Sunday, August 19, 2012

Assignment 5 - Initial Feedback

Just hit a major, but not totally unexpected snag with my subject selection for the final assignment.  I deliberately chose not to select subject matter that would be suggestive of Gursky's own work, choosing instead to go with my own subject but try and bring what I have learnt from my studies to this work.

I think I may have strayed too far and pushed the limits too much.  My tutor has got back to me concerned that the examiners may not see a link between my work and Gursky's.  I am a little disappointed as I do believe that the goal of the exercise is not to copy a master, but to learn from their work and I did think that I had demonstrated that in this work.  In fact my tutor was quite positive about the images that I prepared:
I am not making any comments on each of your images which, in my opinion are of excellent quality and are redolent of the Germany and the German character that I have been acquainted with in the past and that Gursky has showed the viewer’s of his work.

I have achieved what I set out to do with the set, which was to capture the essence of a hidden German landscape.  I do not think I am being told that I have done wrong, more that the examiners simply might not get it and mark my work down.

Here is what I stated in a reply email:

First of all thanks for your very forthright comments, they were not unexpected. Whilst working on this assignment I wrestled with the same problem of how to “work in the style of” Gursky.  I wrote the essay on someone who divides the photographic world and has arguably had more of an influence recently than most any other artist.  However, at the same time one of his greatest critiques is that his influence has been too great and recently many photography graduates are copying him and producing grand but soulless work.

Initially I was going to work in the commercial heart of the city and considered working on a multi-shot basis doing some preliminary tests.  I also considered the possibility of working from elevation as he often does.  The problem both approaches brought for me was that whilst they might have paralleled Gursky’s recent visual  statements, they would have been very far from the direction I have been going, which is an increasingly intimate exploration of my city.  Throughout my landscape work I have been drawing on Gursky (and the other Düsseldorf graduates) in my own work.  I feel their influence all the time, but not in the subject matter I am drawn to, rather in the approach and framing strategies.

The Innenhof series was an outgrowth of this influence, a deliberate strategy to avoid creating large scale impressions of the city that I could not personally buy into.  What I was hoping was that I could channel Gursky’s compositional strategies into something that would be resolutely my own.

I used his early work as an inspiration, I looked at work he produced as a student and considered that against myself as a student.  One problem with Galassi’s volume is that it is considers a relatively small time span in his work, another publication “Gursky Works 80-08”, also includes earlier work he produced as a student, especially the photographs of the Pförtner, desk attendants, at German companies and photographs of his neighbourhood in Düsseldorf.  I think these can be found on the web.  In a sense I saw the Innenhof series as a parallel to the discipline the Bechers imposed on the young Gursky of photographing similar subjects again and again together with the exploration of my locale.

I also note in later work he uses a lot of floor to celing compositional strategies particularly hotel interiors.  However, as you rightly point out he is much further away from his subject and has generated a strong degree of abstraction in the images.

I knew this was a risk and if you consider it to have failed, then I am OK with that, after all my goal as a student is to learn and mistakes often provide better lessons than continued success. 

My challenge right now with reworking would then be one of timing and subject development.  I would need to withdraw from the November assessment as I will not have enough time to develop a new concept, shoot, finalize and review before the end of September when I would need to get my work into the mail.  I would have to step back and truly consider how to develop a new concept that would align better to Gursky’s more recent work.  I did have a few ideas, working more in the commercial districts of the city studying the energy of the city. This will take several months, my basic problem right now being an average 60 hour work week.

I would prefer not to do this, of course, however, I do need to pass Landscape and want a good mark if possible.  I am struggling at the moment with Social Documentary, I am finding it hard to connect with the course and find the assignments a little uninspiring.  Thus, I want a good result from  Landscape to act as a springboard into Level 3.

So now I face a conundrum, risk the work and the examiners wrath or redo the whole assignment and go for a March submission of the course.  This is not so bad, I enjoy the work, so more of it is not necessarily a bad thing, however, I do feel that the Innenhof series is good work that aligns well with my other subject matter during the past year of Landscape.


  1. So what are you going to do Shaun? I face a similar dilemma with Assignment 5. I chose to write about John Davies but there is no way I will have access to high viewpoints (I'm paralysed) so was planing on adopting the viewpoint of "What would Davies' style be if a wheelchair user..."

    1. Hi Pete, sorry not to get back to you sooner. AS you'll see from the follow up prompt I got the go ahead to submit the photos for the assignment, I just needed to make sure the accompanying text was far very clear in making the connection. I also changed a few images to strengthen the visual connection.

      What I take away from this experience is that there is the freedom to choose a different photographer, but with that comes greater responsibility to make the connection in the photographs and narrative. For Social Documentary I am now working on the Photographs before the essay. I am going to write about Robert Frank. This was I can develop my ideas about the artist and also make sure that I have a workable image set.

      Personally I think John Davies is an excellent choice, a contemporary chronicler of English Urban and Industrial landscape. I felt the suggested artists were rather limiting and mostly dead. They also fitted too much into the pastoral view that the material took. I think the answer to this, as always, is to really think it through and plan ahead, then convey that plan to your tutor and get his go ahead. It might be an idea to create some sample shots that drive in the direction you want to go. I do hope your disability does not prevent you from a study of an artist you find to be inspiring.

      I am in Leeds this weekend for the workshop and plan to raise this in discussion, as I am sure you and I are not the only ones facing such a challenge.

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