Week Eight Reflections – Work in Progress Reviews

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This summarises feedback from Jesse, Wendy and Krishna on my WIP portfolio, and my project in general.

Paris (10th Nov)

As background, I introduced the project like this:

I am now revisiting Cambodia to tell the untold stories of people who survived the Genocide of 1975-1979, and who then dedicated their lives to education as a way forward for the Country.

I am creating film interviews, a book of their stories and, of course, a photographic record – of the individuals involved, the schools, and the historical context. We plan to mount an installation in Phnom Penh at the end of next year, and hopefully other venues in due course. A book of their personal stories is also underway.

We find that the country has still not fully come to terms with what happened, so we call the project Unfinished Stories. The project is not about Genocide per se, rather that is the context for the focus on the personal stories. I believe that context is essential as unfortunately we in the West seem either not to know or to forget.

One strand of my project thus explores the physical traces of the Genocide, which sit in the background of these personal stories. I am working with a digital negative aesthetic. The impact of the Genocide is still in all kinds of ways hidden. It is visible only in traces, both physical and psychological. I am doing this as negatives, because that is exactly what they are. Negatives of human atrocity. Negatives of personal tragedy. And negatives require interpretation.

They are a step in the process of seeing, not seeing itself.

I shared the ‘contacts’ of both the colour and black and white digital negatives.

Black and White Series here.

Colour originals here.

And I shared a few 10x8s

Am Yon

Wendy liked the ‘negative traces’ idea, though warned about trite/trope imagery (skulls etc.). She also pointed me to there that use ‘artificial’ image techniques – military scope lighting, infrared and so forth. Richard Mosse came to mind.

We also discussed whether certain images should be taken in a more isolated setting – e.g. the thorns used to beat people at the Killing Fields, shot against a plain background. All are techniques to make the audience question what they are seeing and thus hopefully draw them into the work.

Subsequently, Wendy suggested I look at Anthony Cairns, who starts with film them manipulates images in various ways.

Decaying Fruit

Jesse also liked the approach, though prefers imagery with more distance and space .. like the hands in the header. He noted that with this image, you are not sure are negatives. He also preferred the opening images in the series.

Both agreed that this showed that Krishna’s brief could be met, though editing will be critical. Krishna challenged me before going to Cambodia to tell the story using this ‘negative’ aesthetic, but with humanity – essentially combining the contextual work with the personal story telling which was my WIP in the S&S Module.

Jesse and Wendy both challenged that I just had a lot going on, and needed to focus my efforts for the FMP. Related, Jesse commented that I have been reasonably consistent on my audience throughout, which should help.

We also discussed using the Tuol Sleng camera. Unfortunately, I have subsequently discovered that the camera has just been lent out to a museum in a  3 year loan.

Through the Jungle

Webinar with Jesse (15th Nov)

I had a very helpful conversation 1-1 with Jesse via webinar, today. He seemed comfortable with me suing the work i showed (with edits) for the WIP for this module.

He also reinforced the points above – especially a lot going on. Whilst he normally counsels students about getting too focused on the FMP too early, in may case there are considerations about exactly what I want from the MA. What will it do to / for my practice? Where will things go afterwards?

Jesse also made the point that several of the things I am doing – talks, exhibitions, books – could be usefully considering in the ‘marketing ‘ of my FMP and my practice. How do they all fit?

Having been pretty consistent from the beginning, I commented that I have always seen Year 1 as exploratory, and Year 2 as definitional. I do need to reflect, though, exactly how to approach Year 2.

We both agreed that the current approach to creating these negatives is worthy of challenge. Film could slow things down, provide focus, and also create a more compelling aesthetic. There is a materiality about the process that somehow seems relevant to the project.

I currently plan to be next in Cambodia mid February. That happens to be before the Falmouth Face to Face in March. Perhaps I could get Paul Clement’s help to work through the processing of film in some novel and appropriate ways?

All super helpful, and quite inspirational.

Webinar with Krishna (15th Nov)

Krishna echoed the above thoughts – really liked both the colour originals and the black and white negatives.

She advised to stick with the B&W for this WIP, and could see logic in pursuing this as a possible FMP focus.

We agreed that a couple of images don’t fit, which is fine as a) I put forward 21 and the WIP only needs 18 max and b) I have other images.

I have subsequently made this edit, and will live with it a while. I also have the images printed out and on a  pin board, which I always find helps the selection and editing. Next step is to finish the processing of all the images from this last trip.

I’ll then share the edit with Krishna and others, especially Cromarty.

We also talked about the other aspects of the Cambodia trip and project, which was helpful.

Email conversation with Paul Clements (16th/19th Nov)

Loving this project … with very difficult subject matter to explore.

A bit confused when you say: “The project is not about Genocide per se” but then say that it: “explores the physical traces of the Genocide”?

You also say “They are a step in the process of seeing, not seeing itself”. Why not? Are you afraid in showing how it was, what happened to these people? I think you are trying to show what happened in a more gentle way, so as not to be contentious (?) when really you should be jumping up and down and be angry about what happened.

I think you are keeping that side of your emotions within and this can lead to confusion on how to explore this subject? It is a very difficult process and one that you are definitely trying to explore – it’s difficult and also so emotionally charged!

However, I really like the approach you have taken with the negative aesthetic with the images. That works really well, and they are very gentle. I was looking at Wendy Ewald’s work at the weekend and I really liked her approach to this subject: http://wendyewald.com/portfolio/black-self-white-self/ by adding overlays or other work to the image.

It is a very difficult task to show if you are trying to uncover and show in a more masked or disguised way – and people’s stories are important here to give your work more context. Maybe audio conversations of those who experienced those times will help?

Lewis Bush did a great book “Shadows of the State” and introduced Bar Codes next to each image within that could be easily scanned via a mobile phone app … http://www.lewisbush.com/shadow-of-the-state-book/

Maybe you could do something similar with recorded voices from your project… if not that way then I think that audio recordings might add more context to these “processes of seeing”?

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