Featured post

Sofa Portraits now available for pre-order

  1.          Sofa Portraits is now available for pre-order from my website (orders will deliver in October/November)   The pric...

Thursday, 30 May 2013

McCoy Wynne's Triangulation

I love maps and I love photography, so when you get a mapping project such as McCoy Wynne's (made up of Stephanie Wynne and Stephen McCoy)Triangulation, I know I'm on to a winner - especially when the project is so rigorous and ambitious in its outlay.

For Triangulation, McCoy Wynne are going to photographically map the triangulation points used to map the UK. It's a simple idea and one that resonates geographically - I can see the trig point on Solsbury Hill from my house - a place that my daughter always climbs and jumps off when we walk up there (like this... complete with light leak).

I saw McCoy Wynne's pictures online and then met Stephen McCoy at Liverpool Look 13 so I decided to ask the partnership a few questions - which they answered.

What is a triangulation point?

Triangulation points are concrete pillars built as a base for measuring theodolites and referencing lights. We are concentrating on the 314 "primary" triangulation points built between 1936 and 1962 by the Ordnance Survey for the "Retriangulation of Great Britain". Over 6,000 secondary triangulation points also exist.

Many people mistakenly think the function of the triangulation (trig) point is to mark the highest point of hills, but the trig points are placed in positions where at least two other points can be seen in order to form triangles for accurate measurement. An accurate base line was established ( a story in itself) and from this a system of triangles enabled surveyors to make very precise measurements of distance - essential to map making. 

The realisation that accurate maps were necessary coincided with the Enlightenment in the early 18th century - the move away from religion towards scientific method and measurement (Age of Reason) - and a recognition that error-free maps gave advantages to the user, whether they be the military, trade and the transport infra-structure, or road builders.

When did you get the idea for the project?  

We intend to photograph all 314 primary triangulation points from the Shetland Isles in the furthest North-Easterly reaches of Britain to the Scilly Isles in the south-west.

We have been interested in representations of the landscape for many years and have produced sets of work that deal with different aspects of interactions of people and the land. We began to think about mapping and the relation of abstract map view with the reality of terrain. The trig points were an obvious landmark, but we didn't want to just produce another typology collection of these pillars. We decided to use the trig point as a base for the camera and we placed the camera and tripod on top of the trig point. We formulated the idea around the same time as we started the project - about 3 years ago. 

Although we did try other options ( eg: photographing the cardinal points of the compass), we decided that 360 degree panorama was the most valid response to the visual experience of reaching the trig point.

Why is it an interesting project?

The viewpoint is predetermined by the position of the trig point and this reduces the aesthetic decision-making. Notions of what makes a good photograph, which are heavily effected by cultural and educational background, and compositional choices, are reduced. The viewpoint is not randomly chosen but was essential in the mapping of Great Britain.

The method allows us to move away from pictorial or romantic representations of the landscape into more descriptive typology. However, by combining the view of the trig point with the 360 degree panorama taken from the trig point, the visual significance is enhanced. 

The work will provide a comprehensive survey of the British landscape and deals with representations of the landscape, the layering of history, land use, ownership and boundaries.  

The project deals with aspects of mapping and even though the locations of the pillars is well documented, there is still a heightened sense of exploration and anticipation based on the uncertainty of access, weather conditions and the disparity between “the real” and the “abstract” of the map view. The final image is a further abstraction, creating a linear, ribbon like, prospect. The linear characteristic of the image relates to different map projections. We are all familiar with the aerial map of the Ordnance Survey, but some earlier maps are linear and based on routes and track ways, such as the Roman ‘itinerarium’, that shows the Roman road network from Europe to India as a single ribbon.

The work in the exhibition is a selection from those 30 trig points we have photographed so far, but we feel the effect of the work will grow as more trig points are photographed. The power of the work depends on how the varied landscape is unified by being portrayed as a series of strips.

The display of the work will also provide interest because we intend to display the photographs region by region in a relevant venue.

Techniques of mapping improved as technology improved. The majority of the pillars are no longer used in mapping, having been superseded by GPS, but those that can be accessed have become totemic as markers in the landscape. Many people use them as a target for their walk, as ‘touchstones’ on reaching their goal.

Photography is also linked to technology and we have fully embraced digital technology in the production of this work.

How long is the project going to continue?

We have to balance earning a living from our commercial photography practise with this personal project, so although we would like to instigate a more systematic procedure this will be difficult without any financial support. Therefore, we are not imposing any time constraints on the project. We will continue until we have finished even if it takes ten years to complete. Unfortunately the trig points are no longer maintained and some may disappear in the near future.

What are the challenges?

Time, money, travel, weather, access, sore knees. All technical problems have been solved. Fortunately, not all trig points are in remote places and long walks can be offset by some trig points being within a 100 yds of a car park. 

What does the project say about the UK

In one sense it is for other people to decide what it says about the UK, but ...Although we are perceived to be an overcrowded island we have been struck by the lack of people when we are out on the hills of Britain. However, these areas show evidence of the use of land by people over centuries, the layering of history. Often  the hills were used  as forts, lookouts, beacons etc. Modern water towers and communication masts have sometimes overlaid these historical uses. The hilltops use for surveillance, survey and measurement of the land, places them as integral to the structure of land ownership and control.

It also says something about the systematic nature of applied science existing in Britain at the start of the mapping of the country. Our current 'applied science' of satellite technology has and continues to extend survey and surveillance.

There is also an exhibition of some of the Triangulation pictures on show at The Cornerstones Gallery, Liverpool Hope University, Creative Campus, 17 Shaw Street, L6 1HP, from 7th June until 29th September 2013 as part of Look13 Photographic Festival. Two other photographers, Kevin Casey and Stephen King will also be exhibiting and the photographers are collaborating with three writers.

McCoy Wynne have been working with writer and journalist Kenn Taylor http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com/, his written piece will be displayed alongside their work.

Richard Mosse: Not Boring or Trite

I never liked Richard Mosse's infrared pictures of Congo. I always felt the pictures never quite matched up to the statement, that it didn't quite do what it said on the tin.

At the same time, it was one of those projects that everyone loved (reactionary opinions including my own opinion don't count in this paragraph). So much so that it was almost sacrilege not to like it. In film terms, it would be like saying you think Distances Voices, Still Lives is boring and trite, or that Apocalypse Now is the biggest load of guff going or that Stalker is, oh dear, what, let's use boring and trite again.

But Mosse's infrared film, The Enclave, looks amazing from this clip of the installation that will be shown at the Venice Biennale. I especially like the posturing of the rebel soldiers. Posturing and soldiers go together so well  and it is refreshing to see war broken down to its basics infantilism - a huge change from the rhetoric of heroism, bravery and sacrifice that we are so often presented with both verbally and visually. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

NP20 Graduation Show Makes Me Feel Brand New, Washed Down With a Special Brew When You're In Newport....

(picture above by Kat Forey from her Cosplay series).

Having mentioned one South Wales/Newport student, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Documentary Photography Graduation Show taking place in Newport at -

University of South Wales, City Campus, Usk Way, Newport, Gwent
7th to 14th June 2013.
Private View, 6th June 2013

And in London, in collaboration with the fun-filled folk from Miniclick, the South Wales/Newport folk will join in a slideshow and talk on Emerging Photographers. 

The Attic, Hackney Picture House, 270 Mare Street, London E8 1HE
Wednesday 19th June 2013.  Doors open 18.30.  Event starts 19.30.

In their first year, theirs was the first class that I taught at Newport (though I haven't taught them since) so I have a soft spot for them because they were so engaging, charming and talented.

Which is apparent in the free newspaper they have produced called NP20.

 Cover picture by Eugenijus Barzdzius, with spreads by Olivia Martin and Denise Marie Myers.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Briony Oates and Niall McDiarmid Street shots

The latest Magnum Showcase winner is Briony Oates for her intimate story on her brother, Jordan. This is what Christopher Anderson said about her work.

"I chose the work of Briony because her work is emotionally intimate. I feelthe presence of the subject and her connection to it. There are visuallynice elements as well, particularly the use of light, but the most important is that I felt something when seeing the images. For me, this is what photography is about: communicating emotion, not "pretty" pictures.

The pictures  above are from Briony's Anti-Social Network, part of her graduation project at the University of South Wales/Newport - which is where I teach so there might be a little bit of promotion going on here as well.

I don't know, but the reason I like these pictures is because they are pretty - with big blocks of colour and a cross section of people with look interesting.

This kind of street portraiture is also practised by Niall McDiarmid who is wandering the UK gathering pictures for his Crossing Paths project - which I think will get more of a mention later in the year.

I saw McDiarmid speak at the excellent Miniclick Talk Series in Liverpool and he mentioned Daniel Meadows as an influence which is always a good start. But he also mentioned the importance of having big blocks of colour in his portraits - which is a refreshing and honest change of work that mixes Straight Ups, street and colour to rather lovely effect.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Keith Medley's Archive: Double Take

The highlight for me of Liverpool Look/13 was Double Take, a collection of double images made on glass plate negatives in Keith Medley’s studio near Liverpool. The pictures are quite astonishing, with pictures showing the same subject with different expression – sometimes it’s a very different expression, sometimes it’s just a subtle shift. But those subtle shifts transform the person in the left hand image into somebody quite different from those on the left.
The collection on display in Liverpool was edited by Ken Grant and Mark Durden. I put a few questions to Ken about the archive and his answers are below.

There's a book out too - which is available at the Walker Art Gallery where Double Take is currently on show. You can buy one (not sure if this is only from the UK or if you can order from overseas) from the  Walker Art gallery Shop on 0151 478 4199 and there will be online sales from next week.

But how great are these pictures - they are captivating!

How did you find the archive?
Keith Medley's son held the work after his father's death and approached Liverpool John Moores University. They have a number of collections and a very good research archive but until that point, photography hadn't featured in it. Keith Medley's work, which comprises of over 30,000 glass plates, is now housed there. Because of their local nature –and because it was photography- I was invited to look at the archive and appraise it, along with Mark Durden. I'd lived in New Brighton, not far from where Medley's studio was and I was familiar with some of the history of the Medley studio in that part of Merseyside.

What's in the archive?
Keith Medley ran the studio meticulously. We've been able to benefit from the many ledgers that are hand-written of course, and which detail the appointments that took place each day. From that point it was easy to see that the working day included portraits, calls to photograph on location, civic events, awards dinners, shop fronts, still lives of domestic products. We also noticed the letters 'PP' were added when Passport pictures were required. It's noteworthy that the first package holidays to leave from Manchester, an hour away, was established in 1961 and it's probably widely known that the Northwest was a major point of departure for many journeys throughout the 20th century.
Looking at the glass plates, it was clear that the cropped end result was one outcome - but the wider frame, relating what people wore, how they addressed the camera and the further details that contribute so much to our understanding of the moment in which the pictures were made, betrayed so much more. Mark and I began to get excited by the Passport pictures, once a few samples were scanned and printed though all those other aspects exist in the archive and should be given consideration as things move forward.

How did you edit the archive?
We looked at the portraits that were at the heart of the collection and then realised that most of those we were interested in were made through a sustained spell in the 1960s. It was apparent that the changes taking place in the region (and amongst them we could imagine the rising waves of popular culture, through the music that most of us are familiar with) were becoming apparent in the pictures, haircuts were changing, styles of dress echoed the new fashions happening across the country but nestled amongst portraits of elder sitters who seemed to remain in hand made clothing. Some younger children look as though the influence of their parents, who would have been adolescent in the 1950s, remained, in their choice of quiffed hair and Brylcream. Amongst all of this though there is the sense of the Wallasey and New Brighton area as a mixed and engaging district. It was (and still is) a place where commuters return to after days working in Liverpool, a place surrounded by docks, river and sea, a place where working and middle classes coalesce… if those terms are relevant any more. It was important to try and articulate something of this rich mix when editing the work.

Why did he make the pictures on glass plates?
Keith Medley had a long and distinguished career that involved film making as well as the many daily responses he would make to appointments at the studio. The short answer is that he learnt on that technology and it was easy to get hold of pre-sensitized glass plates throughout his career. In the archive, there are some rolls of roll-film, but they are modest in number and seemingly made later in his career. The camera used was a wooden studio camera that dominated the ground floor of the studio. I imaging a long established process is hard to change.

Why did he do the split pictures?
If you spend time with them it's clear that there are a number of occasions were the sitter was to change across the two exposures. I imagine using the first picture to put the sitter at ease and the second to make the more sedate Passport response must have made sense. The are examples in the book where sitters just couldn't compose themselves and going to studio was I'd imagine quite a big deal –a rare appointment to sit for a picture that will stay with you a long time. Our relationship with photography is more gregarious these days….then there's the question of economics, re-using the same plate instead of doubling the expense may have been a consideration. I particularly like the exceptions, where the sitters change and cousins are photographed together –and when a husband and wife take half a frame each –as if they couldn't bear to be apart…that stops you dead.

How did he divide the pictures?
The process was achieved through an adapted dark-slide. There are commercially available ones known of, and research will often take you to America where enthusiasts use 19th Century cameras. However the sting in the tail is that after the studio closed, the camera disappeared and, with it, the materials and equipment Medley used.