Peer Feedback: Portfolio Review with the Photographers’ Gallery

Review with Head of Exhibitions at The Photographers’ Gallery : Clare Grafik.

I submitted six images from each of my three main areas:

Cyanotypes

Pesticides

Surimono

Clare started by complimenting the ‘tight edits’ of the series, asking if this had been part of my course. I said that there had been a session on editing and sequencing so it was good to be reassured on this.

She asked how I saw the work being disseminated and I talked about the article in Plants, People, Planet; also that we were considering a book for the Surimono series.

For the Surimono series she asked about working relationships with the poet. She described the series as ‘portraits of plants’and that it ‘invests the plants with a significance’. We discussed the interaction, the ‘cross-pollination’ of photograph and poem.

We discussed the font used in the text – she thought it scientific saying it was the sort of font they would use in the gallery for titles and labels of exhibitions. She asked if we had considered using different fonts or even handwritten lines. I said that I had tried fonts that mimicked Japanese texts but that these detracted from the poem. We discussed the possibility of handwritten or even calligraphic text but again concluded that these could also detract from the poem – drawing attention to the font or writing as opposed to the words of the poem. We concluded that the font used was probably best for the series.

She said that the graphic use of the poem was interesting and written as a scientific introduction; that this ‘avoids the traps of poem or photo dominating’. 

She thought that a display of the work would go well in a botanical setting ‘It’s got a very nice feel to it’ and that it would make ‘a wonderful public presentation’ as it is ‘both scientific and artistic’.

She described the Pesticide series as ‘really good work’ and that the Cyanotypes were ‘very rich and visually interesting’.

She thought that the Pesticides and Surimono perhaps has a greater ability to show ‘how photography can raise awareness’. Though they were possibly less resolved than the Cyanotypes, there were ‘lots of potential pathways they could go down’.

The final comment was that they were all ‘a very good series’.


It was reassuring to know that they were received well and that she considered there was scope for development. The discussion concerning the font used in the Surimono series was really useful as we explored some very different alternatives – the fact that we both concluded that the font used was the best in the circumstances was reassuring.

The comment that the Surimono series would look good in a botanical setting was veryinteresting and one to explore. 

 

Peer Feedback from Surimono Article

As part of the process for acceptance of the article on Surimono that I co-authored (Coe, Lee & Osbourn 2021), the draft article was sent for peer review. The comments from the reviewers are given below. Obviously many of the comments relate to the article as a whole, but there a number of comments relevant to the surimono images.

Referee: 1

Comments to the Author
I found this article very interesting. I adopted use of haiku on fieldwork to explore forest environments with students – at first sceptical (another staff member had added the exercise to my own larger field project) I found it very effective way to engage students – this leads to my only real issue with your paper – I would like to see something added  in terms of both reaction (viewer’s if any record exists) to the works discussed, and second how this approach might be used to further work to deal with plant blindness in society. This is rather side stepped in the Social Impact Statement and not discussed in the discussion. I hope this article will prompt more collaborations like this and perhaps inform teaching and community engagement projects – love to see some poems and photos based on plants on derelict sites in towns and cities for example!

Referee: 2

Comments to the Author
Thank you for offering this short report which I was asked to ‘re-view’. Frankly, and I do not mean this in a negative way – there is not much to review here – really – other, perhaps than to check if it is scholarly and attractive in terms of the writing, whether it fits the journal’s interest and whether offers a novel insight. The short piece meets all those requirements. There is no methodology or research to review, and the standard review form/questions to respond to do not really apply here.. But, I enjoyed reading the piece because it introduced me to something fascinating that I was unaware of: surimono and photopoetry as a basis for a collaboration on plant photography and poetry, and its wider implications for visualisation and interpretation of the world around us. It is a concise report with lovely illustrations and key references that interested readers can explore further. Perhaps my only comment would be that, while the societal implications are described early on, I would have like to hear more in regard to:

“This contemporary adaptation of the surimono form clearly has the potential for fostering and fuelling imaginations about relations between plants and people”

Perhaps some insight can be shed on how this potential can be developed, in what (education?) contexts and how?


I obtained feedback from fellow students, from the poet George Szirtes and from Chrys Salt who is Artistic Director of The Bakehouse arts venue. These comments were edited and included within the revised article in a section titled ‘Commentary and Feedback’. The comments were generally complimentary around the quality of both image and poem and how well the two worked together, summed up by Chrys Salt who described the cards we produced as “astonishingly beautiful; an imaginative blend of word and picture”.

The concept of ‘plant blindness’ was new to me, I learned that the term “has been around for over twenty years and it means that people tend to underappreciate the flora around us” (Cowell 2020). This can lead to problems because if “most people don’t pay attention to plants and the fundamental role they play in maintaining life, society isn’t likely to agree that plant conservation is among humanity’s most crucial issues” (Allen 2003).

 

References

Allen, W. (2003) ‘Plant Blindness’ In: Bioscience 53 (10) pp.926–926.

Coe, R., Lee, N. M., & Osbourn, A. (2021). Inspired by surimono: Integrating photography and poetry to bring plants into focus. Plants, People, Planet, 1– 7. https://doi.org/10.1002/ppp3.10235

Cowell, C. (2020) Plant blindness and conservation implications. At: https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/plant-blindness-conservation-implications (Accessed 03/11/2021).

Non-tutor Feedback – Fellow Creative Arts Students

I asked for feedback on my Surimono series from other Creative Arts students at Level 3. Thgeir full comments are below:

SA comments

Hi Bob

I think the series works well in that there is a consistency in the way the images are presented with careful thought being given to the best background and it’s easy to navigate in the format of a slideshow. I like the fact that the text used in each image presents a different type of avenue for contemplation.

The one I find most yuck is Curcurbita Pepo because once you mention ‘birthing a courgette’ I can’t help thinking that it’s a placenta coming out of her! But.. ‘job done’ when talking about the male actually made me laugh so perhaps it’s one of the best.

Fritillaria Melagris got me googling to see what Vita Sackville-West’s garden at Sissinghurst is famous for and apart from her influence as a poet and writer on horticulture, its roses, so I can see how this flower might appear as a snake in a bed of roses.

Blue Tulip made me smile, ‘I was quite a hit in my heyday’, the elegantly faded, petals akimbo, sic transit gloria mundi, it could be me!

But personally the one that is more than the sum of its parts is Jerusalum Sage. The image is immediately to me like the planet earth in space and the ‘crowded downy planet’ reinforces this. When I look up teratogen I find that it’s an agent that causes an abnormality following fetal exposure during pregnancy, so my interpretation is that ‘teratogenic embryo’ is a kind of metaphor for what mankind has done to planet earth. ‘Finding their way amongst the lipped, hooded keepers’ is an exact description of what is happening, visually and biologically, but it becomes a poetic way of describing the difficulty of the journey of planet earth now it has become infected by mankind. Then there’s the biblical imagery…….am I perhaps over thinking this?🙂

 

SC comments

Hi there Bob,

It was a pleasure to look again at your work, and this is my favourite series.

How you think that the series works as a whole

I find it very effective. It has visual variety while being a cohesive body of work. Each distinct and able to stand alone but related securely to the others.

Are there any individual images you particularly like/dislike

My favourites are Tao, Cucurbita and Peony. I find something deeply beautiful and poignant about the imperfection and decay and the words express this really well.

Does the combination of image and poem add up to more than the sum of the individual parts 

Absolutely. The words make you think harder about the images. Flower images are ubiquitous, so the poems really make us look again.

 

What do you think that the poem adds to the image and vice versa

They stand together excellently. The poem would have little meaning without the image and the words draw our attention to aspects of the image in unexpected ways. The flowers are anthropomorphised creating empathy with them.

 

MB Comments

 

How you think that the series works as a whole

They work very well, although some do stand apart a bit. The one with the Chinese (?) symbol for instance. Also you have sometimes used the latin name and sometimes the common name, it might help to be consistent across them?

Are there any individual images you particularly like/dislike

Favourites:
Queen of the Night – for both elements and how they combine
Jerusalem sage – more for the combination of both elements, I’m not sure either would work very well on their own
Echinops sphaerocephalus – both elements work well on their own, but together are delightful. I could look at this one for ages. My favourite I think.
Blue tulip – great image and works well with the poem
Iris/Lily/On the stage – strong images and work well with the poems

Less favourites:
Tao – not keen on the photograph in this one, I think it’s too busy for me
Blacksamson echinacea – maybe it’s the background, but the flower doesn’t look quite right to me and the poem is less evocative
Fritillaria meleagris – Love the photograph but I don’t get the reference to ‘Vita’?
Papaver rhoeas – the contrast between the red and blue is too strong for me and this one stands out as too different to the others in my eyes

Does the combination of image and poem add up to more than the sum of the individual parts

Definitely, whilst they might work individually, the combination is much more effective and makes each element much stronger. You spend more time looking at the image because of the poem and more time thinking about the words of the poem by relating the images created to the photograph.

What do you think that the poem adds to the image and vice versa

I am not a reader of poems, but reading these and relating them to the photograph makes me think more about the words, the images they create and the sensations they evoke.

The photographs are great, but in our world of constant visual stimulation they probably wouldn’t be viewed for long. In combination with the poems you are forced to slow down and examine the images more closely in reconciling them with the images created by the poems.

Publication Proposal

We received from Dr Chris Thorogood of Oxford Botanic Gardens, samples of book proposals that he had submitted, and had been accepted for publication by, Kew Gardens Publishing. I drafted a first proposal for a book which Anne added to. We are contacting Chris to see if he would be prepared to comment on our draft proposal and any suggestions he may have for approaching publishers.

Book Proposal

 

Inspired by surimono – peer review

These are the full comments made by the reviewers on our article, we will now amend the text to incorporate these points.

 

Referee: 1

 

Comments to the Author

I found this article very interesting. I adopted use of haiku on fieldwork to explore forest environments with students – at first sceptical (another staff member had added the exercise to my own larger field project) I found it very effective way to engage students – this leads to my only real issue with your paper – I would like to see something added  in terms of both reaction (viewer’s if any record exists) to the works discussed, and second how this approach might be used to further work to deal with plant blindness in society. This is rather side stepped in the Social Impact Statement and not discussed in the discussion. I hope this article will prompt more collaborations like this and perhaps inform teaching and community engagement projects – love to see some poems and photos based on plants on derelict sites in towns and cities for example!

 

Referee: 2

 

Comments to the Author

Thank you for offering this short report which I was asked to ‘re-view’. Frankly, and I do not mean this in a negative way – there is not much to review here – really – other, perhaps than to check if it is scholarly and attractive in terms of the writing, whether it fits the journal’s interest and whether offers a novel insight. The short piece meets all those requirements. There is no methodology or research to review, and the standard review form/questions to respond to do not really apply here.. But, I enjoyed reading the piece because it introduced me to something fascinating that I was unaware of: surimono and photopoetry as a basis for a collaboration on plant photography and poetry, and its wider implications for visualisation and interpretation of the world around us. It is a concise report  with lovely illustrations and key references that interested readers can explore further. Perhaps my only comment would be that, while the societal implications are described early on, I would have like to hear more in regards to:

“This contemporary adaptation of the surimono form clearly has the potential for fostering and fuelling imaginations about relations between plants and people”.

Perhaps some insight can be shed on how this potential can be developed, in what (education?) contexts and how?

Keeping up Momentum – Chain Reaction

In the latest of the Keeping Up Momentum series tutor Brian Eccleshall led a session called Chain Reaction. The concept was simple but challenging. We were divided into groups and issued with a text from a book. This is not in English, however, but translated into about 6 other languages. We were then challenged to put the text into English as best we could. Half way through the session our English version was given to one of the other groups and we were given ‘Fenella’ which was the English version another group had produced based on the foreign language texts they had received. We were then challenged to  come up with a work of art depicting the text of ‘Fenella’.

Chain Reaction was a fascinating exercise showing how creative acts can stem from the unlikeliest of exercises. The session was great, not just from the exercise itself, but from the joint working with other students. When we are from different disciplines it enriches the conversation by bringing different perspectives, something you don’t get as much from Hangouts or Zoom meetings that involve students from just the single discipline. You start to think in different ways about how to approach the work. It also helps students to feel a part of a wider organisation rather than feeling that you are struggling away on your own.

Reflections on Part 2

Useful discussion with my tutor on progress so far and what I would look to achieve by the end of the SYP module. I feel I am now getting to grips with what SYP is all about, it isn’t just building up to an exhibition (although it could be for some people). In my case I want it to be about a range of different activities that I want to be involved in to disseminate my work. 

  1. A physical exhibition (and learnings from the experience of mounting an exhibition) as well as exploring options for future exhibitions.
  2. Writing a journal article to promote my work to a wider audience.
  3. Developing my website from one which showed my work to a more professional way of disseminating my work and its meanings more widely.
  4. Develop a book proposal for my surimono series, again to disseminate the work more widely
  5. Expand my social media presence, esp. Instagram

Exhibition – Private View

Organising the Private View was a bit tricky as we had a limit of 30 people in the room at any one time due to Covid. We worked on the principle that not everyone who was invited would turn up, although most did. As it turned out, we had got the invites just right as we had a good number of people there at all times, but without going over the limit.

I enjoyed the evening, seeing friends and talking about my work. I even made my first ever sale that evening – an unframed Cyanotype from the browser.

Exhibition – Extras

As well as the images on the walls of the exhibition, one thing I had learned from being involved with the Arts Centre for some time, is that small things e.g. greetings cards usually sell well. I also learned from an OCA East of England meeting, which was a talk from a professional artist, that presentation is vital.

I printed some of my own greetings cards using the images from the exhibition. I used pre-scored inkjet paper and then placed the card and envelope in a plastic wrapper of the type you see in cards shops. 

I had also learned from previous exhibitions at the Arts Centre that not everyone wants to buy a framed picture, sometimes they see  something they like that is unframed. I had a number of cyanotypes that I was not displaying on the walls and also printed off some extra pesticide images. To make sure that these also looked professional I placed each one, with a backing sheet, in a Seawhite Krystal Seal Sleeve, and displayed them in a browser.

Exhibition – Catalogue

I wanted to produce a catalogue for the exhibition but was concerned about the cost – photographic reproduction would have been very expensive (probably around £12-£15 a copy) and when a sale price is calculated I think it would have been much too expensive and people probably wouldn’t have bought it. I looked at local printers and those further afield and found one printer (ExWhyZed) who were experienced in producing catalogues for Art School degree shows. Like most printers they used 4 colour printing, so the colour rendition was not as accurate as a photograph (which they were quite open about). I got a quote from them which meant that having 50 copies printed would cost about £3.50 a copy. I wasn’t sure if I would sell any at all, but had them printed anyway. I felt it was important to have a lasting memento of the show and thought that if people didn’t necessarily buy the prints, they might buy a catalogue.

In the end the quality of the printing was excellent, although obviously not as true as a full colour photographic reproduction, for the vast majority of images it was really good – it was mainly the bright yellows that were not as vibrant.

The catalogue can be seen here – Catalogue final