that I was going to talk about the work rather than explain it.  I found this an interesting experience as during the preparation process I discovered a different narrative, a new context on making the work that I had kind of been aware of but had forgotten.  I began by placing the work in the context of returning home to Ireland in 2012 to live in the west.  At the time the wild Atlantic way marketing campaign was just beginning and it is the contrast between the west depicted in it and the reality of life experienced here that in part lead to making the work.  I focussed in on the rhetoric of the images used and the reoccurring visual tropes (although I think I might stop using this word) and how they describe this place.

The main things I took away from this experience are that I gained a different perspective on the work itself and also that I found it strangely liberating to be standing in from of a group of people showing my work and knowing that the majority of them were unlikely to like it.  I didn’t care in the least.  I have confidence in the work, its mine. I received various reactions which ranged from engagement to one contributor suggesting that I could improve the image but the greatest compliment I was p[aid was by the lady who told men she had enjoyed the talk and had found herself challenged.