Research, Reading, and Contemplation…

Continuing from my previous blog I’ve spent the last two days searching for artists and photographers who incorporates decay into their work as well as reading the articles given to me by Leah on materiality. Below I’ve produced a summary of my findings:

Sam Taylor-Wood

Photographer, artist, director and film maker Sam Taylor-Wood is well known within the art world. Aware of her and her work, during my crit Leah insisted that I looked into her short film “Still Life” (2001) due to its themes of decay. To see whether it can be of any use helping me realise my own intentions and meaning, I set to work sourcing any information I could about the visual art piece. What I instantly discovered was Taylor-Wood emerged in the 90’s where much of her work at the time revolved around the key themes of decay, madness, and death. Which can be seen in a number of her works such as “Method In Madness”, “Hysteria”, and “Breach.” Her work “Still Life” for instance focuses heavily on decay and death as you slowly watch a bowl of fruit wither and rot before the camera while a plastic pen accompanies. What took me about this work was the fact that no meaning is offered by the artist, it is left open to interpretation. Due to the openness nature of the piece, obvious interpretations in this case are of death and memento mori. Her themes are personal to her due to a difficult childhood and multiple struggles with cancer, unfortunately “Still Life” isn’t as broad or helpful as I at first thought it might be.

“Actual Art”

While researching for other photographers and artists I came across the term “Actual Art”, at the time I had no idea what it meant until I started to read into it. Surprisingly to me it actually dealt with some key themes which were closely related to my own work. The term Actualism was coined as Realism was already in use to describe another famous genre. Time, nature and the motives of the artist are at the heart of this movement and they look at themes of decay, deterioration and destruction but they all fall under the banner of ‘Change’. I find this really inspiring as their is an actual movement which seems on the surface very recent in comparison to more prolific and famous movements. Whilst researching “Actual Art” I came across some of the artists who incorporate this idea of ‘change’ into their work. Interestingly enough not many photographers are involved if any! Below is a list as well as a couple of quotes from Art Critics, Editors and the Artists themselves which stand out and inspire me, as well as offering possible aide in when forging my own meanings in relation to decay. I thought this was important as I also wanted to move away from the obvious meanings of decay such as death and isolation.

“Actual Art”

“The work will last forever, as long as you understand it changes.”

-Tery Fugate-Wilcox

“the self-conscious enlistment of the forces of nature, by artists, toward the completion of their art”

-Alfred Frankenstein

“The artists consider the future of the work to be as important as its present, relinquishing control over the work to nature.”

-Alfred Frankenstein

Nathan Slate Joseph

“Empower nature by allowing it to have a hand in the making of his art.”

Kathy Kelley

“I am drawn to the symbolic and formal elements of decay, the way in which an object has been altered by its mere existence. The worn, broken, torn nature of the aged object seems to make it more real, more honest.”

Joseph Beuys

“Chaos and the potential for spiritual transcendence”.

Zhang Xiaotao

“I am creating something that is disappointing and yet has great hopes – a cycle of positive and negative energy that is in a constant state of renewal,”


“The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by Walter Benjamin.

When reading Walter Benjamin’s “The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” I felt for I was on the fringes of understanding. Benjamin discusses in detail the concept of authenticity, the existence of art, and most importantly the aura which embodies the art.

Whilst covering the history of painting, architecture, print making, photography, and a film making I was left confused in a wake of information as I tried to piece together from Benjamin’s incessant ramblings how mechanical reproduction and the aura fit within my project (Ok I admit it wasn’t incessant rambling but it sure did feel like it at times).

However in the end I did take some important points from the text, which has left me thinking in relation to my own work such as:

When Benjamin mentions the aura for the first time and comments upon its uniqueness,

“…were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura.”

Its closeness,

“True to its nature, it remains distant, however close it may be”

In relation to photography and the negative,

“To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduction becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints, to ask for the ‘authentic’ print makes no sense.”


“For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty.”

These four quotes I feel really help me understand or question the aura and the ways it coincides with what I’m doing. I have witnessed this uniqueness and closeness before in painting as well as photography especially photography when you try to stare past the surface of the image, to look beyond the subject. Yet you are forever met by the gloss shine of the print or the inevitable pixels upon the screen. When questioning the authentic print, and the fleeting expression in a portrait it makes me think of the meaning and reasons behind me flypostering my images. In the end by reading the text it has made me question my actions and made me think more deeply why am I doing it.

“Photography’s New Materiality?” by Harriet Riches, Sandra Plummer and Duncan Wooldridge

What I liked about this article was how it explained the ideas of materiality in detail whilst quoting and giving examples of photographers whose work dealt with materiality. What stood out to me was the quote “The materialist turn in contemporary practice is one that seeks to both look back to analogue processes and go beyond those limitations.” I found it rather inspiring as my work relates to the materialist ideals however at the same time challenges them as I still incorporate digital into my work. Although digital goes against everything that these artist and photographs stand for. I feel I create an aura to my portraiture when I flyposter my image. It becomes an object and holds a certain uniqueness. Reading “Photography’s New Materiality?” has made me realise there is a stronger and more imminent undercurrent to my work that I do wish to explore in more detail.

“Analogue” by Tacita Dean

A recent fan of Tacita Dean and her work since I saw her film installation “Film” at the turbine hall in the Tate Modern. I knew “Analogue” was going to be an interesting read due to ways she heavily features and uses film in her work. Breaking down the definition  of “Analogue” as well as digital Dean makes a series of points of how “…we are losing…vast immensity of treasure and yet we are choosing not to replace it properly.” Finishing rather poetically “Then the paper finished its cycle and the film and the light were restored.” You can see and understand why Tacita Dean made her installation for the turbine hall as in the end she is trying to raise awareness for film based photography / film before it eventually dies out, “it takes a generation to forgot.”

“Analogue” by Tot Taylor

Tot Taylor’s article “Analogue” was an interesting read which looked at both the analogue of photography (film, darkrooms) and music (records, tape). Although it didn’t offer anything remotely contextual for my project it was an enjoyable read that raised some interesting points in the digital world we now live in and the fading analogue world we are swiftly leaving behind. Also aware of the photographer Richard Nicholson and his darkroom series of photographs the article did help me grasp and get a better idea of what is meant by “Analogue” for myself and by others.

The artists, photographers, and writers I’ve written about have all helped me in individual ways by making me look differently, question my own intentions, and understand new theories, themes, and movements I am now more confident and have a strong grasp on the message I’m trying to portray. During this weeks crit Leah looked through my statement of intent that I wrote at the start of the six weeks and felt I should change it by bringing it up to date with my new themes of materiality and “actual art.” This will then give me more leeway, movability for my FMP and will give me a more stronger foundation to work upon and towards my goals. Stay tuned!


~ by stuartmatthewsphotography on November 8, 2012.

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