Assignment Four

The course notes suggest that the “Publication” stemming from this module will likely be an exhibition, although it does recognize other means by which the project might emerge, blinking, into the light. What is doesn’t recognise, seemingly, in the notes around Assignment Four is an “artist talk”. Nevertheless, the presentation of my work at a symposium entitled “New Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self”, Bank Street Arts, Sheffield. Saturday 23rd July, will be the main stage to disseminate my work/practice.

In a previous post I outlined a strategy for the talk with an introductory text which, at around five hundred words, extrapolates to five thousand for the talk as a whole; my time-slot is 30-45 mins. Whilst I am a trifle daunted by the scale I am confident that I can develop that length of presentation within the timescale. I aim to request some indulgence from the Thames Valley Group, at a meeting scheduled for a week before the Sheffield event, to present to them as a kind of rehearsal.

One of the suggested means by which the work might be published would be via a web-site. I recently developed a new website and launched it, after a process of critique and update, as part of this course in early March. The web-site is now stable and I have now introduced a new feature, that of a Blog entitled “Indistinct Images”, which can be accessed directly from my artist website. The new blog will gather items that pertain to my research into the areas of memory that most interest me. I plan not to have this as a functioning student site, rather it will be a place where I put relevant thoughts and ideas as I build my practice and develop my voice. Hopefully it will keep the web-site fresh in between times when work is in development.

The website contains a statement “About”: “John has been a photographer for many years and is currently in undergraduate study with the Open College of the Arts. He has been published in year books and periodicals as well as written on photography. His current work investigates intimate responses to the temporal disjunctures of memory and the disruption of personal histories.”

When I wrote that last sentence I wasn’t aware of how important that statement would become. It is a measure of how well the course has gone for me that I feel more strongly in those words now than when I first conceived them. This new found comprehension will, I believe, allow me to construct the framework of the talk i.e. it will not be ‘about’ the work “I keep looking for him, I think I always will”, rather it will enable me to construct a narrative that will stem from the direction that that work provided and the strands of research I am conducting.

My concept for the talk will be to describe briefly what I believe my practice to be ‘about’ and using the “I keep looking…” project to provide the main body of the talk before moving on to briefly introduce some of more recent ideas and contemplations, chiefly as trajectories from that work.


In early March I sent my work to Source Magazine with the accompanying text:

This work deals with the relationship I have with my deceased father. Through various phases of my life I have faced success with greater trepidation than failure, for failure was a constant prediction and, therefore, more readily welcomed. Despite many clear and very obvious personal and professional achievements my learnt responses to them have always been negative. This work is the first structured correspondence into a relationship that has maligned many events in my history. And whilst he has been dead for nearly twenty years it is this burdening legacy that I have confronted here.

Purgatory is an unsettled space a few miles from my home in North Oxfordshire. I found a trigger for this project there because it had both physical and emotional resonances at a time when another potential success loomed. My technique was to try and elicit an image with the eye and then ‘find it again’ in the viewfinder. I wanted to respond to the image in an emotional way, fully aware of why I was in this ‘place’ called Purgatory. These images have very distinct personal connotations, which I recognised and composed for, seeking that ‘Punctum’ that Barthes talks about but, rather than in a photograph, I sought to find it in the making of the image.

In Purgatory I went searching for unspecified imagery that would become specific, to see if I could find, through the sub-conscious, a ‘Punctum’, fully aware that the context of the image is rested within only one person and perhaps might never resonate elsewhere. And whilst I had been focused solely on that bondless father and son relationship I now realise that the work, in its construction, reflects also on it’s meta-narrative, love.

I received an almost immediate reply to confirm its receipt and thanking me. However I have not received any further communication from the editor, despite a reminder email a month later. I am not surprised at all by the result, I would need to be very fortunate to be selected. I am planning to enter work for the “Uncertain States” annual exhibition. I have had some conversation around the entry wording with my tutor and will reflect that critique when the work is submitted shortly. Again, I suspect my odds of selection will not be high.

The Family Ties Network announced my work on their Facebook page as follows:

Check out this symposium in Sheffield’s Bank Street Arts: “New Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self” and the work of John Umney, which uses landscape photography as a vehicle to reflect on personal memory and autobiography. John explores the complex nature of father-son relationship, and showed a portfolio of his project at the FTN event ‘Subject Missing’ in Glasgow last November… and then a link to the Symposium itself.

The “New Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self” symposium has afforded plenty of opportunities for promotion. Bank Street Arts, who are hosting the event have an active “PR” process and the event is frequently “Tweeted” which allows for follow-on “Retweets” and “Facebook” publicity. The OCA have dedicated a WeAreOCA blogpost to the event. I am active in contriving to amplify that messaging.

Jesse Alexander and Bank Street arts have developed some excellent material for the event in Sheffield and I don’t propose to try and augment that with any of my own developments. I will continue to promote the day wherever I get the chance. However I am aware that I am, to a certain extent, flying on the coattails of established artists and therefore I am cautious in what and how I comment on the Symposium in a public forum. I am, to a certain extent, following the leads that the other presenters have established and other than the Family Ties Network announcement I shall promote on the “Indistinct Images” blog site, my Facebook page and Twitter site.

New Pastoral Paradigms

I am of course entirely grateful for the opportunity afforded by Jesse Alexander who invited me to present and the OCA & Bank Street Arts for supporting the event.

Artist Statement(s)

The AS I presented at the Family Ties Network event at the Glasgow School of Art in November 2015 was as follows:

John Umney’s project – “I keep looking for him. I think I always will.” – provides a psychological response to an environment inextricably coupled with memories from his past. Currently completing an undergraduate degree in Photography with the Open College of the Arts, John Umney has previously exhibited at Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital permanent artspace May/June 2015 and the South Street Gallery, Churchill Hospital, Oxford July/October 2015 and will informally present his work for critique at the upcoming Family Ties network conference in Glasgow in Nov 2015.

For the upcoming Sheffield event this is what appears:

Family ties and place also underpin John Umney’s I keep looking for Him – I think I always will, which uses landscape photography as a vehicle to reflect on personal memory and autobiography. Using the relationship with his deceased father as a starting point, John explores the complex nature of the father-son relationship through the combination of text, personal artefacts and landscape images set in an unsettled place in Oxfordshire called Purgatory.

For the Uncertain States entry my statement will be:

“I keep looking for Him – I think I always will” uses landscape photography as a vehicle to reflect on personal memory and autobiography. Using the relationship with his deceased father as a starting point, John explores the complex nature of the father-son relationship through the combination of text, personal artefacts and landscape images set in Purgatory, an unsettled place in Oxfordshire.

“I keep looking for him, I think I always will” is part of an on-going research project investigating the relationship between memory and photography.”

The key clearly here is to refine each statement to be as relevant as possible to the situation the work finds itself.

Finally the assignment asks what strategies are there for establishing reaction/feedback and footfall for the “Publication”. Again I am very thankful for the OCA who are preparing to video the Symposium which will enable my talk to reach a much wider audience than at an exhibition, perhaps especially a solo exhibition would/could ever do at this stage of my transformation into a practising artist. It will also enable to me to add significant content to my website/blog. I expect that live social media will be in operation during the event which again will have the potential to capture interest from a much wider spectrum than at an exhibition.



2 thoughts on “Assignment Four

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s