What things should I document?

The documentation of my work should be an archive of what I’m doing. An archive requires organisation, to be categorised in order to be easily referred to. What is important to do during this process is to document what we are looking at as well as what we are doing. Our research will inform our practice and vice versa. This could be presented in a number of different forms, whatever suits the content most.

We discussed different approaches to documentation. As a group of practitioners of varying disciplines, we all document our work in different ways. During my time studying or my BA in Photography a few years ago, we were encouraged to use solely blogs as documentation. We obviously photographed and created physical prints, but all of this was logged onto our blogs. This meant taking notes in taught sessions and transferring these to our blogs as written pieces. Although time consuming, it was a great exercise in academic writing, one which I aim to carry on as much as possible during my MA. I did not have a sketchbook for the whole 3 years.

Now I am studying for a Masters in Illustration, a sketchbook is going to be one of my main forms of documentation. This isn’t necessarily within my comfort zone, but I have started to be less anxious at the prospect of a blank page and just dive in, not feeling the pressure to fill it with completely realised ideas and pieces.

Other methods suggested were:

  • Planning exercises – normally in the form of mind maps
  • Documentation of events/ activities – photographing workshops or a variety of activities can provide so much evidence for the overall archive. It could depict the attendance, the activity itself as well as artistic approach etc.
  • Proposals for unrealised projects – This is something I tend to do quite a lot. Just because a project isn’t fully realised doesn’t make it invalid as research and documentation. To get to a final product or realisation, there are bound to be stumbles along the way.
  • Notes – taken in classes, workshops, talks etc. I have a tendency of writing notes that aren’t entirely legible. I think this comes from a habit of taking notes then writing up my findings in a more linear and easy to understand manner. This is something I should work on as I am potentially wasting a lot of time in writing notes up for others to understand.
  • Sketchbooks – As mentioned before, this is something I will be doing more of. Just have to work on being less intimidated by it, and work with a range of different mediums.
  • Lo fi prototypes and idea testing – Playing with ideas, creating low res samples to get an idea and feel for how the final piece will work. I can’t imagine I will be using this for a while yet, until I am working on a more realised project idea.
  • Film – Documenting processes, reactions or research by filming. I would probably use this when physically creating a work or even recording the Photoshopping processes. They are lengthy, difficult to describe, can be sped up and be more interesting to watch.
  • Social media – This is something I use already, but am definitely not making the most of the platforms I have access to. I use mainly Instagram, photographing both finished pieces and works in progress, as well as books or exhibitions I am looking at as part of my research. I want to use Twitter more, as I pretty much don’t use it at all, but is a really useful tool to document not only what I’m doing, but what I’m looking at and any thoughts I may have regarding projects. It also allows interactivity with other practitioners , which could and more than likely will enhance my research and practice.
  • Notes to self – I normally do notes to myself either in my notebook or on my phone, but I have started to put them in my sketchbook also. Previously I wouldn’t have felt they belonged there, as I like to have everything very structured. But a sketchbook by nature shouldn’t necessarily be a linear archive by itself. I am becoming more comfortable with its possibilities and will more than likely continue to make notes in my sketchbook
  • Failures – Failures in pieces or direction of investigation can determine so much of what you do and look at moving forward. Although failures are very uncomfortable for me to expose, they are really useful to reflect on. It helps with understanding process, what I’m doing wrong and what I can take from it.
  • Technical journals – Technical drawings of proposed projects, planning how a piece could be realised practically
  • Exhibition/ event literature – fliers, programmes etc. As I have a few exhibitions coming up soon, this will be something I will be including as documentation.
  • Notes from reading – Notes taken whilst reading books, articles etc. This isn’t necessarily copying what the writing is saying but also questioning it. I like to question what writers are saying, look at their background and compare to other’s writing on the chosen topic.

There are bound to be more ways of documenting, but these are the most commonly used ones. I will be experimenting with a range of documentation, but more than likely archiving it all on this blog. I haven’t yet finalised the categories on this page. We discussed as a group that archiving can’t really start until you have enough material to define what the categories are. I have some temporary ones, but will more than likely go over these again and recategorise my posts to make more sense and be more accessible.

Who’s the documentation for?

Looking at accessibility, this documentation is primarily for its creator, in this case myself. I want to have my research and practice as a reference resource available for me to look back on. This could be looking back at artist research, looking further into unrealised projects etc.

As this documentation is also available online, it is also for the public. This means that it cannot be in a private language. It has to legible to others. As this is also to be marked as part of my degree submission, it has be legible to be marked also.

In short, the documentation has to be organised, accessible and assess-able.

Practical considerations – how should I organise it?

We discussed as a group our own methods of organisation and how their research and work is categorised to be accessible to others and ourselves. Some practitioners work using largely sketchbooks and physical artifacts with very little online work. They’ll have a sketchbook for artist research, a sketchbook for practical work etc. They can then cross reference with each other to be more accessible.

As a lot of my work is digital, it is easier for me to digitise the physical artifacts such as sketchbooks and then categorise online using my blog. What I like about this form of organisation is that can also be narrowed down by date as well, so the archive is chronological as well as categorised by theme of the document’s nature. Everyone works differently, but this form of archiving has proved to work really well for me.

Philosophical Issues

The documentation as a form can become part of the project itself. The archive is a system of organisation, of which bodies of information aren’t always visible. It is a process of selection, artist intervention and curation, which in itself is a significant part of practice research. Archiving is a necessary human survival practice.

In this workshop, we were given examples of how other artists archived in their practice.

Winding Towers (Britain) 1966-97, Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher © Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher

Bernd and Hilla Becher photographed architectual structures in the same manner, which aided in the realisation of minute variations between each structure.

Put a nickel in the parking meter, stop by the dime-store, pick up a bottle of whiskey for a dollar and a quarter. Watertown, New York July 31, 1974 ©Stephen Shore

Whilst looking at these images, an interview I studied during my BA came to mind with Stephen Shore, an American photographer. He stated that he archived and dated his photographs by including something (e.g an item/ style) that he knew would date the image. Fashions and design are forever changing, trends come in and out. Therefore, we see a lot of cars in his images, which helps us date them. We also see a lot of fashion references, particularly in his photographs of people. The photos archive themselves.

The Anatomy of Business ©Louis Porter

Looking further into how the method of archive can become part of the work, I was introduced to Louis Porter’s photobook “The Anatomy of Business”, a series of images from a 1980’s financial newspaper archive. This body of work, through the act of appropriation, strips the images of their original purpose and are organised in a way that creates a dialogue that differs from their intention. The way in which these images are presented along side each other give a new intention.

During my BA in Photography, my final year focused on the archive, particularly family archives and how we can organise these images for them to flow as memories do. I focused on my great uncle’s archive of photographs, records and ephemera, looking at how thee objects interconnect to create a narrative.

Image may contain: 15 people
Robert Frank Brown – Passport Photos ©Hollie Woodward 2014

Robert Frank Brown, my uncle, passed away in 2006, and what was left after he passed was a wealth of resources giving us narratives we had no knowledge of when he was alive. Piecing these together to identify these narratives to a wider audience, a general public who did not know him, was no easy task. I decided to use a range of different media. I created a website, where  selection of relevant items were photographed or scanned, including the backs of the items that were often dated to give context.

Brown was an engineer. He was an inventor also, so I included the patent that I managed to find online as part of the archive. I wasn’t afraid to bring in outside sources to enhance this narrative. I also included a recording of my father reading the eulogy he wrote for his funeral, humanising the archive. I wanted people to know that this is a personal archive as well.

Image may contain: 9 people

I presented and organised the material in a number of ways. I had a website, with each item available to be organised in chronological order, as well as in groups I determined. These categories included: The Son (Brown as a child), The Uncle (his remaining family’s relationship with him), The Student (he was an academic), The Teacher (he taught English in Iraq), The Engineer (his work in Iraq), The Inventor etc.

I had to create something for the final year exhibition, so decided to present the archives as a series of prints in a box. I wanted the viewer to have a personal experience with the archive and to be tactile. I chose not to do a book because then I am deciding how they see the images, where as prints can be shuffled and looked at in no predetermined order. Memories are not linear and I wanted the presentation to reflect that. I also had the eulogy available to listen to whilst looking through the prints for more context. As Brown had a huge amount of passport photos amongst his possessions, I included these as blown up prints organised into an aesthetically pleasing arrangement, but not chronologically in order.

Sketchbook 20-21/10/17 ©Hollie Woodward 2017

I am no stranger to working with archives, and now moving on to a different practice, I want these traits to transfer. I am working on sketchbook presentation and to not be afraid of including notes. Simple things like making my handwriting more legible in my sketchbook will prevent me from having to rewrite what I have already written. This is helpful for me to look back on to because I cannot always read my own handwriting.

I have a habit of keeping information in my head. It’s like I’m thinking too fast for me to get it down onto paper or online and that’s where gaps in my research start to appear. I don’t want this to happen, not only for my audience but for myself. Gaps aren’t going to help in the future reflecting back on my work when I don’t have its full comprehension.


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