mickyates Cambodia, CambodiaFMP, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Ethics, Ideas, Installation, Photography, Practice, SSWeek6, SurfacesStrategies Leave a Comment

Just trying to pull together some ideas on a possible installation – not for August, as part of Landings, but looking to the future.

I envisage an immersive space. The main objective of the show is to tell personal stories, bringing these to some kind of public closure. At the same time, I want to help visitors understand the historical context, but in almost an interactive way.

So, as visitors enter, they will have their ‘mug shot’ taken (with their agreement) and then exhibited. This gives an opportunity to discuss the power of photographs to be judge and jury.

There are two, broad components of the installation. The Stories, exhibited in a rather traditional way, through using  mix of photographs, video and text. And the traces of genocide, exposed to visitors only when they enter ‘life size’ cells, in the shape of Tuol Sleng. Stories will dominate, only  limited number of small ‘exhibition cells’.

And there will be ‘take aways’ – possibly postcards that visitors can send to friends, with their comments.

A sketch:

Subsequent conversation with Stella Baraklianou:

Overall, the problematics raised are important but I would be cautious about the ethics when involving members of the public. All of your critical references are important, however I would argue that taking “mugshots” of the public in this context would perhaps shift the focus of the narrative into other areas of photography. 

Genocide is a very serious issue not to be taken lightly – especially if you have members of the public that have been directly affected one way or another. 

I would advise to look at the works of Alfredo Jaar Rwanda, Rwanda as well as other works. Video here Images are not Innocent.

Also his most recent retrospective at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park The garden of good and evil.

Alfredo Jaar’s work involves archival footage but also a conceptual approach to how he re-works these images for presentation within the context of the gallery/museum space. 


Of course I totally agree on the possible ethical issues. The mug shot idea would be totally inappropriate in Cambodia, where people still occasionally visit the museum looking for lost relatives, even after all this time.

What is, however, interesting to me is Michelle Caswell’s work (referenced in the link in my post), as it applies potentially to other audiences. The most profound point in the book (for me) was that the moment people were photographed, they were sentenced to death. The subsequent confession (and torture) was a bureaucratic not judicial act. The photograph literally signified your death.

It seems to me that is worthy of exploration, not least in a society where we are surveilled and photographed everywhere? To be clear, the mug shots are not of ‘the public’. I am not Gilden. They would be taken only with their permission, when they visit the installation/exhibition, and that would lead to a conversation (participation?) in what that signified. 


Caswell, Michelle. 2014. Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia. Madison: University Wisconsin.


mickyates Art, ContextualResearch, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, Experimental, Ideas, Photography, Practice, SSWeek6, SurfacesStrategies Leave a Comment

Two things happened in the last 24 hours, which I would like to connect.

First, I saw Sian Davey‘s guest lecture. Second, I had a conversation with Richard Young, a photographer and Fine Artist friend. That conversation is now in its umpteenth iteration. To set the scene, two images.

Sian Davey, 2011-14, Looking for Alice

Richard Young, At A Certain Moment

Taken in turn, Sian’s work is beautiful, deeply personal and long-term. The image is from her book exploring her daughter’s early years. Alice has Downs Syndrome, and Sian captures moments in her life, both the things that Alice has in common with other children, and those which set her apart. Sian is fearless in ‘taking the picture’, yet always does so in a way that combines a story with a consistent and beautiful aesthetic. In the webinar, it was interesting to hear Sian’s dedication to film, and then to 10×8 format (I wonder if she is captured by her apparatus, Gary?).

Sian Davey, 2011-14, Looking for Alice

It was equally interesting to hear her answer Danny’s question about Commercial work – Sian sees personal and commercial work as coming from the same source, essentially inside her, and thus sees it as a continuum. I look forward to her new work (she has a major commission in place at the moment).

Richard has a solid, commercial Fine Art practice, influenced by the New York Expressionists, amongst others, and has studied at Slade. His work usually combines graphic, figure and ‘written word’ elements. In a recent commission, Richard involved the buyer in the process of creating the image, even to the point of the buyer physically writing on the canvas. Richard has collectors, and a view of his work over the years shows a distinctive style, born from his excellent technical draughtsmanship and figure drawing. He’s always sketching.

Yet, on the other hand, Richard’s photography is far more experimental, with less reverence (in my view) for the craft or the medium.

Richard Young, 2016, Cycles

In conversation, Richard repeated a couple of points that he has made to me before, about my photography.

First, I need more ‘intimacy‘, not in the sense of physical closeness, but in psychological closeness. Something to learn from Sian? Second, that I seem rather ‘precious’ in my composition, handling of the scene, post production et al – something he eschews in his experimental photography.

We talked about the craft that we each pursue, and the infamous 10,000 hours of (needed) experience. This time, though, I offered that Richard was equally ‘precious’ about his painting, but not about his photography. He has a painting style, knows it, uses it, and it works. Yet in photography, whilst (I discern) an expressionist heritage, he’ll shoot whatever takes his fancy, and however he feels like doing it at time.

Richard is as much a slave to his apparatus in his main craft as the rest of us – including Sian.

On the other hand, I accept I am ‘precious’ about my photography (Richard believes I usually bring a photo-journalist mindset) yet not at all precious about my painting, which has changed a lot over the years. Of course, I don’t claim to be a Fine Artist!

It seems to me that understanding what we are ‘precious’ about, both to use it, hone it, make it work – and to break it up – fits well with the themes of this module. And I can’t help but go back to Beginner’s Mind


Richard commented:

Let’s think a little further, there are precious, semi-precious and non-precious gemstones; preciousness is thereby an expression similar to covet referring to one’s own perspective of the ‘value’ of something. Creative people often covet their own work, criticism becomes a message associated with harm and therefore they (or we) protect ownership and the creative work by trying to justify its existence. Taking a photograph takes judgement, the post production becomes part of the creative process, indeed it becomes too easy to develop some level of preciousness of the work, so during the creative post production process, the question is do I do anything to the image? Cropping or editing is a skilful process and marginal images can be reborn or taken to new heights.

The question is, can you walk away from it, leave the image to fend for itself, end your association or ownership. A little like deciding to throw a beautiful diamond away, never to be seen again. So, I am using preciousness to define the opposite, which is the point where the creative owner no longer needs to be recognized, when criticism is not important in itself but simply as a guide for seeing new opportunities. The view stands equally for work that I paint or I photograph. 

Tools (or apparatus) are a completely different question and are not in context with preciousness. Tools define the boundaries within which you can operate, is the colour gamut correct, is the rendition consistent, a 20mm lens has a different field of view compared to a 200mm lens with both distortions of what are perceived by the human eye. Do you become slaves to the tools, I would say that you do although we all slave to some conventions.

I tend to describe myself as a Fine Artist and see no creative difference between the painterly stuff and the photography, they both provide me with excitement. Painting tends to take a much longer time, the idea can be conceived instantaneously or morph during production, can be very disciplined or totally undisciplined. Similarly photography starts in the same way, execution is immediate and post production plays around with the tonal or colour elements of the work with some cropping.

Curiously for me, I don’t use Photoshop to eliminate or add or distort elements of the composition – a clear departure from painting where the pigment is pushed around the surface and sometimes dramatically overworked with mixed media. Clearly the tools play a role here.

The process is precious as my skills take me to new places, however, my skillset is limited so I do tend not to explore areas where these don’t exist. I try not to be precious about the end result, the ownership no longer exists so the work stands amongst others for others to judge


Header Image – Mick Yates, 2017, Generations