Assignment Four – (post feedback) in readiness for Assessment

Assignment Four

As part of my research I rehearsed and produced a “read-through” of a new play by Nick Payne – “Elegy” premiered at the Donmar Warehouse April 2016 – which is centred on the frailty of human memory. The excerpt here are the final moments of the play performed before an invited audience.


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 at a symposium entitled “New Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self”, Bank Street Arts, Sheffield. Saturday 23rd July.

In a previous post I outlined a strategy for the talk with an introductory text at around five hundred words extrapolates to five thousand for the talk as a whole. Whilst I am a trifle daunted by the scale I am confident that I can develop that scale 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.

Presenting video still

Rehearsal of Artist Talk to Thames Valley Student Group – July 2016

One of the suggested means by which the work might be published on a web-site. I recently developed a new website and launched it as part of this course in early March, after a process of critique and update. 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 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 “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” 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.

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.


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