Author Archives: concentrik

Part 1 Assignment 1–Same Story, Different Versions

This is a lengthy post – if you want to go straight to the assignment rationale click here

The brief for this assignment appears straightforward at first, but after reading it carefully it becomes clear that it is asking quite a lot, not just of students but of photography itself. The bones of the brief are:

  • The photographs must be of the same STORY. Not necessarily the same subject, location or time.
  • There must be two different versions, one which is honest and unbiased, the other is deliberately misleading or untrue, but both must appear to be true.
  • The brief asks us to create at least two sets, 5-7 images per set – not to photograph two sets, so presumably the images could be from archives.

The latter requirement must rule out anything staged or contrived because that would not be real life. To be candid requires that the work is fundamentally un-posed. But the unbiased version must be sufficiently true to contrast the opposing version which is untrue or misleading. In previous assignments I have taken a few liberties with the brief by wrangling it to suit my own purposes but this one appears deliberately tight and I’ve thought about it long and hard, researching the idea of truth/untruth in modern photography. If I thought I could get away with more brief-bending I was soundly corrected when, looking through other student’s C and N blogs I found this, addressed to student Allan O’Neill by his tutor Mike Kinsey in April 2016:

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From your Blog :“Create two sets of photographs telling different versions of a story”

From the Brief:“Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story.”

I think you will see the small but crucial difference now.

The brief goes on to give more clues and ask for comparison through ;

“What conflicting stories can you make your images convincingly tell?”

So it wanted you to produce two sides of a story the same set of facts. On that basis you are so very lucky !

Why , because at one time or another anyone studying photography will make this basic error but you did it on an assignment that doesn’t carry a penalty as it is not used deciding your course grade only to determine progress made. I suspect you will not make this error again. Always read the briefs several times carefully. Talk them over with family/friends see if they think you have the gist or they see it different, often it’s very informative.

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I didn’t find the same tutor comments on other blogs where the student had misread the brief but Kinsey is quite firm on the matter. I agree that this is what the brief calls for and since the whole section is about using photography which is misleading I think the brief needs tackling squarely.

The core requirement of the brief is to use the camera with its capacity for selection, perspective, angle and lens ‘distortion’ along with the characteristics of the shutter in selecting a slice-of-time to produce two contrary versions of the same story. 

Research

A Google search for bias – for that is probably the most common instance of this –  in news photography produces surprising results. A significant number of the top ranking returns are pro-Israeli sites decrying the world’s media in their anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian bias. Of the remainder, most deal with narrative bias in written articles and newspaper reports. An image search on the same terms returns results which are almost entirely cartoon, comic or graphics based – no photographs. Of course I had hoped to find some inspiration in the form of “true/biased” examples but few were forthcoming.

Examples of photo manipulation abound but this is not what the brief is calling for.

My stance is that every image is biased, simply because it cannot show the entire scene from every perspective, every angle, all at the same time. As soon as we look through the viewfinder we are imposing an image bias because one of the cameras primary functions is to exclude information.

In researching this project I have attempted to find examples of contrasting treatments of the same story, which convey a different impression. Here are some of the ways that the use of the camera can mislead:

Lighter/Darker

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Fig 1: Time Magazine (June 1994)

“In response to the barrage of criticism about Time magazine’s cover portrait of O. J. Simpson in the current issue, James R. Gaines, managing editor, posted an electronic message on a computer bulletin board on Wednesday stating that ‘no racial implication was intended, by Time or by the artist.’ The cover portrait of a blurry, darkened and unshaven Mr. Simpson is actually a doctored version of a photograph made by the Los Angeles Police Department. Mr. Gaines’s message said that the police photo had been given to an artist who was asked to interpret it. The credit line, printed at the bottom of page 3 of the magazine, said, ‘Photo-Illustration for Time by Matt Mahurin.’ ( NYTimes.com 1994).

Mahurin’s ‘interpretation’ of the photograph and Gaines’ approval thereof caused an outcry. Many considered the image to have been deliberately darkened to skew the impression it would give to readers. Certainly the burnt edges make the cover more sinister and Simpson’s skin tone was much darker than printed in other newspapers and magazines. I’ve included this blatant example even though it is not strictly a camera-based manipulation.

Angle of View

As soon as we lift the camera to the eye we are making a decision about what to include and what to leave out. If certain aspects of the setting don’t suit our purpose we can conveniently eliminate them.

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Fig 2

This is the version Conservative Central Office would favour, showing the Prime Minister in a heroic stance surrounded by enthusiastic admirers – standing up both literally and metaphorically, arms appealing for well-deserved support.

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Fig 3

In this version, where the photographer may have stepped back a little, the rather low-rent feel of the setting is revealed. The PM stands on an un-statesmanlike item of staging and the voluntary attendees appear pretty thin on the ground.

The images of President Obama below were actually crops rather than camera position or lens choices but the effect is the same:

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Fig 4

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Fig 5

For the Economist cover the woman was removed completely, which alters the implied message of the photograph – the President appears to be deep in thought when he may easily have been simply listening carefully to his colleague. His skin appears to have been lightened as well but in this case it is probably justifiable on a technical level considering the difficulty of retaining detail in dark skin on a bright background.

Focus

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Fig 6

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Fig 7

By altering the region of sharp focus the photographer has emphasised the tedium experienced by two young placard bearers (fig 6); the more conventional presidential photograph moves the area of interest back where the White House would prefer it.

Lenses and Lighting

Estate agents have a reputation for producing photographs of properties which, although they have to be legally ‘true’ nevertheless present an exaggeratedly favourable view.

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Fig 8

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Fig 9

The agency which produced these images (above) has worked very hard with viewpoint, lens choice and lighting to present the room in the best possible way in the second image. The lighting is colour matched, balanced with the exterior and reveals all the room detail. The wide angle choice shows little distortion but emphasises the depth of the room. Both images are completely true but the choices made by the photographer at camera level have produced two very different impressions.  

Every image is potentially untruthful or misleading.  Truth may be found more in the attribution – the author – than in the image itself.  The logical extension of this is that the only image you can really trust is one you have made yourself.

After all the foregoing research I didn’t feel I was any nearer to deciding on a ‘story’.  Every option which came to mind failed on one of the criteria, so I sought the advice of the tutors who offer (very valuable and much needed) advice on the OCA forums.  I asked:

I could do with a steer on C&N Part One Assignment One please. I want to make sure I fulfil the brief correctly or alternatively, to be assured that brief fulfilment doesn’t matter so much. My reading of the requirement is that two sets of images are to be created, each of which is plausibly truthful, one of which is misleading or deceptive. I’ll set aside the matter of whether any image is true. They must be ‘candid’ (which I take to mean unposed) and ‘taken from real life’ (so not staged or imagined). Given the theme of the projects in this part, it would seem that the assignment should be an exercise in using the camera’s particular characteristics to mislead. Those camera attributes might include selective focus, exclusive/inclusive framing, slice of time, view angle, lens ‘distortion’ etc

Just as a student in a bricks’n’mortar uni I like to see what my peers are up to so I’ve checked out a few C&N blogs. Almost without exception they approach the brief as a ‘two sides of the same story’ theme. For example, big wealthy houses rubbing up against deprived dwellings. huge edge-of-town hypermarkets/empty town centre shops. The problem with that – as far as brief is concerned – is that both of the sets are true; we are not misled by any of the photographs since they are all both plausible and without bias or deception.

I found only one instance of a student being called out on this by their tutor – he called the ‘two sides/same story’ approach a mistake and urged the student to read the brief more carefully on future assignments, to discuss it with family and friends and make sure it has been properly understood. That’s my question – wrangle the brief to suit, or follow its fundamental purpose? I hope the answer is the former option as I have, so far, been unable to settle on a suitable story. Perhaps I too have misunderstood the purpose? Or given that this assignment is just to show your new tutor where you’re at, would it be OK to turn in something which I personally feel is ‘where I’m at’ and what pleases me/frustrates me about it.

Peter Dehaviland responded:

“turn in something which I personally feel is ‘where I’m at’ and what pleases me/frustrates me about it.”

that’s the way to go on this brief…your tutor learns about you and you learn about your tutor.  

Forum post August 2017

Clive White added:

Seconding Peter. What this brief is really about is encouraging the student to understand the polysemous nature of the visual image; for those who hadn’t already caught on to this and still conceive the photograph as a truth telling document.

Your mission, rather like the decisive moment assignment in EYP is to show the assessors that you understand this concept but couched in terms which are meaningful and progressive for you, in order to get the best response, while not forgetting to make visually engaging images,

I don’t think the ‘candid’ idea debars setting something up. It’s a tall order to just happen across circumstances which fit the bill. I would ignore that, being properly creative can negate a multitude of of regulatory stretches.

In assessment successful creative work gets recognised and rewarded and not penalised on the basis of formal definitions.

Ibid

Peter Dehaviland went further:

My reading of the brief suggests that the candid and real life or whatever labels are to a degree ironic an that the rest of the brief suggests that at least to some extent you are to set up or at least enable the incidents or situations that you are going to photograph.[my emphasis]

Ibid

These responses set my mind at rest about the idea I chose to develop – there was no need to take the brief as inviolable, I could ‘interpret’ it creatively, aiming for ‘engaging images’ which demonstrate my understanding of this section’s theme.

  • The story I have chosen gathers some of the ideas which are current in this part of the course.
  • It is an attempt to produce work which conveys a sense of loss and ending. 
  • I am using some of the devices researched in previous exercises such as the ‘viewer from behind’ and selective focus – actually selective focus plane using lens tilt.
  • I introduce a visual motif which occurs regularly within the series. The work references the film “Don’t Look Now” in reflecting on the truth/untruth aspect of the brief, hopefully without mangling either unduly. 
  • I have disobeyed the directive to produce two sets, but only in the presentation;  there are in fact two sets of images but they are mixed up, which makes it even more difficult for the viewer to assign veracity to any particular image.

The contacts for this assignment are available at this Flickr link:    https://www.flickr.com/gp/153947906@N08/vef4k9

The final images are in this Flickr album:  https://flic.kr/s/aHsm6K4grn

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Forum post 2017: C&N Assignment One – Brief Wrangling? – Subject area forums / Photography, Film & Digital Media – OCA Discuss. https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/c-n-assignment-one-brief-wrangling/5349/3 (accessed August 11, 2017).

New York Times 1994. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/25/us/time-responds-to-criticism-over-simpson-cover.html (accessed August 1, 2017).

List of Illustrations

Fig 1: Matt Mahurin (1994) Time Magazine; From <http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/25/us/time-responds-to-criticism-over-simpson-cover.html> (Accessed 27 July 2017)

Fig 2 & fig 3: May visits North East in bid to woo working class Labour voters. http://news.sky.com/story/theresa-may-to-visit-northeast-in-bid-to-woo-working-class-labour-voters-10873264 (accessed July 11, 2017).

Fig 4 & fig 5: Larry Downing 2010; The Economist — ALTERED IMAGES. http://www.alteredimagesbdc.org/the-economist/ (accessed August 1, 2017).

Fig 8 & Fig 9: Uncredited; What You Need to Know About Becoming a Realtor – Freshome.com. http://freshome.com/2013/11/25/need-know-becoming-realtor/ (accessed August 1, 2017).

The Real and the Digital–Liz Wells

In “Photography – A Critical Introduction” Liz Wells discusses the extent to which an image produced digitally in the 21st century can be considered ‘true’.  The measure of ‘truth’ is the relationship between what the image shows – its contents – and the actual moment it purports to depict.  This is a matter of extensive discussion in critical literature but it seems to me that the answer is plain – the image itself cannot be trusted.  There is no implicit veracity within a digital image because each of its constituent elements – the pixels – are simply a mutable number, a value between 0 and 256.  Because these numbers can be altered and leave no trace of the change, the image cannot be said to have a fundamental indexical relationship to the original event.

Of course most images do have such a relationship but it is not established by the technique of production.  Nowadays the truthfulness of photographs – at least the extent to which they may have been manipulated – must be decided by the source.  The trust we place in the image source is the measure by which the veracity of the image is determined.

Taking this proposal to its logical conclusion, we may be forced to conclude that the only true image is one we have taken ourselves; but even this stricture may not be enough to satisfy the seeker of absolute truth.  The digital image reviewed on the LCD screen immediately after ‘capture’ has been processed by the internal algorithms of the camera.  The colours have been ‘optimised’, the tonal values shifted to render a more pleasing result.  Indeed, many cameras have just such presets installed, enabling the user to fool themselves with little effort.

These variables are not the sole domain of digital origination; analogue techniques offer a range of image alterations too, but it is the undetectability of digital changes which almost completely undermines any claim to truth, save that conferred by the status of the source.

On a slightly tangential note I was disappointed to find the following in this section of the book:

What took place, then, was not the first Gulf War but a whole sequence of political, social and military actions that were acted out in a new kind of social and technical space. While this may be an extreme way of formulating the argument, it is clear that a complex of technical, political, social and cultural changes has transformed not just photography, but the whole of visual culture. For example, David Campany points out that ‘almost a third of all news “photographs” are frame grabs from video or digital sources’ and comments that:

The definition of a medium, particularly photography, is not autonomous or self-governing, but heteronymous, dependent on other media. It derives less from what it is technologically than what it isculturally. Photography is what we do with it. And what we do with it depends on what we do with other image technologies.

(Campany 2003: 130; emphasis in original)

WordPress doesn’t allow the correct formatting for the above so it looks a bit scruffy, but the bold is my emphasis.  I have written about this here.  Wells mis-quotes Campany above – the claim referred to “over half” of news photographs – but even this reduced statistic is far from the truth. It’s surprising that inaccuracies are shared between authors without any fact checking, but this also speaks to the necessity of considering sources.

Part 2 Proj 3–The Unseen

We are asked to consider the work of three photographers:

  • Jodie Taylor – “Memories of Childhood”
  • Dewald Botha – “Ring Road”
  • Peter Mansell – “Check up”

This is work by OCA students which, instead of making literal, representational photographs to convey a story uses visual metaphor, whereby alternative image contents are employed to convey a more subtle message. 

The critique by ‘Sharon’ of Jodie Taylor’s work on the OCA website makes a number of favourable observations; choosing to originate the work on 35mm colour film and presenting the final piece as mail-in processed prints in an inexpensive plastic sleeved album is considered redolent of the times she looks back on, her childhood in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties. The colour palette is praised as “aesthetically pleasing” and Sharon says she finds the photographs evocative of her own childhood locations.

I don’t know how much contextualising text appeared with Jodie’s submission but I feel that it must have contributed in large measure to the overall message of the work.  The photographs themselves are noticeably mute on the subject of childhood save for the graffiti on the walls and garage doors. The images are broadly ambiguous, though to be fair I have only seen the three shown on the OCA site.  In a series like this, the photographs would have a hard time summoning a general consensus about their purpose. 

But as a photo-essay, a ‘textual-visual’ presentation, the two images and writing support each other to allow the viewer to overlay their own version of adolescence.  The photographs are sufficiently non-specific to allow any viewer who grew up in a similar urban environment, to re-live similar experiences. If the photographs were too specific they would tend to exclude the viewer – for example if they showed town signage or other location specific text.

The website for Dewald Botha isn’t working as I write this but Wayback Machine has some archived snapshots of the site, from which I learn that this work was the result of an initial interest in the actual structure of the ring road which changed over the year Botha walked the perimeter into “an exploration as metaphor for distance placed and personal limits reached within the confines of language and local culture” (Botha: 2012)

This feels like an intensely personal work and without further elaboration I just have to take his word for it. Although the images themselves look like snapshots, taken as a whole they convey a sense of a stark urban environment which is occasionally relieved by municipal flowerbeds, mildly interesting symmetries in the structures of the road and some rather incongruous palm trees. The unavailability of the supporting text emphasises the lack of voice in the images themselves.

Peter Mansell  has used himself as the subject of “Check Up”, or rather his personal experiences as a paraplegic.  In times when he has been limited in his ability to extend his photographic ‘reach’ physically, he has looked to his immediate surroundings and drawn out personal significance to “offer me the chance to make a particular statement about my experience”

For the viewer there is more to work with here as the contents of the images speak a little more clearly than in Botha’s work.  As with Bryony Campbell’s “Dad Project” we are shown the plain unadorned facts of hospital interiors but unlike Campbell, Mansell is absent from the frame.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track more of this work down – the ‘full interview’ promised in the Appendix of the course manual is missing and the link to the OCA site is missing the video.

 

References

Botha, Dewald: Ring Road 2012-2013 Ring Road – Dewald. http://www.dewaldbotha.net/ring-road.html (accessed August 14, 2017).

Part 2 Project 1–Telling a Story

How does Bryony Campbell’s The Dad Project compare with Country Doctor?

W. Eugene Smith was an outsider trying to make his ‘inside’ presence unobtrusive and un-noticed. It was an objective, almost forensic examination by which Smith was ‘trying to find out what made the doctor tick’. Despite the obvious proximity to his subjects, one gets the feeling that Smith would have welcomed the option of making the photographs by remote control. Here Smith is the observer position, maybe dispassionate, maybe not, but the assertion made in Time Magazine summarises his intent thus:

“Eugene Smith’s at-times almost unsettlingly intimate pictures illustrate in poignant detail the challenges faced by a modest, tireless rural physician — and gradually reveal the inner workings and the outer trappings of what is clearly a uniquely rewarding life.” Time Magazine

 

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We see Dr Ceriani working in makeshift circumstances, interacting very closely with his patients, but there are no images with viewer eye-contact. Only the photograph of the man having his gangrenous leg amputated shows his gaze and even then it’s not really an engagement with the photographer, more an analgesic thousand-yard stare.  Accounts of the actual photography may exist but I have been unable to trace them.  I think it’s reasonable to assume that Smith instructed people not to look at the camera where necessary.  Despite the obvious closeness of the camera and photographer, all the subjects pretend that it is invisible. nobody looks out at us the viewer, nobody addresses us directly; we, like Smith wanted to be, are invisible observers. Dr Ceriani himself observed:

“‘He would always be present. He would always be in the shadows. I would make the introduction and then go about my business as if he were just a door knob’ Dr Ernest Ceriani ;Magnum Pictures

LIFE magazine published this photo-essay in the issue of 11th October 1948.  It occupied eleven full pages with five double-spreads.  Although the magazine carried advertisements none were placed within Smith’s work.  The magazine was printing full colour by this time and this issue carried several colour features but Smith’s work remained in B&W.  I expect this was an adherence to the documentary aesthetic which developed as a matter of necessity (no colour film).

The images in the essay are connected primarily by the presence of Dr Ceriani in most of the frames and in this way a visual narrative thread is established.  Even without the captions and body text we could deduce many of the apparent facts:

  • The story concerns the activities of one man who is performing the functions of a doctor
  • He is seen interacting with different people who we can reasonably assume are his patients
  • He seems to work mainly alone and outside a hospital setting – he is a general practitioner
  • Even so his work involves major surgery, so clinical resources must be scarce
  • He undertakes a wide variety of work, often in makeshift settings

The accompanying text fills in much more detail.  We learn how tired he becomes, how even on a rare day off he is called back from a fishing trip to attend a child who has been kicked by a horse – he must arrange to remove her injured eye.  The main thrust of the article is the almost heroic dedication and selfless commitment the doctor makes to his widely-scattered patients.  The photographs emphasise the immediacy of the medical attention he provides, harshly lit, close-up detail adding to the drama.

Looking at the contents of the images reveals Smith’s photographic method.  Some of the shadows appear so harsh they give the impression of bare-bulb flash.  Although the settings are mainly interiors he has used a short enough shutter speed to eliminate most motion blur.  Did he call for his subjects to ‘hold still’?  Doubtful – he was doing his best to be as unobtrusive as possible. His framing cannot be judged from the printed work because most of the images appear to have been cropped to suit the page layout, but there seems to be method here. The frame edges intersect the bodies of the subjects, hinting at activity outside the frame and suggesting that Dr Ceriani is at the calm centre of a whirl of activity.

Most of the eyelines look natural and lead to believable content.  In every case the doctor is shown as concentrating intensely on his work but given the time Smith spent with him and the number of exposures he must have made, this is probably due also to a strict editing decision.

Bryony Campbell’s work takes a quite different approach. We are given to understand from the outset that her essay is not just intimate but deeply personal. We as viewers are deputised to share her experience of her father’s illness. Once we understand that she is both photographer and subject we are harnessed to her emotions, as we too would experience the circumstances in which she finds herself. We know what it’s like or at least we can easily imagine.

Whatever the stated circumstances, Campbell is an insider. She herself is the story. She features herself in several photographs. She looks directly out to us making a connection which we can chooses to interpret as a challenge, an appeal for compassion, expression of empathy, whatever we want. We have the emotional responses readily to hand, the currency of loss having a unique exchange rate for us all. Her ‘ending without an ending’ is a cogent expression of a death within a continuing life, her father’s within her own. Her relationship with him did not end with his death, she recognises that it will continue through the rest of her life.

Campbell makes no attempt to arrange or manipulate the contents of her images, the slippers, bedclothes, all the paraphernalia of illness are shown just as she saw them.  She uses available light and makes no attempt to adjust the colour casts it produces, which tends to infer an authenticity to the series. Where Smith chooses to shoot for drama, Campbell adopts a more ‘stilling’ approach, letting the contents speak for themselves.

These are two very different styles which are effective in their individual ways, but both are firmly placed in their contemporary aesthetic trends.

References:

Time Magazine: W. Eugene Smith’s ‘Country Doctor’: Revisiting a Landmark Photo Essay | Time.com. http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ (accessed August 6, 2017).

Magnum Pictures: Dr Ernest Ceriani” Country Doctor • W. Eugene Smith • Magnum Photos. https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/society/w-eugene-smith-country-doctor/ (accessed August 6, 2017).

Dialogue Between Artist and Viewer

Examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice include Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field where clashes of understanding or interpretation work together to create a perhaps incomplete but nonetheless enriching dialogue between artist and viewer.Look these pieces up online. Investigate the rationale behind the pieces and see if you can find any critical responses to them. Write down your own responses in your learning log.

I want to find the ‘clashes’ referred to above and to see how they affect the artist/viewer dialog.  Sophie Calle is a French conceptual artist who uses personally significant events from her own life.  She also manufactures events to observe, such as inviting a series of individuals to sleep in her bed and documenting them asleep, eating breakfast she has prepared for them and watching them dress.

calle4    calle

Fig 1                                                                                         Fig 2

Calle presented the work with handwritten captions which described an interaction between her and the subject rather than a description of the content.  This is a refinement of relay, adding a further layer to the information and inviting imaginative embellishment by the viewer.  This helps to create the dialogue referred to previously; her work provokes questions which cannot fully be answered.  The partial nature of the information we receive means that the gaps tend to be filled by us the viewers, and our comprehension will differ markedly from that of the author.

Calle explores this further in her series “Take Care of Yourself”, the final sentiment expressed to her by a boyfriend at the conclusion of their relationship.  He chose to inform her of his decision by text, which Calle considered mean-spirited and cowardly.  Nevertheless she decided to make use of the experience, and the events which led up to it, in a multimedia installation.  She copied the text message to 107 other women and made photographs illustrating their responses.  So what is the nature of the dialogue between the artist and the viewer?  Not a literal dialogue, but an experiential one, where we are allowed to imagine the way Calle felt about the affair, to vicariously partake of the responders suggested reprisals and possibly commiserate with the her.

The happenings which Calle uses in her work are features of life in general.  They are not responses to cataclysmic events unique to her experience, but what makes her work compelling is the way she chooses to execute them as art.  Where she fabricates themes they are of quotidian episodes, distinguished more for their blandness than their exceptionality, but her work expresses the nature of her experience rather than the events themselves.

Sophie Ricketts “Objects in the Field”

This series arose as a result of Ricketts’ appointment as Associate Artist at Cambridge University Institute of Astronomy.  She learned about the work of a retired faculty member which involved the use of large format film to record observations from an advanced telescope in the early 1990’s.  She became interested in actually printing the negatives and contextualising the work with text and personal recollections.

Ricketts re-purposed the negatives to her own ends; it had never been intended to print them, never mind produce art from them.  She had no control over the contents of the film, but unlimited control of the content of the work.

Using her own experiences and some amusing wordplay (she begins her text with a childhood optometry appointment – to do her ‘fields’) she overlays meaning to the large monochrome prints, noting that even at the moment of exposure, the heavenly bodies, like her childhood, were long gone.

And so it goes on, drawing clever analogies and references, obscure to various degrees, weaving connections between two discreet narratives which would otherwise have remained utterly remote from each other.

Photography plays a walk-on part here.  The images themselves are unremarkable to the non-astronomer and their purpose is simply to act as a vector for Rickett’s personal narrative.  For me this is bagatelle creativity; it’s possible to make something out of anything if you can fabricate a sufficiently convincing framework.

A Postmodern Approach?

A story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end – in that order, otherwise it’s not a proper story and it cannot effectively drive a narrative.  This is certainly one view, one held by most authors until recent times.  But the postmodern approach sees the narrative arc discarded in favour of a more fluid strategy, one in which the reader, or viewer or listener, is expected to contribute to their own understanding of the work.

Written text is combined with images in inventive and sometimes obscure ways.  The end of the story may appear at the beginning.  Participants in the story may present different perspectives for our consideration.  Allegory is mixed with document,  Uncertainty is pressed into service, allowing the work to unfold within the observer who becomes not just a receiver but a collaborator.

Using Audio in Image Based Projects

In a previous life I worked as a film/tv sound mixer, latterly on a news crew producing political content as well as topical material.  All the meaning was in the sound.  Without audio there was no story because the video was incapable of delivering coherent meaning alone. The picture mainly supported the sound but could not be used alone.

Audio and the written word are powerful information carriers;  they convey far more literal detail than can the image.  My feeling about the still picture and sound/text combination is that the latter detracts from the former.  It’s a different matter when we consider moving images and sound as in cinema.  Here the two sensory streams are complementary and when produced well result in a work which is more than the sum of its parts.

List of Illustrations:

Fig 1 Sophie Calle Turns Life Into Art. http://www.thedailybeast.com/sophie-calle-turns-life-into-art (accessed August 9, 2017).

Fig 2 :  2017. MANUAL DE SUPERVIVENCIA PARA ARTISTAS INQUIETOS. Times Online. http://artistasinquietos.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/exposicion-sophie-calle.html (accessed August 9, 2017).

Images, Text, and how they interact

Cut out some pictures from a newspaper and write your own captions.

• How do the words you put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?

• How many meanings can you give to the same picture?

Try the same exercise for both anchoring and relaying. Blog about it.

 

I chose to “cut” images from online sources rather than from physical newspapers.  I had a quick look through today’s offerings on the news stand and decided that more illustrative content would be available from the web. 

22-Storm-Frank-Getty

Yorkshire Dam Attack – The market town of Pickering was flooded following the terrorist attack on the Barnsley reservoir (Fig 1)

 

The real caption referred to events in a known flood risk area and had nothing to do with a terrorist attack. But the above caption anchors the meaning of the image by telling us what it is and also directs the viewer to consider it in a particular context, that of terrorism, providing relay.  Relay adds information, anchor confirms what is already visible.  In the process of anchoring, the text fixes the process of signification and limits the polysemic possibilities of the image.  Barthes explains relay thus:

“[in relay]… text and image stand in a complementary relationship; the words , in the same way as the images, are fragments of a more general syntagm and the unity of the message is realized at a higher level, that the of the story, the anecdote, the diegesis…” 

Barthes 1977

I had to look those two up, of course…  A syntagmatic relationship is one where signs occur in sequence or parallel and operate together to create meaning.  [my emphasis]  –  And diegesis…..  refers to the information related by the narrator  

In previous writing on this subject I invented for myself an Ambiguity Index  which places any image on a scale somewhere between “could be absolutely anything” and “no mistaking what that’s all about”.  I have since discovered that this is an aspect of the polysemic nature of photographs.  In the above illustration the contents are fairly unambiguous; it’s definitely a flood, the bridge suggests it came from a river overtopping its banks, it’s in the UK, it is very disruptive but not catastrophic.  Let’s try something which offers more leeway…

Manish-Shah-836674

Met to take £33m cut in operational funding over 3 years  (Fig 2) 

Here the image ‘anchors’ itself – there is only one of these signs and most UK viewers would know what it signifies.  It’s not about a yard, nor is it anything to do with Scotland, but the text within the image signifies a very specific entity.  Seeing this image we expect to learn about either the activities of the Metropolitan Police or about matters which are of concern to them, such as cuts.  Although the contents of the image are unique, the context can vary considerably.  The image is used extensively as shorthand for crime, London, police, investigation, justice, detection and to a certain extent for authority, power, competence, incompetence etc.  The caption relays information and contextualises the image.  Taken together, they may prompt the viewer to consider the efficiency of the Met and whether such funding reductions are justified, but in a semiotic sense they work together to both channel the meaning, narrowing the possibilities, and at the same time to expand on the meaning by offering more information.  The original caption read: GP Manish Shah has been charged with 118 sex assaults against patients.

_97166537_976musketeers-brighter

Three brothers victims of Grenfell fire (Fig 3)

 

_97166537_976musketeers-darker

Three defendants in Harrods bomb trial (Fig 4)

The images above (Figs 3 & 4) are from the same file.  I noticed when appropriating it that the mouse-over popup title read _97166537_976musketeers-brighter.jpg and I wondered why it would need to identified with the word “brighter”.  It was published originally by Times Online and may also have appeared in print.  Why brighter?  The word appears nowhere in the accompanying text; I wonder if an editorial decision was made to change the appearance of the men?

I altered it myself to see what would happen with a different caption and it does read differently, the darker appearance seeming to support the kind of prejudicial views about guys with dark skin one might expect from some news groups.  There is anchor and relay here, in contradictory stories, but each equally credible.  The original caption read:  “Naweed Ali, Khobaib Hussain and Mohibur Rahman were sentenced at the Old Bailey  – Three would-be jihadists who dubbed themselves the Three Musketeers have been jailed for life for plotting an attack on a police or military target.”

bpanews_0b7038ba-d549-4cff-9ef3-d822ed8b7b11_1

Pilot dismissed for being intoxicated in flight (Fig 5)

The image and text above may provoke some indignant responses – lives at risk, position of trust, airline safety and so on; and she’s smiling, for heaven’s sake.  A single word changes the whole meaning of the diegesis; the choice of the term intoxicated rather than drunk implies a clinically transgressive judgement, much more serious – after all many of us just get ‘a bit drunk’ occasionally.  That one word bounces around the cockpit, jarring against the other signs  of precision, accuracy, high technology and order.  In fact Yvonne Kershaw has just retired after 45 years blameless years on the flight deck.

 

References:

Barthes, R. (1977). Rhetoric of the Image. Image, Music, Text, 32–51. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

 

List of Illustrations:

Fig 1 –   Getty Images:   Times Online. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/uk-flooding-how-a-yorkshire-flood-blackspot-worked-with-nature-to-stay-dry-a6794286.html (accessed August 9, 2017).

Fig 2 –Getty Images: Times Online. http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/836674/GP-Doctor-Manish-Shah-charged-118-sex-assaults-patients-Met-Police (accessed August 9, 2017).

Figs 3 & 4 – West Midlands Police file image:  2017. ‘Three Musketeer’ jihadis get life sentences for UK terror plot – BBC News. Times Online. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40810970 (accessed August 9, 2017).

Fig 5 – Lauren Hurley/PA 2017. UK’s first woman to captain jumbo jet retires after final flight – BelfastTelegraph.co.uk. Times Online. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/uks-first-woman-to-captain-jumbo-jet-retires-after-final-flight-35994593.html (accessed August 9, 2017).

David Campany “Safety in Numbness”– A Query

I read the essay by David Campany “Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’” in connection with the Aftermath and Aesthetics section of C&N.  I found it thought-provoking, some of the thoughts being along the lines of ‘that’s an interesting viewpoint’ or ‘ I’d not thought about it like that’ but part way through I noticed:

“Today more than half of all news ‘photographs’ are frame grabs from video and digital sources. The proportion increases in the coverage of international conflict.”

Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ David Campany. Retrieved July 19, 2017, from Web site: http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/

which provoked the thought ‘really?  Can that be right?’  I was surprised because as an avid newspaper reader I had not been aware that the photographs therein were mainly framegrabs.  In fact when I looked through a day’s nationals (Tesco newspaper rack!) I found only a few framegrabs, outnumbered heavily by original camera images, mostly with the photographer or picture agency credited.  I am acquainted with a freelance newspaper photographer called Ian Forsythe whose work regularly appears in the dailys via Getty Images so I asked his opinion.  He said:

“In my experience the vast majority of news photographs used in newspapers are still taken by press photographers. Either staff or freelance. On occasions when photographers aren’t present and a bigger news event takes place then frame grabs would probably be used, if available from camera phone etc and feed into the 24-hour news mind-set that permeates the news media world these days. Especially for online coverage. Once staff/freelance photographers arrive on a scene for example their pictures would then go to main paper coverage whilst grabs would still add to the online content.” – Personal correspondence

Thinking that possibly Ian’s experience might not accurately reflect the ratio I spoke to the duty picture desk at the Press Association and put the assertion to them.  They said:

“Newspaper photographs come almost entirely from stills photographers, often via agencies like us”   – Personal correspondence

I wanted to see what David Campany could offer so I emailed him to ask if he could expand on the claim.  He said:

“Thanks for you query. Gosh that essay was a long time ago and I doubt I have the research notes still. If I find them I’ll let you know.” – Personal correspondence

It’s true that the essay was from 2003, some fourteen years ago and I’m not surprised that any research notes may have gone astray.  But I think the fact that the observation was made in 2003 makes it even less plausible; there were far more staff photographers back then and video cameras used tape – usually Betacam, not known for its still image quality. There’s also the question of the extent to which newspapers would be prepared to pay TV news organisations – their rivals – for inferior images.

On the information I’ve gathered it would appear that this ‘statistic’ is incorrect, and by a wide margin. I don’t think it was true then and it certainly isn’t true now.

Part 1 Proj 4–Seawright and Pickering, the Gallery Wall and Documentary as Art

 

Look online at Paul Seawright’s work, Sectarian Murders.
• How does this work challenge the boundaries between documentary and art? Listen
to Paul Seawright talk about his work. What is the core of his argument? Do you agree with him?
• If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its
meaning?

Look at some more images from Sarah Pickering’s website.
• How do Pickering’s images make you feel?
• Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?
Make some notes in your learning log.

Paul Seawright

Paul Seawright (GB 1965) lives and works in Belfast.  His series “Sectarian Murders” does not show any murders, nor any evidence of them.  Instead he approaches the subject rather obliquely, producing images which he took at the sites of sectarian murders.  The images are accompanied by a short text which states the date of the murder and a brief description of the circumstances.  The photographs feature adjacent components – a dogs head, a playground slide or roundabout – which do not appear to be relevant to the actual killings but serve to emphasise the banality of the setting which is in stark contrast to the drama of the executions.

In the video Seawright dwells on the balance between allowing the images to speak for themselves, unsupported, and the need to contextualise them.  He is aware that on their own his photographs are very ambiguous but he is cautious about applying too much explanatory text, feeling this would transform the work into documentary or photojournalism.

It may be held that a photograph needs to fit into a particular genre, to be categorised or labelled in a taxonomy of photography.  My view is that irrespective of the author’s intention, a photograph can have aspects of several aesthetics, which may indeed blur the genre boundaries.

Does the label change the meaning?

I think it does, but the extent to which it achieves this will depend on the text and the image.  There needs to be a credible, if tenuous, link between the two, otherwise the overall tenor of the work lurches off into surrealism.  Certainly the viewer can be directed along a certain cognitive path when presented with a particular image/text combination.  Changing the text whilst keeping the image the same will suggest a different train of thought.  I think the effect is better referred to a changing the perception…   the word ‘meaning’ tends to suggest an invariable interpretation.

Sarah Pickering

In her series Public Order Pickering photographed areas used for police training in which fake houses and street furniture had been assembled.  At first glance the photographs appear to be of a normal street scene, then we notice that the traffic lights are out, a large board where the street name should be simply shows a cryptic “0” and the area is completely unpopulated.

Pickering’s photographs use deep depth of field; every element is in sharp focus, the better to sustain the viewer’s close scrutiny.  She is inviting us to take a really close look and see what we can see.  It feels like a challenge – ‘look, I’m not hiding anything, it’s all really clear and straightforward’….  but we realise that it’s anything but.  The vertical plane is undistorted –  there are no converging verticals – and I don’t know if this is intentional or how it occurred, but it does underline the apparent lack of artifice in the image.  This is an interesting contrast since the content of the images is entirely artificial.

I don’t think Public Order was ever intended to be documentary work so whether it is successful or misleading is neither here nor there.  In forming this view I note that Pickering describes herself as an artist thus:

“Sarah Pickering is a London based, British artist interested in fakes, tests, hierarchy, sci-fi, explosions, photography and gunfire. ”
(2017). Sarah Pickering. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from Times Online Web site: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/T-Bio.html

That’s not to say that the work could be put to documentary use at some time.  Perhaps they would be helpful to a police officer in an action for unfair dismissal; perhaps one of the walls will collapse and injure someone prompting a liability claim and the photographs could be re-purposed as evidence.  However Pickering’s declared aim is to produce artwork rather than documentary and without addressing the difficulty of intentionalism this influences the way the work is produced. She adopts a documentary style, which is deliberately misleading, in order to produce photography as art.

Part 1 Assignment 1 – Same event, different story

 

 

For this assignment, two or more sets of photographs are called for, each of which sets the same event in a different light. Manipulating images in post-production is just one way in which a photograph, or series, can be angled to support a particular viewpoint or bias. Others are:

  • Staging, where the events depicted did actually take place but were contrived by the photographer (or other orchestrator) to suggest a certain story slant.  An example is the ‘access’ event, where journalists are herded through a location by the controlling organisation.  Here the opportunities for photography are carefully arranged and often say more through what was excluded than allowed. The difficulty is that although the images may be sterile, the viewer has no way of knowing what was avoided unless it is pointed out in accompanying text.  In other circumstances the photographer may direct events, even partially, to achieve a more ‘dramatic’ or palatable result.
  • Selective framing is unavoidable since it’s a choice the photographer makes each time the shutter is pressed, but some exclusions can alter the information a photograph proposes:

image

Deep Politics, Media Fail, Video, War & Peace. Media Manipulation: Are Conflict Photos Staged? – WhoWhatWhy. https://whowhatwhy.org/2011/10/16/media-manipulation-are-conflict-photos-staged/ (accessed July 11, 2017).

In the image pair above the figure on the left looks like a rioter hiding his identity – on the right, it looks more like he’s just trying to fetch water and protect his lungs. Same time, same place different angle.

Framing, angle and position can influence the ‘story’ as well:

image    image

On the left the photograph is taken from a lower viewpoint emphasising the ‘standing up’ message on the placards.  The PM is closely surrounded by enthusiastic admirers.  On the right, the whole scene is included and shows the ‘strings’ – there are more journos than supporters and the setting is low rent industrial rather than heroic.

 

Following WWII, a code of photographic ethics emerged. Experienced photo editors, alert to signs of manipulation, pored over negatives and contact sheets. Today, bankrupt and cost-cutting media publications have laid off photo editors and staff photographers by the thousands. Many untrained and poorly paid freelancers—each with the power to alter a scene at the click of a mouse—have largely replaced them. Editors with little or no photo experience post images to the Web in seconds. Corporations, political campaigns, and regimes around the world flood the Internet with doctored photos. A new barrage of altered images is being presented to the public and we are faced with a crisis of credibility.

ALTERED IMAGES. http://www.alteredimagesbdc.org/about/ (accessed July 11, 2017).

 

images

Part 1 Proj 3B–Reportage

 

Find a street that particularly interests you – it may be local or further afield. Shoot
30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style. 
In your learning log, comment on the differences between the two formats. 
What difference does colour make? Which set do you prefer and why?

 

I thought that a local street market would be a suitable location, busy with browsers and in good weather too.  I shot the first set in black and white, as a setting on the camera – they weren’t edited from colour.  The second set were done in normal colour but I used the RAW images rather than the JPG’s converting them as a batch and opening up the shadows a bit for them all – it was a contrasty day.  I didn’t have that luxury with the b/w photographs.

Here are the colour images:

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And the b/w images:

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The street photography style I chose was incognito, by which I mean mainly shot from the hip or chest, in any case not through the viewfinder.  I don’t usually do this but thought I’d give it a try for a change.  Frankly, either it doesn’t really work or I’m just not very good at it.  Probably the latter.  As far as worthwhile images go, I can’t pick out any, colour or b/w.  But I don’t think that’s the point for this exercise, the question is what difference does colour make?

The plain out-of-the-camera colour is a distraction for me but perhaps things could be improved with careful colour grading.  As it stands, the colour is just confusing because there is so much of it.  I think that if I’d shot with the intention of finding colour-relevant images it may have been more successful but I think the b/w images work better, even if they are generally too contrasty.  Easy to see why Bruce Gilden uses guerrilla flash in New York’s harsh sunlight.

The b/w series isolates and emphasises shape, position and form due to the lack of colour information, which is actually too much information.  It cascades out from the frame and overwhelms the viewer (me, anyway) with prettiness, which is fine if that’s what you want from a series.  I think colur makes street photography harder because it’s just one more compositional factor to cope with.