(See also: Readings section)

All artists are influenced by their experiences so it is not unusual to be able to gain some insight into their lives through the analysis of their art. In this way art can be considered as an artist’s document of life. So continuing with the theme of life and death from my initial statement, I became increasingly drawn to examples where artists have represented life and death together in the same art piece.  I was surprised at how many examples there actually were. Here are a few I found:

Skulls – Andy Warhol.  These were apparently deplicting life and death, the life part being the shadow created by the skull which looked as though it was the shape of a baby.  This information was research from an Andy Warhol book I was reading entitled: Andy Warhol – A Celebration of Life & Death by Keith Hartley

Death & Life – Gustav Klimt.  The title and order of things is another interesting facet of the painting below.  A person would normally refer to life and death but Klimt depicts it otherwise, as if death comes first, stalking life.  A very powerful picture.

Death and the Maiden – Egon Schiele.  This picture gives us an insight into Schiele’s life. His work was also influenced by Klimt.  Here it is said that he is conveying to the viewer that he is breaking up with his lover.  It is his way of dealing with the end of the affair.  He looks dead whereas ‘the maiden’ still has colour which may mean that she is still trying to cling onto the life they had together.

Celebration of  Death

The Victorians seemed to have a fascination with death and one of the common practices I found was that when someone died they would surround them with their possessions that they had when they were alive.  In some cases this was a not just a celebration of their life but to show their wealth.   I also looked at ‘Day of the Dead’ which is a Mexican ritual held once a year to celebrate those people that aren’t with them anymore, held on the 2nd November.

A short video explaining what ‘the day of the dead’ is:

‘Death has not required us to keep a day free’

Damien Hirst at Tate Modern

Damien Hirst is currently showing his work at the Tate Modern  and he states the following:

“Every work that has ever interested me is about death. All art – even a child’s scrawl – is about making sense of the world we live in, and this world has darkness at the end of it. I was taught when I was young to confront things that you can’t avoid, and death is a very difficult thing to confront”.

When I read his article I began to question whether my work is actually all themed around death and decay and considered any similarities to Hirst’s in this way.  In my work I try to draw people’s attention to things that are often ignored or dismissed and some of this is unpleasant but I think these are topics that need to be highlighted.  I was excited by what Hirst had to say about his work and themes as I could really relate my work to his.  He even spoke about ‘The day of the dead’ which I mentioned right at the beginning of my project.

From going to the exhibition and viewing his work, I get the impression that he is viewing death from a quite a few different angles. For example, bringing the viewer face to face with death when we look at the preserved cow and the themes of god giving life and then taking it away.  He allows the flies to fly around and feed but then their life can end in a second when they are exterminated by the fly-o-cutor machine.

Then there is the numerous collections of tablets(as shown above), categorised into holidays, body, etc  in which people are trying to keep themselves alive by taking these tablets for certain things.

In all of his work, death, beauty, and evil are all constant presences.

The many pieces involving ashtrays full of cigarette butts in his show speak   of state of endless waiting – for escape, for change, for death, or for   consolation. Such works are thematically paired with medicine cabinets in   which formalised arrangements of bottles, boxes and bags testify to the   innumerable pains that afflict our bodies and minds and the lengths we go to   keep death at bay.

‘Uncle Colin’

I have been looking at themes of ‘possessions’  within artists and photographers work and came across a piece entitled ‘Uncle Colin’.

This piece by Tracey Emin is low-key and more subtle than her more well known works, such as My Bed.

Tracey didnt know her uncle as he unfortunately died in a car crash before she was born.  She felt she had to document the tragedy so that he wouldnt be forgotten by immortalizing him through her artwork.  There is a seagull in one of the frames, which is the idea of a spirit passing from this world to the next.


Another artist who uses other people’s posssessions in their work is Song Dong.

Song Dong’s Waste Not at the Barbican

Waste Not, an installation that gathers over 10,000 everyday objects collected by Song Dong’s mother over a period of five decades, reflects on the Chinese artist’s childhood during the Cultural Revolution.

I went along to the exhibition to see the possessions for myself.  What an amazing collection of items and it seemed that Song Dong’s mother didn’t throw anything away.  All items where put into categories and neatly arranged in lines.  ‘The installation is a tribute to his mother, who made the collection over a period of five decades.  The activity of saving and reusing objects of all kinds is in keeping with the chinese adage wu jin qi young – “waste not” – a prerequisite for survival’.

The shell of the house in which his mother lived.

My research then took a slight turn in the fact that I came across the word ‘Entropy’ whilst studying.  This is a physics term relating to the second law of thermodynamics but in layman’s terms it means the slowing down and eventual standstill of all phenomena and inevitable drift from order to disorder and breakdown.


Most of us fear our eventual death and dealing with family sickness has caused me to confront issues of mortality. This self-exploration has led me to focus my studio practice on the impermanence of the life of objects and places as they pass through time. In particular I am observing gradual change as systems and surroundings deteriorate, breaking down into a more disordered and chaotic existence.

My photography explores themes such as re-use and the impact of exterior forces like environmental conditions as the aim is to demonstrate to the viewer the inevitability of entropic change. By documenting the varying state of being, I am only capturing a moment. The future is open to interpretation as the fabric and form of the subject matter continues to change unerringly as it deteriorates through time.

The themes I have been working on up to this point have aspects of this meaning in them.  The ‘Portraits‘ are working against entropy and with these I am trying to bring stability to the group I will be teaching.  The ‘Memorials‘ an object of rememberence, trying to bring stability back after someone dies.  No chaos but calm.   ‘Possessions’ – control, order, owning, something caused by a particular circumstance, a formal display.  The person showing me the object is controlling it, only letting me see it for a short time before putting it away again.  I am the observer in this, gaining a small insight into their life. Left Behind – Lack of pattern, or organisation, disordered, disregarded, unloved, unwanted, rejected, forsaken, neglected and decaying.

I have produced a set of photographs entitled ‘ Sudden Departure’ where I am stating that entropy goes into disarray.  The normality of everyday life is pushed into chaos when a person’s routine is mixed up, as they have had to go into hospital, which begs the question of whether they will go back to their home afterwards.

I recommend a wonderful film which is thought provoking and inspirational documentary run by the BBC entitled ‘Life in a Day’.   After watching this it has really inspired me to put a film together about people’s lifes and will put this aside until I get an opportunity to do so.

This is a “Feature film which documents a single day on earth through a multitude of perspectives –  ordinary and extraordinary – all shot on 24 July 2010.

It brings together the most compelling footage from more than 80,000 videos submitted, totalling 4500 hours of content, and combines 331 clips into a 95-minute film crafted by Kevin Macdonald, executive producer Ridley Scott, producer Liza Marshall and their team, in association with YouTube.

Contributions poured in from 192 countries from Australia to Zambia, Peru to Ukraine, UK to Japan – from the heart of bustling cities to the furthest and most remote reaches of the earth. Many of the entries were submitted via YouTube, while a number came from cameras that were handed out by contacts in the developing world.” Source: BBC online.

Other Artists researched:

The set of photographs that I produced entitled ‘What Lies within’ reminded me of the french artist Sophie Calle who works with photography and performance.  She produced a set of photographs and descriptions entitled ‘The Hotel’ where she was employed as a chambermaid and took photos of people’s belongings with the hotel rooms that she cleaned.  Her pieces involve serious investigations as well as natural curiousity.

Photographers that use possessions/objects within their work

Entropy (Stability v. Chaos)

Whilst studying entropy within my work I researched other artists that used entropy and was surprised at how many I came across.

Duchamp worked on a piece inspired by Futurism entitled The Bridge Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).  This work was declared unfinished in 1923 but on the way home Duchamp broke the glass on the piece.  He attempted to repair it but left the cracks in the glass intact, accepting the chance element as a part of the piece.

Michael Landy created an installation piece where artists could destroy artwork that they didn’t want anymore entitled ‘Art Bin’.

Everyday Life Artists

My work has taken me to explore, not just people’s possessions but people themselves.  For my major dissertation I did a comparison between Martin Parr a British photographer and William Eggleston who is an American photographer.   This was a valuable assignment for me to do, as the research I did, taught me about their observations, construction of photographs, history and achievements and I have incorporated some of what I have learnt into my own photography.

My dissertation is attached:

TracyVine – EgglestonParrFinal

I am currently working on a CREST publishing opportunity (Critical Commentary) where I am going to submit the above piece of work to Newman University. 

Trip to Highgate Cemetery

This trip was one which I had been meaning to go on from the start of my project.   It encompasses some of the themes which I have  been looking at for my major project.

A Victorian cemetery opening in 1839 to accommodate the growing numbers of deaths in the city at that time.

A magnificant cemetery which closed down in the 1970’s, becoming derelict, which in turn enticed tomb raiders/robbers and was luckily saved through the hard work of  volunteers.

It is a place, where, we the public are invited to go and observe in quiet reflection.  We are the voyeurs, looking in at a part of someone’s life that is private to the family that put the memorial there.  It is a part of someone left behind, a place where people leave ‘objects’ behind as a sign of respect or they may feel an attachment to that person.

The trip was also an exercise for me to see how I have developed as a photographer as my first visit to Highgate was nearly 3 years ago during the first year of my degree.  I have immediately noticed a vast improvement in my technical skills, colouring and composition to when I last went.  An example:


The first picture is one of the first photos I took when I started to use photography as my preferred medium.  The colour is washed out although I think the composition isnt bad and I could have photographed the reflection on the water which would have made an unusual shot.  With the second picture I have used photoshop to enhance the shot and change the colouring of the picture as I wanted to create a mood and get across the age of the subject matter.

Photographers that have inspired me:

One of our tutor’s ran a photography workshop touching on those photographer’s that had contributed to the development and history of photography.

We were asked to pick some photographer’s that had really inspired us.    I chose the following:

Henri Cartier-Breeson (born 1908)

FRANCE: Paris. Place de l’Europe 1932

Henri Cartier-Breeson

My first encounter with Cartier-Breeson was when I came across a quote by him which said:

‘Memory is very important, the memory of each photo taken, flowing at the same speed as the event.  During the work, you have to be sure that you haven’t left any holes, that you’ve captured everything, because afterwards it will be too late’.

This quote made me explore his work further and I came to realise that his influence on the world will always be remembered, where he helped develop street photography or ‘real life reportage’.  I have found his work powerful and inspirational and personally, advanced for its time.  His ability to capture a moving image just at the right time, capturing the intenseness of a situation through the lens.  A man of few words and these words are conveyed through his pictures.

William Eggleston ( born 1939)

Tricycle – Memphis Tennessee 1970

William Eggleston

William Eggleston (born July 27, 1939), is an American photographer. He is widely credited with increasing recognition for colour photography as a legitimate artistic medium to display in art galleries.  I think Eggleston has the ability to make the most boring of subjects look interesting and his work has made me want to know more about the subject matter he has taken pictures of.  Eg. the bicycle is shot from an unusual perspective, the floor, which makes the subject matter look very large considering its only a child’s bike.   It raises questions to me of who owns the bike, where has it been riden, what is the street like in which this child lives?

Martin Parr (born 1952)

New Brighton, Merseyside, from ‘The Last Resort’ 1983 – 6

Martin Parr

Martin Parr invites the world with his documentary photography, the chance to see the world from his unique perspective.

Martin Parr (born 24 May 1952) is a British documentary photographer,[1] photojournalist and photobook collector. He is known for his photographic projects that take a critical look at aspects of modern life, in particular suburban life in Britain.

All of these photographers have inspired me in their own way to help me develop as a photographer and produce photos that I wouldnt have dreamed of taking or noticing before.

I think that one of the ways of being a good photographer is having the ability to turn something ordinary into something magical.  This is a photo that I recently took, and one which I would have totally ignored had I not studied those photographers above.


Wow, it isn’t every day that someone says that they find your work inspring.  I find it very humbling, but the fact that the person who read my work finds what I do ‘intense and interesting’ means so much to me as a developing artist and photographer and it really spurs you on to continue the work that you do.

Check out Mum Cat Designs (Lisa Horner) who specialises in producing some wonderful work in illustration.

Lisa wrote the following on her blog:

“Check out and Tracy Vine I find them both very inspiring.  My passion in photography usually is based around nature and landscapes but I must admit I have been moved by Gareth Bartons personal photography with his clients under his commercial heading, he really gets past the external image and captures their souls in his work.  Tracy’s work is intense and interesting“.

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