Fledgling Ideas

Writing about ideas so fresh you aren’t sure what the idea is yet is a challenge. How do you write about something that is still illusive, still drifting on the edges of your imagination? In this instance I think the only way is to write about the events that led to this new moment…

Last week I did three things that all converged to create the beginnings of an idea.

I went to see the Mark Dion at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. If you haven’t been to see it yet I highly recommend it. Dion has a fantastic sense of humour, explores important subject, and makes work that is unusually multifaceted in approach and outcome. He doesn’t pick a medium and stick with it, instead the exhibit ranges from sculpture to photography to installation to drawing to live zebra finches. With this show the Whitechapel has proved once again why they are one of the most interesting galleries in London. And Mark Dion has cemented himself as one of my favourite contemporary artists. He has also sparked a thought process about working with nature, and the multitude of approaches artists can take.

IMG_1449.jpg

I had a meeting on Beesands Beach with a research scientist who works within the Marine Institute at Plymouth University. This was the first meeting of what I hope to be many during my year long Artist Residency with the institute. I have no idea what kind of influence the residency will have on my work other than that it is likely to be hugely impactful. That is a fun place to be, starting your wok down a new path with no real idea where it is leading. As first meetings go having a fascinating conversation on a freezing cold, wind swept beach is a good place to start. When I approached the Marine Institute it was in the hopes of learning about the South West Coast Path in ways I cannot begin to understand or access on my own. That this first meeting was about the movement of sediment and underwater topography in a bay I know mostly from the vantage point of the Start Point Lighthouse was the perfect start. It also got me thinking, wondering, pondering and reading as ideas start to form.

I went to the Natural History Museum. In fact I went twice in four days. I saw the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, without fail my favourite exhibition all year. I met the blue whale hanging skeleton hanging and immense above the great hall, and then I wandered. I wandered into rooms I had never been into before, found things from the collection I had never seen before, and started to think of the Natural History Museum in a new light. It has long been my favourite museum in the country, my favourite of any museum I have ever been to in fact, but it has never before been relevant to my work as an artist. This time around it sparked something for me, something linked to my current project, something linked to everything else I did last week and everything I have been doing for months…

..it sparked a new idea….

IMG_1398.jpg

What the idea is I do not yet entirely know. What I do know is that I am going to follow it and see where it leads.

You Are Here

On a hike last summer Lauren and I came across an old stone marker and Lauren suggested that it looked a bit like a book.

It was on another hike together that we lost the path entirely and had to hunt down the public footpath sign in the middle. 

Those two moments came together and inspired You Are Here, a book that sums up that moment, when standing in the middle of the countryside, miles from the start of your walk and miles from the end the signs you are following point in multiple directions or disappear entirely.

Portrait Confusion

It has been a long time since I felt the desire to take someone’s portrait. And by a long time I mean years. I used to take portraits a lot; it was one of the reasons I fell in love with photography in the first place. Most portraits I have taken over the last 5 or more years have been at someone else’s request… a band photo here… an author’s portrait there. During postgrad I took pictures of my sister (long my preferred, even sole model) but they were for part of a photographic poetry comic book, the images purposefully blurred and distant, not really of Kim. Before that were the self-portraits in Time Out of Place, but these too are abstract, my figure moving, even multiplied through long exposure.

The lack of portraits in recent work isn’t because I was avoiding it, or had purposefully given it up; it was simply that nothing inspired me. My work is driven by ideas, questions and concepts. Without a reason to take portraits I had simply stopped. That changed last year, not because I suddenly had an idea for a project but because I met someone whose portrait I wanted to take.

When I first asked Finley if he would mind my taking his picture I thought I knew what I wanted to do with it. That certainty vanished when I realised I was trying to shoehorn his portrait into a project it had no place in as a way of justifying why I had taken it. Once I stopped trying to force them I found myself (and the photographs) joyfully released while simultaneously left floating at sea, unsure of direction or purpose. Or if I needed direction or purpose.

Over the last year I have done three portrait shoots with Finley and will admit to still finding myself in a state of discomfort because I don’t know why I want to, or what I’m trying to express, or what the idea is, or even if there is an idea at all. What I do know is that every time I take Finley’s picture I end up with something new, and that every time I think I’ve done the last shoot that something new makes me want to try again to see what happens next. I start the shoot thinking this will be it, and once I have the photos edited, I know it isn’t. I find myself wondering about location, cameras and film choice, about pose, clothing and lighting, about photographic portrait theory, and art history. I am looking for something that will give me direction because I think this might be a project but I simply don’t know. And then I wonder if maybe I don’t need to know yet, if perhaps it will simply come together if I keep shooting.

Luckily for me Finley is a dream model, relaxed and easy in front of a camera and great company for the hours it takes to get my images. I could have stopped after the first shoot; I had a wonderful portrait and no particular reason to keep going.  But the more I studied the image the more certain I became that I wanted to try again. Why I did not, and do not know. I simply knew then, as I know now, that there is something more to be found.

The main difference between portraits and the other images I have taken over the years is that portraiture requires cooperation, even collaboration. When I don’t know the what, why or wherefore of the pictures I am taking, of the project I appear to be building then needing this cooperation is both enjoyable and uncomfortable. I don’t know if I can or should plan for more, if I should keep trying to chase whatever it is I am working out, because that choice is not entirely my own. It is shared: a choice to be made by both Finley and myself. There is a sensitivity required in portrait photography; the same sensitivity one would need collecting aural histories or writing a biography. I am representing someone else, someone whose opinion on the images matters as much, if not more, than my own. The choices, what happens with editing and publication, aren’t entirely my own. I have handed Finely total veto power, over the individual images but also over wherever this is leading, or if it is leading anywhere. This is so different from my chosen subject of recent years, the woods and forests of South Devon, that I keep expecting it to bother me. Instead I find joy in my endless surprise at Finley’s willingness to continue working with me.

All my reactions and thoughts to this (accidental) portrait project are a contradictory tangle. I am left with questions, and questions about questions, a muddle of whats and whys. It is a mess of confusion, frustration and discomfort at my own inability to work out:

1.     If this is a project

and 2. If it is, what it is

The very same photographs that are causing this confusion are also holding it at bay, keeping me moving forward into the unknown, a barrier holding back a flood or a lighthouse in a storm. I shoot another roll, or edit another photograph and I am inspired. Inspired by the search and by this new, different way of creating a project. Inspired to keep calm in the face of confusion and to keep trying until I find out where this is leading. I shall let you know when I work it out. Until then, you can see a selection of the portraits HERE.

 

 

50.5803° N, 3.7551° W

It was Planet Earth Day on Saturday and I spent the afternoon (and most of Sunday) testing an idea for a book. As I was working, getting utterly lost in ideas, paper and problem solving I realised that for first time in a long time I wanted to share the making process. I wanted to blog. So here it is… and what better way to introduce my new website than a new blog and a new piece of work.

A little over a year ago I started work on a project that has grown and spiralled, becoming something all encompassing and utterly thrilling. It is the first idea I’ve had outside of an institution and while I have no idea where it is going I love the journey. The project is called Mapping in an Ever Moving Now and has so far resulted in the beginnings of multiple photographs, sculptures and more. Mapping in an Ever Moving Now is a project about the land, and about my connection to it. I am exploring ways of creating an emotional, experience and memory based response to mapping landscape. The latest step in the project started either: A) taking photographs on Dartmoor with my mum or B) when visiting the maps exhibition at The British Library with Lauren. Somewhere between the two an idea was born and this weekend I finally had a chance to bring it together.

Walking on Dartmoor isn’t like walking anywhere else I’ve ever been. Its not that it’s vast (though it is) or stark (though it is) or ancient (though it is), rather that it is all of these things and something else besides. There is something about the unchanging, ever changing landscape of a place that has been inhabited and tamed while remaining uninhabited and untameable that I find endlessly intriguing. Among the photographs taken on that particular walk was a close up of the rock face at Haytor. This detail somehow encompasses so much of what I felt standing atop the tor, feet planted on the earth and eyes on the horizon. I knew immediately I wanted to use it in the book, a book tied to this spectacular location, one anchored to place and to the depth of my feelings.

At The British Library exhibition there was one particular map of the terrain in France from World War One. Someone had sculpted this particular map, cutting a new layer for each contour line. The care, the skill, the attention to detail and the direct reflection of the land caught my attention and stayed with me long after leaving the library.

I cannot explain how the two things became joined together in my imagination, but they did … and thus 50.5803° N, 3.7551° W was born.

Spending a weekend engrossed in making, messy hands and full mind made me happier than I have been in a long time, and the result is more than I dreamt of. Having an idea work, having it come together under my hands, finding solutions and ways of adapting until there, on my table is a new THING is truly, deeply satisfying. It is as though I am discovering my own ideas through the act of working, the act of making.

And now the THING exists, I know it works, and I cannot wait to make a final copy or 5.