Informing Contexts Coursework Week 1

Informing Contexts Coursework Week 1 – 27th January { Human choices }

  • Post a short statement below that outlines where your photographic practice is now.
  • Illustrate this with examples of your work.
  • Reflect on the intent of your practice and the ‘human choices’ you have made to convey your ideas.
  • Evaluate the success / weakness of this work.
  • Outline your plans for further development.
  • Comment on the posts of your peers throughout the week as you reflect on the content of the video presentations, work on your own practice and prepare for your Webinar.

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I came to the MA with the aim of creating a body of work that focuses on alternative educational provision outside of the mainstream education system.

My aims were to create a visual account, for both families new to alternative education, and for those more broadly interested in education as a whole,  showing the diversity of both the educational provision & the educational philosophies being implemented by these families, as well as creating an in-depth personal account of this subject from my own home educating family’s point of view.

In module one I photographed an ‘overview’ of the following, as a way to investigate how I wanted to use photography to illustrate the above - My own family in our daily lives, A home education learning group that my son attends in Cornwall, and a family in the South of France who left the USA 18 months ago to travel the world whilst educating their family along the way ( a method of education known as world schooling*1).

In module two I focused on photographing families local to me in Cornwall that had chosen alternative education for their children. The images showing the variation of educational styles in a small geographical area. I photographed 18 families including a variety of family set ups, educational styles, and encompassing families from a broad financial spectrum.

In this module I will be photographing my own families educational provision in depth, using both documentary and tableau, and incorporating experimental images of my children’s choosing that they feel illustrates their journey, trying to keep the project as much of a collaboration as possible.

In module four I am going to be photographing a New Democratic school that has opened in the U.K documenting the development and evolution of this new school.

In the FMP I will be combing all of my research from the previous modules, as well as photographing some world schooling families to create a cohesive body of work , the aim of which is to make into a book, and a travelling exhibition, being taken out into the communities that the photographs are of.

Examples of this work so far …

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© Rebecca graham 2019

Regarding the success and weaknesses of the works.

The first module, my work was a lot less cohesive than the second. I found my method of working, and subsequently the cohesiveness and strength of the images, a much better structure and delivery in the second module, with the images being underpinned by in-depth research into the various educational philosophies of the families involved, and statistics relating to UK elective home education. I was much more methodical in my approach to what I photographed in the second module, and after feedback in module 1, I concentrated on creating colour images instead of black and white images, to negate the nostalgic, and ‘beautifying’ effect of black and white. Whilst this is something that I feel worked well overall , and strengthened the photographic voice of the project, I found it interesting that to me, the colour images, with their depth of shadows and meaning, much more overly aesthetic than the black and white images, which appeared to be much more about the education being shown, as they removed everything else from the frame, or so I felt. I also experimented with creating portraits of the parents of the families, as a way of discussing my own role within my family without photographing myself directly, I really enjoyed this, and could quite easily see myself creating a separate body of work composed entirely of portraits of the parents at a later date outside of the MA.

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© Rebecca Graham 2019

Below is an image from the last module that I felt was successful. The family that belong to this image, the mother runs a local forest school for home educated children, as well as working for a local theatre company that create theatre productions out in the open in the woods, (her children accompanying her) where she looks after the children of the actors, doing foraging, wild cooking, and bushcraft with them amongst other activities. I felt the grain and muted tones of the image conveyed their lifestyle, (which is so connected to the earth) very well. The wooden table representing the woodland environment that is so intrinsic to their lives and educational philosophy. The fruit represents the healthiness of outside education, which is underpinned by evidence based research that shows the merits of outdoor education https://www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/leaf/school-grounds/documents/outdoor%20education%20research%20for%20school%20Grounds.pdf . At the same time the image was a narrative on what it is like being a home educating mum to two young children and a new born baby as this mother is. The half drank cup of cold coffee, that we never quite get to finish, the breakfast with only a single bite taken out of it, before you’ve had to rush off to deal with another question, or nappy change, or similar. This image, to me, speaks of the universal complexities of motherhood that reach far beyond home or alternative education. The constant juggling trying to be the best we can be, keeping all the balls in the air at once, and whilst undoubtedly doing an amazing job, never quite managing to reach that unattainable perfection , that so many mothers strive for. The angle of the image conveys a feeling of hurry and pressure , symbolising the constant rush we find ourselves in as parents at this point in history, whilst the untidy crop of the wooden bowl and sunglasses symbolise the things we strive for that always seem just out of reach.

In the end, this image was visually about the family I photographed  but symbolically perhaps, much more about myself, and my own struggles with parenting, and alternative education, than it was about the family I was photographing that day.

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© Rebecca Graham 2020

Human Choices

I suppose all of the above run into my human choices. I made choices to include certain aspects of education and not others, I made choices to use dramatic contrasting lighting to showcase my own spectrum of emotions regarding alternative education, and I chose to take portraits of the (mostly) mothers as a way of connecting my MA work to my wider practice in general which focuses on journeys of motherhood through pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.

Further development

After an insanely busy module last module I made the very human decision to concentrate my project inwardly this module as I was very ill over that period, and am still recovering. My eldest two children are in the final run up for A-levels and GCSE’S over the next few months , so concentrating on this sphere/aspect of my work this module allows me to not have to sacrifice my time with them on their education, for time dedicated to my own education. It has the added benefit of allowing me to include  the photographing of A-level preparation, something that a much smaller amount of home educators continue onto after GCSE’s . It also allows for the weather to improve for when I start documenting the democratic school next module as a lot of that will be outside.

Overall, I am really happy with my chosen path for the remaining modules of the MA and how I see them panning out, I have seen growth in my choices, reasoning, and methodology as well as artistically.

This module I will continue my statistical research into elective home education in the U.K

Below is my oral presentation from the sustainable prospects module that outlines my development in the MA further …

      

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Informing Contexts Coursework Week 0 – 27th January { Contextualisation } 

During the break I have been reading up on a number of  photographers that are working in the same spheres as me, and managed to attend a number of exhibitions that relate to my practice in varying ways, both directly to my pedagogical body of work within the MA, and to my broader practice, photographing stories and journeys of motherhood.

The first exhibition that I attended was the Year3 project at Tate Britain by Steve McQueen https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/steve-mcqueen-year-3 . I wrote about this exhibition and the write ups on it in the last module, as it opened with only a few weeks left of that module, and it created an almost primal creative urge within myself to run away to London and start photographing home educated children there, as a retort to this exhibition. Tate describes the exhibition and it’s premise in that it “offers us a glimpse of the capital’s future, a hopeful portrait of a generation to come.” Tate Britain. ‘Steve McQueen year 3′ Available at : https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/steve-mcqueen-year-3 (accessed 28.01.20)

When the first press releases and critiques started coming out, there was (as far as I read) zero mention of this collection of images containing any children from the home education community in London (which is huge) , no children from pru schools, or children that attended school through hospitals or tutors at home where children have long term illnesses. I was incensed by it, a project the claimed to show the ‘face of Londons future’ …. blatantly expressing that this face didn’t include any children outside of the mainstream school system. This wasn’t an issue of home education, it was an issue of lack of representation/diversity within a project who’s very aim was to show diversity & inclusion. It seemed from these write ups to me, that the only diversity that this exhibition included was ethnicity and skin colour, and as undeniably important as that is, it doesn’t expunge the need for representation across the board. However, then the BJP article came out and it changed my understanding of the project.

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Lloyd, Joe. Jan 2020. British journal pf photography ; issue 7891. Year 3.

It made me realise quite acutely how lazy journalism can impact the understanding of an exhibition or body of work , it turned out from this article, that the exhibition did in fact include some home educated children, aswell as children from pru and special schools, it was just that the mainstream British media had felt it totally unnecessary to even mention this fact, something I imagine, must of been quite embarrassing, and infuriating to both Tate and McQueen.

When the exhibition first opened the general overall reception from the media and critics was extremely positive, it was likened to the monumental undertaking of the 1955 Family of Man exhibition at MoMa https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2429 in more than one article. Of all the articles I read in fact, there was only one that seemed to resonate with my feelings on the exhibition.

As I wrote in my crj post https://www.bambino-art.co.uk/contextual-research-week-11-year-3-project-tate-britain/  last module;  

” That of Harry Thorne of Frieze, In his piece entitled “ What All the Reviews of Steve McQueen’s ‘Year 3’ at Tate Britain Have Got Wrong. Why are we so quick to praise mass participation? where he states “My concern is the journalists who encounter ambitious community outreach projects like Year 3 and proclaim, before said projects even open, that they will ‘open a window on to our collective soul’ (The Guardian, September 2018) – those who are either too keen to signal virtue or too terrified of what might happen if they do not. A cursory glance at the recent history of public art will show that projects such as these are imitative (especially when public funding is involved) and, if praise is heaped blindly, the legacy of relational aesthetics will be large-scale participatory spectacles that disappear from the public consciousness just as quickly as they arrive. The risk is that we will end up with projects that do not help communities, but usecommunities for acclaim, only to discard them once more. Involvement does not equate to engagement. Participation is not praxis.” (Thorne : 2019 : Frieze ) ”  Bambino art photography. Contextual research week 11 . Available at : https://www.bambino-art.co.uk/contextual-research-week-11-year-3-project-tate-britain/ ( accessed 28.01.20 )

Susanna Rustin of the Guardian wrote before the exhibition was unveiled, “If the attempt to represent London in all its diversity sounds didactic, even corny, I anticipate that the massed spectacle of childish humanity will be more surprising than that. Visitors from all over the place will leave with their idea of the city altered. Rustin, Susanna. 22.10.18 The guardian. Steve McQueen’s school photo will open a window on to our collective soul . Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/22/steve-mcqueen-school-photo-london-year-3-art (Accessed 28.01.20) I was keen to see whether this exhibition would indeed lead to an altered perception of our capital city, a rather bold presumption or statement, even for such a ‘monumental undertaking’. 

I attended the exhibition at Tate Britain with my four children aged 18/15/12 and 9 years old. My practice revolves around our children, and has evolved along with my own personal journey of motherhood as I have written about prior, I see my work through the MA as a collaboration with them, and was especially interested to hear their views on the project and what they thought about these points as well.

Their main feedback however, was that it appeared to them to be some huge surveillance conspiracy ( to make it clear these are the imaginings of four children, and I am in no way saying that is what this is obviously, that would be insane!) .

For me personally, I found the project claustrophobic in it’s immensity. The whole thing was like a metaphor for the stifling, imposing, overbearing rigidity that institutionalised education represents to me personally. The photographs merged into one , the faces disappearing into each other, no one child unique, like a twisted nod to the incredibles “when everyone is super no-one will be” . My 18 year old son summed it up quite aptly by saying the whole exhibition made him feel like this …

  

© Star Wars Attack of the Clones 2003

Even trying to view the photographs up close it was hard to focus in on any one class let alone any one child, indeed for safety reasons there are many signs up asking people not to take individual photographs of the classes. Showing you the work is indeed to be viewed collectively as a whole. Which as you can see from the images below creates a dizzying effect. When I viewed the images of the children up close, there was happy smiley child, next to happy smiley child, next to neutral looking child, next to neutral looking child, next to sad looking child, next to sad looking child. One of the things that concerned me about this exhibition is that statistically one can assume, some of these children are so poor they aren’t having three meals a day, statistically some of them will be suffering from abuse, statistically some of them will be being bullied. The list goes on. ‘We’ used these children to create this fabulous inclusive view of our capital city where everyone is welcome in our post-brexit era, without thinking about the individual children, their wants and needs, their stories. 

Laura Cummings of the guardian said in her review however : “Some classes break into laughter at the shutter’s click, delighted by the photographer’s rival smile, or perhaps by the whole surprise of the occasion (few primary schools organise these all-together-now group portraits any more). In at least one shot, a child is jubilantly singing while the teacher tries to maintain the conventional silence. And, sad to say, an entire class of grey-clad children looks fearful and tense. Looming top left is the grim overlord of discipline.”  Cummings, Laura. 17.11.19 . The guardian . Steve McQueen: Year 3 review – skewed ties, missing teeth and hope. Available at : https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/nov/17/steve-mcqueen-year-3-tate-britain-review-leonardo-experience-a-masterpiece-national-gallery (Accessed 28.01.20) Which shows me that it is indeed possible to see the individual children. But I simply ask, what are we looking through, or past, to see these images? 

In reference to this, I then have to ask myself, am I doing a similar thing, but on a smaller scale? It is, I can assume true, that I know the families and children in my images more deeply than these photographers knew these 76,000 children. But still, I am photographing children, and that comes with a moral obligation to consider how these images will be consumed, by whom, and in what context. 

                 iPhone Images © Rebecca Graham 2020

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Above image : I found this bottom image so intriguing. I never take ‘sit still, stand up straight, smile for the camera” images of our children, yet when faced with the year 3 project images that is what our youngest did, emulating the formal pose of the children within the works, and mirroring it back at itself.

I am not without awareness that I view these images and this project, from an extremely biased point of view. As discussed during Wednesday nights seminar this week, we all view, all images from a position of prejudice in effect. Where we have spent our whole lives being influenced and effected by the images we have come into contact with, whether consciously or subconsciously , but not just that, by every aspect of our lives, from the important to the mundane.  This exhibition, is not an exhibition of individual humans, it is an exhibition to be viewed in it’s totality, we are invited to view the subject as a whole, and consequently I cannot but help to view it in context, and that context is an institution that I , whilst seeing the obvious benefits, have made the conscious decision to shun myself.

Therefore is it even fair for me to ‘review’ this exhibition when I am so incapable of viewing it from an uniformed and unbiased point of view ? 

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The next exhibition that I went to was ‘ Part 2 Maternality ‘, curated by Catherine McCormack and shown at Richard Saltoun gallery in London.

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DEFINTIONS 

  1. World schooling – Whilst there is no dictionary definition of world schooling, as there are many ways in which different families implement this method of living and education, for understanding; the general theory revolves around combining travel and education, and utilising the culture you are in to further education and development.  

BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES

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