This week a tutor noted that I had made a ‘paradigm shift’ in my photographic work. My immediate feeling was one of excitement as if it was a positive accolade which was swiftly followed by thoughts of why, what, how and whatever it is others are seeing in my work, can I keep it up? It certainly is not related to the technical prowess in producing images that are not blurry in parts or whole, that conform to rules of thirds or Phi, that tell a story and feel contained within the frame etc. However, linking together recent comments in webinars from tutors and colleagues and family and friends there is something about my recent images that apparently ‘intrigues’ others and entices them to look for more than a few seconds seeking decoding and explaining as their eyes and brains run through algorithmic processes in deciphering what is in front of them. But what is a paradigm shift and is it inherently a good thing? Two defining explanations I found helped me to realise what I have been doing in the past few weeks.
“…a time when the usual and accepted way of doing or thinking about something changes completely.”
Wikipedia. Philosophical Investigations:
“Seeing that vs. seeing as
In addition to ambiguous sentences, Wittgenstein discussed figures that can be seen and understood in two different ways. Often one can see something in a straightforward way — seeing that it is a rabbit, perhaps. But, at other times, one notices a particular aspect — seeing it as something.”
“The duck-rabbit, made famous by Wittgenstein”
Subconsciously I have abandoned rules and experimented more freely than ever before with image production inspired by course activities and playful literature (Higgins 2013; Fulford and Halpern 2014; Antonini, Minniti et al. 2015). I think what I have been doing is moving from ‘seeing that’ (i.e. spotting and depicting rubbish on the beach which everyone quickly recognises) to ‘seeing as’, thereby becoming aware of other ways of considering what I am looking at.
ANTONINI, Marco, MINNITI, Sergio, GOMEZ, Francisco, LUNGARELLA, Gabriele and BENDANDI, Luca. 2015. Experimental Photography: A Handbook of Techniques. London: Thames & Hudson.
Cambridge Dictionary. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/paradigm-shift [accessed 12-08-2018].
FULFORD, Jason and HALPERN, Gregory (Eds.). 2014. The Photographer’s Playbook. New York: Aperture.
HIGGINS, Jackie. 2013. Why It Does Not Have To Be In Focus: Modern Photography Explained. London: Thames & Hudson.
Wikipedia. Philosophical Investigations. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_Investigations [accessed 12-08-2018].
Despite the publicity being late for the workshops (due to circumstances beyond my control) I had two enquiries about the second one. I contacted them and one person was available this week. Fortuitously the weather held and although we did not manage the lowest tide due to other commitments, it had just turned when we arrived. I like to catch the tide about an hour before its lowest point as what remains on the sea bed can be quite interesting just as the debris infested sea weed is on the highest point. However the purpose was not to pursue my project work about debris on beaches but rather how to take land and seascapes and ways of capturing small items such as nurdles on the beach. I tailored some of the images in the handout as well as the suggested competitions based on our pre-workshop chat and my knowledge of what the person was interested in; gardening and wildlife.
I prepared a what to bring and expect information sheet as well as a handout. The former was and the meeting arrangements were confirmed by email. On meeting we parked at the beach carpark and an expectations form was completed. This was used to have a discussion about what they hoped to get out of the session followed by a look at their camera and mobile phone and discussion about the controls. Reference was made to the handout, particularly the contents referring to exposure and composition. I should at this point out that on this occasion the participant is a friend who did genuinely want to advice on improving their image taking and had hardly used the phone to take photographs. They were interested in learning more about my project work as well. So in terms of getting to know someone and establishing honesty and trust between us before we set off for the beach….it was already present.
With people I have not met before I would be careful to find out more about them beforehand and have a longer introductory session before venturing down to the beach, particularly if working alone with a stranger in what can be a relatively isolated place depending on time of day. Thus thinking about potential risks as well as health and safety events is really important. We both carried water and I took a first aid kit in my bag the contents of which are displayed.
We agreed to cover one beach that is river estuary-side and then a linked second one facing the English channel. In all we spent 2.5 hours on the beaches, walking and talking about ways of photographing scenes and small items at our feet. I had taken a few things to experiment with; an empty photo frame, a crystal ball, tissue, tracing and ordinary paper and kitchen foil. I also took a very small set of three lenses for use with a mobile phone; wide angle, macro and fish eye. These were all enormously helpful and fun to play with as well as focussing our discussions about the use of light and composition, reflecting the contents of the handout I had made. We also had success with nurdle hunting while being watched with curiosity by all the holiday makers.
Sarah Newton From Landscapes to Nurdles Workshop, 2018
The session concluded with a coffee and cake at the location. I sent my images of them for their approval and this came with a completed feedback sheet and some of the images they had taken during the workshop.
“Did it meet your expectations?
Yes, it did – and more. Lots of hints for the camera settings, which was very helpful to me. Very interesting to learn about the rule of thirds – it makes you think much more before just clicking the button! Also, thinking outside the box – not just “pretty” pictures, but using items that are lying around.
What would you have liked less of?
I think the balance was just right, between theory and practice.
What would you like more of?
Again, I think it was well balanced – I particularly liked exploring the use of different lenses, as well as other objects to make a more interesting photo. Also, I haven’t used the camera on my phone very much, so this was a useful addition to the morning.”
I had not realised until I prepared the what to expect and handout sheets that I did know a fair bit and could talk to someone else about photography and my chosen project. This was reinforced during the workshop when I found myself spontaneously offering information and advice without reference to the handout. I still do not know enough to be able to answer very technical questions but this activity proved to me that I know enough to make a workshop interesting, informative and fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself as did my friend who communicated with me directly and on the feedback form.
Due to run on 5th August there were no attendees for a no camera workshop planned to include experience of pinhole camera work, making cyanotypes and scanning to make images. I advertised in the Parish magazine which was delayed at the printers so was only distributed a couple of days prior to the workshop which was also due to take place a day after the local garden and produce show (which many people were very involved with) and many others are on holiday.
However, I have had enquiries for the second one I advertised and hope that can go ahead in the next couple of weeks. Landscapes to Nurdles, ways of photographing while on a walk on the beach, relates directly to my project. I have obtained approval from the owners to take a small group out for this purpose.
Although a little disappointed at first I have used the time allocated to do my workshop myself! This has been invaluable in making sure with the leader hat on everything is organised and with the participant hat on I enjoy the experience. I did not talk out loud to myself but did think through conversations as both workshop leader and participant trying to anticipate what might arise.
Preparations included the advert, a what to expect sheet to give people beforehand and an illustrated technique booklet for people to use during the workshop and to take home. In addition I ordered chemicals and paper for the cyanotypes and a small wooden pinhole camera. I also made a pinhole camera from a wine box and one from a matchbox. The kitchen table was the work bench and the bathroom was darkened with a torch and red gel to make a dark room. Plastic trays were set out with the developer and fixer and water wash ready for the pinhole and cyanotype results.
I have benefited from this exercise in having ideas about smooth running of the workshop as well as having produced images for my own use as well as demonstration purposes when the workshop runs. I will consider running it during the recess after this module although if any interest is shown in the next few days I may run it before then.
Part 2 gives an account of my experiences.
Week 7 was about making ‘dummy’books
Starting with Shelfies and Pilibraries we took images of our own shelves and piles. I have both. The shelves tend to be associated with my profession and piles with the growing pile of photography publications including mine made Ed Ruscha style. I also showed how a book can be a shelf as one acts like a docking station ’tilt’ for my laptop! I think about this book and its contents everyday, good news for my learning as it is authored by the course director!
Selecting images relating to our projects was the next more substantial challenge. Going back through mine since the start of the course I initially looked at those I had submitted for Work in Progress assignments. I then went back through to pick up all those not included in the assignments but for which I had a memory and this would be their opportunity to be ‘shown’ too. With nearly 200 I was starting to get lost in the forest!
Moving them around on screen and draft prints outs on cheap paper they began to work into themes over time then groups or collections that crossed the time boundaries. I started to see a progression in my development with diversifications into sub-projects along the way.
Working under a time pressure as this was a task for the week I moved on to the third stage of putting them into a sequence, explaining how they were to be displayed in a publication and presenting a mock up on film. This part of the task was as frustrating if not more so than the overview and selection of images. I wanted more time to be able to get hold of low environmental impact and recycled materials with which to make a physical copy to film. I have come across photorag paper made from cotton, seaweed paper, rice paper, plant based papers and even paper made from stone. I have also seen notebook covers made from recycled plastic bottles and tyres.
For the purposes of the task I filmed me turning A4 pages on which draft quality images were printed (to save ink). Uploading did not work so I resorted to still images with a flick over effect using Camtasia.
This felt like a very busy week and I was not satisfied with my outcome. However, the review of images was enlightening and my interest in materials to use in a publication has grown and also been inspired by the creative productions of others on the course. Suggestions received from my course varied from including the range of images since the project began to focussing on recent images which are abstractions of beach debris and one that suggested several books! In addition, webinar discussions led to the offer of editorship by my tutor as I was too close to the subject matter and images to see the ‘intrigue’ and ‘Beauty’ (as in the project title Beauty and the Beach…) others were seeing and feeling about them. A week later her editorship made me realise the value of such a task as it is not always possible to predict how viewers will see and respond to your own images. I will take this lesson and her suggestions forward into my thinking and planning for an actual publication.
Twentysix Gasoline Stations. 1963. Ed Ruscha. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twentysix_Gasoline_Stations. accessed [04-06-2018]
Understanding what we are talking about is a small first step to addressing the concerns these tiny, potentially toxic pieces of plastic raise (they can be coated with chemicals). Nurdles are used in the production of plastic items and bio-beads (also known as Biological Aerated Flooded Filter Media BAFF) can be used in sewage treatment plants. Many find their way into our rivers and seas through spillages and in the past, discarding excesses that way. They are small enough to be thought of as food items by birds and marine animals and we now know they are in our food chain and to greater or lesser extents in ourselves, through eating these creatures. They will not disappear.
The Nurdle Free Oceans organisation is promoting awareness and campaigning to support the Clean up Our Seas campaign with particular emphasis on encouraging industrial organisations to prevent spills in to our water ways in the first place.
With growing awareness people are now becoming nurdle ‘hunters’ across the world identifying places where they have been found, in what concentrations and with what types of nurdle.
Why have I become a nurdle hunter? At a local beach clean a marine biologist working together with Surfers Against Sewage representatives explained what nurdles were, similar in size to bio-beads, and spoke about spills in South Devon rivers and sea. We were shown how to find them (and it took seconds to do so) by simply sweeping your fingers through a small patch of dry sand. I was staggered that so many, hardly bigger than a grain of sand and of different colours, some more worn than others, were found by a group of about a dozen people within minutes! It made me wonder how many people have used the beach like myself for many years and not realised the intruders were there. I understand that sources of bio-beads can be traced by virtue of their colour, as different manufacturers use different colourings, whereas nurdles are harder to trace back. I now visit the beach with a kitchen sieve and glass jar to, in a very small way, catch nurdles and bio-beads and later dispose of them carefully. I have no idea how deep down into the sand they go. I have also spoken to visiting family and friends and engaged them in hunting with me.
Clearly the pressure has to be on industries across the world and Operation Clean Sweep is the result of action being taken by the plastics industry themselves, supported by The British Plastics Federation and Plastics Europe.
I probably need to photograph them with a tape measure so that their size is apparent. Here are some I collected recently, the green top in the second image being a Smartie top I found on the beach. Hopefully knowing that gives an impression of size. I appear to have collected a mix of nurdles and bio-beads as well as a little bit of twig. I wonder if a catchy song could be composed to inform people of different ages and kick start their individual hunting activity and encourage their support for industries who are actively taking positive action to stem the flows into our waterways and oceans. After all if we want to keep buying and using items with any plastic components and we want our sewage treated we need to get behind them
BBC. 2017. Plastic ‘nurdles’ found littering UK beaches. BBC News. 17 February 2017. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39001011. accessed 23-06-2018
British Plastics Federation. Operation Clean Sweep. Available at: http://www.bpf.co.uk/Sustainability/Operation_Clean_Sweep.aspx. accessed 01-08-2018
Nurdle Free Oceans; reducing plastic pollution in our seas. Available at: https://www.nurdlehunt.org.uk/whats-the-problem.html accessed 01-08-2018
South West Water. Nurdles and bio-beads. Available at: https://www.southwestwater.co.uk/environment/rivers-and-bathing-waters/nurdles-and-bio-beads/ accessed 01-08-2018
Timing could not have been more perfect. Having diversified and seemingly reached another level or dimension (as my black images suggest to people) I have been thinking about images for the impending Work in Progress Portfolio. Encouraged by my tutor and colleagues I am veering towards a WIP comprising many images originating from scans. I took my concern as to whether this would be acceptable to my module leader in case this was a path I should not tread being without a camera in sight. This is after all a photography course which implies camera use.
Justification through explanation seems to be the key. Photography is the art of capturing light, a camera is a mechanical means to do this. The effects of light can also be caught using other means including using light sensitive paper as with cyanotypes and pinhole devices and importantly, in relation to my query, a scanner. Once imported into the digital darkroom processing can take place regardless of how the image was captured.
Laura Nissinen is completing a PhD thesis ‘Abstraction in Finnish Art Photography’ and staged an exhibition ‘Aleatory Variable at Galleria Huuto from 27 March -13 April 2014 and curated ‘1917-2017 Abstract! 100 years of Abstract Photography’ at the Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki 1st November 2017 to 14th January 2018. This latter exhibition influenced Shape of Light 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at the Tate Modern, London, which I visited on 18th May 2018. She is inspired by the works of Jean-Luc Nancy, Laila Pullinen and Lucio Fontana.
Scanning is a feature of Laura’s methodology and has been used to produce results from water damaged negative, burned black and white film and film developed in artist’s urine (paying homage to Andy Warhol and friends urinating on paintings using copper paint). In addition to speaking about her work, Laura spoke about stages in the development of Abstract work referencing key artists, their styles and methods of production.
Informative, insightful, inspirational and affirming of the direction I have been moving in, my question has been answered. Thank you Laura Nissinen.
Fontana, Lucio. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/lucio-fontana-1102. accessed 30-07-2018
Fontana, Lucio. Available at: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/lucio-fontana. accessed 30-07-2018
Nancy, Jean-Luc. Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/nancy/#H7. accessed 30-07-2018
Laura Nissinen. Photography exhibition Aleatory Variable. Galleria Huuto Jätkäsaari 1. 27 March – 13 April 2014. Available at: http://www.galleriahuuto.net/?p=10487&lang=en. accessed 24-07-2018
Nissinen, L, Aleatory Variable, 2014, Exhibition.
Pullinen, Laila. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laila_Pullinen. accessed 30-07-2018
Pullinen, Laila. Available at: https://nissbacka.com/laila-pullinen/. accessed 30-07-2018
Warhol, Andy. 1978. Oxidation Painting (in 12 parts). The Warhol. Available at: https://www.warhol.org/lessons/oxidations-and-abstraction/. accessed 30-07-2018
Warhol, Andy. 1978. Oxidation Painting. Saatchi Gallery. Available at: https://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/andy_warhol_20.htm. accessed 30-07-2018