Art Re-education

Twelve months ago I gave myself the task to take photographs every day and show them on my blog. I hadn’t realised what a creative boost it would give me. The last year has been like an intensified art re-education, I don’t think even when I was doing my Foundation then Degree between 1970 and 1976 I worked with this intensity, and because I have the experience I can progress faster. Not only has it been in the composition and creation of photographs, but also, (mainly through Pinterest, and following gallery and photographers sites), I have found and studied photographers I have never known previously or only seen as a passing interest.

I have been taking photographs since 1970, but in the early days it was just a part of my work, as a source for sculpture or to document what I made. Then from the late 70’s until recently the photographs were as a record of projects I undertook; performances and projects by other artists; a record/archive for my employers of community events and writers at writing groups, training, foreign tours, conferences and readings. This was a considerable body of work, although I have very few examples available.  Below are two typical examples the one on the left from 1979, Marty St.James performing I’ll See You at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and on the right Arthur Thickett performing his work at an FWWCP Festival on a magazine cover (which I also designed).

marty1979     fed 

My own ‘vision’ was subsumed by the needs of others.

So in the past twelve months my own creativity has sort of burst open. This has been through circumstance, I do not work now, partly due to disability and partly for other reasons. It makes me financially poor but time rich, and luckily digital photography after the initial layout is wonderfully cheap!

How has my work developed?

I can see that the influences of studying others has helped, certainly the French series of short documentaries, Contacts (this shows 1 of about 40 films, it’s worth looking for the others), has been very helpful, where photographers talk about their work in a detailed and uncompromising way. I have also been thinking about and watching the independent film-makers of the early 70’s and their observation of their own personal environment.

I am not a photographer. I am an artist using the medium of photography, in the same way I use and have used film and writing. I see my photographs as a point of ‘noticing’ a glimpse. They are often places I know then at different times take the image and use the most applicable, people don’t feature, but that may change. At present I am looking for compositions in the ‘man-made’ and natural world which take little regard for the actual object. The subject hardly matters. They are about silence, about the wind, about unplanned creation. I look for the everyday within my own environment and separate it from that environment. I was very pleased when a friend said that after looking at the series I have recently started, Flat Life , she noticed corners and details around her house. I have plans for other photographs; including recreating a Giotto painting and photographing everyone on the street I ‘side’onto. I am sure these are simple and naïve elements for experienced photographers who have studied the art in detail.

I am making images which I think are reaching somewhere close to what I am striving for. They are becoming adequate, but I am not consistent enough yet, and that is a discipline artists develop over a period. Many, including me, can create something which looks/sounds/reads ok, that people like, which makes a statement of self/fact; it is the regular repeating at that level and the development from that point which makes an artist in whatever field they work in.

Could I live off my work?

I doubt it, though I am having an exhibition later this year, provisionally called Half Mile, as all the images will be taken within half a mile of my flat. If I had the drive I could push my work to a wider audience, I do not take images in terms of selling or popularity (similarly in my writing and films). My ambition departed many years ago, but I can feel it tugging at my socks again. I am not being ‘snooty’ about selling, but as in writing or any other art form, creating something that will sell means a very different mindset.

Renegade Writers has helped me greatly with my writing, offering a serious and supportive critique on a regular basis, and giving me the chance to offer similar critique to others, from which I learn. It would be very useful if in Stoke-on-Trent we had a similar group for photographers and visual artists, it’s not for everyone, but certainly I would greatly appreciate some feedback on what I do, not just at the finished state, but during work in progress.

If I can’t live off it why am I doing it?

That is of course the ultimate question many artists ask themselves. There is a touch of arrogance in showing the world your inner thoughts, there has to be. I am not a hobbyist and again I do not decry them as they create many fine works and most would be technically superior to me. I enjoy the processes, but they are a means to an end, not the end. The camera and software are just tools, as words and computers are in my writing. I do it because at last I feel I have a ‘voice’ worth hearing/seeing, a bit late maybe at almost 60, but then I can draw on experience I never had at 20 or 30.


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