Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Given Best

My final series of work, 'Given Best', is an exploration of the hunting for something live, although not an animal. It looks at an alternative to animal cruelty in a non-forceful way, letting the viewer not only empathise with knitted replicas of traditionally hunted creatures but also encounter nostalgia with the craft.   

As I am currently writing a report on my final work I wanted to write a blog post similar to what I am including in my uni work, not to sound pretentious but to share what I have considered when creating these images. 


The initial theme of my work was hunting. I looked at paintings and photographs of hunters, how documentary images portrayed 'the hunter' and the animals they had caught. I found that the colours associated with hunting were very similar to those of the 2011 autumn/winter trends making my work contemporary with current fashion. The dress used here holds the same colour palette as Burberry Prorsum's Fall 2011 ad campaign and throughout the series the styling was influenced by Anglomaina: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion and Alexander McQueen's Resort Collection. The use of the dress and pearls was to connote the female side of my character, referencing the hunting balls that were held to celebrate after a hunt. 

Placed in front of the antlers the subject begins to raise the question of 'why'? I wanted her face straight forward to address the viewer, with the antlers behind as to look apart of her. With my research I looked into the hunting ban and the idea that the hunters are now being hunted by the paparazzi which  stuck in my mind. I liked the idea they were 'being chased' and wanted to incorporate it with the image as the props are knitted. It is almost a response to my pride of knitting, how like hunting, knitting, anything allows this pride that you have finished something. 

With the critical theory side of it I looked into why we knit, why I personally knit and what kept coming back was this idea of being able to see a project from beginning to end. This certainly links into hunting, with its regulations and traditions, both date back along time and have a stereotype. I wanted to prove I could make something that raises questions, why not use real antlers? Why is she the hunted? 

Maybe I wanted the viewer to believe she is the knitter, producing these pieces in the same fashion as killing them. I did not want an emotional connection with the pieces, with minimal interactions. I wanted the same kind of stance as the documentary photographs I researched. 

Craft In Arts 

For my dissertation I have been researching craft in art and advertising, why knitting is becoming more and more popular and what makes it nostalgic. The work is a reaction to mass production, like many people who discover knitting, I discovered there was a completely different feeling to the handmade. Although it is there to make a stand against hunting, it also works as an anti corporation piece. Both my props and Amelia's work are handmade with hours and hours of work going into them, so the pre production on the shoot was more than just planning the location, model, hair, make up and styling. 

Reading 'Feminism and the Art of "Craftivism": Knitting for Social Change Under the Principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement' by Micaela Hardy-Moffat I learnt of four principles used by William Morris, who established the arts and crafts movement. These four principles are: 

Unity in design - "the surface beauty of the object should correspond to the object’s function and utility"

Joy in labour - "served to minimize the division of labour imposed by the industrial revolution and give equal credit to both the designer and the maker of the textile"

Individualism - "the importance of uniqueness and originality, in contrast to the multitude of mass-produced, poor quality goods being pumped out by the factories that emerged during the industrial revolution"

The notion of regionalism - "requirement for a wholesome and harmonious relationship with the surrounding environment, encouraging the use of local materials derived from natural sources for the creation of art" 

Although these refer more to tapestry textile art and furniture I can consider these elements with my image making and pre-production. Does my work have unity in design? Its function was to make a stand against animal cruelty in a non forceful way, it had to be eye catching and mimic the real. Joy in labour? I was the designer and maker and did not use industrial methods to make the pieces. Individualism? I believe my work stands individual, although other artists and knitters have done similar things my context allows the photography and knitting to link, it is not so much about the physical objects, but like Margi Geerlinks what the overall image represents. The notion of regionalism? I used local wool shops and acrylic yarns so the materials were 'animal free'. 

I believe in regards to Morris' principles the props I have created can be acknowledged as craft in art. The photographs show the pieces off in a commercial way, however there is theory behind it. 

Hyper-realist Technique

Within my research and previous projects I have always looked at Erwin Olaf's work. Olaf's hyper-realistic style has always influenced my work, as it has a painting like quality which I have always admired. I looked into the photorealistic art movement and Ralph Goings, where I started thinking about how the process of painting and photoshopping corresponded when making an image. My work is very much 'created' in post production, which I have accepted as my style, some people think it is too much but its what I like. The use of 'hyper-realism' in my work refers to the editing style and what I have used, referencing Olaf's photographs and other paintings I researched. 

What I like about the editing style is how it works with the handmade, on one hand it juxtaposes it at the final look of the images is very slick whilst handmade pieces will always show signs of imperfection, on the other it mimics it as I have (with my hands) worked on these photos for hours and hours making them what they are. The pre and post production have had almost the same amount of time gone into them. The photos become 'handmade', edited and made by myself and the tools that aided me rather than the basic mechanics of the camera. Anyone can take a photo, the documentary image or the 'family snapshot' will always be seen as more truthful than constructed fashion images. But, if we consider documentary images to really be truthful, what does the photographer actually do other than compose the shot and click the button? My visual voice and the creation of these props do mimic each other even if it is not instantly apparent. 

Although this photograph does not feature any creature replicas the lace is handmade by Amelia, we chose to shot this with the hat which has a very obvious connotation to hunting. During the critique at uni one of the tutors said "am I missing something" but I do feel it is a strong photo and in the context of the series it does work.

Vanity vs Animal Welfare 

Although I decided to move slightly away from a campaign against animal rights I still considered it in the making and values of the shoot. With Peta and other activist groups the campaigns can be very negative, using shock tactics to influence peoples opinions on the subject. As I have written about before I do not have an incredibly strong view on fur, I wear faux fur which I believe does promote real fur so my problem with making a series against fur is that ultimately I could be promoting it. 

The style of prop making and the pieces sourced from Amelia are more quirky than realistic. At first I wanted the viewer to question if the pieces were real or faux, however by taking a less serious approach it is not as in your face and is more light hearted. I think because my model is very regal and the influence from paintings make her poses serious this does allow it to be more contemporary and different to a shoot with a model with a whip and riding jacket. 

I dont know if the work seems a little comical or cheesy, it is certainly not meant to be considered as dead serious. If it is representing a little bit of craft in arts and hyper realism I think it will seem less credited as there is a stereotype with textiles and the examples of hyper realistic painting I have found also have a light hearted feel to them. 

Overall I think the shoot was a success, I wish I had time to knit more props and to allow a better consistency through the series. Some images, as always, look better and some will not be featured on my website. However here I have decided to include all of them, even if they need a little more work. I had a great stylist, the pieces Amelia sent were so beautiful and the photos I got would not have been possible if not for the lovely Faith and of course Gerri for letting us use her house. 

Given Best
Photography: Louise Walker
Assistant: Faith Mason
Styling: Emma Jane Smith
Location: Gerri Melville
Knitted Props: Louise Walker
Fashion Pieces: Amelia Fever
Hair and Make Up: Tori Harris