Tuesday, 5 July 2011


It was our tenth wedding anniversary a few weeks ago so we escaped for the weekend to London whilst the grandparents took care of the bairns.  I must admit I am not particularly drawn to cities, but I have started liking London, a lot!  It is a phenomenal place.  Anyway, amongst other things we enjoyed a visit to a number of exhibitions including, once again, the Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery and the Hayward Gallery to see Tracey Emin's latest exhibition.  We also had a fleeting visit to the V&A but ran out of time.

I found it to be a hugely inspiring trip and have written some notes down.  The very condensed version is below:

  • John Squire from the stone roses: mosaic of shapes to reflect a person's personality - love the idea that a graphic representation of a person can be more informative than a photograph
  • Surrealism: unconscious mind and unconventional - how the inside can be understood artistically in the outside world. And how can surrealism work in photography?
  • Symbolism: intrigued to learn more about this and whether the traditional symbols are now obsolete and whether you can adopt your own symbolism
  • Jackson Pollock: random logic with fabulous vivacious colour. Works directly from the expressing of an inner world with energy, motion and inner force: can photography do the same, or is it limited to the arts?
  • Mark Rothko: emotion and sentiment and how to create an atmosphere: interested in how colour, form and shape can alter mood and ambience
  • art by its size, texture and form is in many ways more titilating than photography
  • photography in exhibitions is so often restricted in size, frame and form. For photography to adopt the values of art, its aesthetic needs to be different
  • Visiting the Emin "love is What you want' exhibition, I saw a body of work that is irrefutably self-indulgent. I admire her, but not in a 'I'll never be able to produce work like that' kind of way.  More of a 'good on yer girl, if you can get away with it'.  It did however confirm in my mind that personal stories can speak to audiences more eloquently than a generic message that has no personal significance. Her art appears to be her emotion, not her sewing, painting or craftsmanship.  It is an autiobiography offered in a variety of art forms that speaks clearly and honestly. It feels unfinished and 'amateurish' which gives it the authenticity.  It does feel overly sentimental and I kept on thinking 'get over it', 'move on'.  I am no expert and in no position to criticise but as a visitor to her exhibition, which was extremely well attended, I did feel slightly nauseous from the indulgent narcissism that is evident throughout her career's work.
  • Surrealism: a movement launched in 1924 by poet Andre Breton, who was influenced by Sigmund Freud. Reveal the unconscious and reconcile it with rational life.  There are two broad types: dream-like (Dali) and automatism (free association)
  • Abstractism: a non-representational style of art. A visual form, colour and line to create a composition, a departure from reality, fauvism, cubism.  I like the idea that 'art can or should be like music, patterns of sound, patterns of form, line and colour'
  • Plato: highest form of beauty lies not in the forms of the real world but in geometry. It does not represent the material world but the spiritual
  • Symbolism: mysticism, otherworldiness, sense of mortality, a sense of the power of sexuality. 
  • Casper David Friedrich - convey a subjective emotional response to the natural world
  • In expressive photography, visual symbols used to represent abstract ideas.  A symbol stands for something with a larger meaning, metaphor. Symbolic photos can trigger multiple meanings, makes the work more subjective than objective. How do you know how to use symbolism?
  • Expressionism: to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect to evoke mood or ideas.  Expressionist artists sought to express meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality.  The Scream, Edvard Munch, View of Toledo, El Greco.
  • Semiotics: analysis of cultural behaviour

Train of Thought
  • I love surrealist art and how the unconscious mind creates its own language on the canvas. 
  • Can surrealism be adopted in photography? In the past, Man Ray used colour reversal. Others have tried double exposure, combination printing, montage, rotation, distortion and solarisation.  These all seem process-led. 
  • Lee Miller, Magritte, Hans Bellmer are prominent examples.
  • And what if you were to photograph an 'abstract portrait', how could you do this so that it resembled the inside of a person rather than the face
  • Could you photograph a landscape that reflected the character and personality traits of a person that could reveal more about a person than a formal portrait? 
  • Leave objectivity to the documentary photographer, art is subjective and emotive 
  • how can you communicate ideas, moods and psychological states through colour, line and form?
  • can I build a family tree using a metaphoric landscape. By using methods of symbolism, colour, form, choice of landscape, time of day, shape and content of the image?
  • this is what I am thinking about at the moment.  But, keeping things simple is the key, and something I'm not great at!!


  1. Henri Cartier Bresson was a surrealist photographer before he turned to photojournalism. A favourite of mine is Heinz Hajek-Halke.

    Also think about automatic photography, just like automatic writing - stream of consciousness photography might fit this bill.

    It sounds like you're back on the wagon (so to speak), which is nice...

  2. Lots of interesting questions Penny. I look forward to seeing how you answer them!

  3. Yes, no idea how I'll answer them Eileen, lol!! Rob, I didn't know that about HCB and Hajek-Halke has some pretty scary images, not sure what to make of them. Never heard of automatic photography before either although I get what you're saying, but the consciousness photography I'm not quite with you on that one?!? I wondered whether with the advent of photoshop surrealism has lost its magic somehow as manipulation is so popular these days. I don't know whether other options are available.