Produce work that represents a notion of identity and place that you are personally inspired by.
The brief allows free rein but with one stipulation: the final outcome must represent a notion of identity and place that inspires me. Well, that is easy. My mother, Audrey.
In Exercise 3.2, ‘Your Personality‘, I explained the role Audrey played in my life. Since the age of four, when my father died, her encouragement, support and determination defined the person that I am. So from the outset of IAP, particularly after the coronavirus lockdown began in March, I knew that Assignment 5 would feature Audrey in some way.
In accordance with the UK Government’s Covid19 shielding guidelines, when lockdown occurred in March Audrey came to live with me. I decided then to limit myself to taking images (with two specific exceptions) within the confines of my house.
I will attempt to explain the overall objective of my Assignment, the thought processes behind the image combinations, the choice of spoken words, the decisions relating to captioning, and finally the interactive possibilities of the medium used.
By juxtaposing significant moments through Audrey’s life with her cherished possessions, I want to explore how, as one becomes older, as one’s life becomes smaller, and especially when one’s life becomes dislocated it seems that trivial, mundane or everyday artefacts assume such importance.
Nigel Shafran’s work introduced me to the idea that a person could be portrayed not by images of them but by the artefacts of their lives. That idea coupled with Tina Campt’s wonderful sentence seemed so apt to portray Audrey.
Attending to the infra-ordinary and the quotidian reveals why the trivial, the mundane, or the banal are in fact essential to the lives of the dispossessed. (1:8)
Of course (!) she is not dispossessed by comparison to, for example, the African diaspora. Obviously I don’t claim or think that. But she was a 97-year-old woman ‘forcibly’ removed from her long-term home at short notice. But how to depict this was a conundrum. I have not lived with Audrey for 40+ years and so to see how significant small, quotidian objects were to her was interesting. So many of us seem to live our lives at 100 mph and so, for the first time, to witness the quiet, peaceful, contentment of someone who has seen so much was humbling. So my original intention was to present close up photographs of these small items in the style of Shafran.
Then I saw the great work, ‘Between Tides, Morston, Norfolk‘, by OCA student Julia Crockatt. I had not previously considered showing images in a rolling sequence like that. But I didn’t think that simply running these basic images would particularly add anything to Audrey’s story.
Since reading J.B Priestley’s play ‘Time and the Conways’ many years ago I have retained a fascination for the added depth in the understanding of people gained by juxtaposing unusual time sequences. Priestley achieved the effect sequentially by setting Act 1 and 3 in the ‘now’ whilst Act 2 was set nineteen years into the future. I describe how the effect was achieved concurrently in the Chichester Festival Theatre showing of Shakespeare’s Macbeth where the clever use of scenery allowed two situations to be played out simultaneously. Another example of sequential time-based art covered in IAP is the Hardman Intermission Portraits which are straightforward comparisons of portraits taken years apart.
I decided to experiment by interspersing the Shafran images with the archive photographs of Audrey. The archive photographs showing some of the key relationships and moments of her early life juxtaposed with a portrayal of quiet, peaceful, contentment in later life.
The original use of these archive photographs was for the IAP exercise ‘Archival Intervention‘. In this case, each image was accompanied by several minutes of Audrey describing its context. That is okay in the setting of a single image, when perhaps the viewer may be willing to take the time to listen. But were I to have embedded speech of that length the video would be too long.
Crockatt’s work reminded me of the trailer for the current Dorothea Lange show at MoMA. In particular, MoMA’s use of short compelling quotations struck a chord with me – for example, the words ‘If You Die, You’re Dead – That’s All’. Very succinct and arresting. So I decided to restrict the length of Audrey’s words to a single sentence.
In my Notes for Assignment 4, I wrote fairly extensively on my ideas for captioning. I will not reiterate those thoughts but I will repeat my current attitude. I support the view of Philip Lorca diCorcia. When discussing the elliptical nature of his image-making he says ‘I’m supposed to give you as little information, in my mind, as you need to be intrigued, but not enough to finish your experience’ (2).
The different text options I considered are as follows:
The Robert Frank version
Provides no context whatsoever. Although to be fair to Frank his images were part of a series in The Americans where picture sequencing was essential.
The Shafran version
I like this. It’s simple. The archive images together with the words provide a setting for the work that allows the viewer to contextualise the more abstract contemporary images. What I don’t like is that the ‘My’ brings me in. This isn’t about me, it’s about Audrey. It perhaps closes the image more than is necessary.
The Walker Evans version
Fareham, UK. 2020
This offers little more than Frank. Other than for historical reference it is irrelevant where and when the images were made. This is conceptually a timeless piece about the life of my mother.
The Gonzalez-Torres version
‘Untitled’ (Portrait of Audrey Cocks) 2020
I don’t understand the significance of the ‘Untitled’ reference. I do like that it identifies Audrey. The word ‘Portrait’ in the singular signifies that it is the portrait of a life rather than a moment.
The Teichmann version
Attending to the infra-ordinary and the quotidian reveals why the trivial, the mundane or the banal are in fact essential to the lives of the dispossessed (Campt)
Teichmann’s approach would be more psychological. These words (included in the style of the Carol Mavor essay) draw on Campt’s writing. I like this idea in the sense it may invite viewers to consider the importance of the everyday object to certain groups of people. But that isn’t really the central message I’m trying to communicate. This is about Audrey’s life.
A Portrait of Audrey Cocks (1923) 2020
My reasoning for this choice is as follows. It is simple. It satisfies my diCorcia criteria. I do like that it identifies Audrey. The two dates serve to age Audrey and make clear this is not posthumous. The word ‘Portrait’ in the singular signifies that it is the portrait of a life rather than a moment.
When I first started putting together the video/audio sequences I wanted, for purely aesthetic reasons, to fade slowly from one image to the next. I hadn’t considered that in mid-fade a whole new image would be created. These are examples which I find quite exciting. Its an elliptical psychological style that appeals to me – very Hélène Amouzou.
There is nothing especially clever about these images. With a little effort, they could easily be produced in Photoshop. But that’s not the point. The viewer of this video is quite able to pause at any moment and therefore can interactively – in a Gonzalez-Torres fashion – create images to their own taste.
Response to Tutor Feedback and the Final Versions
In his feedback (to my original, now called, ‘Interactive Version’), my tutor liked the work but felt its presentation needed further consideration. Specifically, he felt that the viewer would benefit from having more time to contemplate each image. And that the zoom effect, essentially cropping the image, hinders proper appreciation of the work. He mentioned that he could have stopped the slideshow – but he obviously didn’t. He felt that an artist book might be a more sympathetic vehicle for the presentation of this work.
So using Blurb I, therefore, created a book (shown for digital assessment as an E-Book).
I spent several days mulling over the choice between each version. Then I asked myself ‘Why are you choosing?’. With either presentational method, this is a story about Audrey. It seems perfectly valid for me to produce a version to be viewed as a book and a version to be viewed online. They offer two different experiences of the same story.
The Book Version
- It overcomes the issues highlighted by my tutor in that it gives control back to the viewer.
- It lacks the emotional punch of the original slideshow – particularly the absence of spoken words and the transition images – but it certainly appears less sentimental to me as a result.
- The e-book seems a more detached objective way to present these images.
The Interactive Version
I acknowledge the criticisms of this version: I am imposing my timescales on the viewer and unilaterally cropping the images. But if I offer an Artist’s Statement I can tell the viewer that they are expected to interact with the work. I have chosen to leave the zoom effect because I feel it adds tension to the viewing experience.
These are two very different but complementary presentations of the same story. One offers the opportunity to quietly contemplate the story using the book. The other offers an interactive experience almost akin to the work of González-Torres where the viewer can create his own version of an Intermission Image.
(1) Campt, T., 2017. Listening To Images. 1st ed. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
(2) Lorca diCorcia, P., 2020. Tuesday Evenings At The Modern – Philip Lorca Dicorcia. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs8z9DCVrYA> [Accessed 4 April 2020].