Assignment One – (post feedback) in readiness for Assessment

Assignment One

purg view S editc2

I’m now receiving feedback for the BoW in its current edit. The FTN event at the Glagow School of Art (November 2015) provided a wonderful opportunity to engage the work with a lot of academics and practicing artists, all of whom have either a practice engaged in the subject of ‘family’ or have at least more than a passing interest for me and the work I am undertaking. I have also sent Assignment Five BoW to my tutor which will provide another layer of feedback.

Having the work on display worked to spark conversations about the work, what I was trying to say and what ‘it’ said to the viewers/readers of the work. I am under no illusion about the work, but I know it affected some of those who engaged with it judging by some of their remarks – I have since had connection requests via twitter and F/B to connect.

I am sure that the print presentation worked, the intimacy involved in the handling of the prints in the format provided worked well, in my opinion. Several viewers commented such. The envelopes with sub-edits, I labelled them ‘Episodes’ worked in another way, in that they distracted attention from the main body. I made the decision to have these ‘Episodes’ as I had no way of knowing if more than one person might want to engage with the work, so the envelopes were made to allow a limited interaction. I think they worked a little too well, the colour – bright red – attracted people to them and even those who viewed the work subsequently succumbed to the attraction of these scarlet containers. I had also taken all the artefacts in the original box that I was given by my mother, but these appeared to be overlooked in favour of the envelopes.

A common reaction was that the texts were quite compelling and I’m wondering about whether they are too strong. They do contrast very strongly with the landscape imagery, whose aesthetic is quite muted; the harshness of these texts was made to echo in the treatment of the artefacts – strong, unambiguous, sure of themselves. I had also asked for feedback from a recent graduate in photography; Leigh-Anne gained a first from UWE last year and some of her reflections tend to agree with how I have made the work:

“This has a really strong message!! I think the narrative is really well written to go alongside the images. I think it intrigues the reader and if you had the descriptor with this body of work I would try to ensure it was read after seeing the images with the narrative. 

There is a strong contrast between the elusive and mysterious landscape shots, that are beautiful but have a sense of sadness about them, and the bleak and clinical shots of the rings and cufflinks. Almost like imagination versus reality?

In the words of my mentor Shaun… “Is it a book?” I know we discussed how books were being made a lot by my course but I think the narrative could make a wonderful short book. I think there would be something in the page turning to reveal more of your memories. I think it also makes a good digital piece as you scroll down you reveal more of the story? I can’t imagine it as prints but maybe that’s because I haven’t got them in front of me??” 

There were a few in Glasgow who spoke of the melancholic nature of the landscape imagery – and I was pleased to note that this was recognised, but I was particularly struck by the notion that Leigh-Anne expressed as “Almost like imagination versus reality?”

One of the texts that I have used (now redacted) in the work is Boltanski’s : “In my early work I pretended to speak about my childhood, yet my real childhood had disappeared. I have lied about it so often that I no longer have a real memory of this time, and my childhood has become for me some kind of universal childhood, not a real one.” 

This idea is about the fictive nature of this work. I make no claims of truth about my early years; my (re)telling is mediated through a porous memory. As Anne Brodie discussed in her presentation at the FTN event, “there are memories that arrive in the early years that will last forever, however there are some in the late ‘teen’s and early twenties that will be ‘pruned’ never to resurface”. Bridging memories demands invention, and it isn’t that inventions aren’t falsehoods, its just they aren’t facts, merely suppositions. They aren’t lies repeated to deceive, just contextual leaps of conjecture, to give meaning. To make ends meet. Boltanski’s words, whilst holding the notion of what I wanted to express are related in a someone else’s voice. I have re-written that idea in my own words in the latest edit as a direct result of feedback.

Another artist Theresa Moerman Ib, whom I met at the FTN event in Glasgow spoke of her own toxic relationship with her father and her work references Boltanski’s writing in a similar way, providing a sense of reassurance to my line of research. It was Theresa who felt the texts that I had used were very strong. My story though isn’t a history, but a way to describe how I feel about myself in regard to a relationship that describes who I am now, and what I want/need to come to terms with. Theresa, in a later communication, mentioned an early work by Sylvia Plath “Full Fathom Five” and in particular the last line of the last verse:

“Your shelled bed I remember.

Father, this thick air is murderous.

I would breathe water.”

(last verse in full)

I, though, recognise the last two lines – or maybe it is the same ‘line’.

I now recognise of course that there are many kinds of feedback. The feedback vested in a practice that interrogates similar themes – Theresa Moerman Ib, whose personal line of inquiry has already opened up research ideas for me and I will continue to as I build that relationship. Theresa has very kindly provided a private copy of her current film “The Third Dad” (trailer) which is to get its premiere shortly at a film festival in London and I will feedback to her my feelings to her work. Feedback from practicing artists who, like Fiona Yaron-Field can provide critical distance, from a practitioner’s perspective. And the likes of Leigh-Anne, who are practice-wise distant from me, but whose development as an artist isn’t that far away. And then of course there is tutor feedback!

If there is one strong element of why feedback is important, other than expressing to another the work, it is about the development of a network. It is about finding avenues to communicate with other artists that will help to sustain a burgeoning practice.

johnumneyfeedback – Fiona Yaron-Field’s feedback

Leigh-Anne’s feedback

Descriptor Dec 1 – latest version of project description

My website: John Umney

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Feedback for John Umney (Fiona-Yaron Field)

Fiona Yaron-Field is a practising artist who has been using photography for over 25 years. She is a qualified Integrative Arts Psychotherapist, Photo-voice trained participatory photography facilitator and author of ‘Up Close,a Mother’s View’ (Bunker Hill Publishing,2008). She is a founding member of Shifting Perspectives – International Touring Exhibition challenging existing images of Down’s syndrome. Fiona is one of the founders and co-editors of ‘Uncertain States’ which holds talks, seminars, exhibitions and publishes a contemporary photography broadsheet. Fiona has participated in symposiums, publications and international exhibitions. Research interests include: The role of photography in the process of Individuation.

This is a very personal work and therefor by this very nature impossible to critic with out fear of a critic towards the artist himself. They are so intertwined. There is a critic of text and of image and of their relationship. So ‘ll start with the easiest of the three, the image, the opening image is stunning and sets the unknown territory we are about to enter. We immediately feel the sense of absence, the coldness, the loss. From the open nothingness an island appears in the fog. This could be where you are looking for him hiding in the bracken or maybe a self portrait. You and him both. The move to the psychical sterile gold chain pulls me back out the unconscious world into the culture, a clue to him. It begins to dawn on me that the nature is your internal world and the objects are him and their relationship are startlingly different. There are images from the natural world I would edit out. I think the series would be stronger with less of them. Some of them are weaker and interrupt the poetry of the series. As I viewed this work on a pdf I recognise that my experience is different from the postcards you originally showed me but something else happened that I am not sure you intended. I saw diptychs. The landscape and the objects.

The last three pages from the sting of his spittle, next landscape, and then the rings works brilliantly together. Each element expands the narrative, is very moving and visually connects. They are all open and leave me space as the viewer to enter. Some earlier text and image are too literal and leave me outside the work. I expect those images are personal to you and mean a lot but if the work is to touch the universal sense of loss, disappointment, love etc it is not enough that it is meaningful to you. (It is of course important that it is meaningful to you!) But if you are talking to yourself then there is no need to show the work it remains therapeutic and personal. I like the text that are the messages he brain washed you with. The text that begins The fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive…..could be your first opening text rather than I keep looking for him… . I like that less as I feel you are telling me something that you don’t trust I will discover. I personally don’t feel you are looking for him but for yourself. Most the text is excellent but there is some that I think still needs work for example the text about your childhood. Even without the first sentence it would still have the same meaning. The word ‘childhood’ repeats four times in three and a bit lines. I think you could edit some of the text further to distil it to its essence. For example the first memory of my father … could start with When I was an infant he challenged me. I also don’t think you need the last sentence I detested that laugh……. It is painful enough and the extra sentence makes it shut down the feeling. The following three pictures are not as strong as the other images.

Your work is sensitive and thoughtful, you have some beautiful images and moving text. My feedback is aimed to refine the feelings you aim to express. I am looking at the work not as a personal document and its significance to you in relation to your experience but how that then communicates outside yourself. It is engaging but I would increase the ambiguity (like your opening image). Its a matter of removing a few words and a few images to intensify the longing. Hope this is helpful.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Leigh-Anne’s feedback

Leigh-Anne James is a recent graduate with a first in Photography BA (Hons) from UWE. I asked Leigh-Anne because she has just passed through the ‘system’ and would likely have a well developed academic underpinning for providing critique.

This has a really strong message!! I think the narrative is really well written to go alongside the images. I think it intrigues the reader and if you had the descriptor with this body of work I would try to ensure it was read after seeing the images with the narrative.

There is a strong contrast between the elusive and mysterious landscape shots, that are beautiful but have a sense of sadness about them, and the bleak and clinical shots of the rings and cufflinks. Almost like imagination versus reality?

In the words of my mentor Shaun… “Is it a book?” I know we discussed how books were being made a lot by my course but I think the narrative could make a wonderful short book. I think there would be something in the page turning to reveal more of your memories. I think it also makes a good digital piece as you scroll down you reveal more of the story? I can’t imagine it as prints but maybe that’s because I haven’t got them in front of me??

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I also sought feedback from Tom Cox whom I know as a practicing artist involved with art in the community and who has just completed an MA in Social Sculpture at Brookes University in Oxford – his blog-site is here – https://tcox76.wordpress.com. Tom provided some early critique into both how the work might be received and also some practical advice regarding presentation which I have included in my work.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Project Descriptor

I keep looking for him. I think I always will.

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 (the final project of these studies). 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.

The work comprises views of the land in and around Purgatory. Intertwined with these perspectives of the place I have introduced artefacts from a box supplied by my mother. This small box of items was given to me as a response that I made to look at whatever physical objects had survived him – this appears to be all that’s left of him. My mother didn’t want the box or its contents returned, in which I found an interesting corollary with worth/value. They were of no monetary value, nor it appeared any emotional substance – she was happy for them to leave her as he had done nearly twenty years previous.

I am principally concerned with relationships, personal and close bonds, both intergenerational and otherwise. Ideas around the presence and absence of love and how those twin perspectives might be described and illuminated. Purgatory deals with love at a meta-level, but from a single perspective, no account is made of an others view – either his, my mothers or indeed, a detached observer and this may form the basis of further research.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Artist Statement (November 2015)

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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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