Journal

‘Beyond Entropy’

Introduction

Throughout my 2nd and 3rd year studio practice my photography work has developed technically and artistically.

During the 2nd year my work centred around experimentation and creating technically challenging photographs by using everyday objects to create them.

Although I gained a lot of knowledge from the experimentation I hadn’t really learnt the essentials of ‘how to use a camera’ properly, so I enrolled onto a NCFE Photographic course which has been running alongside my degree.  Consequently my technical skills have improved and I have been able to put them to good use on the degree course.

Whilst in the 3rd year I have worked tirelessly at linking my studio practice to my future career aspirations.  I have highlighted in my exhibition work, a subject which I feel strongly about, homelessness and the breaking down of society and the environment in which we live in.

The body of work I have produced for the exhibition is on the theme of ‘Entropy’. It consists of three pieces, each exploring a different aspect of entropy.

Entropy in physics terms means: ‘the slowing down and eventual standstill of all phenomena and inevitable drift from order to disorder and breakdown’.

Exhibition Pieces Explanation

Trip to Holland

This work reflects social entropy which concerns the breakdown of society over time as it becomes more complex. My work involves integrating with people who have come from a social environment that has caused the stability of their lives to break down in some way. This piece examines how they deal with the instability and try to bring some order into their lives, effectively halting entropy.

There are several artists who have explored entropy in their art. Duchamp tried to overcome entropy in the piece entitled ‘The Large Glass’ where he pieced together a broken glass artefact.

There is some synergy here in what I have tried to depict with the trip to Holland where the homeless people are trying to piece together their lives.

The book, video and photographs are metaphors representing a stable society. The children coming from broken backgrounds and being young adults rebelling against society is a contradiction as they try to find their place in society.

Sudden Departure

This piece identifies the disorder within the environment in which someone lives.  The stability of their home life is potentially turned into chaos through illness. The question of what happens next is left unanswered.

The representation of the room shows order. Everything is supposed to have a place and a purpose. However in the context of the illness and ‘sudden departure’ the place and purpose comes into question as who knows what will happen next. The photograph of the window offers no comfort as a view from that person’s world because it is just a photo and a snapshot of time; everything may change when they come to sit in the chair again and look out.

The photographs represent order as a fixed moment in time whereas the environment including the furniture is subject to change and represents disorder and entropy as it deteriorates through time.

Detritus

This piece depicts the impermanence of the life of objects by capturing various states of being on camera.

The photographs are a snapshot in time showing the effects of entropy as an object progresses from order into disorder.

Decay and deterioration are evident here but so is re-use which brings order back into the life of the object albeit temporarily.

Trip To Holland

 The first piece I will be showing in the exhibition is entitled ‘Trip to Holland’.  This is the culmination of a body of work that has been going on since the start of the academic year.

The objectives for me working within a charitable environment were to develop an understanding of how I could integrate my photography/artistic skills whilst working with young people, to make the experience of taking part in creative projects an enjoyable one.  I also wanted to highlight the good work that charitable organisations are doing with youngsters to help rebuild their lives.

Initially I contacted a homeless Charity, to ask whether I could go along and facilitate some photography workshops and projects.  This took a while to sort out because of the confidential nature of the environment in which I would be working.  I was on the verge of giving up hope when I received authorisation to go in.

The place I was fortunate enough to have access to was ‘The Foyer’, in Braintree, which is a residential hostel for young people, which focuses on providing opportunities to develop independence.

I wanted to link my major project in with the work I would be doing, but there was always that thought in my mind that I may have to come up with an alternative plan just in case my work with the charity didn’t materialise or stopped.

The stages of development are as follows:

Stage 1

I went to The Foyer to meet the residents a week before I was due to start the workshop.   The reason for this is that it was important for the residents to become familiar with me, before I appeared with my camera, as some didn’t like strangers.

When I returned, I started by taking their portraits.

Challenge

  • I hadn’t taken portrait photography before;
  • Most of the residents hadn’t had any form of photograph taken previously and therefore I had to put them at ease;
  • I had to set up my equipment in the basement which wasn’t the best of settings as it was cold, dark and uninviting;
  • I then had to wait for people to arrive.  Gradually word got around and by the end of the afternoon I had quite a gathering.

Outcomes

The portrait taking was a tremendous success because:

  • I got to practice a new skill;
  • The photographs were displayed around the centre for visitors to see
  • The residents used the photographs for their passports, Duke of Edinburgh awards, to send to their family and display on their bedroom walls;
  • The photos were also used for the centre’s 2012 calendar.

Lessons Learnt

One of the residents wasn’t comfortable seeing his picture when I showed him.  He immediately screwed it up infront of me with no regard to the time, effort and cost involved in producing them.  I was initially shocked by this reaction but didn’t react.  His social worker explained that he wasn’t used to seeing himself in print and felt uncomfortable; it was his way of dealing with what confronted him. By seeing this I learnt not to take people’s opinions for granted.   

Stage 2

After the success of the first workshop I was invited back to continue with my project. This time I ran a workshop around themes focusing on ‘Identity’ and ‘Possessions’, again linking this in with the themes I was working on for my Studio Practice at that time.

I encouraged the residents to get behind the camera and use it to freely express a part of their lives and personalities in whichever way they desired. I set a few guidelines for formats and subjects:

  • Take a group shot
  • Take 6-10 shots of yourself
  • Possessions (take a photo of something that means a lot to you)
  • Take 2 photos of your surroundings
  • Choose 3 emotions

Challenge

  • Talking to a group of teenagers, using Powerpoint, making the talk interesting and keeping their attention by linking in themes and photos they would be familiar with.  For example pictures of singers they could identity with at this point in their lives.
  • Making the talk, clear, concise and to the point as their attention span was limited and I was told that they may well walk out half way through.
  • I had to encourage the group to do the first theme which was a group shot, which we did together. The group decided where they wanted to go and how to pose and I took the picture. Some of them didn’t want to be in the photograph so turned their backs away from the camera going against the tradition of facing the person taking the picture.

I then left and asked them to complete the rest of the tasks and email the results on to me.

 Outcomes

  • The group shot was very interesting as it conveyed to me the message that some of the residents didn’t want their faces to be seen and felt uncomfortable in front of the camera.

  • Only one resident returned photos to me.  The rest decided not to continue with the assignment.  The photographs that were returned were so powerful that they are now being shown at the Furtherfield Gallery in London and the results from her photographs have also gone towards her Duke of Edinburgh award that the resident is taking in Photography.

  • Due to the limited response I used the group shot and transposed this onto different backgrounds.  I then returned the shots to The Foyer and one of the residents was given the task of asking other residents to fill out a form to state which background they most related to and why.  It was a powerful exercise as the residents were able to express their feelings through looking at the pictures.

Lessons Learnt

  • The outcome from this workshop was disappointing at the time, as I ran out of time whilst there and made the mistake of leaving the residents to take their own pictures once I had gone.
  • I should have stayed with the group and encouraged them to get all the shots done that afternoon.  However, I did manage to turn the problem around with the shots I took above and was able to promote the one resident who returned photos to me.

Stage 3

My third photography workshop discussed themes around the residents using cameras/video’s whilst away on a trip to Holland.

Most of them hadn’t been abroad before so it was an opportunity to engage with them about looking through the lens and using their imaginations to see beyond just taking a normal snapshot. I again linked this in with my ‘ecology of the park’ work and took along some examples of the pictures I had taken there, but I gave them free range of the types of photos they wanted to take.

I always remember what Robert Hirsch said in his book ‘Light and Lens’.

‘What determines the success of the image is not the camera, but the knowledge of the person operating the camera.  The principal job of a photograph is looking, which define all photographic processes.  A good photograph creates a memory in a viewer by communication an experience to another’.

 I also try to take this approach when taking photos and I encouraged the residents to do the same.

Outcomes:

  • Whilst talking to the residents I actually felt like they were really engaging with me for the first time.  They listened, were attentive and asked questions.  It was a good feeling as I realised that my perseverance had paid off with them.  I hoped that they would produce some fantastic results when they went away.

Lessons learnt:

  • This talk was totally visual, giving them lots of examples of the work I had taken for the Ecology of the Park assignment and examples of other photographers work. It seemed to work better than producing lists for them to look at. The lesson there is to consider what works best with the audience.
  • I gave them a free range when choosing what they wanted to take pictures of and not restrict them to certain themes. Again this helped to keep them engaged and also to take more responsibility for what they were planning to do.

Stage 4

My final workshop was to review the results from their trip to Holland. This time I knew that the residents had actually engaged with what I had to say due to the overwhelming response.  They had taken 12 hours of video footage and 849 photographs.

I then set up times in which to go through everything and for them to pick out photographs, making sure that a photograph was included from each resident.  We then decided the photographs chosen would go into a book to go on display at the exhibition and then the book would be presented to The Foyer as a momento of their trip to Holland afterwards.

We worked on the video footage also, linking in the photographs chosen for the book to give viewers a background to where the photographs were taken.

 Outcomes:

  • This was the most time consuming part of all my work with The Foyer as we had to fit in times to go through photos and video footage.  The outcome though, was a fabulous selection of photographs that the residents had taken in the form of a book which we worked on together and a thought provoking video of their time away.

  •  I had noticed that because the residents were not in their usual environment and were away, they seemed to not mind being in front of the camera at all and actually produced some commentary to go with their video.  They all seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

 The same resident that is doing photography for the Duke of Edinburgh produced a board with photos on for me to display at the exhibition.  Even this had meaning in it as she had laid the photos out in such a way that she had all the people that meant a lot to her around the photograph of herself.

 Lessons learnt:

  •  I have learnt from my time with the residents of The Foyer that you have to earn the trust of the residents and this takes a long time compared with smaller children who I have been working with.  This is because some of them have probably endured a longer period of social entropy than those of a lot younger age group.

At times I felt like stopping the project because;

  • The environment in which the youngsters live is very guarded due to the confidential nature of the work that is carried out, which in turn was difficult for me to gain access;
  • Attention spans from residents where limited which caused problems as they would walk out during sessions and I had to immediately adapt to the changing conditions eg. residents walking out, last minute room changes, lack of facilities in which to work, not knowing how many residents would attend sessions.
  • Long periods of no communication as I had to go through care workers and wasn’t able to speak to residents directly which I found frustrating and as a consequence always had to have a back-up plan in case the project I was working on fell through.
  • I wasn’t able to drive directly to the centre myself and had to rely on a care worker to pick me up as I wasn’t able to let the residents know anything about myself in case of repercussions.
  • It took several sessions before the residents began to trust me but my perseverance paid off in the end.

Overall:

The process I have been through has been a long, gradual and experimental one and at times very difficult due to the environment in which I was working.

I haven’t just been able to be an artist, photographer and facilitator throughout this project, but have also had to learn how to deal with some situations and ask questions to the councillors about why these people act in certain ways and how I should act in return and understand the reasoning behind their actions.

Having said that, I have been very fortunate to be given the chance to work with these people and invited to share part of their lives and I hope that I may have made a small difference in some way.  I am looking forward to them coming to the exhibition and experience an event which they probably haven’t been to or taken part in before and it may inspire them to study further.

‘Detritus’

With this work I have been focusing on the impermanence of the life of objects and places as they pass through time.  In particular I observed gradual change as systems and surroundings deteriorate, breaking down into a more disordered and chaotic existence.

My work explores themes such as re-use and the impact of exterior forces like environmental conditions, the aim being to demonstrate to the viewer the inevitability of entropic change.

I have demonstrated this by making another use from a discarded carrier bag.  The idea of reuse came to me whilst watching a carrier bag twirl round and round in a wind trap it made me think about the fact that once a carrier bag has served its purpose it is discarded and cannot be recycled.

My memory cast back to a film I had watched called ‘American Beauty’ and the carrier bag scene which had me mesmerized at the time by the beauty of the clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHxi-HSgNPc

By documenting varying states of being, I aim only to capture a moment.  Although the emotive power of photography leaves the results open to interpretation, the fabric and form of the subject matter continues to change ineluctably as it deteriorates through time.  I want the viewer to think about the piece they are looking at and wonder what that view would look like in another 10 years.

At this point in my project I felt I needed to have control over a piece of work, as with all my other work someone else, or object, or the environment had control over what I was viewing.

 Outcomes:

  •  With this work I have been able to express myself in other ways than just using the camera, by taking control and manipulating objects to produce sculptures.

 Lessons learnt:

  •  I really had to go out of my way to find subjects matters to take pictures off as wanted to find heavily decayed and unusual items to photograph.  I therefore found it frustrating and difficult at times and ended up telephoning a local scrap yard to go and take some pictures there and enter a derelict building which was in a dangerous state.

 Sudden Departure

This is the final piece of work in the set, which wasn’t planned and the suddenness of the situation made me think about confronting issues of mortality and dealing with family sickness.

This piece is a response to a situation over which I had no control when a family member was taken into hospital.  I simply documented what had happened as I happened to have my camera with me at the time.

Here I have demonstrated the impermanence of the environment in which we live.  I created a hybrid space, constructed using actual items of the person’s furniture, replacing their possessions with photographs to represent the fact that photographs live on as a constant reminder but the environment in which people live can change.

Outcomes:

  • At one point in this person’s life, everything had a purpose in this room.  With this work I invite the viewer to reflect upon what they see and think about how it might change and what the future might hold?

Overall:

This piece has also been challenging in a different way to the outreach work as it has involved not only someone who has been ill but encroaching on their own personal space and asking to take items of their furniture away from them to use within the exhibition.

Having to try to explain to an 85 year old man what you are trying to do wasn’t easy, but I tried to explain my plans in the simplest way possible and just said that I was recreating a piece of work about people’s living environments.  He was very happy to help with my plan, but proceeded to ask whether I needed a variety of his prized trophies, ratting cap and pictures of him standing next to them.

Some other photos of my installation

 

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