We speak to this final year postgraduate student at the RCA about the best book she got out of the Library recently, her recent work which investigates the problematics of the “Old-Time” portrait studio, and student debt.
1. Surprise Tribal White Woman
2. Funny Mexican Poncho Robber
3. Cowboy Couple Joyful White
These images are from the series ‘Full of Loops’ (2017), which I have been redeveloping since the initial installation that I built during Chisenhale’s Studio4 Residency this summer. I’m interested in the ‘American Old West’ theme as it appears within the fairground and the ‘Old Time’ portrait studio, and in particular the ways in which race and gender are usually stereotyped for an experience of ‘fairground fun’. The familiar ’cut-out’ is obstructed by means of the intact board and scratched out faces. We are confronted instead purely with this stock image character. This is a flattening of the possibility to embody that character for the banal narcissistic exercise of dressing oneself as hero or sex symbol against the backdrop of a deeply racist, imperialist, and violent history.
What made you choose this course?
I graduated from the Slade in 2013. It was common place for most students to move on to either RCA or the RA. I was weary of only existing within a bubble, but eventually yielded to apply to RCA. A former tutor, Carey Young, championed RCA as an exciting place for artists working between photography and installation. Additionally, the interdisciplinary branding of the college, darkroom facilities, and caliber of former students’ works, and visiting and current tutors was appealing. I always planned to do a masters degree, it was only a question of when. In addition to life and immigration practicalities I wanted to have time in between degrees to have experience outside of an educational institution, and to more than want but need a chance to re-examine my practice within a peer based setting.
Can you show us your school in a few images?
What has been your most enlightening encounter so far?
The most generative aspect of my degree has been my dissertation ‘One Drop, One Touch: What it Means to Burn’, a historical investigation of the use of photography as a tool of erasure and obscuration of black and brown peoples’ histories and identities. Much of the research and work during the degree has been influenced by that framework, and has enabled me to connect to many people working around similar sets of concerns.
Can you share three items on your to-do list?
1. Recover from flu
2. Decide whether it’s worth my emotional/mental labour to put together a protest/petition against the shortlisting of the exhibition ‘autoportrait’ for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize.
3. Need to watch ‘Blazing Saddles’ to see whether it actually does the satirical anti-racist work that it sets out to do.
Show us the work of one of your classmates.
‘Relaxation Island’ by Eleonora Agostini.
What was the last great book you got out of your school’s library?
Liquid Modernity by Zygmunt Bauman. I was introduced to this text by artist Uriel Orlow during a school group (a seminar group run by a lecturer or visiting artist around a particular theme or interest) last year. A passage from the foreword states, ‘If the time of systemic revolutions has passed, it is because there are no buildings where the control desks of the system are lodged and which could be stormed and captured by the revolutionaries…’
How do you see photography contributing to todays world?
I don’t think this is something that can be plainly answered. Photography for one is so broad, Photographic journalism contributes to todays world in a completely different way than fine art photography than ‘amateur’ personal photography circulated on social media. For me personally I’m interested in making as a way of understanding, unlearning, as an agitation and because I am agitated. I would hope that the photographer of the future will be more ethical and accountable, and that more fashionable corrupt image-making practices will be held to higher standards.
How do you imagine your life 10 years from now?
In 10 years from now it would be great if the world is not as fucked as it is now, but that is doubtful. The dream would be to still be making work, finished a fully funded PhD, ideally supporting myself financially by teaching, having a British passport and being able to leave the country without current immigration restrictions, and being in much, much, less student debt.
About this Model Student: Jennifer Martin, 27, London based for the last decade and US born, an artist who sometimes writes things, and a final year postgraduate student at the Royal College of Art in the Photography programme. My part-time job is in the arts charity sector and current hobbies include finding time to cut my nails and looking obsessively at my calendar for said free time. I work between multiple mediums dependent on the project and I am currently making a film that explores the careers of three British black and black bi-racial actresses and the ways in which they have been typecast, stereotyped, blacklisted, and have revolted against those conditions, like viruses misbehaving or ‘dis-behaving’ within the systems of the filmic landscape and within our system of oppression, racialization, and vision.