Thursday, 17 March 2016

MA-Ness Week 11 - Procrastination, Busyness, History, Films, Crocuses, Soil Harvesting, Mark Making, Printing, Open Days....

A much more jam packed post it note this week - flanked by soil harvested from St George's Fields which I intend to add water to so that I can make a staining wash for cyanotypes I make featuring images from St George's Field, and harvested fallen (I must stress this - I would not and do not take petals that are still attached to the plants) crocus petals which make excellent stainings for the background of images too.  Plus a pen I found on the pavement whilst walking in the rain to a meeting about a forthcoming exhibition in Potternewton - there was nobody about to ask if they had dropped it so I decided to keep it and use it instead - it hadn't been used at that point as it had not been sharpened to a usable point.
Part of the reason I am doing this on Thursday instead of my customary Monday is partly because I've been really busy, I could have done it yesterday afternoon but I just couldn't seem to settle to it and it has been a battle today to make myself sit down and concentrate on it. And partly because I've been a bit distracted, not sure why - think it's partly because I'm worried about health of loved ones and possibly because it's sunny and I could be outside having a walk in the fresh air but I must get back into swing of doing this. Not least because it is a good thing to hand in as part of my portfolio but also because it is the best way of clarifying my thoughts about what I'm doing, why, where I want to take it and what I want to do next.

So of the notes I made on my post it note was Hitchcock. I am a huge fan of Hitchcock films - watching Psycho at an impressionable age has a lot to answer for. I am immensely grateful sometimes that a television from Rediffusion or Rumbelows on a 50p meter was one of my babysitters - I longed for rain as that meant I could sit inside watching lovely old films on BBC2 of an afternoon instead of outside. Sunshine meant fresh air and getting outside - my Nana wouldn't let you waste good dry weather sitting inside watching the television.

I am also a huge fan of North by Northwest, Rear Window, Rope (possibly my favourite of the colour Hitchcocks) The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 version as it has both John Gielgud and Peter Lorre), Rebecca, Lifeboat, Saboteur,  Shadow Of A Doubt and also the early silent films - The Lodger is especially haunting and The Ring and Downhill are also v good indeed. Part of our honeymoon was spent in the Film Museum in Berlin which at the time had a Hitchcock exhibition which was AMAZING.

Anyway am getting slightly off topic which is I am really looking forward to seeing the new Hitchcock/Truffaut film but also I watched a Talking Pictures recently which featured interviews with Hitchcock himself and some of the stuff he said in it really struck a chord with me. He said that the early sound pictures were more like photographs of people talking and that in theory you should be able to turn the sound off and a film should still work and tell the story in a purely visual way... It's the succession of images which create emotion and you must always avoid cliche.

I'm not sure I always avoid the cliche - skulls, graveyards, gravestones being the staple motifs in a lot of gothic culture - in fact I actively embrace it though hopefully I embrace it in an engaging and refreshing way - and even if I don't, well I am having fun doing so and that really is the main thing. Plus goth cliche has a readymade goth audience too.

As ever I had a thought provoking and constructive tutorial last week - partly looking at potential phd opportunities and how best to approach taking that next academic step. I attended an open day at Huddersfield Uni last week - what an energetic campus, there was a real buzz of energy about the place and even though architecturally it is a bit too modern toytowny for my old world tastes - you have to walk through fantastic full on height of might of empire Victorian architecture to get there so I reckon I would cope if I enrolled there. One downside though - they do not have an old school darkroom but they do have marvellous digital facilities. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions but I still have lots to think about and decide on before I make a final decision about where to apply and what to do.

But also looking at what is my practice - as it's not just the creation of images but also the research into the history behind the things I'm interested in and which inspire me in the way I make images and what I make/take images of. A process that is a mix of straightforward photograph taking, mostly using film cameras rather than digital ones, but also includes cyanotyping and with the harvesting of crocuses (fallen ones I must stress) mark making on paper using their colour - I am enjoying using them, though they are extremely delicate for my ham fisted fingers but they create a stain on the paper like which is a pleasing shade of mauve and so akin to the shades deemed appropriate in victorian half mourning.

I intend to cover the papers I've stained with their petal carcasses with copies of images I've made printed on acetate so you'll be able to see the transferred colour coming through underneath. I've also put some of the crocus leaves on a piece of canvas and covered it with gloss medium but either I need to wait longer for the crocus to dry or it does just leach colour as the gloss started to absorb some of the colour and go from clear to a kind of v pale purpley colour. Something to work on methinks.

Practice-wise - writing this blog has definitely become part of it, what started out initially as a form of research journal to hand in has become a place in which I can share bits of my research, clarify my thoughts and approach and monitor my progress. Progress which I really need to get started on organising as I have a lot of different commitments coming up and I really need to sit and plan my time around the various deadlines so I don't miss anything but also can (hopefully) do the work at a reasonable pace instead of rushing round like a headless chicken trying to get it finished.

Postgraduate me is at a complete opposite to undergraduate me in this respect. Undergraduate me was all about the last minute. I hate last minute now - or rather last minute is now about the actual last stuff as opposed to stuff which could and should have been done before then...That's not to say I don't still rush about like a headless chicken or forget stuff but it's much less often and so on the whole things run a lot more smoothly.....unlike yesterday when I got the time of a meeting wrong - but this in turn led to a quick perusal in a charity shop which led to the happy and fortuitous purchase of a 3 cd set of 75 hits of the 1940's and a copy of Servants - a Downstairs View of Twentieth Century Britain by Lucy Letherbridge...and as the chum I was meeting was also late it wasn't the end of the world.

May is an especially busy time for me as I have a couple of conference commitments with a paper to deliver at one and a mini show to put up at another,a walk and talk to deliver, and a conference to attend just an attendee. So for the time being researching and presenting academic papers is also part of my practice too - something that it's just as well I enjoy if I do decide to go down the phd route after all. Public speaking is something I've got much less nervous at doing now - it's still scarey but nowhere near as scarey as it used to be plus I usually make time to practise so I'm not just winging it. I'd rather not wing anything if I can help it - I'd find it far too stressful, I am a mix of admiration and incomprehension at those who do though.

The other lovely thing about Huddersfield last week (aside from a very exciting buzz at the university and lovely architecture and really lovely approachable staff) was  the bonus haul of goodies I got from the charity shops, I also had a lovely chat with the lady on duty in one of the shops (I forget which one) who I overheard talking about Jane Eyre with the previous customer - I told her there was an excellent adaptation on R4 and said if you liked that then you'd love Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. R4 and R4 Extra (my staple listening though currently I have Swing Easy by Frank Sinatra on at the moment - I adore Frank and it has one of my all time fave songs which John Waters uses on his soundtrack for Pecker - though that version is by Billy Williams) are full of victorian era fiction at the moment - there was also a wonderful adaptation of Who Killed Zebedee by Wilkie Collins and my appetite for all things victorian era shows no sign of diminishing anytime soon.

Just as well really - though I did also read a modern fiction book this weekend and it was one of those wonderful books that completely absorb you and that you want to tell everyone about - it was The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2014 Borough Press) and what a beautifully written heart rending, sad but gorgeous book. It is narrated by Matthew whose brother Simon dies when they were both young - that's no spoiler by the way as that is stated explicitly at the beginning, though how and how it affects Matthew and his family is only revealed throughout the book. It's about loss, mental illness, family relationships, the relationship between creativity and health and I urge every one of you reading this to read it if you haven't already. When I bought it in the charity shop the lady on the till said she'd just read it and I would need tissues and she was right.

And aside from the sadness of the story itself it also includes these bits which I'm going to quote because they really resonated for me:

'Mental illness turns people inwards. That's what I reckon. It keeps us forever trapped by the pain of our own minds, in the same way that the pain of a broken leg or a cut thumb will grab your attention, holding it so tightly that your good leg or your good thumb cease to exist'. p277

...'See if the memories you have are the ones you expect. Or if they are fragments, dislocated moments, a small here, a feeling there. The unlikeliest conversations and places. We don't choose what we keep - not at that age. Not ever really.' p281

...This is how we piece together our past. We do it like a jigsaw puzzle, where there are missing pieces. But so long as we have enough of the pieces, we can know what belongs in the gaps'. p 281

Memory and tradition are something I'm often thinking about - partly because I am so interested in the past and how it continues to have an impact on the present but also how it becomes distorted and confused and half forgotten and half remembered. I am interested in memory in the way people use and share memories of dead loved ones but also in the way traditions and memories become communal.

With it being St Patricks Day and the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising memory, tradition and commemoration have all been in the media as topics. Start The Week on R4 was devoted to it on Monday and David Reiff talked very interestingly about how traditions are not so much about the past itself but more about the presents rewriting of the past and how history is really a collective memory that is constantly being rewritten to suit different purposes of the present. I wonder how it suits our purposes as a society to think of the Victorian era as particularly mirthless and prim...

I spent the early part of this week at the two college campuses - spent the morning at Vernon St in the darkroom mixing cyanotype solution and painting different sized and coloured paper - trying pink, yellow as well as my usual grey and red this time to see what kind of a colour effect it gives and I was chatting about techniques and how traditional black and white photo printing doesn't make my heart sing at all. The ability of something to make my heart sing is the measure by which I decide how much I want to do something.

I can do it but I find it very difficult and frustrating as it involves a lot of counting and being precise - I like being as precise as you can be with words but not with numbers and processes. Part of the reason I love cyanotyping and anthotyping so much is that you don't have to be very precise (solution making aside and that is a comparatively simple weighing and then measuring against a mark on a jug really) at all and that it is quite a forgiving process.
But my dislike of this makes me feel a bit of a dunce and incompetent but it was suggested that it's because traditional black and white photo printing is a technical process and I am an experimental as opposed to technical person - which makes me feel much better about my technical shortcomings. I think I'd get more proficient if we had a darkroom at home but we don't at the moment and aren't likely to for a long while yet. If I was at home I could put the radio on and talk myself through the process and not worry about being overheard or interrupted.

The afternoon was spent in the digital print room and as I'd been poorly and so had to cancel my previous appointment I had two months worth of printing to do - so 140 prints in total - not all on tracing paper, some on fleshy type paper which I'm really chuffed with. The paper has a texture that's a bit skinlike when you hold it up to the light. But I need to get some more plastic punched pockets before I can sort them out into folders - there are some of our trip to Morecambe, some of my experiments with overlaid images on a light table, some taken with fish eye lens, some taken a refracting fly like eye lens in front of the camera, some of objects taken in my mini studio and all 140 of them need sorting....that can be a job for next week I think.

As I'm writing this on a Thursday afternoon - it's really the best part of two weeks worth of college-ness....and as yet the post it note for next week is completely blank so I'd best stop wittering there or else I'll have disrupted my schedule for next week as well...and here's to poorliness being much diminished. 

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