Week Six – Food for Thought

As we prepare for the creation of the cohort’s exhibition (which, as an an international cohort will be linked via branding and an online presence – more later on that), I have found that so many potentials have presented themselves.

In preparation for installing our work, we have been asked to consider the following questions:

  • What impact does your chosen space have upon your photography, and vice-versa?
  • What is around the work that can direct or distract attention to and away from it? Could anything in that environment be used to heighten awareness of your work or emphasise the reading of it?
  • Who will your viewers be and what does your work expect of them? Does it expect them to be literate about photography or internet literate? Does your work expect too much / too little of your audience?
  • How long will you allow people to view your work? Is there a particular sequence in which you want the work to be experienced, or will you ’empower’ the viewer by allowing them to wonder freely around the space?
  • How much can your viewer engage with the work directly? Can they contribute to it, or interact with it?
  • Do you value the thoughts and opinions of the viewer? If so, how would you go about collecting those?

As the natural world runs through the veins of my practice, for me the impact of my chosen exhibition space on my photography is huge. there is no point in me confining my work to an inside space when it is made from and in nature. Although an internal space could serve as a juxtaposition to challenge how humans use the natural world, and if we do not protect it what will we have left, I want my work to have a sense of freedom.

My attention has been drawn to a collaboration between two French photo-artists, JR and Agnes Varda. With my dream to convert my motorhome into a mobile darkroom still on the cards, JR’s photo van is amazing. Watch the short film:

JR has shown his work of archival photographs of patients/visitors at the immigration hospital on Ellis Island in New York (Figure 1). This was part of an effort to rehabilitate, restore and preserve its history. Its purpose was to encourage those who saw it to ponder on the past in the context of the present. It seems the emphasis shifted from the images to the viewer’s experience – there were even guided tours, including some by JR.

Figure 1 © JR – Unframed – Ellis Island – 2014
Unframed, Hygiene Conference Delegates revu par JR, courtesy of The Library of Congress, Ellis Island, U.S.A., 2014

Taking my work outside, into areas that could be filled with the sound of crashing waves, birdsong, or a babbling brook would be idyllic, but would it reflect the internal message of my images? As my research has settled on using sand to make my imagery, and the little known issue of the global environmental sand crisis, my venues could extend from local beaches to estuary to harbours. Each will have its own distractions but could be used to add a sense of drama to any display. The noise of sand dredgers working would provide a very real sound backdrop to an exhibition.

I want my work to appeal to a wide audience so that people can begin to learn more about how our impact on our environment is not something that can be easily fixed – it needs dedicated discussion and open minds not driven by power and money alone. There of course will be those who are already interested in the topic but it could be used for school children, art groups and more. As my work is not representative of scenes, I want people to experience it freely – to come across it in an unexpected fashion so that it presents ‘food for thought’ for them. It is important to me that my work is accessible to many, whatever path in life – this includes the internet but is not the soles means of seeing the work. It will provide enough for the academic and for someone who just wants to like or not like what they see.

Contribution by viewers is a powerful tool – there is the opportunity for real engagement. I will build in the ability for people to be involved in a tactile manner. And their views are important – my work aims to spark curiosity and conversation. It needs to be a two-way street. When people truly engage and listen, great things can happen.

Online References:

JR. 2014. ‘Unframed Ellis Island’ jr-art.net. Available at: http://www.jr-art.net/projects/unframed-ellis-island [accessed July 8, 2017].