Positive Negatives (Part 1)

Just prior to his death from pancreatic cancer in August 2017, whist still in possession of just enough manual dexterity to manoeuvre small objects in his hands, my father in law loaded a black and white film into his 35mm camera for the final time and shot a roll of photographs of (and possibly for) my daughter, who was three at the time.

Some time after he died I took the roll to be developed, returning to the lab a couple of days later to find that he had sadly loaded the camera incorrectly and the reel of film remained unexposed. Disappointed, and consoled by the sympathetic sales assistant who at least didn’t charge me for the development, I nevertheless pledged to learn how to operate this camera – a classic Canon AE-1 SLR – and take a roll of photos of my daughter, in his memory.

A couple of years somehow passed and I finally found time to load up the camera to tentatively take some photos. My daughter, the original beloved subject, now almost five years old, was accompanied by my second daughter, born the year after my father in law’s death. This time, sending off my own (colour) film to be developed, I noted the excitement involved in awaiting processed photos and their accompanying negatives, a feeling of anticipation recognisable from my childhood but lost since the advent of instant digital photography.

My photos returned, a little out of focus and underexposed, but mercifully not blank. These pictures, at least for me, served as a small memento honouring my father in law’s intention, but also as a record of my two children now fixed in time on 35mm negative, in their materiality somehow distinct from the kind of daily digital photographs contained as data on my phone and shared liberally with family via email and on social media.

I noted that the quality of the image, composed of grain rather than pin sharp pixels, possessed a certain rich, evocative aura. The colours were rendered beautifully, in a way that initially, for me, evoked something of the past. Of course this association with the past only really arises because film photography, as a practice, is itself associated with history, superseded more recently for many by the ubiquity and convenience of digital.

Rather than being archaic, however, film generates particular visual renderings of the world that digital does not – unless through intentional post-processing. Through these photos I felt I had returned not only to a way of representing the world that I thought I had lost but also, somehow, had reconnected to a world in and of itself that I had forgotten ever existed.

Until the advent of digital we viewed the world, on paper and screen, through renderings made using light hitting physical film, rather than light and sensor technology. Our world’s transition from colour to black and white, with the birth of colour film, was perhaps less subtle and more blatant. But how, I wonder, has a transition from film to digital shifted how we perceive the world around us?

I can’t hope to fully answer this here, but it is a question that I now carry with me, as a result of this first (of many) reintroductions to film.

(To be continued soon….)

New project

I am working on a new research project, looking at meanings made around graffiti – more details here…

'live, love, graff...'

74229CEC-3478-47A1-9ED4-FE8F8834D43E [artist unknown] ‘Slow Graffiti’ is the website for a research project that intends to explore the socio-cultural meanings made around graffiti, created and located in one city. Whilst a range of studies examine graffiti as an (anti-) social cultural practice (Ross, 2016; Avramidis & Tsilimpounidi, 2016), there is limited work using new literacies (Street, 1997) as a lens for exploring streetart’s contribution to a city’s ‘textual landscape’ (Carrington, 2005). I position graffiti writing as a multimodal (Kress, 2009) literacy practice, situated within in a particular local and cultural context. Whilst recent work has encouraged taking a multimodal perpective on graffiti (Edwards-Vandenhoek, 2016) this has only been on the basis of the analysis of still photographic images, and therefore I intend to extend this approach to involve the voices and insights of other participants. Work which takes a new literacies approach to graffiti is sparse, the exceptions being DaSilva-Iddings, McCafferty, &…

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UKLA 2019 – abstract

'live, love, graff...'

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I will be presenting an overview and early findings from the project at this year’s UKLA conference in Sheffield:

‘Live, love, graff’: Making Meanings around Sheffield Streetart’

This presentation will explore the socio-cultural meanings made around graffiti, primarily created and located in the city of Sheffield. Whilst a range of studies examine graffiti as an (anti-) social cultural practice, there is limited work using new literacies as a lens for exploring streetart’s contribution to a city’s multimodal textual landscape. As such, I position graffiti writing as a literacy practice, situated within in a particular local and cultural context. I conceptualise graffiti as an assemblage, situated within a network of wider practices, generated both by those who create and view the work.  Here, I consider multiple perspectives on three individual pieces of graffiti, located in Sheffield. I consider the meanings made around these pieces, in relation to the space in which…

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Hearing

In the gaps between teaching and marking I’ve been working to finish an article on listening. Or, more specifically, on the value of considering sound, together with drawing, as a means of understanding the social world of children. I’ve talked about this as a combined sonic / visual approach to analysis. I might even get chance to send it to a journal soon…

At the same time we have discovered that our baby daughter, Orla, is profoundly deaf. She got the diagnosis at just five weeks old, after ‘failing’ the initial hearing test on her first day in the world. One of my first responses was to learn some sign language, specifically the phrase ‘I love you’. I have found myself using it a lot.

After a string of diagnosis meetings at the hospital we have already had her fitted up for some tiny hearing aids, which she will try after Christmas. We have chosen the sparkly earmolds option as I think Orla’s older sister, Ava, will like them.

Speaking to a doctor about the possibility of a cochlear implant we are taken aback when he suggests that ‘she would be unlikely to meet her potential without one’

Well, I guess that depends how you define potential, doesn’t it?’ I counter, in the most frustrated voice I can muster.

Well, academic, social and getting jobs,’ he clarifies, either not getting my point or dismissing it outright.

Sigh…

The World is Teeming: ‘Valuing the Visual’

The recent Literacies Conference at Sheffield University was, as usual, a brilliant event, populated by interesting people. I acted as discussant during the first day, tasked with summing up at the end of the day. The discussant role, it transpires, is challenging but also really rewarding as it forces you to make connections between presentations that you might not necessarily make as a regular conference attendee. It is definitely worth having a scroll through the conference hashtag #LitVis2017 

I presented on the second day, in part considering how the ideas of composer / artist / musician John Cage can be useful for thinking about the complexity of the world. For this I created some new comics, based on some of his reflections on the world via his art. With the conference’s focus on ‘valuing the visual’ I considered how visual and artistic methods open up possibilities for thinking about and representing the world, drawing on Cage’s concept of indeterminacy:

I have also been playing with the idea of motion, reflected in the use of some subtly animated aspects to some of my slides. I love Cage’s quote (from his book ‘Silence: Lectures and Writings‘) as a way of seeing the world as constantly in motion, ever changing and full of potential. Its also notable for its reference in Paul Auster’s recent novel ‘4-3-2-1’ where it becomes a pivotal quote for one of the versions of the book’s protagonist. Taken across these different contexts, the quote also serves as a reminder of the potential for literature / literacy to affect and influence lives.

 

During the event, artist Rachael Hand presented a brilliant curated exhibition of artists books and creative theses. This included my thesis, alongside the work of many others whose work includes visual elements of different kinds. Photos below are of Rachel Hand’s programme from the event. The final pic of the hands is the expert work of artist Jo Ray.

 

Free the Sheep Award #humblebrag

Warning: incoming #humblebrag

Life post viva has so far been a busy but enjoyable time. Earlier this month I was honored to receive the UKLA/ Wiley Research in Literacy Education Award 2017 for my paper ‘Free the Sheep: improvised song and performance in and around a minecraft community’. The award was given at the amazing Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, and we were given free reign of the museum after the award ceremony. I also presented around the paper during the following day and nice people said nice things, not least Jackie Marsh:

The panel felt that the paper was highly original, and breaks new ground in the presentation and analysis of data. It is theoretically complex and demonstrates a high level of critical analysis, offering a highly topical review of literacy across hybrid physical and virtual spaces”.

The paper itself has been made public access for the year, and is available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lit.12076/full
Here are some photos from around the event… (note the incoming spitfire in the first photo, credit to @stollingsl for the pic)