Sustainable Prospects – Writing An Artist Statement
“An artist’s statement is a short piece of writing about your work, practice and any wider intellectual concerns. They are as varied and diverse as the art they support.”
– (Artquest. 2017)
In choosing to enter the GPF International Photography Competition 2017, I was faced with having to write an artist statement about the project. Never having written one specifically for a competition, and having only written about my work in this blog, I have to admit I was daunted by the prospect.
I was concerned. If I can’t write effectively about my body of work, ‘Only Human’, then surely it suggests that I have no clue what my work is about? With this body of work, I do not want the viewer to simply take the images and define what they are about, altering and manipulating the meanings to fit their own ideas? This body of work has a specific meaning and aim. This is in stark contrast to my Performance project where the viewer is encouraged to make their own decisions and interpretations about the images.
So, where to start? My first step was to research and read the statements of others.
“A truly effective image is evocative for the viewer, just as the experience in the moment was for the photographer. As for many individuals, a sense of place and permanence is important to me. But we are all on a journey in this life, seeking and thirsting for what we do not understand, for spiritual meaning in our life and in our relationships with our families and friends, and with all that is Sacred. Celtic peoples spoke of “thin places”, where the veil separating us from the other side is briefly transparent, and it is those places, on that Holy Ground, those experiences in the natural world, that compel me to photograph. And I hope that at least some of my images offer a glimpse through that veil for the viewer. No artist could wish for more.”
– (Larry Rankin Photography, 2017)
Rankin’s statement is brief. The language used is clear and easily understood by the reader. His statement talks about his practice more generally rather than a specific project. The statement doesn’t appear to me to add significantly to my understanding of his work, which is fine as his intent is quite clear in his images. This type statement is too vague and brief for my project and what I feel I need to say.
Walking into the environmental landscape of a mortuary can be a surreal experience. The space can at once be described as elegant and formal, yet sterile and haunting. I have been inside of several funeral homes having attended a plethora of funerals; however, I had never visited a mortuary with the intention of exploring the internal environment.
During the spring of 2010, I was enthralled with one mortuary in particular, in St. Louis. The project began in relation to a series of questions and continues to expand in complexity. On a daily basis, we are surrounded by and adorn our domestic settings with utilitarian objects, both for comfort and purpose. Yet, I began to ponder the concept of temporary spaces, the doctor’s office, the bank, and the funeral home. What kind of furniture resides in a funeral home? How does one exist in a funeral home? In the American culture, the funeral home, holds a strange, melancholic stigma, a faux pas of sorts, and I became obsessed. During middle school, a close friend and his family were in the mortuary business, running multiple funeral homes in a small town in the Midwest. Eventually, he too attended mortuary school and continues to run the family business. It’s odd to consider the funeral business, the business of dying, and the purpose of the space. Are the spaces generic or specific? What is this notion of containment? What is this artificial element of light and smell? I seek to continue my investigation of the space of the mortuary – the inorganic and the organic, the familiar and the strange.”
– (Sarah-Marie Land, 2017)
Land writes statements about each of her projects that explain the motivation behind the work. Her use of questions in the text makes me wonder about the work and draws me in so that I am almost forced to engage with the images to find the answers. There is almost too much of a narrative here though. The reader knows exactly what they are going to see when they look at the work. For my body of work about abstracted images, this approach would not work effectively for me. The intent is for the viewer to meditate on the forms in each photograph, to stop and stare, to fully appreciate that each abstract is part of a human body.
In drafting out my statement, I considered the motivation behind my work and how the work had come together. Writing the statement after the images have been selected and sequenced is quite tricky. I have had to make the statement fit the work in the edited form. I can now see that a statement written BEFORE the selection and sequencing stage would actually help those processes and would serve as a benchmark to consider images against. This process has really helped me to determine and understand what my work really means to me.
My submitted version of the artist statement…
In Western culture, we seem to have a problem in looking at certain images of the human figure represented photographically.
The photographic image is ubiquitous in popular culture where advertising places the young beautiful and erotic body as the desirable object of social attention. This is a body apparently conditioned and obtained by personal control. But this control is an illusion. We have only been presented with one side of the story, one version of beauty. We need more sides to determine the truth and reality.
Perhaps the limits we set on the acceptability of bodies are the products of a culture conditioned by phobias. If this the case, then we do have a crisis of looking at ourselves as we truly are.
Photographing what society would define as imperfect human bodies, I chose to capture close up, isolated images of parts of these ‘imperfect’ bodies. I have been inclusive in my use of models to emphasise that everybody has beautiful and unique features that we should celebrate.
When the face is not visible, the contents of the frame tend to have more to do with lines, shapes, and textures, rather than the part of the body. In several of my images, this abstraction results in making the body unidentifiable as human. This is successful in engaging the viewer, who can take time to meditate on the forms. Photographs give us permission to stare and to see something new in an image.
By isolating fragments of the body, the trivial becomes elevated and accentuated and the images make us aware of the sculptural potential and texture of the body. The body becomes an object stripped of its human identity and is transformed into sensual landscapes.”
Overall, I have found the process of writing the artist statement extremely helpful as I have been challenged and forced to express and articulate the main ideas behind my images. In future, writing a statement before the editing stage will enable me to better assess, edit, and sequence the images with a more focused and effective objective.
Artquest. (2017).[online] Artquest. Available at: https://www.artquest.org.uk/how-to-articles/artist-statement/ [Accessed 1 Sep. 2017].
Larry Rankin Photography. (2017). Artist Statement. [online] Available at: http://www.larryrankinphotography.com/artist-statement/ [Accessed 1 Sep. 2017].
Sarah-Marie Land. (2017). Artist Statement. [online] Available at: http://www.sarahmarieland.com/artist-statement/ [Accessed 1 Sep. 2017].