ISM – Self portraits musing

So I’d initially set out on this journey having a fairly resolute idea of the pictures that I wanted to go into my ‘exhibition’. There were Nan Goldin and Tracey Emin, Ana Mendieta’s video work, Robert Mapplethorpe and then David Bailey for his hard and unrelenting stare.

And then it started to niggle me. I don’t have permission to use these artworks in a print format. I know that there are arguments about ‘fair use’ and educational use and that’s all well and good. *Legally* I could use them. However it just didn’t sit right. I wanted to do a real exploration into the subject and perhaps discover something new.

Of course, as it always happens, the project grows in my head. Wouldn’t this be cool if… people could buy the book and my essays. If it was an ‘artists book’ (more about that below). Wouldn’t this be cool if… we could pull this together into an exhibition. I like to dream. And I like to dream big. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere it’s always great fun to dream. So instead I’ve been considering scouting out some relative unknowns – although I have to admit, I will still be contacting the ‘big names’ to find out if I could potentially use their images in the book.

So about this artist book idea, that’s an interesting proposal to me. Artists have always made books of their work (well, in the last hundred years or so anyway) and so the artist book is a medium with history. It’s interesting. But can a curator make an artist book? Is that what my book would be? Perhaps it would be a curators book. Doesn’t sound as fancy as artists book, does it? It’s the same idea on the whole though.

I’m hoping to reach out over the next few months to artists who have shot self portraits and see if they might be interested in coming together in this project. Its not going to make them any money, but if the project comes together over the next year and something interesting comes out of it, maybe there’s a group exhibition in there too. Certainly I have access to the space at Oxford Brookes – I could submit a proposal for an exhibition and we could go out and crowdsource the funding.

It’s a bit of a strange way round to doing things. Conceiving the catalogue first and then potentially if it works looking at an exhibition but I don’t think it’s impossible. And it would certainly start to get my name out there as a writer, book producer and curator.

These are just ideas at the moment, nothing is set in stone. I have a few people in mind I want to approach and I’m hoping that they’ll say yet. But we shall see. Ultimately though, I need to write two essays on a body of photographs. I mustn’t lose sight of the goal.

But the goal is coming along nicely and I’m starting to get my teeth into some serious research. Today I’m attending a panel of six papers on the subject of Exhibition Cases as Experimental Spaces. It’s been rich with source material and ideas and I plan to draw huge inspiration from Richard Hamilton’s catalogue designs for the ICA. The idea that a political message can be put across in a catalogue is an interesting one. Thursday I saw a series of papers on Feminist Futures in Art Practice, Theory and History which also ties in nicely to what I’m doing. I believe that there are particularly discourses around the way that ‘men’ and ‘women’ represent themselves through photographic self portraiture – now more than ever with the rise of the camera phone selfie. And on top of that yesterday was a whole day on the subject of Expanded Photography where various academics and artists examined what photographers have done in the past that is outside the box, as it were.

I hope to bring all these of these aspects together in my exhibition catalogue project, very much using it as an experimental space for the curation of photography. I’m hoping it will be really interesting, not just to me and my tutors but perhaps to a wider audience.

And of course if you’d like to nominate an artist who has worked with self portraiture, please don’t hesitate to let me know.




The drafting of the doublet

The last 24 hours has been mostly consumed by writing an essay involving Nazi propaganda and Catholics, and making a pattern for a doublet. Oh, and a series and a half of Game of Thrones, which I seem to do when every Empire approaches (and it’s Spartacus for Odyssey).

You see, I’ve managed to acquire several nice pieces of fabric that aren’t enough to make a cote or similar large garment, but are too large (and nice) to just use for bags and things.

So was born the idea of the sleeveless doublet.

It’s not the easiest thing to make. First you have to draft a pattern, which doing it the traditional way involves pinning fabric onto the person to get their shape. Of course, I can’t pin it on myself however luckily my dressmakers dummy is actually a really good approximation of my shape. I really need to pad her out a little belly, but I’m hoping that’s more of a temporary state of affairs while I get back into the swing of running.

 

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Above you can see the pinned pattern after I’ve cut half of it away. You basically pin two pieces of fabric around the person, working in quarters, to get patterns with seam lines along where the pins are. Then you take the whole thing off, draw where the pins are, transfer it onto tracing paper, even it up with a set of french curves and hopefully you have something approximating a pattern custom made for yourself.

Then you make it up in fabric and see how it fits. Fortunately mine fit just time, but you can of course go backwards and forwards between paper and fabric several times. But once you’ve done it, you’ve got a tight fitting pattern block that you can then adapt for other shapes for garments for yourself.

I got a load of buttons from eBay over the last few weeks. They’re all silver and lovely. I don’t know which ones are for which garment at the moment, but I’ve got choices. I might have to get more.

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And then this is the mess I woke up to this morning. That’s my drafted doublet on the stand, although it’s not pinned closed. It’s VERY tight fitting.

The fabric is a black silk brocade with roses all over in black. Should be nice. I hope.

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The hood and the horse

Well, the half finished hood.

I am yet undecided as to how I will finished the bottom, but figured it could get it’s own post anyway.

As a prototype it fits, however it is a little on the small side. Unfortunately I have no more black fabric at the moment to make another, so this one might have to do for the first event. To be honest, it was also a bit of a bitch so I’m not sure I’m in the mood to make another.

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This post is also brought to you by ‘the horse embroidery’. Of which I am particularly proud.

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The ‘Woman’ point of view

I met one of my photographer friends for lunch the other day. She said ‘Char, I’ve done something awful’, I leaned in tentatively, expecting her to ask me to help her get rid of the body. ‘I’ve registered on a photography critique site… as a man.’ Leaning back in my chair to take a thoughtful sip of my achingly-fashionable flat white, I was somewhat thankful that she hadn’t killed someone. That would have been rather a lot of hassle.

Now, I have registered as a man on photography portfolio sites before. I mean, you can get these creepy guys who think that younger female photographers are some sort of challenge that they can try to convince to take their clothes off for their eyes only. Fortunately I’m not so young and desirable anymore. But a critique site? Seems a little odd.

It comes down to the fact that she got sick of hearing photographers utter the phrase ‘it’s nice to have a woman’s point of view on my images’.

You see, she doesn’t have a woman’s point of view. She has her point of view. You might think it doesn’t matter, that it’s just a casual phrase used to illustrate the fact that there aren’t so many women photographers, however this is the very problem. Perpetualisation has always been the enemy of the minority. If we’re always told ‘white men can’t jump’ and ‘women can’t parallel park’ then guess what? We’re going to believe those stereotypes and, to some extent, live up to them. When things are repeated so often as to become dogma, they become dangerous to progress in the group they describe.

Linda Nochlin makes the point in her landmark essay Why have there been no great women artists? that women cannot be treated as a hive mind. She argues that ‘no (…) common qualities of “femininity” would seem to link the styles of women artists generally, any more than such qualities can be said to link women writers’.[1] So why is it then that we assume that women as a group have specific traits that are peculiar to them? The truth is that I probably have more in common with those who are of a similar age and background to me than other people who are connected to me simply by the virtue of having a uterus. Saying ‘it’s great to get a woman’s point of view’ is as fundamentally absurd as saying ‘it’s great to get a Brazillian’s point of view’. Or even, possibly, as crazy as saying ‘it’s great to get a man’s point of view’. We just wouldn’t say that last one, certainly. Because it’s the cultural norm.

The problem is that in saying ‘a woman’s point of view’ you’re diminishing what she says. You’re suggesting that her point of view is the same as every other woman’s, while it’s likely that in the same critique thread you’re treating the men that reply as unique individuals.

Nochlin also suggests that ‘those who have privileges inevitably hold on to them, and hold tight, no matter how marginal the advantage involved’.[2] At first glance it may seem that male photographers have little to gain from pointing out that someone holds a specifically female point of view, but if you dig a little deeper then things become a little less optimistic.

You see, when we view Western art we are cultured to view it through the lens of a man. John Berger asserted that ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.’[3] You may have guessed by now that my friend and I are primarily concerned with images of people. Models in fact, we mostly shoot models, which has some reflection of the kinds of photographers that we interact with. Of course the amateur photography circles in which we move are mostly male – a fact that is supported by societies such as the RPS having around a 70% ratio of men to 30% women amongst their membership.[4]

So if when you consider that amateur model photography is dominated by men taking pictures of women, it should come as no surprise that there is an interest in holding onto the privilege of being men producing images for a male audience and a male gaze. Laura Mulvey also says:

‘In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.’[5]

In introducing too many women to the business of ‘viewing’ of the images, you begin to cause a problem. Suddenly you have lots of men who have to relearn how to look at images, potentially from a female point of view, in order to satisfy this brave new audience. A female gaze that they have to learn, if you like. I mean it’s a long way off though. Women on the whole still don’t really know how to view images of men as sexual objects or even just nudes, for example.[6] However by preserving the minority status of women within the critiqueing circle that you’re exposed to, you are prolonging that point of view achieving equality and having to relearn how you construct and review images.

Of course then there’s the last thing to consider. There are a subset of men (remember – the dominant make up of amateur photographers – especially model photographers) who simply don’t believe that women are capable of creating good art and by extension capable of commenting on art. It’s only recently that it’s been recognised in essays such as Nochlin’s that the notion of artistic ‘genius’ is flawed and in fact the fame of artists was far more to do with their social situations than anything else.[7] This myth was further perpetuated by writers of classic set texts such as E. H. Gombrich who within his 400 page tome given to all history of art students did not mention a female artist (unsurprising) or account for the fact that they were ‘missing’ (until 2002 when he adds a chapter on modern art – notably with a female co-writer[8]). Add into that the simultaneous belief of some that women are simply not simply as good at science and technology and you have an environment that can be potentially toxic to the female critic of imagery.

So my friend, she feels guilty about what she did. She feels guilty that she is somehow letting down her fellow female photographers and critics. But all she wants is to have her considered opinions (and her photographs) viewed with the same ‘neutral’ judgement as everyone else. Of course, that judgement is truly far from being neutral.

References

  1. Linda Nochlin, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" [1971], in Linda Nochlin, Women, Art, and Power, (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 148.
  2. Nochlin, "Great Women Artists?", 152.
  3. John Berger, Ways Of Seeing, (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1972), 47.
  4. Membership Manager - The Royal Photographic Society, "RPS Membership Gender Statistics", 28th June 2013, Personal Email.
  5. Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", Screen, 16:3, (1975): 6-18.
  6. Beth A. Eck, "Men Are Much Harder: Gendered Viewing of Nude Images", Gender and Society, 17:5, (2003): 691-710.
  7. Nochlin, "Great Women Artists?", 156.
  8. Roger Clark, Ashley R. Folgo, Jane Pichette, "Have There Now Been Any Great Women Artists? An Investigation of the Visibility of Women Artists in Recent Art History Textbooks", Art Education, 58:3, (2005): 7.


The Cote

Feeling inspired by good progress on the coif, I decided to start working up a cote for my Empire costume. After all, a good archivist needs a flowing cote to go swashbuckling in tombs, right?

I know it’s not really very ‘Highguard’. but I’m also kind of limited by the fact I spend most of the time in the woods with my camera round my neck. The challenge here for a young and adventurous archeologist type is how to find a compromise between the strict lines flow of Highguard, while maintaining the ability to move easily. Armour hides a multitude of sins for most people. I think the key here is in the colour. Black, black and more black, with contrast white linings and bindings.

But I have come across a problem. I want a men’s fitting cote, but I have a woman’s body.

So following the guides in the medieval tailors handbook, I worked up the pattern for a 14thC men’s cote. The problem is, it’s too big at the shoulders but fits round the chest. As the author notes the whole ball of the shoulder should sit outside the seam and in the sleeve itself for a period fit, but you can see that’s not happening here (even though my mannequin doesn’t have shoulders).

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Actually that’s a terrible picture. But you can also see the other problem I’m having, setting gores into flat pieces of fabric. Fuck that, I’m going to quarter it and stick a seam down the front and back.

So here’s where I started to pin it on the stand in order to change the fit of the shoulders.

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I’ve taken some out the front and back and also narrowed the shoulders to make up for me not having big, broad, manly shoulders.

You can see that the medieval sleeve fit is *very* small. Just a 40cm circumference. This is where my problem is apparently lying. Them sleeves, they’re bloody ugly. However I’m not sure if this is a result of my sewing, or if early medieval cotes just had ugly sleeves…

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Looks great if I just walk around with my arms held out at right angles the whole time…

So anyway. The other problem with pulling it in so much to fit is that I’ll never get it on and off. Form fitted is great when you’re a guy, but harder when you have breasts. So I have two choices, I either make it button up the front (I’m not keen) or I go for a less authentic fit.

I made these linens early on last year and they fit really nicely. I enjoy wearing them because they’re so comfortable.

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They’re a kimono style sleeve which gives lots of room for movement, and a sloped shoulder. I know I lose *alot* of the authenticity, but I think it might be a worthwhile compromise considering what I’m trying to do.

 




The coif

So last night I made the first successful iteration of the coif for my empire costume! Well, semi successful – it still needs some adjustments.

It went through a few iterations, beginning with me pinning fabric on my head I front of the tv.

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And the final pattern:

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Leading to the final work up of the cap:

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The only problem is that this is now the state of my front room as I try to determine exactly what fabric I own…

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ISM – Theme and Project

Well, it all got decided on Friday.

I’m going to be working towards producing an exhibition catalogue. A physical book, printed most likely by one of the on-demand services.

I have a word limit of 3000 words total and it’s not allowed to be an extended essay (they prefer us to do more experimental projects). The current plan is to produce a longer introductory essay that explores the themes and concepts and then shorter essays introducing each ‘room’.

My subject is going to be how photographers represent themselves through self portraiture, focussing on feminist/queer studies interpretations of the male gaze. I’m thinking that I’d like to plan two rooms, one room with ‘watchers’ and one with ‘watchees’.

I’ll stick some examples up in a sec, although I’m using the internet through my mobile phone since I’ve just moved into my new flat today. No proper broadband until 24th March. :-(

 

Nan one month after being battered – Nan Goldin

Self Portrait – David Bailey

Self Portrait – Mapplethorpe

Bailey is a ‘gazer’ in the shot here, while the other two are being ‘gazed’. Mapplethorpe is the interesting one that I’m keen to include – as a gay man he doesn’t fit into the Western Canon of what artists should be… traditionally…

I also want to include an Ana Medieta film – possibly this one. I’m comfortable putting video under photography, or rather grouping them together as ‘lens based media’. I think it’ll provoke interesting discussion with my tutors anyway. This is one of her photographs, but I’m keen to research and include a film.

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Photography in LRP (and social responsibility)

My second season of LRP photography is almost upon us. In two months it’s Empire and it’s almost time to look forward to four days of (quite literally) blood, sweat and tears.

I’d like to talk about what makes a good LRP picture. I think I’m quite privileged here in that I spend a reasonable amount of time hashing out ideas, wants and needs with Matt. I have insight into the needs of a LRP event organiser that I can combine with my own experience in commercial photography and hopefully that means I’ve got some interesting thoughts.

I appreciate that the vast majority of players consider a good LRP picture to be ‘one that has me or my friends in it’. And why not? After all that time spent working on costume, make up, camp, of course everyone wants pictures of themselves. It’s a very visceral response to like an image in that way and certainly not one that should be ignored. As a photographer I’d add that shots should be in focus, exposed well and have reasonably good composition too, but I fear my standards are higher than the average players in that respect.

Looking at the next level of ‘good’ is perhaps to consider what a photographer might put in their portfolio. For me personally, there’s no room for a margin of error here. It’s got to be a shot that smacks you round the face and makes you look. That means the technical aspects like exposure, composition and focus have to be appropriate to the shot, but there has to be some kind of moment captured, or emotion felt. A story to the image if you like. Some of the shots that I have selected for my portfolio have left players scratching their heads, but I’m trying to create images that are cinematic and ethereal in nature.

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So if players are looking for pictures of themselves and I’m looking for something cinematic, where does that leave the boss?

Well, Matt’s most common whinge to me is ‘you don’t leave me any copy space’. He’s right, I want all my pictures to be awesome and epic and full of detail that grabs you and make’s you look twice. I also most enjoy shooting portraits so lots of my images reflect that. But of course when he comes to put his advertising together, that’s not really good enough.

What’s copy space you might ask? Well, it’s the bit in a design where you put the text. So if you have a photograph of a fight going on, you might place the fight off to one side and have some lovely out of focus background as a place to put your text. This means that they can be made up into mail shots for example without the pictures competing for attention with the text. Think of a magazine front cover too, the photographer always leaves some header space at the top for the title and gaps of plain areas around the edges of the subject for the words that advertise what’s inside.

But this all leaves us in a bit of a quandary. You see, trying to shoot perfect images with great composition, emotion and copy space while in an environment where you can’t press the rewind button and stage things again is something approaching impossible. Or at least, it’s very, very hard. It certainly means that a good deal of my brainpower is being used thinking of composition from a designers point of view rather than a photographers point of view.

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There’s something else that ties into what makes a shot good for a LRP organiser though too and this one is more tricky.

At somewhere around the nineteen minute mark of this video Matt talks about how as a LRP organiser you have to communicate with players to tell them what you want from them in regards to kit and costume. After all, if your players do not know what you want from them then you’ll never get a game what looks how you wanted it to. I’d go one step further than that and suggest that if you show players the immersive environment that you’re trying to create then people coming to your game will begin to take steps to make themselves part of that aspirational environment. If you show participants how cool it can be, everyone will try that little bit harder to make it cool for themselves and everyone around them. Showing players what you want it to look like it so much easier than telling them or writing about it. A photograph can tell a thousand stories and say a thousand words.

Photography, no matter how we look at it, is really rather important to the promotion of standards in LRP games. If images are full of modern tents, plastic bottles and kit that just doesn’t quite work then people will consider that to be the aspirational standard and will dress themselves and their camp accordingly. Now I’m not saying that snaps you take around the campfire should be masterpieces, of course I’m not. I’m also not talking about behind the scenes documentary photographs. However I think those who identify as ‘photographers’ have some social responsibility towards the game and it’s environment.

No matter which way you look at it, all those who publish collections of images from LRP are promoting the game in some way. Through our pictures we’re promoting the standards of the game and how it feels to be a part of that world. So what does it say when we include coke cans and black bin bags in our images? It says that we don’t care about the game environment and the way people see it. There’s always another photograph to be taken. There’s 1500 people out there at an Empire game, there’s always another photograph. A better photograph.

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‘But Charlotte!’ you cry; ‘you just posted a picture of a non-immersive environment!’

Yes I did. But it’s not a coke can or a modern tent. The thing is, the vast majority of this shot is pretty much perfect. Just look at all the glorious kit. Even the monster is in lovely kit, the only bit that stands out is the balaclava back to his mask. But at the end of the day, the boss was never going to commission 400 full head orc masks for the monsters. When I make decisions on putting shots like this up I ask myself two questions. The first is, is the non-immersive item still of a higher standard than average in the game. In this case, yes it is. This is a pretty high quality orc mask at the end of the day and you can see the detailing on the front of it. The second thing I ask myself is, does the emption and story of the shot make up for the non-immersive item? In this shot, yes. I hope so anyway.

Subjective decisions have to be made when you’re a photographer. But I guess what I’m saying is that rather than put up every image that we shoot at a LRP event, it is mindful to consider the game and it’s environment when posting sets of pictures on the internet. Some of the setting does look a little crappy at times – especially when it’s been snowed on, flooded and then beaten with gale force winds – but by striving to produce better photographs we can work around those things and instead just show the great environments and make really special images.

By showing the really special images instead of all the images we do our subjects a favour. We help them, the players, create a better environment by raising the standards of imagery from that event. And that to me is really what it’s all about. The more we help to raise the standards, the better the environment we have to photograph in.

So I guess there’s more to photography in LRP than just pointing your camera and lens at cool stuff. There’s also social obligations to players and the helping of upward mobility in immersion. The fact is that it’s not all on the players to make the event look cool, it’s up to us to help them too.

 




Independent Study Module

Today there was good news to be had at university!

We’re making the module selections for our second and third years (seems so far away…) at university. One of the reasons I picked this course was because of the independent study module that we can opt to take in the second year. It’s been agreed in principle that I can take it and I just have to meet with the head of department in two weeks in order to discuss my programme options and start putting ideas together.

I figured it would be interesting to document the process here and to go through the process of designing, writing and then ultimately studying my course. And I suppose if you follow along then you might also be doing a second year module in something related to photography!

That’s going to be my subject choice – photography. I’m hoping to do a photography related dissertation in my third year and so this would provide me with the time to get a base foundation of knowledge sorted before I attempt that in my third year.

But exciting times lie ahead! Assuming the drive home from Oxford tonight isn’t too torturous, I plan on starting some ideas for plans tonight. Nothing like being totally over prepared for my meeting.




My own Vortographs

As a follow up to my previous post on Coburns photography, this is my own rough attempt at something approximating a Vortograph.

Inspired by a mashup of Coburn, Hockney and the Diana Mini camera I have (in white… of course…) this is what I shot.

You will have to excuse the dodgy scanning – the lab didn’t quite get the nail on the head and I’m trying to work out the best way to get them rescanned.

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