Category Archives: Photographers

How to Read a Photograph

Some thoughts jotted down while reading the book

Focus in book is on the historical greats. Most now deceased although some not

  • Need to know the background of the photographer to understand the image
    • Where from
    • Interests
    • What else they have done in the past (or are doing now)
      • Andre Kertesz, moved to Paris after a stint ion the Great War. Apolitical and interested in people. Lived where popular culture was important for photography and of great interest, therefore published.
  • What is photographed changes over time, but also will often reappear
    • But – this may not be for the same reasons
      • Atget – rag pickers and rubbish, street scenes with the emphasis on people as opposed to Krull where the emphasis is on the equipment
      • Cartier-Bresson – transit camps pre-echoes the pictures of refugee camps at Calais. Photographer as a witness
    • Photographers and writers often work together to produce a book.
      • Sometimes one is the driving force e.g. An illustrated story versus a photobook with additional words
        • Brassai and Morand – Paris de Nuit
        • Godwin and Hughes – Remains of Elmet
  • Need to understand the wider art context of the era images were made.
    • An idea, thought or feeling versus straightforward documentation of an event
    • May be staged
    • Or only minimal parts shown enough to tell the story
      • Bravo and his idea of the invisible and showing states of mind
      • Moriyamo street scenes similar intent now
        • Understanding and meaning of image does not remain static, will change with the viewer and over time
  • War photography may tell stories about people that are not always the soldiers
    • Reportage with stories
    • Immediacy
    • Story may be more important than the technique
      • Capa – feeling not focus
  • What is the person in the photo saying?
    • Do we have their words recorded?
    • Do we imagine it?
    • Do you need the words or do the objects tell the story?
      • Lange versus Rothstein
  • Photographs as montages
    • People placed against a background – constructed images
    • Pictures placed side by side
  • Information by inference
    • Shahn
    • Farm security administration
  • Relationship between the photographer’s art and their take on religion
    • Minor White and Zen – the indifference of the camera
  • Interesting note that lots of photographers initially trained as something else
    • Why? Why not start out as photographers
      • Seymour (Chim) a pianist
      • Ansel Adams also a pianist
      • Winograd a weather forecaster
  • Use of night photos
    • High contrast, graphic detail
    • Use areas of excitement e.g. Movies, fairgrounds
    • Allows focus on the idea of a place rather than the detail
      • Faurer
      • Bovis
  • Put personal anxieties into pictures
    • Think about communities and how do they affect you
    • Community versus exclusion
    • Are you an insider or outside them?
      • Winograd
      • Arbus and the strange people
  • Use of words in images
    • May be factual but also ironic
    • Give meaning/ explanation of time or place
    • Often tiny but critical
    • Over time became more deliberate as photographers aware of importance of sign and symbolism
      • Eggleston
      • Adams
      • Friedlander
  •  Japanese photographers – images without text
    • The pictures alone are enough
    • Witnesses to history, recording but possibly / probably not making a difference
    • Atmosphere rather than detail
    • But maybe need explanation of thought processes
  • Topography
    • Use of transit landscapes
    • How important is where an image is taken rather than what it is?
    • Use of colour
      • Meyerowitz
      • Shore

Overall impression:

Knowing the history and background of the photographer may change your understanding of the image

Things go in circles over time, however, while the types of images may be similar, the reasoning behind them may be very different

Look carefully as a tiny detail may change the entire meaning

Each generation builds on the previous therefore the more you look and study images from different eras the more you can understand the present thoughts.

Compare with Photography as a Contemporary Art by Cotton (Cotton, 2015) where the focus is on the style of photography rather than the individuals and their personalities. Both approaches are useful.

Think about the purpose of the image: as art, to instruct, to give information, advertisement, propaganda

Would have been interesting if went on to cover more of the recent photographers in a similar style.

References

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Jeffrey, I. (2008). How to read a photograph. London: Thames & Hudson.

 

Further Thoughts on Assignment 2

Gill, Dijkstra and Gotts.

As part of his feedback for assignment 2 my tutor suggested I should look at some portrait photographers who work in different ways. Each produces a typology of ‘heads’ (and shoulders!) that you may find interesting. What links these photographers and yourself is the idea of linking the portraits through a common theme.’

I found this very interesting, and could have ended up spending the next several weeks just on this part of an assignment review.

Stephen Gill (born 1971) is widely exhibited, but also produces a series of handmade photobooks on his latest series of images. Field Studies is one of these and is described on the publishing website as ‘serial studies of mundane British scenes and objects including cash points, lost people, the back of advertising billboards and people traveling on the London to Southend train. His visual approach is unique, combining conceptual rigour with enormous sympathy for his human subjects’ (Gill, 2004). This book includes his ‘Audio Portraits’ of people wearing headphones. In these images the people seem totally bound up in their music, looking far away at times, and not always aware of the photographer. The images show a range of ages and races, the only apparent link is the headphones, and the place – a city street. A further series focuses on the shopping trolleys people use, apparently secondary to his use of a trolley after an injury (Gentle Author, 2011). I found these portraits fascinating as they focused on the everyday lives of people you see in the street, not the famous, the great or the good, but the people you meet and probably normally just walk past. He clearly engaged with them and enabled them to relax, or even to ‘chill out’ while taking a portrait that is sympathetic but not full of pathos, and which includes the often drear surroundings.

Rineke Dijkstra (born1959) has just won the 2017 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. She concentrates on portraiture, often works with series, either of the same person over a prolonged time period or of a specific event in peoples lives. She has photographed bullfighters just out of the ring, adolescents on the cusp of adulthood and a series of images of women just after childbirth, which is one of the most vulnerable points in any woman’s life. Her work is described as deadpan by Cotton ‘The unsentimental approach that Dijkstra makes in her representation of maternity…… visualised the profound shift in the women’s changing relationships to their bodies…… something we might never have observed without such a systematic and detached photographic style’. (Cotton,2014).

Smyth says in the BJPRineke Dijkstra’s photographs and films speak brilliantly to the intricacy of the portrait image: its embodiment in time; its capacity to reveal history; the contingency of the act of exchange between sitter, photographer and spectator; and, ultimately, photography’s revelation of the self.’ (Smyth, 2017)

On describing her 2012 retrospective Time Magazine says ‘Hoping to catch people with their defences down, Dijkstra started to photograph them in the aftermath of some exhausting event. She got women to pose soon after giving birth, usually standing naked while they cradled their new-borns. By 1994 she was also making portraits of Portuguese forcados—amateur bullfighters who enter the ring in unarmed groups to subdue the bulls bare-handed. She photographed them right after they returned from the fight, bloody, scuffed and dented.’ (Lacayo, 2012).

I find her work poignant, it may well be systematic, but it is not detached. She shows life in all its variable glory, ups and downs as well as the spectacular moments.

I also found Andy Gotts who, amongst other images, has produced a series of portraits of BAFTA award winners that was exhibited under the title ‘Behind the Mask’ in 2014.  The images are show the great and good of the acting world who have either won or been nominated for a BAFTA. Gotts says, ‘I have always been a movie buff and getting the opportunity to meet my matinée idols is beyond a dream come true’ (Bafta.org,2013).  Janette Dalley, who worked with him on the exhibition describes ‘a masterclass in minimalist photography’ (Gotts, 2014) and Anna Allalouf, the curator, says ‘it feels profoundly vulnerable to go under the camera’s gaze when you don’t have a ‘role’ …. perhaps the camera has stolen (heaven forbid!) a little piece of one’s soul’ (Gotts, 2014) but goes on to describe how his simple and quiet process does not actually feel invasive.

The images are a mixture of colour and monochrome, chosen, I feel, to reflect the person. Some are contemplative, some brash and some, such as the portrait of Ralph Fiennes, made me initially smile, and then laugh out loud. The two that I found most entrancing were Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf, among other roles) and Christopher Walken – to me an unfamiliar face, but the portrait makes me feel I might know him. It is this quality of intimacy that drew me to his images. The people are famous and must have been photographed many, many times, but there is a feeling of Gotts reaching out to who, not just what, they are. This is a quality I would like to be able to emulate.

Learning points:

  • Observation not invasion
  • Both colour and monochrome are valuable – but give a different feeling
  • Know and understand your subjects
  • Be gentle (not quite the correct word – but neither is kind).

References

Bafta.org. (2013). BAFTA and Andy Gotts MBE to Exhibit ‘Behind The Mask’ Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.bafta.org/media-centre/press-releases/bafta-and-andy-gotts-mbe-to-exhibit-behind-the-mask-photography [Accessed 21 Jul. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2014). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Gentle Author (2011). Stephen Gill’s Trolley Portraits | Spitalfields Life. [online] Spitalfieldslife.com. Available at: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/10/03/stephen-gills-trolley-portraits/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Gill, S. (2004). Hackney Kisses. [online] Stephen Gill. Available at: https://www.nobodybooks.com/product/hackney-kisses-print-edition [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Gotts, A. (2014). Behind the mask. London: British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Lacayo, R. (2012). Rineke Dijkstra Makes the Awkward Sublime. [online] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/16182/rineke-dijkstra/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

Smyth, D. (2017). Rineke Dijkstra wins the 2017 Hasselblad Award. [online] British Journal of Photography. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/03/rineke-dijkstra-wins-the-2017-hasselblad-award/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].

A Durational Space

Capa, Sugimoto and Woodman

PAR121453_Social_Media_Watermark(1)

Robert Capa’s image of a soldier in the Normandy landings is gritty and full of movement blur but is shows a man in a desperate hurry, at risk if life. It also focuses the attention on his face and the determination shown by him. Other images, while fascinating and often actually giving more information about the event, such as this one, do not have the immediacy or drive shown in the most well-known image.

PAR121452_Social_Media_Watermark(1)

Images courtesy of Magnum Photos.

It is difficult to know whether this movement blur was deliberate, done as an accident or simply occurred in the processing, whichever one, it is very effective.

Hiroshi Sugimoto is a Japanese photographer who has experimented extensively with the use of time in his photography. He tends to work producing series of images. He says “the vision comes first……imagine the way I photograph the things…… bringing my camera into a movie theatre……I opened my shutter when the movie begins…… I leave my camera open……when the ending credit shows up I close my shutter…… the interior of the theatre shows in the white light coming out of the screen.     ……the people were in the theatre but they all disappeared…… the movie theatre…… holds the emptiness” (Sugimoto, 2009). The images are eerie and beautiful with the cinema walls illuminated by the light from the screen.

 Sugimoto has also taken a series of images concentrating on light. He found that when he was processing photographs he was plagued with random bouts of static which he calls ‘the demons in the darkroom’ (Sugimoto, 2011). He went on to deliberately generate static electricity and shoot the resultant flashes of light, man-made lightning. He then printed these images at an enormous size to form an exhibition which I was lucky enough to see in Edinburgh several years ago. The images are sharp white on a deep, velvety black, simple in appearance but they draw the eye in and you find yourself following the path of the discharge around the image.

Michael Wesely takes the concept of long duration photography to an extreme, photographing buildings being renovated, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, with the camera running for months or still life images of flowers slowly dying. The pictures of the buildings show layers and layers of lines as there is slow progress, they look somewhat like a pen and ink drawing of an artist’s conception of the building, but they appear more ‘real’ and obviously they are. Some of the images can be viewed at:

http://www.graphicine.com/unusually-long-exposure-photographs-by-michael-wesely/ (accessed 24/06/17)

http://itchyi.squarespace.com/thelatest/2010/7/20/the-longest-photographic-exposures-in-history.html (accessed 24/06/17).

Wesely says “”the lines in the sky put our existence, us, our planet into context with the Dance of the Universe, which coexists on an entirely different time scale [from us] …. The moment is fading, all that remains is the permanent overlapping of movements of all kinds, political or personal. The technologies of our times fuel this fire of restless ‘Online-Existence’. One day computers won’t have an on- or off-button anymore. We will always be online.” (Klenke, 2010).

A fascinating variant on this is when he takes long exposure, 5 minutes, images of people In the Museum of Modern Art, New York, looking at the even longer exposure images of the renovation works of the actual building. The people are visible, but look like ghosts.Other images are in colour, some are surprisingly delicate, others, mainly the flowers from ‘Stilleben’ are intensely coloured, almost violent, shocking given that they are showing the death of the flower..

 In the introduction to a recent book, Time Works, Harten describe these as ‘decidedly distinct traces of specific processes …… take on the form of a delicate, diaphanous mist …… like transparent gossamer made up of innumerable moments’ and also ‘what we experience in Michael Wesely’s photographs is the …… transitory visibility of the long since invisible’. (Wesely and Harten, 2010).This is the complete antithesis of the ‘decisive moment’. The images may appear dreamlike, often abstract, but are actually the opposite, time rules as absolute. Time held still.

An alternative view of time is used in the film Chungking Express where the opening scene uses a blurred movement to catch the attention of the viewer. This gives a sense of urgency to the film, and has drawn me in enough that I will watch the rest. The colours are intense, it is difficult at times to make out what you are seeing, and the scene feels immensely pressured, the opposite of the sense stillness captured by Wesely.

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-81) images are highly charged and often, but not always, personal.  Berger defines art as either private or public, but her work spans both, ‘intensely private photographs for public consumption……Woodman regularly appeared naked within the frame, her body contorted, her flesh blurred—at once visible and intangible. Each image feels viscerally revealing of something, or someone, beyond the frame—something public photographs can’t do.’ (Christoph, 2015). Her suicide, age 22, inevitably alters people’s perception of her work, partly by the simple fact that there is a limited oeuvre, not all of which has ever been published, but also because there is a temptation to read everything she has done in that context, rather than as early work of a woman who might, given the time, have gone on in a totally different direction.

Much of her work is monochrome, with stark tonal contrasts, showing images that are partially blurred, a jumping person in apparently derelict room ‘Untitled, Rome, 1977-78’, or showing only part of the person ‘Seven Cloudy Days, Rome 1977-78’. Other images use wildly contrasting juxtapositions of people and items such as in the Eel series, where a blurred person lies next to the sharply focused bowl of eels.

Badger says ‘she clearly sought to escape the strictures of the single image and still, frozen photographic stasis. And in her off-kilter compositions and constant roulades of wispy, swirling flight, she appears to hammer at the boundaries of the photographic frame itself’ and ‘Woodman’s oeuvre seems to have informed by the apparently inconsolable thought (for her) that society’s cards are irrevocably stacked against her sex. That no matter how hard she might try to escape constriction by gender, only in her art could she be free,’. (Badger, 2017. I wonder whether, if she had been working now, her work would have been less ‘constricted’ in this way bur equally how her view has led the way for the wide variety of female photographers today, many of whom take images of women and also how it feeds into the ongoing discussion about whether (or not) females perceive other females differently from male photographers and therefore make images that are fundamentally different. (Jansen, 2017).

In the context of thinking about the impact of blur on the emotional reading of the image it is clear that in Woodman’s work it is crucially important, in a similar way (although in a very different setting) to the Capa image on Normandy Beach. I find her images often disturbing, often beautiful, at times mesmerising and I am left wondering what she might have produced in an unknown future. She was born just after me, into a very different life, but I am unsure if I would have ever understood her and her thought processes.

References

Badger, G. (2017). Gerry Badger  Francesca Woodman. [online] Gerrybadger.com. Available at: http://www.gerrybadger.com/francesca-woodman/ [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].

Christoph, S. (2015). FRANCESCA WOODMAN. [online] Brooklynrail.org. Available at: http://brooklynrail.org/2015/03/artseen/francesca-woodman-mar15 [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].

JANSEN, C. (2017). GIRL ON GIRL. [S.l.]: LAURENCE KING PUBLISHING.

Klenke, S. (2010). The Longest Photographic Exposures in History – The Latest – itchy i. [online] Itchyi.squarespace.com. Available at: http://itchyi.squarespace.com/thelatest/2010/7/20/the-longest-photographic-exposures-in-history.html [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Pro.magnumphotos.com. (2017). Magnum Photos. [online] Available at: http://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Sugimoto, H. (2009). Contacts vol 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mcbEgEv2kUw [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Sugimoto, H. (2011). Hiroshi Sugimoto, Nature of light ; [Izu Photo Museum, Shizuoka, Japan ; October 26, 2009 – March 16, 2010]. Shizuoka, Japan: Izu Photo Museum.

Townsend, C. and Woodman, G. (2016). Francesca Woodman. London: Phaidon.

Wax, R. (2014). Unusually Long Exposure Photographs by Michael Wesely | Graphicine. [online] Graphicine.com. Available at: http://www.graphicine.com/unusually-long-exposure-photographs-by-michael-wesely/ [Accessed 24 Jun. 2017].

Wesely, M. and Harten, J. (2010). Time works. Munchen: Schirmer/Mosel.

 

 

 

 

Tillmans and Moriyama

Two exhibitions at the Tate Modern.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans’s exhibition at the Tate Modern is vast, consisting of 14 rooms which have ‘been specially configured by Tillmans as a personal response to the present moment’ (booklet accompanying the exhibition). It shows a range of images from all his work since 2003.  The Tate says in describing it ‘This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style.’ (Tate, 2017) and “He’s not a prophet, but he sees where things might go because he has an eye for the world,” said Chris Dercon, director of the Volksbuhne Berlin and co-curator of Tate Modern’s Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 show (Smyth, 2017).

I found it overwhelming in the number of images shown and oddly underwhelming in my emotional response to them. My thoughts could be summed up as interesting but cold. Some of the individual images were compelling such as the image of his studio with a portrait of a man hung above all the chaos. An image made by ‘passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper though a dirty photo-developing machine’ (Tate Modern, 2017) was surprisingly reminiscent of an EEG (a tracing of brain waves) – an odd conjunction of patterns, the EEG describing life and thought while the image by Tillmans showing ‘the potential of the photographic processes……to be used as a form of self-expression’ (Tate Modern, 2017).  Other images I found fascinating were some of the portraits such as ‘Anders pulling splinter from his foot, 2005’ and the images of a curled piece of photographic paper ‘paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse 2014’. The final room dealt with borders and their fluidity, especially the contrast between the simple border between sea and sky versus the shipwreck caused by refugees. In the present moment of shifting borders with Brexit and hardening borders in the USA this is an important political statement, and, of course, much of Tillmans’s work should be looked at in a political context.

In a review for The Guardian Laura Cumming says ‘Tillmans’s eye is empathetic, pensive and patient, but always determinedly indeterminate. He is as far from Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment as can be. He doesn’t go in for metaphor or simile; he doesn’t try to sum anything up, nail it down or catch it by the tail. He wonders at the beauty of a pear glowing in late afternoon sun as much as viscosity of the plastic bag from which it came. He homes in on the inner seams of discarded jeans. Even when photographing a momentous starry night he can’t help noticing the camera’s own distortions. Not every star in that sky is natural………. The inconsequential is made tangible, permanent.’ (Cumming, 2017) and in a further review by O’Hagen, Tillmans says “For a long time in Britain, “there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness” O’Hagen says ’his photography has been marked by its shifts in style and by his determination to avoid the traditional. His exhibitions can appear wilfully haphazard both in terms of their seemingly unrelated subject matter – portrait next to still life next to abstraction next to landscape – and his eschewal of the accepted norms of the gallery show’ (O’Hagen, 2017).

On Tillmans website http://tillmans.co.uk/book-downloads you can access several catalogues and books of his work that are less expansive and more focused, I found these more accessible, possibly I was suffering from overload in the exhibition.

Daido Moriyama

Moriyama’s images are on show at the Tate Modern as one of the Artists Room Collections, which are travelling collections jointly owned by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. There are a relatively small number of images on display which concentrate on his monochrome photographs of the intense life occurring in cities shown as large panels.

Moriyama (born 1938) is famous for his street photography, which show bold and gritty details, often close-up. He has published many photobooks which are very detailed and intense, usually with full-bleed images, these are mainly monochrome however there are several colour images, tending to be cleaner, which punctuate the intensity of the flow. ‘Daido Moriyama’s art is a far, far cry from any formal academic quality…. blurred, blotched and saturated…. his photography becomes an autobiography, a means of expressing personal experiences’ (Remy and Moriyama, 2012). A recent one ‘Daido Tokyo’ focuses on Shinjuku. He says, ‘many pose the question “Why Shinjuku?” ….. I answered on impulse …… the truth is “because it was there” ….. light and shade, obverse and reverse, truth and falsehood: each accompanies the other’ (Moriyama, 2016).

Moriyama explained how he used photography to convey his subjective experience: “By taking photo after photo, I come closer to … the fragmentary nature of the world and my own personal sense of time” ………. Moriyama’s approach included re-photographing images, working without a viewfinder and embracing printing errors. The resulting photographs are blurred, scratched and grainy. By pushing the medium to the limits of legibility Moriyama attempted to go “to the end of photography”. (Moriyama, 2012).

Phaidon’s publication Daido Moriyama gives a series of his images with accompanying explanatory text by Nishii. He quotes Moriyama as saying ‘one of photography’s essential qualities is its amateurism, and another its anonymity’ (Nishii, 2012). The text about each image describes where and when it was taken, and gives some thoughts about what might have been going though Moriyama’s mind, and how the image links in to the style of photography prevalent at the time the image was taken. While these side-notes are fascinating I found that they detracted from the impact of the images as I ended up looking at them from a technical and historical point of view rather than an emotional or aesthetic one. The mass effect of looking at the original photobooks is lost.

I was fascinated by this exhibition as I am interested in Japanese photographers and the marked differences in style from European and American photography although I suspect this is an over-generalisation. Unlike the Tillmans exhibition I found the images full of emotion, warm and sometimes amusing. It felt as though Moriyama was really engaged with his subject, involved rather than simply observing, that he knew the people, in reality as this is street photography, it is likely that many of the images were of strangers.

 

Comparing the work of two photographers there are multiple similarities: both have a huge oeuvre, both take images of almost anything, from close details of parts of people (I noted very similar images of the back of a man’s neck in the Tillmans exhibition and in Moriyama’s Remix) via more formal portraits to pictures of street rubbish and both produce photobooks as a primary way of showing their work. Tillmans concentrates mainly on colour and Moriyama on monochrome. However, when looking at the images on the same day, and then exploring a wider number of images several days afterward there is a very different feel. Tillmans images seem to be making ‘a point’, often political and usually fascinating while Moriyama’s are simply what he sees, telling an intimate story about a place.

References

Cumming, L. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017; Eduardo Paolozzi –  review from the chaos of time. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/19/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-review-tate-modern-eduardo-paolozzi-whitechapel-gallery [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (2012). Daido Moriyama. [online] Tate. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/display/media-networks/daido-moriyama [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Moriyama, D. (2016). Daido Tokyo. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

Nishii,K. (2012). Daido Moriyama. New York: Phaidon

O’Hagan, S. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: ‘I was hit by a realisation  – all I believed in was threatened’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/13/wolfgang-tillmans-photographer-interview-tate-modern [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Remy, P. and Moriyama, D. (2012). Daido Moriyama – remix.: Edition Mennour.

Smyth, D. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 opens at London’s Tate Modern. [online] British Journal of Photography. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/02/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-opens-at-londons-tate-modern/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Tate Modern (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans, 2017.

Tate. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/wolfgang-tillmans-2017 [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

Tillmans, W. (2017). home. [online] Tillmans.co.uk. Available at: http://tillmans.co.uk/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2017].

 

Coming Clean

Graham MacIndoe

An Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Scotland

The exhibition ‘Coming Clean’ (Nationalgalleries.org,2017) by Graham MacIndoe is showing at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. It consists of 25 photographs taken by MacIndoe when he was suffering from drug addiction in the USA. MacIndoe was born in Scotland and moved to the USA and then became a much admired fashion and portrait photographer, however he developed a drug addiction, initially to crack cocaine and then to heroin. He said in an interview “I’ve gotta be honest and say I wasn’t concerned, because I was so far down that path with crack cocaine at that point that it didn’t seem to make that much of a difference to me. It was just throwing something else into the mix that I thought could enhance it and make the experience better — which is a crazy way of thinking about it. But I thought, I’m keeping myself level. It’s like people who drink and get all slurry and do a line of coke to straighten themselves up. It was a counter of that. I needed something to level me out, and alcohol is never going to do that because you’d have to drink too much. Heroin did that efficiently, but it leads to heroin addiction — or it leads to a duel addiction, crack and heroin.” (Stellin, 2014). While he was an addict and no longer able to work, he decided to take photographs of his daily routine of drug use age and it is some of these images that are on show together with a brief video describing his thought processes.

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From Coming Clean © Graham MacIndoe

A more detailed story of his life while a drug addict and afterwards when he ended up in prison, is in a book by MacIndoe and his partner Susan Stellin, Chancers (Stellin and MacIndoe, 2016. In the book, Stellin describes how she discovered the MacIndoe was an addict and also how she found a collection of these images on-line ‘Every photo is tinged with despair. Hopelessness. Waste. Maybe the point is, “So you wanted to see? Here it all is.” And then we’re supposed to feel sick over our voyeurism, because maybe we didn’t need to see that after all’.

MacIndoe talks about his life in Riker’s Island prison and says ‘I’d love to be able to photograph what it’s like in here. Not just the shitty parts about being locked up, but there are times when you can still appreciate the way flashes of lightning illuminate the dorm or the sun comes through the slats of the windows. Like tonight—the sunset is casting these bands of orange and yellow light across the walls and the shadows of people passing by make it look almost like a painting.’ He also talks about being an addict ‘Coz to be honest, I’m tired of being an addict. It’s not something I ever thought I would be & it surprises, angers & saddens me to see how it got me and where it took me. I had no idea that it was so powerful.’

MacIndoe ‘describes the presence of an “innate, built-in thing that you have to record stuff and see stuff, I still saw and visualised like a photographer or artist. I saw light, environment, what I was going through in the abstract, sometimes in the third person. A lot of the pictures involve looking through mirrors or me in a non-direct manner. To me, it was totally instinctive. I was looking through things on computer screens, and really looking at myself. There’s a picture in the National Portrait Gallery, that’s actually a desk with an old, crummy laptop on it. So I’ve taken a picture of me on an old laptop in the apartment I was staying in.”’(Benmakhlouf, 2017) and in an interview in the Scotsman “I think it’s really important for me that it’s this body of work. The pictures always resonate with people, and people always come away changed in some way. I think that’s what art and image-making is really about. It’s been a long, long time in the making, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge.” (Mansfield, 2017).

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From Coming Clean © Graham MacIndoe

This a stunning exhibition in many ways, the images are raw and shocking, surprisingly powerful. While I was there a group of teenagers were also there, clearly horrified and covering it up by giggling among themselves. It makes one think of the impact of drug addiction on the user, rather than the more usual response which is to think of the impact on society.

In the book, Chancers, MacIndoe carries on to tell how, on his ‘release’ from Riker’s Island he was immediately picked up by the American Immigration Authorities and re-imprisoned, while being threatened with deportation back to Britain as he was living in the USA on a green card, and had committed a crime. During that second prison stay he underwent an intensive programme of drug rehabilitation and ended up clean.

He has gone on to do a body of work related to this experience, ‘American Exile’ where he photographs and tells the stories of other families who are being deported, often for minimal reasons.

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American Exile © Graham MacIndoe

This interested me for personal reasons as, in a little-known piece of USA history, (Nolte, 1979), during the 2nd World War many Germans and Japanese were interned and then deported together with their whole families. My grandfather was one of these Germans.

History 1

Images posted with permission of, and thanks to Graham MacIndoe

References

Benmakhlouf, A. (2017). Graham MacIndoe on his new Edinburgh exhibition: The Skinny. [online] Theskinny.co.uk. Available at: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/art/interviews/coming-clean-graham-macindoe [Accessed 22 May 2017].

Grahammacindoe.com. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.grahammacindoe.com/ [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Mansfield, S. (2017). Interview: Photographer Graham MacIndoe. [online] Scotsman.com. Available at: http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/art/interview-photographer-graham-macindoe-1-4406856 [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Nationalgalleries.org. (2017). Graham MacIndoe | Coming Clean. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/graham-macindoe-coming-clean?destination=exhibitions/current [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Nolte, H. (1979). The Rejection of German Ethnocentrism in the United States. Thesis, Princeton University

Stellin, S. (2014). My Addiction, Through My Eyes. [online] NYMag.com. Available at: http://nymag.com/news/features/heroin-graham-macindoe-2014-2/index1.html [Accessed 2 May 2017].

Stellin, S. and MacIndoe, G. (2016). Chancers.

 

Fay Godwin and Catherine Hyland

Deep Depth of Field.

Project 2 : Lenswork

Fay Godwin (1931-2005) is famously known for her landscape images, but she started out as a portrait photographer. It was only when she separated from her husband that she chose a change of direction. She developed a formidable body of landscape work and published several books which contain both images and words, some written by her and some done in collaboration with other writers, such as her book Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence, where the images go alongside poems by Ted Hughes. Her book ‘The Edge of the Land’ contains a series of stunning images of Britain’s coast together with essays talking about the vast range of people she met while taking these images and giving their personal stories. (Godwin, 1995).

Godwin said (quoted in an article in Amateur Photographer), “I’ve been called a Romantic photographer and I hate it, it sounds slushy and my work is not slushy. I’m a documentary photographer, my work is about reality, but that shouldn’t mean I can’t be creative.” (Clark, 2010). In her final interview with David Corfield she said “I don’t get wrapped up in technique and the like. I have a simple rule and that is to spend as much time in the location as possible. You can’t expect to take a definitive image in half an hour. It takes days, often years. And in fact, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a definitive picture of something. The land is a living, breathing thing and light changes its character every second of every day. That’s why I love it so much.” (Corfield, 2004)

One of her books ‘Our Forbidden Land’ (Godwin, 1990) is credited with helping change the English Law on public access. She was outspoken and had a deep love and care for the environment together with an abiding interest in the people she met while researching the areas she would photograph.

Margaret Drabble talks about Godwin in the Guardian and says ‘Her photographs of lochs and glens and standing stones with solitary sheep are hauntingly memorable. They have a Wordsworthian timelessness, a sense of the Wordsworthian sublime. Her imagination, like his, was attracted by the barren, the grand and the bleak. These archetypal landscapes are probably the most enduring tributes to her great talent, and they are enduring in every sense – she catches the spirits of places that have been worn and weathered, deserted and abandoned, and yet still speak to us.  (Drabble 2011)

Her photography is monochrome, with a deep depth of field and are very crisp. You are in the landscape she photographs and it surrounds you. The images imply scents and sounds. Her photographs of the groynes at Pett Level in East Sussex instantly reminded me of the similar ones on the beach of my childhood in West Sussex.

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Groynes, Pagham Beach, West Sussex – In homage to Fay Godwin

Catherine Hyland also uses deep depth of field in her recent series of images taken in China and Mongolia, Universal Experience, where she pictures the effects people have had on a vast and barren environment. In an interview, she says “The aim is to shine a light on both the strange and sublime nature of these spaces, Giant Buddhas that exist in small desolate villages in rural China, and expansive mountainscapes with barely any visitors. Whether it’s sites of historical importance or natural splendour each is approached with a heightened awareness of its significance as a place of beauty and grandeur. Landscape is seen primarily as a cultural construct and only secondarily as a natural phenomenon.”. (Brewer,2017).

On her website (Catherinehyland.co.uk) you can see her images depicting ‘The attempts to control and manage the landscape are both a part of this overcoming of the past, and also an attempt to transform nature into a theme park for contemporary consumption. Implicit in this attempt is the idea that the earthquakes, the landslides, the famines, invasions and the floods are a thing of a great and colourful past. They are part of a history that has been transformed into nostalgia. But…… there might be an underlying anxiety to this enclosed world…. a reminder that the land does not pay heed to humanity’s wishes. It can and it will bite back no matter how much we try to tame it. The only question is when’.

Her images are colourful, clear and massive. You overlook the area and I find them overwhelming, even though many show people, themselves enjoying the view. Here the depth of field leads your eye outward, to the infinite distance and beyond.

References:

Brewer, J. (2017). Catherine Hyland explores the vast, yet eerily barren tourist destinations of China and Mongolia. [online] It’s Nice That. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/catherine-hyland-universal-experience-photographs-160217 [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Catherinehyland.co.uk. (2017). Catherine Hyland. [online] Available at: http://catherinehyland.co.uk/universal.html [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Clark, D. (2010). Fay Godwin 1931-2005 – Iconic Photographer – Amateur Photographer. [online] Amateur Photographer. Available at: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/fay-godwin-1931-2005-iconic-photographer-18907 [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Corfield, D. (2004). No Man’s Land – Fay Godwin’s last interview. [online] ePHOTOzine. Available at: https://www.ephotozine.com/article/no-man-s-land—fay-godwin-s-last-interview-67 [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Drabble, M. (2011). Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jan/08/margaret-drabble-fay-godwin [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Godwin, F. (1990). Our forbidden land. London: J. Cape.

Godwin, F. (1995). The edge of the land. London: Cape.

Press, S. (2017). Catherine Hyland’s Universal Experience. [online] Ignant.com. Available at: https://www.ignant.com/2017/03/03/catherine-hylands-universal-experience/ [Accessed 16 May 2017].

 

 

Mona Kuhn and Saul Leiter

Shallow Depth of Field in Photography.

Project 2: Lenswork

Mona Kuhn was born in 1969 in Brazil of German parents. She was given her first camera age 12 and has been taking photographs ever since.  She is a well-known photographer whose main interest lies in images of people, often nude. In an interview related to her exhibition Acido Dorado, Kuhn says ‘I see the body as a residence to our emotions, our soul, our inner selves. Gauguin has a wonderful painting titled “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” from 1897. I think it summarises a question we all have, but one that I decided to use as basis to my source of inspiration. I photograph the human in us, without shame, without regret, free and timeless………I start my creative process by imagining colors. I don’t know why, but coloration comes to me first. From there I tie in emotion, then location and last the people’ (Arciniegas, 2014).

David Campany (Campany, 2014) says, when talking about a later body of work – Private ‘At times Mona Kuhn takes the challenge head on, making views of crystal clarity in which light and land are one.  At other times she prefers a wide aperture and a shallow depth of field for her photographs…… Early mornings, early evenings and the moments of respite offered by shadows and sequestered interiors.’

Balthazar

Balthazar © Mona Kuhn

Evidence is a series that portrays nudes taken in a naturist camp in France. There are 55 images, mainly of young, beautiful people (Balthazar) where much, or sometimes all of the image is taken at a shallow depth of field, forcing the eye to initially concentrate on a single person or a small detail. The people are often glancing sideways, looking out of the page or across it. Few seem to be engaged directly with the photographer, but equally they are aware of her, maybe she is not important to them, or, they are so comfortable with her presence they are ignoring her. In describing the images Baldwin says, ‘the overarching accomplishment here is that the photographer has managed to balance complicated layers of relationships, of sitter to sitter, of sitter to self, of model to photographer; ……to establish a complex set of ambiguities played out in an apparently egalitarian, if not an outrightly utopian society.’ (Kuhn and Baldwin, 2007) The images appear to follow the story of a day, from a brilliant, and soft-focus, sunrise though daytime activities to night-time quietude and languor. There is the occasional relief from all the youth and beauty, an old man staring into space (Mon Frere), a room with only a chair in partial focus (An Absence) and these are the images I am drawn to. The images that are completely out of focus (Reflecting) are edgy and uncomfortable, leaving you wondering what is happening, what has happened and what might come next. The story is only partly told. Imagination is free.

Reflecting

Reflecting © Mona Kuhn

 

Saul Leiter is another photographer who often uses a shallow depth of field.to draw attention to a specific point such as in Carol Brown (1958 for Harper’s Bazaar) or Walking (c. 1948) and to ‘create great swathes of colour’ (Pill, 2017) for example, Taxi (1957) or Through Boards (1957).

Taxi_Leiter

Taxi © Saul Leiter Estate

In the introduction to Saul Leiter (Leiter and Kozloff, 2008) Kozloff says ‘far from being a traditionalist, he is in the forefront of photographic innovators, daring for his time……..he considers what lies underneath, is off to the side, or gets in the way of his nominal subject………One notices his enjoyment of the downy texture or foamy substance when selected passages are out of focus.’

Andrew Dickson, in a review for the Guardian, said ‘Many photographs hover on the boundaries of abstraction, planes canting towards each other than cavorting away again; often they are riddles that never quite resolve…….Leiter uses mirrors and windows to tease the eye, piling half-glimpsed images on top of each other – the sharp white of a woman’s shawl imprinting itself on to the palm-leaf design of a shop dummy’s dress, or, as in Reflection (1958), a chiming collision of reflected faces caught in glazing. Just as frequently, condensation, rain or snow films and fogs the frame. Often what we most want to see is held tantalisingly out of reach (Dickson, 2016).

Carol Brown_Leiter

Carol Brown © Saul Leiter Estate

Roberta Smith wrote ‘Mr. Leiter was a photographer less of people than of perception itself. His painter’s instincts served him well in his emphasis on surface, spatial ambiguity and a lush, carefully calibrated palette. But the abstract allure of his work doesn’t rely on soft focus, a persistent, often irritating photographic ploy, or the stark isolation of details, in the manner of Aaron Siskind or early Harry Callahan. Instead, Mr. Leiter captured the passing illusions of everyday life with a precision that might almost seem scientific, if it weren’t so poetically resonant and visually layered.’ (Smith, 2005).

Leiter himself said ‘But I believe there is such a thing as a search for beauty – a delight in the nice things in the world. And I don’t think one should have to apologise for it.” (In No Great Hurry, 13 Lesions in Life from Saul Leiter, 2012).

Leiter’s images are sometimes soft, sometimes acidly clear and always alluring. His early images were black and white but he embraced the use of colour very early on. He was not well-known in his early life and is only recently being lauded. His images draw you in, there is mystery but you are part of it rather than standing outside looking in. These are images that I would hang on my wall and dream over.

Images posted with permission of and thanks to Mona Kuhn and the Saul Leiter Foundation

References:

Arciniegas, T. (2014). An Interview with Mona Kuhn ahead of her London Show at Flowers Gallery. [online] Losarciniegas.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://losarciniegas.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/an-interview-with-mona-kuhn-ahead-of.html [Accessed 13 May 2017].

Campany, D. (2014). MONA KUHN. [online] Monakuhn.com. Available at: http://www.monakuhn.com/pages/view/campany/ [Accessed 13 May 2017].

Dickson, A. (2016). Made in Manhattan: how Saul Leiter found beauty in Gotham’s glass and grime. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jan/15/made-in-manhattan-how-saul-leiter-found-beauty-in-gothams-glass-and-grime [Accessed 13 May 2017].

In No Great Hurry, 13 Lesions in Life from Saul Leiter. (2012). [DVD] Tomas Leach

Kuhn, M. and Baldwin, G. (2007). Evidence. Gottingen: Steidl, p.9.

Leiter, S. and Kozloff, M. (2008). Saul Leiter. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Pill, S. (2017). Light, Form and Soul. Black and White, February, pp.38-45.

Smith, R. (2005). Art in Review; Saul Leiter. [online] Query.nytimes.com. Available at: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9901E3D81330F933A05751C1A9639C8B63 [Accessed 13 May 2017].