Notes on people

Emile Durkheim – sociologist

Karl Marx – revolutionary socialist

John Searle – author of “The Construction of Social Reality”, on my ipad.

Michael Podro – art critic

Michael Baxandall – art critic, Wesh

Max Ernst – surrealist painter

Birger Carlstrom – Danish art historian who argued that Renoir’s work revealed hidden thoughts. see also James Elkins

James Elkins – author of “Why are our pictures puzzles: on the modern origins of pictorial complexity” Routledge cheap on Amazon second hand.

Exercise 1.1 Pareidolia

All those hours spent peering at “Where’s Wally?” and a find the dragon book with my daughter have come good. I’ve never really been convinced by images where I’ve been asked to appreciate both the perceived object in the clouds as well as the rule of thirds or whatever in the main subject of the picture. I’ll keep trying.

Here’s the emoji-fest of intended and unintended faces on Max Ernst’s Eye of Silence.

The intended face is on the figure in the lower right. I think all the others are unintended.

Pareidolia is the name given to the way that we can see something familiar when there’s not actually such a thing there. Eg faces in vegetables, figures in the sky, religious icons on our toast. I think our brain always seeks to recognise what’s in front of us.

The female reproductive system.
A face in my saxophone ligature

[Placeholder for a nature image]

Reading the course notes also introduced me to Decalcomania which is the practice of making images by squidging paint within folded paper and then either working with the results or letting people read them for themselves.  Here’s a link to the Tate about it. It seems understandably difficult to pin down – reminding me of the Rorschach tests but also of the decal practice of applying motifs and pictures to surfaces.  Some look uncannily like photographs. I am going to return to making emulsion lifts with Polaroids and see what happens, I am intrigued by the way that images become stretched and distorted.

I wanted to try it, but couldn’t find any paint without having to open negotiations with my ten year old, so here’s one made with pink glitter glue, which was surprisingly liquid.


Rachel Maclean – Make Me Up

One of the benefits of UVC is that this blog will give me a place to park influences that never seemed to sit entirely comfortably on my photography course blogs and to explore them more fully. I was very interested to find this interview with Rachel Maclean. Her film Make Me Up has audio made entirely of lip-synch-ed Ken Clarke quotes from the 1970s series Civilisation, recontextualised into a building and plot that somehow references both Barbie’s Dream House and Ru Paul’s Drag Race. This summary is selling it woefully short, there is a shedload of art history and cultural references that sail straight over my science education. Sadly the film is no longer available on i-player and doesn’t seem to be available on dvd or download. These little videos present some interesting points for discussion though.

This interview is interesting because Rachel talks about how she externalises many of the internal issues that women face, for example around make up and food. There are some comments made on this in the following video too.

This clip made me think about what UVC is – I like how these women consider the film and what it mean to them. I have just started reading Howells & Negreiros Visual Culture and need to remember that although I need to know the codes to read the codes, I can also read visual work based on a simple analysis of what is presented to me. It doesn’t always need to be complicated.

This is the film trailer. My initial post on the fim is on my Context & Narrative Blog here:

My hope is that at the some point I will be able to see the film again and get more from it as I progress through UVC.

Howells, R. and Negreiros, J. (2018). VISUAL CULTURE. 3rd ed. Cambridge: POLITY Press.

Exercise 1.0

Name ten things that exist only because we believe them to exist.


  1. Degrees
  2. Driving licenses and points on them
  3. Primary school SATs exams
  4. Supermarket loyalty points and airline air miles
  5. Knitting patterns
  6. Brexit
  7. Birth certificates
  8. ASBOs and restraining orders.
  9. Borders
  10. Passports

How do these things differ from eg mountains and forests?

At first I thought this exercise was quite difficult. Then I read the first few chapters of The Construction of Social Reality (Searle, 1995) and it started to look more straightforward. Brute facts as Searle calls them are those that come with the planet, that do not owe their existence to humankind and are therefore independent of us. So mountains, trees, oceans, elements, energy, weather…. (ignoring global warming). Whereas the “facts” listed above can be considered “institutional facts” in that they require human agreement and human institutions in order to exist ie we made them.

We construct facts and we change them. If we don’t change them, they stay the same. Whereas mountains, forests etc can change over time without any input from us. Brute facts are independent of language; they can be described by language but they are not defined by it. Institutional facts rely on language for their existence. Mountains and forests are part of our earth’s ecosystems whereas institutional facts are part of society and bureaucracy. Institutional facts are based on concepts and we create physical objects or data to give them some degree of presence, whereas brute facts are simply and already there. Our earth contained the brute facts to allow life and evolution whereas a Sainsbury’s Nectar card will never evolve into anything else.

My gut response to the question about why Searle put inverted commas around the word ‘objective’ was to think that we can’t be objective about something that we essentially made up. Objectivity is about using facts rather than personal opinions and viewpoints. As Searle puts it: “ can it be a completely objective fact that the bits of paper in my pocket are money, if something is money only because we believe it is money?” (Searle, 1995)

Searle, J. R., 1995. The Construction of Social Reality. London: Penguin.

Getting started

I am here due to a combination of curiosity and coveting. Curiosity because I love to learn and wanted to extend my knowledge beyond the relatively small corner of photography that I currently occupy. I want to make work that is relevant to the world we live in, and to do that I need to understand stuff better. Coveting because much of the OCA work out there that intrigues and engages me is made by students who have done this course. I think it was Stephanie d’Hubert who referred to completing this course as feeling like “gaining a superpower” (I think this was on an archived blog post). I want some of that superpower please. I know that to make good work I need to be engaged, I need to be thinking, I need a cultural framework that extends beyond my current comfort zone. I need a diversity of inputs and the ability to think critically about them. I need to close the loop between what I encounter and what I make, and why. I am not entirely sure that I have the skills needed but I will never know if I don’t try. Indeed, I’m not entirely sure that I even know how to define “Visual Culture”, an attempt to summarise it to my partner led to his swift comment of “Arty farty bollocks then…”. Let’s get started and see what happens.