Page by page; arrange, exchange

This post offers some further reflections on our recent Tate Exposed project that took place at Tate Modern on 6th February 2017.

A short film insight, courtesy of Yr 12 Seb (more from him to follow).

Jon Nicholls (from Thomas Tallis School) has already shared a detailed summary of the day on our PhotoPedagogy website, including lots of links to various resources which we hope will be of use to others.

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Our latest newspaper, including gallery activities for visiting students

Rather than repeat his insights here, I’m going to take a different approach and focus on a particular highlight of the day – the book making activity – alongside including a few new bits of student work.

In the early stages of planning Jon and I were fortunate enough to meet with Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) at Tate. He was generous with his time and among other things shared his enthusiasm for the ‘photobook’ as a playful format for experimentation and sharing. (Further down the road we were delighted when Simon agreed to write the introduction to our own publication – see link above).

So, a photo selecting/book-making activity was something that we were interested in exploring from quite early on, not least taking inspiration from this previous Daido Moriyama event at Tate:

 TateShots: Daido Moriyama, Printing Show – a recreation of Daido Moriyama’s 1974 performance of the same name.

Since September our Threshold Concepts for Photography have provided a major framework for GCSE and Year 12 lessons and we were also keen to incorporate these ‘big ideas’ into our Tate Exposed event.

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With regards to the making of a photobook, Threshold Concept #7: Photographs are not fixed in meaning; context is everything provides particularly rich food for thought, encouraging students to consider how the meanings of photographs can be subtly (or drastically) altered when placed alongside another.

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Year 11 Maisie’s playful photobook encourages the reader to draw connections between images.

Creating a photobook does offer endless possibilities, and also throws up some interesting challenges. The PhotoPedagogy site has lots of starting points here, in particular the following resources:

What is a Photobook? Why are they important and how do you make one?
Two-Frame Films Exploring the relationship between photography and film
The (in)decisive moment Exploring moments in time with Cartier-Bresson, Nick Waplington and others

Here are a few additional questions that we kicked about with students prior to Tate Exposed, as we challenged them to make their own books in preparation:

  • What are the intentions of the photographs in the book, and how might its design support/enhance/play with this? E.g. do the images offer an insight into an experience/community/event/lifestyle – is it documentary/photo essay in nature? Is this collection intended to explain, to confuse, to provoke reaction – be it curiosity, connection making, laughter, action…?
  • Which images should be included, and how might these images combine in interesting ways – to reinforce an intention, to create a particular narrative, rhythm etc.?
  • How many copies need to be made, and what are the key constraints here – e.g. cost, printing facilities, time etc.?
  • What possible scales, formats, layouts, folding techniques, designs might be explored?
  • How might the choice/combinations of paper surfaces/textures influence the experience of reading?
  • How might each book be customised or personalised – manipulated in some way for creative effect, e.g. punctured, layered, folded, painted upon, printed within etc.?

Above is a an insight into Yr 12 Seb’s Photobook, constructed with one sheet of A3 paper, also featuring in our PhotoPedagogy newspaper.

Year 12 Maddie used a ringbound format for her book with the thoughtful addition of some fold-out pages

In class we invested lots of time into considering these issues, particularly regarding the relationships between photographs when placed alongside each other. Students experimented with making their own low-budget photobooks, pushing the boundaries of the school photocopier, experimenting with alternative methods of book interaction and construction.

In December, as part of our Tate Exposed project, a group of 10 students were then granted access to photograph behind the scenes at Tate Modern. This was a rare opportunity to explore the inner workings of the institution. The resulting  images (once security approved) were to form the basis for our photobook selection/making exercise. Deciding on the combinations of images for printing then became the next challenge.

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Visitors to Tate Exposed were invited to select images/pages and then play with various combinations to construct their own photobooks. A range of materials and tools were also provided to allow for additional collaging, cutting through, sticking together, and general mischief-making.

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To vary the options – and surface textures of the books – Year 12 students also completed some Photoshop experiments which were then printed as A3 strips, available as additional concertina pages. These were simply photocopied on sugar paper as 100% black or magenta prints, creating an effect not dissimilar to screen printing.

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It was a real highlight of the day to watch visitors thoughtfully curate and customise their own books. Many clearly felt liberated by using the photographs of others, happy to take risks and try things out without fear of failure. Students from both schools, having gone through the process themselves, did a fantastic job of sharing their own experiences and encouraging experimentation.

We are very proud of what our students achieved and how they collaborated together to make the event a success.  We are also very grateful to Thomas Tallis School and the team at Tate Exchange for the opportunity to be involved.

If you’d like to contribute to PhotoPedagogy, or perhaps be involved in a future project, you can drop us a line here. Please use the comment boxes below for any feedback or thoughts you might wish to share. It’s good to exchange.

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