Individual Practice : Project 1 Tempus Fugit Concept

Painting by Jaxine Cummins

As I outlined in my rsearch presentations – hard copies are in project contact sheet books – I wanted to make an observation on mankinds impact on the world, particularly the rate of consumption of natural resources. However I didn’t want to have just a series of negative images that showed the destruction man wreaks upon the planet. Nor did I want to capture images that somehow how make beautiful images from the destruction. For, as much as I admire, the work of Eduard Leal somehow works such Plastic Trees don’t have the intended impact on me – I just see a great visual image rather than a thought provoking one.

I also wanted to look at another genre of photography as I have varied this with each project in my studies. Lastly I want to  combine some personal interests such as technology, mundane or discarded items and decided to look at creating a series of images that would illustrate the consumption of resources, past and present, and how I feel this is accelerating as more of the world aspires to live the way the western world does and the fact that we collectively need to realise its simply not sustainable. For example America has 5% of the worlds population but is estimated to currently consume more than 20% of the worlds consumable resources. The inequality between the have and the have nots of the world is a serious cause of concern for future generations as they will need to seek out an equitable solution to sharing the worlds resources else there is every likelihood of conflict on a previously un-imagined scale. No longer over land or religion or politics but simply over the right to survive.

Incorporating a desire to represent time I came across the symbology and presentation of classic  Dutch Still life painting, known as Vanitas art, which has much embedded in its depiction to indicate the passing of time, such as skulls, candles, glass, dead animals and insects. Vanitas art was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries and further details of the meaning of the symbology are covered elsewhere in this research. Accordingly I decided to do a series of Vanitas inspired still life.

I chose as a title for the project of Tempus Fugit which is a Latin term, usually translated as “Time Flies”, it is frequently found on clock faces from about the 1920’s onward and was particularly popular in the 1970’s and 80’s although clocks from this era are somewhat looked down on as the bulk of such clocks were cheap reproductions of earlier, much grander pieces. However I think it summarises the concept of the project quite neatly.

Artist Statement in respect of Tempus Fugit

Tempus Fugit is a series of still life images illustrating the accelerating rate of the consumption of consumer goods and thus the associated resources. The are photographed in the classical Dutch Vanitas stlye with its strong moral symbology reminding us all of the passing of time and our own mortality. Begging the question ‘Is the way we live and the objects we require to live sustainable for the future generations of all the world?’ “

So I decided to photograph a number of examples of pieces of technology from the past 150 years or so namely :-

  1. Flat Irons – Middle Ages
  2. Sewing Machines – Circa 1850
  3. Manual Typewriter  – 1865
  4. Film Cameras – Circa 1885
  5. Personal Computers – 1980
  6. Mobile Phones – 1983

Additionally with each image I intend to display a brief pertinent fact or statement pertinent to the history of the object and its impact, the underlying theme in this selection is that the successive technologies have a shorter life span thus supporting my assertion that the rate of consumption and obsolescence is accelerating. For example The Singer Model 15 has been manufactured  somewhere in the world continuously since 1870, whereas a modern Smartphone probably has a production life of 12 to 18 months before its replacement is announced.

Flat Irons  

Ironing was another example of the domestic burden on women as indicated by this 1880 quote from The Iowa Housewife   “TUESDAY: IRONING In most Iowa homes this third day of the week is reserved for ironing.  The whole day should be reserved to complete this job.” (, 2017)

This is taken from a history project run by the University of Northern Iowa to provide teachers relevant information on the development of the state from both a social and economic standpoint.

No-one can say exactly when people started trying to press cloth smooth, but it is known that the Chinese were using hot metal for ironing before anyone else. Pans filled with hot coals were pressed over stretched cloth as illustrated in the drawing to the right. A thousand years ago this method was already well-established. Meanwhile people in Northern Europe were using stones, glass and wood for smoothing. These continued in use for “ironing” in some places into the mid-19th century, long after Western blacksmiths started to forge smoothing irons in the late Middle Ages.  (, 2017) 

Manual Sewing Machines

“The SINGER model 15 is believed to be the longest manufactured machine in history introduced in 1870 and is still made in some Indian & Chinese provinces today. The model 15 was regarded as being just about perfect. It would sew anything from silk to canvas without complaining. It was the dawn of a new era in sewing machines.” (, 2017)

Singer Model 15

There was huge pent up demand for an effective sewing machine as prior to this everything was laboriously hand made making clothing both time consuming to create and expensive. Poorer families couldn’t afford to buy clothes and typically the wife would make clothes for the family. Another task in the endless drudgery for women of that time. So the introduction of the manual sewing machine had huge social impact, freeing women, creating employment – 50 years before the introduction of typewriters sewing defined employment of women. Both in the exploding clothing industry as it became possible for people to buy clothing cheaply and thus have a more extensive wardrobe. It also created self employment for may women, buying machines under Singers innovative financing (basically hire purchase) and providing sewing services in their local area.

It was a fiercely competitive market for a huge prize and there were many competing manufacturers who were constantly stealing each others innovations and suing and counter suing each other. Fortunes were made and the most famous name, Isaac Singer, created a fortune, from nothing, that even when distributed amongst the 24 legitimate and illegitimate children he acknowledged in his will, made them all wealthy beyond their dreams for an estimated 5 generations.

Manual Typewriter

Sholes-Gidden first commercially successful typewriter.

Sholes Gidden in use

“In spite of advances in technology and changes in the economy, state government still operates on an obsolete 1970s model. We have a typewriter government in an Internet age.” Matt Blunt Former Governor of Missouri

The first typewriter to be commercially successful was invented in 1868 by Americans Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule in, although Sholes soon disowned the machine and refused to use, or even to recommend it. It looked “like something like a cross between a piano and a kitchen table.”  The patent (US 79,265) was sold for $12,000 to Densmore and Yost, who made an agreement with E. Remington and Sons (then famous as a manufacturer of sewing machines) to commercialize the machine as the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer. This was the origin of the term typewriter. Remington began production of its first typewriter on March 1, 1873, New York. It had a QWERTY keyboard layout, which because of the machine’s success, was slowly adopted by other typewriter manufacturers. As with most other early typewriters, because the type bars strike upwards, the typist could not see the characters as they were typed. (Ament, 2017)

The QWERTY Keyboard was designed to minimise key jams and has since become the default layout for keyboards firstly on electric typewriters and then computers even though these latter 2 devices don’t have manually moving keys to jam, it is not the most efficient key layout as numerous demonstrations since have shown it is simply the most well known and with millions of trained typists was the easiest to adopt.

The typewriter had another major social impact and is credited with bringing women into the office, although paid much less than men, typing and stenography positions could pay up to ten times more than factory work, accordingly women were attracted in large numbers to office work. In 1874, less than 4% of clerical workers in the United States were women; by 1900, the percentage had increased to approximately 75%. Before his death, Sholes remarked of the typewriter, “I do feel that I have done something for the women who have always had to work so hard. This will enable them more easily to earn a living.”

Film Cameras

“A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart.” Arnold Newman Newman was a New York Photographer famous for his contribution to the development of Environmental Portraiture.

In its earliest days Photography was a pursuit mainly for the wealthy amateur. The materials were expensive and much of the equipment had to be self made. George Eastmans, he behind Kodak, invention of a chemically stable, flexible roll film in standard sizes revolutionised photography by making it available to the masses. Eastman’s Kodak company supplemented the film by introducing cameras to suit. The first of these was the Kodak camera marketed with the slogan “You press the button – we do the rest” this because the camera had to be returned to Kodak for processing, a few years later they introduced daylight loading film so users could reload the camera themselves. In 1900 they introduced the ubiquitous Box Brownie costing $1 with film at 15 cents effectively making photography affordable for all.

We now seem to have gone full circle in that the cameras on offer now have gone away from the cheap and cheerful to being technologically highly advanced with prices to match. Even a modest modern smartphone contains a better camera than the first generations of digital cameras.

Personal Computers  “Moore’s law is an observation originally made in 1965, revised in 1975 that the density of integrated circuits doubles every 2 years, thus making for ever more powerful and efficient computers. Inevitably accelerating their rate of obsolescence.” This  forecast has proved uncannily correct until very recently. The circuitry in a modern chip is now so dense that it is becoming physically impossible to create faster computers using these methods and hence the search for new technologies for the next leap in computing power.

“In 1975, Business Week ran a cover article called The Office Of The Future. In it, George E Pake, head of research at Xerox, predicted “a revolution… over the next 20 years”, involving a television display terminal sitting on his desk. “I’ll be able to call up documents from my files on the screen, or by pressing a button,” he said. “I can get my mail or any messages. I don’t know how much hard copy I’ll want in this world. It will change our daily life, and this could be kind of scary.” He turned out to be quite right. Our daily lives have changed and it has been quite scary.The only thing he was wrong about was those hard copies – our love affair with computers hasn’t ended our love for paper. It’s only in the last few years we’ve stopped printing out every email we get sent. The joke more or less still stands that the paperless office will arrive at the same time as the paperless toilet.” (BBC News, 2017)

Personal Computers were available in kit form from about 1975 from a number of manufacturers but it wasn’t until IBM introduced its PC as a complete system in 1981 that they sold in large numbers to the general public. The availability of what was seen as an open platform spawned the software industry we see today and made PC’s multi functional devices as by using applications they could be used for  word processing – simultaneously largely killing the market for typewriters – , desk top publishing, spreadsheets and databases.

Mobile Phones

Apple Iphone 6s

Since its introduction in 2007 Apple has sold around 600 million Iphones and generated 32 billion dollars in revenue for the company. (Statista, 2017)

“In 2013 the UN announced that of the [then] estimated world population of 7 billion, 6 billion had access to mobile phones. Only 4.5 billion had access to working toilets.” I witnessed this first hand in South America at the time of the announcement in 2013 when visiting Canaima, Venezuela, the access point to the Angel Falls, I went down to the river bay early in the morning to catch the sunrise and was surprised at the number of people swimming, except they weren’t swimming they were families bathing, washing hair and clothes. An hour later walking back to our accommodation I was surrounded by the same, freshly washed and groomed , teenagers walking to school texting and calling their friends on mobile phones just like teenagers back in England.

Final Tempus Fugit  Images Here 

This entry was posted in 1 Individual Practice, Individual Practice 1: Tempus Fugit.

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