For this Interim Exhibition, I put up 4 photographs from my long exposure series: two pairs, each with a ‘normal’ version and an inverted version.
The group adopted a ‘phenomenological’ approach to the crit: everyone other than the artist started by describing what it was they were looking at. People reached the view that these were 4 digital prints; probably pairs, in which one was a mirror-image of the other, negative/positive like old-fashioned darkroom images; that they were long-exposure shots, capturing movement while the shutter was open.
So far so good. But it was surprising to me that people were more uncertain about what the images were: a little figure, perhaps a child. I had expected they would recognise more easily that it was me, although as they aren’t portraits, it doesn’t necessarily matter. But I was pleased that people did see the images as hovering between figurative and abstract: ‘a little Dalek figure’, an alien form, like a ghost or something paranormal, like something in your peripheral vision, even a disturbing reference to death.
One person was reminded of a Rauschenberg work in the current Tate Modern show, which I haven’t yet seen, of a hanging on sheer fabric with image transfers. That was interesting in the light of my work in Unit 1, drawing on muslin.
In my response, I commented on the ‘alien form’ idea, noting that the long-exposure process was not wholly controllable, so that you only really see what you’ve got when you look at the shots on screen. Although I am aware that it is me, because the images are not of a ‘normal body’, you can see them as objects, and look at their abstract qualities. This produces a sort of ‘non-self-portrait’.
I explained that the pale images were inverted in Photoshop and then manipulated to achieve the right effect. Janine commented that those in particular have a drawn quality. Tania Kovats noted that the bottom two images were not in fact black and white but had some colour, albeit desaturated. She also commented on the way the images separated the body from its context. It is in a studio, a non-place, and the images are composed and constructed.
Overall the comments fitted with what came out of various conversations – the informal crit we had, my last tutorial with Tania, my recent conversation with Jeanette Appleton: that the work seems to be about the construction of an image. And that fits with my thinking about the construction of the narrative of the self, including what is present and what is absent, which might be represented by the positive and negative images.
Finally, Janine referred me to a Robert Mapplethorpe portrait from 1983 of Doris Saatchi which shows just her head in a black space, like my head in Looking for the Horizon.