Re-viewing Modernist Criticism, Mary Kelly

Paradox of photography – Edelman. For the law of property in the nineteenth century, which ascertained that the image could only be property to the extent that it was mixed with subject, that is, represented and transformed through his creative labour. Although it can now be legally maintained that a creative subject and his purpose is installed behind the camera, this does not mean that it is generally sanctioned within the traditional institutions and discourses of fine art. Artistic practices employing film or photography as well as those using found objects, processes, or systems where creative labour is apparently absent, continue to problematise the transcendental imperatives which predominate in critical and historical literature on art.

To insist on the materiality of the print would be to undermine its founding attribute, that of illusion.

What is lost in that image, in so far as it can no longer be emphatically marked as the property of the creative subject, is gained to the extent that it is, precisely, a photograph of the artist and as the possessive subject he has the right of the photographer over the disposal of his own image. What is taken away from the pictorial text-the painterly signifier of bodily gesture, is given back in photographic form as the visible body, its peculiar gestures acceding to the status of the signifier in another space, that of pictorial quotation.

The artistic photograph; the detail, the interesting composition which displaces the record. It gives the appearance of transgression, but effectively it is a fragment, a metonymy, enveloped by the all-pervasive pictorial metaphor, addressing the reader with continued reference to the grand regime o Painting.

Artist Statement

The recent collection of presented works from the study abroad term at the University of Ottawa has looked at the exploration of materials, with subsequent ideas stemming from given assignments. Found materials has been a key element within the works, including sieves, wooden chairs and hair. The use of found materials was inspired by both Ben Woodeson and Marc Sparfel who collect items from the streets and gave them homes within sculptures.  Sticking My Pieces to You introduced the manipulation and exploration of materials, developing ideas around bodily and world views. Using techniques including two-part and relief moulds, and alginate casts, plaster was manipulated in different consistencies. Through this handling of plaster, a head was formed with found torn maps, a chocolate pot and wire, displaying broken language in a mixed world.

The view of broken language and attempting to see the whole led to the work of Show Me Your Insides, using two children’s chairs and steel rod in a part sculpture of a tortoise shell. The wooden and metal shell, visible from all angles, balanced itself without fixtures, like the work of Ben Woodeson. The piece raised conversation about trying to understand more than what is presented, with the depiction of a natural shell adding to the unknown within the animal kingdom. The plastic chair whales of Brian Jungen inspired the manipulation of the supposed fixed material into something unimagined.

The idea of the manipulation of space and reality was bought into the three photography projects presented at the University of Ottawa. The first, Sans Camera, worked with a homemade pinhole camera and a five-minute exposure time to produce an unknown image. The camera was completely dependent on your positioning and timing, much like objects for photograms in the dark room, to produce a coherent image. The continual manipulation of different objects or negatives was a technique that Oscar Rejlander, the grandfather of photography, used.

Manipulation of reality within photography was especially sought after in Like Nothing You’ve Seen Before which challenged photography of objects unseen before, or in unseen perspectives. New perspectives of already familiar objects were found with the use of 35mm black and white film. This included turning fire escapes vertical in the frame, causing uncertainty of reality within the image. The orientation was inspired by Andrew Wright, whose series of trees puts them back in a vertical position. The final images interact the viewer, whose head wants to turn for the horizon to be flat, but then finds the image looks wrong because the reality is cropped around the stairs.

A cropped and controlled reality with the manipulation of material is finally seen in Emulating History. This project looked at the works of Harold Edgerton, whose invention of strobe lighting allowed people to see the extraordinary in the every day. By using self-designed three-dimensional printing, along with wire and slow shutter speeds, a false reality was created in the final images displayed. The element of false reality in photography confuses those who view it.

VIVA Presentation

At the beginning of Spring Term back at the University of Reading, I presented a VIVA Presentation (PDF), showcasing the artwork and subsequent ideas that were produced on my term abroad at the University of Ottawa.

I was to present the artwork created during my two practical modules of sculpture and photography, and the assignments of each.

The first photography assignment looked at the process of using the darkroom and objects at different heights from light sources and the photographic paper. There was a play of materials with greater thinking outside of the box to manipulate found objects. Inspiration for this project was Oscar G. Rejlander who is also known as the grandfather of photography. His works manipulate negatives several times to produce new photographs.

In the first photography assignment, there was also the use of pinhole cameras. Pinhole cameras have the same principles of a normal camera, but you have much more control over each element. You have to manually control the shutter speed and insert the photographic paper (instead of film or an SD card). My own camera had an exposure time of five minutes. Images would come out negative, so we had to use a dark room process for them to become positive photographs. This part of the assignment let me explore the unknown, especially with composition and objects, as well as getting used to the darkroom and the processes within there. If there was a chance to do the project again, I would have wanted to do a wider variety of simple photograms and invented negatives with different materials, as these had worked best. I would also try to get a cleaner developing technique as a streak of black can be seen throughout many of the images.

The second photography assignment we worked with 35mm black and white photography. The brief was to take photos of things you haven’t seen before, or take photos of things in new ways. Not only was thinking of new perspectives challenging, but the process of developing our own film raised concerns within this project too. I felt like I had a small advantage as everything was new to me, but it also stretched my knowledge of SLR cameras and the way in which we can angle ourselves, let alone the camera, to change perspectives. There was also development in the darkroom whereupon I used different filters to reduce the number of greys within the image, which can be seen in the bottom photograph. The techniques of dodging and burning were unsuccessful, however the final images were crisp and clear with a high range of tones.

For this project, I took inspiration from Andrew Wright, whose series of trees are put back in a vertical position.

The third, and final, photography assignment emulated and took inspiration from Harold Edgerton, who created strobe lighting and photographed the extraordinary in the everyday. I chose to emulate the milk drop coronet by using a self-designed three-dimensional print of a milk drop. I took inspiration from his everyday photographs to create the cards and the tap. Throughout each image, there is a confusion of reality because of the manipulation of each of the objects. The final display of the images was more professional than previously, adding a sense of completion to the images and project.

The stereotype series was a response to a call for international students at the university of Ottawa to create artwork that comment on breaking stereotypes. I created a 20 image series that show people aren’t always the label that you give them. This has now been published on the university’s news website. The prints and negatives themselves were not perfect, however the central idea, that people do not live under the stereotypical labels that we may give them, was still projected.

The sculpture module was more of an exploration of materials and how far we can stretch them, and learn from them. Within the plaster project, I used the processes of; two-part mould, alginate, relief mould, and generally handling the plaster in thin and thick consistencies. The head, which was the main part of the project, used found objects and is a result of learning more about the materials and how I was to manipulate it with cardboard, cheese-cloth, wire and cotton wool.

The second sculpture assignment was another exploration of material and process, but this time with wood and metal. I was able to transform two children’s chairs into part of a tortoise shell, using as much of the wood as I could to preserve each part of the chair in a new way. MIG welding was used on metal rods to create the empty section of the shell. It was said by others that in the final piece, there is a clear sense of enjoyment of the exploration of material and process. I was inspired by Ben Woodeson for this project, who balanced glass without fixings. The wood and metal are not fixed together in this piece, creating the sense of fragility.

Henry Moore and Sherry Levine

Henry Moore was a sculptor, who took on Sherry Levine as an apprentice where he taught them to photograph the sculpture pieces in a specific way. There was the element of being able to see the work through Moore’s eyes that Levine had to learn, which is evident in the photography work that was subsequently produced. It took any years for Levine to learn to see the sculptures in this way, but it left Moore to create more artwork, and spend less time on documenting it.

Jo Spence

Jo Spence used photography to capture stages of life, looking at the way people think of words written in objects and signs, and her journey through living with cancer. Her photographs take you to the heart of the problem, putting it directly in front of you with the social queues pointing towards it. The journey that you are taken through with each individual photograph leaves you wanting more as to why that is there, such as ‘love’ written in what looks like beans in a tray. The often direct eye contact with the camera adds an emotional intensity to each of the images.

Week 1 Spring: Back to Reading

Week 1 of spring term was an introduction back to Reading and to the work that we have been producing over the past few months, as well as where we want to go with it.

I wanted to carry on with both photography and sculpture, experimenting with the material but also playing with the sense of false reality (such like I made in the milkdrop of the third photography assignment). There was a possible route of continuing the stereotype work OR playing with reality in photography.

After talking to several people about the many ideas I had, I managed to narrow it down to the creation of miniature stairs that I would photograph in different environments to create a false reality within the image. This allows the continuation of the exploration of material with the sculptural element of stairs, while also keeping the 35mm black and white photography. Playing with the display of these will them give them different meanings and will allow people to determine their relation, or non-relation.

[Below: three of the photographs taken of stairs for the second photography project acting as inspiration for the current work]

John Timberlake

John Timberlake corrects our oversight, making powerful arguments for science fiction as a visual discourse. There is an element of surreal within the photographs as you are unaware of whether you are looking at a real planet, or a made up one. Timberlake focuses on ‘imaginary topos’ of science fiction, drawing on the intersection between historical and prehistorical time. The works begin with influential historical works of visual art, whereupon the artists impression and digital environment is drawn out to produce his own works.

Thomas Demand

Thomas Demand alters perception in his photography and three-dimensional models. These look like real images of rooms, often sites that we recognise and hold social or political meanings to, but they are not real. Each model is made out of paper and cardboard to replicate those spaces. Photography was used as a part of the process to record these constructions, but now Demand creates work for the sole purpose of photographing them, altering our sense of reality. Demand uses a large format camera to capture these images and destroys the ‘life-size environments’ once this has been done, so that we never truly see the size of the room created.

Challenging stereotypes, one label at a time

Recently, in my term abroad at the University of Ottawa, I completed a collection of black and white photographs looking at breaking stereotypes. This work has now been published on the university’s website, along with a small written piece by Robert Greeley, for all to realise that ‘I Am Not The Label You Give Me‘.

“Is Charlotte Abraham a nerd? The third-year international exchange student included herself in a suite of photos titled “I Am Not the Label You Give Me” that challenges us to stop and question common stereotypes.

Abraham, who studied at uOttawa in the fall, recently returned to Britain to complete her degree in art and psychology at the University of Reading. However, toward the end of her semester here, she embraced the opportunity to take part in an exposition, hosted by International House, called “Don’t Feed the Stereotype.” The campaign took a pop culture approach to promoting diversity by debunking stereotypes.

Submissions could be in any medium, so Abraham decided to use the 35mm photography skills she had learned in a uOttawa art class. She loaded her camera with black and white film to create a collection of striking 8” x 10” images.

“‘I Am Not the Label You Give Me’ wants to get those who make stereotypical judgments to think about what they say and how it might affect those they are talking about,” Abraham says. “Pointing out that people are not always the stereotypical labels you give them is just a small step in the march to equality.””

Barbara Brown and Cynthia O’Brien

Barbara Brown and Cynthia O’Brien come together in a collaboration working on a combination of artistic vision. Both artists work in different mediums, but ‘both employ the changing beauty and delicacy of plants and flowers as a commemorative act and as an observance of transience, loss, remembrance, decline and rejuvenation in all living things’. The installation of their works in this environment reflect the emotional impact of living in a long-term care residence and as artists. The works reveals insights gained from this experience that they have had in this world where they had to interact with the nature around them. There is also an interactive element to the final piece seen in the back of the exhibition with a description;

Columbariun: A Consequence of Life


archival pigment print and clay

Columbarium is defined as a memorial space with niches for funeral urns. In this commemorative installation, each clay or photographic plaque represents a deceased person remembered by the artists.

The public is invited to place a person memorial note in one of the niches provided.