Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Toast and fat chips in Leeds

I had expected a good deal from the weekend away in Leeds, the agenda had been well thought through I had thought, some exposure of personal work – which I always think is worth doing – visiting professionals, college tutors and the chance to talk with pears and colleagues who have, in the main, only appeared to us as avatars to date.

The first evening didn’t auger well, the planned trip for six to “Toast” turned into eight which I though wouldn’t be an issue as “Toast” boasted of it’s friendly atmosphere. However the number of decibels inside the “bistro” was only exceeded by the number of people trying to shout above the music system. We left and found another place, which was more conducive. Of course in earlier student days the former would have been chosen over the latter – but we didn’t have the luxury of time, there was an urgency about our purpose driven by time. The group seemed to gel very quickly, spontaneous conversations on the common topic were the norm’ and very unstilted, open, candid, fun and informative. Lots of laughter too, usually a good sign.

The first day started a bit slowly, Peter’s style seemed at first ponderous, but I was glad of it as it let me think about things more, stopped me racing ahead and it allowed the students to participate more.

Mischa Henner’s presentation was for me a revelation. To see and hear how he conceived his work and then implemented it was extremely enlightening. It would have been easy for him to have dwelt on the controversy he has attracted through his projects, but whilst he didn’t shy away from it he didn’t glory in it either. I was very moved by his work on the google street view work – how the randomness of the “capture” of the women on the streets seemed to draw narrative from me with such ease that I found it quite disconcerting; and I was amazed at the beauty of his portraits.  Henner’s attitude to appropriation was almost 180 degrees opposite to that provided by the OCA and Joe Fox. I’m not saying either is right or wrong. I will almost certainly still continue to request permission from artists before using their work, but I will reflect on Henner’s comments and process. It seemed at little sad though about how much effort has gone into the work and how his sales are so low… much to ponder.

Equally inspiring, though from a completely different perspective was Peter Rudge from Duckrabbit. Whilst Henner is finding a paucity of viewers for his work, Duckrabbit’s main currency is audience delivery. Photo videos and training on documentary projects are the stock by which Duckrabbit trades in. Apart from his infectious enthusiasm, which I am sure has meant a surge in sales of digital sound recorders; Rudge imparted a genuine passion for his work. The three videos he played were in equal measure moving, amusing, informative and enlightening. I am sure there will be some students planning some excursions into video, or at least photo video work on the back of this presentation, I have two projects in mind; one to compliment assignment five P&P and another, a more deeply personal project, as a precursor to documentary which I hope to start at level two shortly.

Work by Peter Dench at the White Cloth Gallery
The presentations on books was too short, whilst we had good discussions there was too little time to generate enough discussion around the various themes expounded in them. It was very useful to see the various styles and possibilities and I think Jesse did a good job to open up the possibilities of differing book styles and how they might work in different contexts, but the break out groups didn’t really have time to explore the themes in the texts we looked at.

The presentations, especially on Semiotics and major projects from the tutors were very valuable and again, I am sure Amazon’s book sales have notched a little subsequently. The “portfolio’ session which I felt had troubled most students before coming to Leeds was yet another area where the discussions were very valuable to, I think, all in the group. I think that exposing one’s work to peers and, in this case, tutors can only help the individual as much as the group.

Work by Simon Roberts at the White Cloth Gallery
Work by Zed Nelson at the White Cloth Gallery
An added bonus was a suggestion from Tim to have a look at the White Cloth Gallery - about 5 mins walk from the hotel, where there was work by Peter Dench, Zed Nelson and Simon Roberts - terrific!
Peter at the White Cloth Gallery
I left with many things rattling around in my head. It was very inspirational, the comments shared between the cadre subsequently have all been positive about new work, directions and motivations. I had a lot of expectations for the weekend and sometimes that can be a burden if they are not met. It did work for me on many levels. I now feel part of a community, I feel a camaraderie with those who were there, the shared experience that I feel I am likely to draw on in the coming months and maybe years.

Again I would like to thank Penny, Eileen, Peter, Jesse, Mark and the OCA for their hard work and dedication to making this happen and for also introducing me to what I can only assume is a local delicacy that of the fattest chips I have ever seen let alone tasted (now someone will tell they were in fact regular but shaped roast potatoes!). I would recommend that the OCA find a way to ensure that students organize this on a regular basis.


  1. Good summary John and it's good that you received such food for thought (and stomach). If you were delighted by Yorkshire chips you should try one of their puddings!


  2. I was brought up on Bedfordshire Clangers, now they are a real treat.