I found the session on the work of Camilo Vergara highly thought-provoking – thanks David for taking us through it and everyone for a stimulating lunchtime.
Reflecting about it afterwards, having read the questionnaire with its query about how the Group had informed my research, I considered what ‘research’ I actually do and why a non-academic would attend an Academic Reading Group. Voyeurism? A sense of being a fellow traveller, a sort of para-academic? Desire for sandwiches? Possibly all of these, but I also think I do at least two types of research-like (and maybe research-lite) activity:
- A sort of ongoing action research in my job a Marketing Director, acting as a reflective practitioner in progressing a range of communication projects;
- A personal creative project, involving walking, writing and photography documented in blog form.
The Vergara work and discussion spoke to both of these strands of my work.
Depicting a particular built environment, the University campus, is an ongoing preoccupation. The purpose is, clearly, neither sociology or art, but rather the creation of an appealing virtual space which people will, hopefully, desire to occupy. In a sense, this practice is almost opposite to Vergara’s; we elide the unsightly and overwrite the past with new pictures. Interestingly, repeated marketing research surveys have indicated a great hunger for seeing the campus, eg views expressed that TV adverts fail to show enough of the campus and facilities: a preference for documentary over artifice perhaps. However photos of buildings with no people, such as the early images of the new business building on the website at the moment, seem sterile – although there may be a purity to such images which could make them well-suited for a Vergara-type project, the human element seems necessary for them to achieve a marketing purpose.
My project is an autobiographical walk from Southport to my birthplace, Brighton, to be completed when I am 50. (Here’s the whole thing, and here’s just the walk itself with less random stuff.) A the start I carried a camera rather casually and took pictures for the blog. Occasional failed shots would sometimes be included, hanging somewhere between found images and happy accidents.
As time has gone on I have take the photography aspect more seriously, buying a better camera and ‘improving’ the images before loading them. So the photography aspect has become more aestheticised overt time, perhaps indicating a seductiveness built in to the process.
My images tend to be unpeopled, like the Vergara ones, for various reasons:
*actual lack of people in the times and places where the journey takes place
*my introversion – which I feel I can indulge fully when out and about doing art
*personal aesthetic preference
*autobiographical purpose of the project (it’s about me me me, let’s not get distracted with other people; the images reflect me, not the other way round.) Thinking about it I have my own reasons for liking unpopulated photos – which I bring to the Vergara ones, predisposing me to liking them.
The discussion about voyeurism has led me to reflect on what I am doing when I photograph the ‘ripped backsides’ of places rather than beauty spots or icons of civic pride. This could be read as a sort of patronising mockery of run-down places, ‘cheap holidays in other people’s misery’, which is not my intent – particularly when I explore my hometown, where I can claim to be a participant-observer. (As an aside I’ll mention the weirdness of recently discovering a video I made as a student, depicting a street from my childhood with a voiceover recounting memories I had forgotten that I had.)
Vegara says ‘A photographic image is never complete in itself’ and surrounds his with a complex web of text, context, mapping, comment and connections to other images. I believe that no amount of additional text and information can ‘fix’ the meaning of an image (as new fractally-branching meanings are created whenever such additional elements are added). Nevertheless, I can see that I’ll need to pay attention to the context I give to images such as this
- to try and steer readers away from a sense that I’m presenting them as, say, a comment on the sad state of modern Britain.
A couple of ideas have emerged from the aftermath of the discussion:
1. Link the two aspects of my practice, eg by a marketing-themed walk where I will document (/explore the poetics of/) marketing encounters, any transactions involving ‘meeting needs’ (drawn from definitions of marketing from professional literature) or invitations to have such transactions.
2. Random photography, eg at set times (triggered by alarms on my watch) stop and take a photograph – use automated settings, orient camera to a particular direction using a compass, don’t use viewfinder. It will be interesting to see what emerges with a lot of the aesthetic decisions removed from the process, other than those made in advance by the manufacturers of the camera.