Ongoing Development

PH0701 – Oral Presentation reflection

The assorted very helpful online instructions and guides to this work highlighted one area that it seemed foolhardy to include: sound recordings.  Such an option was crossed firmly off my list.  However, I did dabble, even to the extent of committing several hours to re-editing some soundbites, but then I revisited the advice section and decided not to make such an inclusion: wrong choice, since feedback suggested that this might have benefitted my presentation!  This area I shall revisit in future oral presentations and time will also be given to ‘other artefacts’ – although I am currently unsure what they could/might be!

Ongoing Development

PH0701 – Research Project Proposal reflection

With a suggested ‘indicative length of 1500 words’, I was more than a little anxious as I raced past the 3000 words and battled hard to cut out comment that I considered less relevant in order to keep the word-count down.  The feedback on this work suggested numerous other paths off investigation and observation that I could have made – some of which I had already covered, but then deleted as I felt that more than a 110%+ over-submission would not be well received.  Perhaps it would be more helpful if there was not a suggestion of length, as this does not appear to influence the grading.

With a proposed project title ‘The Stained Glass windows of Oxford Chapels’, I was keen to tie-in a themed layout to the paper.  Oxford’s famous skyline, punctuated as it is by the college chapel spires, seemed so utterly appropriate so to that end, I created a horizontal line that evolved into the Oxford skyline:

Oxford Skyline (Oxford Blue)

To avoid any ambiguity or confusion, my opening comment reflected upon this: ‘Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Thyrsis’ called Oxford ‘the city of dreaming spires’ for good reason: the large number of University Colleges and private schools resulted in an extraordinary wealth of chapels, with more than 40 located in the city, painting a stunning skyline of towers and spires.’

The feedback upon this decision was more than a little surprising… ‘Interesting use of a header throughout the submission which brings some impression of professionalism. Curiously, the image refers more to Oxford than to the stained glass windows, which could be read as slightly confusing.’  On this point, we will have to differ.

My use of Oxford Blue as the colour of this line was far too subtle, but typical of the attention to detail that has always interposed my professional design, publishing and reprographic work.

Pantone 282Oxford Blue is the official colour of the University of Oxford.  The official Oxford blue visual identity guidelines set the definition of Oxford Blue as Pantone 282, equivalent to the following colour coordinates:

  • Hex triplet: #002147
  • sRGBB (r, g, b): (0, 33, 71)
  • CMYKH (c, m, y, k): (100, 80, 0, 60)
  • HSV (h, s, v): (212°, 100%, 28%)

Ongoing Development

PH0701 – Work in Progress Portfolio reflection

The concise and well thought-through guidance was much appreciated.  I had never considered reproducing the stained glass windows at 1:1 scale, but like the idea.  With some of them 6m+ tall and 6m+ wide, image resolution and inevitable high costs might preclude such plans.  I also wonder who would have the space and desire for such a large image.  Notwithstanding, this is a route worth pursuing.

I had not thought through of the potential limiting factor of submitting a PDF portfolio – I almost always view PDF’s onscreen and imagined that that would be the case during the assessment off the portfolio.  It is very true that the images lend themselves better to a screen (although it is quite possible that the portrait A3 printed PDF I supplied would reveal more detail than when viewed on a screen).  I do wonder how best a portfolio can be displayed online… something I will need to address in future.

Ongoing Development

Round peg in a square hole

Throughout my life, I have used photography as a medium for record-making.  Whether simple holiday photographs; newsworthy images; scientific analysis, or commercial photography.  With a background seated firmly in the science camp, my work has always been ‘factual’: while the subject matter may prompt discussion and debate, the photograph in itself does not require cogitation or deliberation.

I am disinclined to commit too much time to any work that requires me to decide what it is.  I like watercolours to be honest reproductions of the subject; statues to be life-like and photographs to be representative: classical art.

A lunch-stop on a recent school trip saw me sitting in a restaurant with a small number off teenaged boys.  While enjoying the provender, our attention could not help but be drawn to the large artwork festooning the wall near us – an oil painting to which I would certainly give no wall-space.  Crude daubs of colour, outlined thickly in black, with a loosely abstract appearance, yet trying (seemingly) to portray something. In discussion with the boys (all of whom study art, and one who had recently gained an Art Scholarship to his future school), decision could not be made as to whether this was the work of a novice, or depressingly, or the work of a cultured and capable artist. More time focussed upon the possibility of a subject matter and again decisions were divided. One suggested that it was an entirely abstract piece; another believed that it was a snowy mountain scene; while another thought it was a goat on the side of a mountain. Consensus moved towards the possibility that it was a very poorly conceived painting of a polar bear, but there was uncertainty about the colours at the top and bottom of the painting.  These were expertly explained away by a boy who had until that point been quiet and contemplative: it is a painting of a polar bear’s head and shoulders resting on a blue pillow, with a brightly coloured (and patterned) duvet wrapped just below his shoulders.  A thought-provoking painting, yes; an opportunity for entertaining discussion with the boys, yes; but ultimately, I feel cheated out of precious minutes off my life that I will never get back, spent debating ‘art work’ that was in my opinion truly appalling and should not have been on public display.  I am almost annoyed with myself for not having taken a photograph of the item in question, as it does need to be seen to be believed, but I did not want to prolong the agony.

So it is that I battle with any perceived wisdom that believes that art (and therefore photography) has to be contemporary or interpretative, with little room for ‘classical’ work.  ‘Horses for courses’ maybe, but I get the impression that in following my current academic path, I am a flat racer in this Puissance.  Reviews, guidance and feedback suggests that rather than follow the path I have investigated and developed, I should head off in spurious directions connected by the most tenuous link that exists in the mind’s eye of the appraiser – I cannot guarantee that my work will be entirely accommodating, but through gritted teeth I will try my best.

Ongoing Development

PH0703 – Critical Research Journal reflection

Throughout the course, it is very difficult to gauge just how much time one should commit to each facet.  I can safely say that I give insufficient time, as I am definitely unable to maintain a blog; fulfil every weekly expectation; make multiple weekly postings on the course hub; elaborate upon and appraise the work of others; react to their observations on my work; develop a portfolio, and maintain a full-time job.  Sacrifices and compromises have to made – sadly my full-time job has to remain, as without it I cannot afford the course, but while working, I believe that I can only give one or two facets of the course the appropriate attention they deserve.  Consequently, the maintenance of a blog, which is a completely novel pastime, has been somewhat undermanaged during PH0703.  Added to which, as someone who has spent a lifetime keeping opinions to himself, making a public statement about everything does not come naturally.  That said, I am a schoolmaster, well used to marking books and exams as well as writing termly reports on progress, and I grimace every time the BBC spits an infinitive… critiquing is in fact a significant part of my life.

My uses of the Critical Research Journal is as a notebook, recording areas of interest, detailing that which I have done and annotating locational visits with sufficient appropriate information that will form the bones of a guide book to accompany an exhibition.  This of course fails to take account of the passive onlooker.  I realise now that the CRJ should be rather more like an American documentary, with wealth of interlinking data that is explained from all angles and précised routinely.  However, such levels of detail will continue to be a struggle to achieve…

The feedback on my CRJ was concise and welcome.  I must commit more time to elaborating on my thoughts and expanding upon my interests, by relating them to my current practice.

Ongoing Development

PH0703 – Oral Presentation reflection

I remain a little confused as to the anticipated content of an Oral Presentation – something reflected well in each recording.  The Oral Presentation feedback builds upon this, but in doing so does paint a much clearer picture of the expectations

Because such a high percentage of my photographic time in the summer months was spent carrying out my more normal practice: sports photography, it seemed utterly appropriate to feature this in part of my presentation – it is an area of continued investigation, investment and evolution.  No such chance of such inclusions within Module PH0704, as to the dismay of many on site, I have been unable to commit any time to photography within the school since July, besides the creation of a photographic gallery, which is currently a retrospective of my work:

Gallery lr

One thing that is very clear is that I assume too much understanding around the subject matter and do not provide sufficient background information – this I hope to redress in PH0704.

Ongoing Development

PH0703 – Work in Progress Portfolio reflection

Time for clarification…

‘Whilst the work itself reveals a high level of execution technically, the conceptual ideas behind are not so clear; what is the overall intention of this project for the viewer?’

My Research Project Proposal went some way towards answering this, albeit 200+ days ago and spread across some 5000+ words.  To précis… with no existing publication dedicated to the chapels of Oxford (indeed, prior to me creating it, there was not even a definitive list of the chapels), it is my intention to bring together those establishments, photographically.  While I could have chosen to assemble a portfolio of architectural images,  I wanted to build upon the challenging photography of stained glass with which I had experimented some five years earlier.

At its most fundamental, this could be seen as no more than a catalogue.  Yet my hope and intention is to engage the viewer into wanting to explore further the hidden gems that lie within Oxford’s chapels by portraying a single stained glass windows from each chapel: I hope to better popularise the stained glass windows and chapels of Oxford, only more so… by removing the windows from the context of the chapel, it will help break down the significant barrier of the chapel itself.  Too often, visitors will walk past a chapel without giving it a second thought and in Oxford, visitors are tripping over them without even realising it.

I suppose that I am simply using the stained glass as tourist bait.  Seeing the images of stained glass as a collection (be it in an exhibition, guide book, or perhaps an interactive guide) might be just the temptation required to draw a visitor into a chapel… or perhaps to follow a tour of several chapels.  An interactive guide could produce a tour specific to a particular stained glass artist, time period, or location, at the whim of the user.  This may seem rather shallow, but ultimately, interpretation of an image (or collection) is in the eye of the beholder.   Should they see this as a showcase the religious symbolism, iconography or read into it the ritualistic aspect of stained-glass window tradition, then that is wonderful – an added bonus for them.

Thinking entirely selfishly, I would hope that through this portfolio I might be seen as a go-to figure for such niche work.  It has been reassuring to hear from a couple of the Oxford Colleges that they would like me to do some more specific work for them… interestingly, in both instances they wish to use stained glass window images for greetings cards.

‘Towards the end of the WIP portfolio, there are two sets of images from St. John the Baptist Chapel, that are the “Floor Tiles” followed by the “Contemporary Tiles” from Chapel of St. Nichols. It appears that this is the type of imagery that you are aspiring to create…’

Oh no – very definitely not!  These images were no more than whimsical imaginings: manifestations of tangential, conceptual ideas.  While I quite liked the results, I remain a stalwart of classical art, but was drawn to this work following some investigative work as a result of feedback on my initial Work in Progress Portfolio :

‘it may be worth exploring the possibility of showing details or fragments in order to communicate other aspects of their importance.’

My response to this was to examine the detail and structure of the stained glass (HERE) and from there I wondered what else I could do at a more abstract level.

I have very little interest in developing further such musings – this is bordering on the sort of artwork that I actively avoid.  Under duress I have once visited Modern Art Oxford, a location full of the things I least like in the world of art – a veritable Pandora’s box.  I have no intention of creating items that could sit there.

‘Elsewhere, you had spoken about the weather and daylight affecting the colour dramatically, and there is scope here for producing tripod-mounted looped films of the experience as actual pieces of work. Subtle changes in movement can lend a power of attention to images that are matter of fact, and such experiences may be more akin to the window designs.’

This I do like, and have carried out some experimentation.  Twice I captured a time-lapse sequence hoping to reveal the impact of weather conditions on the lighting.  On each occasion the conditions remained unbelievably static!  This is definitely an area I will revisit.

Ongoing Development

Week 8 Tutorial

It was a pleasure to spend some time talking with Jesse about all aspects of the course.  The lion’s share focussed appropriately upon project development.  We shared an interesting conceptual discussion about the passage of light through glass: stained glass originally intended to allow those who could not read the opportunity to observe scenes from the bible – the light or window being a snapshot of a bible scene, not unlike a photographic record.

We both have similar thoughts about the possibility of using light boxes in an exhibition, and for that matter we also shared similar reservations…

V&A LED stained glassWith over 130 stained glass objects amongst its permanent displays, the V&A Museum turned to LED lighting specialists bright green technology for a solution to their display within the new Medieval and Renaissance galleries.  Stunning through this looks, Jesse an I shared the opinion that for me to adopt such an approach in an exhibition space would be little more than direct mimicry of the stained glass windows themselves.  Although technological developments together with increased used of LEDs have made such light boxes more affordable, they can still be eye wateringly expensive.  Notwithstanding, I quite like the idea of using one large light box, perhaps as a draw to an exhibition.  However, I remain confident that printing on heavy art paper (310gsm Hahnemuhle German Etching paper or similar).

Jesse suggested the idea of a pop-up exhibition to bring the project to the masses, and/or the use of an interactive, tablet-driven show – perhaps making it more attractive to demographics who might not otherwise be drawn to stained glass windows.  With my background in IT, I am attracted more to the latter, not least because it returns us to the concept of viewing the stained glass as backlit images.

I have much still to do where an exhibition is concerned, but suspect that securing an appropriate space would help steer the choice of medium, for example.  My intention is to accompany any such exhibition with a detailed guide… something that could double as a guide in its own right.  To that end, I ensure that every Project Development entry contains appropriate historical information on each location.

Ongoing Development

Light, colour and the human experience

I am still battling to find that elusive thing, the philosophical enigma that will paint my work in an MA-worthy shade.  While I have toyed with various veins of study, it seems difficult to find one that lends itself to something of interest to more than the tiniest of minorities… undoubtedly a poor choice for marketable photography.

Historically, the inclusion of glass in places of worship (beyond straightforward illumination) was to allow the light of God, in the guise of beams of light, into the building.  This was built upon by the inclusion of biblical representations painted on the glass, allowing the uneducated congregation to view scenes from the bible: the conception of stained glass had been born.  I have gone into more detail on this matter HERE.  My photography of such glass is using that same light and capturing it in a manner that it can be reproduced in any of a host of different methods.  It would be foolish to claim that my research is concerned with capturing and portraying an extension of the light of God, although that would certainly be difficult to disprove!  Such religious quackery is rife in the USA… you can pay for healing sessions ($50 for half an hour) in which you are bathed in coloured light that is passed through quartz crystals: HERE.  Perhaps more realistically my hopes should be to deliver content that is calming and reassuring in nature – although this would be difficult to quantify.

I do still believe that using photography as a medium for trying to bring ‘the wonders of God’ to the people, as depicted in the religious stained glass, is valid and relevant.  Browsing such images on a tablet would be the modern take on viewing the windows in a church, with light passing through the object.  The gradual decline in church and chapel usage would suggest such remote access to the religious images could only be a good thing –  perhaps it might be more appropriate for me to include the pertinent biblical references, rather than (or as well as?) research on the chapel.  The concept does require polishing, but I hold fast to the notion that it is an appropriate research project and hope that the images should speak of light, colour and the human experience.

Another take on my work regards the physical passage of light thorough a medium.  This is something that does really interest me: I am a scientist; I have taught optics, refraction and reflection to children and I have produced numerous optical effects for dramatic productions.  There is a wealth of possible research here – the refraction of light throughout coloured glass is a perfect study topic for an MA… in Physics. I have investigated this in more depth HERE.

Perhaps my notion should be to attempt to answer the question ‘can the photography of stained glass be considered art?‘  I am going to great lengths to do more than perform a simple reprographics task and do believe that my work is very definitely art – certainly by definition:

art /ɑːt/ (noun) the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

The photographs I have taken and the permissions I have for their use are tied to the straightforward sharing of an accurate representation of the stained glass to the public.  A change in direction may lead to the shelving of all current research, communications and plans, which would be a costly waste.

I do need to nail down the precise path of my research, or more specifically, find that elusive thing that gives a raison d’être to my existing research.  This is definitely not something that comes easily to me.