Thursday, 2 August 2012

Away – Study Visit to Oxford–28th July 2012

The visit started at the Jam Factory for coffee. (Former home of Frank Cooper's preserves including "Oxford Marmalade" , now a bar and restaurant) OCA Tutor Sharon Boothroyd introduced herself and we started with introductions and a short history of our involvement with photography. The discussion continued with, amongst other things, how we use photography and why we are passionate about it. We named our favourite photographers and talked about what we liked about their work. On my list I included Cartier Bresson, Sebastao Salgado, Bill Brandt and Geoffrey Crewdson. I could also have included Bruce Guilden and Joel Meyerwitz whose New York street photography I admire.

Amano talked about the work of Raghu Rai and Jeff Wall. I need to research these photographers, their work sounds interesting. At the end of our discussions we walked up to Art Jericho to look at "Away" , an exhibition showing Sharon Boothroyd's series "If you get married again will you still love me?" and Tim Crooks' photographic essay on West Park Asylum. We viewed the photographs of both artists and took a break for lunch.

When we returned, Sharon gave a short talk on her work, including the current exhibition. She outlined how the idea came to her and initially that she had tried to use real fathers and children but that it was very difficult so she opted for the idea of using friends and a 'setting' to stage the ideas of the words spoken to separated fathers by their children. The exhibition consists of seven prints five of which show the father (or in one case the legs) and the child while the other two show just the child, isolated, moody and in situations associated with being kept somewhere they don't want to be; sitting at the bottom of the stairs in that no-mans-land between adult space and your space (i.e upstairs in your room) or standing against the front door making your presence felt by being in the way, a symbolic stand at the portal preventing entrance or exit.

One of the group mentioned that the portrayal of the fathers in the pictures represented (to him) an idealised view of fathers as mothers would like to see them reacting to their children i.e. caring, concerned and supportive. Sharon's blog on WeAreOCA explores this further. I was particularly interested in this topic as a separated father although as I explained in the discussion, I only recall a withering look from my eldest son when he realised I was spending a lot of time with a new friend after his mother and I separated. It was interesting to hear Sharon's take on this during her talk Representations of the Real. I have taken the liberty of pasting the quote she added to her blog below. I found this a good summary of what is required when I go beyond simple representation in my photography.

"While painters have the amazing ability to imagine something and create it on paper straight from the imagination, photographers have to find something that actually exists, take their camera to a relatively close proximity and make the image without an obstruction getting in the way. Photographers have to be physically present with their subject. The problem is; How can you be physically present with an idea?

Photographers have to find something that represents that idea before they can begin to create anything. In some ways this can be extremely limiting and frustrating but at the other end of the spectrum it can open the mind to new ways of thinking and interpreting what is real and new ways of representing that reality. In fact, by defamiliarising an idea using a different means of representation, I believe it creates a more engaging and interesting body of work."

From the collection, one image stood out which may or may not be a stereotypical scenario but perhaps one all fathers would recognise. The teenaged girl and her father sitting at the café table. Communication has definitely broken down, the body language, the untouched portion of chips, the detached gazes in to the distance, all point to the gulf that exists between them. Fellow student Gill  liked the use of colour in this series. I agree, I think it gives an immediacy that black and white doesn't deliver for this type of photography. (that's another discussion entirely).

Tim Crooks exhibit was enjoyable too. Picking out the evidence of the long gone human presence in the photographs, clothes, abandoned suitcases, jigsaw pieces on a corroding table, the word DUCK spelt out on the floor in red letters, all sit amongst the decay, peeling paint, flooded floors and dilapidation. There was a severe sense of loss. The word Asylum has a newer connotation these days but to me it brings to mind the fact that this place was a home, a place of safety for many who were unable to function in society. The passing of this type of institution is to be celebrated but to some it was the only home they may have known. That just adds to the overwhelming sense of sadness.

Several of the group then walked down to the Old Power Station to visit the Exercise Djibouti exhibition. I'm afraid I only lasted 10 minutes. A video of virtual soldiers running around a figure of eight track in the desert as the camera pans slowly round the site did not engage my imagination or interest. This is a shame because I am studying Digital Film Production and I thought their might be more of interest. Tea and cake back at the Jam factory and the bus back to Fyfield was more appealing.

In conclusion I found this study visit very useful. I have continued my exploration of photographic art, art photography, call it what you will and have yet another insight into the ways in which photography can be used to present ideas and narrative.

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