After much wrestling and concern about my direction for CS, I finally seem to be hitting on something I can pursue. It was reassuring to hear in my tutorial that the process I have been going through, and concerns I have, are common for students at this point. It was also good to have confirmation that focusing on bread as a commodity is an idea that has potential – arriving at this as the subject for my essay and as a conceit to explore the wider topic of consumerism is something that has suddenly given me a sense of purpose and direction. I thought the tutor notes summed this up effectively:
“Bread has long since shifted from a ‘food for the poor’ to something that is fetishised and overlaid with all kinds of class connotations, ones that seem to come through a haze of nostalgia for a pre-mass production era. Looking at how it is marketed, particularly in terms of its photographic representations, with references to the rustic and pastoral, could really help…open everything up.” (Conroy, 2022)
A key point made was that so far I had focused on theory and said very little about visual culture/photography – discussing this needs to be the focus of my essay and will also help with building my argument/thesis. As Andrew pointed out, photography, particularly in the digital age, is an essential tool in the representation of commodities, not only in terms of selling things through advertising and marketing, but also, as something that can challenge and critique.
In summary, a very motivating and focused tutorial that addressed my doubts helped me understand what I need to do to develop my dissertation and realise the ideas I have. It suddenly feels like things are coming together…
Completing and moving on from the literature review is a huge relief and weight off my mind. I feel encouraged that I am on the right track and relieved that the assignment was well received despite my misgivings. It really feels now that CS is gaining momentum and that I am starting not only to get to grip with my topic of consumerism, but also beginning to understand how the dissertation will develop.
Here are a few further thoughts:
What is the ‘big moment’ that captures consumerism now?
Andrew has pointed me towards John Darwell’s work on Meadowhall, describing it as “a big ‘moment’ in the shift from a ‘heavy’ form of capitalism to one that is ostensibly lighter and more mobile and based on ‘information’ and consumption.” Reading this I was immediately struck that it is the uncertainty of the current economic position that interests me – where is the next shift? What will it be? The heavy industry that is described is long in the past and we are now in a position where the ‘temples of consumption’ such as Meadowhall and the Metro Centre seem threatened. The changes from shopping as a physical activity to one focused on leisure and entertainment has been challenged for some time by internet commerce, and this change has been accelerated by the Covid pandemic.
Use of visual examples:
I like the advice that I should reference “how art, culture and photography have documented/critiqued/responded to what [I] am looking at” throughout the essay rather than as a separate chapter. In ‘Capitalist Realism’, Mark Fisher uses cultural references brilliantly throughout to illustrate his points. This is a book I have come back to a number of times and while it may not be something I directly reference, Fisher’s style is something that I am sure will influence me.
The semiotics of consumption is also something that could be a major theme for both my essay and BoW.
Really useful and inspiring tutorial session. It was good for my submission to be well received and encouraging to hear that my idea to explore themes of consumerism, consumption and retail were felt to have potential. We discussed many different approaches for this and it is important that I start experimenting with these quickly so I can begin to formulate the direction of my final BoW.
I have summarised a number of action points from the tutorial below with the aim that this helps keep me focused:
Contact with tutor:
- Monthly progress report.
- Email links to my blog as I post development updates.
- Agree deadlines for assignment submissions.
- 1/1/22 has been set for A2, in my mind this needs a quicker turnaround to build momentum – my personal deadline is 14/11/21.
Ideas for A2:
- Approach – photograph empty/closed retail premises using Holga camera.
- Incorporate this with time exploring the retail environment in my local area as a source of inspiration.
- Willie Doherty
- Ben Roberts – Amazon project
- Led by Donkeys/Cold War Steve (particularly public display of work)
- Valerie Berlin
- Oliver Richon
- Dawn Woolley
- Laura Letinsky
- Eugene Atget (promoted by Bernice Abbott and more recently Sarah Dobai)
- Bauman: Consuming Life
- Debord: Society of the Spectacle
- Bourriaud: Relational Aesthetics
- Berger: Ways of Seeing (consumer aspects/Marxist readings)
It was good to catch up with Andrew for this tutorial, and my mind is put at ease that it is the process of getting the work for CS underway by completing this assignment that has been the most important outcome. Despite this, I still feel frustrated that I have spent so much time on an essay that will not inform my dissertation, although I need to rationalise this train of thought and move on. The most surprising aspect of starting work on level 3 is how I have found having a blank canvas of opportunity to pursue has been quite paralysing – Andrew’s advice of ‘widen the research, narrow the focus’ is a key mantra to remember here. I am starting to feel more confident about where my research could be heading and themes to pursue are beginning to become apparent which is encouraging progress.
Thinking towards the literature review for A2 my approach needs to be – read, think, re-read and refine – by doing this I am sure that the themes I wish to explore in my extended project will come into focus. It is also important to note that the literature review is only a stepping stone towards the final piece and that I can still change direction afterwards and add further sources as I identify them.
The formative feedback from the tutorial (above) gives a good summary of both where I am and what actions I need to take going forward, so I will leave thoughts about this first assignment here and focus on the positive aspects that have come out of it rather than bemoan what could have been done differently.