Memories from Home No 6: Music

Welcome to my 6th blog on Memories from the Home: I’m (Blog No 5) continuing the theme of sounds in the home; this time Music evoking memory and supporting connections to deceased loved ones.

Action for happiness day May 2020 shared this picture recently and it seemed and appropriate time to share my thoughts about Music and its importance to me, within the context of memory, grief, connection and the family home.

Music has always been an important part of family fun and socialising.  My Nan was a keen piano player, playing by ear, ‘on the bontempi‘ as Grandad would always say, as children we would always make up our own radio shows, put on plays, and singing performances for our Grandparents.  My family are now in bands.

In organising my Grandparents home after they had died, at the time I didn’t have the storage for their vinyl collection, but knew I wanted to keep it.  A lot of the vinyl was the likes of Bing Crosby, other readers digest collections of the time, plus other big band swing music such as ‘Are you listening’ by Harry Roy and His Orchestra -why not have a listen here.

Nan had a great love of big band music, and there was a lot of military bands in their collection, as well as other music that I don’t recognise.  Those of you who own Vinyl records know, there is such a beauty in the tangibility of the whole process, taking the vinyl out of the sleeve, ensuring not to touch the surface of the vinyl to ruin it in some way, preparing to play.  When I want to listen to them, the process, the action is potentially the same as if when my Grandparents were listening to them.  I love the crackle of the vinyl, the little jumps every so often, the gentle whir of the turn table, the click of the resting arm.  I don’t recall them listening to this specific album, but I now always have that tangible process to imagine them going through the same actions as me and listening together in their home, perhaps remembering dancing together when they were younger.  Through music and the physicality of these objects I am making new meanings and continuing connections explored by such writers as Unruh and Riches & Dawson.  The collection is now organised in my home, with those I’m more likely to listen to on display, and others safely stored away.

Do you have a music collection, gifted to you by your loved ones?

Nikki

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If you want to join me on my journey through my PhD research; my focus is expanding towards creativity and how we use creative expression as a way of navigating and exploring grief at home. You can always contact me, if you wish to be involved in my research.

 

Memories from Home No 5: Sounds of the Tick Tock

Welcome to my 5th blog on Memories from the Home: this time I’m connecting with sounds in the home.

Clocks are often a present sound in our homes, the grandness of them depending on the house and person.  From our mobile phones which are often our music listening devices, as well as alarm clocks, and voice recorders, to Grandfather clocks, wall mountable or little carriage clocks on the mantlepiece.  All clocks modern or traditional have identifiable and unique contributions to the sound of the home.

These ticking trinkets, just as the presence of photographs, give us markers in time (as noted by one of my favourite authors John Berger)and a continual reminder of the passing of time.

This wall mounted Abbey Quartz clock belonged to my Grandparents, hanging in their front room, near to the edge of the colour change in the wall paper, just above another symbol of time – that years calendar.  This one chimed on the hour, I can’t recall if it had the sound of the ‘tick tock’ pendulum.  Looking back on the photograph of it now, I can see (please look closer) that the circle on the pendulum still has the protective film of green on it to stop it getting scratched.  It could have been forgotten to have been taken off when hung, or purposely kept on to keep it nice, something I think my Grandparents would have done.

Wall clocks and their ticking and chiming was always that traditional sound I associated most with visiting my Grandparents, they had them for as long as I remember.  It prompted me to look through old family photographs of my Grandparents front room with the clock in.  I came across this one:

The photo shows a previous clock, in the same spot, sometime in the early 90’s, not too far from the mirror that now sits within my home, and has been symbolic of many reflections throughout my research and in navigating my grief and understanding my continuing connections to my Grandparents.  The clock symbolised the rituals when we used to visit them, the time we would arrive, the 12 o’clock chime for their lunch, the chiming for the time for us to catch the bus home.  As a child it was something in the background, counting the chimes when they happened.

As I got older and when taking photographs of the clock, I have stopped it in a moment, like the newer clock left after the death of my Grandparents, as if time did stop at that moment, but equally painfully obvious knowing that it continued, but without them.  The sound of the chiming became a symbol of living in and being aware of the moment and moments past.

It therefore wasn’t surprising to me the reaction of warmth, I felt when an MA research participant’s clock, that was originally her Fathers, struck during our interview.  I became fixed on the sound of the mechanics, sitting peacefully with her listening to the knock of the mechanism, and subsequent chime.  I’m glad we paused for a second to listen, appreciating that moment listening to the passing of time together, being captured by my I-phone, please do listen to that recording here.  The participant said that her Father would have been happy that the clock and its sound was bringing joy to others in this way.

In Back to the Future III Doc Emmett Brown came back to the future to meet Marty and Jennifer after the DeLorean was destroyed, he said ‘Your future is whatever you make it‘ and how we mark time, moving into the future, and in remembering the past, is individual to each and everyone of us.

Nikki

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If you want to join me on my journey through my PhD research; my focus is expanding towards creativity and how we use creative expression as a way of navigating and exploring grief. You can always contact me, if you wish to be involved as a participant in my research.

Memories from Home No 4: You don’t have to be an artist

Welcome to my fourth blog post in this series of ‘Memories from home’ this blog follows on the ideas of blog 3, in using art and creativity after a bereavement in navigating grief.  My previous blog explored the concept of Flow – being totally absorbed in a creative process in exploring and making meaning.  I used photography as a way of creatively exploring and connecting with memories of my Dad.

Artists have used paintings, photographs, and writing as a way of exploring and presenting ideas and reactions to death, grief and bereavement for many years.  As well being interested in modern artists using art in exploring and sharing feelings around grief and loss,  I am becoming drawn to those who used forms of art in creativity but didn’t necessarily consider themselves an artist, appreciating that you don’t have to be an artist to be creative.

Thinking around this theme was explored at an online death cafe I recently attended, some sharing that they didn’t identify as an artist but used art and creativity in exploring their feelings of grief, and in a loss of ways of being, of which we are, it feels, all experiencing currently due to the global pandemic.  It was hoped that sharing their poetry, paintings and through other artistic media, helped them individually to explore feelings and make sense of the world, as well as a hope that it reached out and helped others.

Participants of my Masters Research were a mixture of those who identified as being an artist, and others who used creativity and art that emerged organically after a family members death.  One participant said following the death of their Mother, that ‘I think I have to write, I don’t write because of her and I don’t paint because of her.  It’s like I do it and i’m incredibly fortunate that I found it, or it found me, whatever it is’.  Another used the art of writing as a way of imagining and writing a different connection after the death of their Mother, ‘ I didn’t start writing until after…….I felt I could write what I liked, I wrote myself a better mother’.

I photograph a lot everyday, documenting my life, either through my DSLR or a quick snap on my I-phone.  Photography has often helped me work through a thought process, difficult task or for pure pleasure, and when having to organise my Dad, Nan and Grandad’s homes after they died, documenting how me and my family were doing this, was second nature to me.  It gave me, as well as a documentary of that time, which on occasions was a blur, a snapshot on which to reflect and remember as part of my, and my families legacy.  It allowed me to see all the house trinkets and objects that contained memories, some of which weren’t possible to keep.  Recently my Mum told me that she was ‘happy that I had taken those photos’ as they (my family) may not have thought to do, so and was an important thing to have.

Did you feel the need to create art after the death of a loved one?

Nikki

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If you want to join me on my journey through my PhD research; my focus is expanding towards creativity and how artists and others use creative expression as a way of navigating and exploring grief. You can always contact me, if you wish to be involved as a participant in my research.

I look forward to seeing your shares and stories with me through my Facebook page.

 

Memories from Home No.3: Creative Flow & Fools

Welcome to my third blog post in this series of ‘Memories from home’ (catch up here on one and two).

This weeks research has brought me to concepts of ‘Flow‘, either in leadership, creativity or in pursuit of happiness the term Flow explored more recently by Professor Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi.

Flow in creativity is a process of exploration between what is known i.e. a rock and an exciting place, where you find yourself creating, being totally absorbed in what you are doing.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that there are key factors that are needed to support this way of thinking and being:

How Does It Feel to Be in Flow?

  1. Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.
  2. A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
  4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that skills are adequate to the task.
  5. A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  6. Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present.
  7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

I came across similar ways of thinking through such writers as Piotr Stzompka and Sarah Pink.  They both write about the use of visuals in social research, Stzompka referring to it as a ‘Third Sociology’ what happens in society between structures and actions.  I liken these to Flow, being ‘in-the-zone’ having focus, time in finding new ways to approach creativity and explore feelings in a safe space, to find or process new meanings.

I can attribute to what I experienced through my photography after the deaths of three family members within a period of four years, as being in a state of flow as a way of navigating my grief.  I gave myself time to fall into a process of being, photographing and reflecting on the objects and memories I had from my family members.  I had my skills as a photographer, someone who was bereaved, focus and time to connect through flow.

The one object that I felt most at Flow with was my Dad’s watch.  I would spend hours photographing, filming, touching, wearing alongside my own smart watch, listening to the ticking, imagining, smelling the leather and old aftershave.  I contemplated the passage of time us both living alongside one another in digital and analogue, the symbolism of death and ending when the ticking stopped like a heart beat, I knew it would happen one day, instigating another loss of something of him.  

I chose not to replace the battery as it would not be ‘of him’, and think of it like Triggers Broom, if you’ve seen the Only Fools and Horses sketch of the well maintained Broom, he’s explaining he’s had the same broom for 20 years, but essentially is made up of a number of ‘new’ parts! 

Have you been in flow when creating something?

Nikki

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If you want to join me on my journey through my PhD research; my focus is expanding towards creativity and how artists and others use creative expression as a way of navigating and exploring grief. You can always contact me, if you wish to be involved as a participant in my research.

I look forward to seeing your shares and stories with me through my Facebook page.

Memories from Home No.2: Touch and Tin

Welcome to my second post of this little series of ‘Memories from Home’ blog.

In my Masters research it was important for participants to have items that they could physically hold such as photographs, and other objects in their homes, as well as using other senses (smell for example) when remembering a loved one.  These interactions through touch sometimes fleeting in the everyday, were important in maintaining ongoing memories and connections to their loved one.  The object or photograph either gifted to or bought by the participant, was often kept in prominent or useful places in the home maintaining a sense of their loved one in their everyday, a tangible presence in absence of the person.

I became fascinated through my visual recording of the interviews, how objects and photographs brought to the table for discussion (literally in some instances as we spoke over coffee and dining tables), were touched and presented, often with fondness and care.  The way items were presented to me supported participants anonymity, enabling me to take photo’s of the objects either directly on tables or held in someones hands.

The Pudding Tin

Fray Bento’s is a Scottish food brand whose pies were a staple of my Grandparents.  This tinned delight of Steak and Kidney or other meaty varieties (or now I’ve looked into being a vegetarian they now have Veggie Balti and Cheese and Onion Pies now -going to give them a try!) graced the lunch time plate, with a healthy dollop of mash and veg.  My Grandparents were a traditional couple having a ‘big dinner’ at lunchtime, so when my family and I used to visit, usually arriving around this time, we were greeted by these kind of smells of hearty filling dinners.  Food in big tins or plastic pudding containers is something I will always associate with my Grandparents.  When organising their home after they died, I was gifted their white and blue tin plates, and a tin bowl, something that would be desirable as vintage now!  My Grandparents would use this tin bowl for collecting the scraps ready for the compost bin, good home made mulch for the runner beans.  I now use this tin bowl everyday in my kitchen for the same purpose, it’s battered, the colour faded, and dented, but still fit for the same purpose.

The tin bowl is not in a prominent place in my home, or in a cabinet for display, it is a functional item, that is touched, emptied and washed everyday, but none the less is an important touch connection and ritual as a reminder of my Grandparents.

What items do you have in your home from a loved one, that you use everyday?

Nikki

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If you want to join me on my journey through my PhD research; my focus is expanding towards creativity and how artists and in the everyday use grief as a way of creative expression.  You can always contact me, if you wish to be involved as a participant in my research.

I look forward to seeing your shares and stories with me through my Facebook page.

Memories from Home No.1: Mirror

My Masters (and now expanding to PhD) focussed on everyday home objects and photographs that are kept after a bereavement in a family.  I’m interested in what memories and stories, objects and photographs evoke, and why people choose to keep certain items around them in their homes.

I’d encourage others to share home photographs and objects in a similar vein that we have in our home now, that may relate to a loved one, or kept as a memento of a holiday for example.  I’ll be sharing items from my home and archive and will include a little story about the associated meanings, memories and anecdotes I have, occasionally linking to readings that I’ve found useful, and you may too.

In the current global climate, many of us are working from and spending more time in our homes, and thinking this would be a good time for us to come together online as a community, sharing our memories, stories, objects and photographs from our homes. Connections to everyday objects and photographs that are important, valuable (not necessarily in a monetary way) as well as enriching our lives.

Mirror

Those of you who have been following my blog and Masters journey, will be familiar with this mirror:

It belonged to my Grandparents, gifted to them as a Wedding present back in 1958.  It has 12 sides, held by a short chain and circle, with clips attaching the mirror to the backing, something vintage now, definitely of the time, I’ve done some research into the manufacturer, most likely to be G-plan:

It was always a feature in my Grandparent’s home as long as I can remember, in the house they lived in from when I was young until I was 36.  As kids we would dance and sing in front of it, put on Nan’s scarves and put makeup on in front of it.

I’ve been reading Brian Dillons ‘In the Dark Room’, and in his ‘Things’ chapter he talks about the wider associations to a kept object, going beyond what it is at face value, similar to the writings of John Berger who wrote about memories being non-linear. Objects and photographs allow us to focus on recall of memory, however not always working in a linear way, i.e different associations to an object or photograph at different times.

Sometimes the evoked memories through the object or photograph go far beyond the initial memory;

The mirror for me is symbolic as reflecting our family life, sharing the laughs and the sorrows, birthdays, the room in which it was hung, the other objects and photographs that surrounded it like a shrine of my family history.  The smells that filled the room, the pie and mash dinners, fish and chips, tomato ketchup that sat opposite it on the table, the sweet smell of cake, hairspray and atrixo hand cream.  Beyond the room in which the mirror was hung, was an ordinary terraced house that sat in an estate, in the early days had a conifer in the front garden, a short walk to the river.  The mirror, now over 60 years old now sits in my home, reflecting my life, in my terraced home.  It shares and reflects the people in my life, those who visit, the couple who visited me during my Open House, who had lived in my house some 40 years earlier.  What memories the mirror could tell if it could speak.

I’ll be writing a blog soon on my Masters Research, and those wanting to join me on my journey through PhD; the focus is expanding towards creativity and how artists and in the everyday use grief as a way of creative expression.  You can always contact me, if you wish to be involved as a participant in my research.

I look forward to seeing your shares and stories with me through my Facebook page.

Until next time.

Nikki

 

 

 

MOSAF19….& the end of the Masters is in sight

Wow! It’s been such a while dearest readers since my last blog, plenty of things keeping me busy.  Medway Open Studios and Arts Festival (MOSAF) 2018 was a great platform for me at the start of my Masters, working through my initial ideas for the photo part of it and getting some fantastic feedback and critique from my visitors.

MOSAF 2019 was a ‘taster platform’ of my final batch of photographs to exhibit before choosing the final 4 for submission in September (formats have been chosen, more of this to come!).  I had some great conversations with visitors around my research subject of exploring Personal Loss, Memory and Family, with photographs and objects after a bereavement (more info about it here).  I am interested to see if there are any common themes shared that reflected my own experiences of loss in the family, and if there were any similarities in which objects and photographs we keep and the memories we share. My research has helped me navigate my own grief and the whole process has been, (as my research participants have told me), a good thing to ‘Hold space’ for others to also have that time for dedicated conversations.

The exhibition included 10 photos of both my family photos and others from my research participants, accompanied by their written memory about each object or photograph.  Here is a taster of one of my exhibited photos:

Vase with wilting Flowers

A Vase sitting on the sideboard that was bought as a Wedding Gift for my Grandparents.  The flowers wilting, losing their glorious bloom, the room lays silent, soon to be empty, a whisper in the echo of a memory.

[Grandparents home 2016]

I am also pleased that visitors to my MOSAF19 exhibition felt able to share their memories if they wished they could leave their thoughts on my memories corkboard.  I loved chatting with all my visitors about this subject as I had done interviewing the participants for my research. A big thank you to all my MOSAF19 visitors and participants.  If you would like to get involved in my future research, or just want to get in touch to share your views then contact me here.

In the week of MOSAF19 I was interviewed on BBC Radio Kent as part of their ‘Phone Tracker’, (2.28 in) this gave me a great platform not only to promote my exhibition but to also talk about my research. It’s amazing what points you can get across in 4-5 minutes!

So, what’s next?

I have the summer to write up my research and prepare for my MA exhibition, and very happy to have the ‘time off’ I’m quite enjoying this final stage. I don’t think I’ve had this much time off in summer since I was 14 years old, so I’m going to make sure this happens with much self-care as well as study.  I’m also going to be enjoying taking more photographs, joining up with a few like-minded ‘togs for some photo walks, and may treat myself to a new lens or two!

I am, as ever, passionate about living well and ensuring that we have great photographs to keep along-side our memories, this is what our loved ones will cherish, I know I do.

On reflecting my research which I have really enjoyed doing and so passionate about someone said to me recently ‘Nikki you won’t get time like this again, so make the most of it’, and I plan to do just that.

Thanks to one of my visitors for this photograph:

 

MOSAF18, Masters and everything else in between

What a summer it has been!

A wonderful mixture of teaching, training, exhibitions and getting full steam ahead once again with my Masters.

Over June and July I went along to a short course at The Photographers Gallery London (TPG – a great space if you haven’t already visited).  Part of my Masters year 1 review was that I needed to include more critical analysis in my literature review and to develop how photographic theory relates to my practice (yep I was a bit stumped too!).  What I have found studying Photography and Sociology at Masters level particularly through research is, I’ve had to develop a quick but intense way of learning.  Undertaking a Masters by Research is largely self directed learning (no lectures which is a bonus!) with some elements of knowledge sign-posted to you by your supervisors, both subjects not being my Undergrad focus has also been a nice little challenge.  The short course on ‘Photography as artistic research’ came at exactly the right time.  Led by Wiebke Leister provided weekly readings specifically on photography and the analysis and criticality to practice.  Readings focussed on such visual artists/writers as DionFlusser, Barthes, Rose, Richters.  These sessions gave me a greater understanding of the artists reasonings behind the projects, not just what they may have appeared to be on face value, using such theories from Berger and Barthes in the ways of seeing, that part of the overall understanding/appreciation of the project was mainly in the eyes of the viewer not the author, sometimes the initial intentions can be misinterpreted, not in a negative way but that ‘art’ can be a very subjective thing and varying interpretations will naturally be made by different people.  Hey but isn’t that the fun about it?

The final session provided an opportunity with the group of like minded photographers and photography enthusiasts to critique any projects we were all working on.  This is where I took along my Medway Open Studios exhibition work, which was a visual pit stop of where I was with my Masters research.

The work I presented was a mixture of archival family photographs and photographs I had taken either in response to the archive or interpretations of my need to remember my family.  These were presented in either large 16×20 black frames, or the majority in 6×4 prints in cardboard frames, assembled on a rope washing line with pegs.  I later thought of the washing line as being a private and public domestic item, where the private (items of underwear for example) become public (in the garden), this could be said for the photographs that I presented in that they are private family photographs being display in public, hanging out the laundry for all to see!

I am in the process of finalising my research title which will be on the lines of  ‘Personal Loss, Memory and the family’ this will give some context into the following feedback I received from the group:

  • they (the photos) aren’t all taken by the same person
  • it represents two sides of a family (this was the case of the Main (my maternal side) and Price (my father))
  • there are flowers at the start and end of the line (poppies)
  • the artist is remembering something
  • there are self portraits, and photos of the artist
  • there is a strong maritime link
  • there is a sequence of growing up along the photographs
  • there is a sense of growing up alone in the photographs
  • a sense of the artist being alone
  • the Facebook screen shot of the ‘missing father’ on fathers day
  • a suggestion of removing the frames, to see more of the photographs, and move from domestic to exhibition
  • a suggestion of including other members of the family to put this work together, using a red piece of string to represent the umbilical chord connecting the family
  • a suggestion of having 3 family photos within one frame to change the aesthetic (move from domestic to exhibition)

This was a great experience to have such critique from peers, especially as I was mid way through my Medway Open Studios 2018 (MOSAF18) exhibition.  For the final weekend of MOSAF18 I decided to take the suggestion of the group, and remove the photographs from the frame.  I felt a bit strange doing this as I didn’t want the photographs to become misshaped and dented by swinging freely with the peg at the top of the photo.  I know I was probably playing it too safe, protecting the photographs from damage, but I later thought this is part of the photographs journey, the photograph as a changing physical object.

MOSAF18 was very similar to that final session at TPG, in that it is always a great experience for visitors to share their thoughts and ideas on your work.  Throughout my exhibition I was pleased to see how open visitors were about sharing their experiences of family photography and artefacts following a bereavement.   I also appreciated having a small dialogue to accompany the photographs (even if it was just my oral story), the photographs became a platform that opened up that conversation.  I was conscious however to not offer up too much information about the photographs when they first arrived as I wanted to get their immediate raw responses.  To include some theory here, many of my visitors showed responses to my photograph to that of the ‘Punctum’ (as coined by Barthes), something within the photo that pierced or connected to them and evoked a memory, for example on seeing the photograph of my Grandad, one visitor commented on how the photo ‘reminded her of her father, in that he always wore shirts with high collars and a tie’.  I was quite taken in that visitors weren’t afraid to have an emotional response to my work, was this something to do with my home environment,  and I wondered would the photographs have evoked a different reaction if I had displayed them in a gallery?

IMG_0368

Nikki-Price-Photography-exhibition-skin-granddad

Some visitors searched for something of a ‘Familial Gaze’ (Hirsch), that familiarity in how families are represented within photographs (in contrast to the idealised portrayal of family) for example many could identify with the ‘father and new born’s home coming’ photograph (below) as typical of a familiar scene within a family album.  The same visitor appeared to combine both Hirsch and Barthes theories in connecting to the photograph and remarking how her family ‘used to have that fireplace’.  Are we automatically making connections (through links to memory) and generate understandings of our life within the act of looking at photographs?

MOSAF18 was a great experience for me, although daunting at the start, and probably was the most nervous I have been for any of my exhibitions, it has been a reaffirming experience.  I am proud that private (family) photographs help stimulate conversation about others individual experiences following a bereavement.  It is about the stories and the memories of and about those who have died, which can be an emotive subject, but my hope is that it is more about us thinking about our legacy,  the symbols, icons, objects and good memories we make now, to be left for others and cherished when we are no longer here.  I am also so thankful for those visitors who are interested in being interviewed as part of my research studies next year.

Over a few months before the summer I had the opportunity to do some informal photography teaching within a school.  It was such a privilege to share my knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm for photography with young people.  It was also a good opportunity to try out ideas for workshops with adults that I am developing this year.  The young people loved Sun printing, comic book writing and then acting out their ‘scenes’ with each other then photographing them, chalk drawing scenes and photographing themselves, making a face mosaic’s similar to the Queen project, macro photography,  ways of seeing nature (bit of a nod to Berger’s Ways of seeing there!),  and working with them to develop their own styles and thoughts about photography.  I had many thank you’s from the young people as well as some incredibly sweet conversations with some who ‘really appreciated learning about photography and will carry on taking photo’s’, this really hit home to me as my interest in photography started when I was around 7 or 8 years old.

It was so heart warming to know that my interests have gone full circle this summer in where I am now with my family photography research and leaving legacies, it starts with young people (and adults) having an interest in and being enthused by the possibilities that photography gives us for recording, making memories, remembering stories, rethinking our approach to the world.

 

 

 

5 Months Masters Milestone

What a great start to my Masters, and Nikki Price Photography will still be running in a business sense, but I’ve decided to take a small step back to concentrate on my studies.  This choice of course isn’t an immediate concern for me as I’m not directing my time a million miles away from where my passion lies, and I have some smaller projects in the pipeline for 2018.

I’ve realised in writing this blog, that I had two pre-loaded draft blogs on:

  • a literature list (in an attempt to encourage myself to write as I go along)
  • and a two month review of where I am with my research

I won’t repost the whole blogs but here’s a little flavour for you:

The thing I’ve found with research and reading around a subject you are so passionate about, brings up all kinds of the thoughts and processes.  I’ve found myself in a natural ‘rabbit hole’, wanting to keep delving into subjects and getting more and more excited about where it is leading me.  I have been writing using good old fashioned paper and pen, and often let my thoughts wander having ‘revelations and ideas’ at times, so I always try to keep my observation journal on me.  In many ‘how to’ guides I’ve seen advice like ensure you diarise time to just think, which I think is sound advice!

Great thinking places I’ve found are (I’ve also got Lauren Elkins Flaneuse book waiting in the wings to be read so hoping for some further inspiration):

  • on a train  -journeys over half an hour are best (great for when I travel to Uni)
  • in a cafe – always a bonus for a long lunch
  • in the shower -all best ideas are made here aren’t they?

So where am I now?

Three months further into my reading and I feel I’m getting to that research niche in that shadow, my thirst for knowledge and reading is growing, like I commented to my supervisor, ‘I loved that book so much I felt like I inhaled it!’ (speaking of Annette Kuhn’s Family Secrets).  I’ve completed my first presentation and was comfortable doing it.

My research (no matter how wide I am reading at the moment) keeps pulling me to: using family photography (memory and narratives) as a means to researching Identity, Belonging, and Loss.

So in photography’s core concept of the ‘Rule of Thirds’ here are my top three (boy this has been hard!) key readings that have made a huge impact on me so far, and would encourage you to read them:

Annette Kuhn (1995) Family Secrets

Taking Autoethonography to the next level with this book, a straight talking 360 degree analysis of the authors family photographs, allowed me to think more about the ‘face value’ of the immediate photograph.  This read has enabled me to think more about my childhood photographs, particularly those during my senior school years and to analyse them within the wider social context at that time, and my family unit.  Kuhn’s reflection on her school uniform echoed that of my own, mother buying the size up so we ‘would grow into it’ (I’m sure many families consider this!) coming from a single parent family.  I was also the first in my family to go to University, and all the expectations and feelings that surrounded this.  Kuhn’s father was the photographer and yet it was her mother who was the instigator for the photos of Kuhn in various home made outfits, mirroring a matriarchal perception of mother as the nurturer, time keeper, and recorder of childhood moments.  This also ignited my love of concepts of time travel, and awareness of time using photographs to allow us to metaphorically travel/connect with different points of time, Marc Triver notes that ‘a room needs a clock to denote the passing of time’ P185 in Berger’s book;

John Bergers (1967) Understanding a photograph

I read Bergers book at the same time I watched his 1972 BBC series of Ways of seeing.  Both have completely transformed not only the way I am thinking about and analysing my own work, but art I see in many places.  My connection to of art is greater, taking a 3 minute ‘dedicated’ time to ‘see’ work that I find of particular interest to me, looking deeper into what the artists message was, the context in which it was made, and having that critical reflection.  I particularly enjoyed Berger’s diagrams on ‘Memory’  and its ‘non-linear’ way of looking at a photograph, in that recalling memories from photographs although constructed in a very chronological/linear way (in a hard copy of an album Birth through to before Death), the process of understanding/seeing a photograph happens in a very “radially”  way “that is to say that an enormous number of associations leading to the same event” (P59).  This allowed me to think that a photograph isn’t simply a static moment in time, but an artefact to revisit again and again, to enhance or obtain different meanings from it as Berger says “The appearances of the event photographed implicates other events,  It is the energy of these simultaneous connections and cross references which enlarge the circle beyond the dimension of instantaneous information” (p91) i.e. a photograph allows for more interpretation, beyond what you can initially see.

The great thing about Berger’s work is his no-nonsense straight forward talk, and written words, that I find very accessible, de-mystifying the arena of ‘art’.

Roland Barthes (1982) Camera Lucida

Probably the key three things to come out of Barthes Camera Lucida is his analysis of the ‘Winter Garden’ (p63) photograph, the Punctum (p27) and Studium (p28).  In his analysis of the Winter Garden, Barthes was searching for his mothers true identity, connecting with who she was before he was born.  He suggested that ‘the photograph doesn’t necessarily say what is no longer but only for certain was has been’ (p85), in the case of his mother, she was at the Winter Garden, that is for certain, looking at the concepts of photographs moving across time, this would allow Barthes to  now ‘see’ his mother as she was then.  Although strange for me to say perhaps from coming from a visual perspective, I found the beautiful thing about his analysis and his connection to the photo was that there was no copy of it for the reader to see, as he notes ‘this photograph only exists for me, for you it would be nothing other than an indifferent picture’ (p73).  The Punctum; that something within the photo that pricks your interest, and the Studium; allowing time to contemplate the photo, have been two simple concepts but inspirational ideas.

Along with Berger and Kuhn’s books this has changed the way I am seeing, I have revisited past work and family photographs, to really ‘see’ what is contained within. For Example; my Punctum in this Family photograph is the red coat I am wearing.  This photo was in a collection kept by my late father, I didn’t recall the moment it was taken until I saw the photo, and the red coat immediately stood out to me ‘pricking’ my interest, the spending time (studium) to analyse it further.

 

Nikki

 

 

Photos through my door – Rochester West By-Election

The Rochester West by-election is coming soon, and I’ve had a number of promotional leaflets through my door for our local parties. Before I put them in the recycling bin, I thought it would be fun to see how the different parties are using photography to promote their candidates. I have tried not to look at their policies or political views or read the content in the leaflets. Instead I have attempted to give a rounded interpretation and analysis of their use of photos.

Conservative Candidate: Alan Kew

The Conservative leaflet shows a tilted, informal headshot taken on St Margarets Street. Alan’s stance is slightly turned to the left looking direct at the camera. Although not confrontational, as it might be if he were facing straight on to the camera, he has a relaxed smile. It seems to have been taken on a smart phone, giving a wide frame and low picture quality, he is also slightly out of focus. It does however give a leading line drawing the viewers eye down St Margarets Street, metaphorically enforcing that Rochester is the focus of this campaign.

The off-set fold of the front page invites you to explore the inner content. Inside are a number of posed and informal shots. A mixture of  ‘in situ’ or ‘in action’ photos demonstrate the candidate supporting various campaigns in the area. The photos in green spaces suggest Alan is ‘out-and-about’ and active in his local area, however some, for example the photograph of the candidate in the green space with his foot on the white barrier, feel somewhat staged.

The last page shows three further ‘in situ’ photographs of the candidate with a local shop keeper and former candidate for the area. This contrasts with the informal layout of the first page. The catalpa tree photo is perhaps the most relaxed photo with Alan in a traditional male pose standing off centre with his hand in his pockets.  This could either be interpreted as being relaxed or disinterested.

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Overall the photographs within this leaflet are relaxed and informal and although they connect to build a story of the areas the candidate supports, it feels visually overloaded.

Liberal Democrats Candidate: Martin Rose

Martin’s front page portrait echoes the informality of the Conservative candidate, this time taken in a green space. Although I would not advise standing straight on to the camera, he has something in his hand, which somehow breaks the barrier, making it seem less confrontational. He is positioned at the centre of the photograph, the leading line is a path in the middle, which similar to the Conservative candidate, leads the viewer’s eye back to central Rochester. He is centred between two trees, nicely avoiding the foliage sprouting out of the top of the head look. Martin has a relaxed and friendly smile.  I would surmise this was taken on a smart phone or basic digital camera, on an overcast day, as it slightly out of focus and quite dark. It would have been great to see the photo a bit brighter.  Martin appears to be ‘out-and-about’ as he has his Liberal Democrats badge on and the photograph is taken by someone else. It is also good to see a younger candidate.  There is one other photo on the page linking to a support campaign, and a stock photo from the Liberal Democrats, suggesting more of the overall aims of the party as opposed to the achievements of the individual for the community, as illustrated on the Conservative leaflet.

Overall, the portrait on this leaflet is the most friendly, relaxed and welcoming, with a smaller number of other photos indicating the wider party views.

Labour Candidate: Alex Patterson

The first thing that struck me about the Labour Candidates leaflet is it is well thought out. The front page is dominated by the River Medway with a ‘hero’ shot of Alex looking into the distance. I would suggest this has been taken by a professional photographer, due to the framing and use of depth of field.

This photo reminded me of a promotional leaflet for a theatre production (not dissimilar to the poster for David Tennant in Don Juan in Soho last year). The candidate is the focus of the promotion. Alex appears well groomed, wearing professional dress. I would, however, liked him to make a little more eye contact with the camera. This appears to be from an organised shoot, rather than an ‘out-and-about’ campaign shot.

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Overall the photographs in this leaflet are of higher quality that the other candidates,  and a case of quality over quantity. However, from the visuals I am unsure from this what campaigns the candidate has supported.

UKIP Candidate: Rob McCulloch Martin

Rob’s portrait is also informal, it appears to have been taken as a ‘selfie’. It has been taken from below which doesn’t result in a very favourable angle, this main photo on the leaflet appears to have been stretched giving a ‘fish eye’ appearance, with a better smaller version on the reverse. The candidate is ‘in situ’ at a polling station, with additional photographs on the reverse indicating some issues the party are supporting locally. As with the Liberal Democrats leaflet there doesn’t appear to be any direct visual link to the achievements of the candidate.

Green Candidate Sonia Hyner

Sonya’s leaflet was the last to arrive. I wasn’t sure whether I would receive one, given the Green’s environmental concerns, however was pleased to see it has been printed on recycled paper. Similar to the Conservative, Liberal and UKIP candidates, her portrait is informal and slightly off centre. She is looking directly down the lens with a slight head tilt and relaxed smile. It appears this has been cropped from a larger photo used on the Green’s website. In the source photo her pose looks stilted, but the crop on the leaflet is much more favourable. The exposure of the photograph is spot on the website, however it hasn’t translated well on the leaflet, which could be due to the paper. As this headshot is the only photograph, like the Labour leaflet, there is little visual information about the campaigns the candidate has supported.

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Final thoughts…

All the leaflets use photography differently their candidates displaying their party colours. Each puts their own twist on their photos, using hero shots, snapshots, informal, ‘selfies’ and ‘out and about’ photos. A leaflet is an easy way for candidates to get across their messages, the photos used create the immediate visual connection with the person behind the campaign. The parties have put forward four white male candidates and one white woman, I would have liked to have seen a bit more diversity.

Given the timescale for this campaign it is understandable why some of the photos may appear rushed, this highlights a need for a quality stock of photos, taken at events and regular organised photoshoots.

Top tips for election candidate photos:

  1. When possible use a good quality digital camera. A smart phone is great for those ‘out and about’ shots, but not selfies, always ask someone to take it for you.
  2. Consider using one of the many basic editing software apps to get your smart phone photos just right.
  3. Take photos in the location you are representing. Even better in a green space, they create and healthy feel and usually have better light.
  4. Remember to take photographs when your campaigning or supporting events. This will help you to build up a ‘bank’ of stock photos, to use in your promotions and help you tell your story when needed.
  5. Natural light is a must, most candidates have used outdoor photographs, however ensure you are making the most of your chosen light conditions 
  6. A relaxed genuine smile always brings life to your photos and helps you connect.
  7. If you are unsure about what pose styles work for you, try them in a mirror. Ask a portrait photographer or search for some tips on the internet.
  8. Add interest and creativity to your photos by using leading lines and being creative with depth of field.
  9.  Don’t be afraid to play with the layout of your photographs, cropping when necessary. Sometime a badly framed photo can be saved by a good crop.
  10. Where possible work with a professional photographer whose work you know and like for those quality shoots.

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 Nikki