During the MA, our cohort German Bight has formed a collective called ‘The Long Exposure,’ which was a response to the first lockdown where we would take turns to share experiences of the pandemic. We have since decided that it would make a good platform to continue collaborating after the MA is finished and have set up a web page in addition to the Instagram profile (Fig: 1).
What this means in the short term is we now have a framework to work together and create output for our photographic works.
Landings 2021 – What happened Next?
For this year’s Landings exhibition, everyone was asked to form curating teams and create mini exhibitions. TLE came together to create an open call postcard exhibition that would be a way of channeling thoughts, feelings, dreams and actions, journey of the last 15 months into the creation of a new single image that would be submitted and turned into a postcard, which would be printed and shared to create a series of local mini exhibitions.
We were pleased to be selected for Landings and will work on producing the exhibition. I have contributed a logo (Fig: 2) and will continue to support the effort in putting it together.
We also want an opportunity to celebrate our efforts of the last two years and are in the process of creating a group show, which would be held at Four corners gallery in Bethnal Green. As a group we considered a range of locations and have settled on Four Corners because of its position within the London Photography community. Victoria, Tim and I went for a visit over the weekend and were impressed with the space and level of support that they are willing to give us in putting together the exhibition in October.
Although Bethnal Green is slightly outside of an areas that might have a much higher foot fall, because it is a dedicated photographic centre it would have the benefit of being well-known to the photographic community who would be willing to make the journey to the gallery. Additionally, because of its status and also having labyrinth photo lab in the basement means that we would also gain incidental viewing of both the gallery and the lab’s clients visiting during the exhibition.
Figure 3: Phil Hill (July, 2021) Four Corners Gallery, Bethnal Green, London.
The space was large and bright, with plenty of room for everyone involved. It also has the opportunity to showcase multi media presentations and a good window display. Personally, having the opportunity to set up and exhibition as a collective allows me to show work in London to people interested in seeing it and potentially commissioning it. As I do not have a great deal of experience in exhibiting and setting up exhibition, this will provide me the platform to mitigate cost and be part of the process supported by my peers.
At the time of our visit, there was an exhibition by ‘PH: The Photography Research Network,’ who are a collective of PHD students creating work around re-considering the photographic medium in contemporary settings: “How must we – understand the connection between photography and people’s ways of life in today’s post-factual world’ (Pasternak, 2021). It was valuable to see an exhibition by a collective to gain a sense of how this work, which is all quite different, sits together in one space (Fig: 3).
Pasternak, G., 2021. Bridging The Distance – PH: The Photography Research Network [Exhibition]. London: Four Corners Gallery.
I have started to consider how I want my work to be viewed in the lead up to the Landings exhibition and how it actually provides me with an opportunity to really analyse my online presence and start to create a curated online platform for myself that is much more focused on the kind of photography I am developing during this time.
My website was initially set up much like my MA blog, utilising WordPress and one of their themes called ‘Sketch’ (Fig: 1), which is also the same theme as this CRJ.* I have always liked the flexibility of the WordPress platform having used the blogging platform for over 10 years, more so after they introduced the portfolio feature for projects. WordPress has a massive community network in terms of support and people creating functionality for it, if there is a custom function that I want to use for my own site, chances are that there is a plugin available. It was also great to find out that Falmouth is keen on it and rolls it out for the CRJ meaning that I had prior experience that I could fall back on. The biggest draw of WordPress of course is that it is primarily free (with some exceptions for functionality and premium features), which creates a powerful tool at entry level.
The challenge has always been that usually the free options equal some sort of compromise. For example, the need to display the ‘powered by WordPress’ logo at the bottom of the site (Fig: 2), which could be removed with some tinkering of the code, this is quite a challenge for someone like me with little coding knowledge and could lead to a broken website. Although, not the end of the world, this display always felt a little unprofessional. A great number of websites that I have been looking at by other photographers, have a horizontal scrolling feature (Fig: 3), which creates an aesthetically pleasing way to look at a sequenced project, in a similar way to how you might read a narrative in a book. I feel that this is important as it can be a way of establishing an initial way to consume the work as I intended.
There are a number of sites that offer this kind of portfolio website experience including Format and Squarespace. I have previously used the American based Photoshelter when I was freelancing because it had a really good image proof and delivery function as well as full resolution storage, however even that was limited and would not allow me to do everything that I wanted. These examples are also premium subscription services, which I cannot really justify at this stage. Ultimately there are still going to be the inevitable compromises and it is a case of working out the ones that I willing to accept.
My website, although I updated just before the beginning of the MA, was quite bloated, and now that I am adding galleries for my most recent projects, it was also confused. My website was a platform for promoting my freelance practice as a travel and lifestyle photographer, however this is not something that I have done professionally for a few years (although I do still take on commissions and license work); my practice is evolving into more of an art practice concerned with longer term research projects (Such as the ones conducted during the MA).
It is important for the audience of my work not to be confused with the work that I presenting on my site, even though it is useful to show the types of professional work that I have conducted, as this shows a level of competence and professionalism. It is also important that the form and function of my website also create a framework (or surface) for the effective dissemination and consumption if my work.
After some research, I found a well-designed theme that can be used with WordPress and would effectively display my work and could be rolled out to my website ready for the Landings exhibition at the end of the month (Fig: 4). I have decided to utilise a minimalist design that hides the menu unless clicked on as well as the important horizontal scrolling feature (Fig: 5). The website also adapts well when viewed on a mobile device, which is a fundamental consideration as this is a primary means of viewing. The theme also utilises two different typefaces, which creates an aesthetically pleasing means to display my work and lifts it beyond the ‘sketch’ theme that I had been using (Fig: 6).
There are still a couple of elements that I would change, for example, there is an automatic numbering of images within galleries that could become distracting to the reader of the work, so I may look into removing this at some point in the future. I have also hide a lot of the content that was on my old site, including tear sheets, and my published work examples, which is something that will be important to create a solution for display.
Figure 7: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Example of how to utilise a community display board – Before & After
I have been considering how best to display my work for the landings exhibition with the idea of creating a community based display. For example, I quite like the idea of creating a kind of ‘art trail’ approach where the work can be displayed in the places that I took the images. This would create an opportunity for the community to view the work in situ. It also creates a re-tracing of the journey that I was making during the process of creating the work, which would hopefully create meaning and connection to the people and place. There are two ways that I though could work well for this. Firstly, during my walks around the local area that I live, I noticed a number of community boards for displaying local information, one method of display could be to ‘take-over’ these displays and present my portraits (Fig: 7). Secondly, an idea that is more grand in approach could be to display large scale prints in the locations that they were taken that could either be discovered by the people using the facilities, or be part of an art trail (Fig: 8). In addition to these approaches, there is an opportunity to support the display with a small publication or catalogue of the exhibition that includes a map of the art trail. I could also incorporate a workshop where participants could walk the art trail with me and we can discuss community engaged photography projects.
Owing to the ongoing restrictions, my concern is that these ideas are simply not feasible so my intention is to utilise what I have developed for my online platform with the aim to utilise it in an effective local manner. Now that I have established a professional presence with my updated website, I want to use the landings exhibition as a means of self-marketing as well as the online gallery having the potential to outlast the 7-day exhibition itself. Local community engagement is still important to the work and its dissemination so my intention is to seek local means for disseminating the exhibition as opposed to merely adding a link and some images to Instagram. An example of this could be by utilising the local network within Watford like the community noticeboard ‘Next Door.’ There is also an opportunity to contact ‘Watford BID,’ who promote local events. This might be quite valuable as I could also work with them in the future for such promotion. Having an online gallery in place for a year also creates an opportunity for visitors throughout the 12 months.
My intention is to support my exhibition gallery with potentially a downloadable publication of the work or even a physical version that can be purchased through my website. This is not something that I have done before but am keen to explore, building on the experience of creating zines.
How much you consider the audience when making your work?
This question is something that I think that I have been answering, yet possibly not really in enough detail. People do seem to respond well to my work, however I find it increasingly difficult to ‘break through.’ Potentially, the presentation of my online portfolio could have been a factor as it is fundamental that the work should be presented in a professional way. There of course could be innumerate reasons for the work not cutting through, however it could very well be that I am actually not considering the audience of it. Defining who wants to consume my photography is key to the success of the work.
How much you would allow a curator to influence the reading of your work?
Considering the above, I think it would be important to engage with others who might be more experienced art curation than me. It is important to maintain my intentions and how I wished for the work to be read when I created it. However, it is important to remember that I also do not have exclusive rights over the reading of my work, that is an impossibility. It is also useful to engage with other professionals in the dissemination of the work, primarily because as the artist, I will be very close to the project and may not see the value in particular sequences.
How curators could be useful to your practice?
Vanessa Winship on discussing her first book, stated that although she valued the opportunity and process of making the book, she felt that she was having to compromise more than she would have liked (Winship in Smith, 2015). Experince may have played a part in this leading to a lack of compromise in making the decisions about her own work. I do stand by the need to work with other professionals however, expertise in fields I am not familiar in is ultimately invaluable. For Jack Latham’s ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ exhibition at the Royal Photographic society (Latham, 2019), curator Mark Rawlinson discussed the differences between the exhibition over the book, noting that the linear nature of the book allows only for one way to consume the narrative of the book, whereas the exhibition opens up multiple ways to view and construct a narrative from the work as the audience is freed up to walk around the space and consider the images presented as they see fit. According to Rawlinson the non-linear conspiratorial narrative of ‘Sugarpaper Theories’ is a particularly good example of how two successful sequences can work (Rawlinson & Latham, 2019). That exhibition did feel like there was a good collaboration happening between Latham and Rawlinson, which led to its ultimate success.
I am considering moving this blog onto the new theme, however I may not do this during the MA. Primarily because I would not want to break anything!
Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories. Bristol: Royal Photographic Society.
Rawlinson, M. & Latham, J., 2019. Sugar Paper Theories Gallery Walk & Talk. Bristol: Royal Photographic Society.
Winship, V., 2015. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – 082 – Vanessa Winship: “And Time Folds” Special [Interview] (11 September 2015).