Category: Exhibitions & Books

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.

 

 

Research Part 2 Project 2 The Artist as Archivist

Notes on Project 2 Text

“I don’t see any necessity in producing images myself. Everything I need exists, it’s just about finding it”   Oliver Laric

The archive is now on the internet and contains photos from all types of camera including the phone.

Refer to Erik Kessels “In almost every picture” where he documents from found images, discarded photo albums, in flea markets. Series of photos # 7 is the most interesting , of Ria van Dijk at a shooting gallery each year of her life.

Kessels believes that our mistakes are important – ref. #13. In almost every picture , a thumb occludes part of the picture.

Fontcuberta believes that chance is very important and a lot of chance is now being removed from photos, e.g. the new digital photobooths give customers the opportunity to reject a picture before it is printed and try again.

Cutting out the chance element is creatively dangerous.

The Body and the Archive – Allan Sekula

This is a really difficult essay to read, full of pretention and unnecessarily over complicated. However, deep down in the meat of the material, there is some worthwhile content and is just about worth the effort to extract.

In the mid 19th century, it was believed that there was a link between the external appearance of a person and his / her individual character (via physiognomy and phrenology).

Adolphe Quetelet  tried to define the “average man” from which all could be compared. He looked at women’s fertility in comparison to age and he defined the “average worker”.

Bertillon analysed criminals and this was where photography was likely to become useful – to show pictures of criminal – like people. 100,000 pictures were collected in the French police force but there was very little result and from this, Bertillon was one of the first to realise the fundamental problem of the archive, that there is too much information to be ploughed through. He continued to develop a method of photography for comparison so that certain parameters (focal length, lighting, distance between sitter and camera) were always the same.

Galton (Darwin’s cousin) is significant for developing the first statistical methods for studying heredity. He developed composites which took the main features from different people. He believed he had translated the Gaussian error curve into photographic form.

Lewis Hine also made composites (of female millworkers in 1913) to trace the effect of factory work on young bodies. These examples were the “collapsed version” of the archive.

This all leads to the invention of archiving. The first systems were developed by Bertillon and Galton. Bertillon sought to embed the photograph in the archive. Galton sought to embed the archive in the photograph. Bertillon won.

The information was initially used for art history, military intelligence and other.

 

Link 4: The Vanishing Art of the Family Photo Album (Erik Kessels)

The function of the family photo has changed. It used to be personal for the album. It is now shared with everybody via social media.

Kessels put together “Album Beauty” exhibition to provide a meditation on the nature of obsolescence. He uses found and anonymous family photos after rummaging through flea markets.

Some of his finds he has blown up hugely. Some are the original size. The work describes a form of beauty which lists the detritus of beauty, boredom, travel, companionship, innocence, youth, pride and participation.

In the past the average family kept eight albums:

  • When the couple met (his photos of her)
  • The wedding
  • The first child
  • Four assorted albums (holidays, children, dogs etc.)
  • The final album, the couple alone again, the landscape bigger with her smaller in the frame

Kessels looked mainly for the dissonant, the banal, the disruption to ritualised harmony within family photography.

 

Link 5: Archive Fever “Photography between History and the Monument (Okwui Enwenzor)

The archive has many definitions:

“The Archive is the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events” (Foucault)

“A mechanism through which we return to the past, compiling indexes of comparisons and tables of facts that generate their own public and private meanings” (Stanley Cavell)

“The body and the Archive” by Allan Sekula refers to the work of Bertillon (analysing the characteristics of a criminal) and Galton (analysing racial characteristics for social control).

Duchamp developed a photographic archive miniaturising his entire world of discovering into a deluxe edition of reproductions, into a mobile museum (La Boite en Valise 1935 – 41).

This was the finest attempt of archiving in its day.

Gerhard Richter’s “Atlas” (1964 – present) is an open ended compendium of panels but was criticised for its difficulty to follow because it was sequential.

The archive can best be described as “a compensation of the unwieldy, diachronic state of photography and exists as a representational form of the ungainly dispersion and pictorial multiplicity of the photograph”

The archival impulse has animated modern art since the invention of photography. Rodchenko and Heartfield used the archive (as documentary apparatus).

Use of the archive was more active with post war modernists – taking us into the era of Richter’s generation.

There is a haunting portrait from Craig Horsfield’s study of pre – solidarity Poland “Magda Mierwa and Leszek Mierwa” . A lot of the impact from this photograph is the fact that the timing of release was not immediate.

Horsfield’s nude is set against the exact time of its making next to the year of its full realisation as a work thus stressing the importance of archival time. There is often a large time lag between “taking” and “printing”.

Today the timing data is so prolific that it is more difficult to see the image gel in the artist’s own consciousness.

Stan Douglas’s “Overture” links photographs with sound recordings of Proust’s “In search of lost Time”. Proust is about time and its disappearance and the link is not coincidental.

Much as I love Proust and in particular this book, I cannot see the drama generated by Stan Douglas’s “Overture”. I will stay with pure Proust.

Research Part 2 Project 1 The Artist as Curator

PROJECT 1: THE ARTIST AS CURATOR

Artists have become increasingly interested in the use of the “Found Image”. The role of editing has never been more critical. As photographers we must find new strategies of working with the wealth of digital images which have been and are being spewed out today.

Joachim Schmid and Erik Kessels are two artists who work with and understand the photo archive. It is my challenge to study these artists and gain an understanding of how I can use the photo archive for my own benefit.

In the essay ‘Archive Noises’ in Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora’s Camera – Phtogr@phy after Photography, London: MACK, Fontcuberta opens up some of his ideas about the importance of the archive of photography in the modern day.

Francois Arago presented the daguerreotype to the French Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris (August 1839) and stated that the invention would impinge on:

  • Perception
  • Memory

“It would apprehend what meets the eye and preserve what escapes the memory, by retaining visual information that deserves to be conserved.”

In the last quarter of the 20th century, photography was not about what you “took” but how it was presented. This is what led to the manipulation of found images to create art: to create an “aura”.

Joachin Schmid’s work is informed by a concern with visual ecology.

Schmid and Friche visited flea markets, second hand bookshops, looking for anonymous amateur snapshots which resembled those of the grand masters – Adams, Evans etc. reprocessing them and mounting them so they were indistinguishable.

Schmid encouraged recycling rather than producing an excessive proliferation of new images.

This work parallelled the work of Duchamp and the Dadaists.

The Archive Project

Schmid took banal amateur photographs and grouped them together, e.g. couples, children with a ball, mustachioed men, baseball players etc.

He used the photos to embody different ideas. He then gave one last chance to all the material which he had previously rejected.

Link 1: Interview: Sharon with Joachin Schmid

This interview followed a Tate conference on Vernacular Photography.

Schmid talked about collecting snapshots, looking for repetitive (recurring) patterns. To find repetitive patterns he needed stamina and good luck to find the right pictures. It was not a series of “Eureka” moments.

He refers to Italo Calvino’s “Adventures of a photographer” (which I have managed to find and print off the web). This is a superb essay by a non photographer, a gem of a reference hidden away. I have also read Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”, recommended by Peter Fraser last year. He is a source of inspiration and has assisted the “Flaneur” in me.

Schmid can relate to Calvino’s statement that photography leads to madness.

The Archiv Project was produced as a series of books and Schmid discovered that people’s attention span for books is much greater than for text on a computer (digital representation).

Other People’s Photographs Project generated more than 3000 photos. These were all shown in a book and this presentation method made it much easier for the viewer to look at the “whole” and give it adequate attention.

Schmid says “Wandering round looking for photos is more fun than scanning the web. It holds the interest for longer. But use of computer technology is more efficient and more effective”

We all take the same pictures and this works to Schmid’s advantage. In the future there will be too many photographers. He says “With higher levels of education in photography it will become more difficult to make a living out of the art.)

Link 2:  Photography as Urban Archaeology – The Practice of Joachim Schmid

“I am an artist because there is no other description of what I do”

Schmid created an “Anti Museum” of forgotten, lost and disused photographs – taken by the anonymous public. His work is curatorial and editorial and it is sometimes difficult to see where editorial selection ends and creative representation begins.

In one of his projects “Pictures From the Street”, he walked the streets for nearly 30 years searching for discarded, lost or torn photographs because of the mystery behind them. They reflect the role of photography played in everyday life. He sorted them by type and aesthetic approach in a “visual taxonomy of the mundane”.

He did the same exercise online (mainly Flickr) in his “Other People’s Photographs” project (2008 – 2011) which is where he produced 96 print – on – demand books.

In his photographic garbage survey project (1996 – 1997) he systematically walked pre arranged routes through seven cities collecting, preserving and documenting every piece of photographic garbage in his path:

  • Paris – 91 objects – 9 days
  • Sao Paulo – 83 objects – 8 days
  • Berlin – 43 objects – 6 days
  • Rotterdam – 28 objects – 6 days
  • Vigo, Spain – 23 objects – 5 days
  • Zurich – 12 objects – 4 days

He mapped each day’s route and noted details of each found photo such as location, date, position in the sequence of the day’s discoveries (a sort of urban archaeology).

He logged the type of photo in each city and therefore compared the cities (torn photos / polaroids / photo booth)

The project was an attempt to understand the flip side of photographic collection and preservation. This is another way to curate by setting limits on where we look for material.

Conclusion

“Now we’re a species of editors. We all recycle, clip and cut, remix and upload. We can make images do anything. All we need is an eye, a camera, a brain, a phone, a laptop, a scanner, a point of view. And when we’re not editing, we’re making”

Link 3: Corinne Vionnet

Today, the travelogue is less likely to be a tangible album found in our homes than it is an online directory of digital images. This gives a platform to collect the travel souvenirs via keyword search and use them for inspiration going forward.

I have worked on Corinne Vionnet’s ideas in part 1 coursework and my ideas at the moment for exercise 2.1 are to find on the internet a subject (not holiday tourist pictures) which is repetitive in the same way.

 

Exhibition – Performing for the Camera

The Tate exhibition “Performing for the Camera” provided a wide variety of inspirational sources. Narrowing them down to the relevant was difficult owing to the vast amount of information available at this tremendously popular event.

Works were exhibited by:

  • Harry Shunk
  • James Kender
  • Charles Ray
  • Kiyoji Otsuji
  • Don Graham
  • Marta Minujin
  • Stuart Bailey
  • Nadar
  • Merce Cunningham
  • Eikoh Hosoe
  • Andy Warhol
  • Man Ray
  • Jimmy De Sana
  • Erwin Wurm
  • Keiji Uematsi
  • Ai Weiwei
  • Boris Mikhailov
  • Samuel Fosso
  • Cindy Sherman
  • Arthur Wojnarowicz
  • Jeff Koons
  • Hannah Wilke
  • Joseph Bouys
  • Sarah Lucas
  • Linder
  • Dora Maurer
  • Nario Imal
  • Jemima Stehil
  • Lee Friedlander
  • Tomoko Sowada
  • Amalia Ulman
  • Romain Mader
  • Martin Parr
  • Hans Eijkolbroom

I have written this list to help myself in future research. Following on from the exhibition, I have  continued to research a few of the photographers who caught my eye but to do the exhibition justice would have been a lifetime’s work. The other interesting thing about the exhibition was that quite often the performer was more important than the photographer, for example, Yves Klein, Niki de Sainte Phalle, Yayoi Kusami (an artist in her own right) and many others.. My prime interest was the work of the photographers and my conclusion was that as time has moved on the photographer has become more important.

Whilst touring this exhibition, I had in mind the artist Idris Khan, tabled in exercise 1 (the last blog) who had superimposed all the JMW Turner postcards in the Tate to make a composite. Why this thought carried with me, I am not quite sure but quite often I considered whether the same approach could be applied to some of the artists in the exhibition, for example Martin Parr’s series of self portraits and the work of Samuel Fosso, portraits in the style of famous people.

There is a short video by Simon Baker, the curator which describes the exhibition well.

It can be found at:

http://players.brightcove.net/1854890877/default_default/index.html?videoId=4767204754001

 

Romain Mader

I was fascinated by Romain Mader whose wedding photo is on the front cover of the exhibition book and on all the advertising but there was no obvious reason why?

Mader is Swiss and studied photography at the University of Arts and Design Lausanne in Switzerland.

This is a six minute video on Vimeo of the build up to his photograph entitled “Ekaterina”.

 

The video explains his obsession with a Ukrainian girl, Ekaterina, during his first visit to Kiev. The array of still photographs together with a few video clips of this first visit strike the viewer with the range of ideas of this young photographer. His composition breaks all the rules but the pictures strongly represent the story. There were no tourists in Kiev so he had to make his own entertainment visiting bars and places where he was likely to meet girls. When he found his goal, he became obsessive. On return to Switzerland he agonised over the style of portrait he would send to her. He then returned to re -find her. There is an intense sincerity in the images but just occasionally humour breaks through as in the video of him trying to dance. All obsession is directed towards Ekaterina. Finally he finds her and after a while, invites her to Switzerland where he asks her to marry him. Hence the photo of the bride with him in the foreground. He always makes himself the focal point.

An example of one of the stronger influences in this exhibition is:

Is this simply because he is so egocentric that the face of the bride is not required or is there a deeper meaning? Was he alone when he put his head behind the screen?

Other work by Mader includes:

Aliona (2014) in collaboration with Nadja Kilchhoffer

Aliona

 

De Nouveaux Amis (2011)

De nouveaux amis, 2011

Moi Avec Les Filles (2009).

Moi avec des filles, 2009

 

Man Ray

A portrait of Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Selavy.

Rrose Selavy was used as a pseudonym for Marcel Duchamp and over a period of time Man Ray produced a number of photographs of him. He used it from time to time, in particular in a title for one of his sculptures.
Jemima Stehli
This series of self portraits demonstrates man’s reaction to her ‘Strip’ performance. She has selected certain art critics to press the shutter when they wish but she is more interested in their reaction (shyness, bravado or whatever).
The style of woman in these pictures resembles those in some of Helmut Newton’s photographs, strong, muscular and overbearing. It is interesting that in this instance the male (Helmut Newton) and female (Jemima Stehli) interpretation are similar.
Jemima__Stehli_Strip_No_4_Curator_181_67
Samuel Fosso
Fosso is an African photographer working in Africa. His well known work is a series of self portraits taking on the personality of various well known African characters. My interest here is to look at different ways of taking self portraits. I know a little of Cindy Sherman’s work on Film Stills but so far, Fosso is a new find for me. This idea will go forward into my future work in some way as yet undefined.
The portraits are all serious works with a political slant / motive.

The works are not quirky, they are straight head and shoulders shots and the most difficult part in analysing them is to believe that they are not real people. In my case when viewing these pictures, I felt that they were all people who I had seen before in the media. How wrong I was.

Ai Weiwei

Finally the three pictures by Ai Weiwei of the dropping of a 2000 year old Han Dynasty urn:

These three black and white prints were produced in 1995.

 

Weiwei collected old urns and painted them bright colours. Also in the exhibition, “Ai Weiwei, According to what?” at which the above picture was shown, an array of repainted “Han urns” were shown in front of the triptych. The urn which was smashed in 1995 was said to be worth in excess of £1m.

This exhibition inspired a man called Maximo Caminero to destroy one of Weiwei’s brightly painted urns on the grounds that he disagreed with the idea of painting these valuable objects and spoiling them. He claimed to destroy Weiwei’s work, not the original pottery masterpieces. This sent the art world into turmoil. Whose art work was he destroying?

Weiwei is a prolific tweeter and I found the following quote on his Twitter page.

“It takes a wise Chinese man to remind us of the human tragedy that is playing out daily at our borders.”

This demonstrates that Weiwei’s thoughts are highly political and reflects his views on current Chinese politics.

“Art is the most peaceful and proactive form of change we have in this world”

This shows his devotion to art and starts to describe how he uses it to inform the world. He has created an extremely wide audience.

Ai became widely known in Britain after his sunflower seeds installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2010. Since then he has had various major exhibitions in the U.K. including at the Royal Academy in London.

He has a studio in Beijing, set up after returning to China from the United States in 1993. He is currently working on a number of large scale works using everything from marble and steel to tea and glass.

“Art Review” magazine branded him as “China’s most dangerous man” for his social politics. “New Republic” called him “a wonderful dissident and a terrible artist”.

He certainly turns heads at the Tate Modern.

Conclusion

This is a very brief summary of some of the works exhibited in the “Performing for the Camera” exhibition at the Tate Modern. It highlights the role of photography in making a permanent record of an ephemeral performance.

By carrying out this review I have increased my knowledge of a number of artists but also logged the fact that I will be returning to some of these groundbreaking experts for more assistance with my photography development in the future.