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Project 2: Photography and land art research

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.

Watched: What Do Artists Do All Day? : Episode 24 – Katie Paterson.

The episode followed the preparation and creation of recent piece, Hollow, which is installed in the Royal Fort Gardens, Bristol.

Hollow, 2006, In situ at Royal Fort Gardens, by Katie Paterson with architects Zeller & Moye.

Hollow, 2006, In situ at Royal Fort Gardens, by Katie Paterson with architects Zeller & Moye.







Hollow, 2006, Inside the artwork at Royal Fort Gardens, by Katie Paterson with architects Zeller & Moye.

Hollow, 2006, Inside the artwork at Royal Fort Gardens, by Katie Paterson with architects Zeller & Moye.







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.

Project 2: Documenting Journeys ~ Research

Documentary Photography ~ ‘Photographs about something rather than photographs of something’.

Examples of documenting a journey:

Paul Graham’s A1 Project

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.


Stephen Shore: American Surfaces

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:

Phaidon Publishers book: Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces

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: The Americans

The Americans by Robert Frank. Different Front Covers.

The Americans by Robert Frank. Different Front Covers.

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 Americans Image 69; Drugstore - Detroit, 1955, Robert Frank. Held by: National Gallery of Art.

The Americans Image 69; Drugstore – Detroit, 1955, Robert Frank. Held by: National Gallery of Art.










The Americans 1- Parade-Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955, Robert Frank. Held by: National Gallery of Art

The Americans 1- Parade-Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955, Robert Frank. Held by: National Gallery of Art

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.




The Americans 18 & 19 Contact Sheet, New Orleans 1955,Robert Frank. Part of Guggenheim Collection.

The Americans 18 & 19 Contact Sheet, New Orleans 1955,Robert Frank. Part of Guggenheim Collection.

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. 

Research: ‘Dealing with the flood’ by Gareth Dent

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.


Project 1: Research point, John A.Walker’s essay ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’


John A.Walker’s essay ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’

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.


Part Four: Photography ~ Research ‘The Pencil of Nature’

After reading and considering the introductory chapters of, The Pencil of Nature (1844-46), by William Henry Fox Talbot I considered the following questions:

  1. Do you see photography as mechanical or creative?
  2. 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. 1.
    operated by a machine or machinery.
    “a mechanical device”
  2. 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.