I was introduced the wonderful photographs of Oyvind Hjelman by the Lens Culture Blog last year. Recently Lens Culture also posted info on a new show of Hjelman’s work in Paris. I would love to go and see the actual prints of this work as so far I have only seen the work online. If you are lucky enough to be in Paris for this I urge you to pay a visit.
I am particularly fond of the photographs from ‘The House That Was Home’, it shows a careful observation that verges on reverence, to all the marks and elements of an intimate history present in a personal space. It brings to mind the writing of Gaston Bachelard’s ‘Poetics of Space’
I’ve been reading a lot of writing about Joachim Koester’s work lately, mainly on the website for the Nicolai Wallner Gallery.
Koester is a conceptual artist who works mainly in photography and film/video. I am particularly drawn to his interest in landscape, history and the photographic image.
Koester and I share similar interests in the photographs ability to capture the marks and physical shapes of human activity, the layers of history that shape our surroundings and influence our understanding of these places. This quote from an interview with Anders Kreuger could easily be about the Tower of London:
‘Something that has interested me a lot is how ideas and narratives take on a physical form, how stories and history materialise. I believe most human activities leave traces in space. In one way or another, spaces are transformed by human action, and in my work I am, if you like, ghost-hunting spaces. I look for these storylines, which may not always be very apparent but are still present.’
The complete conversation between Koester and Kreuger can be read here
Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about titles for the pictures and an overall title for the project. I have a note book filled with scribbled ideas from the duration of the residency and I also have a copy of a Tower of London Guide book from the 80’s (which looks rather dated considering it feels like the 80’s were quite recent) both of which I have used to feed ideas for possible titles.
First of all, the project title is Other Histories. I found this written in the middle of my notebook after a few sentences about the rooms of 4 & 5 Tower Green, a row of Tudor houses that have been stripped out and bolstered with scaffolding as part of some major repairs. The rooms showed evidence of 1950’s and 1970’s fittings, eras of the Towers history that don’t seem to be celebrated as important parts of the buildings story. I hope that the title hints towards my thoughts about a kind of hierarchy of history that is unavoidable in the heritage industry.
With my previous work I have tended to avoid titles for individual images, hoping that the overall title would be enough to direct the thoughts of the viewer without tying them to the text/image relationship to tightly, this was the case for Hinterland.
For the photographs in Other Histories I wanted to use text to add another layer to each picture, I hope that the titles will push the viewer to ask more questions of the pictures and maybe the work as a whole. In the end a photographer can create an image with their own personal interpretation, but they have no overall power over how the image is interpreted by the viewer. When I was a student I summed this up with a proposed title for my final years work: ‘Your misunderstanding of my mistakes’.
Proofs and prints on my wall at home
When I was offered the position of Photographer in Residence at the Tower my initial corcerns were about display. How was I going to show the finished work in a place where every wall was an artifact, where every room was a display in its own right?
For a quite a while I toyed with ideas of an installation piece, or some form of artwork that would fit into the fabric of the building. This was basically an impractical idea due to the amount of permission and work involved in doing the slightest thing to the fabric of this world heritage site, to hang a single picture would involve a lot of paperwork and reasoning (and of course time).
Also part of the residency brief was to broaden audiences, so the work needed to reach further than its normal visitors.
For me, after much thought I realised I wanted the work to be purely photographic, I am the first Photographer in Residence rather than Artist in residence so I knew I wanted the work to be a very photographic response to the location.
After I realised this I put thoughts of display to the back of my mind and focused on making the work.
Where the work would go only really raised its head again when time came to print the work, budgets needed to be allocated before the end of the financial year and suddenly a deadline was looming. The work was printed and frames commissioned with ideas of displaying the work in a corporate events space within the Tower of London. With my final edit made it was decided that the photographs would work best in a gallery space outside of the Tower where it could be used to display the residency to a wider audience who would veiw it in a contemporary art setting.
So at the moment we are still looking.
This illustrates an element of creating work that is often overlooked, the idea of the actual exhibition, where it will be shown and how it will be seen. Without going into it too deeply: an audience aproaches work in a diferent way depending on where the work is shown. This means that they will read the work acording to the expectation raised by its location. For example, you walk into a modern art gallery and see a sleeping attendent in a chair and question whether this is a sleeping member of staff or is it art? Would you ask yourself the same thing if it happend in the Tower of London?
When you enter a heritage site like the Tower of London are you more open to the possiblity that everything is historic?
As you will hopefully already know, I continue to work on photographic film, especially Black and White. Its central to my process and very much shapes the feel of my work. Since the advent of digital (starting in my final year of my Degree) various makes of film have ceased production, most importantly for me was the demise of AGFA Pan 100, a film I still miss. I recently discovered that it is being made again, but sadly not in the medium format size that I use.
The great news is that film companies like Fuji and Kodak are still developing black and white films and even more exciting is that camera companies are making new film cameras like this Voightlander. I saw this in BJP and again on the Horses Think blog, it looks very old fashioned but is in fact very sophisticated. Its also very lovely to look at.