All posts relating to the Photography section of the Creative Arts Today course are below.
After reading and considering the introductory chapters of, The Pencil of Nature (1844-46), by William Henry Fox Talbot I considered the following questions:
- Do you see photography as mechanical or creative?
- Can any process be both?
Firstly I wanted to remind myself/ascertain what the term mechanical meant, according to an online dictionary Mechanical has two definitions:
1.operated by a machine or machinery.“a mechanical device”
2.(of an action) done without thought or spontaneity; automatic.“she stopped the mechanical brushing of her hair”
I think following Talbot’s introduction you could conclude that photography was mechanical, simply because he focused heavily on the scientific research, experiments and processes involved in developing photography. However I think even this process shows creative thought, he had to think outside of convention, I’d say that’s try to solve a problem (in this case how to fix an image onto paper) creatively.
Perhaps the early methods in photography were mechanical because they were very much figuring out process and forms. But I think today photography can take into consideration several factors which might have been traditionally seen as part of a creative process. For instance considering how you want to capture the photograph, the mood you want to create, what you’re framing or focusing on, the light etc all area considerations of composition which would be familiar to most artists.
If Talbot’s words are anything to go by Photography is a blend of the mechanical and the creative, even though he doesn’t explicitly reach those conclusions for himself.
What in your view, makes photographs unique as an art form?
I think part of what makes photography unique is it’s capturing of the moment, or a moment. You can use cameras to capture and keep moments, the moment gets extended onto a physical or digital format in a printed or shared photo. Photography has the unique quality of evoking nostalgia, looking at old family photographs, even the act of trying to capture a moment feels nostalgic. Nostalgia isn’t purely unique to photography, but I think its effect is felt most strongly through photographs.
I think another factor that makes photography unique is the ability to capture things which the natural eye cannot see. For instance, if you extend the exposure time and take a photo of someone waving a sparkler you capture the movement of light or traces of it which without the photograph are invisible to the human eye. For the purpose of explaining my thought here’s an photograph which does just that:
Perhaps the most unique thing about photographs is their ability to exist in several places, a photograph can exist on film (a negative), as an actual physical printed photo, or as a digital image on a device. It can also be altered at several points in its creation, you can develop the film in different ways for different effects, you can digitally alter elements using software and you can print off images from the internet.
Does a photograph have to exist in hard copy? I guess my feelings about this depend on the use or context. I think we struggle to see an digital image or photograph as art, but once its an object in a gallery or that we can see up close we start to view it differently. I think the impact of the photo is somehow more fully realised once it’s printed as an object in its own right. But that’s not to say there’s no purpose to digital photographs.
My final thought is about the perspective a photograph gives, if directed well a camera and the subsequent photograph captured can give a window into someone’s unique view on life. Unlike a painting, a photograph can capture what a person’s eye takes interest in quite literally, although not completely.
Notes on essay:
The different contexts we see photographs in, do not change its denotation (its actual elements), the shifting context can alter our perception or understanding of the meaning (connotation) of the photograph.
Idea of a ‘third effect’ when a photograph enters into a ‘montage relationship’ with text, caption, or another image. A ‘third effect’ or different meaning can then be drawn from the juxtaposition of these things, which was not visible when viewing the photograph alone.
Need to consider the whole ‘life’ or cycle of a photograph not just it’s point of ‘birth’ or original moment of capture. He used the phrase ‘circulation/currency’ – coined by John Tagg. Circulation meaning the distribution of an image through various communication networks, social media, institutions etc. It has a particular meaning or use for each community it passes through – think Facebook blue/gold dress image. ‘currency’ referring to the idea that whilst an image circulates it has a ‘meaning, use or value for a particular community’. Can also have an ‘after life’ if reused or re-circulated or by re-appearing in art books, text books, publications.
Just as a display context alters of affects the meaning of the photograph does the photograph alter the meaning of the place it’s displayed in. His example is that by displaying a radical piece of art in an ‘high brow art institute’, the institute itself has de-radicalized the art piece. I can understand this theory but wonder where does he suggest the art be displayed as an alternative? And surely radical art needs to be placed in such a context in order to confront established norms?
The final notion of context explored is that of the ‘mental set’, he quotes a phrase by Ernst Gombrich, ‘the beholders stare’ which rather poetically sums this up. He continues to expand on this, saying each viewer approaches understanding the image with a mind already filled with memories, experiences, prejudices, social status etc. He counters this by also making clear the danger of falling into an ‘ideology of individualism’. That people do exist within societal structures, social classes or groups. Essentially mass media communication is effective because it draws upon that which we have in common, common desires, experiences or values. Again I have no cause to argue with these arguments!
One final point that he makes which is particularly apt today is that it ‘is problematic to judge the impact of a single image when we are exposed to a veritable flood tide of visual imagery daily’. If we bring our own experiences and upbringing with us when we ‘read’ a photograph, surely we must also bring a visual bank of memories/and imagery too. I wonder if as this ‘flood’ increases whether we will reach a point of over saturation. Then, as if nauseous from over eating we will despise the next photo we see for reminding us our over consumption.
For this exercise I had the choice to;
Flick through an old photo album – chose any photo’s that you consider to be ‘artistic’. Note what it is about these images that makes them appear more like artworks than others.
Go out and take some shots in your local neighbourhood. Take some that are purely utilitarian – to show some one elsewhere what your city centre looks like. Then take some that are more ‘arty’. What did you do differently? Show these to a family member or friend and ask them to comment. See if they also identify the ‘arty’ ones you took or if they see things differently.
I chose to do both parts of the exercise – glad for an excuse to wonder round Coventry with a camera…
After reading Gareth Dent’s article ‘Dealing with the flood’, here are my thoughts and reflections on the issue of the prevalence of photographic images today. The article includes a link to Alec Sloth discussing ‘The Current State of the PhotoBook’. If I’m honest I wasn’t aware there was such a phenomenon around Photo Books in the art world, I thought Photo Books were the realm of family albums or just people collating images of their lives. It was interesting also reading the article to be introduced to some photographers who are handling the ‘flood’ in different ways.
I particularly enjoyed finding out more about Mishka Henner’s Work.
Reflecting on my personal use of photography within social media and other contexts:
This feels like a strange but somewhat healthy spot of reflection on my own interaction with social media and photography. I suppose my history with social media is varied. When I first started using Facebook it was for my own personal use, I think I was maybe 17, looking back on photographs from the first few years they were mainly social. I took photo’s of myself, out with friends, at social gatherings. As I’ve grown older I’ve grown more conscious of what I chose to put up in photograph form (and written form) on Facebook. I rarely put photographs of myself or other up on Facebook now and when I do I like to use it to make a conscious message or point, or to record a particular moment or event.
Reflecting on other uses, whilst I use Facebook less, I use Instagram more. Most of the photographs I take on Instagram are with an agenda, I use it as a platform for recording or keeping track of drawings done in sketchbooks or for personal challenges, these feed directly from instagram to my blog section, Sketchbook. I also take photos of printing for my business and occasional lifestyle documentation. So I guess this all comes under more commercial purposes?! Some of these photo’s could be described as Artistic, I take time considering and arranging the shots, especially for products for Sale in my Etsy shop.
Are you contributing to the ‘flood’ and is this a good or bad thing?
In terms of how I interact with or contribute to the ‘flood’ of images, I guess I am adding to the flood by contributing my own photographs. But I’d like to think this isn’t just mindless, I guess you could say I carefully curate the photographs I take on social platforms. I don’t take photo’s with my phone, I deliberately use a camera (I use a Cannon 500D, borrowed from my mum-in-law). I think a camera gives better quality photographs and this important particularly as a business.
Is this good or bad? I guess that’s subjective, I try to take the best photographs I can take within my own understanding and ability (which is hopefully improving), so guess that’s good. But maybe I am just another person adding to the noise level in visual communication! I guess we do still have some control over what we chose to engage with. I decide whose photos I follow or see in my Instagram, likewise other people have a choice to ignore the photos I take.
Does social media democratise or devalue photography?
This seems like quite a complex question and I’m not sure I’m in the best position to answer it. But I have a few thoughts. Firstly I wonder can it be both, social media seems to have made photography available to a broader range of people, anyone with a camera on their phone could technically produce photographs. But the quality of these photographs is perhaps the thing most under attack here – if people literally care nothing for, and refuse to consider how/what/why they are taking a photograph I think it shows.
In the section entitled ‘Truth in Photography’ within my course workbook, the photographer Oscar Reijlander is referred to, by mention of his famous photograph, The Two Ways of Life (1857).
I have not (unsurprisingly) encountered his work before and so felt like researching his work a little further before moving on to other exercises. In my research I came across two main intitutions which housed collections of his photographs online; The J.Paul Getty Museum and The National Media Museum.
The J.Paul Getty collection of Reijlander’s works, here, reveal a photographer whose work linked the world of the artist with the work of the photographer. It is said that Reijlander believed photography could be used a study or reference point for painters who wanted to improve their draughtsmanship. He earned a small living producing photographic studies for artists. It’s clear looking at some of these photographs that he drew his inspiration from Renaissance paintings. From my perspective it’s fascinating to see an early example of someone exploring art through the medium of portraiture. At times this looks like mimicry rather than art in its own right, but I think this shifted as he became more practised.
Attributed to Oscar Gustave Rejlander (British, born Sweden, 1813 – 1875)
[Portrait of A Young Girl], about 1870, Albumen silver print
16.7 x 12.5 cm (6 9/16 x 4 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Image opposite has a clear likeness to Renaissance paintings of female figures, the lighting, pose and dress of the young girl seem to be in that same style or vein. Likewise in the image below, The Disciple, the subject of the photography itself is strongly connected to Renaissance ideas and studies around Christianity or Christian figures/types.
For me, its remarkable to think of this as a photograph, an object in its own right as well as a piece of art. It looks like an image that someone might create today in an effort to capture Renaissance ideals with modern technology. It certainly shows, reveals that such ideas of re-appropriation are not a modern phenomenon.
The final image from the Getty collection I wanted to comment is seen below, The Infant Photographer Giving the Painter an Additional Brush, is fascinating.
Oscar Gustave Rejlander (British, born Sweden, 1813 – 1875)
The Infant Photography Giving the Painter an Additional Brush, about 1856, Albumen silver print
6 × 7.1 cm (2 3/8 × 2 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Below the image on the Getty Museum website is a really insightful commentary on the photograph, which you can read here. I think the composition of the photograph is fascinating as an early exploration of photography as art. The photograph is highly allegorical in its construction; the infant representing the early stages of the medium of photography, the paintbrush and artists hand representing traditional painting, another form of traditional art is seen in the sculpture in the left hand corner. Reijlander has also captured himself in the photograph, you can just about make out his reflection in the mirror as he takes the photograph. I think it really shows how photography can be used to similar affect as a painting.
Interestingly enough – according to this article from the National Media Museum, Reijlander is now regarded by some as ‘The Father of Art Photography’. Partly this is due to his mastering of combination printing.
The image to the left, must be an example of combination printing, as Reijlander appears as himself in the photo in two separate places, in two separate guises, at the same time. The most famous example of combination printing by Reijland was mentioned earlier in the post, The Two Ways of Life. It was created from 30 different negatives, and seen as highly controversial at the time for it’s inclusion of several nude figures.
I’m still gaining insight into the origins of photography as medium so it’s really interesting to find these examples of early photographers work and see how people consider their work today. That’s where I’ll leave my research for now.
Notes on Chapter 2; America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly.
“In photographing dwarfs, you don’t get majesty & beauty. You get dwarfs.”
The above quote is part of a discussion about a movement started by Walt Whitman (I had no idea who he was until reading this chapter), of seeing the beauty in anything and everything. Sontag clearly doesn’t hold to this view herself and thus the odd sentence at the start of the post was recorded. She says that ‘in recent decades, photography has succeeded somewhat in revising, for everybody, the definitions of what is beautiful and ugly’.
She comments on two photographers work between the 1950’s-1970’s; Edward Steichen’s ‘Family of Man’ exhibition in 1955, and a retrospective of Diane Arbus’s work held at the MoMa in 1972. Both are in contrast to each other, Steichen’s work celebrates and elevates the ordinary man, ‘universalising the human condition’, Arbus’s shows a world where ‘everybody is an alien’. Interesting as an example of two contrasting uses of photography.
‘The camera has the power to catch so-called normal people in such a way as to make them look abnormal. The Photographer chooses oddity, chases it, frames it, develops it, titles it’.
In discussing Diane Arbus’s work at some length Sontag makes an observation about modern art which I can equate to and have not seen so clearly explained before by an academic. (Sontag, 1979 p.40),
“Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible. By getting us used to what, formerly, we could not bear to see or hear, because it was too shocking, painful or embarrassing, art changes morals…”
I personally feel those two sentences could sum up what most modern art seems hell bent on doing today, I say most because I don’t feel its fair to class all art in the category!
Notes on chapter 3; Melancholy Objects
On Photography and Surrealism or the surreal. Here’s an interesting quote, (Sontag, 1979, p.52);
“Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of a duplicate world, a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision”,
By this, I think she refers to how photographs allow us to see the world but, almost in another form, in creating a photograph you create another reality, something of a mix of the real world and your interpretation of it.
She speaks of photography as some kind of strange hybrid between man’s actions and machines ability, but fairly negatively, saying photographs, (Sontag, 1979, p.53) “owe their existence to a loose co-operation between photographer and subject – mediated by an ever simpler and more automated machine….which even when capricious can produce a result that is interesting and never entirely wrong”.
Even more damning, (Sontag, 1979, p.53);
“In the fairytale of photography the magic box insures veracity and banishes error, compensates for inexperience and rewards innocence”.
Sadly I can see some validity in her comments. There is a setting on the digital camera I use which literally sorts out the right aperture, ISO and shutter speed for the ‘perfect’ amount of light, so all I have do is push a button, it can even do the focussing automatically for me.
On the subject of time and photography she writes, (Sontag, 1979, p.54);”What renders a photograph surreal is its irrefutable pathos as a message from time past”.
August Sander is listed as an example of someone who used Photography to document a variety of human classes, social structures, photographing people from all kinds of backgrounds. Sontag asks the reader to compare Sander’s photographs of Circus People to Diane Arbus’s. The contrast is striking, one photographs work appears menacing almost, scary (Arbus’s), and the others seems vaguely compassionate, seemingly passing no judgement on the circus people.
For this exercise I’m considering four images which use photography to capture a sense of movement. I’m not sure if I can include the images in my blog, so where I can I’ll include any online links to them.
- Derek Trillo, Passing Place, Manchester, 2006
In this image the silhouette’s of two figures are seen moving up a set of a stairs. The stairs have glass side panels so we can see the figures legs lifted, showing us they are walking. The figures are slightly blurred, or perhaps even slightly doubled which adds to the sense of them being in motion. I think the title also adds to the idea of movement, ‘passing place’ implies an active movement or passing by of people.
In the photo an apple is scene impaled on and upright bullet shell. The apple is seen to have been pierced by a bullet, you can see the bullet having left the apple but you can also see the dynamic reaction or force in both ends of the apple. I think this is a very effective capture of movement and a very unique quick moment in time. It must’ve taken carefully planning and execution as a bullet moves too quickly for the human eye to perceive its speed. The clouds or lines at the entry and exit points of the bullet look like explosions, they remind me of the lines drawn to indicate movement in lots of cartoons or comic books. I also wonder if the blue wall or background helps aid the seeing of the movement or explosion of the apple, the explosion appears white in a strong contrast to the blue background.
This image is much harder to describe than the first two!! It looks like a black and white photograph. The background is a solid black, in the centre a blurred white figure is visible, over the head of the figure a sort of semi-circle is created by multiple grey/white tennis rackets at different positions. The tennis rackets appear closer together at the left edge of the image and are further apart at the right hand side. A faint grey blur shaped like a circle can be seen in the mid right hand side of the image, presumably a tennis ball? In the top centre of the image a series of white circle overlap almost forming a line to the top of the photograph. I’m guessing this the ball moving up as it’s thrown in the air? Looking at the tennis rackets, I’m reminded of the movement of the hands of a clock in stages, and therefore reminded of the progression of time itself. I’m slightly unsure of how to comment on the black and white nature of the photo it somehow makes the image feel more static, perhaps because it feels so stark. Does the draining of the colour make it feel less like real movement? I’m not sure why?!
A black and white image, (gelatin silver print), which shows what appears to the side of a large home, with a side angle of stone steps. A a woman in a skirt and black shirt is seen apparently floating above the stairs. Her skirt is creased suggesting movement, and her hands appear blurred as if moving too but her upper body/frame looks still. I guess the easiest assumption here is that the photographer has captured her mid jump from the top of the stairs to the bottom.
Personal photographs of movement
I don’t have much practice with or experience of watching others taking photographs to capture movement. But I’d like to give this a try. I had a little search on Pinterest for ideas/tips on how to capture movement using the search, ‘Photography capturing movement’.
I found a couple of examples of photographs capturing movements that I felt I could try and re-create or try a version of for myself.
- Photographing shifting flour or icing sugar – I found an example of this with a very practical tutorial on a website called Playful Cooking, Understanding ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.
- Light Art Performance Photography – capturing a moving light source. A how-to I found on Picture Correct, Light Painting How to.
- Photographing Light trails – capturing traffic or light from moving objects. I found another how to guide on Light Stalking, How to photograph light trails.
I’m going to need a tri-pod to take these photographs so I’m going to move onto the next exercise whilst I find someone to borrow a tri-pod from to take the pictures!
Does the ‘mechanical’ nature of photography make it a medium uniquely suited to portraying time and the passage of time?
We’ve been asked to consider the portrayal of time across several different mediums of the course of the module. Throughout the course workbook examples crop up time and time again of Artists using Photography to capture or convey time, either a particular moment of their artwork or to document it. It seems to me that even when the artwork itself wasn’t originally a photograph at some point photography is incorporated or used to help aid our perception or ability to interact with that artwork. This seems to be particularly the case with land art, sculptural works which are located in obscure or hard to reach destination. As I write this I can call to mind several examples of this, think of Katie Paterson’s, Vatnajokull (sound installation) , a sound installation based in an lagoon filled with icebergs. Photographs are used here, it seems to help us visualize the location of the installation and to capture moments in time.
Can other creative art forms deal with the concept of time to the same extent?
I think where photography struggles is in capturing ongoing time (if you discount film or cinematography here), in the Katie Paterson example mentioned above, sound allows us to get a sense of what is happening real time, and in ongoing moments. The Photograph can only capture isolated moments, fractions or pieces of time. Sontag mentions this in her book, On Photography, and states this is what makes photography so linked with nostalgia, it is a capturing of the past, it cannot continually show us the present.
This is where creative art forms involving new media perhaps offer an new window into portraying the passage of time – a live web feed (using a camera here), or an algorithm that responds and alters game-play as it unfolds – these are technologies perhaps birthed from Photography, which have evolved beyond it’s more static nature.
I think we think of Photography as being the best art form for capturing time because it seems so authentic to us, we use photographs to document our news stories, capture world events, tragedies etc, it’s become a form of evidence of time based occurrences. But it isn’t beyond manipulation or alteration. It can only (as I’ve said), capture a moment, and it does that convincingly – not an ongoing reality.
I fear I’m beginning to repeat myself here – but my point is. Yes Photography seems to excel in portraying moments in time, but I think it works well in conjunction with other art forms. I don’t think it should be held as more effective or the best option for capturing time. Time is such a complex and broad subject that I’m beginning to see why and how we’ve been able to explore it through such a variety of art forms/mediums.
At the start of this exercise we were introduced to the work of Daniel Meadows. A self proclaimed documentary photographer, he has spent the past 25-30 years documenting the lives of ordinary people around Britain using photography and video.
His 1973-1974, Free Photographic Omnibus Project, saw him travelling around Britain in a Double Decker Bus, photographing anyone who was willing and giving them their photograph for free. In this video on his website, he considers what those photographs mean 25 years later (2007), he notes that the photographs he took, have developed a life of their own. Some have been shown around the world, in different newspapers and stories, some remained with their families or the people photographed originally.
I think it’s interesting to consider today where our photographs, particularly those online will end up. With the rise of sites like Instagram, it seems a new breed of documentary photographers has been born. Their images (mine included) are now floating around the internet, perhaps they will travel much further than we imagine, or be completely lost in the sea of similar images.
It hadn’t previously occurred to me that my family photographs were actually a form of documentation. I was unaware really of what this meant as a child, I grew up having my picture taken fairly regularly, on holidays, birthdays, family gatherings. Most of these photographs were taken on film cameras (inexpensive ones) and were developed into photographs. I can clearly remember the cardboard box all these photos sat in, inside a cupboard in our hallway. Strangely enough though few of these photos ever made it out of the box and onto the walls of the house. For as long as I can remember the same family portrait photo (taken at some professional studio in the 1990’s), has hung on the wall in the sitting room.
Documentary Photography ~ ‘Photographs about something rather than photographs of something’.
Examples of documenting a journey:
In 1981, Paul Graham began working his way up the A1 road, northwards, documenting his journey, through photographs as he went. The collection went on to be published in 1983 as the, ‘A1: The Great North Road’.
When I first saw the images (with no knowledge of Graham’s work or background), I thought they might be a series of photographs from America, but they did seem a little lack lustre, they didn’t have the gloss or neon signs of America.
I then found an article by Alastair Sooke, writing for The Telegraph Online, ‘Paul Graham retrospective, Whitechapel Gallery review’. What this article made plain for me was that these photographs were a British take or alternative of an American Idea. Photographers in America had been producing documentary style photographs, particularly featuring roads, diners, evoking the freedom of travel for decades. Graham’s work is ‘British’ in it’s approach to this style of photography, he captures English countryside, road-side cafe’s in the rain and lorry drivers drinking tea in tiered looking service stations.
I found a helpful video, put together by The Photobook Club on vimeo, ‘Paul Graham A1: The Great North Road, which is a video flicking through a photo book Graham created for the collection of images. They also left a handy link to the Whitechapel Gallery Retrospective of Paul Graham Educational Resource, which in turn gave further insight into the A1 Project.
The Whitechapel Gallery education resource makes clear the artistic context in which his work was received. The collection was one of the first large body’s of work produced in full colour at the time, and was considered controversial as a result. Apparently the subjects he chose to photograph were traditionally shot in black and white, a supposedly ‘serious’ format. His work demonstrated that colour photography could be used to tell a story, and could even be considered art.
It’s interesting to consider that today perhaps Black and white photography would stand out more than colour – we live in a world saturated by colour imagery.
Shore was Graham’s predecessor in many ways. To understand more about this series of Photographs I read a few reviews/interviews with Shore. Firstly; Sean O’Hagan writing for The Observe in November 2005, That was then. Secondly; Sean O’Hagan writing for The Guardian Online in July 2015, Shady character:how Stephen Shore taught America to see in living colour. Thirdly I referred to the book, The Photograph As Contemporary Art third edition, 2014, by Charlotte Cotton
Quotes from That was then:
According to O’Hagan (2005) ‘ American Surfaces, originally published in 1999’, then republished in 2005 ‘has just been repackaged and reissued by Phaidon in a fetching facsimile of an old Kodak film envelope’, it’s telling that there wasn’t a market for or interest in buying this work earlier.
The work itself was ‘distilled from Shore’s first road trip across America in 1972’, (O’Hagan, 2005). The American Surface was a series of ‘snapshots’ taken in a tourist like manner (albeit with more a more considered eye), whilst visiting Amarillo, Texas. Apparently many view the idea of referring to an art photographers work as ‘snapshot’s’ derogatory but Shore never saw it that way, commenting in an interview;
‘They were made to look like snapshots formally, but not in terms of the subject matter,’ he says. ‘I mean, people do not tend to take snapshots of their dinner. Or the toilet in their motel. Back then, I was more interested in getting that untutored feel that real snapshots have, but are they snapshots? No, not really.’
He said having left New York to travel that he “realised that I should simply keep a visual diary of my travels. I thought that would say just as much about America.”
American Surfaces, was not warmly received by critics in the Art world, quoted by O’Hagan;
‘When my pictures were first shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, people hated them,’ he says, smiling now at the memory. ‘The press coverage, what little there was of it, was uniformly terrible.’
Remarkably Shore was ‘the first living photographer to be exhibited at the Met’, and his arrangement of his photographs ‘unframed and arranged in a grid three layers high around the walls’ did little to enthuse or persuade critics of his works value. His work was in stark contrast to the painstaking work of dark room developed photographs, having been ‘made by a machine in the big Kodak processing plant in Fairlawn, New Jersey, and stuck to the wall with double sided tape’ (O’Hagan 2005). To me his work sounds like something more suited to today’s world, the documentation and production of quick images. It is telling that his work only received greater recognition in the 1990’s and today, ‘American Surfaces is regarded as one of the key works of modern American photograph’ (O’Hagan 2005).
From Shady Character:
Shore also considered the need for time as a tool to make his work more accessible;“I do think about why people are all of a sudden looking at my work,” he told me 10 years ago, “and it occurs to me that it may have needed a distance in time for people to see what I was actually looking at. People need time. It’s much easier to look at the past than to look at the present”, (O’Hagan 2015).
His work exposed the unconsidered, the everyday, and offered it a new vantage point, perhaps elevating it, but in an unassuming way.
Robert Frank was a Swiss-born Photographer, his series The Americas 1955-1957 is considered ‘a ground breaking volume’ (Clarke 1997). A Photo Book containing 83 images, it was originally published in May 1958 by Robert Delpire as ‘Les Americains’.
It featured a photograph by Frank on the right hand page and a political/social commentary by Alan Bosquet, separated into text on each left hand page.
In January 1960, an American version of the book, ‘The Americans’ was published by Grove Press, New York. Instead of Alan Bosquet commentary the book featured an introduction by Author Jack Kerouac. The book was not initially well received by most Americans, many considered it ‘Un-American’ mostly because it depicted or drew attention to, racial divides, the prevalence of poverty, general anxiety and dis-ease post world war two. In an online article for The Photobook Club, John Edwin Mason, The Americas In Context, writes further about the context (politically and socially), that the book landed in.
The book has an interesting take on the subject or theme of time – the book does not order the photographs chronologically. Instead the photos were organised thematically. The book is divided into four sections, each beginning with an image of a flag and a picture of an aspect of American life.
In the image right are the contact sheets, or film showing some of Frank’s selection process. You can see the red pencil or pen lines around some photographs, some cropping the images to produce a different framing. He is said to have taken around 2,000 photographs and then gone through a lengthy process of whittling them down to the 83 images we see in The Americans.
I’ve not included many images from The Americans, because I’m not sure about copyright use and don’t want to cause any problems or infringe on anyone. I find it hard to properly comment on the work without actually having seen it in its entirety. But what I will say is that I agree in part with the early observations of Franks work, it is a harsh, bleak look at America. But that doesn’t mean the images in shot were untrue, I think its a clear example of someone brining their mental context to their work. Robert Frank was not an American, perhaps that freed him from any sense of having to be patriotic or any sense of pressure to present an up and coming or wholesome America. He simply shot what his eyes and mind focussed on.
As a final bit of research I read Sean O’Hagan’s article in The Guardian Online, Robert Frank at 90: the photographer who revealed America won’t look back.
I also found a link to the First Draft of Jack Kerouac’s Introduction for The Americans.
I wanted to give a little bit of space to give my own thoughts on the series of Photographs before commenting on the research I did by reading interviews and articles/books which mentioned Sloth’s work.
It’s worth me mentioning I haven’t seen the Photobook Sloth created for his series, Sleeping by the Mississippi, I have only seen the photos online through the Magnum Photography site linked to earlier. I was unfamiliar with the route the Mississippi river takes so found a map online (the featured image), to help me get a sense of the breadth of the journey. There are a number of images in the series (51 on the Magnum site), I won’t comment on all of them individually, instead I will refer to some as examples of the whole.
Although these Photographs are object or art alone, they seem to me to be best understood together. Across the series the idea of time is explored in depth. There’s the obvious sense of travel given by the name of the photographs, alongside each is included a town or city/state, so you are aware he is moving from the North to the South of the river. There is also a nod to the passing of time in the changing seasons, if you look across the photographs you can spot different indicators of changes in season or temperature and implied time changes. For examples see Peter’s Boathouse, an snow filled image, and the spring blossoms in the background of ,Rev.Cecil and Felicia.
The theme of time is also explored in the different times of day/night in which photographs were taken, an obvious example is, Cemetery, which appears to have been taken in the late evening or fading light.
A different angle, is the exploration of the passing of time seen in lonely or abandoned buildings. There’s a sense of these places being at the mercy of the elements or just fading over time, but there’s also these clues to another time, a past life, objects or pictures, that remain are made a focus of these photographs. We are left curious as to who occupied these spaces, what went on in them, what will their future be? An example is, New Orleans (see photo below).
I’m not sure if this next theme can be included as an exploration of the theme of time or if it’s a separate thing altogether. There is clearly an emphasis on the different people met along the journey. The people we are presented through the photographs, are not ‘ordinary’, Soth is drawn to people who seem to be intriguing, sad, different or eccentric. But he doesn’t seem to create photo’s which have a critical or hash gaze, these are not like Dianne Arbus’s photographs. He seems to look compassionately or empathetically, capturing people as they really are, not exaggerating their state or situation but also not trying to gloss over it. A very striking photograph, Sunshine, focuses on a woman lying on a bed wearing a bikini, she has the saddest gaze straight back at the camera lens. The assumed conclusion here is that the lady is a prostitute (this is confirmed in a interview with Soth, featured later in this post). But there is no sense of judgement or approval in the photographers gaze here, instead it feels more like an invitation to consider her emotional state, to empathize.
A very insightful interview in SEESAW Magazine, The Mississippi: An interview with Alec Soth, August 2004 by Aaron Schuman. This interview seems to cover so much, but a couple of parts really caught my attention. When asked about whether or not he saw the project as a piece of ‘Social Documentary’, he says he’s ‘not entirely happy with’ the project being referred to in this way. He goes on to explain that, yes it does document people and places along the journey and as such it has a documentary element. But concludes that, ‘there are just so many gaps. There is no picture of lavish river condos in Minneapolis, or sky scrapers in St.Lois. I’m aware of those things but I was shaping my own river.’ This series of photographs is not a tourists scrapbook, hastily made snapshots of beloved landmarks or favourite meals or moments. It is his exploration of the parts of places, people, buildings along the journey which capture his attention most. When asked about how he picks his subject or theme for a photograph he replied, ‘To find pictures, I just try to stay attentive to my curiosity. If something makes me turn my head I try to follow up on that’.
In the book, The Photograph As Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton, the series, Sleeping by the Mississippi is mentioned briefly, and his work in general. She says, ‘Soth’s photographs contain an element of the ‘deadpan’ aesthetic…as well as the conventions of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century portraiture, demonstrating that contemporary art photography draws on a range of traditions, both artistic and vernacular and reconfigures them’, (p.15 Cotton 2014).
Reading this comment on his work, I’m aware that I need to continue reading my textbooks in order to understand what is meant by ‘the deadpan aesthetic’ in contemporary art photography!
One final piece of research; an article written by Mick Brown for The Telegraph Online, Alec Soth: One of America’s Greatest Photographers.
I will finish my research there!!
Comments or thoughts on, Richard Long:Curator’s Talk, by Clarrie Wallis.
‘Art as Idea and Art as Action’
‘Interventions within the Landscape – art which was/is located in and made of the landscape.’
Long never makes significant alterations to the landscapes through which he passes.
The forms of his sculptures are simple and straightforward; the line, the cross, the circle and the spiral. He uses only the earth’s natural materials. And the scale of his work is determined by his response to a particular landscape. His work is informed by an interest in symmetry, repetition and measurement.
“Long documents his walks with an image of a location, or text-works or documents.”
Photography used to document journey as well as interaction with a place or natural objects. We are unable to be part of the walk/event itself but are given a ‘snapshot’ of it by his photography. Is this art photography, or is it more documentation? Does long deliberate over the composition of the photographs or is it a simple point and shoot and then move on?
‘Photography indispensable – direct, rough and black and white.’ Initially saw photographs as ‘documentary material, and not actually the work itself’. Photography became an art work medium for Long over time – a meeting with John Gibson prompted him to enlarge his small photographs, and turn the photographs into pieces to be exhibited. This was a marked shift for Long from seeing and using Photography out of necessity to seeing it as Art.
Text Pieces – use of language bridges gap between artists physical work and peoples perception of it – again this suggests making something conceptual more accessible to public audience.
On the subject of place – Clarrie Wallis makes the interesting observation that his work exists in ‘two territories’, the ‘territory of ideas and the territory of materials’.
Has never identified himself as a land-artist, ‘says with hindsight I see my work having as much to do with conceptualism..and even minimalism.’
Desire to relocate sculpture from the studio and into the natural world – is this also about making art more accessible to the public?
Further Research into land art:
Watched: Forest,Field & Sky: Art of Nature,by Dr.James Fox [accessed 1/06/2016]
Andy Goldsworthy featured heavily in the programme by Dr.Fox. One particularly poignant part of the programme showed Goldsworthy working on a piece creating a dry stone wall inside of a hollowed out oak tree. Much of his work is ephemeral but this piece was the extreme of that, he re-made the piece three times before reaching near the top of the trunk only for it to collapse again. I couldn’t help but think capturing this process with photographs would extend the ‘life’ of the piece, allowing what he did achieve to be captured and enjoyed for beyond the short life of the piece in location.
There are extensive examples of/photographs of Andy Goldsworthy’s work on the Visual Melt Website. If these images are something to go by he makes extensive use of colour photography to document his work, sometimes even capturing the process of making the art work.
The episode followed the preparation and creation of recent piece, Hollow, which is installed in the Royal Fort Gardens, Bristol.
So the piece isn’t really a good example of photography as art but is an interesting example of land art. Watching the programme helped me understand the vast scale and amount of effort that went into making this piece, or installation. It’s constructed from 10,000 different species of tree’s from across the history of our planet. It’s a different approach to land art, in that the materials have been taken from their natural habitat and turned into a fairly permanent looking piece. It takes tree’s that would not have been together (literally separated by time and space) and creates a strange hybrid forest.
Reflecting on interplay between Photography and time:
Is the photography simply providing an authentic record of the artwork – photography as evidence – or is it part of the artwork itself?
There seem to be a range of interactions with and use of Photography in regard to Land art. In the case of the different artists researched over this project, their approaches sometime differ. For that reason I’ll reflect on their different approaches by referencing particular works of art which are captured through photographs or are contained within the photograph’s themselves.
The above piece, Nothern France/Southern England , by Fulton is I think an example of photography as artwork. I may be wrong but it seems strange to go to the effort of printing it professionally and mounting it for display in a gallery if it’s not actually the art work. Fulton’s work is often concerned with walking, and he has been said to have considered the walk art work in itself. But here I think the physical presence of the photographs in an exhibition must be evidence of the artist considering the photographs as an art form.
The piece opposite, Japanese Maple Leaves, by Andy Goldsworthy, is a complex example. On the one hand Goldsworthy’s work is known for being ephemeral, he deliberately seems to create works in nature that are fragile and will last temporarily. Knowing that makes me think that he considers the physical piece the art work, and the Photograph as a form of documentation. But from my perspective the photograph is my only way of accessing the artwork, for the viewer that is the artwork because we can’t go and see that piece in situ, it simply wont be there.
Another example of Photography as evidence is Richard Longs, A Line Made by Walking, a piece so fragile and tied to the landscape it can only be fully seen through a photograph. But in my research, I discovered Long had a process of shifting from seeing Photography as a documentation tool to seeing it as an art work itself. I’m not sure which pieces he would consider as evidence of this shift, but I know it happened over the 1960’s/1970’s.
For artworks which are temporary, in exhibition spaces, or the natural world, the taking of a photograph seems to be used by Long as an extension of the artwork. I’m thinking of one of his more recent sculptures in the Tate; Cornish Slate Eclipse (see image below).
Keith Arnatt’s, Self Burial (see image below), is a bit of a crossover between art and documentation. Clearly the piece documents an unfolding event or process. It captures the artist disappearing frame by frame. The pictures were subsequently inserted as individual pictures interrupting a normal television broadcast of WDR a German Television station. The pictures disrupted programmes, twice a day from the 11th of October 1969.
In a commentary on the piece written in the; The Tate Gallery Report 1972-1974 , [accessed 2/06/2016]. Arnatt clearly saw the photographs as integral to the piece, ‘the ‘burial’ was done in order to arrive at the photographic sequence – the photographs are not merely a record’. Of their latter use in television the Artist said ‘Self burial was not conceived with television in mind. Nor did the artist have a particular exhibition in view’.
Arnatt later in the piece seems to point to the photographs having dual purpose by saying that ‘it was intended that the photographs that the photo- graphs should convey the impression that something was happening to me, they really record— stage by stage— the product of a quite elaborate, uncomfortable and lengthy behaviour pattern.’ His interest was in capturing a physical act and the photography was a part of documenting that whilst simultaneously becoming the artwork itself.
I’ll leave my thoughts here, and move on to the next section…
Project 3 considers place through the medium of landscape photography. Beginning with considering a series of photographs taken in Whitby, Yorkshire in 1974 by Ian Berry.
Asked to consider: Imagine the same images without the people. How would this affect your sense of Whitby as a place?
In the image left there’s a sense of parallel between the large numbers of people compactly filling an area and the density of the houses below them. In a strange way they compliment each other, I think without the people there the houses would look a little redundant. Having the seated man and woman laying in the grass in the foreground allows the eye to gradually move further into the image and take in the detail bit by bit.
If there were no people in the above image the scene could be interpreted differently, Whitby might appear to be an abandoned or poor seaside town, rather than a popular tourist spot.
The photograph left, I think would be very different without people in the frame. The man in the foreground, helps with a sense of perspective, and the figures seen walking behind him give the impression that it might be a place people regularly pass through. Without these figures, the eye would probably be drawn to the ruins or remains of the church or building in the right hand corner of the image. The church and the gravestones alone would give a more somber perhaps even, Gothic tone to the scene, enhancing any sense of loneliness inferred by the absence of human figures.
I think the scene left relies heavily on the figures within it. The catch of fish in the foreground adds a non human interest or focal point, but really my eye is drawn to the figure towards the background of the image, who is semi framed between the two moving figures. Given the nature of the subject of the piece, fishermen working, the absence of people here could imply a struggling industry, lack of work, an area of hit by economic hardship.
I think this photograph might be the most stark of the images, if the people were removed from the image. The dominant focal point without the people is clearly the edge of the pier or walkway in the top right hand corner. As it is the figures in the foreground and the dark peer in the background seem to contend for attention – perhaps because of the darkness of the peer it stands out, the figures are softer in comparison.
Perhaps the photography would appear more like a tourist snapshot or a token photograph as without the figures the peer becomes the focal point – which might be more of a tourist landmark. In such a scenario Whitby becomes seen as a tourist destination rather than a place where people live their lives, work against the backdrop of the sea.
What is the effect of an absence of familiar subjects in Jesse Alexanders, Cathedral Box Freestone Quarry, Wiltshire, 2008, from Threshold Zone?
For me the most dramatic effect here is the sense of endlessness, you don’t know how far the drop is, are we looking at a steep drop or a shallow one, there’s no familiar object to gauge depth or distance from. There’s also the effect of the isolation, even entrapment, partly I think this is due to the darkness in most of the photograph, but also because there’s very little visible matter to guess where we are looking at. Obviously the name suggests a quarry or building, but we can’t see the sides of the building, any walls, there’s no framework to come to any conclusions about the construction, just rubble. The absence also of a visible skyline I think also adds to the sense of disorientation. We get a sense of where we are partly from looking up,the sky is such a huge part of everyday frame work, having it removed is confusing. The ground is also in darkness too, another familiar point of reference, we can’t see where the photographers feet are, are they stood in a cave, are they on solid ground, the effect here is a sense of uncertainty and questioning. These are my thoughts before reading the caption in the workbook, we’ll see if my thoughts make any sense!
Exercise: to create two photographs of the same subject; one from afar with telephoto lens, the other from close to the subject with the widest setting on the camera/lens.
This exercise asks us to focus on Holiday photos, specifically the motivation for taking them, the extent to which we considered;lighting, viewpoint and composition. It also asks us to pick out examples of images which are more than just a record of place, things that take us back to that moment. To consider what makes these images special.
In the first post based on this exercise I wrote about some professional photographers work capturing movement. I’ve been doing my best to have a go at capturing some shots of movement or motion using my own camera across the past few weeks.
I’ll be honest the results aren’t spectacular, they reveal that I am still very much learning about practical photography. But it was fun to give these tasks a go, and I learnt more about my camera, ways to use it as I went.
After reading The Guardian article; New Topographics: photographs that find beauty in the banal, by Sean O’Hagan. I have few observations – firstly that this idea or concept of finding beauty in the everyday seems to be a feature in lots of post-modern art, it seems to manifest in lots of different mediums but is an undercurrent, as some kind of reaction to the world we live in.
Considering two views of two different landscapes, what can you see – as compared to a photograph taken from ground level, a map, or Google Earth:
- Derek Trillo, The Cheshire Plan from Beeston Castle, 2008.
I think the elevated viewpoint of the plain of Cheshire allows you to see elements of the landscape which would otherwise have been hidden, specifically at ground level. At ground level you probably wouldn’t be able to see the little square of tree’s the the centre right of the photograph. Some of the lines in the soil are also more visible from above than at ground level. But the viewpoint does give an odd angle or crop to the landscape – you have no view of whats around, the lay of the land, just a small section of fields/harvested land and some trees.
A map would give a greater context, and some detail about the height of the land, surrounding elements, rivers, walk ways, any hills or mountains. But the map wouldn’t give you detailed images of these things, you wouldn’t be able to see actual trees or marks in the soil, or green grass through a map, just lines and notations to represent some of the geographical nature of the area.
I’d never used Google Earth – so i downloaded it and tried to search for The Cheshire Plan and then Beeston Castle. The Cheshire Plain didn’t seem to give me a view that was near Beeston Castle so I searched for Beeston Castle – from Google earth you can drag your way around the map – its an Arial viewpoint which you can zoom into so you can view the landscape from high above or in closer proximity. It gives a much wider view of the landscape around a focal point but the quality of the image is a lot less clear, there’s a grainy nature to the whole viewpoint. It feels slightly similar to the view you’d have of an landscape if viewed from an aeroplane.
2. City View – OCA Student – Peter Mansell
The photograph by Peter Mansell allows you to see the full height of city tower blocks, offices, in direct relationship to other buildings, road systems, a river and if you look very closely some very tiny looking people. The viewpoint gives you a sense of the vastness of the city area, the industrialised buildings, an urbanised landscape. If the picture had been taken from ground level the view would look very different, I imagine you’d get a sense of the height and breadth of the buildings, more detail, for instance, shops, pavements, windows, road signs and people would come into focus.
I imagine Google Earth would allow for a sense of the distance between the buildings, and a chance to see how densely filled the area was, the points where housing started and city buildings (offices, retail) stopped or the mix between the too. It would also allow the viewer to virtually interact with the area as walking as a pedestrian through it’s street view, again changing the sense of scale of the buildings and landmarks seen in the original photograph.
3. John Davies, Agecroft Power Station, Salford, 1983.
For the first time in this part of my studies I can say I’ve seen this photograph as an actual object in my local art gallery/museum (The Herbert). In person your eye really takes in and scans the image carefully, and there’s plenty of points of interest or observation from the angle the photograph was taken at.
Taking the photograph from a distance but at an elevated point allows you to see just how large an area of the landscape is affected by the power-station towers. But as you look more closely you begin to see the other parts that are made visible by the unique viewpoint. For instance in the bottom left corner you can see some rubbish or waste left strewn across a dirt path, some old cars, and a few people.
The football game which is visibly taking place near the towers adds to the sense of the towers shadowing or looming over everyday life. Their presence is undeniable but hasn’t altered normal life – the footballers still play their game regardless of the alteration to the landscape. Just beyond the power station you can see (to the right of the image), the roll of hills, tree’s in the distance, the once more common markers of English Landscape. The photograph really allows an broad sweep of the area, there are details in the foreground, a large focal point in the centre, and then details in the background, all of which seem to have been made possible by the raised viewpoint.
I’ve finished my draft of the essay for Assignment 4, having chosen to focus on Andy Goldsworthy’s ephemeral sculptures and his use of/relationship with photography. I wanted to take a bit of time to reflect on the research process and my approach to the essay.
There’s a few points which following my tutor’s feedback on the essay I have considered and will look to incorporate in a more fluid form into my essay.
Questions/Viewpoints to add into altered essay:
My tutor mentioned his work was in the same vein of romantic works – Is his work pastoral or idyllic, like the romantic paintings and early landscape photography? Link to Graham Clarke’s The photograph chapter on Landscape.
Graham Clarke talks about British Landscape photography as a form of controlling the landscape (for reference p.55), “The photograph allowed the land to be controlled, visually at least – to be scaled and ordered”. It makes me wonder about the element of control in Goldsworthy’s photographs. It’s another layer of man-made control and order, he constructs the sculptures from natural elements, but he is then adding another layer of man made alteration with the use of the camera to not just capture but frame our view of his ephemeral sculptures.
The man-made construction of his ‘natural works’ is somewhat a contradiction or juxtaposition of ideas: especially in sheep throws where he himself is visible in the photograph – its clear he is altering and in charge of the landscape not so natural as he makes pains to claim?
Issue of major income coming from photographs Goldsworthy publishes in coffee table style books – this is mentioned in the Guardian interview here. I mention it because it adds a further complexity to the debate of whether or not the photographs are art in themselves. It is the sale of such books that forms a major part of income (my tutor pointed this out to me). This reminds me of Grayson Perry’s series of Reith Lectures which formed the basis for his book ‘Playing to the Gallery’.
At some point during the lectures he comes up with boundaries or markers to help us decide what art is and one of these is about whether or not the art work is deemed sell-able or has a monetary value. If that is a marker for something being art then Goldsworthy’s photographs are art works. As the Artist has control over his works, presumably Goldsworthy could refuse to sell the photographs, citing that they were not the art work but rather a reference point or a tool to make the actual work accessible to a wider audience (than himself and any assistants!). But he does sell the photographs, as objects but also as photo-books with length text explanations.
My tutor mentioned the use of text alongside his photographs as worth exploring – I agree with her in that it seems like another form of shaping our interaction with his work. He goes to great lengths to explain his process, the weather that shaped his work, his own feelings towards it, the history of the place etc. After reading these things it’s impossible not to see the themes of place and time within his work, he’s presented those things to us. I wonder what conclusion we would come to if we presented just with the pictures, no accompanying information? I’m also beginning to see how carefully constructed the interaction with Goldsworthy’s ephemeral pieces is, there’s the carefully framed photographs, the in-depth textual explanations or observations. It’s as if these temporary works are being embalmed or enshrined for the purposes of preservation. But I think in the effort to preserve the work can become lost, what we have instead is an artefact.
I wrote previously about revisions to my essay for assignment four here. Now a few months after originally revising the essay I allowed a bit of time to re-read my tutor’s original feedback and my revised essay. Reading the essay back I felt that my writing was a little too apologetic, I was skirting around the arguments I really wanted to make rather than actually saying ‘this is my opinion’ and providing the evidence to back that up.
I’d also taken some time to read ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger and found this provided some interesting observations on Photography which I tried to reference in the essay. Essentially my re-vision of the essay focused on making arguments more succinct, writing a an introduction with clearer initial arguments and making a bolder conclusion. In my first version I hadn’t wanted to make a clear case as to whether or not I considered the photographing of Goldsworthy to be the work itself. I decided that I did feel that his work was in fact heavily wrapped up in the use of photography to the extent that it really becomes part of his work, although not the entirety of it. I think in my second version I managed to convey this much clearly.
It’s worth me mentioning or acknowledging that my tutor recommended reading, Landscape and Western Art by Malcolm Andrews, I looked into buying it and came to the conclusion I couldn’t afford to at the moment, sadly when I searched for it in my local library they used to have a copy but somebody stole it awhile ago (so it’s just on their records). I know the book would’ve helped me to explore why Goldsworthy’s photographs seem to sit alongside the romantic view of the landscape.