Musings on creativity for photographers and artists by Rob Hudson
Showing posts with label meaning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meaning. Show all posts

Friday, 22 February 2013

Lucy Telford's 'Self 1'


Lucy Telford's 'Self 1'. You can find the original by linking here

So here we have a photogram of a doll, it is on the surface a simple picture, sure it's slightly distorted, but we shouldn't dismiss it lightly as some wilful abstraction. It's the kind of photograph within which we have to make our own associations based on sparse clues, not a simple story and certainly beyond mere illustration. It is thankfully one of the few photographs (as are many of her's) that I'd want to spend time living with, pondering and thinking and being moved.

There is something profound at foot here, but what exactly, is to some extent a matter of personal interpretation. Lucy is not the kind of artist to preach on high with simple tales that are easily grasped in the short time frames of mass consumption engendered by social media. They stop me in my tracks and challenge me to think and engage. To wrestle with disentangling its meaning. The most obvious is the title ’Self 1’, this is meant to be seen as a self portrait.

Why a doll? There's an element of the shared experience here - we all had dolls of some description as children and our children still play with them now, even in the modern electronic age. There's something profound about a doll, something Jungian even in that depiction of a tiny, plastic, fragile person. But more than that: does the choice of a doll depict in some ways the objectification of women? There's certainly an element of physical idealism in the slim, long legged fragility here. It's as women are expected to look if they are to conform to the social forces that surround us in our everyday lives. From billboard models to ’pop princess’ we are constantly barraged with this imagery. Plus there's the fact of us looking, it's a knowing reference to the visual consumption of the image. It's as if we are complicit in a guilty secret more so because it is deeply personal and to some extent revelatory.

What other clues are there?
Perhaps the most striking is the blue haze surrounding the doll. This is not as far as I know a normal result of the process when laying objects on photographic paper. Again there’s deliberateness here.  It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see the ’doll’ as if it's trapped in sadness. A shroud of pain, whilst the light exists beyond.

Then there are the apparent stigmata on the upturned hands. That position is deliberate, unnatural and asking us to look. Again it's a symbol of suffering, but perhaps a willing suffering as Christ being crucified to cleanse mankind of sin. Does this perhaps represent her role as mother and carer? Or does it hint at something deeper, darker something from the past that is carried with her? We cannot say for sure, it is one more element to ponder.

And yet this doll is faceless, again this references the objectification of women where bodies are considered above the person. Where women are seen as objects of consumption by men. Not as real people with personalities, histories and emotional lives of their own. But this is both faceless and distorted, perhaps forced by some pressure of life, squeezed in an unwilling direction.

Finally there is the process - the image wasn't fixed it has been allowed to fade naturally. This electronic record is all we have remaining. This is the artist engaging with process on a far more profound level than many can conceive. Quite what allowing oneself to disappear means to Lucy I don't know for certain. Perhaps it's a wish for release, perhaps even death. Or maybe a simple putting behind her the past or present, a time to move on, forge ahead and look forward hopefully?

We are dealing with allegory here, symbolism, metaphor, surrealism and the archetype.  A story is being told, we are allowed glimpses, but not the full story. Perhaps more will be revealed in later works in the series? Maybe, but we will always need to examine the clues in her work and to an extent we are given liberty to find our own associations and meanings, to engage on our own terms. This is after all a work of art. Art in the truest sense, that is about engaging ourselves.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Art that matters.

"Nowhere is it inscribed on stone tablets that art made even in the service of God reveals larger truths, or adds greater authenticity, than what is captured in honest work of any flavour. Over the course of our lives, the need repeatedly arises in each of us to make peace with the world with our work, and with ourselves. When that happens, our internal compass directs us naturally to the course we are meant to take, and "art" issues simply fall away. Coming amid the usual turbulence of life, such periods of grace and clarity (however fleeting) bring as well the realisation that making art matter, and making art that matters, are two sides of the same coin. Art will matter when it once again concerns itself with issues that matter, when it once again arises naturally at the points where art and life intersect, when it once again demonstrates that making art is the way we manifest being human."
Ted Orland, The View from the Studio Door.
(Ted was a former teacher on Ansel Adams' workshops and used to produce mostly "fine art" black and white landscapes. He is also the co-author of Art & Fear with David Bayles)

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Past: What other home do I have?



Know thy self. That's the impossible goal we set ourselves, not just in creative realms, but in just about every piece of psychoanalysis, religion and even wardrobe shopping for crying out loud! But just how do you set out to "know yourself"? What the hell is it that defines "you", what is it that makes "you" unique and separates "you" from the guy next door? And once that is answered, how can we harness it to creative ends.

Some time ago I wrote a piece over on my Flickr site about how who I am can influence my creative output. The difficulty was “the elusive ‘I’ shows an alarming tendency to disappear when we try to examine it”. Well I've had 9 months to ponder that little conundrum and I think it's time I shared some thoughts, but this time in a proper blog form.

The simple answer is of course the past. If there is anything that is unique it is your history. Fingerprints pale into insignificance, retinal scans are mere snapshots, your history is the building blocks of you. Friends, relatives, relationships, experiences, health (or lack of it), travel, politics, education etc are not just of the now, they are of a sequence of interconnecting stimuli to existence.

You'll notice I haven't mentioned art in the list above. I don't mean art can't influence your work, but that you're treading dangerous waters there, the possibilities of becoming over influenced or plagiarism are obvious, but more so it isn't part of YOU, it is somebody else's self expression, their way of seeing, their past. Learn from fellow artists more a way of thinking than a way of seeing.That was the big mistake on my Flickr site, misinterpreting artistic influence as an element of myself and worse failing to see the personal in my interpretation.

"We see with memory, which is why none of us sees the same thing, even when we're looking at the same thing"
David Hockney

The past is all we have, there isn't anything else that makes us "us", it is our sole point of reference and our only route into self awareness. It is worth thinking in terms of two different (but interconnected) pasts for the creative artist, the personal and the creative influence. For the latter it is essential to become aware of the past creative influences, including your own. Think of it as expanding your artistic vocabulary in a visual language. Most obviously you need to study art and photographic history so that you don't end up unknowingly repeating what has already been done. But you'll really need to get under that creative skin, to read around your subjects work and inform yourself of the reasoning and rational behind the works, while of course keeping a weather eye open for the pretensions, platitudes and frankly lies of which  many visual artists are guilty. Find those "ways of thinking" that inspire you and apply them to yourself and your work, adding, multiplying, deleting and minimising as you go, there's a huge amount of thought and creative endeavour that has been put into the creation of art over centuries and you can't afford to ignore it. Much less expect to produce anything near originality. 

This study shouldn't though be a vacuous exercise in knowledge, you have to study the creative past in order to know as Martin Scorsese put it in a recent interview what you "accept, reject, complain about. hate, love, whatever!" You Tube It's all going to add up to be a a vital part of the "structural engineering" of your work. 

But for the fa├žade, you'll need to be referring back to yourself. You may think you've led an unremarkable life and therefore nothing is worth sharing, well in truth nearly everyone leads unremarkable lives (including me), it is that which is our common experience which means your and my experiences will share a common bond. It is this very commonality which will be the touchstone of personal reference which is the hallmark of great art. Have you ever noticed how much of contemporary late twentieth century photography focusses on the mundane? That is surely because the mundane is a shared experience, it would be hard not to avoid it, but they take it further, expressing the wish for the mundane to be seen as beauty. If we all bought that concept, then wouldn't life be a richer experience? The trouble is most people don't buy it, it is just too bland and facile to be seen as art, perhaps we should strive just a little harder to look into ourselves and find those commonalities and maybe the dividing lines between us, no matter how small - they are what makes us interesting!

In my next post I'll try to show you a route to expressing the knowledge and individuality through the example of my recent Memories, Dreams and Reflections project.