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I am an artist and illustrator aiming to make images and animations that encourage people – including myself – to think more deeply about the world and their place in it. Image-making is my way of discovering and exploring new experiences, finding new ways of seeing, thinking and living. Finding connections and contradictions, light and dark and transitions between. Exploring different emotions and my responses to the world around me.
As part of my professional work as a participatory facilitator of visioning and planning processes in Africa, Asia and Latin America I am also looking at ways of developing pictorial animated on-line interactive resources with and for communities that people anywhere can download and use for community-based trainings on a range of sustainable development topics.
But as I was born and brought up in Europe, specifically England, my starting point is the world at home. The more I travel, the more questions I have about everyday things I have taken for granted, seen as boring and unremarkable or ugly and unavoidable. I am interested in how image-making can raise awareness and promote communication between people from different backgrounds – gender, identity, poverty – and promote creativity in managing our physical environment.
My work does not follow any specific style or medium. More a working approach to set or self-identified briefs.
I work in a range of media including drawing, printmaking, photography, collage, painting and digital media. Seeing how to exploit and extend the specific features of each, pushing them to the limit and layering them in combination. I am currently exploring how to convert my still images into different types of interactive experience using Adobe Animate, Photoshop and After Effects combined with video.
I enjoy working directly from life, sketching people and imagining the stories they might tell. Exploring different perspectives and moods. I am very interested in different cultural styles and meanings, how they use line, shape, colour and abstraction and the different meanings artists intend and viewers bring to the image.
I work with collage and photomontage to discover and explore connections and contradictions of meaning, particularly in my more political work.
I also work a lot with found images – doleful zebras in the woodgrain, monsters in the marble, dinosaurs in the clouds, faces in the sheet folds. I work with natural, mixed and print ‘accidental’ lines and textures as a basis for ‘imaginings’, exploring the types of stories these suggest. Then I develop these images to clarify shapes, or as the basis for drawings and paintings, often combining these digitally in Photoshop or with Corel Painter.
Central to all my work is a ‘Zemni’ vision based on a mix of socialist, feminism, environmentalism and a belief that simple living and love are the best routes to happiness and long life. At the same time a realisation that none of these are straightforward or without their own complexities and contradictions, and I myself do not always live up to my worthy goals.
Much of my Visual Communications work to date has been part of my own search for artistic identity and self-reflection of my own life, motivations and instinctive reactions as an essential understanding from which to move on. My best work has attempted to combine some humour with a darker poignancy as I worked through a mid-life crisis.
In parallel to this inward-looking work, I have used sketchbooks to record life around me, both at home and overseas.
Underlying much of my image-making – linked to my professional consultancy – is an exploration of feminism. What this might mean for men as well as women. Going beyond anger towards real change.
This is a live project where I hope over the next few years to communicate my ‘Zemni Vision’ in a series of cartoon-style graphic novels around ‘Zemni’s World’. A humorous but provocative questioning of ‘meanings of life’ and what we are doing to the world.
‘Every mark, every splodge has a story to tell’
I am fascinated by the way in which the brain tries to make sense of, and see patterns in, apparently random marks and textures. I experiment a lot with different materials and textures that create images in my head as the basis for deeper reflection on possible meanings and narratives.
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My ‘imaginings’ have included work in a range of physical and digital media:
A future area of my practice and live projects will be to develop more coherent allegorical narratives to link the images.
Long Term Projects
Much of my best work is part of ongoing live projects.
As part of Advanced Practice Module I am planning to work further on:
- Oromia: Reflected Journey
- Cambridge: In Search of Arcadia
- Tales from the Edge
A longer term body of work I am hoping to develop is around my Zemni alter ego, with a series of ‘alternative’ travel books and guides to different places that entertain, inform and provoke. Possibly for the final Sustaining Your Practice Module.
My documentary work explores the multi-layered nature of experience of places and interplay of subjectivity and observation. It has included a range of different approaches and media:
- Oromia: Reflected Journey used my own photographs from a car as the basis for an on-line interactive pdf of gouache paintings and collaged photographs.
- Greed Game: Politics of oil was an altered book project that used experimental illustrations for secondary source texts following different Islamic cultural styles using a range of materials and media.
- Return to Goma was a ‘single image documentary print’ collagraph series on events in Goma, DRC from my own sketches and photographs.
- Japan: a cultural journey used my own sketches and photographs as the basis for linocuts, drypoints and monoprints in different Japanese aesthetic styles.
My work takes a socio-political and post-modernist approach, concerned with:
- ‘whose documentary’ are we talking about and why? how do we work with other people to get multiple perspectives both in terms of information and feedback
- how do potentially conflicting perspectives modify the message
- what are the strengths and challenges of communicating the ‘message’ – photographs (referential but subjective selection and editing), photocollage and photomontage (possibilities for juxtaposition and multi-layered questioning), illustration and printmaking (possibilities for invention), video and interactive presentation
- how best to disseminate the document and engage with the audience to make a difference
My Visual Communication work draws on parallel work on landscape photography, particularly:
I am particularly interested in the ways in which photographic and/or ‘fully created’ images in different media (drawn, painted, print etc) are used and combined (eg in video/animation/collage) to create illusions of ‘truth’, ‘myth’ and ‘imagination’ in different types of political illustration from ‘direct messaging’ to political allegory. I am particularly interested in which types of media and approaches are most effective in drawing particular viewers in, and getting beyond mere shock and compassion fatigue to inspiring change. Specific considerations are:
- do photographs create a greater sense of ‘reality’ than ‘fully created’ images – to what extent, in what ways and contexts, and why? Given the inevitability of subjective choices in photography, the potential for almost total digital fabrication of photographic images, and the potential for drawing and painting to accurately record events and ‘distil the essence’ behind multiple complex realities.
- how is narrative constructed in individual images? Cartoons? Information graphics?
- Does narrative combination and sequencing of images differ between documentary and fictional illustration? Between photographic and fully created illustration? Between printed work and on-line animation? Why and what are the effects?
- How is text/speech used to complement the images?
- What are the implications for my own political illustration practice?
Selected travel and documentary photographs to other countries worldwide that I envisage using in future documentary illustration and/or printmaking and/or photobooks can be found on:
My future work will increasingly focus on the role of humour, metaphor and symbolism in communication of political messages – how to overcome ‘compassion fatigue’.
Creative Visual Documentary: Frameworks and Approaches
Starting from sketchbooks, photography, video/soundscapes and written reflections from walks, car and/or boat journeys, together with conversations with local people and on-line contextual research, I develop a diverse body of work including illustration, printmaking, creative photography, short documentary and allegorical books and moving image work.This will also generate starting points for many ideas in future, and a good basis for audience and market diversity. Through the series of projects on different locations and in different media I aim to establish a flexible and adaptable creative process going forward through contrasting and comparing:
- different approaches to the initial documentary process and experience in different contexts: some locations are completely new, others ones I have got to know well. In some cases I am more or less stationary (eg sitting sketching or video on a tripod) watching life go by over time, other contexts are linear where I make decisions when, what and how to make an image (eg walks long narrow paths), other contexts allow much more experimentation in where I walk and make images (eg psycho-geographical transects). In all cases there are questions about how far I follow a random process to disrupt preconceptions versus more considered seeking out of images to illustrate issues based on prior research – and anywhere in between these two extremes.
- different creative processes and combination of media to create one or more final outcomes and ways in which working in one media can inspire new approaches in apparently different media. For example moving image and audio to inspire photobook design, printmaking to inspire drawing and painting etc. This will also further develop my technical skills across a range of media for future work. Some media eg printmaking series of photobook will be used in the final product, other media eg on-line video may be used more for promotion. Again selection will be guided by audience/market research feedback.
- different narrative forms and ways of combining images and the documentary narrative potentials and challenges presented by single images, single image series, books/e-books and time-based media.
This blog focuses on a series of eleven visual documentary projects ‘Edges in Time’ developed for the final ‘Sustaining Your Practice’ module for an on-line Visual Communications BA degree with Open College of the Arts.
Starting from sketchbooks, photography, video/soundscapes and written reflections from walks, car and/or boat journeys, together with conversations with local people and on-line contextual research, I develop a diverse body of work including illustration, printmaking, creative photography, short documentary and allegorical books and moving image work.
I am particularly interested in the ways in which working in different media affect:
The creative documentary process:
- what ‘realities’ we perceive, and interlinkages between the different senses that are most active
- how we interprete our perceptions and relationship between ‘objective perceptions’ and ‘subjective’ preconceptions and feelings
- how working in different media affect which interpretations are most ‘natural’ and how these interpretations can be stretched and manipulated through creative rules and prompts
Communication to audiences
- how do different media affect how people interprete messages
- how do different media affect how we see and interprete things
- How does mood affect what we see and how we use media
- How do our expectations about audience perceptions affect what we communicate and how
Aim to significantly extend my technical skills in drawing, photography, printmaking and moving image skills.
I continue to explore the range of effects of digital black and white and colour processing in Lightroom, Photoshop and DxO FX filters on interpretations of images. I look at different Photobook designs.
photographic interpretations from the first set of impressions.
Sketchbook drawing, painting and collage
Potential for serious drawing in sketchbooks on location was limited because my only access was in the winter when there were no crowds. Quick pencil sketches and notes as the basis for collage that can be used to interrogate my photographs. And be of interest in themselves as product. And some of the sketches and photo references worked up as ink drawings and/or graphite and/or gouache.
Karen Stamper sketchbook site
Mapping and abstraction
moving image, animation, video and soundscapes
Documentary animations from these different outputs for Vimeo channel.
Single image narratives:
photography, print-making and illustration
Prints: solar plate, cyanotypes, screen print, cardcuts, linocut based on photographs and sketches that and woodcut over the summer of 2021.
Making the World a Better Place
The project continues my interest in different subjective and objective ‘outsider’ approaches to documentary, focusing on environmental challenges, social challenges of marginalisation and rural poverty. and the changing and conflicting identities and interests that have underpinned debates around Brexit and future visions for our countryside and environment. I also link with relevant campaigning organisations like National Trust, Woodland Trust, local Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and Rural England.
Much of the work is concerned with ideas of ‘Place’ and linking subjective and objective narratives. Whether image-making is based on illustration or photography or even where the aim is ‘objective documentary’, many choices are made in terms of what is communicated and how image design and technical aspects of the particular medium can enhance that communication. I aim to pose some serious questions about our lives in England, our use of the environment and the ways in which we relate to each other – posing the same questions here as in my international work.
But – further my response to First Things Next – I am aiming for different types of outputs that fulfil different purposes: direct messaging, for different audiences linked to a broad ethical commitment. Provoking questioning from the viewer rather than imposing one single message. My work also reconnects with some of the more beautiful, funny and light-hearted aspects of Britain, as well as dealing implicitly or explicitly with some of the serious social and environmental issues we face.
I look at how my creative process, particularly documentary work, can be significantly improved through working with other people to help me to develop alternative narrative threads and visual approaches, building on some of my professional qualitative research skills.
Coupled with input from on-line and other sources, the projects explore alternative perspectives on place and time through sketchbook, creative photography and printmaking work. Starting from sketchbooks, photography, video/soundscapes and written reflections from walks, car and/or boat journeys, together with conversations with local people and on-line contextual research, I develop a diverse body of work including illustration, printmaking, creative photography, short documentary and allegorical books and moving image work. Much of the content will be new since the start of SYP and through 2022, developing links with organisations like National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts. Some projects build on earlier Visual Communication, photography and art projects not presented for assessment because my work was disrupted by COVID restrictions and/or I did not have the necessary technical skills or digital equipment and/or the images lacked narrative focus. The balance between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ documentary and extent of face-to-face engagement with local people will continue to depend on the extent and nature of COVID pandemic restrictions 2021-2022.
All projects are further developed with the benefit of hindsight and perspective of deeper investigation and local knowledge to have wider relevance, appeal and impact. My body of work will include different ways of engaging with audiences to improve my work in terms of:
- refining the ‘messages’ by getting a range of local views and information on social and environmental issues through conversations and interviews and local social networking sites.
- engagement with campaigning organisations to get their input and advice on how to make my work most relevant and contribute to changes.
- feedback on the effectiveness of the ‘communication aesthetics’ from local, national and also international overseas audiences to improve my technical and visual communication skills through ZemniImages Facebook page crosspasted to other social networks.
- finding different marketing, promotion and advocacy outlets for the different dimensions of the body of work. Including campaigning organisations like National Trust, Woodland Trust, local Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and Rural England.