In June I entered the Lensculture Art Photography Award 2018. It’s the first time Lensculture has run this type of competition.
I wrote about how one of my images was chosen for the promotional gallery in a previous post – Lensculture Art Photography Awards 2018 – while I also decided to request a review of my submission, which included a description of my project along with the images.
I wrote the following descriptor and chose the images below that:
Harena Now aims to highlight a lesser known environmental and humanitarian issue; the global sand crisis.
Some experts predict that due to the booming demand for sand in industries such as construction, sand may run out. That seems impossible for such a ubiquitous material.
It also seems unimaginable that this has also led to a growth in sand mafias, and that people have lost their homes, livelihoods and even their lives.
To create my non-documentary images, I work at a coastal location, using sand, sunlight and sometimes seawater.
It is also important to me that I work in a way that minimises my own photographic footprint and I have opted to use camera-less processes that need minimal or no chemical solutions.
By creating a juxtaposition between the aesthetic and the message behind the work, I aim to discover more about how people respond to non-documentary photography when used to promote environmental and/or humanitarian issues.
As part of the review, I was able to ask particular questions. I wanted to see how the reviewer felt about non-documentary images being used to illustrate a very ‘real’ problem.
I received the review recently. It reads as follows:
Thank you for submitting your work to Lensculture, I have really enjoyed spending time with it.
The topic of the global sand crisis is a captivating – in fact, its the first time I have learned about it! – and your technical/artistic approach is equally as interesting; together they create a fascinating body of work.
To address your question, I am a strong believer that non-documentary images such as yours can be strong agents of education and engagement and can most certainly influence people to learn more about the story behind them. They can help us to take a closer and different look at something we rarely think about, or take for granted. In your case, they show us the preciousness of what constitutes and exists in coastal environments.
The lush saturation of color and dynamic abstraction of your images command attention from the viewer. Further examination and information from your text address your non traditional approach to the photographic process and technique which add another level of intrigue to the images, their creation and the raw materials utilized in the process.
What needs to be a bit more clear, however, is your motivation for creating this work – is it to educate others about the global sand crisis or to learn how people to respond to the images (you mention this at the end of your statement)? I get the sense it is a mixture of both, but perhaps selecting one specific angle would clarify your purpose in making these images and thus, leave a stronger imprint on the audience. I have a few suggestions that might be helpful:
The title, “Harena Now” – what does it mean? Why is it important? I think addressing the significance of the title in your artistic statement would help thread everything together from the start.
The statement you have as the captions next to each image is informative and well written. However, it would perhaps work best as part of your artist statement.
In the context of an exhibition, wall text captions can serve as pivotal sources of information about the image and/or topic.
That said, if your goal is to educate the viewer, perhaps including specific information about the individual image and/or specific facts about the global sand crisis would deepen the viewer’s knowledge. That way, you can tie together your very captivating images with the kind of information one might find in a more traditional documentary image.
You don’t necessarily need to have a traditional documentary visual approach, in fact I find yours a dynamic and refreshing use of art photography, to educate viewers about this or other humanitarian/ecological topics. Your images prompt the viewer to think about and look at sand differently. They are beautiful art photographs — I think what you just need is to deepen the information alongside the images.
You mention various texts and sources of inspiration – why not include these somehow alongside the images or in the text? The pairing of informative text and your images would then lend nicely for an exhibition and/or book where an audience could really sit, look and think about sand in another way.
Your images offer a very strong platform for engaging viewers – perhaps guiding them to a source about where they could learn more about this crisis and ways to be involved, promote positive social change, would also be helpful.
Maybe even collaborating with an organization that works with this issue could be an interesting way to develop this work down the road.
You have some very strong work here, Josie.
I hope these suggestions were helpful as your move forward with what I feel is an important topic being addressed in a novel way — one that will equally engage and educate viewers.
Congratulations and I hope to see more of your work in the future.
I am incredibly inspired by this review. And I do think the person is spot on when they suggest I need to be clearer about my motivation behind the work. Is it a project of two halves, or should, as suggested, I focus on one element to bring more clarity to the work.
Giving an explanation for the title is also a great recommendation. Having decided on this some time ago, perhaps I have been a tad complacent in assuming everyone should know Latin, surely?
Harena is the Latin word for sand. I wanted the title to remain current over time, to give a sense of urgency but also one of mystery. By having a slightly less than obvious title, I feel it reflects my desire that my work encourages people to find out more. With the world at our fingertips a simple internet search (forgoing the fake or non-factual info that proliferates) we can now find out about many subjects relatively easily.
I also agree that the information I include with each image (as below) would work well within my statement:
This work is made in response to the global sand crisis. It is created in a coastal location with sand using camera-less techniques. It melds various sources of inspiration from the passage of time to geology, the microscopic to the vast, anthropocentric to ecocentric ideologies, and the past to the present.
I am also keen to perhaps utilise the quote images I created for my social media as part of my show, to help tell a story. I am also delighted that the reviewer has mentioned the potential for a book. This is something I plan to research further following my MA.
As I already have chatted with Kiran Pereira from SandStories.org about possible future collaborations, the advice about working with other disciplines bolsters my commitment to do so.
Receiving this type of external feedback is essential to reevaluating my work and seeing it from another person’s perspective.
The reviewer also provided a list of useful information as follows:
Recommended Books & Photographers
Recommendations for Gaining Exposure
- New York Times Lens blog for documentary and photojournalism stories. Good examples of photographers’ own statements and captions.
- The Practical Art World: Suggestions for Writing your Artist’s Statement
- The Poetry of the Surface: Craftsmanship and Materiality in Photography
Books (fine art philosophy & criticism)
- Why People Photograph, by Robert Adams
- Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change by Michelle Bogre
- What is a Photograph?, By Carol Squires
- On Photography by Susan Sontag
Photo Competitions (fine art & street)
Photo Competitions (nature & wildlife)
- Nature Conservancy Photo Contest
- BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year
- THE INTERNATIONAL LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
Photo Business & Practice Resources
- “Suggestions for Writing your Artist’s Statement”
- On Statements, by Jörg M. Colberg (Wise words of advice on writing artist statements)
- How to write an Artist’s Statement
- An article on Contemporary Abstraction.
These will all be considered and either implemented or noted as I review my artist statement, how I title my images and begin to finalise the details of my MA assignments.
Harena meaning. Available at: http://www.majstro.com/Web/Majstro/bdict.php?gebrTaal=eng&bronTaal=eng&doelTaal=lat&teVertalen=sand [accessed July 23, 2018].
Lensculture Review. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/submission-reviews/56132 [accessed July 23, 2018].
PURCELL, Josie. 2018. ‘Lensculture Art Photography Awards 2018‘. josiepurcellphotographyma. Available at: https://josiepurcellphotographyma.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/lens-culture-art-photography-awards-2018/ [accessed July 23, 2018].
PURCELL, Josie. ‘Sand Stories – Thank You‘. josiepurcellphotographyma. Available at: https://josiepurcellphotographyma.wordpress.com/2018/06/30/sand-stories-thank-you/ [accessed July 23, 2018].