Final catch up post, though at least I have some notes to go from on this one.
All three of these practitioners use their camera as a tool. It’s not about making stereotypically beautifully images, more about using the camera to investigate what matters to them in the same way that you might choose to write about something or tell a story. I found that all three resonated with me but for different reasons – the very personal honesty of Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha’s systematic exploration of a ring road in an unfamiliar place and Jodie Taylor’s record of the features of her childhool area, and their appropriate presentation. I had also come across this work on the Foundation course. This time round it is Peter’s work that resonates the most though – his images tell his story. There are no grand vistas, but a record of his everyday, of the tiny details that differentiate his life. He learned about himself whilst enabling others to learn about his life too.
The second part of this exercise is to consider how I feel about the loss of authorial control that occurs once the images are seen by others outside of my own context. On the whole I am positive and excited about it. Other viewers can and will take a far larger range of meaning and significance from my work than I provided to it as input. The feedback that arises can then feed into my work, informing future work. With the benefit of writing this at the end of the course I can see instances of where my work triggered unexpected observations – the reading of A5 as sexual for example, whereas it was intended in more of a still life/historical way. I am learning however to embrace and consider all feedback as obectively as I can manage (which sometimes is not very obectively at all).
Another catch up post. I think I must have spent most of my time on Part 2 photographing fairies, no wonder my tutor said there were gaps in my blog.
I can’t quite believe that I’ve been ignorant of this work. There’s a delicacy to it. I know from experience that handwriting and photographs are a hard combination to get right but these images are perfect. They manage to give you more information without shutting down your readings. I actually forgot about the exercise (again…) and got lost in the work.
So the question is, is the image proof of a happy liason or is that what we choose to see? I think the answer can be whatever we want. We know that photographs are not proof. If we’re lucky, they might be “proof” of whatever was in front of the camera at the time that the image was made. It feels to me as if the image and its caption is about trying to convince himself that the relationship was indeed happy, at least at that time. It makes me think of how we use words on photos to reassure ourselves, to try to extract a truth from the image that might not actually be there.
As I have the luxury of writing this long after I thought Part 2 was finished, I think of how my Part 3 Self Portrait assignment combines text (via period tracker app screenshots) with mobile phone self portraits. The data was personal to me and allowed the images to carry more meaning, they carried their own context like a hermit crab carries its home.
On checking my blog for assessment I found that some work was missing from Part 2. I add it here. I had viewed the work but for some reason not written it up.
Kaylynn Deveney’s series The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings achieves something remarkable. The images are gentle and thoughtful but it’s not just that – it’s the way that she’s closed the loop by asking Alfred to caption them. Sharon Boothroyd does something similar with the Polaroid “I’d get my feet in” shown in the course notes, and of course Gillian Wearing’s “Signs that say what you want them to say…” I wonder what would happen if you worked the other way around with the subject taking the picture and the photographer captionning them. It certainly makes me realise that when the same person has control of both the image and the text, there’s a lack of input from anyone else and the possible readings of the work are tightened.
Karen Knorr is someone whose work I still struggle to engage with fully despite the fact that it makes strong points very eloquently. I think it feels very polished, a little cold at the edges, and I know that this is probably the point of the Gentlemen series. Her combination of images and text shows how ingrained the patriarchy was at the time of the work – I know that things have changed a bit since then but I wonder how much. I very much like the method that she has used here and I would be interested to learn more about where the text came from. When I look at this work it reminds me of the Channel 4 documentary when Grayson Perry met Chris Huhne and made a vase that featured patterns inclding Huhne’s head, speed cameras and a penis. It struck me on the documentary that Huhne was quite pleased to be honoured in a pot rather than humbled or pausing to think on his actions. This view is suggested by Perry in a Radio Times piece. (Radio Times 22.10.14)
Grayson laughs. “No, that confidence! I don’t think he has uncertainties. He’s Teflon!” He had wanted this subject particularly because “making the series, from the word go we were looking for differences of race, religion, sex. But I said that I was also interested in the people in charge: middle-class, middle-aged, male – they’re a group too. They hide in a suit and they don’t think they’re an ethnic group but they are. It’s like people who speak RP and think they have no accent. I needed a guy who is all those things but then has a big disrupted moment. Prison!”
I think that Karen shows this approach too – she’s making this “invisible in plain sight” group visible, and her use of text shows how entrenched that group and its attitudes are (or were at the time).
There are very few exercises/blog writings that I intentionally skip (I may have inadvertently missed one or two from the very beginning of C&N and part 4). I feel hugely uncomfortably about recording conversations – telling someone that I am recording will change the conversation and not saying anything about recording broaches a boundary that I didn’t know I had. I suppose it’s useful to know that there are at least some hard edges to my apparently generous comfort zone.
I chose instead to read Scott McCloud’s book “Understanding Comics”. I wish I’d read this earlier in C&N, it made me think about the balance between text and images, the interaction of both with the frame, and the value and potential of the space in between frames. There’s a balance to be achieved between text and image, they don’t need to say the same thing. If one is explicit and anchors the message the other can take flight. Of course this fits with anchor and relay, but I understand it better now. The narrative part of “Context & Narrative” continues to develop in my understanding long after I thought I was coming to the end of the course. Obviously the learning is a long way off done.
I find archives very interesting especially the way that we get to engage in either aspects of one life/family unit in depth or the way that we can see a shallow cross section across a broader sample. For example, Stephen Gill’s “Hackney Kisses”, an archive from a wedding photographer of first kisses taken in the 1950s in London. The Chambre Hardman archive is another professional archive, including portraits taken over many years by a studio photographer, including multiple time-separated sittings of the same sitter. Julie Cockburn works with found images and alters them with stitching, giving a surreal touch, almost of 1950s sci fi weirdness to old portraits.
The interesting thing about family archives is that most of us have access to them. I could probably fill multiple albums with images that I’ve been tagged in on social media without having to do so much as take the lid off a biscuit tin. Prints that used to lie dormant in albums are seeing new life by being rephotographed on a phone or scanned and circulated anew. Equally, this ease of photography and cloud based storage brings its own issues – will the images disappear when we do, or will they already be making their own @ and # way around the internet, independent of whoever initially shared the image?
A frequent source of prints for albums is the school photograph. My daughter brought the order form for her photo home yesterday, she wants a 6×4 in a “glitter frame” I am tempted by the “single copy-right free image” download option. I wonder if they really mean “copyright-free”? I shall be taking them at their word, anyway.
I’ve worked with my personal archive since the Foundation course. Reworking my square mile, I superimposed album photographs onto more current images of the town where I grew up.
Then, after acquiring a die-cutting machine on EYV, I worked with rephotographed school photographs of me and photobooth images of my daughter, and worked with embossing, cutting, bringing them into 3 dimensions and combining elements of both of us into a single image.
Talking to my climbing partner I was lucky enough to be allowed to rephotograph some of her family school photographs which I then layered with die-cut map pages and rephotographed. This is someone else’s archive but I can bring person and relevant place together.
At my Uncle David’s funeral nearly two years ago my cousin asked for every one to “go away and do something silly, he’d like that”. Hence my ongoing project of photobooth images with my Uncle David, he is present via his Order of Service. The first one was taken at the photobooth at the station on the way home after the funeral. They are some taken with other cameras too, depending on location. He’s been to London, Greece, Manchester, Sainsbury’s (to help me post my EYV for assessment). The pictures live in a biscuit box.
All of these are ideas that are still ongoing and ripe for further development. I am saving them for either whatever my next L1 course is, or for Digital Image & Culture. Holly Woodward has explored altering the materiality of family archive prints over on her blog for DI &C.
I enjoyed looking at this work. I liked that it was so firmly rooted in the familiar and I liked that Nicky had simple rules that she worked to – she would only buy photographs where no-one else was bidding, and she asked the same question to every seller and included their replies in the work. I was impressed with how she followed the process through to the logical end and auctioned off some images starting at 99pence; and sold an album of others on Ebay (it went for £205, if anyone else has the same nagging curiosity that I did). For me, this is like returning a caught fish to the sea, or like tag and release of wildlife. It makes me think of a stream or sea of images, always full and always changing.
Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
Absolutely. One of the things I learned way back on the Foundation course, from Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures, was that if something is being shown in a gallery it’s “Art”. Regardless of what normal people think. If the curators/buyers show it, then it’s Art.
Where does their meaning derive from?
For me, their meaning derives from the fact that Bird has made a carefully selected archive of vernacular images from the common well that is Ebay. The answer that goes with each photograph adds a layer of meaning and context to each image. The work leads us to consider the wider vernacular archive and also the journeys that photographs take to reach us, and the journeys that they take when they leave us or when we leave them. These journeys might be related to sentiment or they might be accidental or purposeful transactions.
When they are sold again is their value increased?
I think the answer to this depends on where they are sold and who is selling them. If a gallery sells them, then yes, if the work is perceived as strong enough to be shown in a gallery then I would expect the gallery to sell them at a higher price, as by then they are definitely Art. There’s a video with extracts of the auction that shows this in action – photographs that were bought for 99pence were sold for £6-£12 for example.
I’m not so sure on Ebay. My feeling is maybe, a bit. Nicky sold an album of images from the project on Ebay, for £205. This doesn’t feel like very much considering the number of images that it could potentially contain and the work that went into it. I think Ebay is about a different kind of perceived value. People expect to get a bargain on Ebay but they possibly don’t expect to get a bargain from a gallery and perhaps that changes the relative price expectations.
I looked at her website, at a PhotoParley interview with Sharon Boothroyd, a video about the auction of some of the work and at a couple of other websites. I was touched and intrigued by how she spoke about history disappearing because we have no link to the people who took these images or the people who knew about these photographs. In PhotoParlay we hear about her experience with a contact sheet showing Elvis and a group of well-dressed women, and the only selection marks on the sheet were around Elvis. These words, from the same interview, rang true for me too.
“There is a debt to feminism here – which is about looking out for the overlooked, questioning what’s valued (or not), creating new spaces to listen, reading against the grain and so on.”
A frustrating start – the link doesn’t work so I have emailed the office asking for assistance. Gregory Crewdson is not someone whose work I would choose to spend a lot of time with, even after visiting his Cathedral of Pines exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery (or perhaps because of that). Looking back I see that I don’t seem to have blogged that show, even though I was sure I had done, so I will respond on the basis of the knowledge and exposure that I have of his work.
I think there is more to his work than aesthetic beauty. There’s a raft of technical expertise – the lighting in particular can be breathtaking. The scale is vast, often involving a cast of hundreds, and yet there can be perfect little details like the light spilling out from a slightly open closet door. Undoubtedly, every detail is considered on a vast scale, and thus there is more to this work than “aesthetic beauty”. The crunch though for me is whether that “more” engages me, pulls me in, leaves me asking questions long after walking away from the work. For me, it doesn’t. I find the work impersonal, a little too “polished”. I wonder why so many of the women are shown naked. I wonder if this is the kind of question Crewdson wanted people to be left thinking about. I wonder why the same duck egg blue bedding turns up in multiple shots of different scenarios. Perhaps it’s meant to show a motel standard bedding, perhaps it’s just a slip.
I’m not sure about the use of the term “psychological”. Shouldn’t all good work make you think? Is it a reference to “psychological thrillers”? Perhaps so, where the narrative depends on mental instability or delusion. Certainly, Crewdson’s worlds do not look like a happy one though I do find something to enjoy in his photograph of a woman tending a garden in her kitchen.
My goal in making work is exploration – being able to climb inside a concept and see what I can make, what shapes I can stretch it into, how I can explore the commonality of that concept across multiple people. I identify with Crewdson’s view about finding the strange in the every day, whereas I like to find the unspoken common things in the every day, the things that are there all the time but that we don’t talk about.
I don’t think beauty is a main goal for me. I want to make work that engages people though, that makes them look and think, and beauty seems to be one way (but not the only way) of achieving this. It’s so wretchedly subjective that there’s no way for an image to appear beautiful to everyone. I think about my pregnancy test photographs in EYV and my self portraits for this course, and there’s no way that these could be considered beautiful but I’d like to think that people still engage with them. If people want to make beautiful work that makes its point or provokes questions, then I can’t see a problem with that. Beauty can be a very arbitrary characteristic anyway, so I would want my work to have other qualities too.
I agree that Crewdson’s work is very cinematic. It really does feel like film stills and I wonder if this is part of what draws people into his work. People are familiar with film in a way that they may not be familiar with art photography, and the bones of a narrative are right there in each image, ready for viewers to engage with. Somehow though the work lacks intimacy for me. I think of Tom Hunter’s work and how these suggest the story without so much of a constructed feel, it’s easier for me to slide into the image and its story without being aware of a vast crew of technicians, extras, and everyone that Crewdson needs to make his images happen. The gaze feels slightly stilted, slightly diluted and spread too thinly. It all feels a bit “block buster” to me, and I prefer quieter stories. His “Fireflies” work looks more engaging to me – still made after dusk but with a far more intimate and less engineered feel to it.
The main impression that I get of the main character is one of wealth and ease, and carefully cultivated relationships. We see that it’s a romantic setting to begin with – two well dressed attractive people out for the night. They don’t know each other well – she’s surprised that he’s leaving such an attractive car, but he tips the driver and has a routine (he does this regularly, presumably). They ignore the queue of well dressed people outside the Copacabana club and enter through the kitchens, where everyone seems to know him and be happy to see him, lots of effusive greetings and flesh pressing. He tips his way through with ease. All staff are uniformed and busy but have time to greet him enthusiastically. The soundtrack is “and then he kissed me”, giving an impression of the woman being enthusiastically courted and seduced
When they get into the restaurant they are waved to the head of a protesting queue and an extra table is brought into the room and set. It’s an intimate, softly lit restaurant, again an impression of affluence. Introductions flow, wine appears from other tables, and when the woman asks what he does we learn, probably, that he also lies. I don’t think she believes that a union delegate would be able to afford to tip that generously or have that degree of influence and ease. The drum roll and cymbol crash introducing the comedian reinforces this “joke”.
This essay gives me a feeling of discomfort which grows as I read through it. The first line gave me food for thought: “The fictions we make about photographs are as unreliable as they are unavoidable”. I bear as much responsibility for my responses to work, if not more, as the intentions of the person who made the work.
An issue for me here is the series of removes from the original work. Arbus made the work, and wrote about it in a letter to the deputy editor of the Sunday Times. He reworded the letter slightly. Now we have Jobey’s essay layered over the top, and my reading of that on top of that, and now my writing about it too, a new shade of interpretation being introduced at each level. There is an undeniable difference between Arbus’ words “They were undeniably close in a painful sort of way” and the printed “…and the family is undeniably close in a painful, heartrending sort of way.” And there I was thinking that the finer details of semantics were restricted to the image. I think the change in text does move the “pain” of the situation from the family in the photograph to the viewer of the photograph.
I wonder if, in the transition from looking at Arbus’ photographs of “freaks” to her photographs of families, we perceive the families though the same expectation filter as the freaks, almost as if we know that if it’s an Arbus photograph there must be something out of the ordinary about it, and possibly not a happy out of the ordinary either. I’m slightly uncomfortable about the gaze in these images too. Arbus was from a white Jewish privileged background, and she chose to photograph “under the bar of success, celebrity and social ease”. This is probably more of a general comment rooted in curiosity, but were the only people with cameras white privileged ones? No, of course not. Or were they the only people to get their work shown? Or was Arbus the only one making this sort of work? Where are the Polaroids, the vernacular record made by the people themselves? What would the Daurias’ own family album show? Would the Arbus photograph be in there? This is a similar unease to that I felt when watching the Greatest Showman – all these “freaks” collected and merchandised as circus by a non-freaky white man and his non-freaky high-culture white male side-kick. I keep coming back to ideas of self, other and representation and perhaps the need to explore this further at Level 2.
This image fell into my lap really, it’s part of a diptych inside the back cover of British Vogue March 2018.
Taken at it’s most basic, it shows a man dressed in bright green trunks, snakeprint loafers, a cream leather jacket and some gold jewellery. He’s seated on a stack of white china plates, a couple of which also feature in the other image of the pair. The location is a room with a wooden floor that’s covered with plain grey flooring with one corner cut out, and he’s against a breezeblock wall, with no windows, painted white. It’s a portrait image and the man takes up most of the frame with a bit of space around him. There’s a vertical margin to the left in which the models and photographer are credited.
The image is an advert for Palace – a UK skate brand. It’s interesting for a start that Vogue, a women’s fashion and beauty magazine, is carrying a double page ad for a brand that caters to its customers sons (and dads). Although women can obviously wear the Palace designs, there’s nothing cut for the female skate population. The brand name is on his pants and also in the lower right hand corner of the advert.
To me, this image speaks of a skater’s dad, especially because it’s paired with a photograph of the model’s real life son. Perhaps he skated when he was younger, but right now he is all grown up, an adult, a dad, and rather richer than before and possibly far less of a regular skater. There’s an “Only Fools and Horses” vibe to it that I can’t quite shake. He’s knowingly taking the piss, on one hand, with his signet rings and finger-sucking, and on the other there’s an ostentatiousness in his presentation. Snakeskin print loafers with monogrammed trim, the brightest of trunks with the brand writ large on the outside (it was always dads that complained about visible underwear in my youth). His leather jacket looks butter soft and immaculately stitched and lined. It denotes extravagance – a jacket that colour will spend half its life at the dry cleaner. The shoes, jewellery (signet rings and necklace) and the “designer” underwear all denote extravagance, a touch of the flash. The brand name “Palace” denotes wealth, royalty, opulence. The lack of other clothes denotes a sense of performance, of not being afraid to “let it all hang out”, of a sense of fun, possibly? He has tan lines from his socks (lots of time outdoors, or sunshine holidays?) and marks from his sock elastic on his ankles. In many ways it’s an endearingly “dad” picture. I have no idea why he is seated on a stack of plates.
He’s in a “man-spreading” position, spreading out to fill and claim the space. Legs spread wide, one arm spread wide, and his little finger in his mouth as his eyes look directly into the camera. The verb “twinkle” comes to mind but I’m not sure if that has a place in a critical vocabulary. Maybe a rakish glint. The pinkie sucking is slightly disturbing – I’m not sure if it’s playing on sexualised female imagery or on the clichéd movie villains with cats in their laps and fingers in their mouths. I’m intrigued by what is either a single varnished nail or a bruise. We don’t quite see his nipples.
So far so good. What really intrigues me though is that this is a photograph of Juergen Teller, a regular fashion photographer for Vogue, and the other image of the pair shows his son, both images were taken by Juergen Teller. This opens up a vast range of further meaning. Clearly, he is wearing the clothes to show them to best advantage, to sell them. Normally in Vogue his job is to sell clothes to women via his photographs. He is selling the illusion that women could look a bit like the women he photographs. If these same women put their husbands and sons into Palace clothing, will their menfolk thus also be acquiring a little bit of that Juergen Teller twinkle, that fashion photographer glamour?
He’s normally behind the camera, we see his work but we don’t see him. In this work he’s in front of the camera, in his pants, and he doesn’t care. He’s there with his wrinkles, his belly, his sock marks, in Vogue depicted in a way that we would never see a female model, or a female photographer. He’s subverting something right there. Somehow, it’s different, as Liz Hoggard wrote in the Observer “As a woman, I find it very refreshing to find someone else’s body on the slab.” That was back in 2003, he has form for stripping off in self portraits. You can almost hear the reproachful chorus of “daaaaad” from his children, one of whom is shown in more typical skate garb in a more grunge, urban and less affluent setting on the page opposite. The piss-take now becomes not just about himself, but also about years of fashion photography – about open jackets and tops that barely cover nipples and breasts, about women in expensive coats, shoes and underwear but nothing else, about the model, and the brand, flirting with and seducing the viewer. It also tells us something about father and son though, that shared love of skateboarding even though we don’t see a board in either image.
I’ve only grazed the surface of my notes here – I am very tempted to use this image (and its pair) for my A4 essay.