Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2014 // Review

As a northerner it is easy to feel isolated and removed from the happenings of our capital city here in the UK. Particularly at the moment, there are many discussions and debates taking place about how London values the northern half of Britain, and how much of a priority and a say we really have in regards to our government. As someone who is passionate about art I feel very fortunate this year especially that we are never short of culture across all parts of our island, as the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2014 arrives in Sheffield. It is here from the 2nd of May to the 16th of August, and is the only place where you can see the 59 shortlisted photographs from the 4000 entries of the 2014 Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, outside of the National Portrait Gallery in London. 

The exhibition is taking place in the Millennium Gallery, which is at the heart of Sheffield and has a reputation for being Sheffield's premier destination in displaying art, craft and design, and houses work reflective of Sheffield's heritage, particularly in metalwork as well as art and design exhibitions showing contemporary works of art. 

The prize itself has become an annual fixture in the National Portrait Gallery's calendar, and has built a reputation for reflecting and featuring some of today's brilliant and emerging photographic talent. The images shortlisted cover a wide range of traditional and contemporary approaches to portrait photography. The exhibition includes highly conceptual pieces of work, revealing images of famous faces, intimate photographs of friends, family and much more. What I particularly loved about the exhibition was the vast range of styles of portrait photography that really reinforced my appreciation for the discipline, and I also left feeling incredibly inspired in terms of my own personal photographic pursuits. 

Konrad Lars Hastings By David Titlow
From reading reviews and talking to other people about the exhibition, I found a common theme of criticism if you will for the judge's take on what exactly a portrait photograph is. The winning photograph by David Titlow could easily be challenged for not necessarily meeting the definition of portraiture, in it's including of three adults, a baby and a dog. On this alone some would argue, and I am inclined to agree, that this image has more of a documentary nature to it with its narrative of the morning after a large party with this intimate scene we are witnessing, of Titlow's wife and child along with friends. 

However it is hard to dispute this image's incredible quality and presence with the dreamy lighting and tones similar to that of the Golden Age of Dutch Painting. I personally find it very emotive and heartwarming in how the lighting gives the child such an angelic quality, which you can imagine is exactly how the photographer perceives their child. This quality conveys a real sense of preciousness that the couple see in their child which we all would do, which is reinforced by the mother's locked gaze on the animal that is being held incredibly close to her child. The photographer you can imagine is distracted by this playful scene between the animal and their child which they are intent on capturing, and this is very uplifting of course. Whereas the mother juxtaposes this completely with her alarmed expression and the way she is holding the child, very much prepared to quickly move them away should this peaceful scene be shattered by any aggression from the dog. 

As beautiful an image as this is, again it can very much be questioned on it's place in a portraiture exhibition and competition. However I do think the judge's are intending to play on the definition of portraiture to create a certain impact and really make you think. Prizes as big as this can be used as a platform to convey messages and ideas about a discipline, to impact very much how artists approach their subject matter and what is considered appropriate to that genre. In this situation I believe that the judging panel are twisting this idea of portraiture, in it being solely about representing a single person's likeness and personality in an image of them, and is instead referring to this idea that portraiture is in fact a way of representing the photographer rather then the subject. Through this image by David Titlow we can see very much what is definitive of him as a person. We can see his loved ones including his child and wife, with her old school friends back in Sweden where she is from. The image was taken on a camera that is very personal to the photographer as he has been using it to capture personal shots for years. From this we could argue that this photo is in fact a representation and therefore a portrait of David Titlow, rather than the subject matter I've commented on previously. 

Overall the exhibition felt more of a celebration than a commiseration to those who were shortlisted, with the winners by their side. There is a real sense of achievement in every image displayed that is there for us to appreciate, for their unique take on the discipline. I could spend a hours taking you through the entirety of the 59 pieces of work displayed, but instead I want to draw on some of the key themes I picked up on in terms of the curation of the exhibition, as each corner I turned seemed to reveal a new layer to the types of portraiture shortlisted. 

Boy With Stick Gun Playing World War III (Russia Versus Ukraine) By Margaret Mitchell
The Unsettling 
Some of the earlier images I came across in the exhibition were very haunting in communicating a wider narrative outside of the image itself. One of my personal favourites is the photograph above by Margaret Mitchell, which shows a young Russian boy out of a number she found playing with sticks. When she asked what they were playing they replied with the title of the image shown above. This is very emotive in reflecting these events that are happening in their society that are being fictionalised into the children's games. I think this is so powerful because violence and war is something that no one would want their child to grow up around, and as much as you may try and shelter your child from this kind of thing, children still know what is happening. 

I also found instantly when coming across this image that the context wasn't necessary to trigger an emotional response, and this is what I found with many images in the first part of the exhibition and that is why they clearly deserve to be shortlisted. As the real skill with creating visual art is being able to communicate something specific and trigger a certain response in a person, without needing anything else and for viewers not needing to ask too many questions in order to understand and interpret a piece of art.

Lenny Henry By Sarah Lee
Famous Faces
As you would expect with any major portraiture competition, there is a fair share of recognisable faces. However those that are shortlisted have a fundamental quality, in that they reveal something new or show the person in a way we are not used to seeing them. The image above of Lenny Henry was not actually placed with the other portraits of famous people and this is because it has a different purpose and is more conceptual, in that it was commissioned by the Guardian to accompany an article about the under representation of black and ethnic minorities on British television. Because of this the photograph is not so much to show this more vulnerable side of Lenny Henry as it may seem, but to in fact communicate this concern and worrying issue that Henry clearly feels very strongly about. 

Stella By Michele Aboud + Natalie Angel Miranda By Viviana Peretti
The Elegant
With many portraiture exhibitions you can expect an array of very pleasing images to look at in terms of showing the beauty and elegance in their subject matter. My personal favourite among these very graceful images of couples, drag artists and more is Stella by Michele Aboud. Which is a very simple but gorgeous image by Aboud taken of her neighbour Stella. I think the incredible use of tone and lighting is what makes this very simple image of this obviously very pretty woman, such a stunning portrait.

One Minute to Go By Robert Timothy + The Inheritance Project By Hayley Benoit

The Conceptual
Some of my favourite images among those shortlisted were those that were more conceptual or part of a larger series of work. One Minute to Go for example by Robert Timothy is part of a series that records newsreaders through portrait images in the last moments before they go live on air. Another image among these more conceptual pieces was a portrait photograph taken from a series called the Inheritance Project by Hayley Benoit. This series shows people styled to resemble old photographs of their parents. I find this series really intriguing and really recommend taking it a look at it, as the use of fashion really blurs the lines between generations and offers a fresh perspective on the act of children dressing up in their parent's clothes.

Drying Off By Chris Frazer Smith + Unexpected by Lenka Rayn H.
Many of the brilliant photographs in this exhibition include children. Some as you would expect offer a more lighthearted and silly perspective on childhood, whilst others including the two images above have a more serious tone which the photographer has managed to capture in the children. Which is what I think makes these two images in particular so special. The image on the right is entitled Unexpected and is one of my favourite photographs from the exhibition. The photographer as they have shown through the title of the image, managed to capture something very surprising in this one of the two children they photographed. Many photographs of young girls as you'll know, don't come close to achieving the seriousness of expression that this subject has, and personally I think this emotion and even the slight pain we can see through this girl's face is really quite moving.

Arvi By Sami Parkkinen + Dog and Boy By Lawrence Cartwright
The Chucklesome
Many of my favourite photographs in the exhibition were some of the most witty. Two of my favourites of these images are above and play in particular on what being a child is and make a comparison between children, adults and animals. I went around the exhibition clockwise so I finished with these more heartwarming and uplifting photographs and they really rounded off what otherwise was quite a serious collection of photographic images. The winning photograph by David Titlow was also among these more youthful and soul lifting pieces of work.

Felix By Tracey Howl
Before I finish this review I just wanted to share my personal favourite photograph from the exhibition which is Felix by Tracey Howl. Aside from the rich tonal quality and the exquisite framing of the boy and his horse, what makes this image so special for me is this very special relationship we can see between the two subjects. I think the way Felix makes what is a very powerful creature seem so gentle and modest is very special, and to see this obvious affection and strength in this young boy is very uplifting to see. Both the horse and Felix are so striking with their beauty but what I really find the most powerful in this image is the contact we can see between the nose of the horse and the boy's hand, and also the way Felix doesn't feel he needs to keep an eye on the horse showing the strong amount of trust this boy has in this creature. I think I find this image so touching because it represents something that I think a lot of us desired as a child. Whether it's a close relationship with a pet or a mythical creature, I think as a child for me personally this kind of relationship with a creature was something I could only imagine or only experience through films and books.

Overall this exhibition of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2014 in Sheffield offers a well rounded but complex exhibition, which explores an abundance of approaches to contemporary portraiture photography. I really recommend a visit if you happen to be in the South Yorkshire area. To leave you with a thought that this exhibition creates, I want to draw on just how common it is in a lot of the work displayed to feature someone close to the photographer and who is therefore more comfortable a subject to use, and also to consider just how many of these photographs are very carefully staged rather than being spontaneous in nature. Considering that many portrait images that seem to be of this nature have been shortlisted, do you think these components are important in creating a successful portraiture photograph?


Exam Evaluation

When given the exam paper at the beginning of the project, I decided to choose the word flicker. I chose this because I really felt it was the most challenging word as an initial stimulus, and I really liked the idea of using it to explore more abstract forms of photographic work. Which I was really wanting to look at, as I'm definitely more interested in the fine art side of photography, which I haven't had that much of a chance to look at so far, during my AS Level studies. 

For me the most interesting part of this whole project, has been doing my contextual research and really learning more about the conceptual work I have come across, that has really fascinated me. I've also really loved taking inspiration from sources, that I've personally connected to and come across myself. For example really looking into the visuals of a horror film I enjoyed and learning about a singer's lyrics and the deeper meaning behind his music. Which is something I never would have previously considered applying to and using as inspiration, for my own photographic work. 

The new techniques that I've come across in this project, have really fuelled my love for really minimal, conceptually strong works of visual art. Acconci and Schneider's methods to me are just so incredibly clever, despite being relatively simple, and applying this to my own work has really provided me with a completely new perspective, to going out and simply taking photographs and putting together visual imagery. A new technique I tried in this project was overexposing my photographs on purpose, which created some really interesting abstract images. Which inspired me to think more about how I can create minimal and surreal photographs, which focus on form and composition, rather than colour and detail. I also came across the technique of creating luminograms, which I discovered by looking at some of Wolfgang Tillman's abstract work, such as Blushes and Freischwimmer. I really loved the effect of this drawing with light onto photo paper, and would love to try it in some future work. 

During this project I researched a number of photographers and artists to gather inspiration for my final piece of work. This included painters such as Andy Denzler and Francis Bacon, to photographers such as Gary Schneider and Angelica Garcia. I also looked at video imagery from the 2002 remake of The Ring and Marilyn Manson's "I don't like the drugs", music video. As well as individual artist's visual work, I also researched The Adventures of the Black Square exhibition, currently on at The Whitechapel Gallery in London, and looked more closely at Malevich's black square and Dora Maurer's conceptual work.

I have to say that all the sources I have looked at during this project, have influenced my final piece massively. This is because my research was very sequential in that I generally transferred from one source to another, due to either the way they have inspired me, or that their work has been associated with something else. In terms of my final photographs specifically, I was heavily inspired by the entire premise of the black square and the exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. I was also really inspired by Maurer's use of hands in her exploratory work and also the anonymity in the film stills I looked at in The Ring. The use of the white noise was really inspired at first, by Andy Denzler's video tape style paintings. I loved the message he conveyed in regards to maintaining the shelf life of this older technology, as newer technologies are growing and developing so fast. This work really made me think about the flickering of computer and television screens, which really brought me onto this idea of using white noise to convey something much deeper with my work. 

Personally I couldn't pinpoint one specific part of my project, that I think was the most successful. I really loved my overexposed experiments, which is why I have displayed three in a frame to go alongside this exam work. As I just love these abstract images and the minimal and compositional value that they have. I also am really pleased with my final piece, now that I have put it all together. At first I was panicking slightly that my idea was maybe too simple and maybe too ambiguous for a random person to really respond positively too. As it is more about what these images represent, rather than they're beauty. But now that I've put them together in their frames and also onto the website I created, I am proud of what I've produced conceptually in this project. I picked this title because I thought it was the most challenging and I am pleased with what I've managed to get out of a more obscure stimulus. 

I'm also really pleased with how my criticism and writing has come on during this project. When I started my other coursework back in September, I was really unsure how to write about photography and art, and how to really respond to work that is not my own. But through reading articles and books during this exam work, I really feel that I can use artistic vocabulary, more comfortably and really explore ideas and analyse work through my writing.

Problems I encountered during my project, mostly were to do with the time constraints that I had to do this work. As I really feel like a few more weeks would have helped me develop my final idea even further and to have more time to do it would have been useful too. I also had time issues on my London shoot as because I was on a trip and we also arrived late, I really didn't have enough time to get the shots that I wanted. 

Having the time issue with my London work, really helped me decided my final piece. As I knew trying to get really clever shots using interesting backgrounds, would have been too ambitious in the 5 hour duration. Which is why I decided to take more of a minimal approach to my work and focus more on how it would be displayed and edited, rather than the actual photo taking.

If given the chance to complete this project again, I would love to experiment with creating collages. As I think that this technique might be a great way to incorporate my white noise and black square cleverly into an image. I also would have liked to have created some darkroom experiments, inspired by Wolfgang Tillman's luminograms, and maybe have experimented with photograms to incorporate the black square into an image that way.  

Overall I am pleased with the work I have created during this project, and feel I have really developed in terms of my writing and my ideas about my own personal photography, from the work I have looked at. I think challenging myself with the word Flicker from the exam paper, really gave me the opportunity and confidence, to be more ambitious with my subject matter in this work. Which has just given me a completely new perspective of photography. This project has by far had my favourite themes in during AS Photography, and I think it is going to really influence my future work, not just in A2 but my own personal work in the near and distant future. 

My Final Piece // Flicker

Above is my final piece, that I assembled after choosing my three edited photographs to go into my small rectangular frames, that fit my printed photograph's 6x4 scale perfectly. Overall I think the composition of my piece is strong, with the high contrast between the shadows and highlights, both in my images and the frames. Which really emphasises the black square as a piece of symbolism for abstract art. 

I decided not to use any of my cropped images in my final piece, as I want the square to fill the photographs and really dominate my images, to really trigger a response for a viewer to my white noise obstructed square. Which hopefully as a conceptual piece, will be really thought provoking and hopefully challenge these ideas about the technologies effect on art in the past century.

Dora Maurer's conceptual work very much inspired the use of hands and anonymity in this piece and I think they work well in communicating this exploration of these ideas, in a way that makes this piece very introspective for a viewer and really asks for their interpretation. The hands for me also work as a metaphor for arguments, regarding the premise of the black square and how we can interpret it 100 years later. 

Like in my London photographs I made these images black and white, in order to make this link between old and new, in reflecting this passing of 100 years of the black square and it's original ideas and premise, compared to where we are now. With the technological developments that have grown so much over the past century

The white noise in this image, in it's contrasting round shape to the square, really represents what I've looked at in this project, in terms of distortion and time and in this piece it really reflects the passing of this growth of the digital age. As analogue televisions where visual white noise originated from, seem rare now that digital television has become the norm and technology has developed so much since then, in this relatively short space of time. 

Overall I am pretty pleased with my final piece. Although I do feel that, if I had more time I would have been able to create something, slightly more reflective of my own personal style of photography. As this was heavily inspired by the specific work and techniques that I have looked at in this project. In terms of the word FLICKER, this piece to me really goes back to these ideas I gathered from looking at Vito Acconci's work. From his blinks piece I really responded to it as a reflection of what blinking actually represents in our lives, in very much being like a comma, and that there is so much we miss simply because of blinking. For me in a similar way, this white noise represents what we miss and what obstructs our daily lives, simply because of this dependency on technology in the 21st century, and also the way it takes away from traditional aspects of our culture such as performance art, and traditional forms of artwork such as painting. Which is why I think the black square as well as this anonymity and use of hands to hold this white noise, is important in challenging these further ideas about time and technology. 

I also decided to share all my possible images for my triptych, on a Tumblr website that I made specifically to display this work. I decided to create an online display of these images, as it does seem appropriate considering the main theme of this work is to challenge the technological age and it's effect on both art and our daily lives, and the internet is very much at the forefront of the themes of my work. I have also created a page on this site where I have written an artists statement, to explain my work to the public and to make it more accessible for them. I really enjoyed creating this site and my statement, because it's allowed me to present my work as if I am a creative professional, and really helped me take my work seriously in having to justify it in my statement.

Creating My Final Piece

For my final shoot, I made sure I took my photographs on a day where the natural light would be bright enough, so that I could use a plain wall inside, as a background for my photographs. It didn't particularly matter to me that the wall was slightly yellow, as I planned to edit my images so that they are black and white. To take the photographs, I positioned my camera on my tripod and instructed my female subject to hold the square in a variety of different positions, so that I would have plenty of choice when it came to editing and creating my triptych. 

To create my circle of white noise to put onto my images, I used a circular cut out effect on a piece of online photo editing software. This made sure that the surrounding area of the circle would be completely transparent, making it easier to layer on top my black squares. Once I had put my circle onto around 30 of my favourite images from the shoot, I edited them so that they became black and white, and then I printed them so that I could begin arranging and working out the three images I wanted to use for my triptych. As well as using the full images I had taken with my camera, I also cropped some of my photographs, so that the square would go off of the page, to see if these more abstract effects would add something to my final triptych.

Above are some examples of experiments that I tried out, with different images and arrangements for my final piece of work. After a few experiments with landscape triptychs, I decided that for me visually, having the images on top of one another is a more effective layout, as the images feel more enclosed together as a piece, rather than three separate photographs.

Summarising My Inspiration + Final Piece Exploration

I've completed a lot of contextual research and exploration throughout my exam project so far. I've decided to summarise everything I've looked at, in order to collate the inspiration that I've taken from the sources I've looked at, and to help come to some conclusions about possible final pieces, that I could do for this project. 

My first source of inspiration came from choosing the word flicker, as a stimulus from the exam paper. I put together a mind map in order to explore my stimulus and decide a course of action to take with my research, in which I decided to look at light and movement in relation to the word flicker. In order to find inspiration, I looked through a number of photography books, and in a book I own about contemporary photography, I came across a series of abstract work by Wolfgang Tillmans. I was instantly taken by this work as it is so abstract, but manages to convey so much emotion, by the powerful use of movement in the large luminograms. Looking at this work really made me think about movement and how it can be used in an image. It also made me think about the effectiveness that a more minimal style can have in a piece of work. 

In the same book I then came across Gary Schneider's head series. I found this work really unique and his conceptual ideas fascinated me. As his technique of taking his images is so different but really effective in conveying so much character and emotion from his subjects, despite being a still image. In the book it said that Schneider was very much influenced by Vito Acconci's conceptual work, which I decided to look at next. In particular I looked at Acconci's conceptual piece of work entitled blinks, where he walked down a street and took a photograph every time he blinked. I found this work the most inspiring that I'd looked at so far. As it really challenges what it means to be artistic, is so conceptually strong and the blinking to me really relates to this idea of flickering. It really made me think about what my images could possibly represent by the different techniques I use. Not just in my exam work but with my photography in general.

I then came across a book on Francis Bacon's portrait paintings. I decided to find out more about his self portraits in particular, as they are so raw and really show this use of distortion and movement that Bacon uses. These distortions are really quite powerful in these works, in conveying this psychological torment and despair that Bacon felt for much of his life. For me Bacon's self portraits inspired me to think about distortion in photographic imagery, and the use of smaller movements to communicate darker, more psychological themes in an image. The way Bacon has used triptychs so effectively to explore more that one side of his subject, is really making me consider using a triptych for my final piece of work as well, in order to explore the themes I'm looking at even further. 

After looking at Bacon's work I took my research online, and on an art blog I came across a really interesting series of work by Angelica Garcia, entitled emptiness. Like Bacon, Garcia used distortions in her hand treated photographs, which really communicated well her conceptual idea of representing how memories change of the people we once knew, and how tragic time can be over the course of our lives. Finding out about Garcia's intentions with this work, inspired me to think more about the possible social messages I could communicate with my work.

On another art website, I came across a series of paintings by Andy Denzler, where he used video tape effects, to create these glitch style paintings that I found really poetic and intriguing. They really made me think about the word flicker in relation to technology, such as computer and television screens, and they inspired me find inspiration relating to television distortions and darker themes. This led me to looking at stills from the 2002 remake of The Ring. As I remembered a photograph used in the film, that like Bacons paintings used distortion to communicate something very dark. Looking more at the photograph, and other stills from the cursed tape and film in general, inspired me to think about maybe using anonymity in my final piece. Which in the stills I looked at was very powerful in communicating something a lot darker and important, than the actual subject matter of the image itself. The film also inspired me to think about using more monochromatic colours in my work, and textures such as white noise to convey something more psychological and conceptual with an image.

I then looked at stills from Marilyn Manson's, "I don't like the drugs" music video, which through looking at the imagery and lyrics, really gave me some conceptual possibilities for my work. In terms of looking at social institutions and using my work to maybe challenge some of these structures that affect and control our everyday lives. In particular with mass media as it really relates to what I've looked at in terms of video tape imagery and white noise. 

Researching and looking at The Adventures of The Black Square exhibition, that is currently on at the White Chapel Gallery in London, has inspired me to look at this symbolism of the black square and geometrical obstruction. In particular in using it to communicate my thoughts about art and technology, now that a century of the black square is over. As the past century has seen so much change in terms of digital art, technology and mass media in general, which has effected art and everything around us.  

Through concluding all of the inspiration I have looked at so far and possible ideas I have thought about for my final piece. I decided that I would create a series of collages out of some of the iconic pieces, from the Adventures of the Black Square. I decided to replace some of the geometrical qualities of these images from the exhibition with white noise. In order to comment on this idea of the black square, in relation to what the next century holds for modern art. We are at a completely new place with art and technology than we were 100 years ago, and I would love for my work to effectively challenge and reflect this change and rise in technology, and really question whether this is good for us or not. Not just in our daily lives, but also in modern art with the development of digital photography and computer graphics, and whether this developing of our culture is good for us or not. 

I decided to create this effect with the pieces from the exhibition digitally, by covering specific areas of the artwork with the white noise effect, that I took with my camera from my own television. I made the images black and white, as this effect is more commonly associated with older imagery because of old means of photography and video. I also wanted to use this to challenge the idea that these are contemporary art pieces, when digital art and technology has grown so rapidly over the past century.

Overall I do like the result of these images, however for me they are not personal enough and really do not reflect the ideas I have looked at and gathered in this entire project. I also think this is too specific a response to The Adventures of the Black Square exhibition, for me to really use this as my own photographic response to my exam stimulus as a whole.   

I then decided to look at how I could personally interact with my pieces. To show a real personal response and reflection to the work and ideas that I have looked at in this project, in terms of art and technology. Above is a series of experiments I conducted inside, using the flash on my camera, where I held my edited pieces from the black square exhibition and also pieces of technology. I used the timer on my camera, with a remote and my tripod, in order to position myself in front of the frame before taking the photograph, so that I could better set up the composition of my images. Doing these experiments was really for me to test out what I could do with my collages, and technology such as phones and cameras. Dora Maurer's work such as Etude 4 and Seven Rotations, really inspired me to use my hands and try different positions of holding the objects, in order to represent my own reflection and personal response to the subject matter. Also to demonstrate this exploration I have undertaken, with the themes and ideas I have looked at in this project.

From conducting these experiments and exploring the theme of the black square as a stimulus for my final piece. I have decided to incorporate the ideas I have gathered throughout this project. Including time, technology, art, mass media, and this use of the black square. Which I think is the perfect symbol to represent and challenge the ideas I have, regarding time and the growth of technology and mass media, in relation to art and the everyday. I also want to include white noise, in a way that obstructs and challenges the black square in my image, to really make a powerful connection between where we are now and back 100 years ago, and to challenge whether these advancements and changes have been good for us or not.

I have now decided that inspired by introspective work such as Francis Bacon's, "Three Studies for a Self Portrait". That I will create a triptych of three images as part of my conceptual work. The subject matter of my photographs, will be three different positions of two hands or a single hand, holding up a black square, in front of a plain background. I will then digitally place a circular image of my white noise, in the middle of these black squares. Which being circles I think will help communicate this challenging and obstruction, of the idea and structural value of the black square, and this starting point of where we seem to be now, 100 years later. With the growth of technology and it's impact on modern day art.

For me using this more minimal approach, which I've really loved about a lot of the work I've looked at in this project. Is important in exploring this symbolism of the black square, and in using this surrounding negative space, to really emphasise my subject matter and really make my work more intriguing and thought provoking. Which I really felt my London images lacked, as I tried to make my work more accessible for anyone to look at, which really took away a lot of depth in the image and effectiveness of the use, of the symbolism in my opinion.

To prepare for my shoot I will be finding a subject to hold the square, that I will be cutting out of black card, a light coloured wall to take my photographs against, using natural lighting to make my subject's hands and the card look more raw. Which I think will really add to the more minimal aesthetic to my images. My images will also be completely black and white, to really emphasis the high contrast I would like to create, between the highlights and shadows in my photographs, which should really bring out this symbolic black square further.

In terms of the position of my subject and the way the square is held, ideally I would like to create this almost surreal, two dimensional effect with the square being held very much straight up, facing my camera which I will be positioning on a tripod. This is so I can better frame my images to perfect their composition.

To display my three chosen images for my triptych, I will be buying three small black frames. As I visited an exhibition at the Tate Liverpool a few weeks ago, where an exhibition of Gyorgy Kepe's photographic experiments were being displayed, and a lot of his work was displayed individually in small black frames. Which I think is a really effective way to display a series of work, as the pieces feel sequential, but also individually powerful. Which is a quality I'd really like to give to my three images.

Experimenting With My Current Ideas in a Shoot

Inspired by the ideas surrounding geometrical obstruction, that I gathered from looking at The Adventures of The Black Square exhibition, and the conceptual work by Dora Maurer that I looked at. I decided to experiment with the current ideas I have regarding the square, white noise, anonymity and in general using the theme of mass media, to create a more conceptual series of experiments. I decided to conduct these experiments with my current ideas, whilst visiting London for the day. My real concept for this shoot was to have a person holding a square piece of paper, that I could edit a white noise effect onto. I got my white noise from a photo that I took of my own television making the effect. With going to London I also wanted to find some interesting buildings that are recognisable as being in London, that I could also put this white noise effect onto to really make a connection between my white noise and the surroundings in the photographs. 

I decided to make use of my trip to London to create some experiments, as I felt using the more recognisable features of our capital city would be a good tool for making my work more accessible and maybe even easier to understand. I used my Canon EOS 600D, with the 18 - 55mm kit lens, to take some black and white shots of both places I passed and also of my subject holding the square, which I cut out of some white card. To edit my photographs I then made some subtle adjustments using Photoshop and added the white noise effect onto either the white card in the image or another element of the subject matter. 

With having to do other things in London and arriving a lot later that intended, I was very limited for time, meaning I really struggled to get the shots I envisioned. Which is why the results of this shoot will definitely not be my final piece for this project. However it really gave me a chance to experiment and put the current ideas that I have into a into a physical form. 

I edited the white noise effect onto my piece of white card digitally, as I wanted the effect to look like it is being presented on an actual computer screen, rather than being printed onto a piece of paper. I quickly took this shot as a red London bus passed my subject, as they are really iconic to the city and the advert on the bus really helps make the link I'm am trying to create, between the white noise and mass media such as advertisements.

This is my favourite image from my shoot, as I think the composition is really strong with this bold square being held in just off the centre, with the blurred screens from Picaddilly Circus behind it. Which I achieved by using a lower f/stop of f/4.5. I think again, this image represents this link I am making between white noise and social institutions such as mass media and advertising. The screens themselves are very iconic to modern day London, and I do find it strange that tourists will happily photograph these screens, which are basically just giant adverts trying to sell us something. So hopefully this use of white noise being held against these screens, communicates and challenges how interconnected we are with technology, to the point where we will literally take a photograph of some television screens, as if it's some kind of wonder.

Across from Piccadilly Circus I came across another television screen being used to play advertisements. So I decided to also replace this with white noise, to give this sense of irony in that the technology we are so dependent on, is failing us in this almost tragic but funny way. Especially considering that the provider of the television screen has advertised themselves on the bottom of the frame, which I think is quite a witty way of challenging this institution of mass media that we have in our society. 

My next image is a photograph I edited, from a few that I took of different buildings and theatres in London. I decided to replace the signs advertising the shows on at these theatres with the white noise, to communicate the idea that technology and television is negatively affecting our culture, and lessening the value and need for traditional forms of art and entertainment, such as plays and musicals. I decided to use a darker version of the white noise effect from my television, which I achieved by using a faster shutter speed. I did this to communicate this negative link between technology and traditional cultural entertainment. Unlike my other images from this shoot, I don't think this image is particular successful as it doesn't have the same impact or strength of composition that my other images have. 

My final image from this very brief shoot, consists of the tower from the Tate Modern, being surrounding by this void of white noise that I have added digitally. I think this image makes an interesting and challenging statement, about whether technology is good for art or not. Being such a tall, iconic building in modern day London, that houses so much contemporary artwork. This image is effective in making a link between these ideas about the growth of technology and mass media, and the effect it has on traditional art. A lot of the work now at more contemporary galleries such as the Tate Modern, contains work making use of computer graphics, photography and other digital editing and image making techniques, such as scanning and even drawing and painting with technologies such as graphics tablets. This growth and development in technology poses so many opportunities now for art and artists, but I think this image makes a statement in questioning whether simply painting or sketching an image is good enough anymore for modern day art. 

In terms of the overall quality of my image, I don't think this is the best visually that I have produced, and for me it lacks a certain level of sharpness and contrast, that I think would have really aided this message I am communicating with this image. 

Overall I am generally pleased with what I have produced in this shoot, and I think I have managed to communicate my ideas rather well throughout this series of experiments. I think the use of contrast and black and white in my images, communicates well this link I am making between the old and the new, with technology and mass media that really structure our everyday lives. Now that I have created something with my current conceptual ideas, I now want to summarise and go over everything I have looked at in this project so far, in order to collate and determine what my final piece of work will be. 


Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015

Whilst planning a visit to London and looking at exhibitions in gallerys that I could visit, I came across an exhibition in the Whitechapel gallery called, "The Adventures of The Black Square". The premise of the exhibition is to show and reflect the black square's presence in art throughout the past century. The exhibition has four themes which are utopia, architectonics, communication and the everyday. The themes are explored throughout the exhibition, through photography, film, installation and performance. 

Black Square 1915 Kazmir Malevich
The black square started at the beginning of the 20th century with this painting by Kazmir Malevich. The painting itself was the start of a new movement declared by Malevich as supermatism, in which he described this square as being, ‘face of the new art ... the first step of pure creation’. By this he is referring to the beginning of the idea of abstract art, in that this square is absolute, in that it is not representing anything literal. More the feeling it gives and emotionally what it represents, in terms of Malevich's feelings towards art at that time, in particular towards movements such as cubism and fugurative art in general. 

What I find interesting about this piece of work is how conceptual it actually is and how this effects critics and everyday people's opinions of it. If you understand the statement of this piece and Malevich's ideas and intentions, and what this square really represents for him, this symbolic square sets an incredibly, powerful tone across this exhibition. As stemming from these pieces by Malevich, this black square has been used throughout the past century in abstract art and in particular has really linked with ideas about politics and society during the past 100 years. 

One of Malevich's iconic black squares starts off the exhibition and also the theme of utopia, which in this context relates to the black square in relation to the idea of abstraction, in being both the death and birth of art as we know it. In terms of being the death of art, this idea stems from the fact that this black, non representative square, with no narrative really feels like a full stop for art, in it's very obstructive sense of being. However as this exhibition explores, this square was actually the stepping stone for what became a global phenomena of modern art.

For me this square is a metaphor and represents the structures and confines of our society in general. In terms of art I think this is very much challenging the idea of what is art and as a fan of abstract work, I think the black square is a very powerful statement of how contemporary art has transformed over the past century. I also think the black square sets a powerful statement in that art does not have to be representational, and I think the way the square is slanted slightly and is not completely symmetrical, is really communicating these ideas about bending the confines of art in the past and how expression, does not necessarily have to come from directly representing a subject matter. In terms of my own work these ideas have made me think more about how I could use subject matter such as white noise that I've looked at, to make a comment about something more than what is literally shown within the image. 

Dóra Maurer Seven Rotations 1 – 6, 1979
When researching artwork that is displayed in the exhibition, I was instantly drawn to this complex piece of work by Dora Maurer, entitled Seven Rotations. Dora Maurer uses a range of mediums for her work including printmaking, film, photography, collage and various forms of performance art. Her most recognisable work was created during the 1970's, where Maurer created a large amount of experimental, conceptual work. Which usually consisted as a record of different actions, usually including Maurer's hands.

I decided to look more into Maurer's work and ideas, as I really love Seven Rotations as a piece of visual art. For me this photographic piece is really powerful, in that it is a very introspective piece of work, that feels very intimidate as we see Maurer peeking behind these pieces of paper. To create this piece, as you can see in the middle, Maurer took a photograph of herself holding a white square and then layered and rotated the image, so that each photograph would fill one another. I really like this minimal way of creating a very complex looking piece of work, that to me reminds me of a Kaleidoscope. I also find it interesting this effect she has created of revealing, moving, altering and hiding parts of herself and the image, which I find really intriguing and also quite emotional in the way this piece feels very human, in the way Maurer hides behind the image, looking straight at us. Really making us question how she wants us to react to this piece and also what she is maybe trying to express about herself, through this work.

The exhibition curator for Adventures of the Black Square, has spoken about this connection that the black square has to themes such as politics over the past century. Whilst reading about Maurer and her work, it became very apparent that as an artist, her work was never intended to be political, however due to the time and circumstances in Hungary where she was based, her work was very much interpreted as being politically influenced. I find this really interesting because it's made me think a lot more about how my own work could be interpreted, and how these interpretations can vary with conceptual work, which I am hoping to create.

Another interesting element of Maurer's work, is this use of almost seduction and enticement that we feel through her very personal work, that you often need to stop and stare at to really understand and gather an interpretation, of what exactly it means to you. This is particularly interesting to me as Maurer's work always seems so well calculated, in it's process that she demonstrates in her works, and also the way she presents pieces such as Etude 4, where we see the catching of a ball represented through various movements, that are presented almost mathematically in a table. This more cold process of creating work, really creates this enticement for a viewer in wanting to get some kind of emotional connection to a piece of her work.

Maurer's works are also particularly clever in that despite these complex calculated processes that she uses, her work is accessible and easy to interpret and get some kind of reaction from. I think this comes from the fact she records actions and movements that we could perform ourselves, bringing a much more physical reality to her imagery. In that we actually partake in these actions ourselves, as well as being able to simply read a piece of artwork.

I also love that this work enables you to make such complex social and political interpretations, despite being so introspective and human. I love the use that Maurer makes of herself and the human form, to really record and communicate her own exploration and feelings as an artist. For me Maurer's work is not about art, but reality and the way we are constantly changing.

This work has made me think about how I can communicate these ideas I currently have about mass media and the changing of technology within our daily lives. I love this idea of integrating the human form into my pieces and I'd also love to incorporate these elements of geometrical obstruction, that the exhibition looks at, across the time scale that really covers this advancing of the technological age, and I really believe that what I've looked at from this exhibition is going to be a huge influence on my final piece of work. 








Looking at White Noise

Because I have been thinking a lot about white noise and how I could use it in my work, I decided to find out more about what exactly it is and what it means in terms of science and to those who listen to and are exposed to it, to work out what kind of messages it could communicate within my work. 

White noise is a sound that contains equal intensities of many frequencies. It is used in psychological tests of paranormal science, such as the Ganzfeld experiment which tests for ESP abilities and works by shutting off the senses, to create perceptual deprivation, which in theory should allow for extra sensory perception to occur more easily. The sound of white noise is also used to help people concentrate and sleep, as the mix of frequencies is effective in blocking out distractions. 

In terms of the visual of white noise that we get on television screens, this snowy effect of pixels on the screen, is due to the antenna not being able to pick up any television signal. The specific flickering effect is caused by the antenna accidentally picking up electronic noise and radiated electronic noise. This effect is usually seen on analogue television sets and old video tapes, however many modern televisions use a white noise effect, to show that nothing is being picked up by the television or that nothing is plugged in, for it to pick up anything visual to display on the screen.

Due to the effect of white noise being commonly associated with old video and television technologies, I feel like it would be a great tool to use in my work. To communicate a message about how mass media has changed over the years and how necessary it is in our modern world, and to also challenge ideas about whether this rise in the use of mass media and new technologies, is good for us or not. 


Experiments With Overexposure + Texture

Inspired by Marilyn Manson's use of bright, overexposed shots in his, "I don't like the drugs", music video. I decided to try experimenting with overexposing photographs, whilst also experimenting with looking for and adding texture and capturing movement and anonymity. I created these overexposed shots, by making sure more light than needed to, would enter my lens whilst exposing an image. I did this by opening my shutter for longer and putting my camera on a tripod as well in some cases, I also used a lower aperture to let more light in through the lens and used an ISO of 200, so that my images would have a good amount of quality without noise whilst also being relatively bright. I took these photographs around my house and my method was to simply look for interesting shapes and also use myself, to create some more haunting, faceless photographs.

I experimented a lot with placing objects over my face, that were very light so that they would wash out any detail over my face, creating this surreal effect where you can just see the rest of my body and hair. I really liked this photograph in particular, however I personally found the whiter areas to be too smooth and bright, which is why I've lowered the brightness in all my images to bring more detail back into the darker areas. I have also added a grainy texture to this image, which I think really adds to this photograph and communicates the same effect as a lot of the visuals in the Manson video and also the cursed tape I looked at from The Ring, in terms of this haunting use of texture and colours such as white noise.

What I love about this overexposed effect is the amount of negative space it can create, in what would normally be a very busy and detailed image. The image above for example, that I took by pointing my camera at a piece of metal, creates this really abstract reflection of me holding my camera and this bright, negative space looks very surreal in suspending this reflection within the image. I think the rule of thirds is also used effectively in this image, as I don't think having this reflection exactly in the middle would have done anything visually for this image and it would not have allowed the viewer's eye to view across the image as their attention will have just been drawn straight to middle. I also think this works because my intention with this image was not to simply take a photograph, of myself taking a photograph, but to create an abstraction using this effect of overexposing a photograph.

For the image above, I decided to move my camera as I took the photograph, so that the round shapes on my subject matter which was a radiator, would blend and look like they are moving in the image. I think doing this was effective in creating something very smooth in texture and surreal looking, as I don't think a lot of people would instantly know this is a radiator. I also framed my subject matter on the bottom left of the image, cropping a lot of it out, because I really like the negative space around it and I think this framing is interesting in challenging the scale of this object and what it actually is for a viewer, working on this whole idea of the abstraction that I can create within a still life photograph. 

After experimenting with hair previously, inspired by stills from The Ring, I decided to look at hair once again and experimented with what other abstractions I could create, simply using the hair on my head. I experimented in particular with movement and framing in an attempt to create some very surreal looking effects using longer shutter speeds, to capture movement in my image as well as overexposing it. I also decided not to include my face in anyway, in order to create some strange shapes rather than anything particularly emotive. 

This image is one of my favourite results of my experiments with hair and movement, as it just looks so strange and almost like some kind of unworldly creature swimming, through this white space. I also like the varying tones throughout the image, that really add an atmospheric sense of depth to this image, despite everything looking so soft and blending seamlessly into this negative space.

I also experimented with these thick black wires in some of my images, as I love the deep black contrast they add, to an otherwise white and bright image. By bleaching all the other textures and tones mostly out of the image they really look bizarre hanging in and out of the images, in a very intimidating way.

Overall I'm really happy with these experiments. that I have simply gone around my house and taken. I'd love to display some of these images along with my final piece, as I think they have such an emotive mood to them, despite being simple abstractions and really represent a lot of the work and ideas, I have looked at in this project so far, in terms of distortion, black and white and abstraction in general to communicate something very conceptual. I now want to look more at white noise and how I can make a comment on things such as mass media and technology in my work, as I've looked at a lot of work now to do with those themes and definitely would like to work to apply them into my own final images, maybe incorporating these techniques of distortion and overexposing images as well. 

Marilyn Manson "I Don't Like The Drugs" // Music Video Stills

In search of more possible conceptual ideas for my final piece, I decided to start researching art films and music videos, for interesting visuals and deeper messages, that could influence my ideas. As I've been looking at themes of horror and distortion, I decided to look into the music videos of the king of disturbing himself, Marilyn Manson. Due to it's underlying social messages and visuals, that really build on what I've already looked at, I decided to look at stills from the music video, "I Don't Like The Drugs", in order to find more inspiration both visually and conceptually. 

I also decided to look at this music video because Manson makes a great deal of use, out of light and in particular white noise, through these television screens he has tied to his back whilst trying to walk down a street. The lyrics in this video really communicate a clear sense of resentment that Manson has for society and how it raises people. The lyrics "I don't like the drugs, but the drugs like me", I think is Manson using drugs as a metaphor for social institutions like education and religion. Other lyrics in the song make reference to drugs being a metaphor for god and this idea that god is still welcoming to everyone, no matter what you've done and that is what religion pushes.

In terms of the television screens that are weighing down Manson in the still above, I think they represent the constant pull that mass media has on us, in terms of our thoughts and perspective on everything. I think it also challenges this idea of what free will actually means, in a society where we apparently have human rights and the freedom of speech, however we are tightly placed into these social institutions and norms, that take away of lot of our independence and free will, in terms of what religions we are exposed to and the way we are taught and allowed to live our lives. I think the white noise as well that we see on the screens, represents Manson's opinion on how meaningless mass media is in keeping our lives moving along but not actually allowing us to go anywhere.

When Manson was just Brian Warner, as a child he attended a catholic school and this song and many others, really reveals this resentment he feels towards religion, education, family and western culture in general. In terms of this still, where we can see a family gathered around to watch a television show, where we see a headless man in the screen. I think here the reference to drugs is a metaphor for what society gives to those who are part of lower tiers of society, in that Manson believes the everyday person is raised to be stupid and taught to be nothing through these empty television shows and what is passed through the media and social norms that are consecutive to day to day life. Manson uses anonymity here to communicate this much deeper message as we cannot see the faces of any of the subjects in this piece, making us focus on this group as a family, all facing this television screen and what that represents.

The colours used in the video are all very desaturated, which I think was intentional, in order to communicate this idea of society being very soulless and institutionalised, as to me the taking away of colour takes away this sense of life and joy.

In a lot of the video we see many clips of Manson in these very bright, over exposed shots, where he looks deranged and confined. I think this is him commenting further on how mass media and society drives him crazy, with the sense of order and entrapment that it makes him feel. I think this use of overexposing the shot to take away a lot of the detail, that just leaves these bright white and grey shapes, is powerful in conveying this sense of psychological torment Manson feels. I also find this bright white effect, very clinical and minimal, which I think is interesting to see this movement within, as it gives the effect that Manson is struggling within a padded cell. Which again massively relates to this sense of entrapment that he is conveying, in relation to social institutions within our western society that try to control him.

Looking at this video, has inspired me to think more about the use of lighting in my images and the deeper meanings I could communicate through using textures such as white noise and desaturated or even monochromatic colours and also again how I could use anonymity to communicate something very conceptual with my work. The themes of this video have also inspired me to think about how I could make a comment on society and social institutions, such as mass media with my own work.

Experiments With Longer Exposure Times + Distortion

Inspired by the work on distortion and movement I've looked at, such as Francis Bacon's self portraits and film stills from the The Ring, I decided to conduct some experiments to see what I could do with longer shutter speeds and to have my subject moving at the same time. A lot of my inspiration for this, came from the faceless girl that I looked at, from film stills in The Ring. As I really liked the use of anonymity, that was creating through this unsettling way of putting her thick black hair, over her face.

To create these experiments I used the studio in my college, a DSLR camera in the form of the Canon EOS 60D, with a 18-55mm kit lens. I also used a tripod and two lights in front, on either side of my subject, on the lowest brightness. I used a black background so that I could best control the light hitting my subject, as I wanted the subject to blend into the background, rather than stand out of it to a certain extent, so that I would only capture these bright points of focus on her hair and arms in some cases. I also used a tripod in order to keep my camera completely still, while using longer exposure times, so that I had control of the movement I wanted my subject to make, rather than having to move the entire camera.

My main intention with these experiments, was to play around with using shutter speed and different movements with a subject, to create different distortions. I was inspired to do this by the photograph of the teens from The Ring that I looked at, stills of the faceless girl and also the paintings I looked at by Francis Bacon, who used distortion, to communicate emotionally his resentment towards himself and his life. 

For the majority of my favourite experiments, I've edited a colour version of the image and also a black and white version, which I was inspired to do by the powerful use of white noise and other monochromatic textures in The Ring's cursed tape. Taking inspiration from the photograph of the teens from The Ring, where the teen's faces were the only parts of the image that had been distorted, I decided to try the same with my subject and in most cases only had her move her head and keep the rest of her body as still as she could. I also made use of her long hair and had her put it over her face in a few of the experiments, to create a similar effect of anonymity, to the girl I looked at in The Ring.

The above image was one of the first I took, where I had my camera positioned quite far away on my tripod, so that more of my subject's body would be in the frame, in order to emphasise the movements she'd be making with her head. I also made use of the rule of thirds to aid the composition and help the viewer's eye move naturally with the movement of the subject across the image. 

Above is one of my most successful experiments from this shoot. This is because my subject has managed to keep the rest of her body completely still while moving her hair slowly upwards. I really like the black and white version of this shot in particular, due to the strong contrast between the light areas of the tips of my subjects hair and her arms against this black, void like background which she is seemingly blending into. I think this use of anonymity and this hunched position my subject has, is effective in creating a very haunting and eerie image, that is really similar to that of stills from The Ring. 

I also moved my camera higher and closer to my subject, in order to get some shots with just her upper torso and head in the frame. For these shots I really focused on the way my subject could move her head. My most successful shots were from when I told my subject to make smaller, sharp movements with her head, which created these really nice blurred effects over her face. 

Above was a particularly strange result of an experiment that I did using a white background so that I would pick up more detail from the movements of my subject. Instead of having her move her head, for this experiment I had her put her hands over her hair and then pull them away. As you can see this created a really surreal effect, that looks straight out of a horror film. Personally I really like this and would liked to have experimented with this further, as I didn't realise how much I would like the effect. 

Overall I am quite pleased with the results of these experiments, with movement and distortion and they have given me some ideas to think about, in regards to my final piece. At this stage I really like the idea of having a darker subject matter, to communicate a really conceptual idea with my work. I now want to look more at white noise and other conceptual artwork to inspire and build on my current ideas.