Wednesday, 25 January 2012


It is the opening session for Professional Futures. We were divided in groups of 5. Heather Barnett ( ) asked us to list some options for theme, location and audience for an exhibition. Then she gave us some random to choose one of them from each selection and asked us to propose an exhibition for a mock sponsorship. Our options are politics/Ikea/artists. So we started to doodle and put out some ideas. Image hanging, installations, video projection, performance...lots of fun and interesting. Enjoyed my group members creativity. The assignment is of several folds. We need to prepare a physical and on line portfolio. We also need to make an exhibition or do a work placement. Of course, as usual, we need to make a workbook to document the whole process and reflections.

Friday, 13 January 2012


by Francisca Woodman, Space 2, 1976
by Francisca Woodman, House 3, 1976

Since Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” ("I think, therefore I am"), followed by a burgeoning individualism, personal identity has been discussed and explored for hundreds of years. Who are we? What are our identities? Many contemporary artists are preoccupied with identity issues, and reflect upon, and engage with such issues via their works. Francisca Woodman (1958-1982) created approximately eight hundred photographic works in her lifetime mainly 2 ¼ inch black and white self portraiture in approximate eight years of her art career from the age of thirteen until her suicide at the age of twenty-one. This essay will discuss some of her works to study how she explored and represented her identity through photography. The first part will lay out some theory frameworks to define and discuss identity from a range of perspectives. The second part will focus on Woodman’s works.

According to Stuart Hall, identity is the ‘Enlightenment subject’ and occurred only in the 17th century when a person became a ‘fully centred, unified individual, endowed with the capacities of reason, consciousness and action.’ (Hall, 1992, p.275) The technology and ideology development at the beginning of Enlightenment emancipated human and enabled people to become an individual asking the question “Who am I”. Among many definitions, Kevin Robins defined identity as follows:

“Identity is to do with the imagined sameness of a person or of a social group at all times and in all circumstances…Identity maybe regarded as a fiction, intended to put an orderly pattern and narrative on the actual complexity and multitudinous nature of both psychological and social works. The question of identity centres on the assertion of principles of unity, as opposed to pluralism and diversity, and of continuity as opposed to change and transformation”. (cited in Bennet, 2005, p.173)

To define identity would be difficult. It is a complex subject and it involves many different perspectives in addition to those Robins defined above. Due to the length of this essay, I would like to take a reductive approach by focusing on some of the philosophy theories, but inevitably also touching some psychology and sociology as there is no clean cut separation between these disciplines.

Identity in philosophy refers to identical self. Descartes doubted everything attempting to find certainty. He noted that things are not the way they appear to be and our senses often fool us. He began to question “I know that I exits; the question is, what is this ‘I’ that I know” (Descartes, 1641, p.158). He developed a mind-body dualism and claimed the self and identity is constructed thought. Descartes separated self from body and considered it static with no change over the time. It is one hundred years later, that, developing on the basis of Lock’s fledgling empirical methodology, Hume took Cartesian doubt further by questioning even Descartes’ sacred Cogito. He asserted that self and identity is something we constructed out of our illusion and memory from experience by causality. He argued that we are “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions…in a perpetual flux and movement” (Hume, 1911, p.239). Hume posited that identity is constantly changing, though he did not deny there is an identical self.

Then Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) responded to Hume’s scepticism by developing the identity from subject-object relationships. He questioned if time and space really exist and proposed that these dimensions are products of our imagination from the very beginning. He argued

“The insights of geometry are not gained from experience but are verified in experience…the subject, recognises a reality that has previously been formed by it.” (cited in Cummins, 2011)

He enquired into our knowledge of objects and proposed that subject substantiates its position through object. The self would not exist unless there are objects, sensory data before the ‘self’.” Identity “operates in the dichotomy between the thinking subject and the thought object”. (cited in Cummins, 2011)

One hundred years later, Sigmund Freud analysed self and identity from a psychological point of view, he wrote:

“Originally the ego includes everything, later it detaches from itself the external world. The ego-feeling we are feeling now is thus only a shrunken vestige of a far more expansive feeling – a feeling which embraces the universe and express and inseparable connection of the ego and the external world”. (cited in Posner, 1998, p.159)

The subject and object, identity and the external world, self and other are not fixed but an ever-shifting boundary. The process of forming the identity from these dynamic relationships is constant exchange between the inside and outside and through projection and introjections. The boundaries disintegrate and the demarcation between the subject and object become blurred and fused.

Based on the above theoretical framework, I would like to discuss some of Woodman’s works. Woodman’s subject was mainly exclusively herself. She liked to use slow shutter speed to create blurred self-portraits in natural light. A lot of works were made in dusty dilapidated interiors with minimal props. According to George Woodman, her father, all her work was created in a meticulously planned way (Townsend, 2006, p.9). I would like to focus on two Woodman’s typical images Space 2 and House 3. Both of the images were taken in 1976 at Providence, Rhode Island, when Woodman was an eighteen-year-old art student at Rhode Island Institute of Art.

Woodman uses photography as a medium to seek and explore her identity. In Space 2, she deliberately created her blurred presence by movement. Metaphorically I consider this as a symbol of her identity and the self. “I show you what you do not see – the body’s inner force,” she said, “You cannot see me from where I look at myself”. (cited in Sollers, 1996, p10) Her photography is a tool to operate an inward exploration of her identity. Is the blurred image, the insubstantiality of the subjects, in a way a kind of self-denial, self-lost and self-obliteration? Is it a visual interpretation of what Descartes mentioned:

“I have no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are chimeras. So what remains true? […] I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist?” (1639, cited in Hupl, 2011)

The camera, as a machine, mechanically caught the moment, the movement, and traces of the time elapse. What did Woodman find, as the photographer, when she finally saw the photo printed? Did she find the image exactly as visualised, or did she find the unfamiliarity of the image? What kind of relationship did she engage between the role as the subject and as the photographer via the machinery of the camera’s intentionality? What is the identity and self? Is it like what Hume mentioned:

“… nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.… There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different; whatever natural propensity we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity.” (1911, p.239)

Woodman’s photography raised this question and left it open. Her work bears witness to the fledgling identity as a woman and an artist, which seems fluidic, transitory and elusive. This uncertain and changing state was embodied in her vulnerable blurry shadow in the image of Space 2 as well as many of her other images. Art critic George Baker commented:

“It is so hard to reduce Woodman’s work to a sincere recording of bodily or autobiographical experience, to a simplistic documentation of the self. If anything, she was documenting the limits of bodily experience, the impossibility of constituting the self”. (2010, p.65)

Woodman transgresses the embodied identity and unleashed a fluid bodied experience in her photography.

A lot of Woodman’s work used interior as the background. This visual background actually substantiates the subject. In House 3, there are mirror shards on the ground, peeled varnishes and holes on the wall, windows open, and bleached light through the windows. Below the windows we see the blurred youthful Woodman presence. She tried to use such a decayed and abandoned space and site to construct her identity by merging herself into the place covering torn wallpaper. Woodman is signified as the self, the subjects and the space is signified as the other, the objects. The self is thus created through the interplay of the subject and objects – the objectification of the other, as Kant claimed “there is no thinking without an object and therefore consciousness operates in the dichotomy between the thinking subject and the thought object”. (cited in Cummins, 2011) They create each other and sustain each other’s existence. The subject’s sense of belonging is created and the identity is substantiated by the objectification of the external world.

This physical space is actually her illusion of space, which is what Kant said the “insights of geometry” verified by experiences. The space, the object, plays “a vital role in the forging of personal identities” (Tschumi, 1994, p.77). Woodman’s blurred presence can be read as “some disordered interior geometries” which later she created an artist’s book with the same title. This reciprocal relationship becomes increasingly ambiguous, epitomised by her merging into the wall creating an overlapping and ambiguous borderline between the subject, the self and the identity and the object, the other and external world.

There is an unsettling disturbance of physical and psychological boundaries, a looming threatening of the absorption of her ego within this dark, ominous and abandoned setting, her fragile identity being engulfed by a desolated external world, a displacement of identity is looming in large. As elaborated by Margaret Sundell:

“The tension and strength of Woodman’s work lies in her ability to return again and again to this precise point of instability, to simultaneously create and explode the fragile membrane that protects her identity from being absorbed by its surroundings.” (Sundell, 2003, p.65-437)

Furthermore, this physical space can be read as a metaphor of the society. We all live in society and no one can be defined solely as an individual as we are all related to a specific community, be it gender, political, cultural, linguistic, religious or other. Therefore, society inevitably plays an important role in defining identity. The post Marxism and Foucault philosophy and Charles Taylor’s sociology cannot be omitted in this context. The individual identity is therefore no doubt social. Our body, as part of our identity, is also subject to social norms. Merleau-Ponty asserted that our consciousness is inherent in our body and the body is the primary locus of all our intentionality (1963, p.127). He proposed “carnal thought”, (Merleau-Ponty, 1963, p.188) which means we become aware of the world in a pre-reflective encounter. We require our body to be engaged in the world as if the world was our own body. He also explained the idea of reversibility, which raises the ambiguity between self and others, reality and imagination and subject and object. This is exactly what Woodman depicted in House 3 and many other similar works. Many art critiques, such as Abigail Solomon-Godeau in her work “Just Like a Woman” focus on the feminism aspect of identity in Woodman’s work. No doubt this is part of the complex identity issues.

Francesca Woodman constantly explored her inner self and external reality through continuous self-portraits. The lack of distinction between subject and object and the tendency to merge the self with the environment manifested in most of her works. She constantly expressed this unstable identity state through her works by the interplay between herself and the environment, while creating an inseparable complex. This complex relationship is the fundamental of her identity.

One thing interested, grabbed, and disturbed me for years is the window and the light shone through. Sitting below the window and leaning on a wall, she was only partially illuminated by the lights. We can only vaguely see some tree branches out of the window in bleached overexposed lights. Is this window the door to Woodman’s promising land? Is she struggling between merging into the surroundings in the shadow and escaping out of the window to this Acadia? Is her suicide six years later a successful way to escape the space and enter into this enigmatic world full of lights finding her true self and identity? Photography as a surface can only offer us elusive leads.

Baker, George, Ann Daly, Nancy Davenport, Laura Larson, Margaret Sundell. “Francesca Woodman Reconsidered: A Conversation with George Baker, Ann Daly, Nancy Davenport, Laura Larson, and Margaret Sundell”. Art Journal, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Summer, 2003)

Bennet, Tony, Lawrence Grossberg and Meaghan Morris, Eds. New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Blackwell Publishing, Boston, 2005

Cummins, Thomas, Portraits of Reflection, Internet Access on 19th of November 2011,

Descartes, ‘Second Meditation’, p. 16, cited in Teemu Hupli’s Lecture Presentation, 12th of October, 2011

Hall, Stuart “The Questions of Cultural Identity” in Modernity & Its Futures, Ed. Stuart Hall, D. Held, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1992

Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1911

Margaret Sundell, “Vanishing Points: the Photography of Francesca Woodman,” in Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art, Ed. Catherine de Zegher MIT Press, Cambridge, 1996

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Structure of Behaviour, Trans. Alden L. Fisher, Beacon Press, Boston, 1963

McEvilley, Thomas Art & Otherness: Crisis in Cultural Identity. Documentext Press, Kingston, New York, 1992

Posner, Helaine, “The Self and The World”, in, Mirror Images. Ed. Witney Chadwick, MIT Press, Boston, 1998

Sollers, Philippe, “The Sorceress” in Francisca Woodman Ed. Alexis Schwarzenbach, Trans. Rana Dasgupta, Scalo, Zuich, 1998

Soloman-Godeau, Abigail. “Just like a Woman” in Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions and Practices. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis: 1991.

Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. MIT Press, Boston, 1994

Townsend, Chris, Francesca Woodman, Phaidon, London, 2006

Woodman, Francesca. Space2. Providence, Rhode Island. Estate ID / File Name: P.028. 1976. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman

Woodman, Francesca. House #4. Providence, Rhode Island. Estate ID / File Name: P.021. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman

Thursday, 12 January 2012


We had the crit. There were many interesting works. Pavla’s Enigmatic Space, Sarah S’s Home, Laurence’s portraiture, Peter’s bunny, and Robert’s I Want to See Everything...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


There has been an obvious development process especially in presentation, such as title, edit, text, layout etc, during which I have been constantly engaging with the project. The project idea itself is interesting and sophisticated. However, I am not sure of quite a few aspects of this project. First of all, the shooting result was not to my original satisfactory mainly due to the dust in the rear window of my room. This resulted in less clarity of the image. Ideally I should have used a large format camera as well, because detail is the key of this project. I couldn’t due to some practical reasons. Secondly the text is not perfect. The idea is good in general but my original idea was to write a novel about what was happening in one or many rooms juxtapose to the images. The purpose is to ‘relay’ the title to the text and engage the image with viewer more. I couldn’t accomplish this due to my time constraint and maybe my ability to write the novel. Andrei suggested use found text, which is another interesting way to creatively engage text to images. Lastly the printing was unexpectedly not easy. Anand in Westphoto and I have been working on my printing for more than one whole day for the 24 prints. My original idea was to make 2 double sided full bleed image of hours 2-5am as it was the night time nothing really happened from the image, while as for other hours, single sided layout. This way it could create a cinematic effect. However, we couldn’t make the image printed in the right middle of both sides of a piece of paper! I could have find another printer, but everything has to be gone over again for 24 prints. Therefore, I had to make do using single sided layout all the way. To some extent, it makes sense as there has been camera’s mechanical surveillance feel in it, but this was not what I finally intended. There might be some minor imperfections in retouching, printing, and binding, but the major ones are the above three: original images, text, and printing. Maybe I should continue to engage with this subject and work on it further.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


at WestPhoto

Printing is never easy. Anand is very helpful, however, the paper was quickly used up due to some mistake. Then I have to compromise matt paper. The colour is very dull, especially for the night image dark colour tone. I clearly see the difference between a few prints same paper same image with different colour profiling.

The other difficulty is the centre alignment for front side and back side. I would like to create two double sided pages to create some filmic feel for the images shot during 2:00-6:00am. The narrative is that I am sleeping, image is static, so without words, it is self evident. However, Anand and I can not make it happen. Andrei helped by recommending using Indesign. Then the image final print size can not be perfectly matched to previously printed ones, as previous ones were printed by Photoshop. As it is for a book, so any minute discrepancies in image will be very obvious after book binding. So I have to make another compromise.

Took at least ten hours to print off everything, but with imperfections which I have to make do accept them, due to time constraint. The next step is binding.

Monday, 9 January 2012


at Silver Print

So I went to Silverprint ( They have enormous range of papers, and not only papers but also any thing I can imagine for photography. I was baffled by the different types of papers but eventually I chose Photospeed double sided luster (£40.99 per 25 pages). Ideally I would like to try to print my image on all kinds of paper to see how they all look like. Image has to be printed out on different paper to see the physical effect. This is verified by the ‘matt’ print yesterday! Hopefully this paper will work all right...

Sunday, 8 January 2012


at Harker Photography Centre

I first used matt double sided paper for printing as there are two double sided pages, but I don’t know if the paper is old or what, the colour is very dull. So I went for single sided satin A3 ink jet paper, one side for image and the other side for text. The text on the back is flowing... Anyway, not the best experience. On top of this, the position of the text on the back of the image is wrongly printed. I marked it so hope it should be done in a correct way next time. Failure today for printing. Paper, back side layout and direction are the things need to overcome.

Saturday, 7 January 2012


I went to see Rob in Bookworks to get some information on printing and advices for binding. Printing has to be planned well so that it suits the binding afterwards. He told me if I go for the current Blurb edition full bleed double page hard cover, then 20mm has to be considered as the image has to be this bigger to get folded to the hard cover. Then this decides the inner pages. I then just factor this into my consideration when printing. I told him that I am going not to use the double page presentation inside the book, and use text on the left side instead. He said he likes my current presentation, and the images actually are very self evident, indicating a story is going on. He might be right. This is the thing, there are so many decisions to be made, and sometimes it is not easy to find the ‘right’ one. I, myself, changes as well, as time goes by..

Friday, 6 January 2012


More ideas…
As the title is ‘Behind Curtains’, as each room is of the same curtain and blinds, as curtain is such a conceptual object, I suddenly realized maybe to use it in the book. The initial thinking is to crop two blinds to the book size and include them one in the first page and the other one before the back cover. So the viewers can touch them feel the physicality of the curtain getting more engaged with this project...
The other idea I am considering is that the opening pages. I am thinking maybe to use black paper first, then grey paper, then white paper. The idea is to slowly unveiling the story, from dark side to bright side, from inner to outer... I am not sure, but this is just an idea.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


More ideas...

After drafting the text and I realised that 2-6:00am I was sleeping. Text is the same, and the scene does not change much. Rather than make single page image, probably better to make 2 images double pages. It gives some freshness and make the viewing less boring. And it will make sense, I was sleeping, and the other block is quiet, times elapse unconsciously...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


23:00 In pyjamas, behind the camera. ‘Click’, another photo is taken.

24:00 In bed, insomnia. Another ‘click’. Thinking to get up to see what’s photographed but didn’t bother.

01:00 Asleep.

06:00 Alarm ringing. I hate to get up early, yet another day.

07:00 At the gym working out – challenging my previous result.

08:00 Dressing up. Which shirt shall I wear today?

09:00 A black Mercedes stopped in front of me downstairs at the gate. The car arrived just in time.

10:00 In client’s office. My mind is wondering off their presentation. I realise that I need to concentrate.

11:00 I am thinking that I could not work these people. I have a funny feeling towards them.

12:00 Meeting finished. Calling Faith to confirm our rendezvous tonight.

13:00 At a restaurant, looking out of the window. It is a sunny beautiful day. I wish I could get away from everything, sitting somewhere doing and thinking of nothing.

14:00 I feel a little sleepy with the sunshine over me after finishing the lunch… waiting for Edward.

15:00 Having a cup of tea with Edward. I have not met him for years. We are chatting the good old days.

16:00 At my room, behind the camera looking out. Who’s the one looking out behind the curtains? Is she looking at me as well? Who are all those people in the rooms with curtains on?

17:00 Half asleep and half awake in my sofa hearing another ‘click’.

18:00 A house maid came saying she could not clean my room due to the ‘no disturb’ sign I marked this morning. She also said that I was the only one staying on this floor last night.

19:00 Having a light dinner with Faith in a trendy restaurant. There are only two of us in this spacious place. I can feel waiters’ gaze towards us.

20:00 I come to like the ambience after a few glasses of wine. It is a beautiful night. More guests came.

21:00 Taking a walk with Faith at the marina. The sea breeze is refreshing.

22:00 We are continuing the walk not knowing where it leads...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


It continues to develop organically...

I think the current layout is boring. Also viewers probably could not get much from the images only because there are no texts in side. Therefore, I am considering to use text. I am thinking to use ‘what I was doing then’ as the text juxtaposed to the image, of course, with the time written. This way, I am exposing my privacy against the rooms opposite to where I stayed. Behind my curtains, I was doing this and that, vis-a-vis the subjects being monitored are having their lives.

Monday, 2 January 2012


I have been considering the project now and then literally every day. I like this procedure - ideas come up all the times organically or form from things around me. A couple of things.

Rather than 72 images, I would like to make to 24 images, from 10:00pm to 10:00pm making one whole day. Then after a few days, I think I better make it an open ending, so maybe rather than 24 hours 24 images, I could make 32 images from 10:00pm to 8:00am the day after inferring the story goes on.

Another thing is the title. I come to not like ‘Rear Window’ as the title. After a few ideas screening, I think ‘Behind Curtains’ maybe more conceptual. The curtain in the image is quite visually strong. Curtain itself is conceptual. It is a border, mask, watershed splitting privacy to public, protecting the inside from being exposed to others. Anyway, I found curtain amazing, and I am really get engaged with ‘curtain’ as such.