Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Final Media Product

For my final media product I have designed a range of posters aimed at encouraging people who wouldn’t usually visit an art gallery to do so. I envisaged the posters at bus stops and pavement hoardings, where everyone and not just a few elitists would see them. The quotes by Picasso and Cezanne have copies of their works behind the text to give people a taste of the art they might be able to see. I have based my designs on the graphic design posters I found through my research, keeping the canvas clean and simple. I think a campaign like this could be effective as part of a wider push to get more people into art galleries and museums. I’m very happy with the results and might even print them out to hang on my wall at home!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Art for All

Girl with a Pearl Earring - Johannes Vermeer

The majority of the population do not visit art museums…[they] take it as axiomatic that the museums are full of holy relics which refer to a mystery which excludes them: the mystery of unaccountable wealth. Or, to put this another way, they believe that original masterpieces belong to the preserve (both materially and spiritually) of the rich. – John Berger, Ways of Seeing.

Girl with a Pearl Earring must be amongst the most copied paintings in the world. In the 1970’s a print of it could be found in many homes (my best friend’s mum had a copy on her living room wall), and the art of the wealthy was now in the hands of the many. Logic should dictate that mere curiosity would send the masses running to art museums and galleries to see the originals, but it seems that did not happen. Whilst people liked the idea of ‘real’ art on their own walls, the majority of people still felt uncomfortable entering these hallowed spaces to view original works. Forty years on little has changed, it seems. Walk around the Leeds City Art Gallery and who do you see? People who ‘know’ what they’re looking at; students researching artists for visual literacy modules; home-educating families taking advantage of a free resource. Generalisations, I know, but you get the picture: everyone there feels comfortable in the environment. Getting in those who wouldn’t ordinarily step over the threshold of such places is a tricky challenge. Convincing the many that they are as welcome as the wealthy, financially and spiritually, to experience the awesome beauty and aura of original art, is a task that I doubt will ever truly be conquered. Perhaps more films about the great artists will help, but even these will have to be cleverly contrived to appeal to the masses in order to expose the uninitiated to art for all.

The Most Beautiful Smile

Ben                                         Summer '07

I took this photograph of my son, Ben, in the summer following his seventh birthday. To the outside world it is just a photo of a young boy looking happy and carefree, full of hope and potential. I know a different story though, which makes this image very poignant. Following months of stress and anguish we had removed Ben from school in the January of that year. He had been struggling with the socialisation side of life at school and had become increasingly distressed, followed by a deep depression. It seemed possible that Ben could be suffering from an autistic spectrum disorder and this would explain the difficulties he was experiencing.

Context is everything. I hadn’t seen Ben smile or laugh for nearly a year and our GP was becoming concerned at his mental health. We had been home-educating him for almost six months and he was starting to look like our son again but a smile was still elusive. Then, whilst I was taking a photo of our daughter, the sun came out, literally and metaphorically, and a tentative smile spread across Ben’s face. I wanted to scoop him up and hug him, but I was conscious it could have a detrimental effect on this first step back to normality. For me, this is the most beautiful smile I have ever seen.

Graphic Communication

Further research into my media product has revealed this little nugget. I really like this idea and the words could not be truer. In order for communication to be effective it has to be simple. There is no point in trying to be too clever, too elaborate, too complex; no one will get the message. Effective communication gets right to the point without any encumbrance; who wants to spend time figuring out what is trying to be said when driving past a hoarding at the side of motorway at seventy miles per hour.

I am coming to end of the blog and my research into graphic design posters, and I have learned a lot. Communication is paramount to the smooth running of the world; it is when it breaks down that things fall apart. The Middle East is erupting at the moment and all for lack of communication: the art of conveying thoughts and ideas and listening to what is being said. Communication doesn’t work if no one is listening.

This is Portugal

Alfama, Lisbon                                   Miguel Santa Clara

When searching for images of Lisbon I came across this one by Miguel Santa Clara, a Portuguese photographer. I was drawn to it, as it is a scene played out every day in the Alfama, indeed all over Portugal, and the woman carrying her shopping up the many steps, reminded me of my grandmother. Despite being a very modern city, it is also ancient and no amount of modernization will change the geography of this part of the city. Life has always been hard for those living on the side of the hill leading to the Castelo Sao Jorge, but it has provided artists with much inspiration over the centuries. It has been the heart of the 'fado', the folk music of Portugal, for as long as anyone can remember, and so for me, this is Portugal.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Graphic Design Posters

Research for my media product has turned up some fantastic examples on which I am basing my own design. I like the seeming simplicity of the images, however, based on some preliminary attempts, I know it is not as easy as it looks. I’ve always been drawn to clean, simple lines and geometric shapes; when designing the lighting for a rock concert once, I ‘drew’ the shape of a star on the stage in white gaffer tape and focused the rig around it.

I’m starting to think about the words I’m going to use in my design and have been looking at quotes that mean something to me. I feel that even though this is a media product it needs be relevant to me and what I am.

A Perfect Day

Santarem, Portugal                 May 2009

To feel today what one felt yesterday isn't to feel - it's to remember today what was felt yesterday, to be today's living corpse of what yesterday was lived and lost.  –  Fernando Pessoa

I remember how I felt on the day that I took this photograph. We had interred my father’s ashes in the family tomb that morning during a memorial service attended by family and friends in my family’s village in Portugal. It was hot even though it was only May, and my mother, who had travelled to Portugal with me and my children, suggested the four of us go to Santarem for lunch. I was feeling raw. I had experienced emotions that morning that I thought I had dealt with in the months since my father’s death. We had lunch in a local restaurant, toasting Dad’s life with wine from the Ribatejo, the region where he was born, and then showed Ben and Safia where their grandfather went to boarding school. The town was quiet and felt almost as though the people were mourning with me. Early memories of when my parents had brought me to this town, and this square, came flooding back and I was a little girl again, running around on a winter’s afternoon in the brilliant sunshine not thinking beyond tomorrow. Now my children were running around in the sunshine without a care in the world, and I wondered if they would remember this day in thirty or forty years time and how it made them feel. I had lost my father but he was living on through me and his grandchildren, and that feeling will live with me every day for the rest of my life.


I designed this poster last year for my NCFE Level 2 qualification in Digital Photography. The module required me to use as many skills as possible that I had learned during the term. I have the good fortune to have a daughter who is not only photogenic but also willing to be photographed whenever her mother gets a new idea. After a long day at school, Safia was hanging about waiting for me whilst I finished up in my studio. As I was putting equipment away I noticed her daydreaming in the moon chair and couldn’t resist sneaking a few shots of her. She was so serene and clearly a million miles away, and when I asked what she was thinking about she revealed that she was dreaming of our forthcoming holiday to Scotland. When I uploaded the images to my computer I knew immediately that they would be the basis of a poster, although I wasn’t sure what design I was going to use.

I like this poster for its simplicity and also the sense of innocence that it conveys. A young girl lost in a dream world where the simple act of beach combing brings a sense of happiness and serenity. I know it is dangerous to idealise childhood, but I can’t help thinking there is no harm in taking pleasure from seeing a child dreaming of nothing more than a simple walk along the beach. 

The Hero Monomyth - Puss in Boots By Charles Perault

Puss in Boots Silhouette Postcard

Any parent will tell you that stories which seemed innocuous as a child can take on a very different bent once you start relaying them to your own children. One such example is the story of ‘Puss in Boots’ by Charles Perault. As a child I thought of this work of fiction as a ripping yarn with all the requisite factors in place: a handsome prince (or in this case, a marquis), a princess, a loyal companion (the real hero), and a monster (or ogre). Good triumphed over evil and the loving couple lived happily ever after.

It even followed the convention of the Hero Monomyth as illustrated above. An unwilling protagonist who must follow an uncertain path, complete challenges and return home triumphant with the spoils of those challenges. To cap it all, it had a moral: There is great advantage in receiving a large inheritance, but diligence and ingenuity are worth more than wealth acquired from others. Who could argue with that? And yet, no matter how many times I read the story and try to rationalize its intentions, it always leaves me feeling uneasy. Do I really want my children growing up thinking it is all right to prosper from the hard work and ingenuity of others rather than make the effort themselves?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Poster Research

In my research for my media product I came across this poster, which appealed to my sense of humour as well as my sense of aesthetics. The wording seemed particularly apt for this module and I really like the design of the poster. I quite like the retro feel and the swirls and teardrop shapes are sensual, pleasing to the eye. It reminds me of an album cover from the seventies but I don’t remember which one. It also made me think about the phrase, ‘visual communication’, and all that means. Isn’t all communication visual on some level, particularly in this day and age, what with videophones and ‘Skype’? Having gone through the dyslexia screening at the beginning of the academic year and finding out that I am dyslexic, it makes sense that I am drawn to photography where I can communicate on a visual level, rather than with words which always take a long time to formulate in my mind and consequently on to the page.

I have been looking at graphic design for my poster, even though I have not had any formal training in that area. I like the idea that the words are the image and not just part of it. I have been playing with phrases and quotes and seeing how I can make them communicate on a visual level as well as a literary one.

The Leisure Society 'This Phantom Life'

The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you’ll discover that, for you, the world is transformed. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

This song resonates with me because for many years I have sought the answers that a Roman Catholic upbringing did not provide. Who am I? What am I doing here? What’s it all for? Why should I be bothered about anything? Who is writing the script for my life story? I have looked externally and always asked others these questions; I never once thought to ask myself. And yet I now realize that all the answers are within my own being, I just need to look a little more closely. Also, I may not have all the answers and the answer to that dilemma is to accept that all the questions cannot be answered; I should have the grace to accept that too. We should all stop running around trying to get someone else to explain what we cannot, and instead be at peace with ourselves.

The Art of Life

Life is the game that must be played.  ~Edwin Arlington Robinson

Somebody, somewhere, in the mists of time said, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. This is probably very true but I just wish I could stop being tested. In my forty-three years on this Earth I have been pushed to my limits countless times, and though I am still here to tell the tales, I am getting a little bit weary. How many times must I prove myself? Although I’m an atheist I do sometimes catch myself wondering if there is someone out there having a good old laugh at my expense. And herein lies my dilemma: if there is a puppet master calling all the shots, what do I have to do to convince him that enough is enough and can he/she please turn his/her attention to someone who has managed to get through life relatively unscathed thus far?

I am a good person on the whole; at least I’m told I am. Sure, I have my moments, don’t we all, but I don’t deserve constant pressure to the point of meltdown. My mother tells me that God (hers, not mine) only gives you what you can cope with, but I have to disagree. I think that if this omnipotent being is only dishing it out to the capable, it must be because he needs to keep us occupied whilst he sorts out some of the crap he has created elsewhere. I think he’s a useless manager and if a big corporation employed him, he’d have been sacked by now. And that’s the problem, you see: he’s employed by a co-operative and nobody wants to take responsibility for firing him; he just keeps being given another chance. So, I ask this: could someone, somewhere grow some balls and get rid of the big twit who seems to be controlling my life and let me fuck it up for myself?

Thursday, 7 April 2011

A Solitary Man

Dad                                  West Virginia 1989

Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes.  ~Gloria Naylor

I took this photograph on a family holiday to the US in the Autumn of 1989. I had been living in New York for nearly a year and my family came over to visit me and have a holiday. We were staying with friends in Gaithesburg, just outside Washington DC, so we decided to take a trip to West Virginia. It was a strange day. The town was eerily quiet and we saw few people considering the importance of the location in relation to US history. We took a walk down by the river and whilst my sisters, who were still quite young at the time, played on the river bank I took photos.

This particular shot was a total fluke. In those days I was still shooting in film so I had to be sure of what I was doing and Dad was not an easy person to photograph, so I had to snap when I got the opportunity. I love this image as it sums Dad up to a tee. Here he stands on the roots of a tree, perhaps his tree, the tree of all his knowledge (he was an academic), on the banks of a fast flowing river. The river always seems to me to be his life running fast and furiously past him, with never any hope of running the rapids and risking all in his pursuit of fulfillment. The tree blocks his view of the other side of the river; blocks what might have been from his vision. To view the other side of the river, the other side of his potential, might have swept him away downriver, away from the life that he was living, from the family he loved. He is contemplative and yet he seems resigned to his fate. I often wonder what he was thinking; it was a difficult time for him as he was having business problems on a scale to which we were totally oblivious. He was carrying all this worry by himself, partly out of duty, partly out of fear - if my mother had known what was really going on she'd have had a cow. He often kept things from her and over the years he communicated less and less, becoming solitary, distancing himself from the one person who would have helped him, no matter what.

When my father died I printed a copy of this photograph for both of my sisters  and it hangs in each of their respective homes. I don't have a copy on my walls; mine stays on the computer. I will hang one up one day, but not yet. I'm not ready. Not quite.

The Art of Parenthood

Ben & Safia                             April 2002

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.  ~John Wilmot

Parenthood is a wonderful, strange and awesome journey. When I became a mother I was totally unprepared for what lay ahead, despite having taken part in all the antenatal and parenting classes I could possibly attend. I was no more ready for the task than I had been before I got pregnant. I wasn’t going to be alone of course, my husband was there too, but he was as clueless as me. We both knew what we didn’t want to do, but we didn’t exactly know what we ought to be doing. We didn’t want our children to be coersed or forced into doing anything they weren’t interested in; we were not going to foist our aspirations on them; we wanted to facilitate access to those things they might want to explore; we wanted to support and guide them; we wanted to be good parents. We knew we would have to discipline them at some point but we wanted to be firm and fair. We wanted to have all the boxes ticked before our first child was born so that we could enjoy him and any subsequent children without having to refer to each other every time something cropped up. We wanted to be prepared.

How naïve we were! From the moment of Ben’s birth we haven’t had a clue what we’re doing; we muddle through as best we can just like every other family. We love the children (we now have two), and we know they love us. We are on a magical mystery tour with a ticket for unlimited travel and no refunds. It’s the best journey I personally have ever taken, in spite of the bumps and holes in the road, and if you can get a ticket to ride I would highly recommend it.

Ben & Safia                          December 2010

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

John Davies: Great British Landscape Photographer

John Davies                           New Street Station, Birmingham
                                          From The British Landscape (2006)

I came across this photograph by John Davies whilst doing research for my current photography assignment. It really stopped me in my tracks (no pun intended!), as I had taken a broadly similar photo whilst in Edinburgh last summer. Not that I am trying to compare myself to JD - that would be extremely arrogant - but it did give rise to some thoughts I had had when taking my photo.

Davies' photograph, commissioned by Birmingham Central Library and first exhibited at the National Media Museum (later also included in the book, The British Landscape), could almost be viewed as a modern interpretation of the gates of hell. With it's railway lines leading into some underground cavern beneath the high-rise metropolis of heavenward reaching buildings, it starts to take on a sinister quality that I'm fairly sure the photographer had not intended. Or maybe he had. The glass structures in the foreground look like space ships ready to take off and start scooping up unsuspecting sinners; the waiting train empty, ready to be filled with those sinners and transport them to the depths of hell only metres below the pavements of the city. The old, pre-industrial buildings are dwarfed by the modern structures, stretching and straining ever skywards to heaven and away from the horrors of what lies beneath. Construction of ever taller blocks continues in the background as the quest for salvation never ends. Of course, it could just be a well-constructed, well-lit, interesting photograph of our urban landscape, taken by a highly skilled and creative photographer. It's up to the viewer in the end. Once the work of art is created it is up to the imagination of the audience as to what it represents. I just wish I could have seen the original, full-size version when it was first shown to the public, but that's a subject I have already visited, so we shan't go there again.

A few weeks ago I had the amazing honour of meeting John Davies when he came to talk to the photography students at the University of Bradford. We are only eight in number, so we were able to have quite a decent chat with him after his talk, and it struck me that this world renowned photographer who has been published and had work exhibited in several countries, was really very humble and totally immune to the celebrity that followed him. It was a real thrill to meet someone whose work I have admired for many years, and satisfying to be able to talk to him about things other than photography. I hope we get to meet him again over the next couple of years as I feel sure I will want to ask him more questions about his ongoing work.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Lisbon Story (1994) - Wim Wenders

When my father died I had the unenviable task of clearing out his flat. I had put it off for as long as I could but eventually the warden at the tower block where my father spent his final years, gently urged me to sort through his stuff before the local authority came in and did the job for me. My darling mother, although divorced from my father, offered to help me and one sunny, Sunday morning we tackled the task together.

It was an awesome task. My father's monastic living arrangements belied cupboards stuffed with clothes, books, bags, CD's and DVD's. Not that he ever watched any of the DVD's. Despite owning a DVD player, he had never figured out how to work it, so it lay under the television still in it's box, waiting for someone to take it away again. We spent the day sorting through his belongings, putting aside things that I thought my sisters might want; things I wanted (a watch, a leather wallet, the throw from his armchair because it retained his essence); sacks and sacks of redundant paperwork; suitcases full of clothing for the charity shop. Amongst his many CD's I came across the soundtrack for the film 'Lisbon Story', directed by Wim Wenders. The Portuguese group, Madredeus, had written and recorded the music for the film and as I lay in bed that night I played the CD in the dark stillness of my bedroom. My father was Portuguese and I had been partly brought up in Portugal so as the music filled my room I cried as I had never cried before or since. I cried for my father, with whom I had never really gotten on; for my sisters, who missed him with every beat of their hearts; for Portugal and my family over there; and for my longing to return to Lisbon, where my father was happiest. The music became the soundtrack to my relationship with my father, our culture and Portugal. It's haunting melodies transported me to the land of my forefathers, my family and, I hoped, my future. 

Recently I decided I was ready to see the film. I thought it would be difficult to find but it wasn't. Having watched a few clips on YouTube, I simply went on to Amazon, typed 'Lisbon Story' into the search bar and there it was, in several different formats and languages. I bought the appropriate version and 48 hours later I was sitting in front of the television, crying softly into my father's throw whilst the most beautiful film I have seen in a long time played out in my living room.

Essentially, it is a film about film-makers. A foley artist receives a postcard from a friend, Friedrich, who is making a film in Lisbon, inviting him to record the soundtrack for the film. By the time the foley artist, Phil, gets to Lisbon from Germany, Friedrich is nowhere to be found. Phil gets on with the task of recording the sound effects whilst waiting for his friend to turn up. He is befriended by some children who purport to be helping Friedrich with the film, and it transpires that the house in which Friedrich had been installed and Phil was now staying in, is owned by the beautiful Teresa, lead singer of the group Madredeus, who are providing the music to accompany the film. Phil falls in love; Friedrich turns up eventually, having had an epiphany; and the two friends finish making the film together. It is a charming and engaging film, full of wonderful little moments that play out in one's mind again and again. It's philosophy is light yet meaningful, without falling into the trap of trying to be too clever or high brow for the average viewer. I have since watched it several times and get something new from it on every occasion. I can now watch it without weeping, and instead I get a wonderful warm glow as I watch a film my father never saw but brought me to, about a city to which he never returned but always loved.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction By Walter Benjamin

'Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.' 
(Benjamin, Illuminations, p. 214)

I agree with Benjamin on this: no reproduction can replace the original. There is nothing more moving than seeing a work of art in all it's original glory, hanging on the wall of a majestic gallery beside other great works, to be observed in the stillness, quiet and community of other awed viewers. A reproduction of a work of art may have brought it to your attention, but there is no substitute for going to see it in person. But why? Why is seeing the original so important?
'That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.' 
Herein lies the crux of the matter: no matter how perfect the reproduction in terms of quality of colour, sharpness and size, it will never have the same impact as the original. The 'aura' is lost in reproduction and the only way to regain it is to visit the original. The experience is as integral to the piece as is the artistry that created it. When viewing an original all that is missing is the artist; the one whose brushstrokes or chisel blows made the work; whose physical presence is missed; whose passion and skill suffused the canvas or stone or wood. With a reproduction many other factors are missing besides the original itself: it's place in space and time; it's scale and texture; it's smell; it's aura.

Roderic O'Conor            Reclining nude before a mirror  1909
I have written before of my experience of seeing original works of art. I don't remember when I first saw a poster of Roderic O'Conor's Reclining nude before a mirror (1909), it may have been in a library or a poster shop such as Athena, but I do remember when I first saw the original. It was a wet, autumnal afternoon in 1998 whilst on honeymoon in Dublin, and my new husband and I ducked in to the shelter of the National Gallery of Ireland. Charles is not a great lover of art but he humoured me and we spent the next hour or so wandering through the galleries. Suddenly I was standing before this painting that I had so admired for years and I was overcome with emotion. It was as though I were seeing it for the first time ever. I could feel tears welling in my eyes. I started to feel very self-conscious, when I felt Charlie squeeze my hand and looking round I saw him smiling at me and he said, "Aren't you glad it's raining?" Later I bought a fridge magnet of the painting so that I could see it every day and remember the first time I saw the original. Reproduction is indeed a wonderful thing but it is no substitute for the experience of seeing an original work of art.