Betty Borthwick Sally Bream Louise fago-ruskin Peter Gates Vanessa Jones Susie Petrou Tess Zahn
2 FOReWord by Fergus Heron
4 Betty Borthwick 8 Sally Bream 12 Louise fago-ruskin 16 Peter Gates 20 Vanessa Jones 24 Susie Petrou 28 Tess Zahn
32 ESSAy by David Green
FOReWoRD The MA Photography course at the University of Brighton provides an experimental, creative and critical postgraduate environment in which to practice and think about photography. The work of the 2008 photography postgraduates is engaging, complex and illuminating. It shows a unique dialogue that occurs between students on the course: it is often what might be shared in the collective work, just as much as what is distinctive to each, that is at the heart of the learning experience within the postgraduate community that the course aims to nurture. Some works demonstrate the appetite photography has for the natural world through various approaches to it. In the work of Sally Bream, we see highly considered, contemplative studies of specific sites. For Peter Gates, it is abstraction and rhythm in nature that fascinate. Betty Borthwick’s enigmatic and playful images which draw our attention to our own act of looking and to the illusionary aspect of photography, contrast with Tess Zahn’s equally sympathetic and scrutinising pieces, still and moving, that remind us of how place, through culture and its rituals, can be marked by loss. Other works embody approaches connected to formal conventions of posing, performance and re-enactment that enable explorations of the autobiographical. Louise Fago-Ruskin’s allegorical images arise out of personal experience with organised religion and draw upon a legacy of art historical references. In two separate, but related sets of images, Vanessa Jones re-creates and documents, utilising photography as witness to, identification with, and memory of, experiences of caring and suffering. Susie Petrou’s tender and meticulously observed images of her daughters and the home environment, in interior and in still-life, restate the tactility of the photograph, its feel and its resonance as both a public and intensely private artefact. As unique as the work of each student is, collectively, it embodies a postgraduate community fully committed to exploring and questioning what photography is, so as to develop a conception of what it might do. Fergus Heron Senior Lecturer in Photography University of Brighton
English Landscape: The Sublime and Beautiful These photographs were taken around the area of the Cuckmere Valley in East Sussex. The aesthetic concerns of these images explore notions of the sublime, beautiful and picturesque in relation to English landscape and its representation. David Bate (2000), writing about the idea of the picturesque, which was being developed in England between 1730-1830, states that the picturesque landscape, the beauty spot, is designed to be pleasing to the eye. It’s opposite, the sublime view, offers a sense of foreboding or danger. This sense of danger can also be mixed with pleasure. An image of the sublime landscape is a place that can be represented as having qualities that make us feel uneasy.1 All these ideas can be juxtaposed in one photograph. In the summer the woodland dew ponds are shrouded by foliage, through which intense sunlight breaks through shedding light on the surface of the water. In the winter, the contours of the dew ponds become visible and the sunlight pours through between bare branches.
These spaces are full of dramatic tension. The brightly-lit dew ponds have a top layer of algae that seems to float into the space above the water and below the overhanging branches. In the forest, shafts of light break through between branches and creep across the dry leaves on the forest floor. The sunlight creates the impression of opening up passages through the thick green foliage ahead. In the area between the Seven Sisters and Birling Gap, below the chalk cliffs, gullies have been formed by the action of the sea over thousands of years. Large blocks of chalk fall from the cliff face into the gullies and are shaped into rough spheres by the sea. At the foot of the chalk cliffs the waterline of the tide is made evident by a green seaweed line at the base. The sea has formed coves and on each side, at intervals, pronounced hoof-shaped strips of chalk and flint jut towards the sea. 1. David Bate, ‘Notes on Beauty and Landscape’, in Shifting Horizons: Women’s Landscape Photography Now, eds. Liz Wells, Kate Newton and Catherine Fehily, I.B. Tauris, London, New York, 2000, p.35.
Dew Pond near Snap Hill, Friston Forest, March 2008 Cliff Foot at Haven Brow, Cuckmere Haven, July 2008 Dew Pond near Charleston Bottom, Friston Forest, May 2008 Dew Pond near Charleston Bottom, Friston Forest, June 2008 Dew Pond near Snap Hill, Friston Forest, July 2008 Pool of Light near Snap Hill Dew Pond, July 2008
THE CATCHERS My current practice stems from an abiding interest in psychological and philosophical disciplines. Committed to the exposure and release of interior emotion, I aim to deploy the camera much like a contemporary confessional box. Within the confines of the studio, photographic apparatus acts as a protective shield behind which previously concealed truths may be told. Attempting to confront particular perplexities and contradictory stances held within firm ideological belief systems, I seek to challenge subtle practices of control and manipulation. The crucial element of ritual endeavours to facilitate transformative procedures. A variety of â€˜episodesâ€™ are presented, underpinned by the metaphorical nature of physical posturing. The Catchers becomes both an exercise in mourning and the re-negotiation of a rite of passage.
Peter Gates I am interested in the behavior of linear structures, taking the form of ordered composition in apparent chaos. This originates from my interests in music and drawing. A drawn line may be given meaning through its relationship to other lines on the page. This gives the illusion of form and space on a flat surface, depending on the density of marks, or even the absence of them. The human eye will naturally scan an inscribed surface searching for a point of rest, as a source of information. If this point of focus isnâ€™t immediately apparent, the eye will continue being drawn across the image, in search of a point of reference, creating a sense of flux. The same is true
of music. A simple melodic or rhythmic line gains meaning through its juxtaposition against other lines played simultaneously. This may create syncopations or infer harmonies, which seek resolution. Again if resolution is denied by establishing atonal harmonic relationships, a piece of music is left open-ended and dissonance becomes a sustained feature. For the same reason, I am drawn to natural environments, because of the linear structures that can be contained within them. In contrast to this, urban environments are constructed of geometric solid forms, in which linear structures are pre-fabricated. However, in the plant world
for example, it is possible to find chaotic linear structures, which are constructed by different species, simply because they are all competing for limited space and light, in the same environment as the previous seasonâ€™s growth is collapsing. This constant cycle of life and death, in which random arrangements induce a challenging structural hierarchy, where chaos becomes order through visual harmonies, deserves to be explored. Properly observed it can reveal powerful relationships between actual entropy and apparent order â€“ and vice versa: in other words concrete reality and perception.
Too Old for This
In self-portraiture, we can make a categorical division: there are those who use photography as a means of self-expression; as a mirror, and there are those who use photography as a means of exploration; as a window. This work explores the latter as the identity is not mine but more about the other. My theatrical images are true depictions of everyday life occurrences that I witnessed amongst the elderly women I worked and lived with – for several weeks at one time. These performances explore identities of the other, the physical and the emotional, as an experiential exercise to awaken my senses – to truly empathize with these people and to gain insight into their worlds. The foundation behind this is not only curiosity, but also guilt – a guilt created through the curious gaze and frequent misinterpretation.
Aboriori A mirror can reveal increments of the emotional self. A reflection can reconnect one to their physical self. To reflect is to revisit â€“ to return and to have another look. By doing so, one can retrace the steps with open eyes and one can then look once more and reassess.
Studies of home The portraits of my daughters capture a moment, with the intention of revealing something of their character at a given time, whereas the objects are seen to be more transient. This is partly because they are no longer used. They are simply fragments of the past that share our space. Portrait and object set side by side, give life to each other, in that the past is giving meaning to the present.
Maintaining memories Numerous shrines stand alone along the rural roads of Greece, mostly signifying road accident deaths. There are also some that are erected due to accident survival and to house a flame for the saint that guards the village. My main fascination lies with the notion of remembering a death. Unlike the relatively new phenomenon in the UK of placing flowers at the scene of the accident, it appears to be the culture of the Greeks to make the ritual more domesticated. These objects emulate a house with a roof, a door, a window and mostly an incredible view. Interestingly each shrine has its own unique quality representing an individual. Externally they can appear ornate or basic but their main objective lies in containing the memory of a soul. The act of lighting a wick or an oil lamp is repeated on a regular basis, depending on how recent the loss may be. The mourner chooses to enclose indexical items, though contained in a personal shrine they still stand on public display. While the body of the deceased has been laid to rest elsewhere, their memory is maintained at the point life stopped. The contents seem to envelop incredible meaning in being a still life of a ‘stilled life.’ The importance of housing a memory is vital in protecting it. In Gaston Bachelard’s book The Poetics of Space he states ‘Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are.’1 Here he speaks of a house but this quote can similarly be held against the small shrines that represent such a structure. Driving through the dramatic landscape one takes in the beauty but one is also continuously interrupted and haunted by the presence of loss suffered by the people of Greece. Though the memories are not contained within this seemingly infinite rural space, the shrines remain contained by the landscape. 1. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, Boston, 1958, p.9.
Moving to Manual Override The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1932 One of the myths surrounding photography is that is an inherently ‘democratic’ form of visual communication. This myth manifests itself in a number of ways. One such is the idea that photography is a ‘universal language’. Based upon the premise that photography objectively, directly and faithfully reproduces the world around us, it is assumed that no particular skills or prior forms of knowledge are required in order to understand a photograph. According to this view, we do not so much ‘read’ photographs (since reading suggests something that has to be learnt) as automatically and without conscious effort know what they signify. This notion of photography’s ‘accessibility’ is often extended to encompass other aspects of the medium. Within a relatively short period of time following its invention, photography had not only supplanted painting as a principal means of portraiture, it had - in so doing - irrevocably altered the status and social significance of that genre by making it possible for an increasing number of people to possess an image of themselves. Yet whether the admittance into the sphere of visual representation of those previously disenfranchised through lack of wealth or power amounts to a process of the so-called ‘democratisation of the image’ is questionable. And for similar reasons we might also doubt that the development of popular amateur photography, which has placed the actual means of production of photographs in the hands of more and more individuals, is the realisation of a democratic impulse or whether, as seems more likely, it serves the interests of the photographic industries that provide us with the equipment, materials and services that any practice of photography depends upon. This has not ever been, nor ever will be, the whole story. Yet the industrialisation of photography, which began in earnest in the later nineteenth century and has continued apace ever since, has always been directly tethered to commercial needs and any claims to the ‘democracy’ of photography need to be treated with considerable caution. This is nowhere more evident than when considering photography as a ‘technical apparatus’.
As Vilém Flusser notes, whilst the purpose of photography lies in its symbolic functions, these are always contained and constrained by the standardisation and mechanisation of the tools it employs, foremost of which is the camera. He writes: The camera has been programmed to produce photographs, and every photograph is a realisation of one of the virtualities contained in that program. The sum of those virtualities is large, but not infinite. It is the sum of all those photographs that may be taken by this camera... Every program functions for the sake of a higher meta-program, and the programmers of a particular program are functionaries of that meta-program. It follows, then, that there can also be no such thing as an ‘owner of an apparatus’, in the sense of one who programs the apparatus for his own, private purposes. Apparatuses are not machines. The camera functions for the sake of the photographic industry, which in turn functions for the sake of the socio-economic complex, and so on and so forth. To ask who ‘owns’ an apparatus is to ask the wrong question. The proper question is not who owns a program, but who programs it and who exhausts the program of an apparatus. Casio’s latest camera aimed at the mass market is the Exilim EX-Z120 that boasts ‘Auto Best Shot’, offering thirtytwo ‘scene modes’ that pre-configure the camera’s settings. These include: ‘Sundown’, ‘Fireworks’, ‘Food’, ‘Children’, ‘Sports’, ‘Scenery’, ‘Candlelit Portrait’, ‘Party’, ‘Pet’, ‘Flower’ and ‘Autumn Leaves’. Typical of a new generation of digital cameras this recent model also comes with facial recognition software and a ‘Detect Smile’ setting that will automatically (and only) take a photograph when subjects are actually smiling. Whilst we may often be enthralled and sometimes enticed by the increasing sophistication of digital photographic technologies, the limitations imposed by the program embedded within the apparatus is all too clear. As Casio’s publicity for its latest product has it: ‘Let Your Camera Do The Thinking For You’. Returning then to our epigraph, what are we to make of Moholy-Nagy’s prediction - some eighty years on - that the illiterate would by those ‘ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen’?
If we were to use as a measure of such ‘illiteracy’ the number of those who do not possess or have access to a camera then it would seem we have diminishing reason for concern. It is reckoned that by the end of 2007 over 3.3 billion people (that is over half the world’s population) had mobile phones, the majority of these most probably having a built-in camera. In most of the countries of Western Europe the number of mobile phones in circulation outnumbers the population; the United States having one of the lowest rates of mobile phone ‘penetration’ in the industrialised world at 85%. There is no reason to doubt that the exponential growth of mobile phone technology and its usage, and with it the capacity to take and distribute photographs, will continue and extend to the vast majority of the earth’s inhabitants. What beckons is a world in which everyone is not only able to freely produce photographs but also easily disseminate them as well through the infrastructure of the web. Is this then the final dawn of the democratisation of the image and the fulfilment of photography’s promise of being a truly ‘universal language’? For reasons that I have alluded to above, we would have good reason to be sceptical. But more importantly, perhaps, we would misunderstand Moholy-Nagy’s purpose if we were to equate ability in ‘the use of the camera’ with the mere capacity of being able to take a photograph. By the early decades of the twentieth century, it was already obvious that one of the significant consequences of the mechanisation of cultural production allied to the new media of mass communications was the sheer proliferation of images across various kinds of sites ranging from the printed page to the cinema screen. In such circumstances the problem that Moholy-Nagy perceived was that of the relative value of images: Photography when used as a representational art is not a mere copy of nature. This is proved by the rarity of the ‘good’ photograph. Only now and then does one find really ‘good’ photographs among the millions which appear in illustrated papers and books. What is remarkable in this and at the same time serves as proof (after a fairly long visual culture) we always infallibly and with sure instinct discover the ‘good’ photos, quite apart from the novelty or unfamiliarity of the ‘thematic’ content.
Today we might have very different ideas as to what constitutes a ‘good’ photograph but the central issue remains the same. It is possible, when we are faced with an ever-increasing plethora of images in our everyday lives, to find those that hold some fascination and significance for us beyond our habituated levels of response and understanding. Whether we can rely on ‘sure instinct’ to achieve this, however, is more problematic. It seems to me that the necessity hold on to the concept of visual ‘literacy’ is even greater than ever before. But this requires a concept of reading the image built upon a process of discernment and attentiveness that is becoming more elusive and difficult in our current circumstances. Paradoxically, the medium of photography - which is the foundation for all the pervasive and persuasive forms of our contemporary visual culture – also offers itself as a potential source of redemption in this respect. In the inevitable drift towards electronic hybrid media technologies – of which the notion of the ‘photographic’ is an integral part – the potential obsolescence of an older material form of the photograph as a tangible, physical object assumes renewed significance. In the agitated environment of the audio-visual image, the stasis and silence of the photograph has come to appear to us, perhaps, as its most salient qualities: an obdurate object amidst the frenzy of the visible. David Green July 2008
Moholy-Nagy’s famous comment was originally written in English in 1932 but was first published in his essay ‘A New Instrument of Vision’, Telehor (Brno) I, 1-2, February 28 1936. It was reprinted in Moholy-Nagy, ed. Richard Kostelanetz, Allen Lane Penguin Press, London, 1970, p.54. Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography, ed. Andreas Müller-Pohle, European Photography, 1984, p. 18. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Painting, Photography, Film, Lund Humphries, London, 1969, p.33.
Betty Borthwick firstname.lastname@example.org bettyborthwick.net Sally Bream email@example.com sallybream.co.uk Louise Fago-Ruskin firstname.lastname@example.org louisefagoruskin.co.uk Peter Gates email@example.com petergates.com Vanessa Jones firstname.lastname@example.org vanessalouisejones.com Susie Petrou email@example.com susiepetrou.co.uk Tess Zahn firstname.lastname@example.org tesszahn.com Published by the above isbn 978-1-905593-62-0 All images ÂŠ 2008 the artists Moving to Manual Override, ÂŠ 2008 David Green Many thanks to David Green and Fergus Heron for their contributions to this publication We would also like to thank Jim Cooke, Denis Doran, Mark Hawden, Judith Katz, Julia Kirchin, Sally Miller, Karen Norquay, Mark Power, Xavier Ribas, Simon Sandys, Aaron Schuman, Christopher Stewart, Esther Teichman and Julia Winkler Designed by petergates.co.uk Printed by Dexter Graphics Ltd 3-5 Sandpit Road Dartford Kent DA1 5BU dextergraphics.com