'Photography Matters' - OCA Symposium. CAST, Doncaster. 21st May 2016

I had been looking forward to this event for a while as it was a chance to hear a few of the OCA tutors speaking about their work and areas of interest within photography. In particular I was looking forward to saying hello to my recent tutor, Keith Roberts (who was speaking on family portraits and the returned gaze), as well as my new tutor for Context and Narrative, Jesse Alexander. 

The event had been organised by OCA tutor Les Monaghan (also speaking on making photography for public audiences), , and was hosted by Professor Mark Durden.  Also speaking alongside Keith and Les were Dawn Woolley (speaking on selfies, consumer culture and identity), Derek Trillo (speaking on exploring notions of time through experimental photography) and Rachel Smith (speaking on the materiality of the photograph).

Les Monaghan. Photo: OCA Website

Les Monaghan. Photo: OCA Website

After the initial introduction the first speaker was Les Monaghan who discussed his recent work involving photographing a number of randomly chosen local people in a Doncaster shopping centre. The work, entitled 'Desire', comprised of numerous full length portraits captioned with one thing that the person would most like to have. The subject was allowed plenty of time to think about their answer and it was explained to them exactly how their 'desire' would be shown as a caption to their portrait. There was no trickery - no one was to be fooled. One person who expressed a slightly racist or xenophobic desire was spared the humiliation of public display. Les describes himself on the OCA website as being a 'socially engaged photographer, interested in community representation, history and myth'. This certainly comes across in what I have seen of Les's work. A concept which Les referred to in his work was fairness and this certainly comes through in how he handled his subjects for Desire.  'Fairness and effecting change' was, I think, something Les quoted early in his presentation (in fact it may have been the title for his talk!) in regard to how he approached photography. He believes that we can effect change with art and wishes to 'provoke care' with his photography. One question he asked was 'can art give ordinary people a voice?' What is certainly striking when listening to Les and looking at his work, is how he has a genuine passion for inclusivity in his photography projects and how he does aim to 'effect change' with the work that he does. I liked listening to Les and I appreciated his efforts to try to bring fairness and inclusivity to society through his photography. It's the kind of thing I find inspiring and thought-provoking in terms of how I may approach future projects of my own.

The second speaker was Dawn Woolley, whose main discussion point involved the selfie and how it is used and utilised in advertising. Dawn writes the 'Looking at adverts' pieces on the OCA's blog and I always find it an interesting read. She has a similar take on adverts as Judith Williamson does in Source Magazine. Dawn referred to the interesting concept of 'micro-celebrities': people who have large followings on social media and are used by businesses and advertising companies to surreptitiously advertise their products by disguising the promotion within the body of what are purported to be lifestyle tweets. Dawn introduced the expression 'industrialised intimacy' for these social media interactions where we feel a closeness with the 'celebs' which could never have been achieved through television. Even though these micro-celebrities are churning out their words often to the millions there is this perceived intimacy and it enables them to sell products for their sponsors - hence 'industrialised intimacy'. In a Dolce and Gabbana advert which Dawn uses as an example, the models take selfies which we imagine would show their face and the handbag they are lifting to get into the shot. This 'unseen image' - the photograph which the model is taking, which we can't see - is imagined by the viewer to contain their own face, holding the D&G handbag.

I enjoyed Dawn's talk and although photography forms only a part of it, there are certainly concepts and ideas within her work which are very thought provoking and worthy of further investigation.

Keith Roberts. Photo: OCA website

Keith Roberts. Photo: OCA website

Keith Roberts had been my tutor for The Art of Photography so it was always going to be interesting to listen to him speak and of course to say hello afterwards. Keith's talk covered his long term and ongoing project which he covered in some detail. His talk was titled Photographic Archival intervention within the Edward Chambre-Hardman Portraiture Collection 1923-1963. Edward Chambre-Hardman was a well-known photographer based in Liverpool. He was best known for his landscapes and cityscapes but Keith has managed to gain access to his archive and reveal another side of his work - that of his portraiture. In fact it was Chambre-Hardman's portraiture which paid his wages. Keith was very comprehensive in his explanation about the logistics of the project from the outset and admittedly a lot of this was at quite a high level - only really to be fully understood by those who had worked on this type of project themselves -  but nevertheless, it was quite fascinating to see the level of thought that had gone into this work. Overall, Keith project was very impressive and it is liekly there is much more to come from Chambre-Hardman's archive. 

Rachel Smith Photo: OCA website

Rachel Smith Photo: OCA website

Rachel Smith is a Fine Art PhD student and she spoke next on The Materiality of Images: Exploring Creative Practice. Rachel's talk, was in some respects quite difficult for me to follow. Some aspects of what she said made clear and interesting points about the actual physical aspect of a photograph, but a lot of what she talked about covered areas unfamiliar to me, and I have to say, slightly uninteresting. Unfortunately (and certainly after the passing of time since I went to the talk ) I don't recall a great deal of Rachel's talk which I can now relate to. That said, there were certainly some things which struck a chord with me. One of which was how the materiality of a 6x4 print suggests a 'snapshot'. This kind of thing would not normally be something I consider, but clearly following this theme could lead to interesting ideas.

 

Derek Trillo Photo: OCA website

Derek Trillo Photo: OCA website

 

Derek Trillo was the final speaker and his talk was on exploring the notions of time and experimental photography. Being still in the relatively early stages of my study of the arts, this is the kind of title that still frightens me a little! Following Rachel's slightly esoteric talk I was afraid that Derek Trillo's talk was going to be equally difficult to follow, but this turned out not to be the case. Although I recall enjoying Derek's talk I must admit to only really recall parts of it after reading the reviews written by others. I read the reviews on the myocafotosnstuff blog which reminded me of some of the points covered in Derek's talk and why I had enjoyed it. One point mentioned, was how the passing of a few seconds can affect how sunlight hits a building and therefore the entire mood of the shot is changed. Time is clearly relevant here.

Following the individual presentations there was a group Q&A session hosted by Prof. Durden before the day was concluded.

Once again, I have written up this study visit way after the event and consequently my recollection is not as good as it would have been had I written it up more quickly after I had attended the symposium. Although I took notes and have re-researched the work to a degree I am conscious that my views and comments may have been affected by the effects of the passing of time. That said, the event was highly enjoyable for me and although at the time I felt that some of it was at a slightly higher level than I was at, there were may aspects that resonated with me and may serve as prompts for ideas for research points or future work of my own. It is useful to know that the talks are all on video and can be re-visited perhaps when I feel more comfortable with some of the concepts discussed.

References: https://myocafotosnstuff.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/photography-matters-symposium-21-5-16/ accessed 13/10/16