Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Become a collector

Hello, and welcome to the AAD Photography blog, hopefully to become a nice little hive of activity where you can hear about all the happenings in our neck of the woods. I'm tossing my hat into the ring to write something tonight, and hopefully you'll humour my procrastination. I've got a paper due in a week so I've been switching between haphazardly baking and staring at a blank Word document for much of the day.

My advice, for all artists, is to become a collector. Collect photographs, collect books, collect people, collect art, collect music, collect skills, collect experiences, collect your friends, collect the things that you love and that feel like they love you back. Whether you like it or not you're influenced by what you surround yourself with, and you wont be able to help it coming out in your work. You only get out what you put in, so put in wonderful things. You're holding these things up and seeing if they're you, if they reinforce and help you define what you are doing, why you're doing it. It can help if they're not related to your practice - even artists need hobbies. The problem is the hobbies that artists take up risk being used to furnish art, being used up, and then you're stuck taking up flower pressing and giving up Indian cooking because every Dahl you make reminds you of that exhibition you did of photographs of all those Dahls you made.

I've been participating in print exchanges for a few years now and I now have, at last estimate, around 250 prints from people around the world. Some are postcard prints, torn at the edges with stamps on the back (I am dangerously close to collecting stamps), some are platinum prints, gorgeous hand-crafted fibre prints with a hint of warmth from selenium, Lith prints, Kallitypes, or just C-type prints. But, regardless of the medium or how technically perfect, they're all photographs, they're all bits of other peoples little collections of reality and little bits of them that they're sharing with you. Some are painfully beautiful, some are mediocre, some are pictures of peoples cats, some are pictures of Yosemite National Park, but they're all little conversations.

One of my favourites is a small 6x4" colour print made at a minilab somewhere in Spain that I got as part of a postcard exchange. It came to me in an envelope stuck down with glue to a piece of pink card, with the details of the image written on the back in thick red marker, "Parents' room. Agfa Portrait 160. Homebrew C-41. Homemade SW Pinhole Camera". There's a rocking chair in the centre of the image with a coat hung on the back, a portrait of Jesus hung above the television that the chair faces, and in the background, doused in light from the window and overexposed, is their bed with a thick wooden crucifix hung above it, dominating the whole room. I've never spoken to the photographer, I don't know if his parents are alive or dead. I've had the photo on my desk ever since I got it last year. I only just noticed that there's a lump under the blanket, as if somebody is in the bed. After hundreds of prints its still one of my favourites, and it reminds me that I actually do love photography with a strange passion that my girlfriend no doubt finds concerning.

I collect postcards too, and paperback novels if I can get them for cheap enough. My list of books to buy is 322 entries long. Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams changed how I get on with the universe, and helped me define my practice as well as myself.

If you're a photographer you're already a collector, you're just collecting bits of the world and internalising it.
Folders of negatives and harddrives full of still frames all add up to the same thing - you're building yourself. One of my favourite ways of explaining and justifying this habit came in the closing paragraph of an essay I read last year, written by John Berger, "Every photograph is in fact a means of testing, confirming and constructing a total view of reality." (from "Understanding a Photograph").
Berger was talking about ideological struggle and truth in photography, but it's just as applicable to our own practice. When you go out to take photos you're not just looking at the world, you're destroying it and constructing it anew for yourself.

This is good advice for anyone, but especially for artists: exist actively, remain restless.

[Alex Bishop-Thorpe is a senior photography student at AAD]


Hello and welcome to the UniSA Art, Architecture & Design Photography blog. With time we hope this blog becomes a wealth of information and inspiration within the world of photographic art.

As World Pinhole Day falls this week, I thought it fitting to start the blog with a pinhole photo.

Mt Crawford 2011, pinhole on 4x5 film, 125 iso 4minute exposure, S.Wilson.