week eight | responses and responsibilities
This week we looked at The Environment and the Eye. Two of the photographers in the case study really captured my attention. Their ethics and message to the world shouldn't go unnoticed.
Sebastio Salgado - Genesis, an epic 8 year expedition to photograph the earth in all it’s beauty as a reminder to us of what we will lose should we continue to destroy our planet.
Nick Brandt - Inherit the dust used life size portraits of animals, printed onto panels in Kenya and photographed in locations where the animals used to roam but are now urban developments.
Intended to provoke environmental concern, the ways these images are displayed to us is crucial in our reading of them. Genesis was displayed in the Natural History Museum for six months. A space where viewers can contemplate the scale, scene and meaning of what is before them.
The work is, without a doubt, thought provoking. It is breathtakingly beautiful and eerie at the same time. The landscapes are untouched and out of reach for humanity which is exactly how they ought to remain.
There is a danger I feel, of passiveness in the viewer. There is nothing so shocking in Genesis to prompt action for the viewer. Salgado previously worked on another project ‚migration‘ that left his soul destroyed. Genesis was an antidote to that work for himself. It gives hope, belief and shows the innocence of the natural world. Salgado and his wife Lelia did take action themselves. Returning to inherited land in Brazil that was destroyed beyond recognition. They spent many years planting millions of trees to restore it as nature intended. On a personal level the experience of photographing the earth impacted on this couple to make such an important change which will impact on the earth in a positive way.
Sontag argues that a beautiful aesthetic becomes only more abstract to us which makes the boundary even wider between what we see and what we feel able or motivated to change
“Making suffering loom larger, by globalising it, may spur people to feel they ought to ‘care’ more. It also incites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local political intervention” - Sontag (1977, p.3)
In contrast Nick Brandt took his previous work back to the landscape to show the impact of human interaction. The majestic beauty of the animal portraits jar with the wastelands and industrialised landscapes that humans have made. The destruction is clearly visible and it is uncomfortable but striking to view. There is nothing pristine about the photograph, they are composed with a balance which meaning is well executed. ‚There was once beauty and now there is this horror’ such shock tactics are often used by WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Using banner style adverts that include photography and anchor text which drives home the message. Sontag may argue that 'an image is drained of its force by the way it is used, where and how often it is seen', but there is also an element of marketing behind these campaigns to reinforce and remind people often of a message that is important and should not be forgotten.
Salgado and Brandt’s work have been available to view in exhibitions, online and in books. They are not widely available or mass produced which retains their value, authenticity and importance.
"By furnishing this already crowded wold with a duplicate one of images, photography makes us feel the world is more available to us than it really is" - Sontag. On Photography (1977, p24.)
SONTAG. Susan. On Photography. Penguin. 1977.
https://inheritthedust.nickbrandt.com/ - accessed March 21
Nick Brandt - Inherit The Dust
week seven | a sea of images
The modern age has brought with it mass reproduction. Classic works can be brought as paperbacks, great works of art such as the Mona Lisa can be purchased in many forms of merchandise that are unrecognisable to the original piece of art. Capitalism has altered our experience of the arts, making them easily accessible but not in the form that they were originally intended to be experienced. This changes how we view and value such things. Reproduction contributes to the objects losing their authenticity and destroying their uniqueness. It took Leonardo da Vinci four years to paint the Mona Lisa. That famous smile is a visual representation of 'gioconda‘ which translates to the notion of happiness. The painting as among the first portraits to depict a sitter before an imaginary landscape using aerial perspective. The curves of the sitter are echoed in the landscape, there is a connectivity between human and nature and represents an ideal rather than a real woman. The Mona Lisa went beyond portraiture of it’s time, Leonardo created a poetic mystery in his painting. Historians question the sitter and ask if it were Leonardo himself. The painting is not for sale and can only be viewed by visiting it at the Louvre in Paris. Mechanically reproduced objects will never be the real thing. It is a one off original piece, anything else is just imitation.
Reproductions alter the message or meaning originally intended in works such as these. Che Guevara, photographed by Alberto Korda in 1960. There was a funeral service for 136 people who were killed when a French ship was carrying arms to Havana and was sabotaged and blown up.
"I remember his staring over the crowd on 23rd street," Korda says. Staring up, he was struck by Guevara's expression which he says showed, "absolute implacability," as well as anger and pain. - Korda. 1950.
The print wasn’t immediately shared. It was 17 years later when an Italian publisher was seeking an image of Che that the photograph came to light. One published, the artist Jim Fitzpatrick used the image as the model for a colour poster. Since Che’s death his image has been used widely for promotion of alcohol, t-shirts, posters, keyring, logos and so on.
it’s exploitation in such ways has moved it’s original meaning so far from what he represented and stood for. Wearing a t-shirt, owning a poster may make people feel like they are making a political statement or perhaps a freedom fighter without realising what kind of man Che really was or even where that photograph was taken.
All URL's accessed March 21.
week six | tutorials
A week to catch up and consider work in progress.
week five | gazing at photographs
Since cave paintings, man has reproduced images of the things he has witnessed. Scopophilia, Voyarism and Fetishism have all been repeatedly identified in relation to the photograph and how someone can feel as a result of gazing at something they witness. The reason for feeling such things are related to the self.
Jacques Lacan's concept of the mirror stage is based upon the belief that this is when babies first recognise their self. It is the formation of the ego by the image reflected. There is also pleasure gained in seeing this image but is also a mis-recognition.
"Since the baby knows that the image is not actually itself" - Jacques Lacan
"The dynamics of the mirror stage continue to structure subjectivity, and that explain the importance of the visual to our sense of our self" - Jacques Lacan
The pleasure in looking extends the human gaze
"It is a short leap from looking (fixing ones gaze upon another) to voyerism (taking delight in extended gazing) to spying (surreptitiously) studying the actions of another" - Michael Rush
Merry Apern's 'Dirty Windows' (1994) used a telephoto lens in a surveilance manner. Apern states her compulsion to document the sexual exploitation of women was less voyeristic (in a sexual sense) but more motivated by her own anthropological intrigue.
"Although the notion of the 'female gaze' has never really interested me, as a woman I can project some of my own experiences onto the pantomine in the window" - Merry Apern
Laura Mulvey describes voyerisum as
" A way of seeing that is active, it distances and objectifies what is looked at. It is controlling and even sadistic" - Laura Mulvey
and further describes Freud's association of scopophillia with taking other peoples as objects 'subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze' - Freud.
In practice part of the satisfaction comes from a photograph captured of a subject that is unaware and in their 'natural' state. My own gaze alters depending on what I am looking to photograph, more generally I am more comfortable when my subject has given me consent or they are aware and seemingly comfortable with my presence and my camera.
COGHLAN. Niamh. https://aestheticamagazine.com/voyeurism-surveillance-and-the-camera/ - Accessed March 21
MULVEY. Laura. Essay- Talis online library.
Merry Apern 'Dirty Windows' - Artnet.com
week four | into the image world
Semiology is a visual and linguistic method used to take an image apart and trace how it's meaning is communicated. Peeling back the layers is a way for us to make sense of what we are seeing. Western culture is full of signs that do just this. The ubiquitous nature of advertising in society is one of the most influential, ideological systems that we take for granted.
"Ads saturate our lives, yet, because ads are so pervasive and our reading of them are so routine, we tend to take for granted the deep social assumptions embedded in advertisements" - Rober Goldman, (1922:1)
Replacing the class system, consumption of goods and services have become a way for people to feel important
"People are made to identify themselves with what they consume.. we are made to feel that we can rise or fall in society through what we are able to buy" - Williamson, (1978:13)
Social difference is explored from the beginning in making an advert; class, gender, race, age and so on, are all central to how an advert is formed. Signs such as an adverts image and text usually signify the concept of luxury, joy and well-being in an attempt to transfer the signifiers from the signs in the image and text to their own product.
The above image demonstrates the process involved.
Where we view these meaning making images can impact upon what they in turn mean to us. If displayed in a shared space the signifiers of the other works will spill into the image we are viewing, altering our understanding of it's meaning.
This week has shifted my thoughts in the making of a photograph. Much consideration in the conceptual stages is required to make an image with an intended meaning as opposed to a beautiful scene.
ROSE. GILLIAN. Visual Methodologies, SAGE Publications, 2005.
https://prezi.com/6yn_8mvxa_8j/dior-advertisement-semiotic-analysis/ Accessed March 21
week three: informing contexts constructed realities
While photographs may not lie, liars may photograph' - Hine 1909: 111.
"Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just to interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are" - Susan Sontag
Photographs and art have a complex relationship. They are interconnected. Similar to artists, photographers construct their images using form, composition and a particular use of light. Photographers are inspired by art and in turn artists use photographs as references to support their work in image form as notes.
This weeks lecture on still life breathed a surprising inspiration moment for my own work. Still life isn't something I have given much thought to since I began my photography practice many years ago. It was like a switch in my though process as I have been struggling to find a true intent for my research project on light and shadow. The context of my work felt too open and vague to focus on even making a true start. As a project it lost it's meaning and I too felt lost. Lockdown 3 has also left me feeling a bit like this too. I feel connected and disconnected simultaneously to my children. They are at home but it feels we are distant most of the time with our various responsibilities. To be in the same space and yet feel so apart is a very uncomfortable feeling. I found myself reflecting on the time I had to myself when a few years ago I would have been more 'needed'. My children are growing up and busy themselves in new ways that don't require a lot of my attention. What they need from me is different. Whilst we all work from home I bring their meals, check in on them to see how they are coping and try to gauge their levels of happiness. I have a constant stream of jobs to get done to ensure the household runs as efficiently as possible so I don't feel so overwhelmed. I see about the home a trace of where they have been, what they have been doing whilst I am out of the room.
There are piles of dishes, washing, laundry and an overflowing t-bag collection that feels like a reflection of the kind of day I am having! These banal everyday objects are a continuous and constant thing. They are the same each day yet different in their construct. I decided to begin photographing these objects with the still life lecture in the forefront of my mind. I have been looking at the work of Rinko Kawauchi 'As it is' and enjoyed the delicate nature of her work. The colour palette and use of everyday objects are photographed with such care and gentleness. Looking about my own space I noticed the colour palette I have subconsciously chosen; light teals, greens, greys and blues. I would like to take these objects and give them a purpose as they have also been my own purpose. The construction of this work will be a potential fiction as there will be some alterations to the original placing of these objects, to use better light for example. The collection will hopefully provide a narrative of recognisable everyday items that suggest a feeling of overwhelming and isolation. Balancing out that juggle that is motherhood.
It's truth will be the genuine articles that are a part of my own everyday.
We also looked at Jeff Wall this week and how he considers a photographer to be either a farmer or a hunter.
He divides photographers into two camps. There are times in my practice when I gather and cultivate photographs and others when I will actively hunt out what it is I want to photograph. Some of my practice is for my own personal requirements and others for my clients. I believe this allows me to be both a hunter and a farmer.
WEEK two: INFORMING CONTEXTS -
the index and the icon | authenticity
For six months Amalia Ulman created a persona for social media. Through April - September 2014, Ulman, considered to be one of the first to make use of the selfie, presented herself in a constructed life and shared it online.
Taking on the roles of 'cute girl', 'sugar baby' and 'life goddess' she chose characteristics that were popular. The focus was on healthy food, personal training and relationships including a fake break up and the sadness that followed. The narrative of her feed had three phases in all and represented the 'perfect' social media babe. At its conclusion in September 2014, Ulman had 88,906 followers. Ulman then revealed the entire thing had been a staged performance, a work of art, not her real life. The project was entitled 'Excellences and Perfections' and of course was criticised.
The choice of her persona 'artsy -tumblr-girl aesthetic' was chosen
Because it was closer to home and wouldn't look too suspicious a transformation" - Amalia Ulman
So, as close to her authentic self as possible, retaining a sense of something achievable and believable. Ultimately Ulman's motive was to show the difference between how we live and how we present our lives online.
The sadder the girl, the happier the troll" - Amalia Ulman
In February 2021, Ulman has 176k followers but has edited her instagram account, deleted the work and only has two current posts.
We all perform in a sense when the camera is pointed in our direction, we become aware of it's presence and our self awareness alters our behaviour, be it a change in how we are standing or expression on our faces.
Being authentic is a term long known in Western art and culture but not one that most of us actually understand or even truly live by, preferring to show a 'better', 'improved', 'higher status' version of ourselves.
" The project of authenticity involves the pursuit of self-knowledge. At it's core, authenticity involves withdrawing from any posturing or false self in order to turn inward. Second, it requires action: living the life that expresses the self discovered within. It is a key aspect of authenticity that it is hard won, not a default position, and without constant vigilance it can easily slip away" - Lucy Soutter
During my own practice I have naturally applied this. When documenting my daughters childhood, it is only whilst 'living' that I feel able to authentically capture what is really happening. Un-staged and constructed in the sense that I choose my angles and look for the most suitable light. If it doesn't feel like a genuine moment I don't pick the camera up. During my professional work I do construct a lot of scenes and moments to fulfil my clients brief. Within a time frame it is the only option.
Charles Peirce's term 'indexicality' refers to the physical relationship between the object photographed and the resulting image. The image is imprinted by light and a chemical process is used which represents what we see in reality with as true a likeness that is possible to reproduce. The accuracy of this kind of image is unlike any other as the objects and subjects are real at the time of it's construction.
Peter Henry-Emerson promoted photography as an individual art form, it's aim is to be a 'naturalistic' representation of a scene, subject or object. In his handbook he stated
"A photograph should be direct and simple and show real people in their own environment, not costumed models posed before fake backdrops or other such predetermined formulas" - Emerson. 1889
But of course culture and the world changed and different types of photography emerged to function in other ways feeding the consumerist behaviour of people. The authenticity of which can always be questioned when technology and how we share photographs changes. Another view thinks about the function of photography in a less traditional way.
"we could describe this performativity in terms of the ways it might activate a viewer, i.e to move, to irritate, to awaken, to activate empathy or imagination" - Lucy Soutter
How we present ourselves or are represented by photography is a bigger choice today. We can only live with what we are comfortable with ourselves. Ulman's revelation was met with reactions of deceit and manipulation. The project was intended to highlight gender stereotypes. The lines between fact and fiction were blurred with the use of her real self in a fake environment. Thousands were fooled. Each day we are surrounded by photographs in different contexts. We judge their truthfulness based upon the context we view them. News articles are expected to be informative, travel photographs show locations in HD format that can be so unlike the reality with un-natural blue skies, glossy magazines and advertisements are showing us 'the dream life style', often manipulated images that we accept but struggle to live up to but readily accept - it is an idealised culture. All photographs are constructed it is the intention of them that holds so much importance to us. What we believe or take from them depends upon who we are as individuals and the life experiences we have had.
ALLEN. SNYDER. Photography, Vision and Representation in Critical Inquiry, Autumn 1975.
SOUTTER. Lucy. Why Art Photography?. Second Edition. Routledge, 2018
week one: informing contexts -
human choices | The shape shifter
Uta Barth used a mixture of painting and photography in her practice. From the early 1990's her style evolved and a series of blurry images became what she was well known for. Focussing her camera on empty foregrounds and often choosing etheral or elusive subject matter; white curtains and beams of natural light which becomes distorted or abstract when viewed as an image.
" I keep trying to find ways to shift the viewers attention away from the object they are looking at and toward their own perceptual process" - Uta Barth
These details known in John Szarkowski's photographic characteristics are also important in my own practice. Sunlight catches my attention and I will decide if the scene before me is something I want to capture. I base these decisions upon the compositional value of what is before me; is the visual strong enough to create a sense of curiosity for the viewer, how much detail do I want to include or exclude, what will I include in the frame to show what I see as the focus of this shot, is the balance of subject matter good and is there enough space to allow the viewer to focus on the main subject.
John Szarkowski states that
"pictures are not conceived but selected"
I am interested in the time aspect of John Szarkowski's characteristics. Since every exposure I take is a duration of time, when I decide to take the photograph will be a consideration of this.
"There is no such thing as an instantaneous photograph. All are exposures of a duration, this time is always the present"
Often I may see a good image in my minds eye but I don't take it. All of the characteristics need to align for how I visualise the finished photograph before I press the shutter.
My research project is light and shadow, so these characteristics are incredibly important. Within the four walls of my home for lockdown I have felt quite restricted and uninspired I might add. The Winter light is slow to change and often days go by with barely any light at all. I have spent some time looking at other practioners whose work combines something more practical.
There are a few practioners who have nourished my practice over the years and they change as I explore new ideas. Henri-Cartier Bresson has long been a great influence over my practice. The arrival of Leica cameras in the 1930's gave photographers the freedom of movement, tripods were no longer a necessity. Being able to move quickly and get up close to a subject changed photography. In my own practice I have always preferred to work without a tripod wherever I can. Developing a steady hand has been absolutely crucial to enable this freedom.
Many photographers moved away from the more traditional genres and experimented with new styles. Humanist photography being one of them. Photographers sought to capture the emotions of people going about their everyday lives. Henri-Cartier Bresson and Robert Doisneau focussed less on the technicalities with the objective of capturing people without any posing. Along with Bresson, Robert Capa was a great pioneer of this movement. With a world at war, people were dealing with extreme hardships. Humanist photography took on it's role towards the end of WW2 in 1945. It focussed on the small pleasures of the time, which was a great contrast to the atrocities of war.
Humanist Photography is widely associated with photojournalism and today perhaps more so with street photography.
"The object of the photographer is man, man and his short fragile, threatened life" - Henri-Cartier Bresson. 1930
The Kiss by Robert Doisneau (1950) - Life Magazine. This photograph became the symbol of Humanist Photography. Robert Doisneau's photographs were intimate and captured the essence of what is important to us all.
Henri-Cartier Bresson is a very emotive photographer. Unobtrusive and patient. He would walk the streets until a composition caught his eye. Then he would wait, until other elements came into the scene to complete his vision.
To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart" - Henri-Cartier Bresson - magnum
Bresson's candid approach showed the world the texture of everyday life, regardless of it's place or it's news worthiness. He 'felt' a photograph and interestingly never considered himself a photographer. His practice resonated with me. In my professional work, capturing moments that were true and real are important to me. Knowing how my subjects feel when they are in that moment and how that will later bring back a memory in the form of a print is exactly what I set out to achieve. Being unobtrusive is something I have become known for and it is a skill that comes from understanding people.
My personal practice allowed me more freedom to explore the everyday and I found myself documenting the antics of my children. Unposed, spontaneous moments, rather than perfected portraits.
The work of Sally Mann appealed to me early on, a fellow photographer and friend introduced me to her work. Sally Mann, mother and photographer is more known for her controversial photography of her own children. I was struck by the stark realities and lack of boundaries in her work. In my own practice I captured what I saw, what was naturally there before me. Unconstructed and led by my subjects of choice. I used the idea of boundaries to create one for myself. The challenge of working within the walls of our cottage and the garden pushed me to see more than what was right there in front of me.
Today my practice is evolving, working on my MA has broadened my sense of what photography is and what it means to me. Lockdown continues and we are almost a year into the pandemic. Not something any of us could have imagined. It has put limits on my practice and generally left me feeling like I have lost my mojo a bit. It has forced me to slow down. I am taking this time to research other elements of my practice that may inspire my own.
Cubism and Surrealism echoes in the work of Henri-Cartier Bresson. Art was his first love. Geometry plays a huge part in his work and I discovered that I too am drawn to geometric shapes and patterns. Something that was pointed out to me by one of my peers.
Man Ray, the American visual artist, spent most of his career in Paris. His work contributed to the Dada and Surrealist movements. His medium was paint but he also used subjects in his art. Man Ray's work was influenced by Cubism and Expressionism. While in Paris he produced Rayogrammes. Images were created on a piece of photographic paper without a camera. The shadow of the object is what produces the image - it emphasizes the influence of light and shadow instead of the importance of the picture itself.
"It has never been my objective to record my dreams - just the determination to realise them" - Man Ray.
I'd like to explore these techniques using Cynotype paper and sunlight - when the weather permits..
BRESSON. Henri-Cartier. The Early Work. Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1987
Henri Cartier Bresson interview with Richard Avedon, 2000. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKBSkNuUqAc
Above Image: Victoria Macken - Fireside. 2021
The social photo - memories and moments pre-module task. a critical response.
I opened this book with some trepidation. The photographer in me felt immediately protective of the art of which many photographers have devoted their entire lives to the practice. Personal views and stance aside I vowed to keep an open mind, knowing that photography is a specialised subject that takes many years of practice to master.
The constant stream of images that I witness has often led me to question my own contribution. Often I wonder what may be happening in a persons life based on the judgement I have made based on their posts. We allow ourselves to speak quite freely on these platforms, sometimes seeking support and more often a response. Our addiction to 'likes' stem from our need to be rewarded for something that we do. It activates our brains and gives us a positive feeling.
As a photographer I consider well in advance what kind of photographs I share on these platforms and their suitability to each audience. I have a professional responsibility but also a personal side that enjoys connecting with people in this way.
Before smart technology, we stored up anecdotes and memorised information to share with others face to face. Our human impulse to share has always been there we just have a ready made audience for it now.
George Eastman’s slogan, coined in 1888 for Kodak, 'You press the button, we do the rest' placed the camera into the hands of millions. It became the modern age of the image. The more recent introduction of smart phones increased this instant accessibility to a camera at all times.
The photo album, once a slightly dreaded experience of re-living someones holiday or life experiences is now shared regularly and repeatedly (with the added bonus of facebook memories popping up) for everyone to see, should they want to or not. The option to scroll on by without response makes the event have less meaning. Personally I quite enjoyed looking through others photo albums. I look for something else within the photographs, a hidden truth about the person I felt I already know. Seeing through their eyes can be a whole new experience of the world.
"Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy"
- Sontag. On Photography (1979:23)
The social photo makes us all viewers to everyone’s public album which I think alters the way we think about the life that we are living.
"People become constant tourists, looking for potential photographs, hungry for an additional image as they walk the streets, eat dinner and go to bed" - Jurgenson. The Social Photo (2019:12)
I question why I don’t hold the same regard for the social photo as I do a carefully curated personal photo album.
The ubiquitous nature of social photos results in less appreciation or consideration to it’s content. The speed at which we view them is too fast to give them more than a moments thought. We read a picture faster than words and make our opinions quicker than our thoughts have time to process the information.
Widely used trends come and go with similar speed. The vintage filter overused to produce and effect to create nostalgia was replaced by photos of people’s dinners.
"Unless the food is special, it fails as a scene" - Jurgenson. The Social Photo (2019:15)
Food is a globally understood and appreciated subject. It connects our senses and we can associate with it. Carefully prepared chef made meals which are visually appealing ups the anti on this trend which eventually became something that is now often mocked or even considered bad etiquette at the table.
The self plays a great role in the social photo. Humans have a great desire to define and perform. Selfies are a way to articulate our identity. The prep behind a carefully selected selfie is often never seen.
Jurgenson states that
"The back stage isn’t where we are more «real» because we aren’t performing; instead, it is where we learn to perform"
- Jurgenson. The Social Photo (2019:56)
Which suggests that our true self is a performer and not the accumulation of every day messy, life ups and downs, experiences that build our character. Not something that I agree with. I don’t believe one is more real than the other. It is a part of our self and our ego that enables us to share with others what we want them to see. What we think they should see. Only those closest to us will ever know the true person behind any picture.
The choice to post comes after an event. we experience something and record it’s detail based upon what we think others will want to hear. Occasionally there are posts that cause drama but obviously these are far less popular as airing ones laundry in public is never a good thing!
The gleaming world of celebrity culture and a desire to be famous encouraged thousands to become influencers. They work hard to promote a lifestyle and aesthetic that will give them the hits they need. How long this trend will continue is anyone’s guess. I generally opt out of following anyone promoting anything 'gifted‘ as it doesn’t feel genuine to me. I am seeing a part of that person who is basically a sales person with a great filter and it is not something I am that interested in. It is consumerism within consumerism.
"Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted" - Sontag - On Photography (1979:24)
Reproduced styles or trends are seen regularly on social media. The concept of recreating an image is not a new one of course
"The images were no longer dependent on their original contexts for their meaning and became open to multiple interpretations and readings. They could also be put to new uses" - Walter Benjamin. Liz Wells (2004:308)
In Walters view, photography and then later cinematography changed the environment of industrial societies reaching the masses rather than the small elite of society. Given the tools or resources we open ourselves up to new ideas and experiment in the comfort of our own environment.
The meaning of any uploaded photograph is however lost in this social form of communication. It becomes part of a never ending stream that is not intended to stay around for long. There is no end purpose or expectation of these types of images, they simply exist as evidence of a kind that we were here.
"Today everything exists to end in a photograph" - Sontag - On Photography (1979:24)
How are peoples memories going to be affected by the life they have curated? Having shared only the very best of who they want people to see.
JURGENSON, Nathan. The Social Photo: On photography and Social Media. Verso Books, 2019
SONTAG, Susan. On Photography. Penguin Books, 1979
WELLS, Liz. Photography: A Critical Introduction Third Edition. Routledge, 2004
The Photographers Gallery. The Photographers' Gallery. December 2020.
week 12 - thinking ahead
I took the opportunity this week to look at the work of a photographer that really stands out to me. I can spend hours looking at her work and each time I am in awe of it. Every photograph has a story so compelling and each portrait really shows the person being photographed. I obtained the kind permission of Tish's daughter Ella Murtha to post this on my website. All photographs are shown with permission ©Ella Murtha.
The 3rd of 10 children, Tish Murtha grew up in the North, South Shields and later Newcastle Upon Tyne. With a large family, possessions were few but resourcefulness and creativity was encouraged. Tish worked in various jobs after leaving school at 16. Four years later she took a photography night course set up by David Hurn (Magnum member) who thought that she should take up documentary photography. Tish Murtha began to photograph the lives of those closest to her. Projects involving communities that were marginalised caught her attention. Forming bonds of trust with communities gained her access with an informal approach. She felt she had an obligation towards people and problems within her environment (such as youth unemployment) and documentary photography could highlight the social disadvantages.
“Behind empty pathetic talk of increased leisure opportunities and freedom from repetitive labour, stands the spectre of enforced idleness, wasted resources and the squandering of a whole generation of human potential. This is vandalism on a grand scale”
- Tish Murtha Essay “Youth Unemployment in the West End of Newcastle”
Tish Murtha’s upbringing and roots to the society gave her great empathy and she could recognise what these people were experiencing. The 1980’s were a tough time for the economy and social conditions. As a child growing up I remember the impact of Thatcher’s political rule and how it effected my own family, our living conditions were far from what I see in Tish's work and it is no wonder she felt such passion and commitment in sharing their experience as it happened in order to raise awareness and make a change.
Photographs in clock wise order, opinions are soley my own:
Girl jumping on car : Tish Murtha. Elswick Kids. 1978. ©Ella Murtha
Making playtime out of abandoned vehicles. That whole site is littered with metal and glass most likely. The children are
contributing to the destruction of their community but most likely unaware that is the case. It’s entertainment for them.
Ladies on a bench with youths: Tish Murtha. Youth Unemployment. 1981 ©Ella Murtha
Two youths probably making a bit of a nuisance of themselves. The ladies have a protective grasp on their handbags but I don’t think they appear threatened. They would probably use those bags to put the boys in order. The boy on the back of the bench has such a careless posture, lying across the bench invading the space. Both boys look at a loose end and whatever that conversation was about it was probably a mere moment of boredom for the youths. The poster in the window behind draws my eye. How the happy, comfortable couple look carefree but in another way. Life is good for them.
Kids jumping out of window: Tish Murtha. Youth Unemployment. 1981 ©Ella Murtha
A whole group of children dominate this scene. The 80’s were a time when children were far more free to play wherever they chose. It is not a park of course but a makeshift playground. The abandoned houses and mattresses also give the sense of the children being abandoned. The doll/puppet in the child’s arms at the foreground of this photograph is unsettling.
Portrait of Tish Murtha. 1956 - 2013. ©Ella Murtha
Youth in Thought: Tish Murtha. Elswick Kids. 1978. ©Ella Murtha
You could say this person is daydreaming of better times. Hopeless, hopeful or just watching something in the distance. It could be read many ways. Seperate from the rest of the group in the background who are out of our vision. The sole person is the focus here with a reminder that they are not the only one in this situation.
For more information and to purchase her books (which I highly recommend) please use this link: http://www.tishmurtha.co.uk/books.html
week 10/11 - Criticality
How do you look at photographs. This opening question really got me thinking. I know what makes a great photograph, the technical aspects that are required to achieve one. Great composition, lighting, mood, posing. But what do I see in the layers beneath all of that? During my practice I understand that not every photograph is understood by everyone. During a photoshoot I am there in the moment. My subject be it human or nature is a part of the process I am working with to capture something that feels special, evokes feeling or mood. A one off, something that means something. Usually for me when working with people it is to get the very best from them. Something happens during a photoshoot when you can literally feel the 'magic' happen. That is when I know I have got the shot that I want. It's a combination of light, pose and expression and it is the most exciting part of my practice. Being in that moment usually has more importance for who was there with me. When those images are shared sometimes the viewer doesn't get that sense because it isn't so personal to them. They cannot relate to the subject matter. The question posed this week allowed me to consider a photograph on another level. Looking at the layers and questioning it's meaning without having been a part of it. It isn't always enough to just 'like' what you see. You have to question why. What does it mean? What did the photographer intend? What does it tell you?
There has always been one image that stands out in my memory. That of Sally Mann, best known for her portraits of her 3 young children and husband. The photographs caused great controversy.
The above image is of her daughter. I discovered this photograph many years ago on pinterest. Having no clue originally to the photographer behind the work. The image is of a young girl posing with a cigarette. I wondered what kind of life that young girl had. It made me feel concern for what had happened to her. The pose is grown up and there is confidence in her eyes. Was she in danger? Was she destined for a destitute life? I made a complete judgment on the surface of what I saw. It turns out this is one of Sally Mann's daughters; Jessie. The cigarette is candy and the wider crop of this photograph shows her siblings playing. The path is long and winding behind them. They are on a journey in this life and we can't see where that leads and neither of course can they.
week 8/9 - Context, meaning + audience
How and where a photograph is viewed can give it different meanings. Different contexts can influence the audience to perceive what a photograph is saying. A tangible photograph in an album shared with family and friends can be discussed with the person who took the photograph and the meaning can be described in the first person. Advertising which uses imagery can use words to influence the viewer in a wider context leaving it open to interpretation but will also be carefully constructed to influence a general opinion of it's choosing. Wider audiences with varying opinions will be more open to debate or difference of views with tabloids, of which we tend to either support or disagree with depending on the topic matter. We visit galleries to view photography that stands the test of time, a body of work that has taken time to produce and curate. This gives it more value and provokes a more considered thought process to the photographs taken. A collection of work shared in this way will give it's audience a story that they can follow, one that they can also decide what it means to them. Given more time to observe, a viewer is more likely to allow the photograph to have an impact upon their thoughts and feelings. Today the stream of social media provides us with a constant source of photography. Much of which is supplied by non photographers. This supply of images and the fast pace that it falls past our vision gives us seconds to decide if we like it or not. It's meaning is lost in a sea of similar posts that are invariably like a social diary of everyday lives. How and where I choose to present my work depends upon the purpose that I feel it is for. I select photographs for my professional website that give an overall feel of the standard of work that I can give my clients. Social media posts are more seasonal giving my audience a view of what they can have for themselves at certain times of the year. They are ones that I feel my audience will interact with. My personal collection of photographs are the ones I print and frame for my home. They are at the moment a fairly private collection and one that I curate to share with my daughters of the life and memories that we have made together.
week 7 - oral presentation | positions and practice
Our brief was to present our past, present, future and introduce our research project for this module. With 8 years experience as a photographer it was a challenge to condense this timeline. The process was really enjoyable, it was a great opportunity to think about where I began, where I am and what I plan to do.
WEEK 6 - CHANCE AND SERENDIPITY
Timing is everything for a photographer. As much as being in the right place at the right time. Chance plays a huge part in what is captured, opportune moments that are spontaneous often produce work that will create a great impact to it's viewers. Photo journalists will often place themselves in areas of danger and conflict to do this. In my own practice I am given an artistic license by my clients which frees me to look for opportune moments. When working in a more restricted environment I look harder and it pushes my creative side.
This week we teamed up in pairs for a micro project. My peer and myself chose 'Colourful Decay'. During the pandemic we are very restricted to our immediate surrounding areas so the theme set felt achieveable. Shooting in a slightly abstract way allowing faux pas to be a part of the project should a shot turn out to be appealing to the eye.
I focused on planting but tried to photograph it in a different angle to how it would usually be seen. It was good to take a look at how beautiful plants actually are once their growing season is over. The raspberry leaves were the biggest surprise to me. So rich and a green line along them. The shadows the beans produced reminded me of Le pilier du Métro Corvisart and I wished I had been able to explore that idea more. The white line across the onions is a faux pas, a shot that would usually most likely be rejected but it is the reflection of a greenhouse so I quite like it. The stormy wind played a big part in my shots and I felt it brought some of them more to life.
Once I looked at my shots I decided to order them in a colour theme in the presentation, placing the blues, browns and reds together which gave the shots cohesion. They are in capture order here.
week 5 - power and responsibilities
This week we looked at the work of Jeff Mitchell and how his photograph was used by UKIP in a campaign. As staff photographer for Getty Images, Jeff deferred his sense of control of his work.
'my job - telling the story of the migrants - had been done. It’s just unfortunate how it’s been picked up' - Jeff Mitchell
How a photograph is interpreted by others is clearly subjective, but allowing the publication of your images when it's use goes against everything you believe is different. Some photographers may not feel that passionately about their work; the situation or it is just a job, press photographers do have a story to tell but since the story is more often written by a journalist the view point becomes that of more than one person which does dissolve an amount of control over how that photograph will be used. The photographer comisioned may feel their work in part is complete.
How and where we choose to publicise our work can have it's risks but ultimately guarding the copyright of the image is so important. It's a bit of protection of our values and work.
This also makes me think of Steve McCurry's image 'The Afghan girl' (not many knew her name..) one of the most iconic images ever. I don't think she benefitted from the global fame of this photograph one bit. Sharbat Gula's portrait represented the suffering of children in war. It was only years later when Steve McCurry returned and photographed Sharbat in her 30's that The National Geographic created 'The Afghan Girls fund'. There was a renewed interest and it did reach a vast audience but you have to question the ethics behind an image that launches a photographers career and should that person photographed also benefit in some way? In turn the release of those images did make a change for the better (eventually). He was 'just doing his job' too I suppose. This subject has me torn, if that were us what would we do and is the photographer only responsible for capturing the image that creates the conversation, taking a step back to allow audiences to act upon it?.
PHOTO CREDIT: JEFF MITCHELL | GETTY IMAGES
week four - collaboration
Used to working solo, this weeks project a collaboration would be different to my norm. Usually I have creative control over my projects determining their outcome and their success or fail are mine to own.
Over the years I have collaborated in various projects. With filmmakers to suppliers in the wedding industry. It is a great way to build a gallery of images for both parties to use.
Collaborations with film makers in my experience are far more creative. Story boards are made prior to the shoot and a narrative is formed. The finished result will be with music or a voice over. I really love this kind of collaboration. Film makers have a vision as do photographers when working on a project so it is always good to work with those whose work will compliment your own.
This week I collaborated with one of my peers. First obstacle was a time difference as he is based in Canada. I took some time to look at his work online and liked his use of light and how the colour tones he uses gives his imagery a warmth. His work has a high fashion edge which couldn’t be more different to my lifestyle work.
I thought it would be interesting to work with someone whose work is so different to my own and to see what outcome we would both have once we had set upon a theme.
The theme decided was 'A modern love poem'. We threw some ideas into the pot as it were and decided we would take our own images in our own vision and see what comes out. The interesting part being a male / female perspective and living in two different countries. One theme with two versions.
Starting off I struggled. Conceptual photography doesn’t come naturally to me. I am out of my comfort zone. Along with the restrictions the pandemic has added. It was good to be free to photograph without having to please anyone in particular and to focus on something different hoping for a good outcome and that our work would compliment each others. I was surprised that it did.
We both had to work quickly and take in the time difference so a bit of patience was required on both parts but we both managed this really well. a bit of a nod to a relationship that is give and take.
week three - rethinking photographers
Photography has opened many doors for me as a practitioner. Previously a shy person with little confidence the camera was a tool to talk to people and also made me more approachable to others. The rewards are great. When you photograph a family with a reluctant member and they enjoy the experience, learning about different people and the lives they lead, when you send a gallery and receive a message that they are over the moon with what you have given them.
I have met thousands of people over the 8 years as a photographer; from all walks of life, from the homeless to the very wealthy. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone is completely unique and that is what I find absolutely fascinating. Should I win the lottery tomorrow I would still be a photographer. It is more than a profession, it is a lifestyle choice for me.
The profession is challenging, if you have trained and invested well you will have put incredible amounts of work and effort into what you are doing. Others may emulate your style coming along out of nowhere and setting up following your lead. Photography as a career is more than making money. Sometimes you won’t make a penny. Your passion for the practice has to come first to survive the hardest of times. It is a fairly isolating occupation. When out shooting you will be full of energy and putting your all into the shoot. When you are not shooting and editing it can feel quite a lonely place to be. Occasionally glamourous but first and foremost heart and soul.
week two - Interdisciplinary Approaches
There is a metaphor used by Peter Wollen used to describe how the photograph stops time.
'Photography is motionless and frozen, it has the cryogenic power to preserve objects through time without decay. Fire will melt ice, but then the melted ice will put out the fire' - Peter Wollen (Fire and Ice/1984)
It describes the freezing of a subject for an instant exposure. No image is more apt for this than that of Capa’s Spanish Civil War soldier as he is captured falling. Motion is captured like a pause in time. This image has been seen world wide and reproduced many times. It implies the entire atrocity of War in one single image without narrative.
Film makers look at documentation through history for reference for use in their own work. Major historical events such as these have been recreated into films. Robert Capa’s D day landings are said to be a reference for Steven Speilberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998). Photographers and filmmakers often take inspiration from one another and have an ongoing relationship. Stills are used in films to intensify a moment, create a thought provoking response or to reveal a truth. Photographers may look to films as a source of inspiration. Scenes played out; lighting, angles, colours, trends can all lead to enhancing a photographers perspective and inspire a whole body of work. The combination of both can be very powerful to the viewer.
'Most of the photographs that surround us operate somewhere between fact and fiction, between history and memory, between the objective and the subjective' - Photography and Cinema by David Campany 2008.
week one - The global image
Photography with it’s new technology and processes became increasingly popular since this first exposure taken by Nicephore-Niepce in 1822. Commercial studios were set up all over the world. Photography was used for various purposes and it expanded into the military, geographical, topography and propaganda use. Journalists and travellers captured their own images of far flung places reaching masses of people enabling them to see the world from their own homes. Sitting for a portrait was still a fairly time consuming business but compared to that of sitting for a painter for hours on end it was a much quicker result and the photograph produced could be kept or given to a loved one.
Newspapers released war photographs to the public, bringing home the true horror of what was happening many miles from home. The demand to know more fuelled the media as it does today with global events, celebrity culture and a desire to see what is happening for ourselves.
The move from film to digital was not embraced by all but no doubt has had a huge impact on how a photograph is captured and can be instantaneously shared via social media channels. Photography has become even more accessible; almost everyone of every age group can have access to a camera of sorts ensuring it’s global medium continues to grow and develop.
From the moment I am commissioned to the point where I share my images, my work is relating to the global nature of photography. As a professional I am contributing to the number of photographs out there in the world.
There are parallels between the historic spread of photography and the transmission of digital imagery today. Photography remained a fairly expensive interest until the invention of smartphones which are fairly accessible to all. People use them to document their lives daily to share with others. The difference now is popular culture favours the aesthetic rather than the more soulful meaning behind a photograph.
As the speed at which photography moves increases, quality becomes less, with the abundance of people taking pictures. it is too accessible in a sense and images can be captured that portray something happening that can be mis-interpreted across the globe in an instant.
With masses of digital files online, the number of printed photographs dwindle. I am hoping that our appreciation for great photography doesn't.
"The Most Photographed Generation Will Have No Pictures in 10 Years!"
-Mike Yost 2015