Category: Placing Photographic Practice in Context

Critical Essay of 250MC

Time will Tell

Time Will Tell is a body of work that is based on the time and history of watches. It explores the essence of watches from Coventry’s Watchmaking industry, in which there has been a shift on how we value these objects.
“Objects cannot be understood through one moment of their existence” (Edwards, 2012); watches are more than just objects. They are links to our past, our histories and our ancestry. Time leaves an indelible mark that is not always visible but can make the worthless seem invaluable. In this body of work, the aim was to explore the emotional bond, as well as the sentimentality and emotional power that these objects contain.

The main inspiration for this work came from Impact by Paul Smith (Smith, P, 2011), Copper Horses by Chris Harrison (Nationalmediamuseum.org.uk, 2013) and The Commons by David Moore (Moore, 2002). The images were very simplistic. They took a single object and showed it off in different ways. In Copper Horses, the objects were used as an emotional homage to his father. However in Impact, we can see all the tiny details on the bullet, which gives it a powerful identity. Whereas in The Commons Moore looked at the details that were missed in our daily lives.

Harrisons objects were personal and held great affection and Moore looked into a forensic angle, whereas Smiths bullets were emotive and singularly authoritative in their own right. It was these photographers combined with the manufacturing past of Coventry and its historic watch making industry that inspired this body of work to focus on the cities own timepieces.

To contextualise this essay, “during the later 17th century a local trade was beginning to appear” (Stephens 1969) in the Coventry area, until business bloomed in the 19th Century where there was 53 watchmakers deemed worthy to find themselves in West’s Directory of Warwickshire. However in the 1900′s, factories in other countries, such as the USA and Switzerland (Wikipedia, 2014), began to rise and make watches cheaper, quicker, and more efficient. This caused Coventry’s industry to decline and die out.
Similarly though, in the 15th Century the pocket watch was originally an object owned by the wealthy and elite (Pocketwatch.co.uk, n.d.) and was deemed as a social status symbol. However as manufacturing costs were reduced, they became more affordable and were bought by the working class as an essential tool in their work. The ownership of these items came with a sense of pride. Whilst they held a materialistic value at the start, as watches grew in prevalence in the late 20th Century, it shifted from monetary value to sentimental as they were seen as a throw away commodity (Pocketwatch.co.uk, n.d.). This was due to how easily affordable and repairable watches have become in our society today.
What this means is that a bond can’t be established because no meaning is given to the watch. In comparison to older watches that keep a higher sentimental value, they hold memories that can’t be replaced.

As a result, the work had site-specific research, but needed to focus more on why they are sentimental. “Making Histories, Making Memories” by Gaynor Kavanagh investigates the way visitors interact with the objects, how memories can be invoked, and how the ‘dream space’ can be evocative: “The visitor and the nature of his/her engagement with the museum,” (Kavanagh, 1996). Sheldon Annis spoke about the ‘dream space’ (Kavanagh, 1996) in which visitors respond to various things in random ways, yet on a personal level. It could be slips of information, conversations, or memories. The dream space allows a more direct connection with memories and feelings that are stored away. However these memories may not always be ‘true’ because over time, there are slippages in memory due to the different time spaces memories operate in; “cognitive memory claims.” (Connerton, 1989) The person remembers the meaning of a particular thing but not in full.
From this article, it helped put into perspective that the final work should allow the viewer to focus on the object and interpret it in his or her own way.

In the body of work, the focus was on the essence on the watches and was a way of documenting the evidence of how time and history had affected them. The images were taken on plain black backgrounds to avoid any distraction and isolate the watch. The choice both Smith (Smith, P, 2011) and Pyke (Pyke, n.d.) made in how to photograph their images, especially in their background choice, influenced the making of this work. The bland background helps isolate the image from the object so that the markings would be more evident.
With research and collaboration with the Coventry Watch museum, it was established that the watches had a great deal of history in them and had passed through multiple generations in families.

Having looked at the typological approach to the project Water Towers, this body of work was influenced by Bernd and Hilla Becher to show the work as a 3×3 grid. This allows the work to be viewed at a level playing field, as all the images can be viewed at once. Also, the viewer would be able to recognize that the markings on the watches and how each watch has it own essence within it are the main focus.

In conclusion, this body of work has focused on the time and history of watches. The “historically…contingent role” (Schneider and Wright, 2013) of pocket watches has changed from a sentimental to a monetary value over the past twenty years. However this work has looked to re-focus on the sentimental aspect by focusing on the essence held within the watches. Through the images, the viewer can regain forgotten memories and everything that comes with them.

For the body of work to develop in the future, it could contain a wider range of watches not just from Coventry, but other key areas from the UK that were known for their watch making. The body of work could also begin to look more at the individual tools and components that make the watch and the journey of how a watch is made; on why in the past they were more valuable and precious to have owned.
To some, these watches may just be inanimate pieces that hold no value. However to others, certain marks on the watches can say a lot about their lives they have held in the past, even when the memories have faded and died (Dillon, 2004), it can evoke memories to the viewer about how it used to live.

References:

Connerton, P. (1989). How societies remember. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, pp.20-40.

Dillon, B. (2004). CABINET // Forget Me Not: An Interview with Geoffrey Batchen. [online] Cabinetmagazine.org. Available at: http://cabinetmagazine.org/issues/14/dillon.php [Accessed 24 Nov. 2014].

Edwards, E. (2012). Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image article. Annual review of Anthropology, [online] 41, pp.221-234. Available at: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145708 [Accessed 1 Nov. 2014].

Kavanagh, G. (1996). Making histories in museums. London: Leicester University Press, pp.1-13.

Moore, D. (2000). Scratches caused by heels: Opposition backbenches, 26 June 2000. [image] Available at: http://davidmoore.uk.com/projects/the-commons ?imagenum=11 [Accessed 17 Oct. 2014].

Nationalmediamuseum.org.uk, (2013). About Copper Horses – Exhibitions – Plan a Visit – National Media Museum. [online] Available at: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/planavisit/exhibitions/copperhorses/about.aspx [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014].

Pocketwatch.co.uk, (n.d.). The History of Pocket watches, antique pocket watches, collectable pocket watches. [online] Available at: http://www.pocketwatch.co.uk/page/pocket_watch_history/ [Accessed 2 Nov. 2014].

Pyke, S. (n.d.). Soles #1. [image] Available at: http://www.pyke-eye.com/Still-Life/1/caption/ [Accessed 2 Nov. 2014

Schneider, A. and Wright, C. (2013). Anthropology and art practice. Bloomsbury Academic, pp.1-21.

Smith, P. (2011). Paul Smith Photography, London UK.. [online] Paulmsmith.co.uk. Available at: http://www.paulmsmith.co.uk/portfolio/bullets/impact.html [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014].

Stephens W.B (1969), A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8: The City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick pp. 162-189. [online] Available at: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=16026 [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].

Wikipedia, (2014). History of Coventry. [online] Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Coventry#Clocks_and_watches [Accessed 31 Oct. 2014].

Final (Final) Images

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These are the final images I have chosen for my project. Each individual watch had been carefully considered and positioned in a way that the marks on the watches would be at the forefront of our focus. This helps especially when I would put it into a typology as I want the viewer to see them all and be able to contrast all of the marks on the watches against one another.

Additionally, I carefully considered the lighting for each shot as I wanted it to all be even across the board. My main aim was for the light to cast across from the right hand side on the watch so that there would a subtle shadow being cast on it. This would help it blend in better with the background as well so that the watch would be more isolated as a whole rather then two separate pieces.

Finally, I took into consideration about how much space I would need to leave around the watches so that when it came down to cropping them, there would be an even amount of space around the whole watch so that it would have a much better aesthetic feel to the whole image.

Overall, I am very pleased with how these prints have come out. Each watch I feel like has done what I wanted it to show off in the body of work exactly; I have managed to show off the marks in clear, crisp detail on the body of the watch. I made certain of this by going into the live view function on my camera and zooming in on the watch on manual focus so that I could make sure that everything was as clear as possible.
I have also stuck to the typological sense of the series as well, as each picture has been shot the same throughout as well. In addition, each watch is isolated from the background as well, helping put it into the front of our focus which was the main thing.

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This is how I want to present my work in the final exhibition, as it puts all the images on a level playing field which will allow the viewer to look for all of the similarities throughout the whole piece, but also examine the marks and being able to make their own stories as to what may have caused the marks to be their in the final place.
I think that the work has re-focused on the sentimental factor of the watches by showing how after time these precious objects still hold value in todays society due to the memories that the watches contain from stories and previous generations.

Forget Me Not: An Interview with Geoffrey Batchen

Geoffrey Batchen recently wrote a book called Forget Me Not, however I was unable to find anything on the internet about it. However I did manage to find an interview with him about the book which I found quite interesting.

In the interview, Batchen starts talking how there are many kinds of memory  (a link to the Connertons book) and all of them involve a type of historical reflection of one kind or another. What I found quite interesting is when he said that the book is as “emphasis is on a personal response to photographs.”(Dillon, 2004) This focus on memory shifts the attention from the producers of photographs to the owners of these objects.

To to induce the experience of personal memory a photograph has to be transformed in order to take the viewer out of the past and into the present. The subject of the photograph has to be transformed, from something someone may just see into a memory someone can bod with completely. This is why photographers nowadays add additional information alongside their prints.

Batchen then goes on to say “memory itself is something that is difficult to make visible”(Dillon, 2004). This is particularly interesting as with my work, even though we can physically see the marks, we cannot see the memories behind them as to why they have come about into existence. It’s a reminder that photography can often be a very private experience, shared only with a close circle of family and friends. (Dillon, 2004)

An interesting aspect Batchen starts to talk about is how every photograph is about death. (Dillon, 2004) The passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die. This is an interesting thing to look at as my project is based on time and is almost  in a way looking at the death of sentimentality of the old pocket watches. So my images are almost an homage to the watches in a roundabout way.

Overall, I found this article very interesting to look at and has opening my eyes slightly more in how I can look at my images not only as a maker, but also as a viewer as well. Now I can think about how the watches can present themselves as objects that can evoke the memories.

Dillon, B. (2004). CABINET // Forget Me Not: An Interview with Geoffrey Batchen. [online] Cabinetmagazine.org. Available at: http://cabinetmagazine.org/issues/14/dillon.php [Accessed 24 Nov. 2014].

How Societies Remember by Paul Connerton

As part of my research, I wanted to look outside the photographic realms of remembering. So I decided to look at how societies remember in general, which is how I came across How Societies Remember by Paul Connerton.

In this book, the first half was entirely useless to me, as it was just going over examples of how societies used to remember key events in historical times; he used examples of wars, and how the villagers would actually only remember the key events that held more significant value to them, and how they chose to remember certain events.
However it was only on page 20 in the book that it became much more relevant, as Connerton begins to talk about “how memories they pass onto their children, can scarcely be said to refer to the ‘same’ event.” (Connerton, 1989) This is very interesting to think about as it links in to what I looked at in the “Making Histories, Making Memories” in particular to the dream space in which memories are personal. I criticised this in saying that we cannot be certain as to what we remember is true. This backs up this idea on that nothing can be the same event as we all tend to block up certain memories in order to better or worse the idea.

It then goes on to talk about how “we come to know each other by asking for accounts.” (Connerton, 1989) This again links in to how memories are passed on through family generations and how when we see something in particular, we can instantly relate to those memories we remember. This passing on helps us to understand the context of these of these histories.

Connerton then goes on to talk about a different type of memory claims:

  1.  Personal Memory claims -> Where we refer to acts that we remember their objects life history. This is because as they are located in our personal past. This helps us in knowing about the concept of ourselves.
  2. Cognitive Memory claims -> Where we remember the meaning of words, lines, stories etc However with this, we do not need any previous information in order to “retain and use memories of this class.” (Connerton, 1989)
  3. Capacity to reproduce certain performances -> We cannot remember these things, but it is only in the performance we remember. So really this memory is when we need to refer to it as a guide.

The rest of the article was then based on habitats and behaviour, with more research onto information that had no relevance to me at all anymore. So for me, the information I take from this is the different types of memories one can get when interacting with the objects.
So for my project, I want the viewer to really experience the personal memory claims as this is where is the most relevant information comes from.

Connerton, P. (1989). How societies remember. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, pp.20-40.

Pre-Test Shoot

As stated in my last post, I needed to go out and do a test shoot for my images to put into practice everything that I have learnt so far. The reasoning behind this would be so that I could practice the set up fully, but also be able to change anything that might not be to my liking exactly.

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In the first two images here, we can see that I have managed to crop them down to a reasonable size, whilst giving the watches enough space so that they aren’t cramped into the picture. This gives it a much more aesthetic feel to the whole image as we don’t worry about one side being bigger then the other; rather we just focus on the watch. This too applies to the background choice; the blackness actually helps bring out the detail from the marks as they are illuminated from the light, pointing our focus directly at them.

However, one problem I noted with these images, with focus on the first one, is that I have to make sure that the main areas are in focus. For the first image, the main focus was the dents in the bottom lover half of the case; however after careful inspection it is obvious that they aren’t quite in focus. So what I need to do when setting up the scene is use the live view option and zoom into the focus area, and using the manual focus option, get it as crisp as possible. To help out as well, I will make sure that the aperture on the camera is as large as possible to make sure the depth of field covers the whole watch as well.

Apart from the slight niggle, I am very happy with the way the images are looking. The way that they aren’t too zoomed in means that the viewer has to get up close and examine it, showing how time has affected the watch via these marks, and hopefully ill bring back their own past memories.

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The problem that I have with this watch is that it doesn’t fit into the uniformity of the whole body of work. As a singular image, it works well at highlighting the marks on the strap; however not only does it not fit into Coventry’s history of watches, it would be completely out of place compared to the pocket watches I would photograph. A typology is supposed to be repetitive, and having a wrist watch like this would completely break up the sequence which is not what I want.
The viewer would just put the focus onto that image and ignore the others, when really I want them to compare how each watch has its own history behind them, with time taking its own unique toll on the watches themselves in a variety of ways. I want the viewer to compare each marking, and for them to interact it with their own memories.

So I need to make sure that I have a solid consistency going on throughout the sequence. However what I think will be interesting is to show how it isn’t just the body of the watch that is affected, but also the face. The mystery of the case itself would be a nice touch as we have to think for ourselves what the object is, but it would be nice to give the whole sequence some context as well.

Finalisation of idea + Final Plan

As we are nearing an end to this project soon, I thought it would be useful to finalise my idea completely to exactly say what it is that I am trying to show.

This body of work is based on the time and history of watches; it explores the essence of watches from Coventry’s Watchmaking industry, in which there has been a shift on how we value these objects. “Objects cannot be understood through one moment of their existence” (Edwards, 2012); watches are more than just objects; they are links to our past, our histories and our ancestry. Time leaves an indelible mark that is not always visible yet can make the worthless seem invaluable. In this body of work, its aim is to explore the emotional bond as well as the sentimentality and emotional power that these objects contain.

Having being inspired by a variety of artists in looking at the tiny details missed, how to frame the object to the methodology of shooting, the focus is on the essence on the watches as a way of documenting the evidence of how time and history have affected them. The images will be taken on plain black backgrounds to avoid any distraction and isolate the watch exactly, so that we can put our full attention onto the marks.

In the pictures, I want to move away from the monetary view on watches like we see today, and rather focus on the sentimentality that they possess within them. So for my shoot, I will go to Coventry’s Watch Museum to speak to them about the watches they have collected over the years which have been passed through a multitude of family generations.
Each watch will be shot in the same method: they will all be placed onto the same black background and shot in the same lighting. This means that there is no change at all and no picture will be different. The only difference will be from size and shape which could cast shadows, however this will add authenticity to the images. Additionally, they will all be taken from the same angle roughly depending on where the marks are located, again so that there is a repetition going on through the body of work.

Before the final images can be taken though, I will need to do a test shoot to get all of the above ideas right so that I know what exactly the images will need to look like when it comes to the final shoot.