I have been enjoying Townsend’s book Creative States of Mind – Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process (2019) and it is leading me to think about opening out my research, not only informed by philosophy but other social science approaches and disciplines. Apart from the subject matter, one of the other reasons I am finding this book so readable and enjoyable is that the chapters really are bite-sized chunks – usually about ten pages. For me, that is perfect, and allows me to skim the whole section before delving into it in more detail and starting to find relevance to my own thoughts and practice. This blog is about the second stage of developing an artistic body of work – Preparation, Research and Gestation.
Before starting to get to grips with this chapter I decided to remind myself of this gestation period in developing that ‘hunch’, that poorly formed but nonetheless exciting twinkle in the eye stage.
When I started my MA Photography, we were asked to submit a research proposal for the project that we would work towards throughout the course – producing work in progress portfolios at the end of each module. The original title for my work was The Road to Elgol based on a fifteen-mile, single track road from Broadford to Elgol on the Isle of Skye. My intention at the outset was to produce a body of work that was not a set of super-saturated images in the postcard vernacular but instead work that reflected my experience of the road – a phenomenological approach. My work on the road, or rather the preparation, research and gestation of the project had started in 2016 when I took this image – The Little House in the Cuillin:
although my love affair with the Island and this tiny part of it was borne in 2004 when I stayed in Elgol – under the shadow of the Cuillin – although they were not visible for most of the week!
My early work on the MA followed the pattern of this image – dark, monochrome work – alluding to the power of nature over man, and to a certain extent reflecting a need to relinquish some of the images in my head from my time as a police photographer, some thirty years ago. Whilst the project remained a personal journey it developed into a personal quest, a search for the ephemeral hiddenness of Skye. A wish to reveal and then capture the essence of the Island (one that most people never see) rather than produce literal and representational images.
Townsend begins the chapter by talking about the early stages of her project on Morecambe Bay:
“Initially, I had no idea how I might approach the subject beyond the fact that my usual media are video, photography and installation. I spent long periods of time traversing the coastline and finding positions or vantage points that seemed ‘right’. I could not necessarily say what was right about them.” (Townsend 2019:17).
I recognise this period of searching for that which feels right. I travelled the length of the road to Elgol many times and found myself being drawn to a few favoured locations and subjects:
Through this period, I became familiar with the changes in the seasons – for example, the seasonal life of the lone tree or the reeds on Loch Cill Chriosd.
The photographer, Susan Derges, talks about this period of searching as follows:
“The idea is never clear at the outset. I don’t begin with a totally clarified concept but more of an intuition of something that I’m trying to articulate. It is sensed; the territory of it is defined but not completely distinct.”
For me, this period continued throughout my MA, and even at the end of the taught modules my work was entitled Metaphors of my Mind. I loved this title for my work, but it was not really accurately describing what I was trying to achieve. This became clear as I focused on my Final Major Project and the Ephemeral Hiddenness of Skye was borne!
Now to finish the chapter and learn more about this part of the process. . .
TOWNSEND, Patricia. 2019. Creative States of Mind: Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process. Abingdon: Routledge.