Sicily Workshop and portfolio reviews

http://www.mimimollica.com/workshopdates/september2020

Lat week I attended a six-day workshop in Sicily run by Mimi Mollica. This was similar to the workshop I attended last year but I was tempted to attend again by the fact that Martin Parr would be the guest tutor and would not only be reviewing the work produced during the workshop but would also be doing portfolio reviews of existing work at the beginning of the week.

At the initial portfolio review I showed Martin Parr three pieces of work:

  1. My short book A Slice of life…and death which includes the work for which I won the 1997 RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year and the British Life Photography Award for documentary series.
  2. My book 100 Women 100 Years which I produced during the OCA Level 2 Documentary course.
  3. The work which I submitted via a video for Assignment 5 of OCA Body of Work Here I was able to show the physical work, which was a great opportunity.

Martin Parr was complimentary about all the work, but of course the main discussion was about my current body of work as a work in progress. He felt that the work on the New Forest in A Slice of life…and death showed plenty of scope for development, both around the Commoners and around the gentrification of the Forest.

We had a long discussion about my body of work, Streams of Consciousness. At first he was slightly sceptical about the printing on linen, but after my explanation of the link to British colonialism he was convinced. “Why didn’t I know about that’ he said. He suggested I contact the Seamus Heaney Gallery and Belfast Exposed about potential exhibitions and gave me contact details for the directors.

Martin Parr and Mimi Mollica reviewing my Body of Work (photo Jonathan Lamb)

On location

The brief for the work we made during the week was to contribute to the ongoing project Fracture about the consequences of the redevelopment of the Belice valley in western Sicily after the huge earthquake in 1968. The earthquake virtually destroyed the villages of Gibellina, Salaparuta, Poggioreale, Santa Ninfa, Partama, Montevago and Santa Maria di Belice. (Haas, 1969) The government saw this as an opportunity for an urban experiment, invite famous architect to design completely new villages from the ground up, in some cases such as Poggioreale, some miles away from the original village (Tondo, 2018). These modern, concrete settlements now seem empty and soulless. It appears no-one thought to ask the villagers what they wanted.

A word or two about the workshop itself. It begins with a portfolio review with Mimi and the guest tutor. This was very friendly and non-judgmental, and Martin invited comments from everyone in the group. The next few days are spent on location, photographing for the Fracture project. Each day you return to the comfort of the shared house and the culinary delights provided by Mimi’s sister Paola. Food for the body as well as the mind is provided.

During the week, Mimi continues to review the work you are making, and also any personal projects you are working on. Mimi is a generous reviewer but equally he is focused and direct in his comments. He will always make the time to discuss your work with you. He is keen to talk about selection and sequencing as well as content.

By the end of the week, everyone has prepared a sequenced selection of the work they have produced. Mimi presented this to Martin and the group, and Martin offered a critique. To anyone who has not had Martin review their work, I can say that he is amazing knowledgable, insightful and thoughtful. He is direct but never harsh. I guess he has done this before…

It is worth saying that the idea of a common project works well, I think, rather than each participant pursuing their own ends. Of course, it is challenging, as the subject is chosen for you and is not one that everyone would choose for themselves, but each participant can find their own approach. It takes you outside of your comfort zone. Reviewing everyone’s work at the end of the week is revealing as you see how everyone had a different take on the same locations. It is also satisfying to see the project grow on Mimi’s website.

I had already made a series of work for this project last year, and now I had to decide whether to continue to develop that work or to produce a different series. During the week I explore various ideas, having in mind both of these possibilities. In the end I decided to go with a series which included some of last year’s images but expanded and developed the theme I had begun.

This is the series I presented at the end of the workshop. Martin said “I think you are on to something’ and awarded me best image of the week, jointly with one other participant, for the final image in the series.

References

Haas, J E and Ayre, R S (1969) The Western Sicily Earthquake of 1968: A Report USA: National Academies Press

Tondo, L (2018) ’50 years since Sicily’s earthquake, an urban disaster of a different kind’ in The Guardian 15th January 2008 online at:
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/jan/15/sicily-earthquake-1968-50-years-belice-valley-poggioreale

Portfolio review by Tristan Poyser

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:

 
I take away these points from this review:
 
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.
 
 

 

Portfolio review by Stuart Franklin

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.