Unsurprisingly Photo Meet, where I was planning to do my work placement, has been postponed. I think it is unlikely to take place this year. This is a real blow as it was an ideal opportunity to experience different aspects of the photography business. It is going to be hard to get practical experience in the near future as photographers, like many others, are not working. Press photographers are perhaps the only exception.
I am going to talk to Mimi Mollica to see if there is anything else I can help him with.
I am going through the requirements for my publication proposal and making some initial notes for expansion into the final submission. My starting point is the list of requirements on page 52 of the course notes. Given the Covid-19 situation and the closure of all galleries it is virtually impossible to plan an exhibition at the moment. My plan will therefore be based on on the creation of a large hand-made book with a. view to exhibiting the work on a larger scale when it is possible to arrange an exhibition. The book will also serve as a demonstration of the nature of the work to potential gallery operators and curators.
According to the course notes, the proposal should include:
‘A timeline for the development of your project, your marketing strategy and the resolution of your work, including installation if appropriate.’
My intention is to submit this module for assessment in November hence my timeline will work back from that point. The deadline for submission of materials is the 30th September, so I will need to have the book ready around the end of August so that I can get feedback on it to submit for Assignment 5.
‘A description of the work. Use the work you did for Contextual Studies to help you position your work in its critical and/or commercial context. Briefly explain your motivations and how the project fits within your practice more broadly.’
My Body of Work concerns the border on the island of Ireland between the UK province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Its final form is quite different to my initial idea in that it is more conceptual than literal documentary. Here I will briefly explain the journey from the original idea to the final outcome and refer to my essay for Contextual Studies, which concerns the use of landscape as metaphor and allegory in documentary photography. My practice is primarily documentary-based, and I will explain that this body of work is a development from the idea of staged documentary and uses text to create a discourse with the viewer.
‘A budget, detailing the costs associated with the resolution of your project and identifying any payment in kind.’
I have already established details costs for the production of the book, notably the production of linen prints, their mounting and binding into a book. To this I will need to add a costing for my own time.
‘A description of how you intend to maximise the presence of your work and engage with your audience, such as your plans for a private view, screening event or artist’s talk.’
With a one-off book this is a tricky one. Firstly I could try and take it to as many portfolio reviews as possible, including arranging one to one portfolio reviews with photographers I have already contacted for Assignment 1. I could also view the book as a precursor to an exhibition, taking it around galleries and curators to stimulate interest in staging an exhibition of the work. The book itself could also feature in the exhibition.
All of the above relates to production of a book, but I am also thinking of planning for an exhibition. Even if the exhibition itself does not take place before I submit for assessment, I can demonstrate that I have done the planning and costing to facilitate an exhibition. In the interim I will also consider a virtual online exhibtion, although this would not be ideal as the physical presentation of work is a key part of my concept.
I have already done some work on the creation of a book during Body of Work and I will build on that during SyP. In particular I want to look at ways of reducing the cost so that it might be possible to produce more than just one book, while retaining the linen prints.
‘Submit a 1,500-word account of a work placement with a professional photographer or complementary role within the industry. Briefly summarise your experience and reflect upon how the role or the business that you worked with relates to the visual arts and/or economy more broadly. You should also reflect upon the role’s position within the visual arts.’
Photo Meet is an annual event in London consisting of ‘portfolio reviews with experts drawn from across the industry, together with talks, workshops, screenings and organised networking opportunities’ (from the Photo Meet website). It is run by photographer Mimi Mollica, who I first met when he made a presentation to a meeting of the OCA Thames Valley Group about his work. I subsequently attended a workshop in Sicily run by Mimi and Dewi Lewis.
I contacted Mimi to ask if there was a possibility of me working at Photo Meet and he kindly agreed. We discussed a number of ways in which I can be involved:
Assistance with publicity material and applications for funding.
Set-up and tear-down of the event.
Organisation during the event including assisting with portfolio reviews and talks.
The event will take place on the 4th and 5th June, with the set-up on the 3rd, so I will plan to spend those days in London. Another plus is that as payment-in-kind I will receive free portfolio reviews.
I think this will be a very valuable experience as I will not only be able to work with a professional photographer on his business (Mimi Mollica) but I will also be exposed to a number of other professionals at work during the event.
During Body of Work and Contextual Studies I reviewed all the work I could find on the Irish Border. The most recent work was a project called The Invisible In-between by Tristan Poyser. As well as being recent it was also unusually, made by an Englishman. I thought it would be valuable, therefore, to ask him to review my work.
The physical presentation of my body of work is important, as the printing on Irish linen is part of the concept. Rather than just send Tristan a pdf, therefore, I arranged to meet him in person in Manchester, where he lives.
This proved to be a wise decision as Tristan very much appreciated the haptic qualities of the linen print and could see what the medium added to the work. We had a long conversation about my project, and I also took the opportunity to discuss his work with him. I will post the outcome of that discussion elsewhere.
This is the review which Tristan sent me after our meeting:
1. The point about the border often consisting if easily-crossed waterways is successfully made.
2. The newspaper cuttings are successful in creating narrative.
3. As I always felt, the physical presentation of the images on linen is an important part of the project.
4. As I have already considered after Stuart Franklin’s review, the newspaper cuttings are too dense to form part of a visual presentation, although I still think there could be room for them in a book.
In terms of actions for me, there are two main ones:
1. Consider how best to present the images in electronic form, given the importance of the linen.
2. Review all the newspaper cutttings and try to distil a more succinct narrative using fewer and shorter clips.
Stuart Franklin is a member, and ex-president, of Magnum. He is currently Professor of Documentary Photography at Volda University College, Sweden. He is the author several books, including The Documentary Impulse (2016, London: Phaidon Press) a history of documentary photography and its motives. I have worked with Stuart briefly, assisting him on a project in Brittany as part of his book ‘Analogies’, published in 2019.
I sent Stuart my portfolio PDF and received the following review by return:
While largely positive, the the review does include some criticism. My summary would be that while Stuart appreciated the work, it was not the way he would have done it. I don’t have a problem with that, because as Stuart himself says, everyone has their own approach.
I would make just two points in repsonse.
Firstly, the view that ‘Staying with out-of-the-way streams, without including rivers, gives the impression of a ‘timeless’ romantic rural landscape, which, for much of the region, it is not.’ I have explored the border extensively during this project, driving the length of it several times and crossing every single crossing point. In fact, by far the majority of the border is rural, and much of it is formed by the small streams I have photographed because it was originally just aa county boundary. The insignificance of these streams – in terms of how easy it is to cross them and how out-of-the way they are – is part of my point about how difficult this border would be to police is there was a customs border as threatened by Brexit. I can only assume, therefore, that I have failed to put this point across in my portfolio and that is something I need to address.
The second critical point is the accessibility of the newspaper cuttings. I have myself already pondered this problem: the dichotomy between presenting enough information and avoiding it being too dense, too inaccessible. Since I have not yet finalised my assessment submission for Body of Work, this is an issue I can address in my final assignment of that course.
During Body of Work, my focus changed from my original idea of a road trip along the Irish Border to a more conceptual visualisation of the border though the streams which form a large part of its length. Early on I envisaged an exhibition of my work as large linen prints, about 2m high, and I produced a 1.8m high test print as a proof of concept. So it has always been my intention that the work will be produced on linen and at a large scale.
Of course, there are practical considerations in producing an exhibition of such large work – space, available height, hanging methods, layout etc. Finding a suitable venue will also be part of the challenge. Encouraged by my tutor, I began to also consider producing a book with linen pages. This would have two benefits: it would be a more lasting reproduction of the work while retaining the physical presentation on linen which was a key part of the concept; and it would serve as a way presenting the work to potential host galleries and curators. It was important, though, that the book should maintain a sense of scale – a small book would not give the right impression of the work.
To that end I have been working with Bristol Bound on a way of making such a book. Bristol Bound is a small family-run bookbinder with experience of making many kinds of custom, small volume books. I went to Bristol Bound and discussed the project with Rachel who runs the business with her husband Richard. They have never produced a book with linen pages before but Rachel was willing to have a go. We agreed a way of potentially making the pages by wrapping the linen around a thick paper base and using extra linen to the left of the image as a hinge.
The nest step was to get some linen prints made. I decided on a page size of 300x430mm in portrait format. I had the photographs printed at 260×390, which will leave a 20mm border around the image. This is slightly bigger than A3, to give me the kind of scale I am looking for without being impracticably large. (Fig. 1).
Figure 1 Trial linen book page layout
I sent the linen prints to Bristol Bound and they supplied a sample page to me by post. I submitted this sample page to my tutor during Body of Work.
I have now asked Bristol Bound to quote for producing a complete book using made of such pages interspersed with pages of reproduction newspaper cuttings which I will print myself. The book would be covered with linen which I will get printed with the title.
I am still considering the options for an exhibition, although the practicalities of achieving this in time for assessment in November are problematic. My tutor is adamant that I don’t need to hold an exhibition before assessment, and the course notes make it clear that the ‘publication’ of the Body of Work can take a variety of forms, including a book:
‘What you send to your tutor will depend on what you’re doing for your publication (e.g. making an artist’s book; publishing a photo essay in a magazine; building a project-specific website; or making a site-specific installation).’ (Photography 3 Sustaining your practice p78).
I am therefore thinking that I will plan for an exhibition, as I have always envisaged the work being displayed in a. large format, but that it will not actually take place before assessment. This is the advice I have received from my tutor.
During the tutorial we discussed my concerns about image content and the amount of text. The outcome was that I am happy to continue with the work in this form, but I will keep the text under review. There were some technical issues which I have resolved in an updated version of my portfolio pdf.
‘1.Prepare a PDF document with the intention of showing it to an industry professional and asking them politely for a short piece of feedback. This should contain an edit of the work you produced for Body of Work. You may wish to include an overarching artist’s statement as well as the introduction you wrote in Body of Work. In the first instance, you’ll use this to introduce your work and your ideas to your tutor who will give you suggestions on the submission itself and how to enhance the PDF before sending it out. Please tell your tutor who the PDF is intended for and include some background information on how you’ll contact them. Make sure that you’ve researched the form your submission should take; some organisations still ask for a CD/DVD, for example, which you should prepare in advance..
2. Having taken your tutor’s comments on board, use your PDF document (or, if applicable, a hard copy portfolio or CD/DVD) to get some feedback from a professional photographer or another professional from within the industry. This could be done via a portfolio review or by a contact you already have.’
This is the portfolio I prepared for review with my tutor for Assignment 1