RESEARCH POINT: CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHIC PRACTICE

Research point

Examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice include Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field, where clashes of understanding or interpretation work together to create a perhaps incomplete but nonetheless enriching dialogue between artist and viewer.

Look these pieces up online. Investigate the rationale behind the pieces and see if you can find any critical responses to them. Write down your own responses in your learning log. How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?

Postmodernist art was a reaction against modernist art which had dominated since the 20th century, it began in the late 1960s and though hard to classify it includes conceptual, neo-expressionism, and feminist art. It “ advocates that individual experience and interpretation of our experience is more concrete than abstract principles…While the modernists championed clarity and simplicity; postmodernism embraces complex and often contradictory layers of meaning” (Koons, 2006). Postmodern photography often recombines elements outside of photography, such as videos or texts, intertextuality. It can be characterised by unusual or controversial combinations of subjects or even the absence of subjects.

Sophie Calle – Take care of yourself

The artist Sophie Calle received the following break up letter from her boyfriend:

6a00d8341c76e453ef00e551f1f63b8834-800wi(Available at Anon, 2010)

Sophie,
I have been meaning to write and reply to your last email for a while. At the same time,
I thought it would be better to talk to you and tell you what I have to say outloud.
Still, at least it will be written.
As you have noticed, I have not been quite right recently. As if I no longer recognized myself
in my own existence. A terrible feeling of anxiety, which I cannot really fight, other than
keeping on going to try and overtake it, as I have always done. When we met, you laid down
one condition: not to become the “fourth”. I stood by that promise: it has been months
now since I have seen the “others, “because I obviously could find no way of seeing them
without makeing you one of them.
I thought that would be enough, I thought that loving you and your love would be enough so that
this anxiety – which constantly drives me to look further afield and which meens that I will never
feel quiet and at rest or probably even just happy or “generous”-would be calmed when I was
with you, with the certainty that the love you have for me was the best for me, the best I have
ever had, you know that. I thought that my writing would be a remedy, that my “disquiet” would
dissolve into it so that I could find you. But no in fact it even became worse, I cannot even
tell you the sort of state I feel I am in. so I started calling the “others” again this week.
And I know what that means to me and the cycle that it will drag me into.
I have never lied to you and I do not intend to start lying now.
There was another rule that you laid down at the beginning of our affair: the day we
stopped being lovers you would no longer be able to envisage seeing me. You know this
constraint can only ever strike me as disastrous, and unjust (when you still see B. and K. …)
and understandable (obviously…); so I can never become your friend.
But now you can gauge how significant my decision is from the fact that I am prepared to bend
to your will, even though there are so many things – not seeing you or talking to you or catching
the way you look at people and things, and your gentleness towards me – that I will miss terribly.
Whatever happens, remember that I will always love you in the same way, my own way, that I have
ever since I first met you; that it will carry on within me and, I am sure, will never die.
But it would be the worst kind of masquerade to prolong a situation now when you know
as well as I do; it has become irreparable by the standards of the very love I have for you and
you have for me a love which is now forcing me to be so frank with you, as final proof of what
happened between us and will always be unique. 

I would have liked things to have turned out differently.
Take care of yourself.
X ”

She subsequently asked 107 women of different professions to analysis and respond to it as a way of taking care of herself.  “It was set to music, re-ordered by a crossword-setter, performed by an actress, and probed by a forensic psychiatrist, amongst others” (Venice Biennle, 2007). This formed her work “Take care of yourself” an exhibition of portraits of the respondents and their interpretations, organised in 5 different media sets: textual, parchment, portraits, small films and large films. I have not seen this exhibition so have trailed the internet for responses from those who have.  Ceci Moss indicates some of the other interpretations in the work as a clairvoyant’s response to a scientific study, and a children’s fairytale, and describes the body of work as “a virtual chorus of women’s interpretations and assessment of a break up letter” (Moss, ND). Another who viewed her work says:

 The ex’s grammar and syntax have been torn apart by a copy editor, his manners rubbished by an etiquette consultant and his lines pored over by Talmudic scholars. He has been re-ordered by a crossword-setter, evaluated by a judge, shot up by a markswoman, second-guessed by a chess player and performed by actress Jeanne Moreau. A forensic psychiatrist decided he was a “twisted manipulator” ( Chrisafis, 2007).

The variety of responses and the in depth analyses of the breakup letter certainly make you aware of the importance of text and subtext.

Postmodern techniques include using parts of other texts, open-ended plots and endings. Their experimental nature mean that authors to let go of their control and allow viewers to put themselves into the story. So yes this work is Post modernist.

img_2523(Available at Anon, 2010)

Sophy Rickett – Objects in a field (can be seen at: The Photographers Gallery (2014) Sophy Rickett – objects in the field. Available at: https://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/03/19/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field/ (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

Whilst resident artist at The institute of astrology, University of Cambridge (IoA) she produced a body of work based on negatives previously taken by the scientist/astrologer Dr Wilstrop, “ appropriating the lexicon used by astronomers and astrophysicists that refers to stars as “objects” and to the sky as “the field” (Rickett, ND).  She collaborated with Dr Wilstrop combining his factual information and her own poetic diary. It combines several series of photographs (hand reprinted negatives altered by her aesthetic decisions), a video and an essay (a factual description of their meetings melted with subjective impressions around optics from her childhood). The exhibition is juxtaposed on the Museum’s staircase with historical observatory instruments.

mhs_oitf_01                                                             (Available at Johnston 2014)

This work “explores the connections between optics and seeing, the shift from analogue to digital, relationships between different kinds of photographic practice and the encounter between an individual and an institution, between an artist and a scientist” (Anon, 2016).

observation-123                                                                   (From Johnston 2014)

The narratives are sometimes contradictory and I find the interplay between them jarring. I do feel that she has maintained control as the author, although as the viewer has to participate in the interpretation and there is clear intertextuality where she connects two unrelated subjects (astrological images and her own optical experiences)I would conclude that it is postmodernist photography. I found it difficult to find other critical responses to her work though there is an interview with her by Sharon Boothroyd at: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/sophy-rickett/ (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

References

Anon. (2016)Exhibition & talk: Sophy Rickett, objects in the field on the shutter hub Blog (2016) Available at: https://shutterhub.org.uk/blog/exhibition-and-talk-sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field (Accessed: 24 December 2016). 

Anon (2010) Ears are burning. Available at: https://earsareburning.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/sophie-calle-talking-to-strangers-whitechapel-gallery/

Chrisafis, A. (2007) He loves me not. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

Johnston, S. (2014) Sophy Rickett: Objects in the Field. Avaalable at: https://blogs.mhs.ox.ac.uk/insidemhs/sophy-rickett-objects-field/ (Accessed:24 December 2016).

Koons, J. (2006) Postmodernism. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/postmodernism (Accessed: 26 December 2016).

Moss, C. (no date) Take care of yourself (2007) – Sophie Calle. Available at: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2009/jul/02/take-care-of-yourself-2007-sophie-calle/

Sophy Rickett – objects in the field (no date) Available at: http://www.grimaldigavin.com/article/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

Venice Biennale: Sophie Calle (2007) Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/venice-biennale-sophie-calle (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.

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