Author Archives: concentrik

Photographer–Martha Casanave

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:

Jeryy  Cornell Capa  John

              Jerry Uelsmann                                                                                                       Cornell Capa                                                    John Szarkowski

 

The work which caught my eye wasn’t the portraits stuff though, it was this:

Image result for "martha casanave"

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:

image

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:

image     image

        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. http://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:

image   image

                 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

 

Image result for photographer kertesz   

Andre Kertesz  Untitled, Budapest

The Personal Voice

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. https://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. https://www.oca-student.com/weareoca/education/personal-voice (accessed July 9, 2017).

(*) Satire Alert

Photographer – Laura Pannack

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.

allan.jpg   lounge.jpg

isi.jpg   jon.jpg

 

Young British Naturists — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: https://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: https://www.laurapannack.com/young-british-naturists/

 

Young Love

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: https://www.laurapannack.com/young-love/

 

 

kiss.jpg  8 david and emilya.jpg  laura_Pannack 0_a.jpg

Young Love — LAURA PANNACK. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from Web site: https://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. 

 

Photographer – Anders Petersen

 

Cafe Lehmitz

    

  

Cafe Lehmitz « ANDERS PETERSEN. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site: http://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

    

St Etienne « ANDERS PETERSEN. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site: http://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. 

French Kiss

“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: http://www.foto8.com/live/french-kiss/

  

photo-eye Bookstore | Anders Petersen: Frenchkiss | photo book. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from Web site: http://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.

Photographer – Beth Dow

 

RUINS

  

From Beth Dow’s series:  “Ruins”                   [ source: Ruins. Retrieved July 4, 2017, from Web site: http://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.”

And:

“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: http://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.

The Manipulated Image

 

“The history of photography is full of disembodied heads.”
Mia Fineman

 

For this exercise I wanted to stick quite tightly to the brief requirement of a documentary image.  I searched pretty much all my archive images and couldn’t find anything I regarded as documentary so I turned to Google images for material.  I am aware of the copyright issues here but I consider this to be a permitted use under the category of satire and parody.

adams selection    paisley selection

Gerry Adams search results                                                                                   Ian Paisley search results

 

I chose two images from the search.  I wanted black and white for a documentary feel and also I thought the composite would be more convincing.  I looked for images larger than 800px wide so that I had enough image to play with.  I needed a background image, with a space to add the other image and a background texture that was sufficiently confused to allow superimposition without crossing too many tonal planes.  The top image, on the other hand, needed to be easy to cut out – a plain background would be best but the one I found was useable.  Both images had to be fairly evenly lit so as to allow the shadows to match as close as possible and to permit some contrast adjustments.

 

 

 

 

gerryadams_orig      paisley orig

http://www.unite.org.nz/ireland_rising_1916_to_2016   (photographer unknown)                                   Ian Paisley, Belfast 1985     (Bobbie Hanvey)

 

I started with the Adams image, then opened the Paisley image, cut him out using the magnetic lasso then copied it to a layer on the base image.  I adjusted the shape a little using Transform>Warp to try to match his size and shape to the angle which the base image had been taken at.  I dodged his face a little then added some noise to match the grain of the base image.  Finally I adjusted the placement of the top image, expanded the canvas to allow a caption to be added.

adams layers    5433885810_e5972cd351_b

 

gerry_ian

The caption won’t make it more believable but it stamps it clearly as parody.

It’s not particularly convincing but I’m not an expert by any means.  To get a ‘funny’ but obvious version is quick and easy, the type of thing Private Eye do all the time.  A more plausible version takes a while longer with more care – this took me about an hour.   Because adjustments and changes can be made digitally at pixel level, it would probably be possible to make this fairly convincing with skill and time (except for the caption date).

Digital alteration (or enhancement, adjustment, manipulation depending on the extent) is a contentious issue at the moment with reports of journalists modifying their news or documentary work for greater effect.  Steve McCurry, a Magnum photographer, came under intense scrutiny for altering his images by removing complete sections.  This came to light when an observant viewer noticed a bit of sloppy Photoshop work on one of his Indian images.  Detailed examination of a number of his other pictures later revealed similar changes and McCurry was forced to give account of himself, laying the blame on an overly enthusiastic studio technician.  Most authorities considered this plausible but unlikely and McCurry retreated even further, saying that he worked not as a documentary photographer but as a ‘visual storyteller’:

“I’ve always let my pictures do the talking, but now I understand that people want me to describe the category into which I would put myself, and so I would say that today I am a visual storyteller,”

Steve McCurry: I’m Not a Photojournalist | Time.com. Retrieved June 29, 2017, from Web site: http://time.com/4351725/steve-mccurry-not-photojournalist/

The National Press Photographers Association (USA)  Ethics Committee chairman Sean D. Elliot wasn’t convinced, saying that McCurry could call himself what he wants, but:

“He bears the responsibility to uphold the ethical standards of his peers and the public, who see him as a photojournalist. […] Any alteration of the journalistic truth of his images, any manipulation of the facts, regardless of how relevant he or others might feel they are to the deeper ‘truth,’ constitutes an ethical lapse.”

Elliot also called McCurry’s attempt to blame an assistant “disingenuous” and questioned the professional standards of a studio in which a lab assistant “feels they have the authority to radically alter the work of Steve McCurry”.

This is the kind of thing – mouse hover to animate the GIF (I hope – WordPress may not allow it on all browser settings):

One may think that McCurry was treated a little harshly given the ‘arty’ feel of much of his work, but hard news is not safe from the manipulating mouse either.  Reuters got pretty annoyed with retained freelance Adnan Hajj over his skyline image of a Beirut air strike in 2006 when they discovered that he had given his it a bit of a boost by cloning some smoke – rather amateurish but I expect he was being bombed at the time.  Reuters cut him no slack; Tom Szlukovenyi, global photo editor of Reuters, said:

“There is no graver breach of Reuters standards for our photographers than the deliberate manipulation of an image. Reuters has zero tolerance for any doctoring of pictures and constantly reminds its photographers, both staff and freelance, of this strict and unalterable policy.”

image Adnan Hajj  /  Reuters
Reuters on Sunday withdrew an image of smoke rising from burning buildings after an Israeli airstrike Saturday on the suburbs of Beirut after evidence emerged that it had been manipulated to show more smoke. The manipulated image is shown on the left. The unaltered image, shown on the right, has since run.

Because extensive digital manipulation is now possible the viewer may need to rely not so much on the evidence of their own eyes, but on the actual source of the image.  Personally I feel that people, especially young people, are becoming more sceptical about truth in imagery.  Our offspring are always ready to question the verisimilitude of most online content and are aware of the need to consider the image source.

Contemporary Street

The Brief:

Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself. What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white? Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)? How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values? Make notes in your learning log.

It looks so easy doesn’t it?  You just choose your street, wait for something bizarre to happen then press the button…. odd things are occurring all the time out there, you can’t move for people wearing dogs on their heads and lugging obscure shopfittings hither and yon. From the plethora of street images to be found online you’d find it difficult to disagree with that.  But actually doing it is another matter.

A certain amount of preparation helps, as Henri Cartier-Bresson discovered.  Choosing your spot and waiting patiently for the unwitting pedestrians to arrange themselves into a satisfactory composition can be a productive strategy, one which Cartier-Bresson employed regularly.  But probably the most successful approach is to simply do the legwork, and lots of it.

I’ve collected what I think are some representative samples of contemporary street photography below.

       

The work of Nils Jorgensen  [http://in-public.com/photographers/nils-jorgensen/]

 

Street signs and billboards offer rich pickings for many street photographers.  These are almost ready-mades in their execution, but still capable of raising a wry smile.  At risk of stating the obvious, they work by placing two elements in the frame which ‘talk’ to each other in gesture, action or potential movement.

Here’s Nick Turpin doing much the same thing, this time in colour:

     

The work of Nick Turpin [http://in-public.com/photographers/nick-turpin/]

Nick also produced an inspired and profoundly effective series featuring a familiar but overlooked aspect of street work:

Nick Turpin   Nick Turpin

The work of Nick Turpin [http://in-public.com/photographers/nick-turpin/]

As did  Michael Wolf in his series “Tokyo Compression”, part of his “Life in Cities” project:

  

The work of Michael Wolf MICHAEL WOLF PHOTOGRAPHY. Retrieved July 3, 2017, from Web site: http://photomichaelwolf.com/#tokyo-compression/21

Wish I’d thought of that.  Such a simple idea and such a rich vein of imagery.  There are a number of common themes in street photography which get revisited over and over.  The poster/street sign combination as seen above; the ‘where’s my head’ style; the ‘what’s that doing there’  style and various others.

   

 

 

David Gibson [http://in-public.com/photographers/nick-turpin/]

Colour or Black and White

Street photography started in black and white and stayed that way for decades,  because although colour film was available in retail form from 1936  (Agfa’s Agfacolour Neu) the material was expensive, difficult to process (compared to b/w) and was available only in low ISO ratings.  The advent of smaller more discreet cameras made street work more agile and later colour emulsions developed in the late ‘50s made colour street photography a practical proposition.  Early adopters were Saul Leiter (US 1923-2013) and Fred Herzog (Germany 1930):

Image result for saul leiter    Empty Barber Shop

 

Saul Leiter Snow 1960                                                           Fred Herzog  Empty Barber Shop  1966

Leiter’s work from the early ‘60s clearly resonating with Nick Turpin and Michael Wolf (above).  Whereas black and white street photography must rely on form and geometry to convey its content, colour adds another channel of perception.  My personal view is that the colour itself sometimes becomes the element which fixes the eye, distracting the viewer from the relationship of forms within the frame.  Certainly colour itself can be the defining aspect of an image but for me this is a bit of a one-trick pony.  For all its promise, colour can sometimes end up hiding content rather than exposing it.  But plenty of street images are effective because they are in colour, as are many b/w examples.

Leaving surrealism behind?

Surrealism is alive and well in modern street photography in the sense of an exploration of the absurd and bizarre.  For many current practitioners the dog-on-the-head shot is the holy grail of their oeuvre, keenly anticipated around every street corner.  I don’t think the pursuit of this type of image is a direct result of Surrealist influence, but the processes which drive it may well have similarities with those which preoccupied the Surrealists.

Irony

Irony usually requires the use of contrary elements which doesn’t come easily to the two dimensional image – it’s a device more suited to verbal or performance expression.  The idea of dramatic irony, though, is perfectly suited to the still image.  In this form, originally a device of Greek tragedy, the audience is aware of the import of a character’s actions or behaviour of which they themselves are blissfully ignorant.

   Image result for tony ray jones english

 

Jimmy Sime 1937                                                                                                Tony Ray-Jones  1968

There’s a fine line between wry irony and ridicule;  the passage of time helps to broaden that line but in more recent images it can become somewhat uncomfortable, perhaps arousing feelings of guilty voyeurism in the viewer.  Martin Parr must be mentioned here:

Image result for martin parrMartin Parr The Last Resort  1985

In the image above Parr offers us a rather unedifying view of the English on holiday.  I admire Parr’s work but I am a little uncomfortable with the Dancing Bear problem – not enough to disregard his work though.  The viewer’s reaction to work like this could be a direct measure of their socio-economic position.  It would be interesting to hear the opinions of those appearing in the photograph and I wonder what those appearing in the rest of the book thought.  Perhaps it is more an observation on the British seaside experience than on those depicted.  That could easily be me in the doorway, leaving with an armful of chip trays and wondering if I fulfilled all the sauce requests correctly.

Photojournalism – Critical Viewpoints

Martha Rosler – Is She Unfair on Hine?

Martha Rosler believed that the social conscience of well-meaning photographers such as Lewis Hine was not helping the social situation because it reinforced the gap between rich and poor. She argued that the need for the poor to rely on the rich for sustenance and social change is not beneficial in the long term and that it’s simply a way of reinforcing hierarchical structures imposed by capitalism.

Rosler addresses the issues referred to above in one of her essays “In, around and afterthoughts (on documentary photography)” which was published in Decoys and Disruptions Selected Writings 1975-2001 MIT Press LTD 2006 in which she writes:

In contrast to the pure sensationalism of much of the journalistic attention to working-class, immigrant, and slum life, the meliorism [the belief that the world can be made better by human effort.] of Riis, Lewis Hine, and others involved in social-work propagandizing argued, through the presentation of images combined with other forms of discourse, for the rectification of wrongs. It did not perceive those wrongs as fundamental to the social system that tolerated them—the assumption that they were tolerated rather than bred marks a basic fallacy of social work

She observes that Hine’s work was an argument for social change and that Riis, Hine et al had this in mind when they made the photographs. Having read the essay I didn’t see anything which suggested she believed that Hine himself wasn’t ‘helping the social situation’. She is critical of the use to which the photographs were put, and concerned that attention could be diverted from the raw incontrovertible evidence they contain by engaging in a lot of talk.

I tried to find the work referred to as (Rosler (1981) in Bolton, 1992, p.307) without success; there is no bibliography in the online UCA Context and Narrative course book (https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/course-pdfs/cg_ph1can_071016_red.pdf)

 

Exploitative or Patronising?

Photographs depicting people in straitened circumstances run the risk of being considered exploitative. The motivation of the photographer is sometimes considered paramount in such cases – one approach is that it’s ok if there was genuine concern or altruistic purpose, but if the image was made to elevate the photographer it may have been made at the expense of the subjects already diminished dignity.

‘The Picturesque Poor’ is a phrase which is sometimes used to describe this strand of work and it is allied to the modern trend for producing ‘entertainment’, usually on television, which relies on people being belittled, sneered at and faintly despised so that the audience are able to reassure themselves “at least my house isn’t that filthy” or “at least my relationship isn’t that bad”. I call this “Dancing Bear TV” – sure, the bear will dance but at what cost? And should we indulge in the kind of schadenfreude this programming encourages? (slight rant there…)

The question of consent raises further difficulties. Should it be sought or would that compromise the integrity of the image – or would an image made with permission, even encouragement, carry even more weight as the desire of the subject to be depicted? I don’t have an adequate, concise answer to this and I think I have to take the wishy-washy liberal line: it all depends on the circumstances.

Can Photography Change Things?

In a social context I believe it can precipitate change by raising awareness, expressing concern and provoking active discussion among those who are in a position to initiate remedial action. I think of the photography of Larry Burrows, Don McCullin and the footage from the Biafran War of 1967-9. Photography can be a catalyst for change but it’s not so effective at keeping the change moving once started.

Comfortably Numb

Repeated exposure to any stimulus leads to acquiescence and photographs are no exception, but the degree to which they lose their ability to affect people needs to balanced with the need to maintain awareness. The shock produced from the first images of a tragic event may not be matched by subsequent material but that’s no reason to stop recording the facts. Within the development of a catastrophe there is an imperative amongst news organisations to maintain the ‘edge’ by finding further highly affective imagery, but this is more to do with viewing figures than countering apathy. As has been noted, Sontag’s initial view was that horrific images numb the viewers responses, but one has to wonder what the average viewer’s responses actually are – for the vast majority they are limited to “oh dear” followed by a cup of tea, so further numbing is unlikely to make much practical difference. The people who are affected to the point of action – the campaigners, the marchers and the protestors – are the ones who will promote social change and their susceptibility to ‘compassion fatigue’ is much less marked anyway.

Inside/Out – Abigail Solomon-Godeau

Solomon-Godeau’s essay appears in the book “Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document” a catalogue for the eponymous exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1995. She concerns herself largely with the question of whether the photographer’s relationship with the subject affects the image produced. She assigns a binary status to the photographer – insider or outsider:

This binarism…..characterizes two possible positions for the photographer. The insider position….. understood to imply a position of engagement, participation and privilidged knowledge, whereas the … outsider position is taken to produce an alienated and voyeuristic relatiionship that heightens the distance between subject and object.”

Inside/Out; Abigail Solomon-Godeau in “Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document” Ed Kara Kirk; SFMMA 1995

Later in the essay she identifies a conundrum:

“On the one hand, we frequently assume autheticity and truth to be located on the inside (the truth of the subject) and at the same time we routinely -culturally- locate and define objectivity (as in reportorial, journalistic or judicial objectivity) in conditions of exteriority, of nonimplication”

She goes on to challenge herself to identify a factor which could be used to identify photographs made by insiders or made by outsiders, a way of differentiating the two. Digging even deeper, she wonders “what exactly is meant by the notion of ‘inside’ in relation to an activity that is by definition about the capture – with greater or lesser fidelity – of appearance?’

To illustrate the binary concept she points to the work of Nan Goldin and Larry Clark (for the insiders) and Dianne Arbus with Robert Frank (outsiders) . She notes that Susan Sontag indicts Dianne Arbus as a “voyeuristc and deeply morbid connoisseur of the horrible”, a photographer whose “view is always from the outside” Frank, as an outsider by birth and language has a head start:

“…whether the stakes are the representation … the critical reflection on reality or the imagining of Utopian alternatives, the outsider status of the artist is taken as the warranty for both the integrity and the acuity of artistic vision”

Arbus’ photographs of ‘freaks and deviants’ are presented as plain facts by a photographer whose relationship with her subjects began and ended with the taking of the photograph; for Clark and Goldin, however, their images were made as a prt of their everyday lives, which although by most standards were freakish and deviant were nevertheless routine for them.

Solomon-Godeau did not, in this essay, answer her own question of whether insider/outsider photographs can be differentiated simply by their content. My own view is that the inside/outside question is not a binary matter but more of a spectrum distribution, with work often falling towards one end or the other but sometimes indistinguishably ‘in the middle’

David Campany on ‘Reflections of Ground Zero’

I watched the video on Youtube and read Campany’s piece as suggested. I found the video quite straightforward on its treatment of Joel Meyerowitz’s (JM) project. It acknowledged that the work was a commission by the Mayor of New York rather than a personal project of JM and as such would have been executed with at least a nod to the sensitivities of City Hall. Campany’s views settled on both the film and JM’s work;

Yet the most telling aspect of the Reflections of Ground Zero was the contrast drawn between the complexity of the geopolitical situation and the simplicity of Meyerowitz’ camera and working method. There was a suggestion that photography rather than television might be the better medium for ‘official history’ and ‘images of record’. The photographs were being positioned as superior to the television programme in which they were presented.

As far as I could detect the film drew no contrasts regarding geopolitics and JM’s working method; the programme was utterly silent on the matter. Campany may be inferring a contrast but it was not explicitly mentioned, nor was any suggestion of the superiority of either medium for any particular purpose. JM saw the work as a continuation of the skyscapes he had made of New York between 1998 and Sept 7th 2001 (four days before the attack), some of which included the twin towers and were showing at an exhibition on Broadway. Campany notes that after the attack:

The ensuing news reports were transmitted globally, electronically and instantaneously. Lower Manhattan became the most imaged and visible of places, the centre of a vast amount of state of the art news production.  Nevertheless here was a report featuring a solitary man, his tripod and his heavy, sixty-year old Deardorff plate camera. It was a slow and deliberating half-hour documentary, imbued throughout with a sense of melancholy by the constant tinkling of a piano in a minor key.

I think I detect a slightly denigrating tone here; JM is a regular 10×8 user and there seemed to be little pretension involved in his choice. Although there was a bit of piano music I wouldn’t call it ‘tinkling’ and it was anything but ‘constant’…. perhaps Campany turned over during the commercials.

But enough of the video itself, I will consider Campany’s observations on ‘late photography’ and its relation to hard news.

Late Photography – Too Late?

After the notable event, when the frantic life-saving and emergency responses have subsided, there is an opportunity to study the after effects. This may be for the purpose of record (as it was for JM), for social acknowledgement or even to produce evidence that ‘the worst is over’. Whatever the motivation, still photographs are a way of producing thoughtful, contemplative work which can act as a counterbalance to the energetic, febrile output of other outlets. But Campany warns us:

The danger is that it can also foster an indifference and political withdrawal that masquerades as concern.  Mourning by association becomes merely an aestheticized response. There is a sense in which the late photograph in all its silence, can easily flatter the ideological paralysis of those who gaze at it with a lack of social or political will to make sense of its circumstance. In its apparent finitude and muteness it can leave us in permanent limbo, obliterating even the need for analysis and bolstering a kind of liberal melancholy that shuns political explanation like a vampire shuns garlic.

This seems unlikely to me. The odds that a few big colour pictures, exhibited for a couple of months could adversely influence the global social and political response to a cataclysmic event such as the World Trade Centre must be vanishingly small. Certainly some people will be indifferent and politically withdrawn, but they probably would be anyway and I don’t think there’s the slightest chance of anybody inhabiting a permanent limbo of any kind.

My view, then, is that photography, late or otherwise, will generally do very little harm and often a great deal of good.

Part 1 Proj 1 – Eyewitnesses – Citizen Journalism and Objectivity

It’s tempting to consider “news” as a factual, unbiassed account of real-world events but “news” is a manufactured product much like any other. It exists, is produced and promulgated within particular frameworks, the structure of which has an effect on the relationship that the product bears to the actuality – itself  a slippery concept since it is experienced through the subjective perceptions of individuals, each of whom bring their own history to bear on events.

Citizen journalism (CJ hereafter) isn’t new; the Bible is full of amateur reporters, none of whom had any periodical affiliations but who still managed to author some influential accounts of contemporary affairs. Exposing abuses of power was a popular pursuit at the time, witness Matthew 20:25-27

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.

Which acknowledges a view popular among journalists that the those who aspire to be politicians are the very people who should be prevented from achieving their aims.

But in the age of the cellphone video, instances of abuse of power and authority are routinely dissembled on social media, very often featuring police activity. In April 2017 in Gwinnett County, Atlanta Georgia, Demetrius Bryan Hollins was assaulted by a police officer. Video taken by a passerby CJ shows the officer stamping on Hollins’  head repeatedly in the course of the arrest. Such assaults are depressingly common in the USA and CJ evidence routinely appears on social media.                [Source: New York Post. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from Web site: http://nypost.com/2017/04/13/police-video-shows-georgia-cop-stomping-on-black-mans-head/]

Imagery sourced from members of the public has implied authenticity – that the individual happened to be in the right place at the right time, that the document was not pre planned and that the very amateurishness of the material (handheld, blurred, grainy) confers veracity. But there are problems with this.

The simple presence of the CJ news gatherer may influence events, precipitating actions which would not have otherwise occurred;   The motivation of the news source may not be entirely impartial, eg footage from animal rights protestors;   The source may not only influence but actually orchestrate events;   People (such as protestors) may be encouraged to behave differently in the presence of cameras. Susan Sontag observes:

“Like sexual voyeurism, [taking photographs] is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging what is going on to keep happening”  Sontag – On Photography

Now that the means of both production and distribution are cheap, accessible and rapid, material can be available worldwide in a matter of hours in a ‘viral’ transmission without the kind of editing and fact-checking which reputable news organisations run as a matter of course.

Despite the risks involved in using MOP (member of the public) material most organisations are keen to consider it for inclusion in their programming and actively encourage submissions via dedicated websites and email contacts.

In a former life I worked on a TV news crew in London covering mainly political and topical stories for BBC, CH4, Reuters and ITV amongst others.  One aspect which never failed to strike me was the shear disposibility of news; material which was considered vital at 9am was often irrelevant by noon.

The editorial process which decides on what material to use and what to discard is driven by a number of factors including the political leanings of the network or publisher, the ‘competition’ (what other outlets are running), ethical considerations and the sensibilities of the viewers (Spanish TV, for example, is happy to run footage of accidents which UK networks would consider too distressing)