11 Nov 2017
My first thought when starting this diary was a practical one: what format should I use? I like the look of handwriting, although my own is pretty appalling and has been going downhill for years. On the other hand, I knew that I’d want something that was with me all the time so I could put down thoughts at any time. That more-or-less ruled out a paper diary for me.
So, I’m using Evernote – my old fallback for the ultimate, portable note system. The Mac version doesn’t support diagrams very well (maybe not at all), so maybe I’ve finally found the use case for getting myself an iPad 😃
Anyway, to press on: today I finally submitted assignment 2 with a strong feeling of relief. I’ve also been reflecting a lot on what I’ve learned from the assignment in terms of overcoming blocks, generating ideas and not getting stuck – an ever-present trap for me. Image 028 resonates most strongly with me about barriers existing only in my mind and if I could just metaphorically step back, I’d see the barrier for what it is and be able to move on. Easier said than done, I think, but the idea stays with me.
Another reflection point is about about looking and seeing. When I knew what I was looking for, potential subjects were everywhere. It’s about having a strong idea and focusing on it – not to the exclusion of all else, of course, but as the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do (Lewis Carroll, I think).
So, onto part 3 and the start of this diary.
So, this assignment is about a self-portrait. That doesn’t fill me with joy at all. I’m much more at home behind the camera, as are I suspect most of my fellow students.
A rainy Sunday. A morning spent doing practical things like the shopping for the week and a luxurious afternoon spent on Part 3 – working through some exercises, doing lots of web searches. After a long dry period, it’s actually a nice feeling to get back to reading and thinking about photography. Also spent some time catching up on C&N email. One student posted his frustration with the subject – something that I can sympathise with, so I wrote back and said so. It’s not easy to pull yourself up by your bootstraps (do boots have straps anymore?) and get moving again after a setback. Some students call it “losing your mojo”. Well, it’s a scary thing. I’m just lucky that I don’t depend on my photography mojo to earn my keep, otherwise I’d be in deep trouble.
At the beginning of Part 3, there is a series titled Iron Man by Keith Greenough
There’s no complex symbolism here, it’s Keith showing a certain aspect of himself – that (presumably) he likes the iron man sporting event. Of course, without knowing more we have no clue whether this is true or not. Maybe he’s just dressing up? Still, it made me think about my own interests and how I could use them as a series of portraits.
Ran into a bit of a tar pit over the exercise titled “childhood memories”. I have strong ones of my passion for tennis during those years – I was a real tennis nut – but not sure how to depict it to answer the exercise. I simply don’t have a photo of those days and anyway, the exercise is about depicting a memory, not doctoring a photo. Have to think some more … photos of my tennis racket and a few balls seem banal beyond belief. To include me as an adult, well, not sure what to say about that – how boring. To try and pass myself off à la Trish Morrissey – well, I don’t have the clothes nor the long hair, unfortunately. Maybe something will inspire me. If nothing else, I have a whole new respect for Morrissey and her series Seven Years.
Last night was the end of year dinner for the motorcycle club of which I am a member. A great party, with great people. We left at about 1:30am – not the first to leave, but definitely not the last as well. Great memories.
Started to think about how the club and riding is an important part of my life. Living here in Switzerland is living in motorcycling (and cycling) heaven, but what makes it great are the people in the club – the friendliness, the laughs, the sense of belonging.
Been thinking again about my interests and what they say about me and the approach taken by Keith Greenough. I recognise a link back to assignment 1 where I tried to portray multiple sides of myself, but it didn’t meet the brief.
One thing I’ve learned is that I struggle to keep a daily diary going. Not much thinking about photography this week – more just a case of work, work, work. Thinking more about retirement than anything else. Recognise that it’s escapism as much as anything else: wanting to live in a warm climate, close to the sea.
After the disaster of assignment 1, I’m feeling a bit tentative to say the least about assignment 3. The moto club might be an interesting angle since it’s definitely an important part of my life. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was 17, so it’s not exactly a passing fad, but how would I represent it? I really don’t feel enthusiastic about having me in-shot, so what could I take from people like Nigel Shafran? Especially now, in the off season when nothing much is happening … not sure about this one at all. Also: it’s part of me, but only a part, as it can ever be of a person. What about my other interests?
Looking for inspiration, I started taking a look at the blogs of my fellow students and came across Lynda’s Kuit’s blog whom I know in some sense because she is active on email and on the OCA forum.
Her approach to the assignment was interesting because it dealt with the feelings of being a migrant and about what “home” means. It’s relevant to me because I’m an étranger, living in Switzerland. I’ve been here for over 11 years, and there’s a sense of familiarity but every so often I’m reminded that I don’t come from here. I don’t share the same cultural background, I don’t have the command of the language that others have and this sets me apart. Mostly it doesn’t bother me, but sometimes it does … It’s good food for thought.
Been thinking some more about the idea of living in a place where I don’t come from. The title of the Robert Heinlein book “Stranger in a Strange Land” came to mind. Also thinking about Dewald Botha’s series titled Ring Road which we met in part 2. I don’t pretend that the dislocation I sometimes feel is remotely comparable to living in China, but there is an element of similarity nevertheless, just to a lesser degree. I think there maybe something in there in the aspect of similar, but different – seemingly the same, but not in reality.
Started doing some research into photographers who have looked into this idea of “displacement” or of not fitting in. Having only limited success so far since I have found mainly work on migration related to places like Syria. I’m looking for something far more subtle – perhaps this is where the idea of ambiguity can be used as suggested by my tutor in my assignment 2 feedback. Not making much progress on this.
11 Jan 2018
My first entry for the new year! And a long gap since my last diary entry. Not quite sure what happened, but have a suspicion that it’s called “life”. Was looking again at part 3 and the photographers mentioned in the section and about how they put themselves directly or indirectly into the picture. This led to thinking about how we depict ourselves to others through that most common method: the “selfie”. Despite detesting the term, it gave me the idea to look at the 1000 or so photos currently on my iPhone and see how many were selfies and how I’d depicted myself to others over time.
16 Jan 2018
Last idea shot down by my tutor. The directive is to keep a diary for 2 weeks and magically something will appear. It’s like saying that there’s only one road to creativity. Safe to say, this subject is pissing me off.
Maybe “a day in the life”? How boring.
Been thinking about Nigel Shafran’s series Washing Up. It occurred to me that I could build on this by taking an automated photo at exactly the same time over a number of days. What’s there, is there. Nothing contrived. This seems to me to be kind of interesting as it would be an intimate portrait of an aspect of my life. Certainly, it would be mainly in the self-absented genre, but it would depend on what was happening. If I happened to be in the area, so be it. It would kind of cross over into a candid camera domain. Food for thought.
17 Jan 2018
Been looking through Susan Bright’s book “Auto Focus”. To say that it’s an odd collection would be an understatement. Some of the people mentioned in the course notes are included, but there are many additional ones. It struck me, at least on the surface, how many people want to be someone else, or at least, want to pretend to be someone else for a while. I wonder what that says about their self image? Thinking back, it seems like no-one in Bright’s book feels “well in their skin” or why would they go to such effort to appear to be someone else? It reminds me of a OCA forum discussion about the fine line between self-portraiture and narcissism. It seems to me that, for many (most?) of the photographers in Bright’s look, that line has been left a long way behind.
I’ve been thinking that I’d really like to try adding text to my images. I have in mind the approach taken by Sophie Calle and Karen Knorr. Having seen some of Knorr’s images at Paris Photo 2016, I know first-hand the power that text adds, especially when it works more as relay than as anchor text.
As an experiment, and following the approach of Washing Up, I setup my camera on a programmable timer to fire off at 1pm every day for 2 weeks. Results below. Have come to the conclusion that this doesn’t do it for me. While it may be part of the genre, I think it can be weak and says nothing.
18 Jan 2018
I’m starting to think that most of the self-portraits I have seen are pretty ho-hum. Liz Wells in her book Photography: A Critical Introduction, quotes the work of Ori Schwarz who examined the use of the modern digital ‘selfie’. Schwarz sees the ‘selfie’ as currency in fragile social interactions, a means of overcoming the absence of any other kind of social or cultural capital. Participants are subject to public scrutiny and possibly stigmatisation instead of celebrity — as Schwarz puts it ‘extracting value from your body is a risky game’. I can’t help but think of the links between Schwarz’s comment and much photographic self-portraiture.
25 Jan 2018
Resolved that I will try to represent my interests in a similar way to Penn: motorcycling, cycling, cigars, wine, cross-country skiing, … Maybe I could add text as well as an experiment?
28 Jan 2018
Thinking some more about this … what if I tried a montage of all these things? One option would be to take a single shot with everything, or another would be to overlay the images in PhotoShop. Rather than a strict “Irving Penn” approach, the message would be “I am all these things at the same time, and more …”. That seems somehow more interesting than a number of one-interest-at-a-time mug shots. Food for thought.
18 Feb 2018
Over the last week, this assignment has been weighing heavily. The idea came to mind of a “non portrait”. I had in mind an image containing movement, almost negating the idea of a portrait having at least a passing similarity. Today, I resolved to give it a try.