Part four: Reading photographs Book Review

Book review: The Photographer’s eye. John Szarkowski.

I am reading this book at the point where I am studying how to read photographs which seems extremely pertinent. So I rather than a standard book review this is a summary of my learning in relation to this.

Szarkowski sets out his intention for his book as “an investigation of what photographs look like, and of why they look that way” (Szarkowski, 2009).

I found it interesting how he makes clear that photography invaded the territory of art, could not work to old standards and had to find its own ways of making its meaning clear. Photography was invented by scientists and painters but the professional photographers it produced were varied in their skills and had increased vastly by the early twentieth century. There was a deluge of pictures, describing new things and in new ways, most especially the ordinary. Photographers learned from other photographers and photographs.

Szarkowski lists five issues he believes are inherent in photography and organises his selected images in these groups:

  • The thing itself: That the photographer deals with reality, though much of the reality can be filtered out by the photographer and as the photographer makes choices. He points out that our faith in the truth of the camera may be “naive and illusory …for though the lens draws the subject, the photographer defines it”. (Szarkowski, 2009).
  • The detail: The photographer could only record as he found it and had to “force that facts to tell the truth” (Szarkowski, 2009). He could however fragment details as well as put the details into a narrative. I hadn’t realised myself that the rise of photography freed painters from having to paint narrative stories. The images he chose for this section show a variety of significant detail and symbols, though these images I think could have equally have been placed in his groups of the thing itself.
  • The frame: Szarkowski considers that the central act of photography is the choosing and eliminating, which “forces a concentration on the picture edge…and on the shapes that are created by it” (Szarkowski, 2009). The frame he explains, edits meaning and patterns. Interestingly he poses the question whether painters’ use of the frame creatively was born from photography. Here the images that he chooses to illustrate seem to ideally do this, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Callejon of the Valencia Arena” 1933:
  • W1siZiIsIjE0NDM3MyJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcmVzaXplIDIwMDB4MjAwMFx1MDAzZSJdXQ.jpg

  (The Museum of Modern Art, 2017)

  • Time: All photographs are time exposures, some shorter some longer, catching slices of time and movement. Szarkowski, helpfully explains that the new beauty of “seeing the momentary patterning lines and shapes that had previously been concealed within the flux of movement” (Szarkowski, 2009) as decisive moments not as dramatic climaxes but as visual ones. Many of the images that he shows here show time blurred such as Rene Groebli’s Nude dressing (1952) which was a new image to me.

rene-groebli-nude-dressing-1952

 (Curiator, 2017)

  • Vantage point: He points out that it is photography which has taught us to see from different vantage points, challenging our notions of reality. So pictures can reveal the clarity and the obscurity of things. He also suggests that this has influenced modern painters. The images he has in this section of his book illustrate this well such as Clarence John Laughlin’s The fierce eyed building (1938).

fierce eyed building.jpg

 (Harvardartmuseums.org, 2017)

Szarkowski has certainly set out his idea of what photographs look like, and why they look that way.

My learning points:

  • I have discovered another way to read photographs, to look at The thing, the detail, the frame, the time, the vantage point; have any of these influenced the photographer more than the other and how?

References

Curiator. (2017). Nude dressing by René Groebli. [online] Available at: https://curiator.com/art/rene-groebli/nude-dressing [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017]

Harvardartmuseums.org. (2017). From the Harvard Art Museums’ collections The Fierce-Eyed Building. [online] Available at: http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/155284 [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Szarkowski, J. (2009). The photographer’s eye. The Museum of Modern art. New York.

The Museum of Modern Art. (2017). Henri Cartier-Bresson. Callejón of the Valencia Arena. 1933 | MoMA.

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

Part four: Reading photographs Book review

Ways of seeing – John Berger (1972)

I have had this book for many years but thought that whilst working on reading photographs that this is the time to revisit it. It was with this purpose that I re read the book.

The book comprises of seven essays, though I reread the whole book I would like to focus on the first chapter where many of the ideas presented have been taken from a previous essay “The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by German critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin.

Berger proposes that “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled” (Berger, 1972, p7) as the way that we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe. So seeing is not just mechanically reacting to stimuli:

  • We chose what we look at
  • Can only see what is within our field of vision
  • Never just look at one thing
  • We look at the relation between things and ourselves (p9)
  • We are aware that we too are visible

He describes images as man-made objects that have been reproduced but detached from the place and time they were seen. Photographs are not accurate records as “the photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject” (Berger, 1972, p10). The photographer has selected “that sight from an infinity of other possible sights” (Berger, 1972p 10), though we know the object is affected by much more than this.

I have learnt that images were first taken to make up for something that was absent, rather like portraiture I guess, it was only later that the influence of the image maker on the subject was recognised. Berger also explains how images are beset by other assumptions when presented as works of art, concerning beauty, truth, genius, civilisation, form, status and so on. He suggests that these assumptions are often historical and may mystify our vision. In terms of paintings he suggests that it is the social and moral values that we hold that affect the way we see, rather that the painters skills.

Never having been an artist I found Berger’s explanation of how the understanding of perspective has altered historically. The original Renaissance convention of perspective was that everything was centred on the eye of the beholder, the single eye was the centre of the world with everything converging on the eye. There was no reciprocal vision, the visible world was arranged just for the spectator, just a God was the centre of the world, it was as if everything converged on the human eye. Apparently it was after the invention of cameras that the contradiction that spectators unlike God could not be in many places at the same time and that there must be reciprocal vision. The camera could change its perspective, and unlike paintings could separate time passing from the visual experience so that what you see is totally dependent on where you were when, so is relative to a person’s position in time and space. Berger asserts that “The camera changed the way men saw” (Berger, 1972).

This was taken into paintings, the cubists in particular presented views from all points around an object. Neither had I realised that the camera also changed the way in which historical paintings were seen. I hadn’t thought that originally paintings were unique due to the place that they were situated as they were integral to the design of their building. However with the invention of the camera where a painting could be reproduced and placed elsewhere they could take on different meanings divorced from their original context and placed in another. Reproduction can also transform meaning when paintings are partially reproduced and not shown in their entirety.

Berger summarises how visual art has moved from existing in sacred preserves, then a variety physical preserves and later particular social preserves in particular those of the ruling classes. Of course now reproduction has removed art from these preserves which he suggests may render them “ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free” (Berger, 1972). He concludes in chapter one that the authority of the art of the past is lost and in its place is “a language of images” (Berger, 1972) where what matters is who uses it for what and that visual art has become a political issue.

A revisit of this text was really useful at this point in my learning as it widens my increasing understanding of how photographs are read.

References:

Berger, J (1972) Ways of seeing. London. Penguin group.

Benjamin, W. (n,d) The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Found in (1970) Illuminations. Cape. London

Part four: Reading photographs Book Review

How to Read a Photograph (Jeffrey, 2009)

In the foreword Max Kozloff discusses the history of photography and how photographs are seen as secondary sources by general historians but as primary sources by historians of photography. He points out that photographs can be used as evidence of “vanished material conditions, ideals, cultures and epochs(Kozloff, 2009), whilst it may also be used to express feelings, so being both discursive and figurative. As he says the difficult part is how to move on from a description of the contents of a photograph to an account that makes sense of it:

The visual facts convey a material reality of their time; as they’re composed and framed, they reflect a narrative desire of their time” (Jeffrey, 2009).

He believes that Jeffrey addressees this in his interpretations of the photographs in this book, as well as the biography of the artist, the psychological relations implied in the frame and through this work develops meaning for the photographer’s visualisation.

In the book Jeffrey explores the work of 69 photographers in 384 photographers with the images arranged roughly in the history of photography, divided by The Great War, World War Two and The Farm Security Administration photographers.

I have selected three photographers to give an overview of how Jeffrey analyses photographs.

Children fetching milk (Robert Doisneau, 1932)

chn milk

 (Pinterest, 2017).

Again he gives the pertinent points of the artist’s biography; his perceptive portraits of Parisians, his background in lithography and his work photographing for advertising Renaults. This picture shows his awareness of acute observation (Their clothes, their class, the shop name) and clever composition as well as his sensitivity to the human condition that the artist would have accumulated in his work.

This analysis is less insightful for me than some of the others in the book, though there are many like this in the book that are simple biography combined with observation.

Shoe making irons (Albert Renger-Patzsch, 1936)

shoe making

(PhotoPedagogy, 2017)

For this photograph he gives the biography of the artist, in particular his preference for purist photography and his objective manner often obscuring the contexts of his subjects. He also gives the context to the photograph, the Fagus shoe making factory not far from where he was freelancing. Jeffery assumes that he was asked to do some publicity photographs for the factory  of equipment, but the image eventually ended up in Die Welt ist schon (The world is beautiful); possibly as a symbol of contemporary regimentation. Apparently in the 1920s Renger-Patzsch was interested in forces like the German expressionist (1910-14), though he associated it with stillness, heightened alertness, the moment before the strike.

Jeffrey’s analysis does provide me with a context for the image and a possible motive as well as the possible philosophy behind it.

Tomatsu Shomei (Memory of defeat 2 Ruins of Toyokawa naval dockyard, Aichi prefecture, 1959)

toatsu

(SFMOMA, 2017)

Jeffrey describes Tomatsu as a symbolist and a materialist as well as a history artist. He worked for a periodical where each issue was devoted to a single subject and everything was expressed through images replacing language; this was in contrast apparently to Europeans hat thought that images should be supported by texts. Jefferey’s interpretation of the picture knowing this, is that this wall of corrugated iron peppered with shrapnel with the light behind it appears like the night sky lit by gunfire. He suggests that “Those defunct meters in the foreground stand in contrast to the liveliness of the cosmos beyond” (Jeffrey, 2009).

This analysis is more insightful giving us his thoughts about the purpose and possible thinking behind the image that matches with the background and philosophy of the artist as well as the context.

Conclusion

The book is perhaps more an exploration and history of the 69 photographers than explicit ideas about how to read a photograph, however the book has introduced me to new photographers. Certainly I gained more generally from his analyses of photographers that were new to me, like the last two of my three selected than those that were not. Is this just because they closed gaps in my knowledge rather than that they were better analyses?

My learning points:

When reading photographs

  • My aim should be to move on from a description of the contents of a photograph to an account that makes sense of it
  • I should find the psychological relations implied
  • Look for the photographer’s motive
  • Know the photographers philosophy
  • I will have to make some assumptions

 References

Jeffrey, I. (2009). How to read a photograph. New York: Abrams.

Kozloff, M (2009) in Jeffrey, I. (2009). How to read a photograph. New York: Abrams.

Pinterest. (2017) French touch. [online] Available at: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/288723026082257843/ [Accessed 27 Jun. 2017]Plus.google.com, 2017)

PhotoPedagogy. (2017). The World is Beautiful. [online] Available at: http://www.photopedagogy.com/the-world-is-beautiful.html [Accessed 27 Jun. 2017].

SFMOMA. (2017). Shomei Tomatsu. [online] Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artist/Shomei_Tomatsu [Accessed 27 Jun. 2017].

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

 

Part four: Reading photographs Exhibition visit

The Radical Eye. Modernist  photography from the Sir Elton John collection. Tate Modern November to May 2017

The Sir Elton John Photography Collection is one of the largest privately owned collections in the world (8000 works), ranging from the beginning of the 20th century to today. Its focus is “modernist photography”, from the objective clarity of modernist portraits to experimental darkroom manipulations and abstractions. It enables the viewer to see from the Bauhaus, the social commitment of early documentary photography and the imaginative surrealism how the ways in which the world was seen through photography changed. The exhibition is divided into five parts: portraits, experiments, documents, bodies and objects.

For the purpose of where I am in my OCA learning currently I will focus mainly on the portraits and documents section and detail the others at more appropriate times in my learning journey. I will say however that I was stunned by the breadth of his collection and the numerous and varied images of historical importance that are in this one collection. The curator of the exhibition Jane Jackson interviewed Sir Elton John Elton John to discuss his collection and the importance of photography in his life. He talks of how surprised he was to find that photographers could achieve things that he thought only painters could do, such as distortions, rayographs and light abstractions; he says that “for me photography is a journey of discovery” (Baker et al., n.d.), giving him pleasure and in an artistic way increasing his wellbeing.

Portraits

The portraits show a range of technical and psychological styles, from Man Ray’s portraits of the surrealist artists and thinkers, to Edward Steichen’s Gloria Swanson, to Alfred Stieglitz’s Georgia O’Keeffe and to Tina Modotti’s studies of Edward Weston. I am going to comment on those that impacted on me the most as I viewed them.

There were many interesting self- portraits, of which one that is still imprinted on me is Herbert Bayer’s self-portrait (“Humanly Impossible”, 1932).

Bayer

(Collections.vam.ac.uk, 2017) 

I really could not work out at first how this image of a man with an arm truncated arm was achieved. Then I realised it was a montage, in fact this is the original montage. Sir Elton John asks whether the image is about Bayer or about Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

weegee.jpg

 (Monroe et al., 2017)

This self-portrait by Arthur Fellig (Weegee) circa 1955 is technically interesting; it was probably achieved using distorting mirrors and double exposures putting two negatives together as faint repetitions of the image can be seen especially around his left eye.

I found Man Ray’s “Self-portrait in bathrobe” (1929) somewhat at odds with his other work in the collection; In contrast to the solarisations, rayographs and the glamourized portraits of others it is strangely ordinary and realistic. It is quite a contrast to his celebrated “Glass tears” (1932) which was a photograph that again led me to ask how he did it; apparently it was a mannequin with the glass affixed to it.

may ray bathrobe

 (My Favorite Arts, 2017)

I found many of the portraits taken in the 1920’s stiff and posed and generally disliked then. However you cannot help but admire Edward Steichen’s “Gloria Swanson” (1924). Sir Elton John describes it as “perfect and has such a tactile look that it seems like you could actually touch the lace” (Baker et al., n.d.); he also alludes to the hidden meaning of this silent actress behind the veil. It is direct, haunting and alluring, extremely 3 dimensional.

Steichen gloria swanson

 (Iconic Photos, 2017)

I was drawn to Brassai’s “A costume for two” (1931) with two men sharing a suit, probably still posed but full of tension, life and possibilities.

Brassai

 (Anon, 2017)

I admired the Irving Penn series of Portraits posed in corners, in particular Noel Coward (1948) and Duke Ellington (1948).

            irving penn n coward.jpg               Irving Penn duke E            (New.liveauctioneers.com, 2017)                   (Pinterest, 2017)

He used parts of a left over set from a commercial shoot, and made portraits of writers, artists, musicians, politicians and other celebrities. They were asked to position themselves in a small corner and having viewed some of the others in the series since it is interesting how their personalities were revealed as they reacted to the claustrophobic limits of the setting. Penn said that “limiting the subjects movements seemed to relieve me of part of the problem of holding onto them” (text accompanying exhibition portraits).

Portraits of photographers are always interesting. Tina Modotti’s “Edward Western with his camera” (1923) where the perspective that she used juxtaposes his head with the cameras, as if she was comparing the human eye and the mechanical world; the camera’s lens appears to dominate.

Edward-Weston

 (Photographyicon.com, 2017)

Documents

In the 1930s photographers enabled viewers to see some of the less palatable aspects of society, marrying creative appeal to gain viewers trust in their visual records. They combine historical evidence, propaganda and the appeal of art.

The documentary photographs that interested me the most were the portraits, in particular the depression era photography which is distinct from the celebrity studio portraits and self-portraits that I’ve illustrated above. These portraits are scientific documents of social types.

It was a privilege to see “Migrant mother” (Dorothea Lange 1936) first hand. This is an iconic timeless image of the hardship of a woman and her seven children who’d sold the tyres from her car for food and living on wild birds caught by the children. It was taken at a camp for seasonal agricultural workers when she was working for the Farm Security Administration as part of a team of photographers documenting the impact of federal programs in improving rural conditions. Of the 160,000 images taken for the Resettlement Administration, Migrant Mother has become the most iconic picture of the Depression.  Lange said when photographing that it needed her total attention, Sir Elton John points out of the “photographs she took the pain in them- it just grabs you…It’s an exhausting photograph (Baker et al, n.d), and not so much that this is such a sad photograph, as that it is a resignation of this woman’s suffering.

dorthea_lange_.jpg

 (Migrant Mother and Migrant Mother, 2017)

Lange’s The damage is already done ( 1936) left a bigger impression on me probably as unlike Migrant Mother, it was the first time I had seen it, this portrait also reaches out to you and has a story all of its own which as a viewer I wanted to know more about. Though the portrait is titled “The damaged child” on the back of Sir Elton John’s print Lange has written “The damage is already done”. This child shot against a harsh tin background, exudes determination and steely character even though she is grimy, grubby, in ragged clothing and has a black eye. She is not flinching in front of the camera and looks older than her years. Maybe it is possible that she will rise above any damage done?

damaged child.jpg

 (The Museum of Modern Art, 2017)

Another Lange image “White angel bread line” (1933) also struck me as particularly poignant as the migrant man with tin cup depressingly leans on fence behind a queue. I think it’s the way she’s captured his look of grim determination that arrests me.

This the first time also that I had seen any Walker Evans photography and it had an equally strong impact on me. Floyd Burroughs (1936) an Albania tenant farmer taken with a shallow depth of field extracts him from his start background. It is his look of ease but resignation which stops me in my tracks. He was known for finding dignity in ordinary lives and this photograph illustrates this.

floyd burroughs

(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017)

Outside of portraits there were two other images in the documents section that particularly interested me. The first is Helen Levitt’s images of children at play in New York in 1939. As I understand it the Leica camera revolutionised street photography, with its range of film speeds it was able to capture movement and difficult lighting. This image shows both.

helen levitt

(Laurencemillergallery.com, 2017)

She began as an art teacher seeking to document children’s street chalk drawings and expanded from there. She associated with Walker Evans on the late 1930s though her street photography was much rawer and more playful than his.

Robert frank was an improvisational street photographer and this image showcases this. I was struck by this photograph as the technical quality appears to be prior to that time but his candid composition is of more of the 1940/50s.

robert_frank

(Christies.com, 2017)

Conclusions:

Whilst many of the portraits in this collection were artists, writers, musicians or celebrities, I was able to see from the portrait work in particular how from the early 20th century photography moved from not being seen as art to the artists pushing the conventions of portraiture, and the period covered by this exhibition is certainly crucial. This period in particular with its growth to include documentary, surrealist, realist, fashion, and celebrity, brought a harmony between technique and subject. Sir Elton John believes that there’s not a painted portrait that is better than a photographic portrait. I will look more closely at painted portraits to see whether agree with his analysis.

References:

Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: http:///doyle.com/auctions/16bp01-rare-books-autographs-photographs/catalogue/406-brassai-1899-1984-un-costume-pour [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

Baker, S., Mavlian, S., Harbin, N. and John, E. (n.d.). The radical eye.

Christies.com. (2017). ROBERT FRANK (B. 1924) , Paris, 1949. [online] Available at: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/robert-frank-b-1924-paris-1949-5544483-details.aspx [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Collections.vam.ac.uk. (2017). Humanly Impossible | Bayer, Herbert | V&A Search the Collections. [online] Available at: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O128502/humanly-impossible-photograph-bayer-herbert/ [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

Ades, D (nd) Instument of a new vision: photography in the first machine age. In: Baker, S., Mavlian, S., Harbin, N. and John, E. (n.d.). The radical eye.

Iconic Photos. (2017). Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen. [online] Available at: https://iconicphotos.org/2009/10/05/gloria-swanson-by-edward-steichen/ [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

Laurencemillergallery.com. (2017). Helen Levitt – Artists – Laurence Miller Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.laurencemillergallery.com/artists/helen-levitt?view=slider#3 [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Migrant Mother, 1. and Migrant Mother, &. (2017). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, Dorothea Lange | Artspace.com. [online] Artspace. Available at: https://www.artspace.com/dorothea_lange/migrant_mother_nipomo_california [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Monroe, M., Taylor, E., Kennedy, J., II, E., Lennon, J., McCartney, P., Loren, S., Presley, E., Kennedy, J. and Warhol, A. (2017). Weegee Self-Distortion. [online] Getty Images. Available at: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/distorted-self-portrait-of-american-photographer-weegee-mid-news-photo/520809084#distorted-selfportrait-of-american-photographer-weegee-mid-twentieth-picture-id520809084 [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

My Favorite Arts. (2017). Self Portrait in Bathrobe by Man Ray. [online] Available at: https://theartstack.com/artist/man-ray/self-portrai-1 [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

New.liveauctioneers.com. (2017). online] Available at: https://new.liveauctioneers.com/item/33437626_irving-penn-noel-coward-gravure [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

Pinterest. (2017). Irving Penn – Corner Portraits 1948. [online] Available at: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/309341068143875769/ [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

Photographyicon.com. (2017). Master Of Photography: Edward Weston | Icon Photography School. [online] Available at: https://photographyicon.com/edward-weston/ [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. (2017). Walker Evans | [Floyd Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama] | The Met. [online] Available at: http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/275843 [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

The Museum of Modern Art. (2017). Dorothea Lange. Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma. 1936 | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/56493 [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXHIBITION: TAYLOR WESSING 2016 PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT AWARD

Taylor Wessing 2016 Photographic Portrait award – International Traditional and contemporary photography

I visited this exhibition with a group of fellow OCA students as an “unofficial” study day.

The works in final exhibition reflect the inventiveness and the breadth of their subject matter. The 57  portraits were chosen from 4303 photos. The judges Criteria was: the impact upon viewer and effective use of subject matter.

These are the photographs that most impacted upon me the most.

Frances – Josh Redman 2016

josh redman (Npg.org.uk, 2017)

Redman was previously a sculptor and this shows in this image. He photographed nude sitters in identitical lighting and backgrounds to enhance his understanding of portraiture. This image which combines elegance and spontaneous expressions seems to embody the spirit of the subject. Frances is eighty three and appears strong rather than fragile as you would expect at that age, proud of her skin and body aged and lined. Her skin appears warm and alive. He has captured her from an unusual angle looking upwards to her, perhaps this is part of what gives her the power in the image. I am in awe of this powerful image.

Sleeping worker 2015 – Etienne Malapert. The figure on the grass could be mistaken for dead with the cloth positioned over its head, however the title indicates otherwise. I was drawn by its ambiguity but lingered to enjoy the dappled lighting and subtle colours.

Rosanna and Maria Grazia – Fabio Boni 2016. Portraits of volunteers of Italian Red Cross have been photographed against a vibrant red Background which was chosen to suggest vigor and strength. Again it is the choice and effect of the background that attracts me.

John McCrea – Phil Sharp 2015. He normally takes publicity head shots for aspiring actors. He has used a very shallow depth of field which puts just the left eye and the chin in focus The subject has a cigarette in his mouth as a performance pose and gazes pensively in front of a black background, it is both a nostalgic and contemporary image.

Margo – Rachel Molina 2016

margo.jpg (LensCulture, 2017).

This image was noted for its sensitive use of focus. The sharp focus falls on the elderly lady’s face and the caring hand resting on her shoulder. The possible loneliness shown on her face is softened by her physical connection to a person out of shot. The vulnerability and caring suggested here is what interests me.

John Anastazia – Tom Merilion 2015 from the series Tanzanian street children

tom merrilon (Npg.org.uk, 2017)

These photographs were commissioned by a Tanzanian charity supporting vulnerable children. They were all posed against a white background which was used to disconnect them from the streets that they live on. This definitely focuses the eyes on small details such as his Chelsea football glove and his burnt arm.

Nigel Farage smoking a cigar – Charlie Clift 2016

farage-taylor-wessing (T and Luke,2017)

Photographed in a Belgravia cigar club he has encapsulated his public persona, buoyant, cheeky, and larger than life. The shallow depth of field leaves just his face in focus, arms/hands in front not in focus, though this is obvious in the large gallery print, not so obvious when viewing in a smaller format on line. Once again a plain background, this time blue, definitely enhances the subject and the details.

Boy Scout 2016 Karl Ohiri and Riikka Kassinen

ohiri and kassinen.jpg (Npg.org.uk, 2017)

The scout was watched from a distance as they were setting up a studio for another purpose in Lagos Nigeria. He was invited to stand in front if their bold yellow background which contrasts brilliantly against his dark skin and green uniform. As you look closely at the portraits you notice the small details that are enhanced, such as his fraying scarf and oversized uniform which contribute to his vulnerability. I think it’s the effect of the background against the subject and his clothing that attracts me, as it seems to bring the details in a sharp focus.

Simon callow – Andy Lo Po

ALP.-simon-callow-telegraph-561x748 (Wyattclarkejones, 2017)

This causes me to comment as it shows the actor i a reflective mood rather than as his usual exuberant character. It is obviously a good shot but I don’t like it as it doesn’t reflect the character that I know.

Angela – Peter Mosely 2016 from the series Dermis

Angela (Npg.org.uk, 2, 2017).

This is another of my favourites from the exhibition, It was achieved by photogravure a mechanical printing process where the image is etched onto a plate for printing. This shows her skin in forensic detail and stresses the physicality of her body. The appeal for me in this portrait is the brightness of her eyes staring piercingly and confidently at you.

John Harrison 36852 days old – Paul Stuart 2015

paul-stuart-john-harrison-36852-days-old (Doggett, 2017)

His face emerges from dark background with the strong directional lighting which draws attention to the lines on his face and flecks of silver in his grey hair. The depth of field is shallow with the focus on his forehead lines and the nearest eye which emphasises his alertness and curiosity.

Pink bobble hat “looking back to sea”- Katie Barlow 2016 Series in refugee transport bus Lesbos.  She has framed each of her refugee by the bus windows and curtains subjects and photographed through the dirty opaque glass. The framing and slight blurring enhances the atmosphere of uncertainty and mess (metaphorical).

Wing – Fabio Forin 2016. The subject is throwing his arms up in the air in a carefree way, head up, eyes closed, with the horizon line exactly intersecting with the waist of his trousers. I think it’s his graceful pose which it at odds to the cloudy dull scene behind him that intrigues me.

The “In Focus” display show cases innovative approach to portraiture:

Christina de Middel b 1975 who tackles conventional subject matter through unorthodox means.

middel daniel.jpg Daniel.(Npg.org.uk, 2017)

Her Series The Gentlemen’s Club men, shot in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, men who visit prostitutes were paid to talk about why they visited; the accompanying texts reveal the men’s thoughts and motivations. The images of the four men portray them in a manner which fits each of their stories. For instance Luis who visits because he is lonely is photographed with his back against the wall staring away in the half light. Whereas Daniel who visits for pleasure and fun without commitment, poses looking strong relaxed confident and in control, whilst photographed lying on a bed. She has protected the documentary value of the photographs by not manipulating them in any way, preferring to manipulate the reality in front of her whilst she is shooting. She believes that generally “photography has done a bad job in explaining what prostitution is about and has deliberately- for some obvious reasons- hidden the other half of the story” (McClure, 2016).

My learning points

  • I could see the benefits that those who had also sculpted or used other mediums could bring to their portrait photography, such as Josh Redman.
  • I can now really appreciate the importance of the background in a portrait and the way that the choice of colour can enhance the subject, most especially when it is plain: Fabio Boni, Tom Merilion, Ohiri and Kassinen.
  • I appreciate the impact of using a shallow depth of field to focus on a small detail or part of a face, Phil Sharp. Rachel Molina, and Charlie Clift.
  • The importance of careful use of lighting and perspective, Josh Redman and Paul Stuart.
  • The impact of thoughtful framing, Katie Barlow to convey a message. The variety of ways that the photographer can capture the spirit of the subject, “The Gentlemen’s club”, “John Harrison”, “Angela”, “Nigel Farage”, “John McCrea” and “Frances”.

References:

 Lens Culture, N. (2017). Fleeting Truths: Thoughts on Portrait Photography – Interview with Head of Photographs Phillip Prodger | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/national-portrait-gallery-fleeting-truths-thoughts-on-portrait-photography [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

Mary Doggett’s Learning Log. (2017). paul-stuart-john-harrison-36852-days-old. [online] Available at: https://mary513255cn.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/exhibition-taylor-wessing-photographic-portrait-prize-2016/paul-stuart-john-harrison-36852-days-old/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

 McClure (2016) in Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 16, National Portrait gallery Publications, London.

Npg.org.uk. 2 (2017). Weekend Workshop: Photogravure Printing – National Portrait Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/event-root/january/weekend-workshop-28012017.php [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

 Npg.org.uk. (2017). Taylor Wessing photographic Portrait Prize 2016 – Exhibition. [online] Available at: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/twppp-2016/exhibition/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

T and Luke, B. (2017).Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2016, review: Farage an unwelcome shock. [online] Evening Standard. Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/arts/taylor-wessing-portrait-prize-2016-exhibition-review-nigel-farage-an-unwelcome-shock-a3400591.html [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

Wyattclarkejones.com. (2017). Andy Lo Po, Taylor Wessing Award – Wyatt Clarke & Jones. [online] Available at: http://wyattclarkejones.com/andy-lo-po-taylor-wessing-award/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

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

EXHIBITION VISIT

Feminist Avante-Garde of the 1970s (The Photographers Gallery)

There are over 200 works of art by 48 artists, from 20 countries on display over 2 floors. This was my first visit to the photographers gallery and I liked it’s intimacy but spaciousness. The exhibition is a mixture of works by famous photographers such as Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Martha Rosler as well as one less familiar ones.

The exhibition addresses the female form, ownership, domesticity, sexuality, violence and female identity and is arranged in four themes: The seductive body, Domestic agenda, In my skin and Alter ego. Along with conventional photography there are exhibits of video art, photo montage and sculpture.  The exhibition is intended to reflect ‘a moment during which practices of emancipation, gender equality and civil rights protest movements became part of public discourse” (Written and Brookman, 2016). It explores the art of women “whose taboo-breaking, norm-questioning works changed the art canon forever, and opened up new ways for understanding gender, representation and sexual politics” (De Pressigny, 2016). These artists addressed political issues and challenged sexism in society and art.

Works attacking the domestic agenda were interesting and thought provoking. I was intrigued by the “semantics of the kitchen” Martha Rosler (1975) where a woman at a butchers block methodically names implements in alphabetical order, starting with a deadpan  expression “but as she demonstrates the use of each appliance her actions become increasing aggressive, suggesting murderous intent”( Güner, 2016).

rosler

(Martha Rosler, nd)

Birgit Jürgenssen’s self-portrait in a housewife’s apron, with a bored expression “redefines  the phrase ‘bun in the oven’ (Time, 2016).

birgit

(No date, 1)

Renate Eisenegger Hochhaus’s image is another attack on the domestic agenda and an interesting representation of this.

renate-1

Renate Eisenegger Hochhaus (Nr.1), 1974 © Renate Eisenegger / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Vienna (Written and Brookman 2016)

Martha Wilsons “A portfolio of models”(1974)  is descriptive but more straightforward presentation of the various roles of a woman in the 70s, where she depicts models in 6 frames as a goddess, a housewife, a working girl, a lesbian, an earth mother and a professional in their stereotypes.

There are also many humorous depictions such as Penny Slingers work “wedding invitation” (Art is just a piece of cake)

renate
(Slinger 1973, No Date 3)

An emphasis of the 70s feminist avant-garde was the female body, this decade was a time for the conceptual eradication of all that the female body had come to symbolise over thousands of years of patriarchy. I was attracted to the playful work of Katalin Landik (1978) using 6 images where a face behind a glass sheet is represented as distorted views as the subjects face presses against it.

landik

(Ltd, 2015)

This work is contrasted by Ana Mendieta’s “Untitled “ glass on body imprints face (1972 ), a similar project where her face is pressed against a glass screen but presents much  more distorted appearances; the colour in these for me gave a more violent mood to the images. It’s performance, the poses, and documentation is unsettling, “to describe the work as disquieting is an understatement” (The Photographer’s gallery, 2016).

ana

(No date, 2)

I was also struck with the “Destruction of an illusion” Karin Mack (1977) where a black and white facial image is gradually over the five frames reduced to a fragment and has pins placed in it.

ewa

(Ewa Partum, Change, 1974)

Annegret Soltau’s (1975) self-portrait in 15 frames with black thread increasingly wound around her head and shoulders is an effective way to portray a woman as distorted, My most important aim is to include bodily processes in my work and to use myself as a model – because I can go the furthest with myself,”  (Pangburn and Dazed, 2015). I found this to be rather like Renate Eiseneggar’s (1972) “isolation” in 8 frames where a head with Cotton wool and plaster tape is wrapped around them increasingly until they obscure the face.

On a slightly less disturbing level for me was Francesca Woodman’s work explores the formal and psychological potential of the body to create poetry, such as her portrait “self- deceit”.

woodman

(Francesca Woodman Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978/1979)

 Learning points

The artists displayed were pioneers challenging depictions and ideas of women in the 1970, hence the exhibition title “Avante garde”. However to be honest as a photographer I was struck not so much by the feminist issues raised and confronted but by the variety of the ways that this was represented. This was a good lead in for me to conceptual photography where ideas are stressed rather than the subject being photographed, or through it, and where the focus is drawn to expression and interpretation. It has given me inspiration for photographing “The unseen” for assignment 2. I will reflect on the many alternative and creative ways that ideas can be represented, such representation, distortions and alternative depictions of reality, as well as using metaphors and text to underline messages.

 The exhibition will also be useful to reflect on when I am preparing for assignment 3 photographing the self.

References

De Pressigny, C. (2016) 70s avant garde feminist art show coming to London’s photographer’s gallery | read. Available at: https://i-d.vice.com/en_gb/article/70s-avant-garde-feminist-art-show-coming-to-londons-photographers-gallery (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

Ewa Partum, Change, 1974 © Ewa Partum Courtesy of Galerie M+R Fricke, Berlin / Bildrecht, Vienna, 2015 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Vienna (Written and Brookman 2016).

Francesca Woodman Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978/1979 © Courtesy George and Betty Woodman, New York / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien (From Written and Brookman 2016).

Güner, F. (2016) Feminist art of the 1970s: Knives, nudity and terrified men. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/oct/03/feminist-art-of-the-1970s-knives-nudity-and-terrified-men (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

Ltd, A. (2015) Paul Carey Kent’s Curated London Art Exhibition picks November 2015. Available at: http://www.artlyst.com/reviews/paul-carey-kents-curated-london-art-exhibition-pick-november-2015/ (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

Martha Rosler: Semiotics of the kitchen (no date) Available at: http://collection.fraclorraine.org/collection/print/469?lang=fr (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

Rosenbach, U. (no date) Penny slinger wedding invitation. Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=penny+slinger+wedding+invitation&client=safari&hl=en-gb&prmd=isvn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiR8rniyszRAhXGlxoKHRBVAIoQ_AUIBygB&biw=1024&bih=672#imgdii=JaU6BZDDqzwlXM%3A%3BCJkHWFVc-hGhjM%3A%3BCJkHWFVc-hGhjM%3A&imgrc=CJkHWFVc-hGhjM%3A (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

Pangburn, D. and Dazed (2015) The dA-zed guide to 70s feminist avant-garde art. Available at: http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/26094/1/the-da-zed-guide-to-70s-feminist-avant-garde-art (Accessed: 1 February 2017).

The Photographers gallery (2016) loose associations, vol 2 issue iv, Autumn 2016. London.

Time (2016) Feminist avant-garde of the 1970s. Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/feminist-avant-garde-of-the-1970s (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

Written and Brookman, J. (2016) Images of the feminist avant-garde in the 1970s shine a light on an artistic movement too long overlooked. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2016/09/images-of-the-feminist-avant-garde-in-the-1970s-shine-a-light-on-an-artistic-movement-too-long-overlooked/ (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

(No Date 1) Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/feminist-avant-garde-of-the-1970 (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

(No Date 2) Available at: http://thenewinquiry.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/haley-1.jpg (Accessed: 18 January 2017).

(No Date 3) Available at: https://artblart.com/tag/penny-slinger/ (Accessed: 1 February 2017).

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

EXHIBITION: ? IMAGE AS QUESTION

The image as  question: An exhibition of evidential photography (Michael Hoppen Gallery).Visited 9.11.16.

Crime or evidential photography is the theme of the exhibition at Michael Hoppen Gallery in London, bringing together images from the 19th century, alongside relevant pieces of contemporary art. Many images are imply records of facts, “taken to prove a point” (gallery, nd), often from police records, not art photography. There are some interesting subjects such as the student who prior to the exam write prompts on her legs; she agreed to be photographed after the exam if her name wasn’t recorded, and subsequently was not caught!

Some images are documentary as art such as Dr Harold Edgerton’s “Milk drop coronet” 1957 famous images of milk drops are shown and Guy Bourdin’s “Crime scene”. Certainly  “The inclusion of these works alongside more pragmatic imagery raises thorny old questions around whether photography is art, and if so, what makes it so – aesthetics? The intent of the photographer?” (Williams 2016).

It seems to me that in the early part of the 1900s the boundaries in documentary photography were far less blurred than they are now.

These were the 1mages that most struck me

Guy Bourdin. 1975. “Crime scene”: This shot was fabricated as a crime scene for a fashion photograph to advertise shoes. On a street, with an open automobile doorcar door, lines tracing the position where a body was, and an abandoned pair of pink shoes on the pavement. If you viewed the photograph not knowing the photographer or the story behind the image, you would think it a documentary picture.

Ernst Has. 1956. “Moby Dick”. This photograph reveals the mechanics of making films and is straightforward photojournalism.

Unknown. “Decapitated man”. France 1880s. These three images are of a head placed on a stone block following being guillotined, again straightforward photojournalism.

Harold Edgerton. 1972. “Bullet through a helium balloon”. This is an amazing image, where the openings made either side of the balloont are obvious for the entry and exit sites of the bullet and yet the structure of the balloon is still intact. This image is both documentary and art.

References:

Gallery, M.H. (no date) ? The image as question – works. Available at: http://www.michaelhoppengallery.com/exhibitions/139/overview/ (Accessed: 11 November 2016).

Williams, E. (2016) The photo as proof: An exhibition of crime photography. Available at: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/photography-proof-exhibition-crime-photography/ (Accessed: 11 November 2016).

 

 

EXHIBITION: William Eggleston portraits

WILLIAM EGGLESTON NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY 1.10.16

I attended an OCA study day visit to the William Eggleston exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. This was my first viewing first hand of his work.

My personal response: Overall I was struck by the seemingly random nature of his images despite the everyday and familiar being the consistent subject matter. In seeking to understand his style I searched for other similarities. His framing, cropping, use of lines, composition and camera angles don’t seem to follow any pattern or style. Known of course for his experimental use of colour, this particular approach to colour, light and tonal range for me is the common denominator in his work. In the images at the exhibition his main subject is usually a vivid colour set against a dull or dark background, sometimes at odds with the background whilst occasionally in sympathy with the background. His colour appears most vivid on his dye transfer prints.

wiliam-eggleston-2http://www.lacma.org/sites/default/files/Eggleston2.png

william-eggleston-1(Glover 2013)

The image below is my personal favorite from the exhibition. Both the woman and the post are similarly erect, in fact she exudes tautness and the movement of her hand adds to the rigidity of both her and the post and is actually quite eerie. I am aware that he warns against symbolic interpretations of his work.

william-eggleston-3 https://ushistorians.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/william-eggleston-memphis-c-1969-71-women-sitting.jpg

The impact his work may have on my practice

I will try using:

  • More unusual compositions and use of space in the frame
  • Horizons/leading lines that aren’t straight
  • Colourful subjects emphasized against dull backgrounds
  • Be conscious about the size of the subject in the frame and compared to surroundings according to the narrative I am setting

Reference

Michael Glover ( 2013) Genius in colour: Why William Eggleston is the world’s greatest photographer. The Independent online, April 22nd 2013 . Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/genius-in-colour-why-william-eggleston-is-the-world-s-greatest-photographer-8577202.html (Accessed 2.10.16)