Altered Context: A New Parameters project by Allan LEONARD 20 July 2020
New Parameters was an online engagement project, with participants creating images of their responses to the arrival and presence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland. The Nerve Centre hosted collaboration, through video calls and the online platform, Slack. The following is my submission, named “Altered Context”. I am very thankful to the project’s organisers, for facilitating a forum for visual thinking and a place to make new acquaintances and friends.
The 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement gives legal recognition to the coexisting and overlapping national citizenships in Northern Ireland, entitling those born in the jurisdiction to be British, Irish, or both. The devolved administration codifies the traditional political identities of “Unionist” and “Nationalist”, as well as an opportunity for “Others”. The accord has also pledged greater protections for human rights and a development of equality for all.
As part of the Ulster Festival of Art & Design at Ulster University, I dropped in on a 30-minute photobook lab. Inside a pop-up style workspace on the ground floor of the Belfast campus were a few tables strewn with miscellaneous books, magazines and newspapers.
The objective was to create your own photobook with these random objects.
It reminded me of David Campany’s article, “So what is a photobook?”, published in Source magazine, in which he discusses the relatively recent development of the term ‘photobook’ to describe publications where the photograph is the main subject, not just books with photos in them:
“What chancer would dare try to coin the term ‘wordbook’ to make something coherent of all books with words in them? But here we are. The field needs a name and until we find a better one we’re stuck with ‘photobook’.”
So I started with a prepared, stitched orange covered A5 booklet. Grabbed a few publications and tore out images that stuck out for one reason or another.
Found the aforementioned source article and knew that would be my cover image.
I stalled on my editing process — like the black thread holding my booklet together physically, what theme could I weave through my eclectic selection of images?
Among my pile was a small publication, Favourite Irish Proverbs. Folksy expressions were juxtaposed with calm and cute images of idyllic countryside and heartwarming poses of people. It is a type of item that one gets as a wee gift for one’s auntie who admires the quaint.
I decided to subvert it, by substituting some of the expressions with more insightful images. Or at least to cause a double-think on the ordinary. Here, the conceptual artist Barbara Kruger came to mind.
The result is nine images with nine Irish proverbs.
Concluded with an index pulled from a world atlas.
So what is a photobook? I don’t know. But I’ve made my first one.
At the start of 2012, I resolved to take a photo a day, a 365-day project (actually, 366 days with the leap year).
I did it.
Most of the time the daily image presented itself subconsciously, whether walking to or from my office. In fact, when an opportunity presented itself whilst driving, I’d pull the car over and get the shot.
There were days, though, when the requisite shot hadn’t yet been taken by the daily midnight deadline, I’d search around the house for something of interest — not duplicating subject matter was one of my rules, so repeated self-portraits were out of the question.
So it was with a sense of relief when I took a photo of my gift bottle of port on New Year’s Eve (my favoured tipple).
I’m not repeating the exercise for 2013.
I don’t regret the discipline of visually recording my year. Indeed, I now have some beloved images that would have otherwise been stored in the recesses of my mind only.
It’s just that there are new creative endeavours that will demand time and attention this year (more on that later).
I’ve gained respect for those photographers who persist in image making, and been inspired by the work of others.
Although I posted the images daily on this blog, I’ve decided to consolidate them all into a slideshow for this posting (for anyone who would be interested in viewing them). I’m reverting to using Mr Ulster for the written word — thanks for stopping by!