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 in that way’ 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: //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 dailies 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 from 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.
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
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 (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.
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: //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.
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:
Deep Politics, Media Fail, Video, War & Peace. Media Manipulation: Are Conflict Photos Staged? – WhoWhatWhy. //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:
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. //www.alteredimagesbdc.org/about/ (accessed July 11, 2017).
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:
And the b/w images:
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.
Martha Casanave (US. 1945) came to my attention through researching the West Coast photographers, Weston, Adams, Cunningham, et al. She has produced most of her work in black and white, some of it being portraits of the above luminaries:
Jerry Uelsmann Cornell Capa John Szarkowski
The work which caught my eye wasn’t the portraits stuff though, it was this:
And also these:
Posed figures in a landscape, relatively small in the frame but still the point of interest, it looks like an attempt at allegory in a Victorian style – the rounded edges, the bowler hat, greatcoat and cane. The viewer may wonder what the figure is doing, even thinking, as he gazes out across the breath-taking vista. The indistinct, double exposed figure in the second image appears to be going somewhere – but is there a suggestion that it may in fact be two people? Or an ethereal representation of his alter, his second self? Casanave is mining a rich vein here:
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) Casper David Friedrich
The German Romanticist Casper David Friedrich (Germany 1744-1840) returned to the motif of the lonely figure often in his work, and although the painting above might well have been the inspiration for Casanave’s image she could have chosen others:
Die Lebensstufen (The Stages of Life); Friedrich 1835 On the Sailing Boat; Friedrich 1819
In all of these images there is an unspoken invitation for the viewer to commune with the figures, both in sharing the view and also in sharing the way they appear to experience it. I have tried to find a term for this figure-from-behind aspect without success, but Johannes Grave aptly called it Friedrich’s ‘proxy viewer’:
“The artist’s most radical block on the transparency of looking, though, comes when he places a proxy “viewer” in the landscape, in his iconic back-facing figures.” 2017. Caspar David Friedrich by Johannes Grave. Times Online. //www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/9555615/Caspar-David-Friedrich-by-Johannes-Grave-review.html (accessed July 9, 2017).
The motif crops up frequently in visual art:
Figure at a Window 1925 Salvador Dali Forillon Park, Gaspé, 2006 Richard Benson,
The greatcoated, behatted figure was a recurring element for Andre Kertesz too and although such figures could hardly be avoided in his time, some authorities consider their inclusion deliberate and relevant in Kertesz’s work. Geoff Dyer observes:
“What Kertesz sees when he looks out at the street is often this silhouetted representative of his own feelings about being adrift and unappreciated in New York”
Geoff Dyer; the Ongoing Moment, Abacus 2005
Andre Kertesz Untitled, Budapest
In considering the notion of the Personal Voice (PV hereon) a few questions arise right away:
- Can it be defined and if so, how and by whom
- Does it matter
- If it matters, how can it be achieved
My first port of call is Google as usual and search results which include personal and voice are intriguing – most of them relate to courses and workshops promising to assist the aspiring photographer in achieving their PV – at a price, naturally. In many cases the cost is eye-wateringly steep; I have noticed this in other private learning areas – the more nebulous and esoteric the aim, the higher the cost. Your knitting and crochet PV can be located for a very reasonable outlay whereas achieving a karmic PV (Priestess training, Glastonbury) will take weeks and cost thousands.
Cost aside, a definition of PV is elusive. Our own institution, through Peter (Haveland I expect) makes a tentative proposition:
“I would suggest that what the OCA expects from its students (in common with every other college that I have had anything to do with over the years), is a search for something to say, for areas of interest and concern during the first level and then during the second level an increasing development of some sort of individuality in the work made, some solidifying of the ‘Ah yes, this must Jo Skroggins’ work’ moments. Then in the final level a growing confidence in the work being made, a consolidation both in the practical and theoretical investigations leading to a body of work that is truly that student’s and no other’s.”
Personal voice | OCA student. //www.oca-student.com/weareoca/education/personal-voice (accessed July 9, 2017).
Students hoping for a firm steer may be disappointed with “some sort of individuality” even if it does lead to a fairly confidant stab at a naming-of-Skroggins moment. It suggests some aspects of individuality though, the expression of interest, concern and growing confidence. It also shows the underlying tenets of the course, that photography is a means of expressing ideas, concerns and convictions. This represents only one strand of photography among many, but it is one which lends itself admirably to academic discourse. Students who lean towards other forms of photographic endeavour may find themselves in a slightly hostile environment and there is no escaping the fact that the terms of appraisal are decided solely by the institution.
That’s the extent to which it matters for the OCA student. If you want to be successful in attaining the academic award, you need to join in and do this particular dance. (Or not. Maybe a refusal to conform is in itself the expression of a personal voice, but that may be a risky bluff.) For example there’s an almost unlimited opportunity for individuality when doing the Tango, even if you have to keep it recognisable as such.
Stretching the dance analogy further, in order to perform an expressive Tango you have to become quite good at dancing. You can do other dances pretty well as a result, but when called upon to Tango you can really give it all you’ve got. Maybe learning photography is a bit like that too.
You can only photograph what you see;
You can only see what you feel;
you can only feel what you are
–thus, you can only photograph what you are.
Chris Johnson in Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity; Ted Orland; Godine, Boston 1988
The quote above is from an article written by Johnson in the ‘Image Continuum’ group’s Journal. The group included David Bayles, Sally Mann, Chris Johnson and others and was closely associated with the West Coast Photographers Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Jerry Uelsmann, Brett Weston et al. Despite this lot being namby-pamby pictorialists without a decent concept between them (*) they each managed to achieve a pretty recognisable visual signature so maybe Johnson’s assertion has some validity.
There remains the question of the part that commitment and purpose may play in a student’s work. A strong interest may dispose the photographer to make a detailed exploration of a subject, making many images in a variety of settings. The wealth of photographs which result will afford the student greater opportunity to make careful selections in the edit…… which raises a further question: how much of PV arises from personal selection? I have a sturdy volume of Robert Capa’s work – The Mexican Suitcase – which includes many hundreds of unprinted Capa negatives. Most of them are utterly unremarkable; I think even a Capa expert would have trouble naming their originator. But from this morass of imagery came what we recognise as the Capa Classics, the true expression of his Personal Vision. Despite the doubts raised recently over his versions of events, Capa was determined and committed to a subject which enlivened him. As a result he took a lot of pictures. Many, many pictures from which he was able to select those which expressed his vision.
Perhaps finding a subject which motivates you to take a lot of photographs then making a careful selection is a good start to finding that PV.
In the meantime it may be wise to keep quiet about it:
Along with many if not most tutors I rarely talk directly about a student’s personal voice in my reports simply because I know how badly understood the phrase is by most students. It s one of those phrases that we assessors understand and find a useful shorthand for so many things so it is a useful phrase to have in assessment criteria, criteria meant for assessors rather than for students.
Personal voice | OCA student. //www.oca-student.com/weareoca/education/personal-voice (accessed July 9, 2017).
(*) Satire Alert
Laura Pannack (UK 1985) photographs people she approaches in an empathic and direct manner which gives her work an apparent honesty and openness. I have to say apparent because, especially in the light of recent course-directed research, it is clear that what the image appears to communicate can easily be the result of manipulation. But Pannack’s images as found on her website are accompanied by a detailed blog-based account of her photographic endeavours and the extensive travels which produced them.
In these accounts she is disarmingly open about her struggles with the nuts-and-bolts of photography, travel and personal organisation. Her readiness to declare what she sees as her failures, along with her modestly acknowledged successes, provides an engaging insight into her process, to me the most interesting aspect of a photographer’s work. Her work sometimes involves the use of a large format camera which she admits she has yet to master – her problems with keeping track of darkslides, for instance, has led to disappointing losses as well as serendipitous double-exposures.
Young British Naturists
Pannack came to the attention of the photography gate-keepers with her series Young British Naturists (which she now sensibly refers to as YBN), a project which took three years to research, coordinate and shoot. It was slow and painstaking work; she had to develop a trusting relationship with her subjects, who were unsurprisingly cautious about even being photographed, never mind exhibited and published.
Young British Naturists — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: //www.laurapannack.com/young-british-naturists/
All of this work seems to have been made with natural light. It is posed rather than candid and often the subjects look directly out of the frame at the viewer. Is this a challenge? An “I’m looking at you looking at me”? I don’t think so – if anything it places the subjects in a superior position. Differential focus is often used to isolate the sitters within their environment. The final image format is very close to 5×4 so I wonder if she battled with her cantankerous view camera to modify the plane of focus.
“Nakedness is usually reserved for the private realm. We make sure the curtain is pulled before we undress. On the beach, we wriggle awkwardly behind towels to preserve our modesty and a dropped corner is cause for deep blushes. We keep our private parts hidden from view, known only to ourselves or given as a gift to a lover. It is about more than just skin. Nakedness is a concept as much as it is a state of being, and one wreathed in paradox. With it are bound notions of privacy, self possession, jurisdiction. It can connote innocence or sexuality, purity or depravity. It can signify both power and vulnerability, used to liberate or humiliate.” Young British Naturists — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: //www.laurapannack.com/young-british-naturists/
Pannack further explores her interest in portraying teens and early twenties in this project. Empathy with her subjects plays an important part in her approach:
“Perhaps young people rely on relationships to ease the burden of the frightening time of handling adolescence and all its uncertainties; finding support in someone who will not judge but share the experience. Who will despite any fears or insecurities we have, accept and love us.” Young Love — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: //www.laurapannack.com/young-love/
Young Love — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: //www.laurapannack.com/young-love/
Once more the need to gain the confidence of those she photographs is important. She recognises adolescence as a ‘frightening time’ so needs to gain the trust of her subjects.
Cafe Lehmitz « ANDERS PETERSEN. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site: //www.anderspetersen.se/cafe-lehmitz-4/
The images above are from Andersen’s work in the Cafe Lehmitz, Hamburg made over a three year period in the late sixties. He photographed the customers pretty much as he found them with no concession to pride or dignity; often his subjects were in an advanced state of intoxication and their behaviour uninhibited. The images appear to give an honest account of life in that establishment. They aren’t posed (not by the photographer anyway), they seem to have been made in the available light and the grittiness of the film adds authenticity. Petersen was aged around 23 when he did these, much younger than most of the clientele. I expect he would have been a bit of a novelty at the time and probably viewed without suspicion as to the purpose of his activities.
St Etienne « ANDERS PETERSEN. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site: //www.anderspetersen.se/st-etienne-2/
His St Etienne work is from 2005 and continues his depiction of hard places and the people who inhabit them. He applies a dark vignette to the photographs to prevent attention from running out of the frame; this also suggests a claustrophobic, inward-looking feel along with the monochrome treatment. Gritty again, even though by this time it would not have been technically unavoidable.
“When Petersen’s work succeeds, it does so because the knowing skills of photography become secondary and effortless, leaving only intimacies, revelations and possibilities. The formal tactics that dominate French Kiss have been long refined. Yet, perhaps for that very reason the book rarely feels as untethered as the Lehmitz work still feels when happened upon, a substantial series defined, not by the photographer, but by risk, openness and the energy of his subjects, by the depth and relationships, and by the uncertain prospect of reaching a steady tomorrow. Ken Grant ” French Kiss – FOTO8. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site: //www.foto8.com/live/french-kiss/
photo-eye Bookstore | Anders Petersen: Frenchkiss | photo book. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site: //www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZD464&i=&i2=
Ken Grant’s appraisal on FOTO8 mentions the risk, openness and relationships developed by Petersen in making these photographs and the pictures themselves vouch for those qualities. The ‘knowing skills’ of photography is a compelling idea too, the notion that the photographer’s most valuable tool is himself. Certainly Andersen has made a career out of rubbing shoulders with subjects whom one might reasonably suppose would be somewhat wary of photographers; he didn’t gain their trust by inviting them to admire his 80-200mm f2.8 lens.
It’s harsh, unnerving work which does not please the eye in a formal sense but which carries considerable weight as documentary or reportage and there’s no doubting the photographer’s commitment.
From Beth Dow’s series: “Ruins” [ source: Ruins. Retrieved July 4, 2017, from Web site: //www.bethdow.com/ruins.html]
Dow’s idea was to photograph incongruous structures in a variety of settings, generally classical architecture follies in a modern American landscape. She says:
“[This portfolio]…. looks at the ways we appropriate and approximate the romance of ruins into modern American environments, and what this says about our longing for historic precedents.”
“I have been looking at Victorian photographs by Francis Frith, Felix Bonfils, and Giorgio Sommer, as well as sepia ink and wash drawings by Claude Lorrain, a 17th century artist who used classical ruins to create ideal scenes of pastoral splendor. My pictures of faked antiquities are an attempt to evoke nostalgia for inaccurate history, to wrestle with ideas of authenticity, and to question the value we place on classical ideals. It is natural to challenge the relevance of nostalgic longing, and I exploit this dynamic in my contemporary landscapes. I approach these pictures as a tourist. These photographs of authentic sites include whatever clutter exists around the actual subjects, and people mill around, much as they do in Frith’s photographs. Life goes on among the ruins”
Ruins. Retrieved July 4, 2017, from Web site: //www.bethdow.com/ruins.html
Dow’s photographs are in a square format, without borders and of a slightly warm monotone. She appears to have selected dull or overcast weather as the lighting is rather flat and the skies have considerable detail. All appear to be made from head height, in keeping with her ‘tourist’ approach mentioned above. The images present us with two ‘presences’ – the out-of-place element and the surrounding ordinariness, and though the banal surroundings appear insouciant the classical constructions seem distinctly uncomfortable.
Dow uses a medium format camera to produce film negatives which she then scans and prints via inkjet. I imagine the toning is intended to imitate the tintypes of the Victorian photographers who inspired her. Her choice of a wide angle lens is relevant:
“I like how my lens, which is slightly wide-angle, converges verticals and disorients space, especially evident in electricity poles that unify the images” [ibid]
What I like about this work and Dow’s approach to it, is her ready utilisation of disparate techniques to produce the final object – the print – she is aiming for. She’s quite happy to use their various characteristics to her advantage. Here are some of her garden images:
In the Garden
These are platinum/palladium prints and have the slightly ethereal appearance typical of this process. I particularly like the fountain photograph above. There’s a similar garden feature at a local manor house which I may well photograph in a similar fashion. Of this series, Dow says:
“My images are not depictive. I use the land before me as a jumping off point, implying light or shadow where perhaps there was none, as a way to create my own path through the garden. In fact, by positioning the lens, cropping my prints, and using burning and dodging to guide the viewer’s eye through a picture, I feel that I too am a gardener in a sense. I am after that “slant of curious light” that is the genius of a place.” [ibid]
Again, she makes no bones about her attitude to manipulation – she makes whatever adjustment she sees fit in order to achieve the print she wants.