My Portfolio Review session at Impressions Gallery on Friday, with exhibiting photographer Melanie Friend and Head of Programming Pippa Oldfield, has given me much to think about over the weekend.
Although I am very interested in Melanie Friend’s work, and found her current exhibition The Home Front (http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exh…) which explores the presentation of war as entertainment very powerful, I hadn’t thought of applying for a review session. I don’t think of myself as a photographer, rather as an artist who works with photography in a variety of ways. Most recently, with my project WE ARE ALIVE AGAIN this has focussed on using family snaps and archive material as source material for making new images and objects. I was encouraged by gallery staff on a recent visit, however, to apply, and was given a slot.
I wasn’t sure what to show Melanie and Pippa, as my work in this area has been diverse, from photo collages, to rephotographing to ‘re-enacted’ photographs to collaborative photo dialogue to representations of archive images, to installation work. In the end, I took a selection of images from each category, in different formats; an exhibition catalogue, images on a laptop, as well as some prints and some original photocollages.
Melanie and Pippa were both extremely friendly and positive, gave my work their full attention and made many thoughtful and useful comments.
Both of them said they were intrigued by the work, though looking at it as a body of work, felt it was quite disparate, due to the range of aesthetic strategies and approaches I was using. Both said they were looking for a narrative, way in, to understand the work but that this wasn’t immediately obvious. Melanie asked about some of the photo collage images and the use of images of my father, and the personal experiences behind these. She felt that these experiences of loss (my dad died when I was 9) as a subject matter for a body of work were resonant, and would have power for other people. She said the questions she asks are – what are you communicating? what do you want to say? who do want to reach? She suggested that stepping back from the personal, and trying to spend some time writing about my motivations/intentions might be valuable in gaining some insights into the ‘whys’ of my making.
Pippa commented that her responses to my work were as a curator/programmer, and so seeing the work in the form of an output – exhibition,publication etc, was what she naturally did, but that she didn’t want to discourage my experimental approaches or to ‘box in’ what I was doing. She also asked about whether I did or might see performance as part of the work. This surprised me, but has made me think. Both were interested in the provisional, and ‘unfixed’ nature of some of my photo collages, and how this echoes the fluid meaning-making that goes along with using and interpreting family photographs. Pippa asked if I had thought of filming/animating the process of continual moving around of collage elements, and suggested exploring this as possible more meaningful way to present my ideas, rather than a static, ‘final’ image. We talked about projections, slideshows, the possibility of incorporating sound and text, but also the importance of the materiality of the images.. the physicality of cutting up, placing together.
We also talked about the research aspect of the work, and my intention to use some of the aesthetic strategies in collaborative work with others. Both suggested that although my participatory work would inform my own making, it might be good to keep these two practices separate for now. Both suggested spending some more time developing each body of work, and finding the right time and mental/emotional space to do it in. Pippa suggested looking at some artists working with photographs as objects, including those showing in the 2009 exhibition “The Photocgraphic Object’ at The Photographer’s Gallery, and also Farhad Ahrarnia and Carolle Bentitah (https://www.lensculture.com/articles/carolle-benit…)
I was really glad to have had this conversation with Melanie and Pippa. It was extremely valuable to have their responses to my work at this point when I have some time (still off sick with broken finger) to think, write, make.