Category: Research & Reflection

Project 4 – Re-Thinking Photojournalism 2: “Post Photojournalism”

Professional photojournalists are changing their practices due to the intrusion of citizen journalists. Many are changing to more sustained , investigative , documentary projects . Others are producing work in galleries, monographs and prints.

Citizen journalism started around 9/11 and therefore the way Afghanistan was presented needed to change to avoid compassion fatigue.

Link 7 – Compassion Fatigue

David Campbell writes that it is a general belief that photographs of atrocity induce a numbing of our emotional capacity to deal with that information. World Press Photo award winner (2012) Pietro Mastruzo noted “shocking pictures no longer communicate any more”. Others, Eve Arnold, Peggy Nelson, Pavrati Nair, Gerry Badger, Xeni Jardin, Danfung Dennis, Charlie Beckett, Susie Linfield (The Cruel Radiance) have all reflected the same argument and it was probably Susan Sontag who is most famously connected to this argument in “On Photography” 1977.Sontag however retracted many of her arguments “in regarding the pain of others”.

The dictionary definition of compassion fatigue cites the diminishing response to charity appeals as evidence but, at the moment charity appeals are not having a diminished response so how can compassion fatigue exist? This is the subject of David Campbell’s thesis.

Link 8 – Infra

This project by Richard Mosse for the Deutsche Borse prize 2012 attempts to use infra red photography to try to diffuse the effect of compassion fatigue by putting an artistic (gallery) stamp on his work. Infra red film was used for military surveillance thereby linking the medium to the type of photograph defining atrocity which Richard Mosse has undertaken.

Benjamin Lowy and Tim Hetherington worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, embracing smart phone technology. Sometimes the pictures use the Instagram filters to try to attract the attention of fatigued viewers. this was all in 2012 and is pretty much history now. One of the advantages of the smart phone is the speed at which information can be transmitted out to the media. Pictures can also be edited almost instantaneously and in the case of Benjamin Lowy, this means editing to catch the public eye.

It is this need to transmit information in a way which will catch the eye that so many modern photojournalists have learned to employ. For example, Paul Chauvel has taken his photographs of war torn countries home to Paris and shown them intermingled with touristic scenes of Paris to elicit sympathetic and urgent responses. Not an easy task.

Link 10 – Luc Delahaye (The Palestine Hotel)

Here is an example of bringing imagery from the news into the gallery. The Tate have an example of a perfectly ordinary photo of Bagdhad, large and panoramic, showing the hotel in the foreground, taken in 2001. The hotel was frequented by reporters working on the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq. On April 8 2003 the Americans turned their guns on the hotel and shot two journalists and injured three others. By turning his camera onto the life of the journalists, Delahaye has converted this rather ordinary photograph into a work of art accepted by the Tate.

Link 11  and Link 12- Tim Hetherington’s Sleeping Soldiers

Apart from the fact that Tim Hetherington died whilst within a field of combat, the work which he did on sleeping soldiers certainly raised many eyebrows. Once again, he was trying to illicit sympathy for the soldiers photographed so that his story would be taken seriously without the viewer having to focus on the gruesome reality of combat. The pictures were taken in Afghanistan in 2008 and exhibited at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool (and others). His posthumous use of the gallery to display his story was extremely successful. This shows the power of museums and in particular, the war museums in London and Manchester.

Picturing Atrocity – Atrocity and Action – Mark Durden

Luc Delahaye took as examples of photojournalism at its best (almost art) from Sebastaio Saldago and Don McCullin. But he took his art one step further. He used pictures of journalistic note around the world and blew them up large to show in the gallery e.g. link 10 – The Palestine Hotel above. Other examples are the Paris Metro and Economic Poverty in Russia.

The tension between Documentary and the pictorial can be seen in one of Delahaye’s most contentious art pictures which graphically details the body of a dead Taliban soldier.

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“I want to characterise the work as documentary pictorial. By this I mean that Delahaye challenges classic documentary uses of the medium in the emphasis given to the formal and aesthetic qualities of the image. in contrast to the emotionalism and rhetoric of photojournalism his photography is more understated and ambiguous.”

Delahaye’s pictures entail a slow record of newsworthy and historical moments. the scale of his pictures (large) invite allusions to the art of the great French painters – Delacroix, David and Gericault – as well as holding a relationship to the contemporary art of Jeff Wall, Gursky and Andres Serrano.

 

 

Project 3: Re-Thinking Photojournalism 1: The Citizen Journalist

Introduction

It is hoped that official journalists will still be required to record events such as press conferences etc. but the pictures which hit the headlines today are often from the most savvy passer-by who happens to be in the right place at the right time.

To record this phenomenon, Simon Roberts created a series entitled “The Last Moment” (2011 – 2014) to illustrate how people use their camera phones to record newsworthy events. He scans photographs from the broadsheets to reveal the halftone patina of the analogue reproduction. He then creates an opaque mask and deletes portions of the image to reveal the individual cameras which are snapping the event. The final picture is not of the event but of the people snapping. “circles of various sizes that float free in semi-transparent skies” A sort of tribute.

He points out that “The Decisive Moment” and the “Kodak Moment” are now historical. Like the previous work we have done on this module, it is no longer the single picture but a more complex map of pictures which defines the moment.

The idea of translucence  (link 3) , especially as it relates to optics and lenses, is central to the work. Roberts masks off the background using a white layer to create a ghostly veneer – a negative space – patterned by different constellations of artificial disembodied “eyes” each one a self contained world. Translucidity is not only a visual aesthetic running through “The Last Moment” but a metaphor for the various ways a camera functions and is used in today’s global society.

Alexander Chadwick

Alexander Chadwick’s screen grab of the London Tube passengers walking through the underground tunnel on 7/7 is an historic moment in citizen photojournalism. The picture is blurry and impressionistic which is now regarded as a bonus in these days of the plasticity of the digital image.

If you want to get good action shots, they mustn’t be in focus. If your hand trembles a little, then you get a fine action shot” (Robert Capa).

Apart from anything else the poor technical quality of a user generated content (UGC) image will restore confidence in the authenticity of the photograph. However this effect will probably be short lived as it is just as easy to modify the content of a poor quality image.

In the long term the question on so many people’s lips is whether the citizen photojournalist while photographing suffering and humiliation “I’m just doing what anybody would do!” will confirm an increasing acceptability of recording such events or whether it will destroy society’s relationship to the photographic image more broadly.

Blurring Boundaries – Stuart Allan (From course set book – Martin Lister (2013): The Photographic Image in Digital Culture)

Is Photojournalism dying?

Is the press dying? The press is dying because it is more interested in frivolity.

After 7/7 the press had to start brushing up their ideas. The most important requirement was to try to maintain authenticity of their own work but also to accept that the citizen journalist was here to stay. At this point Yahoo and Reuters advertised in the New York Times for “people with camera phones”  to work for them. A paradigm shift appeared to be underway.

The argument against using citizens as journalists was that all people are incorrigible sensationalists and that a balanced view is what is needed but there is no doubt that the material which these people are providing is being widely used, still more and more as each year goes by. This argument was made in 2007 and it is now ten years on.

A new role for the journalist / editor started to evolve. It was very important and particularly involved a curatorial role. In this way all photojournalists can work together to produce a better world. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” but newspapers and their editors are still wary of the pitfalls of citizen photojournalism.

Having read this passage I believe that the detail is of a repetitive nature and, quite frankly there was not much more in it that was not in the synopsis in the course notes.

Link 4 – 2012 Denver Cinema Shootings

Jose Navarro’s post in 2012 of you tube footage of the shootings in a cinema in Denver shows very poor quality film. Jose is trying to say that it is a disgrace to sensationalise the incident and: “Who on earth would photograph  the incident in the first place”.

We are so desensitised to this sort of occurrence now that we take it all in our stride and are not particularly shocked as he was.

What is going on at the moment with Donald Trump in America, the cruelty and the prejudices are much worse. They still have a strong effect on the majority (I hope).

Link 5 – The 7/7 bombings and citizen journalism

More substantiation of the significance of citizen journalism and the phone camera. Another article which repeats itself on the same subject.

 

Exercise 3.2 Controversial

Exercise 3.2

Find one or two recent photographs in the public domain that you consider to be “controversial” or to transgress social barriers. Write a short entry in your learning log (up to 500 words) about why you feel it is controversial.

Looking at pictures by Joel Peter Witkin could never be described as a pleasant experience and yet they are very clearly described as art. This living artist frequently uses dead body parts in collages and displays (photographed in Mexico because of contravention of the US laws).

His works have been labelled exploitative and have sometimes shocked public opinion.

I can accept that his work is art and is indeed quite spectacularly presented, using his own very detailed and innovative ideas but I cannot “like” it.

For this exercise I have used one of his pictures of a living person which is equally as controversial in its own way.

It is entitled “Sanitarium” and is of a naked woman being treated, I suspect, with colonic lavage in the sanitarium.:

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This work famously inspired Alexander McQueen in his exhibition “Spring / Summer 2001 Collection”.

The collection was displayed in a warehouse set up as a mock sanitarium, and the finale of the show was to display a woman (Michelle Olley), significantly overweight and naked, in the same pose as in Witkin’s  “Sanitarium”.

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To me the whole idea of using a Joel Peter Witkin pose in the show was pure sensationalism, especially as this woman was surrounded by stick thin, anorexic models with the latest designs draped over them. It was a gimmick but what it did achieve was to make people think beyond the show, to research Witkin and to start to debate the issues which he presents. Does that make it a success? I suppose it does. Looking at reviews of the show and reviews of Witkin’s work, many contradictions were apparent.

“I think Joel Peter Witkin shows life as it is, rotting at the point of birth, and McQueen puts pretty girls into ugly frocks.” Rose Taylor.

“I like McQueen but I really don’t like Joel Peter Witkin. To use dead body parts for the pictures? Seriously? Sick”. Evgenii Potapenko, Paris, France.

“This is arguably, one of the most important fashion shows ever, up there with Marc Jacobs infamous Spring 93′ Perry Ellis grunge collection.” Fleetwitchmac.

What seems to be unanimous is the respect which McQueen received for putting this show on (16 years ago).

But there are many examples of respect for Witkin’s work as shown by the article in the New York Times shown here

The opening line is “The calculated madness of Joel Peter Witkin’s photographs conveys a sense of 19th century horror:”

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Like the dream works of symbolist painter Gustave Moreau:

In my opinion the paintings of Gustave Moreau are much gentler and, of that era much more literal.  https://www.wikiart.org/en/gustave-moreau

In conclusion, I cannot love the work of Joel Peter Witkin, I can only acknowledge that the art world has benefitted from being exposed to his pictures. He is a prolific producer of art and one cannot imagine what motivates him to consistently generate such vast quantities of horrific material. I cannot find one single piece of his art which I would be confident in displaying to the ordinary people of this world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3 – Project 2 – Digitising Atrocity

Post Mortem

It was common in the 19th century to photograph “post mortem” and often this would be the only photo of that person. One of the reasons for this was the very high level of infant / child mortality.

Today this trend is starting to return with free access to smartphones, to take photographs of the body or to take selfies before, after and during funerals. Also there are many pictures of parents taken with their child (perhaps in hospital) to help the grieving process.

There are also many more gruesome pictures published on the internet than ever before of car crash victims, beheading by terrorist groups or whatever. There seems to be an increasing demand for such pictures.

Atrocities

This brings on the debate of whether it is good that the internet allows one to see the extent of state – inflicted violence (or any other violence for that matter). This shows the real effect of war and violence rather than the sanitised version. However, this sort of imagery can also help to incite fear and elicit sympathy as with terrorist organisations since the turn of the century.

WJ Mitchell wrote extensively on this subject as did Mary Warner Marion. It is not only terrorists who are guilty of inciting fear and eliciting sympathy but governments as in the case of George Bush’s carefully designed photo ops, designed to lead the public astray in order to demonstrate themselves as the victor. Also when the Abu Ghraib photographs of torture were released in 2004, it showed how governments today cover up the atrocities which they create themselves.

Atrocity and action: The performative force of the Abu Ghraib Photographs: Peggy Phelan

Atrocity photographs ask questions: What do the photographs do? What actions do they prompt? What actions do they prohibit?

They pose questions about action: What has been done? What still has to be done?

They push the viewer into considering: What can I do?

For a digital photograph there is a double: When the photograph was taken and when the photograph was viewed.

Atrocity photos are even more powerful than that in that they expose the “given to be seen” and the “blind spot”. both are central to seeing the photograph.

In relation to the present tense, a photograph (freezing of the model’s action) is akin to death. To look at a photographic portrait, one intermingles the past moment of the shutter’s click with the moment of reception and exposes the “this will have been” , the action conveyed by the future anterior. To Barthes the reception of portrait photography activates a mourning process, reheasing for the final stillness. Implicit in Barthes’ argument is a linear notion of temporal intervals: the photograph was taken in the past, seen in the present and projected into the futurity of the subject’s death. If the subject has already died, when the reception of the photograph takes place, the energy of anticipating death is reversed and sends the viewer into a contemplation of the subject’s past, in particular a deep mourning. This grief constitutes “punctum” as defined by Barthes in “Camera Lucida”.

Atrocity photographs, however often bypass this grieving process and generate an urgency in the present tense. They are performative, not constative.

The Abu Ghraib photographs of 2004, and their disquieting revelations, haunt diverse political landscapes today. These hauntings are dissipated in different ways around the world: they have been used as legal evidence, shown in art exhibitions, triggered acts of violence, used as the subject of performances, films and critical essays.

Death is a void, or condition of imagelessness. The pivot between the subject without image and the body as nothing but image constitutes the ongoing atrocity performed via the Abu Ghraib photographs. Looking at a prisoner in a hood with his fists cuffed to the bars is to obviate the notion of the distinction between living and dead.

The Abu Ghraib photographs dramatize the fact that we don’t know what the image conveys. They not only document atrocity but they create it.

Gilligan on a box is the most well known image. A man standing on a box, in a cloak in theatrical style, wired up, presumably to be executed by electric shock. It is what we don’t know as well as what we know which is important in interpreting this picture. The image limits its own opacity. We see the limit of our capacity to see it.

The photographs show the brutality involved in covering it up.

By looking at the blind spot the limit of sight produces a rejection of the idea that one can know what and who one sees when looking at atrocity (punctum).

Link 2 – Art Under Fire – The Guardian – Article by Ghaith Abdul Ahad

The dilemma of Iraqi Art started long before Saddam when artists became official state functionaries paid by the government.

Under Saddam, artists were forced to produce works that glorified the leader and put him at the centre of everything. Now they are less constrained and the subject they most want to depict is the violence around them.

In the middle of all the chaos after Saddam, artist Karim Khalil produced his best work, a series of a dozen 20 to 30 cm high marble and bronze figurines depicting a man from Abu Ghraib with a sack (marble) over his head.

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This is one of the marble statuettes. The most significant bronze model is based on the photograph of the man standing on a box with electrical wires connected to him ready for execution. Many artists have attempted to replicate this in their own style.

Before the war art did not sell well, there was not much money. After the war it sold well but now, people are nervous about their art for different reasons. They are in fear of attacks from religious extremists, being intimidated by people like the Mahdi army. Iraq is now filled with negative stories. Everything is bad: the health system is bad, electricity is scarce, water is polluted, the police are corrupt and these things have brought on the satirist, somebody who did not exist in the Saddam regime. They have freedom to make jokes (but not about the American regime or to criticise the occupation.

Wow that was a disturbing subject, I’m glad that’s over.

Exercise 3.2 will follow.

Exercise 3.1 – Visual examples of Cubistically Unmasking Photo Opportunities

Part 3: We are all Photographers Now 

It is probably truer to say that “We are all broadcasters now”.

Project 1 – The Dynamic Image – notes

The practical difference between the analogue and the digital image carries far reaching implications for the nature of the medium. The ontology (philosophical study) of the photograph – how it is unique in its nature and compares, philosophically, to other forms of representation – has always been debated.

The digital image tends only to have a temporary presence on a screen or archived on a hard drive. The analogue image has a permanent physical presence.

The digital image is made up of defined pixels rather than continuous tones. The digital formation of 1s and 0s can be likened to DNA (the picture’s genetic code). Within the picture’s genetic code can be hidden metadata either large or small.  It is the potential for this storage of metadata which is so powerful and this leads to hyperphotography.

Exercise 3.1 – Notes on Fred Ritchin’s essay “Toward a Hyperphotography” (Ritchin F. (2009) After Photography)

The distinction between analogue and digital is crucial (WJ Mitchell. (1992) The Reconfigured Eye). The digital photograph is based on creating discrete and malleable records of the visible that can be linked, transmitted, re -contextualised and fabricated.

The digital photograph can be conceived of as a meta-image (a map of squares) each capable of being individually modified and able to serve as a pathway elsewhere. It is perfect for hyperlinking data. It can explicitly acknowledge time as integer (not as flow). A digital camera can be part of a larger personal communicator that will keep appointments, make calls, take visual notes, check calendars, order from restaurants, check blood pressure, tune into tv, radio and personal playlists.

The communication potential starts to become more important than the singularity of the photographic vision. ~The “photographer” becomes a communicator.

There are those who have photographed the stone hitting the water and rejoiced in the camera’s ability to freeze the pivotal event in a fraction of a second. These have been conventional photojournalists.

Then there are those who focused on the ripples that the force of the stone hitting the water produces, distrusting the event itself but seeing its significance in its impact on people and place. These are more likely to have been the photo essayists, or more broadly stated, the documentary photographers. When Henri Cartier-Bresson was offered an exclusive ticket to attend the coronation of King George VI in 1936, for example, he would have had a scoop. But by turning it down to focus on the reactions of poor people lining the streets outside, he made some of his most memorable photographs – and did so for “Ce Soir”, a communist daily. He chose the ripples not the stone.

There are others who profoundly mistrust the depiction of either stone or ripples being no more than the camouflaging conventions of photography that conceal the medium’s transformative effect. Such photographers may prefer to stage the scene while shouting “mediation” as loudly as possible. Like scientists that know that the presence of the observer may alter the results of the experiment, and like McLuhanites we believe that “the medium is the message”. Post modernists and other interlocutors want to make sure that viewers don’t fall into an easy complicity with the process. They may include within the image their cameras, microphones, even themselves, as ways of heightening our unease about our assumptions.

Now there will undoubtedly be a variety of new strategies as more practitioners, artists, documentarians – professionals and amateurs – choose to expand and harness an evolving medium that can respond to some of photography’s frailties, its lies and limitations, with new methodologies.

Unmasking Photo Opportunities, Cubistically

Cubism – The contradictory double image is cubist, reality has no single truth. Seeing things from all sides. A multi perspectival strategy would help devalue spin.

Look for contradictory images which make the viewer think – What is right?

Photos made to consciously echo other photos:

  • Raising of flag at world trade centre 2001 set against destruction of Chilean legislature.
  • Photo of devastated Kabul next to the World Trade Centre before 2001 before US started to bomb Afghanistan.

Link 1 – Fred Ritchin – Key aspects of the digitalisation of Photography

  • It is now easy to manipulate photographs.
  • We can prepare future news i.e. a picture which predicts what will happen tomorrow.
  • There is a picture of Freud on the cover of one of the issues of Time Magazine. It is not Freud but an actor dressed up. There are many examples of this kind of deceit.
  • Photography doesn’t trust itself any more.
  • Ritchin is doing a project on the photography of peace rather than war. (picture of a Syrian person at the dentist or the barbers). often these pictures are taken by the people rather than the press.
  • Murders on the subway gets a massive press and puts people off travelling on the New York subway. We never see the good things that go on. These would balance out the story.
  • Social media shows pictures of us photographing us. Professional documentary shows pictures of them photographing them.
  • Reference Susan Sontag “The pain of others”.
  • Jeff wall picture of dead bodies was a big seller. He used actors to produce a piece of art, the dead talking to each other. Susan Sontag saw it as the only war photo which influenced her.
  • One artist puts the pictures up at the point where they were taken (particularly effective if war photos).
  • JR (photographer) Project – Women are heroes. This artist makes the pictures large and waterproof and uses them as roof coverings.
  • Think of producing postcards from the future.
  • “marche sur mes yeux” reference.

 

Some great examples of Cubistically unmasking:

  • OJ Simpson photo in Time Magazine where he is shown blacker than he really is as opposed to the same picture in Newsweek where he is the right colour. Time Magazine were accused of racism. They defined it as art.
  • Two identical pictures of Lance Corporal Boudreeau holding text, the text being totally contradictory.
  • A picture of George Bush holding the Christmas turkey for the troops linked with a picture of the actual turkey which they ate.
  • A picture of 9/11 adjacent to a picture of America bombing Afghanistan.
  • 1994 image of US soldiers invading Haiti (heroic image). In actual fact the soldiers were pointing their guns at press photographers thereby fabricating the story.

Cubistic unmasking is all about attaching one image to the other.

By attaching information to an image we are not necessarily contradicting the first image but we are providing the viewer additional information to allow him / her to form a more valued judgement. The contradictory double image is cubist which is starting to suggest that reality has no single truth.

Website References – Cubistically Unmasking

http://www.cnet.com/uk/pictures/pictures-that-lie-photos

http://www.boredpanda.com/truth-behind-photography-tricks/

Examples I have found:

1       The Death of Bin Laden

It is well known that when Bin Laden was shot, the press did not publish pictures of his body. Partly this was in order not to upset religious and cultural orders but also because of the current ability to manipulate photographs, it would generate too much debate without resolution.

Therefore the following picture was issued in its place:

 

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A picture of the so called American team.

It is thought that a genuine photograph of the dead body was taken but so far the best we have has turned out to be a fake:

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This was published on the CNET website referred to earlier.

More likely to be real are the following two photographs which only start to unfold the story.

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The viewer can start to formulate the true story but how can the viewer be sure that the above two pictures are real. Is the blood that of Bin Laden’s and this the (true?) picture of Bin Laden actually taken within his hide?  Has his body been superimposed onto the background. In a news story as sensitive as this, anything can happen.

2       Paired photographs from boredpanda.com

Wedding Photograph

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Fashion Shoot

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Girl in the Rain

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These six photographs taken from boredpanda website demonstrate the ease with which the viewer can be deceived and the simplicity of developing a cubistically unmasked photo opportunity. If a video or link to another website can then be added as metadata to the original photograph, each story can be developed even further.

 

 

 

Strange and Familiar

Britain as revealed by international photographers

 

Exhibition Review – Manchester City Art Gallery

When this exhibition moved from the Barbican in London to Manchester it was noted that there were no images of Manchester life in the original. Alex Beldea, a Hungarian photographer, was commissioned to bring his own interpretation of the essence of Manchester and he asked a number of people who accessed the gallery’s learning programme to take him to a place where they feel a strong connection and there he produced his photograph for the exhibition.

An article from the Huffington post sums up the exhibition well.

“The recognisable symbols of British life; glass milk bottles on doorsteps, Jubilee street parties, football matches, miners, post-war concrete architecture and the class system, are all there to connect us with our cultural emblems. The photographs talk to our instinctual need to connect with the past, in order to make sense of the present; it is an unflinching account of all things that we look to for cultural comfort and pride, and at times shame.

The exhibition is curated by decade, starting from the voyeuristic black and whites from the 1930’s, up to the large and glaringly intimate portraits favoured by some of today’s photographers.

Starting in the mid-1930s with Edith Tudor-Hart’s images of London’s East End to the slum housing areas of Tyneside that capture the child welfare, unemployment and homelessness that characterised the interwar years. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s images give us the celebratory spirit at the Coronation of King George VI, the work of Gian Butturini and Frank Habicht show the Swinging Sixties and the anti-War movement.

Paul Strand’s images feature the lives and landscape of the Scottish Isles of the Outer Hebrides during the 50’s, whilst Robert Frank’s portrayal of life in London alongside the coal mining towns of South Wales, depict the rise of a British corporate culture and the relationship between wealth and poverty.

The Dutch photographer Cas Oorthuys captured the mid-century street landscape in Cambridge, London and Oxford with all its quirks.

A highlight is Bruce Davidson’s work in England and Scotland from 1960, which uncovers the contrasts between city and country life, of the landed gentry and the working class people as he focused his camera on bankers, cleaners, bombed-out buildings, public transport and youths in Soho.

Naturally Garry Winogrand is included, this time with little known portraits of travellers through the UK in 1968. In the same year, the Japanese photojournalist Akihiko Okamura moved to Dublin to cover the conflict in Northern Ireland. His work depicts the everyday experience of barricades, demonstrations, and bombed out streets.

The 70’s start with Gilles Peress who travelled to Northern Ireland nearly every year for two decades to document the conflict.

In 1977, Shinro Ohtake looks to London’s inhabitants, whilst Hans Eijkelboom’s collection shows images of street shoppers snapped at The Bullring in Birmingham, which are arranged into a complex grid according to similarities: clothing or gestures that question the construction of Identity.

As a child born the 70’s, I was drawn to the luminous portraits depicting youth in the early part of this century. Rineke Dijkstra’s intimate portraits of Liverpool clubbers is a highlight of the exhibition. Reassuringly familiar, to any teenager who has spent a night in the local nightclub, where bravado and sexual naivety collide. Women will recognise their own innocent and still gazes in those of the clubbers; all photographed delicately with her maternal eye. The accepted idea that local nightclubs are an escape from conformity, is turned on its head with uniform portraits of tribes in Lycra and cheap make-up.

Strange And Familiar: Britain As Revealed By International Photographers, Curated By Martin Parr

Rineke Dijkstra

 

Opposing these images of lost youth, literally, were portraits of the seemingly secure, upper classes by Tina Barney. Their melancholic gazes highlight the distance between the ‘them’ and ‘us’, a reflection of the class divide. There is a ceremonial lack of intimacy in these portraits, a gap which increases the more one attempts to connect with the subjects.

Bruce Gilden’s images were enormous and most disturbing. They are unpolished close-ups of the working classes in contrast to Barney’s upper classes.

Strange And Familiar: Britain As Revealed By International Photographers, Curated By Martin Parr

Raymond Depardon’s images of the residents of the Goven and Manhill estates in Glasgow, captured what at first seems a bleak depiction of childhood. Dark landscapes, illuminated only by the clothes drying on a washing line, a bright pink balloon, or a child’s pram full with dolls.Within that small existence, it is the props of childhood, the toys and games with friends around those very washing lines; that memories make. Who cares, as a child, if your backdrop is filled with bleak factories and wet pavements; the streets are your playground, and Depardon presented back to us the freedom that came with outdoor play in the mid-century, an experience seldom enjoyed by kids today.

Whenever and wherever in Britain you grew up, seeing this exhibition will gift you a family album you’ve long forgotten.”

Photos of Manchester

As a local person the local photographs were of greatest interest although it was good to see a Cartier Bresson and a Paul Strand in real life.

The Manchester pictures were as follows:

 

This piece of work was completed relatively rapidly and in my opinion does not do Manchester justice but the most interesting part of the Manchester project has yet to come. Local residents have been asked to send in their perception of “The Essence of Manchester”. Some have already been submitted but the exhibition runs until mid May 2017 so there are many more to come. This has motivated me to organise a visit to Manchester with a group of friends to search for that all important picture. The visit will take place in January 2017 and I am currently researching my ideas.

Conclusion

I visited this exhibition at the Barbican when last in London. The exhibition space in Manchester does the pictures much better justice and, as always, the second visit brought out a lot more detail and was much more satisfying. How this material relates to “Digital Image and Culture”, I have yet to discover, but have rarely found a random piece of research which has not drawn rich rewards.

 

 

A Gap in the Workflow

Assignment 2 was submitted in mid September 2016 and I have been trying since then to get to grips with the build up to Exercise 3.1, “Towards a Hyperphotography”. The subject is fascinating and I have done a lot of background reading but cannot get a flow  going to put anything on paper. In the meantime I have been spending some time on landscape photography and have visited exhibitions at the Tate Modern and Manchester City Art Gallery. I have attended meetings of the RPS Digital Imaging Group and worked with friends photographing Manchester with the aim of finding a single picture which defines Manchester. This was inspired originally by the  Scott Kelby annual walk around Manchester in November.

So when I write all that down I don’t feel so bad and I am expecting some of this work to give the inspiration for some of the future exercises.

During the landscape exercise I visited three sites:

  • The Roaches
  • Kinder Scout
  • Magpie Mine

All in the Derbyshire and Staffordshire area.

What evolved was my interest in people and the selection of pictures that I ended up with all contained people. I experimented with colour, black and white and sepia tones and when ready to print on the Epson Stylus Photo R3000, discovered that the printer had broken down and could not allow ink flow of the photo black. The portraits taken at Magpie mine looked like this:

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After many attempts to get the printer working, I sent the pictures to the lab to have them processed correctly and the results were like this:

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I must admit that I prefer the first take and this stimulated me to consider the need to always look out for alternative ways of presenting an idea, much as Schmid and Kessels do in their work today.. It is a matter of keeping an open mind at all times.

The book which led me to consider what to do with failures is “Failed It” by Erik Kessels. “How to turn mistakes into ideas and other advice for successfully screwing up”.

Chapter headings include:

  • Celebrate the illogical
  • Triumph of the amateur
  • Attack of the giant finger
  • When a view is flawless, interrupt it
  • Redesign your imagination
  • Dare to be disliked

Other Kessels quotations include “Look for a new way of thinking”, “There is a gap between what you want and what you achieve”, “You need to make a fool of yourself”, “Photography is too serious and needs to be lightened up”.

It is a very easy book to read and can be used as a reference book when in need of escaping from under that black cloud.

Another book leading on from the set book by Fred Ritchin “After Photography” is his latest book, “Bending the Frame” Both these, rather more serious than the Erik Kessels book, have been a great inspiration to me.

There is also a very good interview on you tube with both Kessels and Ritchin sitting side by side showing tremendous mutual respect. These people inspire each other.

So having got that off my chest, I will do a review of the Exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery, rework assignment 2 and then move onto the work leading up to assignment 3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assignment 2 – Tutor Feedback and Reflection.

Tutor feedback for Assignment 2 was encouraging.

Overall Comments

It’s clear that you have progressed. Your critical engagement with the assignment is excellent. Your reflective text responds well to your ideas and connects with your references and the context of archives. It’s evident that you are committed to trying to understand the wider issues of contemporary photography.

Your final submission responds to the brief. The book is appropriate as is the idea of blurred images, although, I think that there was greater potential for the idea. A further investigation and edit of the blurred archives / idea could have resulted in a more solid coherent output. However, for assignment two I feel that you are progressing really well and if you continue to apply yourself you should do well at the time of assessment.”

Obviously the first paragraph gives me great satisfaction. This is further reinforced in the detailed analysis of my  approach to research and referencing and the way in which research is linked to the final product. However, there is much work to be done in improving the final presentation of Assignment 2. Although  the comment is disappointing “There is greater potential for the idea ” I feel that I understand the dilemma and it will be worthwhile looking back and reworking both context and presentation style, using blurred images  once again. My current thoughts are to refer back to that very influential book, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, and to develop a modern day interpretation of the cities referred to. This is challenging as the original book, published in English in 1974, looks back to the cities of the 13th century and I am trying to bring them forward to the 21st century. Whilst reworking, I will look to improve presentation style, in particular to provide more white space around the pictures to allow them to breathe and also to add a small amount of text to try to put the pictures into context.

In addition, I am currently referring to artists recommended by my tutor for reference, Thomas Mailaender and Julian Germain and will be bringing them in at a later stage.

Reflection

On reflection, the most satisfying piece of work at the stage leading up to assignment 2 was the work on the family album where I searched for original photographs in junk and antique shops and applied my artistic thoughts to them rather than scanning the internet for such information. I was able to locate the album of a nun, long deceased and this led to a detailed analysis of portraiture and group photography between 1950 and 1980.Much has changed since these days and some of the changes are already referenced within my work.

Another successful piece of work was the repetition of motif where I researched the development of advertising for Chanel No 5. This may seem a very restricted subject but on further investigation the subject matter which I had to consider was vast.

The third exercise – Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land –  is a subject in which I have been interested since visiting his exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery several years ago. The exercise gave me time to look at a living artist’s work in detail, an indulgence which only comes when there is a specific project to pursue.

My disappointment is that these three successful pieces of work did not lead up to an assignment of the same standard, something which I am determined to correct before I move on.

 

 

 

 

Tutor Feedback and Reflection for Assignment 1

I have taken comfort from my Tutor’s comments but must now push forward and improve the overall quality of my work.

Assessment Potential

I definitely want my work to go forward for assessment at the end of this module. I have already requested feedback on how my work meets the assessment requirements and submitted my own self assessment for critical comment alongside assignment 1.

Feedback on Assignment 1

There is strong emphasis on using references as much as possible and although my tutor stresses that I have done this very well there is obviously more to do. I enjoy reading around the subject and, if anything, one of my weaknesses is moving too far outside the set references. However, I suspect this will take me on my own journey and hopefully help to inspire interesting and original thought.

Reference has been made to my interest in politics and, yes, I do have an interest but this is not necessarily my only interest. I still have a desire to search for my own voice and must reach a stage soon where I find it.

In the last module “People and Place” I enjoyed looking at people in social, economic and political terms and my style was dark, often photographing “in the dark”. I have considered following on and expanding this style but at the moment I am happier investigating other styles and genres.

The idea of using advertising imagery is a good one and I need to investigate this further. In my interpretation of exercise 2.1: Motif, I have worked with the example of Chanel No 5 advertising and this, although playful has been most rewarding.

In the words of my tutor “Push your practice and ideas”. I keep this motivation close to my fingertips.

With reference to the history of art, I often refer to early art and frequently visit galleries and exhibitions. Also performance art such as the dancer referred to in assignment 2 has helped me to interpret “Self Portrait”, in this case in the guise of Brazilian history. I am fascinated by photography’s position in the development of modern art and art’s influence on photography.

I have done some additional work on the “Sky” pictures referred to and may introduce this at a later date. For  this one picture, the political and environmental implications are huge as demonstrated by Peter Kennard’s “Haywain with Cruise Missiles”.

Learning Log

I have had some problems getting my blog set up properly so that it is easy to work with but I think I have made progress. I now have a main menu along the top giving easier access to individual pieces of work  If the viewer clicks on the appropriate assignment, all work related  to that assignment will show up easily.

I have also started uploading photographs at full size so that the viewer can click onto each individual photograph if required to view the full detail.

Reflection  

On reflection, I was pleased with the overall concept of my final set of images in assignment 1 but the subject matter was not strong enough to hold the viewer in. These pictures do have a lot more impact when blown up to large size and I could see them as a body of work on the wall in my study, or even in an exhibition. One of the problems of the blog is that impact has to be created for the blog style rather than for some other large printed style, book or whatever. Presentation style requires considerable attention at all times.

The work so far on this module has taken me to a completely different place with reference to previous modules but has started to explain some forms of contemporary practice which I had previously considered as “non photography” or “non art”, for instance the use of found images. I am still trying to understand what I am and am not allowed to do with other people’s images found on the internet or in junk shops. I assume that as long as I reference the work, I am free to work with it as long as it isn’t copyrighted.

In some ways working with found images is easier than going out and taking photographs but the challenge is to find originality and to use the images creatively. This is sometimes more difficult than producing one’s own photographs via the camera.

Exercise 2.3 – The Family Album

Question

Explore the family album and its iconography.

Provide six photographs (e.g. photomontage, work using found images) which reference the family album in some way.

The Project

There is more truth in the image of reality, which is perennially enduring, than the vision of the real, which is fleeting. (Fontcuberta, 2014, p.180)

On a recent visit to Hay-on-Wye, I was searching around the second hand bookshops and antique stalls for photographs much in the way that Erik Kessels, Joachim Schmid and others have done before me.

I stumbled across a photograph album developed by Mother Levine Murphy from the 1920s to the 1950s. From this example I was able to analyse “the family album of the mid 20th century”.

I believe it to be Mother Levine’s because there is a loose newspaper clipping in the front which shows her photograph, age 83 and a brief article about her life:

Mother Levine Murphy

On studying the album in more detail it became absolutely clear that these pictures had been taken by Mother Levine, starting in the 1920s. They are mainly pictures of her family, some fellow nuns and the various convents and locations she had visited during that time. There is one very interesting section where she went to Lourdes to visit the Bishop of Lourdes, Father Coffer and Canon Monk.

It suits my need very well that I did not know too much about this person as I intend to make an analysis of the family album of the 1920s rather than a historical record of the person..

I believe her job was to teach in the convent school at St Anthony’s convent in Sherbourne, Dorset.

She was professed in 1878 and so I guess she was born in the 1850s or 60s not so long after photography was invented.

More than that, I know very little about her as a photographer or as a person, only what the “snaps” tell me. Her photography was obviously a keen interest to her and must have been an expensive hobby in its day. She reminds me of Vivian Maier in her obsession but not in her ability.

My direct experience of 1920s photography to date is a visit to Chambré Hardman’s studio in Liverpool, a very interesting talk by Keith Roberts on his work analysing the Hardman portraits and part of the content of my attic in the shape of my own family portraits.

This was about the time when Edward Steichen was working for Vanity Fair. Portraits typical of this age are shown below:

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Family Albums were very much about groups of people dressed up either sitting or standing and always facing the camera in a formal pose:

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To try to understand iconography in relation to the family album, I purchased and read a few chapters of  Ancestral Images (Moser, 1998). It certainly gave a better understanding of iconography but I have had to work out for myself how that influences the interpretation of the family album. I think that the most important thing to understand is the positioning and formality of the people of the 1920s.

The family album which I have discovered covers the following subjects:

  • Single portraits
  • Group portraits
  • Buildings
  • Gardens
  • Beehives
  • Church interiors
  • The pope
  • Weddings
  • Ships
  • Cows

There are virtually no candid shots. People are posed facing the camera. The photographs are very much the interest of this one single woman. A strictly personal document, not in any way for sharing, perhaps for very occasionally showing a very personal friend.

Because this is the album belonging to a nun, it does not fall neatly into Erik Kessels’ categories of eight albums in a lifetime:

  • Man meets woman
  • Wedding
  • First Child
  • 4 albums assorted – holidays, children, dogs.
  • Final – man photographs woman in landscape

Instead her life is only really within the category of “4 Albums assorted”. It is interesting to note that this album may be the only one in her life. At first I thought that it was only about the 1920s as the first photographs were dated but, like most albums, the information attached to each picture has deteriorated and so much is left to supposition.  In the present day it would be possible to access much more metadata as long as the digital file were available.

I bought this album in an antique / junk shop and I presume the copyright is mine. I have reproduced some of these pictures so that I can put them onto this blog and my selection of six is as follows:

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20160820 XPRO 040A

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This traditional approach to producing a family album is not so common these days as social media has taken over and many of the pictures are more informal.

My own family photos have taken on a very different look as shown by this “outside looking in” picture taken recently for the “People and Place” module:

 

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There are many ways of representing portraiture in the modern age. Only today, I attended a performance of the portraiture of Brazil where a performance artist / dancer used his own body to represent the portraits of Brazilian people. He interpreted photographs, text and voice , using his own naked body. Ref: Tiago Cadet: Alla Prima – Home Manchester – August 20 2016:

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The contrast in quality of presentation between the 1920s photo album and today’s many methods of representation is stunning but there is still something most compelling about carrying out a historical exercise to analyse early photo albums. Part of the excitement is in finding out about the person behind the pictures.

Conclusion

The family / personal portrait has changed significantly over time. The 1920s portrait was formal, sitter or group facing the camera showing a sense of pride and grandeur. By the 1950s the subjects were starting to relax a little.

Today the portrait is rarely so formal and the sitters do not demonstrate their sense of wealth and grandeur. The pictures are often shared immediately with friends and then lost for ever. Every conceivable emotion could be demonstrated by the images posted on social media and formality is rarely one of these.

There are also many other ways in which one’s portrait can be demonstrated, by performance, use of sound, video, interview techniques and many other.

References

Moser, S. (1998) Ancestral Images: The Iconography of Human Origins. Sutton

Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora’s Camera:  Archive Noises. Mack

Schmid, J.    http://weareoca.com/photography/an-interview-with-joachim-schmid/

Schmid, J.    http://www.nowseethis.org/invisiblephoto/posts/678/essay/13

Kessels, E    http://lightbox.time.com/2013/09/04/the-vanishing-art-of-the-family-photo-album/#22

Chambré Hardman, E.   Study Visit – Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool – 9 February 2013, Peter Haveland and Keith Roberts

Chambré Hardman, E. 59 Rodney Street. The National Trust