Monday, 19 October 2015

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 1 Week 6 Blog Slog, Distinctive Difference, Special Collections, Invigilation, List Making and Chores

experimenting with putting flowers between damp pieces of watercolour paper in attempt to extract the colour - mixed results, nothing I'm completely happy with but some I'm happier than others 

run out of space on the edges of the table (left has books working on now and right has books working on soon - hopefully) so had to use end of sofa bed. Some days it's a bit more organised than this and more neatly piled and in less danger of toppling but it also functions as a handy press for attempted colour extraction experiments - see above

this weeks post it note along with pot of paint I've bought to paint a picture frame and make a kind of mini vintrine, some utterly beautiful and rather old black and white photo paper given to us by friends who know we love and use such things and one of the books I've been reading this week - others include purely for pleasure - The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates and  Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler...

I found it a right slog last week to sit down and write this - a not too different feeling to today but it is also somewhat compounded by ongoing muscle soreness (at least I hope that's what it is) which got lots better yesterday but seems to have returned again today. Arse. But I am making myself do it - as a) writing it up on a Monday has become a beneficial habit as it makes me collect my thoughts and re-prioritise what I'm doing and why and b) handy record of what I've been up to and c) for the purposes of academic hoop jumping and box ticking this is my research journal which I need to hand in again in December for marking so d) writing it each week, printing it out and putting it in a folder ready to hand in makes it a lot less of a mad scramble ball-ache to do that at the last minute.

But it is a little bit weird knowing that your tutor has recommended reading it to fellow new ma-ers...and I'm not sure why. After all I have chosen so far to make this public so why people reading it makes me feel a little bit weird is odd. The fact that it is public also makes me temper what I say sometimes and most of the time I think that is for the best as it means I've really considered what I'm saying. But sometimes I wonder if the tempering is also a form of self censorship and that the tempering is also a watering down maybe...Mmm not sure. Last time I handed stuff in I did add an additional overview piece that was less tempered regarding a couple of art events I'd been to. Mmm as ever - need to think about this.

And whilst I'm reet chuffed with my academic hoop jumping success so far - am also feeling it's a bit of a millstone now too, as in I've got to keep this level of effort up (which is bloody hard at times) or else my marks will drop and in turn the possibility of doing a phd may also recede. I know that it has to be (bloody) hard work and that in some ways it also has to be a complete mindfuck (in a good way) or else why do it? I could just carry on as I had been doing in terms of taking and showing photographs locally but I know that wouldn't be enough for me anymore as in spite of my moaning about it I am finding the theory side of things - though difficult - also enlightening and challenging and in some instances rewarding....

Plus I think as a result my work changed, evolved and basically got better and if not in terms of content then certainly in terms of technique - though I still couldn't explain depth of field to someone - though I know what it is in practical terms and how to use it to get the image I want. I still struggle with the technical definitions pertaining to photography and I would struggle to explain them to someone else but I think I could *show* someone what I meant and what I was doing - I am still very much a touchy feely atmosphere creating kind of photographer as opposed to a technically competent explainy one.

My husband (also a photographer) and I were at a party on Saturday night and someone asked which of us took the better pictures. I instantly replied I did but I was joking - I might prefer my melancholic black and white output to my husbands more upbeat colourful work but prefering is it not the same as it being better and I think it's those kind of value judgements about any kind of artwork which make it a) so difficult at times as the fear of making something that is not 'good' as opposed to concentrating upon how good it makes you feel to make something in the first place and b) so much fun talking about it. But preferment is not the same as 'better'.

Plus I think our strengths and weaknesses nicely compliment one another - I know I can ask him for help when it comes to using a camera, equally he can ask me for inspiration/approach to subject matter. Plus I make him really lovely builders tea whilst he develops the b+w film in the garage aka pop up methlab which I think is an extremely fair exchange - especially with winter around the corner and the garage being cold and damp... 

Along with the paper that was very kindly given us by our friends was a lot of photographic equipment - measuring jugs, a safe light (can't wait to use this as although we don't have a darkroom as such - it is very difficult to see what I'm doing when I'm making lumen prints and have the room as dark as possible and this lovely red light is going to make things *so* much easier) exposure meters, contact sheet - which will form an interesting lined look to cyanotypes or lumen prints done on it.
It is lovely that people think of us as a home for equipment they no longer use but don't want to throw away or sell - they know it will be cared for and most importantly used by us as opposed to just sitting on a shelf being decorative. I mean I'm all for decoration and think that can be enough on occasion but I am also about using too. When we bought the Cocarette the other week from a charity shop I overheard one of the assistants say to the other as we were leaving 'I love it when that happens, you can tell that camera has gone to a really good home'.

Our camera collection is ever increasing - though alas the space to store it does not so the floor space in my work room is slowly but surely getting smaller as stuff piles up round its edges. It isn't valuable financially as we don't have anything that new,that fancy or that rare but is it beyond quantifying in terms of value - because of the pleasure and potential they give me.

They are immeasurably valuable in terms of the things you can create with them - I remember being asked by someone what filter I had used on an image and they were somewhat gobsmacked when I replied none - other than using a camera from 1956 and black and white film. Immeasurably valuable in terms of the way they look - just looking at their lovely oldfashioned filmyness of another era gives me a warm glow plus lots of them have a backstory - either in terms of remembering where we were when we bought it (lots have come from junk shops we pottered about in when on day trips to the seaside) or where it came from (though I'll give the ones we got from Ebay don't have the romantic backstory and it is sad to think that some will be children selling dead parents camera stuff off that they have no time or use for) or who gave it to us.

Plus every old camera we have always makes me think when I pick it up and use it - I wonder who else has used this camera and what for, where and why? Questions not too dis-similar to the ones we were being asked to ask in college on Friday on object based research. We were given 3 beautiful fabric objects to look at - one was a very tarnished and threadbare devotional cloth with what looks like an embroidered picture of St Jerome - as it was a man with a halo, a lion and a book.  It was beautiful and we were asked to talk about it - I was somewhat suffering from a hangover on Friday as it had been gin cocktail tasting at the WI the night before and said 'isn't gorgeousness enough?' in response to the question what was its value and usefulness. For some things I do think gorgeousness in and of itself is enough. Though of course how you define gorgeousness is another matter and the beautiful stained faded cloth that I described as gorgeous I'm sure my Mum would describe as 'tatty,filthy and only fit for the bin'.

It did also make me think of museum collecting and exhibiting policy - is it the establishment view of what you're supposed to see/remember. Who is it that decides the collecting and (had to take a break there to switch off the radio - whatever was on the afternoon play on R4 was bollocks and I could bear the wailing no longer so now I've switched to Belbury Tales by Belbury Poly which in turn I'm sure some would decry as bollocks) the showing is an interesting question.

I am still putting the radio on - as a matter of habit in the mornings but I have worked in complete silence a couple of times last week - the Special Collections Unit is beautifully quiet as in hardly any sound at all except a distant computer keyboard being clacked, the sound of the library bell, and St Johns Church was quiet but not as quiet (aside from our occasional chattering) as there was the sound of passing buses, people using the church as a cut through (I wonder if they noticed they were walking over graves and gravestones) and the noise of people using the tasty, friendly and reasonable Arch Cafe which supports the work of Age UK. I can thoroughly recommend their soup, hot chocolate and cake.

This picking apart of things is extremely useful on one level but also extremely difficult on another - I'm reminded of the time when I was asked to break down the elements of someone coming into a room and picking up a book, so it could be made into a storyboard and so filmed. You'd think it would be fairly straightforward but actually breaking down into its component parts all the actions and elements involved into 'just going into a room and picking up a book' are extremely involved and involve a lot of subconscious thought, planning and decision making. I think that in turn is why I find some of the theory we're asked to examine so difficult - precisely because it asks us to stop just subconsciously doing and reflect on each one of those tiny component parts. I often find doing much easier than thinking about doing - even though I often use the excuse of thinking about doing something to put off the actual doing.

This in turn though feeds into my fears of not being clever enough or being as my Mum would say 'too clever by half' and 'up myself'. This is along with the fear that I am becoming utterly self absorbed and divorced from every day reality along with the general difficulties of being objective about something that is subjective.  ARGH!!!!!!! you can wind yourself up into some right knots thinking about that kind of thing you know - as well as potentially sounding like a bit of a knob and putting people like my Mum off things - I can remember writing an article for a sixth form magazine a long time ago and asking her what she thought of it - I know it included something about Brecht and didatic techniques and when I asked her what she thought of it - she was very proud I'd been asked to write for the magazine but she couldn't understand a word of it and so wouldn't be showing it to anyone.

Little wonder then that one of my constant preoccupations is with accessibility is it? 

I spent part of last week pouring over burial records of St George's Fields in the Special Collections Unit of the Brotherton Library - I love archives - both in terms of their contents and the quirky differences in terms of using them. They can be a bit intimidating though at first but they exist so people can go and look at the stuff - if no-one's looking then what is their point? (Apart from being repositories of wonderful things that are gorgeous)  and the librarians and curators within are invariably happy to share with others the joys of their collection - perhaps precisely because they control the sharing of it so precisely - be it in terms of temperature controlled rooms, whether or not you have to wear gloves, what you can take into the room with you,  and of course unlike most libraries you absolutely cannot borrow any of the items and you can usually only have one item per time too.

Though last week I was pouring over two handwritten heavy rebound editions of burial records from 1861 to 1863 and 1891-1893. Afraid I cannot share with you the photos I was allowed to take as I will need to get permission from the librarian so the pictures I took were for my own research purposes only.

So you will have to put up with my written descriptions of them - or of course make an appointment to go in and look at them yourself. The Special Collections Unit is open to everyone - not just academics and you just need to make an appointment - you can find out their details here. And it's free at point of use too - it's funded and maintained by the university.

So the books are big and heavy - bound in a kind of sisal coloured cover with green leather/ette corners and spine embossed with gold leaf. They are about 17 inches tall and open to about 30 inches wide and each heavy thick page contains 16 records with details from left to right of:

Number of burial within the cemetery eg 41,633

Plot Number
Date of Death
Date of Interment
Name - in cases of Stillborn they had none other than the family surname and Stillborn written - heartbreaking
Cause of death

Place of Birth
Parents names
Fathers occupation
Name of person registering the death
Name of the minister - again the words no service for still borns was especially moving as they were not considered deserving/needing of one (which must have been especially heartbreaking for the parents - if they were christian believers and worried whether or not their little one would be able to go to heaven if they had not been baptised) and the cost of the funeral would have been born by the parish - I read in JM Strange's wonderful book Death and Poverty in Britain 1870-1914 that there is some evidence to show that midwifes sometimes said that children that had lived up to 4 days were stillborn so as to spare parents the cost.

On one level what an absolute goldmine of information - though not always necessarily 100% accurate or legible but always in black ink and cursive handwriting - apart from the crossings out of information and the phrase 'NOT INTERRED' in red. (How intriguing is that?)  And on another level - heartbreaking as some pages were almost entirely made up of stillborn or children. One plot contained 46 lots of human remains and of those only 4 had made adulthood. The reasons for death made depressing reading too and also made me very grateful for the advances in public sanitation, medical treatment, and health and safety legislation.

On one page for the beginning of February 1861 the causes of death were listed as:


Whooping Cough
General Decay
Disease of the Head

Of the sixteen listed above 4 were adult women, 1 was adult male, 11 were children - 6 female and 5 male. 

The 14,614 person to be buried there in plot 1778 was a 24 year old woman called Mary Elizabeth Hibbert - a cloth dresser from Hunslet whose cause of death was 'found drowned'. I must look her up in the British National Newspapers website - an amazing resource you can access for free if you have a Leeds (council) Library card. I searched it yesterday for details of Atkinson Grimshaw but could find no mention of his death in either the Leeds Intelligencer or the Leeds Mercury - the two local newspapers of the time.
General decay, natural decay, decline, appear often - as does consumption, accident and exhaustion.  Times were in lots of ways definitely harder then.

I found the entry for Atkinson Grimshaw - one of my favourite painters of moonlight, mysterious ladies with umbrellas, park walls and Whitby Harbour. But I only found him thanks to the assistance of the really helpful librarian who googled his details for me -  and  then it took quite a lot of looking for him in the register itself as the dates given on various websites that come up when you google him have him dying on 13th October 1893 but according to the register he died on October 31st 1893 (buried on 4th November and the service was done by A Wekkers at 4.30pm) and of an abcess and not the cancer/consumption listed on various websites.  So he is in the register a good few pages and days after he is supposed to have been if you were just relying on tinternet sources about him.

This makes me wonder about the reliability and 'truthfulness' of information and what does it matter what he actually died of - the man is still dead and his family and friends still grieving. But anyway I'm digressing - as ever....

Along with looking at burial records (my life is non stop rock and roll as you can tell) I also took some more pictures in St George's Field on the crap kids digital camera, had a quick and somewhat cheeky shufty look inside what was the Registrars Lodge then the Fine Art department and is now a prayer facility for Leeds Uni Islamic Society. I felt a bit of an imposter but I took my shoes off and only went in the room marked 'Sisters' which was full of women saying prayers, chatting and checking their smartphones. There were some prayer mats - it looked like you brought your own but other than that and a radiator the room was completely bare. I don't know what the other rooms were like as they were marked 'Brothers' and so I didn't enter. But in the brief moments whilst I was there I did wonder what conversations had been held there and whether or not that was the room that those details in the burial ledgers were entered.

I also invigilated for a day (a very very cold day in spite of my wearing multiple layers, taking a cushion, a hot water bottle and having soup and hot chocolate for lunch) at the Out Of The Shadows exhibition in St Johns Church. I invigilated with a lady called Ruth Steinberg who you can see work by here and it was  really interesting to chat to her about faith (I learnt that space isn't regarded as sacred in the jewish faith the way it is in say the christian faith but that time is instead.) and feminism and we had 15 visitors which for a grey cold day wasn't bad at all and some good feedback about the art too. I managed to read quite a bit more of Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, made some notes dissertation wise and finished reading (with a trusty highlighter by my side) the essay by Alix Rule and David Levine on International Art English along with some work by cultural theorist Stuart Hall which was very intriguing (which is also my code for found it bit difficult to grasp in places) and will need another reading before I think I've understood it properly.

So in amongst some doing I've managed to do some reading too - but my to do list does feel a bit out of control at times and I struggle with feeling on top of everything - even if most of the time I am practically on top of most things as I've yet to incur a library fine or miss a deadline....the house is a bit dusty in places but the washing and ironing are up to date and I even made proper food a couple of nights last week plus I am standing down from running WI Book Club so that's one less thing to try and balance though I still hope to make it as just an ordinary member.

I still need to work on making sure taking time out gets included too - as I don't want to end up like Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining. Not that I think I'd bust down a door or get trapped in a snowdrift (details are a bit hazy as it is a long time since I've read the book or watched the film adaptation) but the sections where blood pours out of the lift and where she discovers that what he has been typing endlessly is the phrase 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' are still firmly etched in my memory.

I spent most of yesterday putting together the paper I'm delivering for the Gothic Studies What Lies Beneath Conference that is part of the Manchester Gothic Festival next week. Or rather I spent a while faffing about on Farcebook (deliberate sp) as I was battling with those feelings of 'will it be clever enough, oh I'm not clever enough/imposter syndrome' and then I remembered what a lovely WI chum told me as I was about to do a talk and I was saying I was nervous and she said 'remember you are the expert in the room on this'  and yes I am - I am the expert on my work and I am an expert on St George's Fields and its place within victorian death culture and I will be with other experts on other aspects of gothic culture so it's going to be a learning opportunity as well as fun - plus it'll look good on a phd application too.....

I've also sent off another abstract to a death studies conference in York but am waiting to hear back from that one....fingers crossed eh.

The other thing which interested me this week was a programme on the radio I caught in passing or rather the woman talking about it - a lady called Rhiannon Adams who has journeyed to Pitcairns Island - my geography is poor but even I know this is a piece of british territory but it is absolutely nowhere near the landmass of  Britain and is in fact in what I would call 'the arse end of nowhere' but she uses a Polaroid camera. And one of her reasons of using such a (now) difficult to obtain film medium is because of it being so sensitive to its environment and the weather on the day will make a difference to how the resultant picture looks. It is a fragile medium - as is all physical film really though some is more sensitive and fragile than others but it made me think of again the magical unique properties of places and how they can be absorbed/affect work made there and it made me realise that I still haven't realised my aim of making work that is not only about St George's Fields but is of St George's Fields itself.

Best get cracking on with that list again....  and one of the things on it - must be to deliberately destroy some work and see how that makes me a recycling and repurposing hoarder feel.....


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