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Photography as object: reworking the daguerrotype - The Open College of the Arts

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Photography as object: reworking the daguerrotype thumb

Photography as object: reworking the daguerrotype

For his MA Photography degree show, ‘Traces‘, at the University of Sunderland, Geoffrey Bradford created a series of unique assemblages built on the idea that an image can also be an object, something to be handled as well as viewed. They reference some of the qualities of daguerreotypes – unique images in three dimensions.


Traces‘ evidences the interest in the convergence of photography and sculpture Geoffrey began to examine as an undergraduate with OCA. Each object draws on one of two sources for its creation: Belsay Hall, a Regency house in Northumberland, and an old three-metre high polytunnel in a friend’s garden in Cumbria.

Belsay Hall, now in the care of English Heritage, is unfurnished. The chipped paint and scuffed floorboards of its empty rooms are physical memories of the people who lived there. Walking through the house, today’s visitors take their own memories of the rooms from one of them to the next. Building assemblages from photographs taken in different rooms, Geoffrey’s work solidifies memory of place.

The polytunnel in the friend’s garden has its own history of change and decay. Geoffrey’s photographs show its torn polythene worn and shredded by time and weather. Here too people have left their mark: a forgotten garden tool, a scrap of foil from a worker’s sandwiches. He has created a small-scale model of the polytunnel, placed off-cuts of images of the actual tunnel inside and then photographed this newly created work.

Printed on sugar paper, acetate, tracing paper and cartridge paper, Geoffrey’s photographs are a counter to showcase prints framed for display in a gallery space. They are artefacts with which people interact and that will decay over time – the photography of the everyday. Why work in this way? Geoffrey’s starting point is that almost everybody has a box of photographs at home that they take out from time to time and handle. It’s an approach that has led to a reworking of his understanding of the word ‘portfolio’: for Geoffrey, a portfolio could just as easily be a box of objects as a folder of images.

In his writing, ’Object Image, Image Object’ (the way certain artists use photography), Geoffrey examines the thinking that underpins ‘Traces‘. Prominent are Roland Barthes’ reflections on the respective roles of photography, presence and absence, history and death in ‘Camera Lucida’; the decay of the work of sculptor and photographer Andrew Goldsworthy OBE and how it is remembered through photography; the artist Richard Long’s relationship with the landscape in his creation of sculpture and photography; and visual artist and photographer Fred Langford Edwards’ articulation of the role of museums.

Geoffrey owes his place on Sunderland’s MA Photography to the artist and photographer John Kippin, who was Head of Photography (now visiting Professor) when he applied and was waiting for his undergraduate degree result from OCA. John was impressed enough by Geoff’s portfolio that he offered him a place on the basis of his work.

Studying in Sunderland meant a return to the features of a bricks-and-mortar college familiar from Geoffrey’s time as an art student in the 1960s at South East Essex Technical College. The disciplines of research, writing a journal and carrying a sketchbook encouraged by OCA tutors Andrea Norrington and Peter Haveland accompanied him as he made the move from studying at home to studying on campus. Geoffrey is certain that the experience of distance learning with OCA gave him the confidence to continue studying and developing his practice at postgraduate level.

Geoffrey Bradford will be graduating from the University of Sunderland with an MA Photography with distinction at The Stadium of Light, Sunderland on 1 December.

Posted by author: Elizabeth Underwood

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