Monday, 17 September 2018

PhD-ness Part 7 in weekly ongoing series - seeing, moving, dead earnings, will requesting, Whitby, help and Giants in Sheffield

Quite a full post it note this week, as well as the big brain dump list I was making in an attempt to make more effective plans for the forthcoming weeks workwise, notes from the Giants of Victorian Photography exhibition I went to see in Sheffield yesterday, a wood effect but plastic hoop given to me on Saturday by Hayley Mills-Styles whilst we were at the launch of her very excellent exhibition Archive and Other Stories at Whitby Museum in Pannett Park, it's on til 18th November so go and see it if you can - it's heartfelt, beautiful, thought provoking and engaging series of textiles exploring her relationship with the museum, her grandparents,and stitching. Also pictured are the sampler guides I bought from the museum - all three include rather exquisite grave poetry.

Last week before attending a fascinating talk given by Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce at 1 Oxford Place (soon to be reworked into a fancy hotel apparently) I did some work in Leeds Central Library. I went to the art library section on the first floor and aside from someone with the most appalling cough banging big hardback books about for the first 15 minutes I was there - it was mercifully quiet, other than the noise filtering up from outside so a little bit of chatter, traffic and the sound of sirens. I took advantage of this by writing in my journal - just gathering my thoughts really. I keep a day to day diary for appointments and brief details of what I've been up to but my journal I write as and when I'm moved to or have the time. I am a bit ritualistic when it comes to writing it though as it has to be in black ink via fountain pen and I only write on one side of the paper. I used to use a big spiral backed notebook but more recently I've been using smaller more exercise style notebooks as they are easier to fit into my bag, lighter to carry round and quicker to fill.

Anyway once I'd finished that I then made a start on what it is I need to be concentrating on this term and what my next steps need to be. I'm very aware it's the start of the new academic year, the autumn term and I am just trying to get geared up for that really. My workroom is still full to bursting but the new bookcases are coming along nicely and once the little room is sorted I'll then be able to move the wardrobe out of my room, put up the new bookcases in its place and then hopefully move the books from the sofa bed (which has been acting as a temporary bookcase for far too long now) and generally rejig my workroom so it's more ergonomic and comfortable to work in and my materials will be easier to access as they'll be visible on the shelves as opposed to hidden at the bottom of various piles. Amazingly though I haven't bought any new stationery for this term - am using some of what I've already got stockpiled. I have however been indulging in halloween tat, I can always find room for another skull.

I also found an amazing book called The Memory of Time by Sandra Greenough and Andrea Nelson which concentrates on the work of the contributors to the exhibition of the same name held in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in 2015. It was one of those serendipitous occasions when the book just stood out to me on the shelf as I was passing. I hadn't intended to read anything other than the book I had taken with me - Sebald's Rings of Saturn which I am still ploughing through. But this book almost called out to me and I am really glad I picked it up and started reading as the themes it covers are very pertinent to my work, I am now working my way through well as still ploughing through Sebald...

I also picked up a copy of Capturing The Light by Roger Watson and Helen Rappaport which according to the blurb on the cover is 'a true story of genius, rivalry and the birth of photography' which I am also planning to read over the next few days. I know a little about the invention of photography but I'd like to know more, especially it's such a Victorian era invention. I'm also interested in what role women had in its invention and use.

The talk by Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce was the last in the summer talks hosted by the Leeds Bereavement Network and it was about celebrity dead and the way people interact with them and it also made me think of the Stranglers song 'Everybody Loves You When You're Dead'. I was fascinated to learn that Forbes not only have a rich list of live people but they also have a list of dead as in deceased rich people which Michael Jackson has been top of for the last few years. I understood that dead people could pass on their royalties but it seems there are also agencies who represent dead people after buying their persona and then use those dead people to advertise things. Mind well and truly boggled but then again not really - in a capitalist society EVERYTHING is a commodity that can be bought and sold - including the personalities of dead people.

This along with just wanting to see actual Victorian era photographs was why I went to see the Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography at the Millenium Gallery in Sheffield yesterday. It had a basic overview of the wet plate collodion process way to take and make pictures, mostly it focused on some of the surviving works by Lewis Carroll, Oscar Rejlander, Julia Margaret Cameron and Clemetina Hawarden. I was most interested in the work by Rejlander and Hawarden as I have seen images made by Carroll and Cameron before. There were quite a few portraits by Rejlander as well as a copy of one of his most famous combination images (in the days before photoshop images were manually compiled out of individual negatives) Two Ways of Life (1857) which was first exhibited at the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester.

I had never seen this image before and was slightly surprised by the amount of nudity in it given the time it was made and the fact that it is a photograph and not a painting. It shows a man deciding which of two paths to take - the one consumed with vice and the one leading to virtue. Apparently Price Albert loved it so much after being given a copy by Queen Victoria that he bought three copies of his own. It was very contraversial when it was first shown, it was alleged that the naked women in the photograph were prostitutes plus it was a photograph positioning itself in the same league as painted art. A debate that still goes on today in some quarters. It was lovely to see it in the flesh so to speak - or rather a copy of it. You can see it (or rather another copy of it) for yourself here.

Having recently read becoming: The Photographs of Clementina Hawarden by Carol Mavor, I was especially interested in seeing her work in all its torn out of an album glory and sure enough all bar one of the edges of her work were rough and torn, only one piece looked as if it had been taken out using either scissors or a scapel, but I didn't see anywhere in the exhibition a mention of this or the possible reasons why.

I realised that the images and photographs I was looking at were rarely black and white but sepia, I also loved the signs on them of human intervention - either still visible brush strokes in the collodion or the silver nitrate or in the case of Hawarden the torn edges - though I'm not entirely sure who did the tearing. I wasn't entirely comfortable looking at some of the images - namely some of the ones that Lewis Carroll had taken of children and the wording next to some of the images I found lacking or slightly misleading, for example one which was of Julia's maid talked of the long relationship between Julia and her maid and how they must have understood one another. There was no mention of the impact that being boss and servant might have had on their relationship and no wonder her maid looks so amenable in the photographs - I would too if in case I didn't had a knock on effect on my keeping wages and the roof over my head. Most notable for me on some of Julia's images were the handwritten words 'from life' and 'copyright and then her name - am guessing it was her signature.   

The exhibition also included personal captions by Kate Windsor (aka Duchess of Cambridge and that is how she is referred to throughout the exhibition) but they didn't add any particular insight or new ideas to research. Instead there was mention of how hard Clementina and Julia must have found it to fit in their photographic work alongside their household running and the fact that they were mothers. I don't doubt they did find it difficult at times but it must have been made easier by having staff whose job it was to do the cooking, cleaning and the looking after children. The only useful thing she added was the explanation that exposures took a much longer time then than they do now as a way of explaining how wonderful the capture of fleeting facial expressions were in some of the photographs and why people look so stern in so many of them.

I've been continuing my research into St George's Field and its inhabitants - in part thanks to a perusal on the paperwork available online at the Universitys website, in part thanks to a chum who has a subscription to find my past. I was amazed to discover there used to be a greenhouse at the back of the Chapel in St George's Field. It's detailed on the map from 1967 though so am guessing it must have been built by the university to grow plants for the rest of the campus. I'm hoping that the Borthwick Institute at York University will get back to me soon as to how much it's going to be to have a copy of Ann Carr's will which I'm hoping they still have tucked away safely in a box somewhere.

It's been a while since I've written and submitted an abstract for a conference - this one was for the Death and the Sacred conference at Manchester Met at the end of November. I won't hear back though until the end of the month. Fingers crossed I shall be successful.

Programmes/Films watched 
Mulvey Laura, Woolen Peter writer/directors 1977 Riddles of the Sphinx UK BFI
A feminist film made by a feminist film maker which is a mix of following a woman trying to negociate food making, caring for her daughter, leaving her male partner, getting a job, childcare – all filmed in 360 degree 16mm – constantly slowly revolving around the scene as opposed to the male gaze of the close up – split into different sections all labelled at the beginning and eacvh starting with a bit of text, sometimes with a section about the Sphinx and close ups of photos of it to a soundtrack of really mesmerising electronic music by Mike Ratledge who used to be in Soft Machine. Also featured a section with a woman juggling, doing acrobatics on a rope, and a long section of someone trying to do one of those hand held puzzles but instead of trying to put a ball through a maze it was a drop of what appeared to be yellow mercury – so difficult and frustrating to watch.
A really interesting film.

Books Read
Sebald - Rings of Saturn - ongoing
also finished the book I was reading for leisure - The Future Won't Be Long by Jarett Kobek which I really enjoyed. According to the Wall Street Journal 'it's a brilliant recreation of a disappeared New York...' and I have no idea how accurate it is as I have never been there nor was I ever a Club Kid but I enjoyed its two person narrative and descriptions. 

Exhibitions Attended:
Archives and Other Stories by Hayley Mills-Styles Whitby Museum
Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography - Millenium Gallery Sheffield -
see above for descriptions 

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