Sunday, 16 May 2010

Beauty with Bite

I recently came across a photographer called Simon Norfolk. I hadn't come across him before, and I can't remember how I did find out about him, but his work really interests me.

A Slight Disturbance of the Sea

This image appears to be a beautiful photograph of the sun setting over a coastline, but when you read the text explaining the photograph, you discover that it is looking towards Arran and the Arran Trench, where the Kintyre-based trawler Antares was dragged down by a submarine manned by trainee submarine commanders at the end of their 6-week training mission. All 4 of her crew were drowned. The submarine sonar operator reported 'a slight disturbance of the sea' at the time the Antares was dragged under.

Many of Simon Norfolk's images are beautiful to look at, but each holds a deeper message and what interests me most is this combination. The idea that photographs don't have to be ugly in order to make a statement. Just because something is beautiful, it doesn't have to be superficial.

One of the most beautiful places I've been to, and fell in love with instantly, is the Outer Hebrides (if they ever find a way of exterminating midges, I'll move there!) and this image captures perfectly the wonderful beaches there. However, this is South Uist where the missile testing range built in the 1950s leaked large amounts of the radioisotope Cobalt-60 for 13 years (it was to help track missiles on radar).


In 2002 it was discovered that 352 drums of contimated waste were buried at the range. The range is still one of the busiest in the world and one of the biggest, stretching far out into the Atlantic.

Simon Norfolk - his writing is also extremely interesting.

Lensculture interview with Simon Norfolk: "Forensic Traces of War"

GSA Degree Show

There's a definite buzz about the air at GSA just now. The degree show for the 4th years is not far off - the culmination of four years of study and practice. So much effort being put in to their final, final assessment and the following show - each one no doubt hoping that this will be their big chance to catch the eye of the galleries and get their 'big break'.

P is in 4th year so it's his show this year and he's pretty nervous about it too. He's worked hard listening to the tutors and tried to produce work that will be of a really high standard. But just at the completely wrong time, there was a death in the family and he had to go back to Texas for a week. That meant that I had to stand in for him when it came to agreeing his studio space. I do not want to have to go through that again until it's my turn!!

Don't get me wrong, everyone who will be in the same studio is lovely, very nice people. But we could reach no agreements. Then they changed the number of people in the room and the negotiations had to start again. By the third meeting, several senior lectures and a few of Heads of Schools were in involved - and me a 1st year!! Talk about feeling out of my depth! Everyone was very nice to me, but it made me realise that this is something that takes the 4 years at GSA to prepare for; that it's not just about the end of fourth year, its much bigger than that and it's something you have to be mentally ready for, not just 'work' ready for.

I wish all the 4th years the very best show and lots of luck for the future. x

First Year Over

So here I am thinking about what the end of first year means to me and I still have a list of things that have been happening that I wanted to blog about. However, time moves on - and doesn't it just!

I seems like not that long ago I was an extremely nervous, middle-aged woman feeling very out of place waiting to register as a 1st year student. And thankgoodness I was so nervous; if I hadn't left that queue to go to the loo, I would never have met T (I lost my place and had to go to the back again - she stood next to me, we got chatting, the rest will be history!) It only seems like a few weeks ago that I had to join in with a group of predominantly young people and make machines that would draw - they all got covered in paint, very messy, and me all neat and tidy!

And now here I am, just finished putting all my work into the studio for end of year assessments. What a year it's been - I originally applied for direct entry to 2nd year - but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It's had it's highs and lows but the highs far, far outweigh the lows.

For me (and for T) some of the past year has been quite traumatic - quite a lot of soul searching and facing up to personal issues etc, but I was surprised to hear that we're not alone. I was talking to some of the others in my class and they all felt the same - being at art school is a bit like being in therapy! We've all been experiencing 'growing pains'; shedding previous existences, ideas and beliefs and becoming different people.

I was really interested in what one of the guys in the class had to say at the final crit on Thursday. He talked about the ocean as a metaphor for what he was going through - deep, overwhelming and vast - the expansion of himself and his knowledge that he was going through. I spoke to him afterwards about how I knew how he felt, that I felt similar. That every lecture, every discussion, every tutorial seems to be pushing the boundaries of how I think and feel. That just when I thought I there wouldn't be much more to my life than work and photography as a hobby, the very core of who I am is being challenged by the learning process we are going through. He was very sweet - pointed out that if that's how I feel at my age how did I think he felt at his age (he's only 19!) Feels that just when he thought he was beginning to work out who he was, the ground has been pulled from under him.

Just goes to prove that you're never too old or too young to learn and grow, and that whenever, wherever, it's an amazing experience to be embraced and enjoyed.

Books, loads of them!

I've been pulling my work together for the end of year assessment and a thought occurred to me about how many books I've bought since I began at GSA. I also thought about T's list of movies she'd seen this year, so here's my list of books that have appeared on my shelves since September last year:

New Topographics - Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape
Joel Sternfeld - Walking the Highline
Thomas Joshua Cooper - Ojo de Agua
Robert Adams - Why People Photograph
Rebecca Solnit - A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Descartes - A Discourse on Method
Descartes - A Very Short Introduction
Barthes - A Very Short Introduction
Postmodernism - A Very Short Introduction
James Elkins - Stories of Art
Mary Shelley - Frankentstein
Maria Theresa Moerman Ib - I'm Afraid I Can Never Go Back Again
Dave Hickey - The Invisible Dragon
Nikolaus Pevsner - Pioneers of Modern Design
Adrian Forte - Objects of Desire
Jane Hope/Borin van Loon - Introducing Buddha
Gombrich - The Story of Art
Aaron Scharf - Art and Photography
Roland Barthes - Image, Music, Text
Roland Barthes - Camera Lucida (second copy!?)
Roland Barthes - Mythologies
John Carey - What Good are the Arts?
John Carey - Intellectuals and the Masses
Edward Burtynsky - China
Anne Michaels - Fugitive Pieces

Haven't read them all - dipped in and out of most of them though. Planning to have a busy summer!!!

PS. Thanks to family and friends who all give me national book tokens as pressies! x

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

On Blogging 3

The other thing that I discussed with L the other day was that I never seem to keep up with this blogging thing!! I seem to have lots of things to say, but never get around to blogging them; I have a list of things stuck to my noticeboard.

Was pleased to hear she has the same issue! So at her suggestion, I now have a wee 'stickie' on my computers which has a list of 'things to blog about'!

So from now on, no longer will my blogs be in a nice neat, chronological order. In the spirit of letting go limiting habits, I'll be blogging whatever and whenever!!

Monday, 10 May 2010

On Blogging 2

I had a chat with L the other day and one of the subjects we talked about was blogging. She has a blog which is mainly image based, her partner J (who is also a tutor at GSA) has a very thoughtful and educational one, T has one about all her ideas (which is growing rapidly!) and then there's mine, which is really a bit of a blether and which I worry has no substance!

But that's actually not what got me thinking about the blogging bit; it was actually recent posts by both T and J about sharing ideas, trust and integrity etc. And they have really got me going. T is concerned that by posting her ideas, she risks others stealing them - she has an awful lot of them, really good ones. (She has since made her blog private which is a shame as she is a fab writer and really interesting to read.) J responded on his about how lecturers give ideas away all the time, and that sharing ideas is part of the process of becoming an artist. All of this got me thinking about me, my ideas (or lack of them) and being open enough to share my thoughts and ideas with others. My worry, as I responded to J's post, is that because I don't have lots of ideas, people might think I'm ripping them off. I also commented that I sometimes can't start something because I know it's been done before and that I also hold back for fear of looking silly!

Then I read J's latest blog (which I still have to respond to) which is about the trust and integrity of tutors, Privacy and Honour. He points out:
Shared personal information creates a bond of trust between people, especially if they’re friends. The value and meaning of this bond is based on a two way relationship which acknowledges both the value of privacy and the possibility of betrayal. Friends are, in part, judged on their discretion and trustworthiness.
...Teachers, as representatives of institutions, also carry this burden of responsibility...
...Just as friends are judged on their discretion, so teachers are judged on their integrity...
Now, I know I'm only taking certain parts of Js blog and applying them to my own thinking (the whole blog starts with freedom of information) but it really had an impact on me and my current realisation that in order to become 'who I'm meant to be', I have to let go of 'who I used to be'! I'm sure that sounds very dramatic, but I realised that in order to really embrace this opportunity I have, of being at GSA, of being an artist in some capacity, I have to 'let go'. I have let go of my suburban housewife era, of being sensible and straight, of my businesslike control, of not taking chances, of self-doubt, of self-limiting beliefs, of never saying what I feel for fear of how I will appear to others, of sharing my ideas, of trusting that this is the right time and right place - to realise that I will never get this chance again to grow and become the person I think I was meant to be (although I'm not entirely sure who that is yet!) And that is REALLY, really scary!!

Which brings me back to blogging! As far as I'm aware, there are only 3 people who read this blog (so if you're not P, T or L, please let me know, it would be lovely to hear from you!) and sometimes I hold back on my blogging because I know they will read it. I suspect that's why my blog is a bit blethery and doesn't have much substance.

So here's to honest blogging from now on!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

GoMA - Joel Sternfeld

Another exhibition currently on at GoMA is 'Unsettled Objects' which is a collection of new works acquired by the gallery. It includes video, installation and photography, including a number of images by Joel Sternfeld.

Although he's well know for images such as the pumpkin stand with the house on fire behind it in McLean, Virginia, the first time I came across Joel Sternfeld was the work he did making people aware of the Highline in New York.
The High Line was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan's largest industrial district. No trains have run on the High Line since 1980. Friends of the High Line, a community-based non-profit group, formed in 1999 when the historic structure was under threat of demolition. Friends of the High Line works in partnership with the City of New York to preserve and maintain the structure as an elevated public park.

The High Line was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan's largest industrial district. No trains have run on the High Line since 1980. Friends of the High Line, a community-based non-profit group, formed in 1999 when the historic structure was under threat of demolition. Friends of the High Line works in partnership with the City of New York to preserve and maintain the structure as an elevated public park.

The project gained the City's support in 2002. The High Line south of 30th Street was donated to the City by CSX Transportation Inc. in 2005. The design team of landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, created the High Line's public landscape with guidance from a diverse community of High Line supporters. Construction on the park began in 2006. The first section, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, is projected to open in June 2009.
The High Line Organisation

Artist impressions of the Highline Project when open to the public.

The photographs at GoMA are from a project called 'On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam'.
Sternfeld’s photographs are marked by two absences: the absence of official, sanctioned memorials and the absence of people. The absence of people in Sternfeld’s photographs is conspicuous: these are sites of human violence and tragedy, yet Sternfeld removes all human presence from the majority of these images. The photographs are primarily landscapes, but because of what the images represent, their meaning is tied to human motives and behaviors. These photographs raise questions about the impact of human beings on the environment and the landscapes we occupy. Two photographs deliberately ask for consideration of damage done to the environment: “518 101st Street, Love Canal Neighborhood, Niagara Falls, New York, May 1994” and “Hanford Reservation, Hanford, Washington, August 1994.” Sternfeld’s text captures what the photographs cannot: “From the 1920s through the 1950s, the city of Niagara Falls, the United States Army, and the Hooker Chemical Corporation dumped over 200 different toxic chemicals into Love Canal.” At Hanford, “[m]ore than 440 billion gallons of chemical and radioactive waste were poured into the ground.” There is horror in the earth and the air: can it be captured and evoked in a still image? The visual absence of evidence, and the absence of human presence, renders these photographs as chilling portraits of the invisible damage done to the environment.


518 101st Street, Love Canal Neighborhood, Niagara Falls, New York, May 1994

Hanford Reservation, Hanford, Washington, August 1994