Academic writing & CV

At the conclusion of my BA(hons) course I became fascinated by the connection between the supposed indexical nature of photography and memory; how both are unreliable witnesses. It is this idea that I first encountered during my major project, which incorporated sound, moving image, sculpture and photography. The work “I keep looking for him, I think I always will”– web link 1 – was ostensibly about the relationship I have with my late father, using psychological responses to the land, memorial objects and memory to create a sense of that relationship and I plan to investigate some of the ideas that stemmed from this work further as a part of a proposed postgraduate course with the OCA.

In a talk I gave in 2016 at the ‘New Pastoral Paradigms: Landscape and the Self’ Symposium (Sheffield talk here – web link 2) I discussed the unreliability of memory as a trigger for photography. How the conversations the ‘rememberer’ might have with their own memory serve to disrupt the conception of their own past and, as Roediger et al [1] conclude, repeated retrieval further distances the real from the imagined. Furthermore, the mediation of the photographic image is the direct result of a psychological reaction to the contents within the frame and what might be included or excluded. These dialogues highlighted the need to further expand and develop my research and I would very much like to do so as part of the MA programme with the OCA.

I am intrigued by the capacity of memory to realize the false; the artist and Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow, A.R. Hopwood’s work entitled the “False Memory Archive” – web link 3 – draws on the clinical research by Dr Elizabeth Loftus and many others – see web link 4 – to exhibit the frailties of memory as primary witness. Hopwood’s evidence provides witness, many quite humorous, to memorial failures. And whilst much of that work revolves around the testimony of witnesses to crimes and potential ‘false’ recollections of the past in abuse cases; it is the witnessing of the banality of the personal, the everyday moments recollected within the familial environment that shape our lives that I find fascinating. We come to believe in a fiction, which may be contrived beyond our conscious self.

These theories on the fallibility of memory, which have abounded since the earliest theories around memory construction by Santiago Ramón y Cajal – web link 5 – stem from the end of the nineteenth century. Cajal, and others since, have posited that memory is a construction, and as Annette Kuhn suggests: “Family photographs may affect to show us our past, but what we do with them – how we use them – is really about today, not yesterday.” [2] Suggesting quite strongly, as Cajal declared, that the synaptic event – the “besos protoplasmica (protoplasmic kiss)” as he defined it – is plastic and bioformic, unlikely ever to deliver another similar recollection. Re-rendering memory every time it is re-presented.

In 2016 I staged my own workshop production of the play ‘Elegy’ by Nick Payne (which originally premiered in April 2016 at the Donmar Warehouse) – see web link 6. The play, in which disrupted memory forms the narrative backdrop, challenges ideas around what constitutes memory and how it becomes manifest. By re-enacting the text with my own performers, new ideas and strategies for exploring ideas relating to memory came to mind. I am currently in discussion with a theatre group to re-stage this play for a public performance, probably next year, which will provide more opportunity to explore some of these ideas. This may also provide an opportunity to present some of my other work, as an associated contextual narrative, alongside the play in some studio space within the theatre environment. Current thoughts on showing centre on the new work “Cutting Negatives, rearranging memory” – exampled here in web link 7 as well as other 2D work from the same work.

Of course memory, it might be said, is a structural component of most art and artistic practice, however I am specifically concerned with the personal, such as Rabih Mroué suggests “It is an invented memory that is exhausting me, and which I cannot liberate myself from. For this reason, I will uncover some parts of my archive, hoping that – by making it public – I can get rid of its weight. This will be my attempt to destroy a memory that doesn’t know how to erase itself.” [3] Whilst the notion of the fallibility of the memory, in that relationship I had/have with my late father is no longer of specific interest, the trajectory of that notion to test that sub-conscious indexicality is what excites me. This recent short video “White” – see web link 8 – explores the way a familial situation might be remembered/re-presented and was inspired by work I saw at a recent “Family Ties Networks” event entitled “The Transnational Family” – see web link 9  – which focussed on the family archive, both as a container of identity as well as memory – both of which interest me in my practice, and ideas I want to explore in more detail at postgraduate level.

My practice, as a photography graduate has formally rested in the still image, however I am interested in how the moving image can affect the narrative both in a temporal form and in a conceptual sense. And whilst moving image is something I want to explore more deeply at postgraduate level, I sense the use of video can open up performative possibilities – as in web link 7 – where I can enter the piece.

I have been a photographer for over thirty years. In tandem, I pursued a career in business from which I retired six years ago before embarking upon an intensive period of development resulting in an OCA BA in photography. I feel it is the right time to build on the success of my BA work and I now wish to further refine my ideas in order to prepare for my continued development as a practising artist. I see the OCA MA programme as a suitable structure for this objective.

My personal website is: John Umney – web link 10

[1] Recovery of true and false memories – Roediger, H. (1997) ‘Recovery of true and false memories’ in: Conway, M. (ed.) Recovered Memories and False Memories. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp118-145

[2] Resisting Images – Hirsch, M. (2012) ‘Family Frames – photography narrative and postmemory’ pp189: Harvard University Press, Massachusetts.

[3] Make me stop smoking – Mroue, R. (2006) in: Farr, I. (ed) Memory. Documents of Contemporary Art: Whitechapel Press. pp184

web links, all web-links valid as of 29thJuly 2018:

1 –

2 –

3 –

4 –

5 –

6 –

7 –

8 –

9 –

10 –

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

BA (hons) 1st  OCA – 2017


November 2015:

Informal presentation of “I keep looking for him..” to the Family Ties Network Conference hosted by the Glasgow School of Art.

July 2016:

Artist talk at: “New Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self” Symposium, Sheffield.


2015 – Group show, Nuffield Hospital Gallery, Oxford.

2015 – South Street Gallery, Churchill Hospital, Oxford.

2016 – Off the Shelf festival, Sheffield Cathedral.

2017 – Group show, Oxford House, Bethnal Green, London



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