The past and the present.
English vintage photo (likely 1930s) of three ladies paddling, dressed in bokeh from NYE 2017 fireworks in Florida, USA.
The topic this week of Critical Theory has been really stimulating and interesting, and has required me to look far more critically at my own work. This has allowed me to refocus and given me new inspiration for what I’m going to do over the next three modules; which is a very good thing as I was feeling a little ‘stuck’.
The presentations I have watched and the articles I’ve read have given me much to think about, and I have been a) considering where I stand in relation to various theories, and b) looking at my own practice, trying to decide where it sits theoretically, and what I can improve in this respect as I develop my future research and output.
Despite the fact that Francis Hodgson (2012, Quality Matters) stated he didn’t believe that photography to be elitist; what he was saying was, in my view, just that. If we are able to create and share a common language when describing quality, that immediately devalues the opinion of anyone who does not have the same vernacular. Additionally, can a set of ‘rules’ define quality, when creativity and invention are not static? There can be no new valued style, form, interpretation or theory unless the definition of quality is refined alongside these progressions.
Reading the newspaper articles by Sally Mann , (in the New York Times, 2015) and Tierney Gearon (in the Guardian, 2001), I was struck by the naivety of the women, who both seemed surprised by the reaction the photographs of their nude children received. Their intentions had been quite different, wishing to capture childhood innocence in family life. However, once the photographs reached the public domain the interpretation altered, allowing the viewer to reach their own conclusions.
In this week’s online forum we were asked to post a picture and describe two different interpretations of it.
This was my contribition:
Photographer Cezar Dezfuli recently won the Taylor Wessing prize for this photograph of a migrant named Sumaila, taken off the Libyan coast last year. He took pictures of all the 118 refugees who had been rescued by a German boat. Dezfuli didn’t realise the poignancy of the expression on Sumaila’s face until he looked back at them all later. He said “There was something about the way he looked into the camera and something in the clothes he was wearing that gave the photo a texture. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it just summed up the story I was trying to tell really well.”
My interpretation 1 – the Guardian’s text over the photo says ‘ Who is the man in the photograph?’
Who is he? Where is he from? Why is he looking so intensely at the camera? What has happened to him? Where is he going? Who is he with ?
My interpretation 2 – the composition of the photograph. The man looks as if has quite literally come straight out of the water, and the way the eyes sit just above the horizon is powerful. The shadow of his head tells us where the sun was. His collar bone is protruding, is he under nourished? He is not smiling. His clothing is dishevelled and dirty. The sea is calm.
The first interpretation questions; the second is factually based, with the composition leading the viewer towards understanding the greater context of the photograph.
In my own practice, my pictures tend to be about something, rather than of something. The difficulty lies in how to allow the viewer to read the picture in the way I have intended; as the meanings I try to embody are not usually transparent. As my work develops, this is something that will need consideration and resolving.
For instance, the above image is one of a series. They are an account of the deconstructions and reconstructions of an old photograph in a frame which I bought last weekend at a flea market for £2. It is not my intention for the viewer to think that this is a photograph of the sum of its parts; but rather what is symbolised by this act of destruction. This small piece of family history was discarded, with responsibility passing to a third party, a stranger, to dispose of. Note the duplicity here – I am at the same time destroying and recreating.
This topic has given me much to think about and has already changed the way I work.
This week we were asked to work in pairs and set each other a micro project . Mine was set by Jo:
Produce 6 images of aspects of one local park.
Must be clear specific elements of the park – objects or people, not large landscape shots.
No trees or flowers as the main focus.
Format etc up to you.
Immediately I knew that I would go to Wicksteed Park as it’s right on my doorstep and beautiful at this time of year. I was pleased that the brief didn’t ask for landscape photography, as I like to go for shots that are a little different .
Firstly I planned to take the six in a square format, and arrange together them in one larger image . However I soon changed my mind, as I wanted to be more creative with their arrangement. My second plan was to take the photographs on my Sony camera, then print them on my Fujifilm Instax printer, allowing me to arrange the prints in a way that would join lines, shapes or colours that I had chosen.
Unfortunately I encountered a problem with this, as I was unable to power my mini printer, despite many attempts throughout the week to source a power cable or batteries. This was overly complicated and after 5 days of trying I decided to opt for plan C instead. Luckily I have hopefully got batteries arriving soon so I’ll be able to use it again.
Back to the park…walking through it in the hour before it closed, as the light began to leave, I looked for different angles and perspectives. Sometimes I shot upwards (such as placing the camera underneath a sign), sometimes I shot downwards (onto a gate), and sometimes I keyed in a slow shutter setting and put it behind my back as I walked along. The photo in the header for this post was again taken on a slow shutter speed as I turned round, trying to keep the hand held camera horizontal.
The six I chose all have a common theme of either circles, posts or lines. Some of them are edited afterwards, mostly subtly.
I chose to present them as a slideshow, so that the chosen contours move through into one another, connecting them all together in some way. Although the brief specified no trees or flowers, it was almost impossible not to have one or two in the background.
This week we were set a collaboration task, which proved to be logistically more difficult than I imagined it would. The topic for the work was completely up to us.
After finding a family portrait postcard photo, with the only words written on the back ‘Xmas 1917’, I made the decision to look at family portraiture through the following decades, with the ambition of arriving at the present date – 100 years seemed like a good idea, but it turned out to be a bit of a mammoth task!
Unfortunately, work loads meant that my partner in crime and I weren’t able to talk properly until the night before our webinar. So after discussing the initial idea (the postcard) we pretty much went about it alone until then.
I asked friends on Facebook if they had any suitable photos I could use – I gathered two this way, a few from mine and my husband’s family archives, and obtained the rest via the Google search engine. This in itself presented problems as I had no way of knowing whether searching for British family portraits would also yield portraiture from other countries. There were many very early photos to choose from. There were less from the 1930s onwards; and the later the decade, the more difficult it became to find official family portraits.
Settling on six photographs, and after having read Paul Martin Lester’s Visual Analysis, I set about analysing them – although had I done so according to all of his six stages this would have taken considerably more time.
A quick chat the night before with my collaborator, and all was set to present my work the following morning at our webinar session. I had some interesting feedback. One of the group gave me some background historical information about the location of the studio where one of the portraits was taken (Bow in the 1960s). My tutor also introduced me to a couple of search engines that I’d not heard of before, where the search results will be less biased towards the UK. Apparently imageatlas.org/ is a collaboration between a photographer and a programmer.
It was interesting seeing the other team’s collaborative project, which was based on a couple of triptych slides of bridges. The discussions which followed were largely focused around locations, different ways of presenting work, themes, output.
I’ve realised that I should start planning not only what my Research Project will be, but how I am going to make it accessible / present it.
I tried hard not to ‘make anything’ this week, but by Thursday I couldn’t wait any longer! The photo montage at the top of the page is some of the mothers and children photographs I sourced – one from every decade between 1910- 1960. Having said that, the relationship between the subjects was another assumption that I had to make.
The chosen photos with their basic analysis’ are below.
In response to the debate surrounding his Hipstamatic photographs of soldiers during the Afghan war, Photojournalist Damon Winter stated that it was “never my intention for these photos to be seen only in the context of the tool by which they were made’; and that there are two valid fundamentals involved in the making of the image – aesthetics and content. However, I consider there to be a third, equal component – that of the photographer’s intention.
We may draw parallels to the aesthetics of Art , for example “Equivalent VIII” (commonly known as Bricks) by Carl Andre in the 1970s. His installation was a minimalist oblong arrangement of bricks. In this case, the piece was considered to be a work of art because the artist intended it so, and was further validated by being exhibited by Tate Gallery. Critics claimed that the Tate had been duped, others defended its decision as a major player in the international world of contemporary art.
I would argue that by applying smartphone filters to his work, Winter deliberately intended to create an aesthetic piece of work, and in this case the original publisher of his photographs in 2010 (New York Times) was in fact the exhibitor, just as was the Tate when it exhibited Winter’s Bricks.
If his intention was to create an intimate narrative of the soldier’s lives, Winter succeeded. In his creative use of the tools he had to hand, he was able to produce a set of controversial photographs which had their validity questioned and discussed.
Nowadays of course, the Hipstamatic filter can be applied after the picture has been taken. If an individual wishes to, they may take a photo on a DSLR, upload it to their smartphone and then apply Hipstamatic (or other) filters.
With photography being so immediately accessible these days to anyone with a smartphone, the meaning of the word ‘photographer’ has had to adapt to change, although the general public, in my experience, still view photography as a profession that requires lots of expensive equipment, technical expertise and a repertoire of carefully staged shots (whether it be events or landscape etc). However, images made on the smartphone by ‘citizen witnessing’ – a phrase coined by Stuart Alan in his ‘blurring boundaries: professional and citizen photojournalism in a digital age’ (2013), can be sent anywhere around the world in seconds – therefore allowing the casual bystander to become an ‘accidental’ photojournalist. Newspaper and online publishers typically pay less for these images than those from a professional photographer.
It’s too late now to turn back the clock for the place of citizen photojournalism, with or without filters. We’ve opted for retro style images in certain situations because they sell – the iPhone stock app Stockimo (a sister company of Alamy) actively encourages its contributors to apply filters.
Work in progress
As per my previous post, this week I’ve been experimenting with prisms as well as different printing techniques.
I also created a montage, based on a photo I took in Bournemouth earlier this year (original below).
Here is the same picture with the left half photoshopped to include fragmented photos from the same town. I paid attention to shape, contour and colour.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work as I intended, it needs more light and smaller pieces in it.
Once I had printed this out, I laid it on my desk with the image from the bottom left corner displayed on my computer screen. It’s a photo c.1903 of people on the beach at Bournemouth. I reflected some of this image downwards using the prism. It’s a clumsy attempt but it’s given me a lot to consider. I’d previously seen some of Sam Hurd’s prism photography online.
So much to think about that I’m going to have to leave the practical element alone and do a lot more reading and reflection this week, to hopefully give me inspiration to find a direction to take my photography in.
My tutor has suggested I look at the work of Fred Ritchin, Emily Allchurch, Erik Kessels, Tom Butler, Joachim Schmid and others. And I need to read more articles on the reading list.
After reading articles about the place of smartphone amateur and professional photography, particularly with reference to apps such as Hipstamatic, today I set up a small exercise in the garden. All I needed for this was my DSLR with a macro lens, an antique photograph, an eight inch prism, and sunshine. I took a number of images however the objective was to use multiple simple techniques rather than to find a perfect shot.
Once I had taken a photo that I was satisfied with, I uploaded my chosen picture to my smartphone, applied a Hipstamatic filter to it, and finally printed it out on an Instax Fujimilm portable printer. (The kind where you watch the photo develop).
What could we call this fusion style of photography?
“Bear with me, I’m having an earthquake…” CRJ week Two.
It’s a strange title for a post I know, but this is a sentence spoken by my tutor during our webinar this morning as his surrounding book shelves wobbled just a little bit. Just one small part of the (massive) learning curve that I’m currently experiencing as I’m immersed in this cross – continental, interdisciplinary, flexible learning degree – that the architecture in Tokyo is built to a high specification to withstand these tremors.
That aside, I picked this as a title for my latest post as it seemed to sum up quite nicely some of my brain activity this week, as I grappled with new concepts, tried to critically evaluate some of my work and that of others; and to understand how I am, and am not, interdisciplinary in my work. I had to turn my thinking on its head, experiment with new ideas, research other work and figure out if and how my own had any contextual relevance to the content in this week’s tutor presentations.
As I looked more critically at my own work, I saw just how much evidence there was of the human psyche. Psychology has always fascinated me, having studied it during my Combined Honours BA. Since then my work within the educational sector has included liaising with mental health professionals; volunteering for an organisation which searches for missing despondents; as well as learning how to improve and maintain my own well-being as I’ve got older and more savvy about matters of the brain. I hadn’t really summed all this up previously and put it conveniently into a box labelled ‘psychology’, but the more I think about it, the more I realise this is what I have been doing.
One genre which also interests me is the use of found objects / collage / montage / embroidery within the photographic image. I looked at the creative work of John Stezaker, Ingrid Karlsson, Julie Cockburn and other examples of montage; and a scientific study by Ekman et al starting in the late 1960s. Ekman’s study led to the development of a set of facial photographs which represented the recognition of basic human emotions. I found this interesting and considered the links between this and the modern day selfie and emoji.
In my work, I often rework and reuse part of one of my images (such as the boat seen below on the left, taken in the Gulf of Mexico).
In the collage, top right, the body of the boat has been cut out from a book of idioms, the idiom being “all at sea” and its meaning (lost, confused). This is one of my more overt examples of an interdisciplinary approach between photography, psychology and other art forms which rely on layering. A bold approach to colour deliberately exaggerates the intent.
I spent so long this week thinking critically about my own work, and reading, that I left myself short of time to create something new. However, although my new images may be a little clumsy, they are something I can work with and hope to develop further:
Here, I have cut out the face of the girl in the vintage postcard, then placed it on top of a photograph by Tom Stoddart entitled ‘Young mother and child awaiting evacuation from Sarajevo’. The mother is anxious and tearful, not knowing whether she will be able to take her child away from the constant fear of living in a town under siege. This contrasts heavily with the photograph on the left (incidentally the message written on the reverse said ‘Ivy, with love and best wishes for your birthday, from Dad and Mother’). Two different times, different lives, different hopes from mothers to their child.
My tutor suggested that I look at the work of John Goto, which is now on my list of things to do during the coming week.
It’s been a good week.