Reflecting on ‘Open Calls’

Open Calls

In the last 4-5 months, I have entered my work for five ‘Open Call’ events. The four that have concluded have all been ‘unsuccessful’ and the one remaining is a very long shot. I have spent over £100 on the entry fees and, apart from the most recent (where I apparently made the longlist of 40 from 200 but not the final cut of 21), have had no feedback beyond the polite ‘no’. It seems like a good point at which to reflect on whether they have been worthwhile.

I have been selective in the ones I have gone for – two were recommended by other people, one of which was very definitely a good fit and the other (which felt less so) was a tutor recommendation so presumably relevant. I have approached each one as an independent ‘event’ i.e. my entries have been tailored to the competition rather than just sending off standard ‘words’ and I have no doubt at all that I have gained a lot from that very exercise. Each has given the opportunity to think about my work in a slightly different way; and the process of selecting/editing for each event is also useful. So, all in all, these entries represent a worthwhile part of the learning process associated with Sustaining Your Practice.

However, I will be weighing very carefully the cost/benefit for any future entries. I understand that each represents an opportunity to have the work looked at by someone but with no obvious criteria on which the judgements are being made and no feedback on the outcome (and, to be clear, I wasn’t expecting any – it would be very difficult), it has to be a possibility that the entry fees could be better spent … perhaps on a paid-for critique, for example. To be fair, none of these competitions has asked for a large amount, and there is no suggestion here that they are ‘profiteering from the process (though there may be some around that do) but the odd £15 or £25 here and there soon adds up and could perhaps, as I say, be more usefully directed.

In summary – useful, but to be approached in a highly selective manner in the future.

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Assignment Two Proposal and Feedback

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I submitted Assignment Two ‘Publication Proposal’ last week and had a feedback tutorial with my tutor yesterday morning. Key elements from the proposal were:

  • To stage a ‘pop-up’ style exhibition of the ‘New Photographic Chemistry’ (‘Textbook’ officially retitled!) work in the bookshop where I originally bought the second-hand ‘Textbook of Photographic Chemistry’ back in 2014. (That’s Daisy Lane Books, as illustrated above, in an image from my Level One ‘People and Place’ module!!). This event is going ahead from 1-17 July.
  • Potentially, to put on a small but more ‘developed’ exhibition of the work at an established gallery in Sheffield, later in the year, probably October.
  • To promote these in a variety of ways but, potentially, including a ‘presentation/talk’ at said gallery in September.
  • To redevelop my ‘Wherenothingisreal’ website as a showcase for this (and other) work.

Wendy was fully supportive of this approach and had some particularly good thoughts around maximising the benefits to be gained from the bookshop show. She suggests seeing the event as a continuation of the project itself and presenting it (installation images/video/sound commentary from me about its development) on the website – perhaps even retaining some link/reference to it in the shop after the exhibition is over. Her suggestion is that I focus some time and attention to the website development over the next few months – though I have to admit I’m somewhat preoccupied with getting the exhibition together (and another, different one for the local Art Week Fringe).

Another strong recommendation was to enter the work for a Printmaking open event. That surprised me, I have to admit, and she has pointed me in the direction of this. The documentation refers to work that ‘encounters’ print, which mine certainly does, at various stages in its making. So, willingly but with arm firmly twisted (!), I shall be giving it a go.

Still encountering gallery frustrations on other fronts but I’m sure things will get resolved. Lots moving forward (and up to my ears in prints/mounts …).

Progress on new work and a big ‘What if …?’

Two Grades of Bromide Paper

Two grades of bromide paper

Almost six weeks since I posted this about making more work – but it’s been a productive time with several new constructed images to extend the ‘Textbook’ series. The set of complex constructed images now comprises 13 (with more being worked on) and can be viewed here. The one at the top of this post is typical, a development from the pattern that appeared at the end of that earlier post. It combines folded paper prints of the pattern, a print onto fabric, two ‘physical’ 3-D conversions of the pattern into a cube and a tube, and a digitally-created sphere. It is, in essence, a photograph but with one digital enhancement – the sphere – and I have retained the title (a shortened version) from the original diagram in the textbook – see below.

Two Grades of Bromide Paper

I’ve blown hot and cold about titles since I first started this project in Body of Work but I’ve pretty much decided that, in the direction the work is currently going, retention of some reference to the original source of the image is the right approach to take. I’ve always maintained that the images I have produced are empty and meaningless, outside of their visual attractiveness and their ‘having been made’ (referencing Michael Fried on Thomas Demand there!!). The titles enable me to retain some trace of the original signifier/signified relationship but, in the new context, they too become detached and meaningless – with no link to their original meaning and no meaningful link to the new image (beyond that ‘having been made’ aspect). The outcome (hopefully!) is something that draws the viewer in, provides enough interest to provoke/evoke questions/ideas, yet supplies no answers, leaving only the uncertain slipperiness of the photographic image of which we make such extensive use in our 21st century lives.

I can see two potential issues with the use of these titles. One is, primarily, in my own head – I have a concern that it just looks as though I’m trying to be a ‘clever dick’ by inserting these catchy titles. But I think the reasoning in the previous paragraph has enabled me to get past that. The second emerged when I shared these images with some fellow students in a hangout. There are, of course, many photographers out there for whom those titles retain their original significance. They will, inevitably, read the relationship and the images differently from others for whom the titles are as much a mystery as the images. That isn’t a problem – the only significance of the images resides, and can only reside, in the mind of the viewer anyway – but it was something to which I hadn’t really given much thought before.

I continue to reflect on the ‘outcome’ of the project but will simply focus on the ‘making’ for a little longer. I will probably have an opportunity to exhibit some work at a ‘fringe’ location during the local ‘Art Week’ in July; but it’s unlikely to be the right place for this project and I still have an Autumn 2016 notion in my mind. I’ll return to it later (but not too late!). One piece of feedback from my networking was to consider a title for the project that also reflected its ‘chemistry’ origins (chemistry as a transformative science) and I’m tending towards something like ‘New Photographic Chemistry’, which, as well as being literally what the transformative project is, also has connotations to do with the transformation that results when we create and view a photographic image and the transformation the the medium itself has experienced in the last two decades – probably more on this later, too.

Then to something else that was mentioned in the feedback I received. ‘Submit to the best calls – but research carefully and be wary of some’ was (paraphrased) one piece of advice. It isn’t something I’ve been too keen on – the free entry competitions/open-entry exhibitions seem like too much of a ‘free-for-all’ and the ones with an entry fee could be nothing much more than money-making exercises. However, when fellow student, Stephanie (many thanks, Stephanie) pointed me in the direction of the Aperture Summer Open 2016, with the theme ‘Photography is Magic’ and curated by Charlotte Cotton, I was tempted. $50 to become an Aperture member, with associated discounts and benefits – but maybe, just maybe, if I got past the likely initial screening (the “big ‘What if …?”) process, Charlotte Cotton might actually look at my work!! That’s the way I’ve approached – as a very useful learning exercise. Imagine there is an opportunity for her to see the work – what do I submit and what do I say in supporting documentation (bit of a rush, too, because I’ve been away over the weekend and the closing date is today!). So, I’ve entered 12 of the 13 images from the set linked at the start of this post, supported with a Bio (actually, not a true biography in the traditional sense, but in my case, who wants to read about my earlier life, so I’ve played around with the concept – hope it works ok) and a Statement (using quite a lot of ‘words’ from previous versions plus some specially written aspects).

It has been a very useful learning exercise. I’ve had to make some quick decisions e.g. the submission process requires information about the size and form of the artwork, so I had to decide about the potential size/form of prints; the communication process – the bio and statement – has had to be rapidly put together; and, of course, so as not to make it a total waste of time and money, one has to think ‘What if …?’!! WHAT IF …..!!??!! Winking smile