Study days

Environment and art study day 2 SLBI

The South London Botanical Institute

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The South London Botanical Institute (SLBI) is a museum of things botanical.  We had an introduction to the institute by the warden who showed us drawings and specimens recorded for posterity in special containers.

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From there we went into the library where the tutors introduced themselves after which the students did the same.  After I had mentioned that I wanted to paint rocks with water-soluble gold paint, referencing the Japans practice of Kintsugi = fixing ceramic with gold, Claire came up with the idea using Lascaux acrylic gold – which I will have to try to get.  because it is water-resistant when dry, I will have to wash it off the rocks pretty quickly after I have photographed it.

We were given several statements and had to write a response on the cards provided.  We then went into the garden and collected 15 specimens which were connected with the statements.

In response to What are the weeds saying to you, I responded:

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The items were not necessarily from weeds because, unless you know which plant is a weed, any of the plants could have been weeds depending on your definition of one.  The Merriam-Webster definition of a weed is: a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.  In a place like a botanical institute, I suspect that all plants are cultivated and that weeds are, therefore part of the cultivated cannon.

We had to team up with someone and Caroline gave me her card which I put under the microscope and took a photo:

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After a bring and share lunch – yet another feast, we were given free time to do what we liked related to what we had heard / seen / done before lunch with the added option of making a dye.

I decided to make a natural dye using a recipe which evolved as I went along:

1 T crushed clay; 1 T ash; a few crumbs (+/- 1t) of something from a compost heap;

3 T water from the wet clay bucket; 6 black rose hips; 4 black seeds from a plant used to make other dyes (found in the garden); 2 drops of a thick fruit cordial concentrate found in the kitchen; 1 t vinegar – I thought this would dissolve something in the plants; 3 fresh raspberries.

I first crushed the hard clay using a pestle and mortar. Then I added the items listed above in the order that they are listed – adding wet and dry ingredients when they were needed.

I loved the colour which emerged.  Melissa suggested that I put some of the dye on a perspex plate and print off it.  This I found very exciting as the outcomes depended on what was on the  plate and on the pressure applied.  There were inconsistencies in the dye with bits of un-crushed elements presenting their own problems to solve.

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When I put this in my notebook to take home, the wet splurges created their own print when I closed the book:

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These are some of the first prints I took and photographed after I had returned home, so the squashed bits would not have been visible at the institute:

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Overall, I found this the more exciting day of the two.  The content was more focused and the space conducive to interacting with the others.   I loved the creative bit with the dye and subsequent prints and photographing the prints and their prints when I got home.

How this will relate to my current work, I do not yet know.




Environment and art study days: Ideas from the soil.

Day 1:

Given my BoW extended project, prison gardens, and my fascination with rocks and plants both of which feature in my project, the ‘objectives bit’  of gaining ‘a personal perspective on ways of responding to the environment’ and ‘ experiment with observation (drawing, writing, photography)’ made sense.  So I signed up.

I set off on the 4 hour train journey to London at 9, arrived late and went straight to the V & A because they had an exhibition which I thought would give me another perspective of what I was going to do for the next 2 days: “Fashioned by nature”.

Friday 27th July was the hottest day on record in London.  Walking into a wall of pea soup made me head for the slightest scrap of shade as I got off the bus and walked to Exhibition Street.  Getting into the V& A was not much better.  I started melting as I got into the exhibition despite the numerous fans everywhere.  A review of the exhibition is here.

Saturday at Phytology in the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve.  The ‘nature reserve I am familiar with are the size of a small country and the gates and padlocks to this one did not dispel that preconception.  The size of green on Google maps reinforced the idea.

Shortly after the pre-arranged time the padlocks were unlocked, we were let into this secretive, leafy forest and gradually everyone assembled.  The tutors introduced themselves, we introduced ourselves and the day started.

Michael Smythe, manager (?) of Phytology (=Botany taking its etymological origin from the Greek word for plant) took us on a tour of the medicinal garden my best part of which was the marsh mallow plant leaves – by far the silkiest leaves I have ever touched.  Then we were left to explore the place.

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The Marsh Mallow plant in flower.

The Burdock plant is quite prolific on the site:

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The first object we came across was the ‘artist’s hut’

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The objects found on site by the various artists in residence.

Very soon I discovered that all the paths which seemed to go in all directions had been very cleverly designed to give the impression of vast space but I was soon met by metal fence bar after metal fence bar.  The space was quite limited but gave the impression of the opposite.

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What I observed mostly was the bark on the trees:

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They are building a bio-toilet in the reserve as there isn’t one on the property.

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The bring and share lunch was a veritable feast interrupted by Nick Bridge, the resident writer / economist, who spoke about his life and thoughts on it.

We had 30 minutes on observation and recording what we saw around us.  I found a mound / ant hill interesting and wondered what it felt about the experiences around it.  My imaginarium will shed some light on it soon, I suspect.

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After the event, I went into town and sat in a café where I caught up on my writing and reflections on the day.  this is one of the ‘observe and record’ drawings I did in my notebook.

We finished at about 4 when everyone dispersed to their various homes.

What did I take away about the work done there?

An attempt to return to a lost knowledge on things agrarian and medicinal.  I’m not sure that it is sustainable.  The project relies on The Wellcome Trust, Arts England and local  funding to survive.  It’s good that these two megalithic organisations have taken an economic interest in the work done here.

What did I take away about me?

I feel in touch with nature but my knowledge about it is microscopic.  I would like to extend my involvement with LandWorks in Dartington .


No light shed yet about how this could inform my SYP – perhaps as I let the day settle down, I might sift something out of what I observed and recorded.




OCA SW July meeting.

It was going to be a different meeting – we were going to write up our group manifesto – I immediately thought of the 2011 Arles photo manifesto, redolent of the 1909 Futurist manifesto, drawn up by Clément Chéroux, a historian of photography and a former curator at the Pompidou Centre, and photographers  Fontcuberta, Parr, Kessells  and Schmid.  What a surprise – 5 men.   Our group was not going to be so skewed – 7 women and 2 men.

In a phone call in 2016, I asked Kessels about the resemblance in language tone and content between their 2011 manifesto & the 1909 Futurist manifesto drawn up by one man, Marinetti purporting to be a legion of men stating “WE ..” in every clause, but he claimed there was no intention of copying or parodying the earlier one.  When I asked about the exclusively male panel drawing up the document, he said it was Fontcuberta who had convened the group.


Guided by OCA tutor Stephen Monger, we went through some brain storming sessions and came up with a manifesto to which I then added a group name and the last line – because they were pertinent to the exercise.

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The newsletter has all the details about what took place. July 2018 newsletter


Personally, I was really pleased with the input of our lead tutor because each one of us was asked leading questions about our work giving us something to think about developing in it.  Although the majority of the group was from the photography pathway, Stephen had probing questions for everyone.  I came away questioning the scale of my work.  I had presented A4 printed sheets and Steve asked me how big the rocks were.  When I said 1 – 1.5m, he suggested I print the images that big.  So imagine that each of these images is 1.5m tall.

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Great day.

A day with David Hurn

30th June, 2018


The first, important, part: reconnecting with fellow students and tutors, and meeting David.

Twenty of us met at a restaurant near the Martin Parr Foundation at 10.30 for a day with Magnum photographer David Hurn centred around an exhibition of his ‘Swaps’.  Another day when everybody who should have been there was!  After coffee and an animated reunion with fellow students and tutors, we set off for TMPF.

Tutor Matt White introduced David after we had all had a chance to see the exhibition and David started his address to the group which Matt’s assistant Aaron filmed  for those students who could not make it on the day.

The second part: David’s talk:

My first impression of the exhibition was that it was much smaller than I had anticipated  – and that the space was quite small.

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In his talk David said that the exhibition was far smaller than the one which was in Cardiff which answered my question.  I liked the way it was curated in that it showed which work was swapped for David’s work:

David’s image in the centre and those he swapped for it linked to it.

David’s talk centred around our practices as photographers and was reiterating much of what was on the blurb at the entrance to the exhibition:

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Except he did say that photographers need to have good shoes.  As in any form of expression, it is the amount of time you spend practising it that improved your proficiency at it.  “If you are not photographing 8 hours a day, why aren’t you?”

He also said: ‘You learn an enormous amount from your peers’ – – existence of our OCA SW group and concomitant study days are therefore justified.

Statements which resonated with me:

  • “There are doers and talkers: academics and photographers’  Where does this put the OCA?  We do both.
  • The subject matter is very important.
  • What is relevant is what you are passionate about.
  • What is in your photos is what you are passionate about.
  • It’s good to have someone you respect (in David’s case Sergio Larrain whose monograph is subtitled “Vagabond photographer’) endorse your images.
  • Look at images you like and don’t like and what it is that in your mind makes a good image. I suspect that this will help evolve your own voice.
  • Authorship is important – DH asked for specific images from the people he respected.
  • Thought process is most important.

The fourth part: the afternoon work share:

In the afternoon, having seen our work which varied from conventional (most of the men’s work) to abstract / conceptual/ destruction (most of the women’s work) he said:

  • Work in which he cannot see what it’s about does not interest him = most of the work the women presented was therefore dismissed.
  • He does not want to be told what’s behind the work , which seemed to nullify what he had said in the morning which was that the thought process is important in a work. = most of the work the women presented fell in this category.
  • In He quoted MP as saying something like ‘ you only need to write 2 sentences to describe your image’.  I guess he refers to labelling of the images?   OCA 5K word essays?
  • He could relate to the straight images which just required him to look without too much other information.
  • He likes context – I suspect that that is visual context in the image.

My rock and stretched pixels, therefore, hit rock bottom because they did not fit the traditional photo which DH & MP specialise in.  I guess it was the wrong context in which to show abstract images but I thought I would challenge conventional photography.

But, if I relate my images with what is important to DH about photographs:

  • I am passionate about rocks and I have photographed them in their thousands but I choose not to represent them as they are in their natural state because I want to create images from them.
  • I do spend 8 hours away + on my work – I manipulate what I have taken.
  • My subject mater is important to me – it is derivative.
  • My thought process is important – it’s just not the thought process that DH is used to.

I valued Matt White’s comment that I have too many ideas, that I need to simplify the concept.  Big question is HOW?  I think I will have to start by analysing the ideas that I have and then select one at a time and see how relevant each is to my extended body of work.  At Matt’s suggestion, I will have to re-read Joan Fontcuberta, my most inspiring writer on photography .

The third part: A tour of TMPF:

When I started  organising the day way back in January 2018, I thought that a tour of the venue could have been something and nothing.   It turned out to be arguably the  best part of the day for me because it told me so much more about MP and the possibilities to use the resources in the space available.

We had obviously seen the public space, the exhibition room.  The size of it lets me think that, in relation to the other spaces, it is not the main component of the venue as it is about a third of the volume / space available.

We were then taken to a store room – having 20 of us in this tiny space was an intimate but interesting experience : air-conditioned cupboards within cupboards, computers, humidity controlled spaces … quite an insight into what the whole foundation means to those in it.

Seen on a shelf in the store room.
These also needed to be kept cool in the store room.
MParr’s contact sheets kept in the humidity controlled room within the store room.
Contact sheet files in cold-storage.
Tanned hand = mid summer.

Our tour leader, Nathan Vidler with whom I have been corresponding since January, made the place come alive for me: he is so enthusiastic, engaging and knowledgeable about the contents of the collections that he kept everyone there until way past the time we were supposed to be at our lunch venue.

Nathan Vidler
Nathan’s favourite hand made book by Thomas Sauvin in the collection. which looks like a cigarette packet – Its relevance is very witty when you are told the title to the book made to look like a cigarette packet.

The little book ‘Until Death Do us Part‘ by Thomas Sauvin  and the book at the other end of the scale – “Pinups’ by David Bailey valued at £20k, had us all intrigued & lead us to talking about the ‘value’ of books and how they are presented.  Whereas we all wanted to handle the mini book, very few if any touched the precious Bailey book.  I was really surprised that Nathan was not handling it with white gloves!

There seems to be a bottle theme running through the venue.

We then went to the hand made books section and were mesmerised by Chris Killip’s books “In flagrante” – the hand made mock-up and the commercially printed one and I personally loved the tones of the dark room printed images of the mock-up but could not understand why he cut them to spread over the 2 pages.  He has also printed ‘In flagrante 2’ which does not have the images cut up.

The printed book.
A comparison of the hand made mock-up (top) and the printed book below.


Killip’s workings on where he chose to cut the image.

We were then treated to compare the handmade book by Keith Arnatt and the printed version:


Keith Arnatt hand made book.
Corner detail













I couldn’t help feeling that TMPF was a sort of mausoleum to greatness / self belief.

And then to lunch!  We were berated by the restaurant manager because we were 30 mins late and the food was ruined!!  It wasn’t – my aubergine was divine!

After lunch we rearranged the restaurant, not without having had an exchange of opinions with the manager again who asked what she would do with all the other diners – there weren’t any!

I had a chance to catch up with Karen whom I hadn’t seen for at least two years.  We started discussing our current projects and essay – oh dear!

All the day was caught on film by Aaron, Matt’s assistant & I look forward to seeing the outcome.

Many thanks to Karen Allen for giving the vote of thanks and for handing over the card and the bottles of wine to David to thank him for spending the day with us – who was to know that David does not drink and that he has a wall full of bottles of wine at home given to him in thanks?  We suggested a simple remedy to the situation but it was not taken up.

I thought the after-lunch session was education at its best: everyone’s perceptions were challenged in myriad ways and we all had to think – were we in fact being arrogant in explaining our work? had we lost the plot by not making mid-20th century-type images? if we are not making photographs with our cameras 8 hours a day but choose to spend that time manipulating images / pixels because that is our passion, are we not making images? is it no longer photography?  I will see if Fontcuberta has written something to support my work here.






9th June, 2018: OCA SW meeting with Brenda Miller: Bristol

OCA textiles tutor, Brenda Miller opened the day with a presentation of her latest work and inspirations for her PhD.  Details of this can be seen in the newsletter which was posted on the OCASA page of the OCA Communications page.  Students in all the pathways present, photography, history of art, textiles, painting & illustration got really valuable feedback and suggestions from everybody.

What I got out of the day: reflections on peer feedback.

I presented my experiments of traced rock fault lines and added stretched pixel lines over pixellated background layers  and they were very well received.  I welcomed this as it encouraged me to continue with the experiments.   I should, however, have asked for specific feedback on, for example, how evident the inferences and similarities between rock formations and our own psychological make-up are? are the outlines useful?  do the stretched pixels add anything to the image?  do the resultant images tell us anything about photography today? does the colour add or detract from the concept? here I should have brought a b& w version of some of the images in order to compare.

In my opinion, the value of peer feedback, is to encourage discussion and to ask questions of the work presented and to think critically about work.  In a recent OCA bulletin we were asked to engage in precisely what peer criticism is and the author states: ‘A useful ‘critique’ ought to be a mixture of opinion, knowledge, and ideas.’. Perhaps we are too ready to ‘like’ as a default response which, as all default settings, are not specific enough and tell us nothing of the work presented other than that it is pleasing.  Particularly when we are in a peer group, face-to-face situation, we don’t like to openly challenge ideas or their expressions; perhaps we don’t have enough time to appreciate, validate and reflect on what is presented so, to limit any possible damage, we do not criticise effectively and only on our way home after the event we think of some points to make regarding the work.  Perhaps in a live presentation it would be best to do a round of introductions of the work, discuss a non-specific general topic and then go back to the work presented so that we have had time to digest what was seen and heard about the work?

The benefits and weaknesses of peer response are evident in both face-to-face and on ‘forum’ type web pages.  We are reminded about netiquette – how not to offend in a space where the person presenting work cannot respond immediately, how narrow the dividing line is between criticism and bullying, how the inflections and non-visual markers of communication are absent in a written-only context, how emojis have become such a vital part of our on-line communication vocabulary.

I have yet to experience professional feedback on my current work other than that of my tutor, but even there, there is such a strong emotive content that I, personally, don’t really know how to take the comments: not being at all confident about my work, I always assume a defensive frame of mind – I always see a negative side to whatever is said.  My SYP tutor, Helen Warburton, has warned me about getting professional advice on my portfolio: to ask those assessing it to look at specific aspects of it & not to simply say ‘comment on my work on this blog site’; rather ask if there is progression in the working to assess any artistic value in the work – depending, of course, on who is assessing it.  (More of this on tutor meeting blog).

The value of Saturday’s meeting for me was, in retrospect, that I must slant the perspectives on which I want more information regarding my work and that goes for peer and professional appraisal.