Virtual Study Visit (VCrits): Lee Miller and Viviane Sassen

The first virtual study visit organized by OCA was managed as a VCrits by photography tutor Helen Warburton. The visit covered two exhibitions at the Hepworth Wakefield museum (22 June – 07 Oct 2018): ‘Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain‘ and ‘Viviane Sassen – Hot Mirror‘.  I was not be able to visit in person, thus prepared myself with the marvellous resource package provided beforehand with good questions to reflect on and substantial numbers of online and offline references. The material perhaps too much to digest as a mere preparatory material, but definitely very helpful for future reference and deeper researches. I didn’t know the artists, and had some concerns about a totally photography focus, what really was not the case as it turned out. 

We were a group of 8 students from various pathways and levels plus Helen as tutor, two incl me were not from UK. Two students visited the exhibition in person what led to a good discussion around difference in virtual versus physical experiences (quite strong in Sassen’s video installation Totem)

Key learnings

  • Virtual study visits are different in quality versus physical study visits. Perhaps more contextual focused, whereas an physical visit seem to be more focused on the actual visual imageries. 
  • VCrits in the form of Google Meet do add a layer of reflection through various viewpoints, e.g. :
    – surrealism as a personal response to war traumatic experiences?
    – telling a story 
  • Considering the two shown artist’s works it became clear that both do act in a different time (around WWII and today), informing not only techniques used but also questions around identity and gendered roles and expectations
  • Role of the curator: Viviane Sassen were actively involved in making the exhibition, Lee Miller was ‘represented’ by curator’s voices, interpretations, and staging the show.

Take aways:

  • Before visiting an exhibition to compare what the gallery, curator and what press and/or the artist is saying about it. 
  • Considering the purpose of the exhibition (e.g. documentary, increase the visibility of an artist?)
  • Considering how images do reflect context of time and could be linked with different artists
  • Embracing artist’s talks and discern how online images versus physical encounters can change meaning and impact (also for my own work)
  • Viviane Sassen’s work Totem is really intriguing, a pity that I can’t see it in reality, as it adds a narrative through a rupture of the pictorial plane by the way mirrors and projection is installed. Very relevant to my current coursework.


The kind of virtual study visits and VCrits was a pilot, new to all incl. to Helen. The package provided beforehand was outstanding (though it would have been good to add sizes of reproduced works) and close to a coursematerial. I believe it took quite some efforts from the authors to make it. A resource document valuable for future references as well. What opens the question of preparation for an exhibition or physical study visit that mostly do not include such comprehensive package. 

One comment from Helen to take further into account: to run such VCrits under students’s ownerships, perhaps with invitation of a tutor. Question of preparation as well.

Background on the two artists: 

Lee Miller (1907 – 1977): A pioneer of experimental and surreal photography from a female perspective. The exhibition text explained her role, at her time underestimated and mostly falling behind her male contemporaries as Man Ray, Henry Moore, and Roland Penrose (her later husband). She was a key person in the surrealist movement in Britain around the 1930s/1940s. As a fashion photographer working for Vogue she became during WWII a war photographer that made apparently a deep impact not in her time but also mentally on her health.

Viviane Sassen (b. 1972): A contemporary Dutch fashion photographer and artist living in Amsterdam with for me a strong painterly exploration of visual images through a more abstract approach. She explores the subconscious, the uncanny and the spiritual realm of dreams – quite in context of original surrealist thoughts as proaclaimed by André Breton in the ‘Surrealist Manifesto’ (1924). 

What I find interesting is her approach to photography crossing boundaries to other discoplines:

“I’m interested in material, texture and tactility. I’ve always been drawn to sculpture and painting, and photography – being a medium with such smooth surfaces –makes me particularly obsessed with texture!” – Viviane Sassen (Muraben, 2018)



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