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Guest speakers: Natalie Robinson & Mandy Williams
By Alan Larsen
Posted on 2/16/2021 11:00 PM

Natalie (a member of the society) and Mandy have just completed an MA Photography at London College of Communications (LCC) – University of the Arts London. The two-person exhibition of their degree projects ‘England / Reflection’ (at Offshoot Gallery in London N2)  was cancelled due to lockdown 3. Disappointed that members were unable to go to see it, the Society invited Natalie and Mandy to talk about their work and was thrilled that they accepted. 

Mandy led us through her progression towards doing the MA and showed her projects over the past 30 years. She is a multimedia artist working in photography, video and sound.  The roots of her MA project can be traced back to when she left the UK for Canada in 1989: although only planning to be away for a few months, she stayed for 12 years. During this time Mandy felt homesick for an idealised vision of England, a feeling and vision that she has been reappraising over the years.  

Her work has encompassed a range of multimedia formats: painting on b&w photographs, simple stark b&w photography, stereo slides, stylised videos using colourisation, photographs of handmade three-dimensional structures,  sculpture (blowtorching old mobile phones together !) including a multimedia sound element, appropriating images from google street view.  And all while she was working full time. Recurring themes in Mandy’s research-based practice are home, family, exclusion, inside/outside, belonging/not belonging. Looking through windows is a leitmotiv. 

For the MA project Mandy wanted to make a multimedia work expressing her continued reappraisal of England.  This included contemporary political issues: Brexit, the politicisation of the Channel, attitudes towards immigration. As part of the research, she interviewed EU nationals living in England.  The final work 'England' comprises b&w photographs of fractured and disrupted landscapes, merging images from NASA of alien landscapes with English landscapes, some interrupted by a black border. Alongside this is a video using colourisation and a soundtrack to create a similar feeling of disruption. Plus a newspaper containing the interviews with EU nationals.

          

Natalie shared with us her fifteen-month journey doing the MA at LCC and talked us through the process of developing her final project. Natalie trained as an architect, and she shoots with digital and film. Her practice is based on abstraction and ambiguity; books and exhibitions have always been a major part of her output. Inspired by ‘The Shape of Light’, an exhibition at Tate Modern in 2018, she wanted to understand better her way of making photographs. She chose the MA course at LCC because it is research based and works towards producing an exhibition.

In September 2019 Natalie then found herself getting used to being a student again, being referred to as an artist, and spending many hours immersed in critique and peer review sessions with tutors and fellow students.

In her dissertation, Natalie discussed how architectural photography rarely presents the atmosphere that architects want to produce in a building. She referenced three photographers – Hélène Binet, Lewis Baltz, and Paoli Rosselli – whose work goes beyond just showing a building, adding critique and social comment.  Lessons Natalie drew from this included working in a more deliberative way and experimenting more.

Having started the course without a proposal for a final project, Natalie’s developing ideas and collaborations with a couple of friends were frustrated by the lockdowns and other restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Her final project arose from observing light reflected on the pavement (in Angel Court EC2 during lockdown 1), that appeared to represent flowing water. Research identified that this was the route of the Walbrook River, long since hidden underground. Natalie saw the lost river as a metaphor for things that are lost as our focus continually turns to something new; the constant renewal and exploitation from which the City has grown.  

Wanting to explore the fluidity of water and develop the materiality of the project, Natalie experimented with printing on silk and other textiles. To show the work on a more human scale, she also produced models. The final work 'Reflection: what lies beneath - new maps' comprises an installation of these, together with the photographs from which the work originated; the overall impact is of representing space, rather than simply photographing it.  

           

Gerard had introduced the evening by saying that tonight was something different: conceptual work that you have to think about and not just look at. Mandy and Natalie indeed gave us lots to think about and, through their work and practice, showed us photography that is challenging; it is ultimately more rewarding and inspiring for that.

Images courtesy of Offshoot Gallery

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