Gohar Dashti – Dissonance

This exhibition was supposed to be part of this month’s Capture Photography Festival in Vancouver, but obviously due to the Covid-19 pandemic all these events have now been cancelled. Fortunately the West Vancouver Art Museum has put this exhibition online. I must say that I think they have done an excellent job with the online curation. The gallery is very small consisting of two rooms and an alcove, but I’ve always enjoyed visiting it as it has a very intimate feel about it. All the images are presented singularly online, then followed by the in situ photographs.

Dashti’s work will resonate with anyone who has been through an emigration/immigration process. An immigrant’s mental state of finding a new home, learning to fit in, what to take with you, how to get there and the obvious and unexpected hardships that accompany this whole process, whether as refugee or legal immigrant is a theme that runs through her work.

In the first room, Gohar Dashti’s series Home is displayed. The photographs are of derelict or abandoned houses that have been overrun with vegetation. The outside has invaded the inside. Is this the new norm in the absence of people? In the second room (Stateless) there is a subverted juxtaposition of people living in strange landscapes – hostile evidenced by a couple crouching behind a barrier of sandbags on which a birthday cake balances with its burning sparkler. Brightly coloured streamers decorate their foreground and are strung between trees in the background, but on the ground in front of them are mortar shells and a discarded hand grenade. This image connotes the statelessness of these people by placing them behind a barrier, between boundaries, hinting at the danger in front of them (their future perhaps?), but leave their past (the background) in a rather ambiguous state.

Today’s Life and War, 2008 by Gohar Dashti

The alcove contained prints of plants that have been uprooted and photographed in a botanical fashion in a studio. This series is called Uprooted.

Taken together, the works in this exhibition subvert the distinction between indoor and outdoor environments. Dashti’s transposition of home and wilderness into unexpected and uncertain places evokes the fragility of daily norms during wartime and migration. The walls and ceiling may crumble without warning, or home must be abandoned at a moment’s notice; and yet, life must go on.

West Vancouver Art Museum, 2020

Bibliography

Dashti, G. (2020) Dissonance | West Vancouver Art Museum. At: https://westvancouverartmuseum.ca/exhibitions/gohar-dashti-dissonance (Accessed  01/04/2020).

Stephen Gill

Stephen Gill’s work is varied and as my tutor states pushes the boundaries of documentary. The first two bodies of work I viewed were Pillar and Night Procession, where it appears that he has situated a stationary camera on a pole in an open field and one in a forest. The cameras captures the bird and animal night life respectively. Pillar reveals the bird activity happening in the area, sometimes with a rather comical effect. I rather liked these two series as there is definitely a documentary flavour happening in them. Gill’s Talking to Ants, though is something else entirely. It seems as if Gill has photographed through various kinds of surfaces – glass, perspex and so on, and in some cases has drawn, or scribbled over these surfaces. Perhaps the scribbles are supposed to convey the movement of an ant? I’m not sure. In some cases one can’t even see what the actual subject of the photograph is beyond the scribbles, but then again, perhaps the scribbles are the subjects. I really don’t know.

Do I like this work? I’m honestly not sure. Some of it is very intriguing, quite beautiful in some ways and clever. Other pieces just look plain weird to me. Would I classify the three images above as documentary? With the hindsight of having come to the end of the module, I think I would still hesitate to do that. I think the overlays and layers just add too much confusion. I find myself wondering more about the technique than the narrative.

Bibliography

Gill, S. (s.d.) Portfolio. At: http://www.stephengill.co.uk/portfolio/portfolio (Accessed  31/03/2020).

 

Edward Weston

Edward Weston’s work is all about form, shape and texture I think. My tutor recommended that I take a a look at his Point Lobos project and I’m having difficulty finding it all in one place. But the images that I have managed to come across all reflect a sharp focus, amazing clarity and tonal ranges in the B&W work. I have realised that B&W work relies heavily on texture and my A2 subjects did not have a lot of texture. Most of the surfaces I photographed were quite smooth. Also there wasn’t a huge contrast between the different shades of greens which also wouldn’t have translated well into B&W.

Keith Arnatt

I did a review on Keith Arnatt’s work in the Landscape module, where I looked at Arnatt’s A.O.N.B series which are black and white. For further context for my A2, I’ve looked at Arnatt’s Miss Grace’s Lane sample that is on his web site. These photographs are in colour and would not have the same impact if they were in B&W. What is it about rubbish that makes them prone towards visual vibrance? I think its those odd items – displaced or dumped – that cry out for attention in colour, where they would be totally lost if the work was in B&W. The photographs are in nodding reference to Samuel Palmer, taken in late afternoon light where the sunlight creates that dreamy effect on the landscape. This lends a rather romantic flavour to the landscape until one becomes aware of incongruous details like plastic watering cans and car tyres or plastic wrappers littering the scene.

Miss Grace’s Lane by Keith Arnatt

 

Bibliography

Arnatt, K. (1986) Keith Arnatt Estate | works | Miss Grace’s Lane 1986-87, colour photographs, selection. At: http://www.keitharnatt.com/works/w53.html (Accessed  31/03/2020).

Jim Mortram

Jim Mortram photographs people in his own small community, a market town of Dereham, Norfolk, focusing on the segment of the population that is socially excluded. His work is intimate, the black and white portraits stark with reality, but there is an element of trust in the photographs. The viewer definitely gets the impression that this photographer has spent time getting to know his subjects over a lengthy period of time. He goes back to his subjects, checking in on them regularly. While much of his work focuses on issues like disability, substance abuse, and self-harm, he respects his subjects and photographs them with a quiet dignity. Total contrast to how Jacob Riis photographed his marginalised society, where there is an overwhelming sense of intrusion in the people’s private lives.

The accompany text, or should I say stories, give in-depth, factual accounts of Mortram’s subjects daily lives and struggles. The text is also moving and quite intimate, which turn each series into a life story and not just a documentary. I think it would be so satisfying to be able to work on such long term projects as these.

Bibliography

Mortram, J. (s.d.) Small Town Inertia. At: https://smalltowninertia.co.uk/ (Accessed  31/03/2020).

Stelfox, D. (2014) ‘‘I photograph people who don’t have a voice’: Jim Mortram’s Norfolk portraits’ In: The Guardian 19/02/2014 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/feb/19/people-photograph-dont-have-voice-jim-mortram-norfolk-portraits (Accessed  31/03/2020).

Time Exposure and Snapshot: The Photograph as Paradox

Notes of a rather semiotic or probably more accurately linguistically flavoured journal article – rather heaving going.

Photography can be taken two ways:

  • as event – frozen gestalt, which doesn’t convey much of what is happening in real life. Event = abrupt artifact. Artifact = life outside continues, time flows by, captured object slips away. Example = press photo – freezes life that goes on outside. Instantaneous/snapshot. Snapshot = is theft/steals life. Shows unperformed movement -> refers to impossible posture. PARADOX = movement has already been performed, but in the image the movement is frozen. The paradox arises from the indexical nature of the photographic sign.
  • as picture – autonomous representation which can be framed and hung, which stops referring to event from which it was drawn. Picture = natural evidence/live witness. As live evidence = designates the death of the referent/accomplished past/suspension of time. Example = funerary (relating to funeral) portrait – it depicts a life that has ceased offstage. Time exposure.
  • Series
    • Superficial series -> generates photo as semiotic object (image-producing)
    • Referential series -> generates photo as physical sign (reality-produced)
    • See Eadweard Muybridge’s Galloping Horse as example
  • Paradox of unperformed movement and impossible posture = unresolved alternative. Reality is not made out of singular events, not gestalt. When photo freezes event in form of an image, problem is that that is not where the event occurs. Surface shows a gestalt and is disconnected from temporal context. Barthes calls this the “real unreality” of photography.
  • Time Exposure: any portrait is funerary in nature -> landmarks of the past. It reverses the paradox of the snapshot. Snapshot refers to fluency of time without conveying it, time exposure petrifies time of the referent & denotes it as departed. It liberates an autonomous and recurrent temporality – time of remembrance. Offers possibility of staging that life repetitively in memory.
  • Snapshot stole a life it could not return. Time exposure expresses a life it never received. Deals with imaginary life that is autonomous, discontinuous and reversible – life has no location other than the surface of the photo. Refers to death as the state of what has been.
  • De Duve compares the snapshot linguistically to the present tense – too early to see the event occurring, too late to see it happening in reality. Conversely he compares time exposure to the past tense as a sort of infinitive/empty form of potential tenses (I’m assuming that would be the conditional forms of a tense).

Photography produces a new category of space-time. For the snapshot = “here” and “formerly” and for time exposure “now” and “there”. “Here” = superficial series -> place -> surface of photographed event. “Formerly” = referential series -> past sequence of events. “Now” = superficial series as if it were time. “There” = referential series as if it were a place. The focal point a photographer chooses is the choice to fill the indexical sign – the “now” is an absolute value.

The author then delves into reading procedure, trauma, temporal pauses, travail, work of mourning, and other psychoanalytical aspects mentioned by Freud which I really struggled to understand. This kind of journal article needs a lot of readings before it can be understood properly, so I hate to admit this, but I’d rather be reading Martha Rosler!

 

Bibliography

de Duve, T. (1978) ‘Time Exposure and Snapshot: The Photograph as Paradox’ In: October 5 (Summer) pp.113–125.

Assignment Five – Returning to Coyote

This assignment, has evolved as a result of the research that I did for Assignment 3. During that research the dark, history of the Canadian Indian Residential Schools was unearthed and that history has been resting quite heavily on my heart. From the 1870s Canada embarked on a policy of ethnocide, taking control over Aboriginal land, introducing a “pass system” to confine First Nations people to their reserves, denying them the right to take part in the political, economic and social life of the country unless they forwent their cultural identity. Canada also separated the children from their parents, placing them in residential schools, in order to break their connection with their culture and identity.

“When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. … Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men”.

Sir John A. Macdonald, Prime Minister of Canada, 1883
(Canadiana Online, 1883:1107–1108)

This was all part of a policy to force assimilation with the dominant culture. The running of the residential schools was given over to religious groups: Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Methodist churches because Macdonald was of the opinion that ” … moral restraints of the clergy … are actuated by higher motives than any secular instructor can pretend to” (Canadiana Online, 1883:1107–1108). The last of these schools closed in 1996.

The children were collected from the reserves by the Indian agent, loaded onto cattle trucks or trains and transported over long distances to the various schools. Many of the children were as young as 4 years old. For the majority of the children, many had never seen such huge buildings before and these edifices created terrifying impressions on them. Upon arriving at the schools, they were stripped of their clothing, given threadbare, ill-fitting uniforms to wear, were deloused, and their hair was cut short, and finally they were issued with a number, which which they were known in some of the schools. The conditions in the schools were harsh. Children were forbidden to speak their own language and many had no knowledge of English at all. Boys and girls were separated, only to be seen across a dining hall. The food was sub-standard. Residential school survivor, Geraldine Schroeder describes a culinary treat at Easter being Corn Flakes and three jelly beans, burnt chocolate and sour milk (Jack, 2006). Children endured both physical and sexual abuse.

Because the residential schools were set in place in the 1870s, many generations were affected. The legacy of this system is that children grew up not learning how to empathize, or show love and this was passed down through the generations, creating mental health issues, as well as alcoholism and drug dependency. Generations have been living with intense anger and shame due to the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on them. First Nations languages are close to extinction, cultures and traditions almost destroyed. In 2008 the federal government formally apologised to the First Nations people.

With this background I have created a slide show, letting the survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School tell their story. I was asked during a recent student hangout from what critical distance was I approaching this assignment. After much consideration and watching many testimonies, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not approaching it from a Canadian perspective, nor am I approaching it from an immigrant’s perspective, but I’m approaching this from a mother’s perspective.

I have called this project Returning to Coyote. The coyote is a very important animal in First Nations culture. “He is who we are, he is probably our base. Our conception of the world is from Coyote and his legends and what he set out for the people to do and what he set out for himself to right wrongs of the Earth … he can be a healer or a fixer of issues and problems … he created a safe place for people to live in amongst the animals in a way that we can coincide together in a respectful way” (Meet Coyote, an Aboriginal ‘Legend’, 2015). I sincerely believe the path to healing and restoration for the First Nations people is through the return to their own culture and traditions.


ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

Demonstration of technical and visual skills: Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

This has been a very challenging assignment to do, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic. I have never done this kind of multimedia project before, and I didn’t particular relish the idea of trying to learn Adobe Premier either. I decided to explore PowerPoint’s capabilities and found that it would suffice for my purposes. A huge amount of tinkering and fine-tuning was required in working out timings, audio overlays, transitions and so on. The project evolved quite organically. The more research I did, the more my work was informed. As I mention below under Demonstration of Creativity, I used a variety of media, some my own, some from archives, some appropriated, but I do feel that the end result and the way that I have curated the pieces is my own voice and I’m really quite happy with the end result.

Quality of Outcome: Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, with discernment. Conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

I did a huge amount of research, reading and watching many heart-rending testimonies  of the Secwépemc First Nations people who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. I presented my WIPs to the following hangouts: Rest of the World hangout – 22/3/2020; Documentary hangout – 26/3/2020 and my comments are recorded on those blog postings. My ideas were well received and those commenting on the WIPs acknowledged that the project was moving, emotional and raised many questions among the viewers. I was extremely please to learn that.

Demonstration of Creativity: Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

This assignment has most definitely been so far outside my comfort zone. I feel I have taken quite a few risks with this assignment, using historical photographs, my archival photos, video footage, audio as well as my own photos that I managed to take before the pandemic lock-down kicked in. Working within the limitations of PowerPoint, I appropriated video footage by re-videoing (is that even a word?) archival videos and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Sharing Panels. My overriding consideration with this work was to approach it with sensitivity and I feel that I have done that. I mentioned during my self-evaluation for A3 that I was beginning to see and make connections with past work and I think this has become evident in this assignment. As a fellow student mentioned during a recent Documentary hangout, it seems that during my journey in the Documentary course, that I’ve previously taken the First Nations symbols, their voices and now brought it all together in this assignment. And I think he is right – there is a feeling of tying everything together with this assignment. Hopefully my personal voice is emerging a little more loudly now.

My initial plans can be seen on the the following posts:

Research related to this assignment:

Context: Reflection, research (evidenced in learning logs). Critical thinking (evidenced in critical review).

To contextualise my work, I looked at the work Jack LathamMarc Wilson as well as Christopher Malloy. I found it a little difficult to verbalise my thought process for this assignment while working on it, because it involved lots of fine-tuning. Determining timing for the slides, figuring out how to overlay audio over audio and video, as well as having two consecutive audio files on one slide. Much of the experimentation involved taping and retaping audio and video footage. Tweaking one thing, replaying the slide show, tweaking something else, replaying the slide show again. This would have been a painfully slow process to record.

I have taken part in the following hangouts:

Both my two regular hangout groups have decided to meet every two weeks now during the pandemic so we can continue to encourage each other.

My weekly check in posts can be seen at: https://lyndakuitphotographydocumentary.wordpress.com/category/learning-log/personal-reflections/

 

Bibliography

2008 Federal Apology to Residential School Survivors (2008) Directed by APTN News. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQjnbK6d3oQ (Accessed  25/03/2020).

Aerial view of Kamloops Indian Residential School | Google Earth (s.d.) At: https://earth.google.com/web/@50.67871172,-120.29675034,348.75196107a,474.30704227d,35y,12.51760648h,60t,0r (Accessed  24/03/2020).

An elder’s story: The truth about Residential school (2015) Directed by Castanet News. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAL5KSWFTNI (Accessed  15/01/2020).

BC Event BCNE107a Special Event Detail RBS Report | NRCTR (2013) Directed by TRC. At: https://nctr.ca/SCRIPTS/MWIMAIN.DLL/154549233/6/3/2364583?RECORD&DATABASE=DESC_ACC_VIEW (Accessed  12/03/2020).

BC Event MDBCNE101 Canoe Gathering Detail RBS Report | NRCTR (2013) Directed by TRC. At: https://nctr.ca/SCRIPTS/MWIMAIN.DLL/154549233/4/1/2364632?RECORD&DATABASE=DESC_ACC_VIEW (Accessed  12/03/2020).

BC Event SP153 Sharing Panel Detail RBS Report | NRCTR (s.d.) Directed by TRC. At: https://nctr.ca/SCRIPTS/MWIMAIN.DLL/444228095/1/6/2363948?RECORD&DATABASE=DESC_ACC_VIEW (Accessed  26/03/2020).

BC Teachers’ Federation (2015) Project of Heart | Illuminating the hidden history of Indian Residential schools in BC. Vancouver: (s.n.).

Canadiana Online (1883) Official report of the debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada : [Official reports of the debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada : first session, fifth Parliament … comprising the period from the twentieth day of April to the twenty-fifth day of May, 1883. At: https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_07186_1_2/369?r=0&s=3 (Accessed  27/03/2020).

Coyote (2020) In: Wikipedia. At: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Coyote&oldid=947254561 (Accessed  26/03/2020).

De Leeuw, S. (2007) ‘Intimate colonialisms: the material and experienced places of British Columbia’s residential schools’ In: The Canadian Geographer 51 (3) At: https://link-galegroup-com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A171295540/ITOF?sid=lms (Accessed  17/01/2020).

Indian Residential School, Kamloops, ca. 1937 (1937) Directed by Booth, A. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=AuO1KFSH6-4&feature=emb_logo (Accessed  21/03/2020).

IRSHDC : Archival Item : Photograph [10a-c000433-d0012-001] (s.d.) At: https://collections.irshdc.ubc.ca/index.php/Detail/objects/2167 (Accessed  09/03/2020).

IRSHDC : Archival Item : Photograph [10a-c000435-d0004-001] (s.d.) At: https://collections.irshdc.ubc.ca/index.php/Detail/objects/2182 (Accessed  09/03/2020).

Item B-01592 – Kamloops Museum photo; Kamloops Residential School (193AD) At: https://search-bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/kamloops-museum-photo-kamloops-residential-school (Accessed  21/12/2019).

Jack, A. (ed.) (2006) Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Penticton: Theytus Books.

Kamloops 1934 | Exhibition | Where Are The Children (1934) : Deschâtelet. At: http://wherearethechildren.ca/en/exhibition/ (Accessed  09/03/2020).

Meet Coyote, an Aboriginal ‘Legend’ (2015) Directed by Indigenous Tourism BC. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=PJ0_WEBnZgs (Accessed  26/03/2020).

Surviving the Kamloops Indian Residential School and the struggle for a settlement (2018) Directed by APTN News. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJ7qm6m973U (Accessed  12/01/2020).

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) The survivors speak: a report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (s.l.): (s.n.).

UNB Day 3 Healing Walk Welcome Song (2018) Directed by SAGACom Productions. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyORebjF8To (Accessed  19/03/2020).