Ode to Ironing Review

Ut pictura poesis (“As is painting, so is poetry,” Horace, Ars Poetica)

The final image I chose for this exercise is a digital photograph showing three grey pebbles on a grey marble background, with pink wool laid across the stones. Two of the pebbles are relatively flat and smooth the third has more of a texture and is egg shaped. The pebbles were found some years ago and the marble is a manufactured floor tile.

Having chosen this poem it was initially difficult to move away from thinking literally – images of waves crashing, hands spread out, and bolts of cloth or even an ironing board. In a sense it was as if my mind needed to clear these ideas out before I could move on to a deeper level of reflection.

As mentioned in a previous post I then started to brainstorm my responses to the poem and read different analyses of it online. This began to conjure up a focus on texture, connections, interdependencies, the nature of the world we are living in and the challenges we face. I was particularly struck by the last line ‘chastity returns out of the foam’, as if somehow the balance in the system could or would be restored. It felt like I was moving into a more metaphorical and connotative frame for the image I wanted to create.

This led me to thinking about textures and I knew I wanted to develop something that highlighted the notion of connection, but that this connection was not formal or organised, it was soft, gentle and fragile. I started to look for a range of objects that might work, which was when I came across the pebbles. This led me to thinking about contrasting the signs of the natural stones with more overtly man made materials, also exploring textures and surfaces.

As with assignment one I also went on to experiment with different filters and techniques.

This was a table top image shot in natural light with the use of one white reflector.

The image is intended to be interpretative rather than illustrative and is built on the themes I took from Neruda’s poem. Looking in depth at the poem:

• It starts by talking about the purity of poetry
• I took the reference to ‘wrinkles and gathers’ as the impacts humankind is having on the earth
• Ironing signifies the desire to smooth things out, perhaps to move towards a more peaceful and balance ecology
• “…and out of light a dove is born: chastity returns from the foam.” This final section speaks to me of optimism, out of our struggles some form of healing peace is achieved

These interpretations led me to a focus on natural and man-made materials and how they might be linked. The stones are natural yet shaped by their previous environments, they have a history, two smooth and one pitted. The soft but vibrantly pink wool wraps and weaves between them, perhaps suggesting a confusion of both the man-made and the natural. It sits gently on and around the stones – a signifier of bonds or perhaps trickling water. I have deliberately left the colours muted other than the wool and placed the stones in relation to each other to show different textures and volumes, some degree of shadow is used to emphasise their qualities as objects but I wanted to keep the overall effect quite soft.

The intention is to leave the viewer with questions and the space to create their own interpretations.

When I showed the image to an archaeologist friend she came up with a new interpretation and spoke of how large, flat, heated stones were once used for smoothing cloth, a precursor to ironing as we know it, this was a symbolism I was not aware of but delighted to discover!

Evaluation & synthesis
This was an interesting exercise in a semiotic sense because it was taking one ‘text’, the poem, and creating a new text in a different form in response to it. I was making a personal translation of what was signified by the poem and creating a new set of signifiers in response. I cannot say what Neruda meant to signify by the poem but for me the image was intending to signify – connections, the natural world, and fragile relationships.

Overall, I was pleased with the final result, if I were to change anything technically it might be to change the depth of field, to bring more of the pebbles into focus. Otherwise, I hope at least some of the intended meanings are clearly communicated.

Nikon D600: FL – 70mm, 1/500s, f/4.5. ISO – 400.

Further analysis of Windows

Photography students’ critical analysis of their own images traditionally occurs in written self-evaluations and ‘critiques’ where their photographs are viewed and discussed. Analysis is thus often understood to be a physically remote conceptual process that takes place in the realm of language, beyond the doing of photography.

Autographic Photographic, University of Brighton

Following my tutor’s feedback from assignment one I have been researching different approaches to evaluating and critiquing my own work, and the work of others. I have found a range of useful resources from using Bloom’s Taxonomy (familiar to me through my professional work) to semiotics. These all seemed helpful in different ways for creating a written analysis but while they were useful in developing an intellectual and conceptual response they felt lacking in some inexplicable way.

I then found Autographic Photographic and for me the elements I felt were missing emerged. This gave me a more embodied approach that involved working directly on and in the image, it also slowed down the process encouraging me to look and work deeper than I might have before. I used a number of techniques: Linear/Vector drawing (based on Whiteread laboured reflection), reproduction through physical copying/drawing, and different Photoshop filters (edges & mezzotint). Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to some of the printmaking methods suggested but felt the approaches I used gave me a similar sense of physically being in dialogue with an image.

I chose to work on the window image because I think it was one of the more problematic shots of the hospital set for assignment one, yet it also had something that kept drawing me back to it. It felt like it had more to offer that I hadn’t quite captured – Cotton’s notion of being an ‘itchy/scratchy’ image.

I had included it in the initial set because for me the windows signified something about ‘windows on the soul’, a metaphorical link to mental health and how it might be represented. I was struck by their reflective nature that meant you couldn’t actually see through the windows but could only imagine what might lie on the other side.

The mark making in particular highlighted the compositional deficiencies, it showed how central the window and its shadows were and an overall grid like, structure, which was less than interesting. Completing the linear/vector drawing was actually quite depressing as I really started to see the deficiencies and blandness of the image. I think it also reinforced my own sense of not being a natural street photographer. While I did take a considerable number of images for this assignment I know I took many of them quickly, such was my discomfort in being in other peoples’ spaces. It felt intrusive and I felt like an intruder.

Where I thought the shadows in the window were enough to create interest I could see that it was not enough to hold the image together compositionally. In looking at it more deeply in many ways it was obvious this was the case but in the heat of preparing for the assignment I hadn’t recognised it. This has shown me something about the need to slow down and live with the images over time, to work into them and explore their form and content further. In many ways the core of the image emerged as the reflections of the chapel in the window and all that signified in terms of the history and narrative of Brookwood Hospital. (Image: Window shadows)

Close up of reflections of a church in a window at an angle

Window shadows


University of Brighton (2012), ‘Autographic Photographic: developing critical analysis through slow doing and embodied thinking’. Issue 16 [accessed: 4th May 2015] http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/projects/networks/issue-16-january-2012/autographic-photographic-developing-critical-analysis-through-slow-doing-and-embodied-thinking

Cotton, C The Itchy Scratchy Exhibition http://www.permanentgallery.com/wp/?page_id=171

Whiteread, R (2010) ‘The process of drawing is like writing a diary: it’s a nice way of thinking about time passing’ [accessed: 4th May 2015]

Ode to Ironing

Ode_IroningPoetry is white:
it comes from water swathed in drops,
it wrinkles and gathers,
this planet’s skin has to spread out,
the sea’s whiteness has to be ironed out,
and the hands keep moving,
the sacred surfaces get smoothed,
and things are done this way:
the hands make the world every day,
fire conjoins with steel,
linen, canvas, and cotton arrive
from the scuffles in the laundries,
and from light a dove is born:
chastity returns out of the foam.

Pablo Neruda