This exercise has given me some pause for thought. When I first read the brief I thought this would be easy. Then I read Victor Burgin’s article and had to think again, though I must say that I find the distinction drawn in the course material between homage and appropriation to be perhaps a somewhat fine one and one that could shift depending on the intentions of the artist who is making the homage. Nevertheless, bearing that distinction in mind, it might be said that my take on the Gainsborough in the previous post was an appropriation in the sense that I was, at some level, recontextualising in an ironic way. The other two pictures though were, I would say, true homages as the connections with the earlier works were much more explicit and straightforward, and I was not trying to put across any sort of message that might be said to be different from the intentions of Black or Sugimoto.
I had originally thought I would do a straightforward homage, and indeed considered my Tory Island seascape as I had this exercise in mind when I took it. However, the exercise itself speaks of neither homage nor appropriation but of a response. That seems to me to cover a very wide range of possibilities and that a simple homage is not necessarily the way forward. The brief itself seems to invite something less straightforward, less literal. That sort of more thoughtful, questioning approach seems to be at the heart of Burgin’s Hopper series. He does not simply reproduce but picks the original painting apart, analyses it, looks at it, and the assumptions, attitudes and mores that underly it.
Burgin however had the luxury of a whole series of pictures in which to respond to Hopper’s painting. I have, under the terms of this brief, just one image. That is a limitation but sometimes such limits can be liberating. In this case I think it just means that I have to be much more concentrated and incisive and focus more sharply on what it is that I am responding to. Whose work though am I going to respond to? This is itself, choosing one photo from the whole corpus of work out there, is a major challenge for me. Do I go for someone whose work is very familiar to me, or go for someone less familiar, or even chose something at random? On reflection I think I have to go down the first route for without a degree of familiarity I think I am going to find it harder to respond in the sort of way that I would want. I also have to bear in mind the practicalities of being able to create a suitable image.
As a starting point, to see if it gives me any clues, I have had a look at the work of the two artists mentioned in the brief, John Davies and Chris Steele Perkins. I am admirer of the latter’s work but there is nothing there that immediately appeals to me for the purposes of this exercise. I looked at John Davies in connection with Exercise 4.5 but while I find his work interesting, particularly the industrial landscapes, there is nothing here that resonates with me immediately or urges me to respond to either. However, looking at Davies’s work reminded me of Fay Godwin, of whom I have written in a much earlier post. What particularly came back to mind is the work that she did on the effect of man on landscape, more specifically man’s efforts to control landscape. Looking through the book Landmarks again one picture that particularly resonated with me is this one:
The Duke of Westminster’s Estate, Forest of Bowland, 1989
I looked at Godwin’s work in this regard in my post on Project 2 Lens Work and used it to reinterpret one of my own easier photographs. That particular image was concerned with exclusion. This is a subject that is increasingly on my mind as I walk the area around my village and elsewhere in the county and come across barriers, physical or just signs, telling me to back off, stay out, not to enter. It seems that more and more we are being told that we have to stay out of or away from certain places and spaces. I understand that in urban areas, not least parts of central London, this is becoming much more of an issue as more and more spaces that previously had been public now fall under the sway and control of private developers and activities within them are now policed by private security. In rural areas it seems always to have been an issue, and remains so today, 85 years on from the Kinder Scout trespass. (If only we had a right to roam as they do in Scotland!) It is this sense of control and exclusion, that is neatly summed up in Fay Godwin’s image that I wanted to respond to.
What I have chosen to concentrate on in my own image is just the signs and the fence, rather than the wider context, as the words seem to me to do all the work necessary.
By way of background, this relates to an area of open grassland, about an acre, in the heart of the part of the village where I live. At first glance, the rather admonitory signs apart, it looks like a village green. It is however not public. Sadly there are parallels with Fay Godwin’s image. I doubt that the Duke ever visited this particular corner of his considerable estates. I do not know the area at all but just from what I can see in her photo it does not look to be particularly useful or productive land. Indeed, given what looks like sedge it is presumably somewhat wet and boggy. No heather, so presumably no grouse. I therefore cannot imagine that it is much used or frequented. Similarly, the acre I have in mind does not appear to be much used either, despite its position and despite the fact it is quite a nice meadow. I go past this patch of ground regularly, a few times every week, and I must say that I cannot remember ever seeing anyone in this field more than only a handful times in the last ten years or so. (I do not want to sound judgmental – it is not for me to judge – but it does sadden me that there are spaces such as this that do not appear to be much used but from which wider access is still excluded.)
Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? All three, I suspect, have a role to play. Indeed, thinking carefully about this, I doubt that any photograph, or other work of art, can be looked at and interpreted without taking all three into consideration.
Internal context – the title gives some indication of what is being looked at (though that does presuppose a certain amount of prior knowledge), and what is shown perhaps speaks for itself as an image. Knowing when the shot was taken, and that it was taken by me, do not though in themselves tell a viewer much, if anything. They are though important in connection with the external context, which follows.
External context – my image appears so far only here, in this blog post. This WordPress site is expressly a learning blog. The image is therefore very clearly presented as an academic exercise, a response to a particular brief.
Original context – this is partly there in the external context but otherwise is only explicit in this blog post itself. With a knowledge of the work of Fay Godwin an otherwise uninformed viewer might identify that in my picture I am attempting to address the same sort of issues as Godwin did. What else otherwise is the purpose or intention in what might be regarded as a fairly straightforward image? I guess that even without knowing Godwin’s work an attentive and receptive viewer would get the point anyway.
So, yes, on reflection I do think that all three provide the context in this case. Indeed, I think I can now see that you cannot divorce the three and look at an image from the point of view of only one or two of them and still get the “truth” of it. No work is made in a vacuum, or displayed in one, nor without some element of intention and thought process behind it.
Godwin, F, (2001). Landmarks. Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing