CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH WEEK 9 (PART 1 ) Researching photographers : Laia Abril talk RPS Bristol

CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH WEEK 9 (PART 1 ) – Researching photographers : Laia Abril talk RPS Bristol


In June 2019 I started my MA with Falmouth university as part of an accredited education programme.




Yesterday evening I made the three hour drive from Cornwall to RPS Bristol to go to the mini click artist talk with Laia Abril, (hosted by Jack Latham) where she discussed her project A history of Misogyny, Chapter One : On abortion (and the repercussions of a lack of access). The project was originally created as an exhibition for Arles in 2016 and was then made into an accompanying book, and the exhibition has since toured to many countries. Laia explained that there are four different chapters to ‘A history of Misogyny’  chapter 2 : On Rape is currently being exhibited at Paris Photo.

I very nearly didn’t attend this event as the weather has been awful the last day or two, and I was worried about getting stuck in snow. The A30 has loads of diversions so a 2.5 hr drive took 3.5 , but most importantly, I am becoming acutely aware that time is disappearing to do my oral presentation, and although I have been writing notes on ,and making audio recordings to go towards my op , I still haven’t actually started it .

However , I decided in the end after RPS promising me Laia was still coming despite the weather, to attend as I can write my OP anytime, I can’t hear an artist that is in such high demand talk any day,  and I am so glad that I decided to go , it was so informative, and strangely instructional as  coincidentally I found a lot of the subjects she spoke about like keeping your project participants safe, telling the story authentically, coming at it from an angle of bias , they were all things I had been considering, and in some degree battling with, so it was perfect timing. Laia Abril On Abortion


  • Talk opens with a video clip of people talking about how women should be punished for having abortions, they should be illegal, they are against god etc etc. Notably the second person in the recording is Donald trump before he became president saying, he believed women who have abortions need to be punished by the law. Perhaps the most shocking was a man on national TV in an interview saying “The way I understand it, if it is rape, a legitimate rape, a woman body has a way of shutting that down.” He is referring to pregnancy. This man, on national tv is saying if a woman is truly “legitimately” raped (and don’t get me started on that, that her body will shut down and make it impossible for her to get pregnant. The opening video certainly grabs your attention, and packs a punch.
  • Laia’s background is in journalism
  • she asked herself the question how she could visualise the repercussions of lack of access to abortion  (THIS IS LINKED TO MY PROJECT !)
  • she asked herself what she could add to the conversation
  • for her EVERYTHING stems from the research – which for months is reading and text
  • she tried to create a conceptual map of these repercussions
  • for months she would only have words then she tried to work out how to visualise these words
  • she collected images of example portraits, found images etc o keep a kind of mood board
  • she was much more comfortable with books as she was working as an editor
  • she was offered a solo exhibition at rencontres d’arles on her current work which happened to be on abortion
  • trump was coming into office and she knew reproduction rights would be reduced even further
  • people have asked if the timing of her project was luck “did she know this was going to happen.” Her response was that it wasn’t that hard to see what was going to see, because politics are connected to human rights. She sees it all as a pendulum .  (THIS IS LINKED TO MY PROJECT !)
  • She had nine months to create the entire exhibition for Arles at the start of being awarded the show she only had a pdf of the 7 chapters of A history of Misogyny
  • She found Arles hard as it was a competition to get peoples attention over the other shows and she knew she was going to have to use a lot of text to explain what was happening in the images
  • She starts her projects with he first pictures she takes for a project. Not on purpose.
  • She started with photographs from the museum of contraction in Vienna
  • She set up the exhibition to show that if you don’t read you will miss things
  • She used visual tricks to make it you don’t know if some thing in the exhibition is past or present
  • The book was a struggle which she didn’t expect as she already had 70/80% of the work for the book ready from he exhibition
  • It took her 18months to complete the book as she felt it kept feeling like a catalogue and she was used to narratives
  • she made it work by taking all the text from the exhibition and rewriting it for the book so it made sense for the book
  • she had a fear that not being an expert on abortion she would get something wrong, facts or medical stuff etc
  • Testimonies from the women to her were very important for the work  (THIS IS LINKED TO MY PROJECT !)
  • She found the fact that by photographing the women she was putting them in danger very very stressful (THIS IS LINKED TO MY PROJECT !)
  • She wanted to photograph the woman straight on and simply not victimising them
  • described abortion tourism
  • case of Magdalena
  • text is inside the frame because it then becomes a piece of the artwork. The stories were part of the art, the facts were part of the art so you knew you had to read them.
  • text is as important as the image itself
  • exhibitions are public, therefore more emotional, physical, the space is part of the piece so you can digest more physically what you have in front of you
  • The book she thinks is too much all at once
  • She uses the testimonies to give the exhibition a change of rhythm
  • She thinks the pictures of the objects work better in the book than in the exhibition as they divide the stories
  • Her method was to use everything at her disposal , adverts, images, maps, audio, everything that was available.
  • Endpapers in Spain are called “The keepers” Nothing that I needed to actually write down, but I really liked it.
  • she pays close attention to what she has done before that worked, and what failed and applies it to the next project, or next show
  • in the epilogue which was the third book in a series about bulimia she did a book about the collateral victims not the victim itself
  • she asked herself WHO is the collateral damage int his story – THE DRS (they are hunted through pro-life terrorism)
  • She talked about asking you to read even more text/captions . She tries to make them not too long. The titles self descriptive . Like an inverted pyramid system ( Wikipedia definition The inverted pyramid is a metaphor used by journalists and other writers to illustrate how information should be prioritized and structured in a text (e.g., a news report). It is a common method for writing news stories and has adaptability to other kinds of texts, such as blogs and editorial columns.) Wikipedia. Inverted pyramid journalism. (first accessed 15.11.19)   The most important information is at the top. 
  • She reached out to planned parenthood in America to find out how they receive threats as she assumed it would be twitter or something. This is how she was given the audiofile of the man who rang and left a message for 3 mins .
  • talked about the phone at the gallery, it not having numbers. Laia thought this made it more attractive. When I was at the photographers gallery I did think this was the case, but also I thought it worked well that by having no numbers it is a symbol of this man having a power , he left this message and the woman at planned parenthood couldn’t do anything about it being there, and then also that she can’t reach out, she can’t respond. It is just stuck there in limbo almost. 
  • She had never reconstructed a photograph until this project where she reconstructed the hospital bed with handcuffs on . This has been the image that a lot of galleries and articles have used interestingly 
  • to laia a method (reconstructed photography is what we are talking about her)  is ok as long as she can justify it to herself.
  • talks of even though the story is sad the images aren’t .
  • talks of tricking the audience again, you grab people, you shock them, you hold them, and then hopefully you can influence them.
  • protection of the women who gave their stories to you
  • but still doing the story justice
  • she is paranoid about the images being shared putting the women from the project in danger
  • she chose a confession with a priest that was ‘positive’ as she thought otherwise she would of lost that audience
  • Objectiveness . People saying she should remain neutral. She said no she doesn’t have to remain neutral. She isn’t neutral, she’s never been neutral. She can’t be objective, she isn’t an object. She trie to remain neutral with on abortion, but actually it is expertly manipulative so it isn’t neutral by nature.



  • MAP MAP MAP (map of where in the world home education is illegal !!! )
  • sometimes when you go to small examples of a niche thing, the connection is theres, and it is much more profound

She loved the Susan mesailas and Abigail heyman exhibition – should of asked about the four set of images and how they were put together.

I really need to learn to be able to ask questions after talks. BUT  I am always SO overwhelmed by the emotions that accompany come with seeing these talks and exhibitions that I can’t make myself even think of questions , let alone formulate and make them cohesive , I was the same at the Charlotte Jansen curator talk at TJ Boulton, I expected to have loads of questions, both times, but I never have any at the time, and always come up with loads of questions over the next few days. I have started messaging the people running these talks afterwards. Yes to follow their art, but to try and open up a dialogue with some of them where I otherwise I wouldn’t have the opportunity too. I have managed to have replies from, conversations with, be followed by, or have story reshares on IG by the likes of Natalie Lennard, Kimberly Buttler, Jack Latham, Hermione Wiltshire , Poulomi Basu, Charlotte Jansen, this way, which is great, but it doesn’t get your questions answered, as I personally don’t feel comfortable writing loads of questions on social media. Even writing to genuinely say thank you to these people sometimes feels a bit like you’re seeking people out. It’s an odd thing really and hard to navigate.

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This blog is written as part of my studies on the Falmouth University photography ma, an accredited educational programme.