Category Archives: Body of Work

Mark Dion – Cabinets of Curiosity

An artist i realise I haven’t written up, who provided me with lots o food for thought is Mark Dion. His blend of archaeology and art chimes with my interests and perhaps questions some of the assumptions we all make about the objectivity of science in general and archaeology in particular.

Some of his works make use of Cabinets of Curosity – a venerable tradition from antiquarian collections of old, where objects are collected together in an almost random manner, leaving the viewer to make the associations for themselves.

One of the challenges I faced in pulling together my final submissions was how to address this idea visually in an image.



Three prints with the concept of layering in mind. I’ve gone for digital layering, with a drop shadow to emphasise the layer effect, because the cut and stick version was frankly a bit too amateur feeling. In an ideal world i’d like these hung as a triptych – but I doubt that’s feasible at assessment so I need to find some appropriate weights and suggest they be laid flat side by side. They are printed at a meter tall.








For the record the middle version differs slightly from the version submitted for my final assignment in which the B&Q logo was rather to evident in the top right.

More about accidents

A previous post on this blog addressed the idea of accidents in art, and their contribution to artwork. In the light of the experience of this course I thought it worth some further reflection, not least because my initial response to the question in the course notes concentrated almost exclusively on the visual artwork itself. Experience suggests that accidents can be influential in many ways.

First up – the impact of the quilt artist Ester Bornemisza…there are precious few opportunities to see international quality artists in Cumbria, and it is a matter of luck that my interest in fabric artists coincided with a quilting exhibition nearby. Her work has played a significant part in working out how to display/manage my response to the industrial sites I’ve been investigating.

Second…an assessor on one of my early courses noted something to the effect that my work was strongest when I focused on my research strengths. Precisely what persuaded them to make this comment I cannot say, but as a consequence I have always read and researched widely – not just photography but also the subjects that interest me. Without those comments, and without the ensuing research I would have missed artists like Conrad Atkinson, and his use of words in images associated with his native west Cumbria, and Mark Dion’s Archaeology, with its art/science cross-over and use of cabinets of curiosity.

i would also have missed a fascinating essay by John Ruskin on the noble nature of rust, and work by Henry Bessemer on his process for making steel, text from which I have been able to use in my final book.

Thirdly, you should always remain open to the random chances that turn up. I’m interested in the natural world and on a trip to Yellowstone in 2015 I bought a book about wolves which contains the following passage:

What have we seen here? Tracks in the snow. Hieroglyphs of struggle. Tufts of hair. Crystals of blood. What is the nature of the beast that left them? What is the nature of the world inhabited by such a beast? What’s going on here?

This is such an obvious metaphor for the feelings I get on old industrial sites that it was inevitable I should incorporate it in my finished work.

An even more extreme example is this picture by Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela which  I saw by chance in the Ateneum in Helsinki.

it portrays the death of a young girl, Aino, in a scene taken from the Finnish epic poem the Kalevala. It has absolutely nothing to do with iron manufacture, or photography….except that it persuaded me to download the poem on my Kindle…and the 9th chapter covers the genesis of iron and steel…in this case as a result of the weeping breasts of three godesses!

i didn’t discover it until after I had submitted my 5th assignment, but the passages from the poem are sufficiently relevant that i have slightly re-jigged my planned book to incorporate some excerpts.

I guess the lesson from all this is that lucky accidents are, by their very nature, unpredictable, but that if you put in the effort you can increase the chances of the accident.


Physical layering – the end result

So..following my previous post – here’s the result of my physical layering experiment. This image is included as part of my Assignment 4 submission.

It is difficult to see from this image but the quality is rather reminiscent of a school art project. I either have to improve the quality or accept that some sort of digital layering is the way to go.

Post script – 13 Jan 18

My observation that these were rather reminiscent of a school art project were rather prescient – it is now curled and rather sad. Fortunately I have three rather more professional prints in the same vein prepared for assessment.

Experiments (i)

At my tutors suggestion I’ve started to experiment with presenting my images. Luckily he understood my fascination with the layers of history beneath my feet and didn’t appear to think that i was barking mad talking about quilts and photography in the same breath.

An obvious starting point for experiments with layers is Photoshop and as a first pass I’ve come up with this image:

To be honest I swing backwards and forwards on this. Does it say what I want? Maybe that’s a clue. I was quite pleased to start with but worry it may be a bit hackneyed. If anyone reads this I’d be happy for feedback either way.

I’m also working on some physical layering – these aren’t that hot as images go but they show the preps for a large image which I’m preparing using a variety of overlays and inserts










Kelham Island Museum

After a couple of years of trying I have eventually got to Sheffield’s Kelham island Museum, a location I first read about in an essay by Richard Hamblyn in  Jem Southam’s Clouds Descending.

It’s primary aim is to commemorate/celebrate the industry that made Sheffield great, so it is somewhat ironic that it is now the final resting place for Workington’s last Bessemer Converter.

Workington Converter No1

This, or an image like it certainly has a place in my final output, working out how is the challenge.

As well as the converter it has a rather eclectic mix of paintings, documents and artefacts focussed around steel, its manufacture and its uses.

The Wealth of England, the Bessemer Process of Making Steel: William Holt Yates Titcomb (1858–1930): Kelham Island Museum

I’ve included this painting as a sort of counterpoint to Atkinson’s painting which I referred to in an earlier post