Further reflection on assignment 3

My tutor provides feedback on assignments in a multi-stage format which I find extremely helpful. First he makes a pdf of my assignment post and marks up my text and/or images with specific comments. Next he creates a framework formative feedback form and sends both these documents to me. We then arrange a date to discuss it all online, which might be a week later or more. This interval gives me time to go through his comments and make changes that now seem appropriate, and means that the subsequent online session is far more productive and useful than it would otherwise be.

In my assignment 3 I had considered transfer-printing my images by hand onto muslin, and my tutor’s marked-up pdf suggested that I give it a go. I immediately realised that it would indeed be a good thing to do, even though I’d already gone down a different fabric-printing route which had produced an outcome that had received a positive response during peer critique. So I spent the next two days doing this, and found the exercise to be unexpectedly revealing as it led me down a train of thought that allowed me to see the images I’d made for the assignment in a very different light.

The first thing I noticed about this new print was the fact that the materiality of the images was strongly emphasised due to the grain of the muslin fabric, and that this seemed particularly prominent where there was fabric texture present in the image itself. I also noted that the muslin’s association with its mundane uses like straining and bandaging brought an everydayness into the images and made this presentation of them very different to that of the organza print, which has a more dreamlike and exotic presence in which the banal details act as disruptive elements.

These observations led me to realise that the shifting emphasis of the different formats I’d produced (individual prints on photo paper and the two fabric collations) was in itself intensely autobiographical. Simultaneously I saw with the force of a revelation just how much of my personal story the images actually reveal – something that I really hadn’t understood until that moment. I saw that they speak directly about a sense of solitude and the routines that have been a key element in the long period of adjustment I’ve been going through since my 25-year relationship ended unexpectedly last year – routines that create calming familiarity and track incremental change in the small shifts that occur in their repetitions.

It is the second part of this equation that I recognised in the multiple formats, and I began to consider creating a book and a video to provide further shifting perspectives on the work. My ultimate idea was to combine all five formats into a single installation, with the video displayed at around 3 x 2 metres, the organza hung in an open space where its ephemerality can be appreciated and where passing bodies cause it to flutter, the photo prints and muslin hung on adjacent walls with the prints matching the 3 x 4 layout of the images on muslin, and copies of the book available for viewing at a table. I discussed all these observations and ideas with my tutor in our subsequent online tutorial, and while he strongly emphasised the positive role of experimentation and encouraged me to continue exploring the idea that combining multiple formats can offer a sense of change through repetition, he also cautioned me not to overload the assessors with too much material when the time comes for assessment

Since then I have created the book and the video is a continuing work in progress. I plan to make a final decision about which of the five formats to submit shortly before the time comes to send the materials off. While the muslin print experiment is perhaps the least likely of the formats I will choose, it has played a vital role in the development of this project by changing my understanding of the work. In so doing, it also showed me that images can pick up far more of the photographer’s interests and preoccupations than they might consciously intend. I had actually considered using the story of my relationship breakdown for this autobiographical assignment, but had discarded the idea at an early stage when I found that the images I was making were essentially clichéd, although I did reclaim two of them for this later attempt in which my original intention was simply to document my daily life as seen through my own eyes. There are important lessons for me in this experience, one being that it’s better to approach a subject via mood and intuition than by trying to create visuals in my mind’s eye and then photograph them, and another being the value of experimentation even when it seems unlikely to add much to the outcome of a work.