Exercise 4.7 Juxtaposition

I’ve been aware of John Heartfield’s work for a long time now. His photomontages struck a chord with me many years ago. They are both powerful and poignant but I have to recognise that I may well be judging them from a Post WW2, late 20th century perspective. I’m sure they were impactive in their day, and the Nazis must have hated him! However, when we look into any historical context we have the benefit of hindsight. The image below was made in 1932 but we know what happened in the years that followed…

 

Picture 086

 

The FiP workbook also invites us to look at the work of Heartfield’s contemporary, Hannah Hoch. While Hoch’s work often commented on the role of role women in German society in the early 20th century she would also direct her art to critiquing the state. The image below shows the head of state and his finance minister in bathing costumes, lifted from a newspaper and juxtaposed against an embroidery pattern. Germany was going through a tense and rebellious period and this simple artistic act mocks the two men as out of touch with the lives of many German people. The use of an embroidery reference also serves to emphasise the distance between the politicians and the work and lives of women.

 

Hoch Heads of State

 

Both Hoch and Heartfield were part of the Dada artistic group. For Dadaists art reflected the difficult and turbulent times in which they found themselves. Their art didn’t hold back in its acknowledgement of the everyday street violence, food shortages and the failings of politicians. For many the photomontage was the best way to express their feelings through art. The photographic element brings a sense of ‘truth’ while the juxtapositioning added a dream-like quality. In discussing the superior quality of photography over painting in the political commentary in Dadaism and of Heartfield’s work in particular, Hughes argues that:

“Only the realism of the photograph, its ineluctably factual content, made his work credible and, to this day, unanswerable.” (Hughes, 1991: 73)

So, having done the ‘pre reading’ for this exercise, I set about making my own work. Leafing through magazines and newspapers I became a bit frustrated as nearly all of the larger images, that would serve as the background, had text imposed on them – it’s something magazine editors can’t resist. Also and more significantly, I was struggling to come up with an idea.

What I really wanted to do was emulate this early 20th century German political photomontage I’d just researched. I am a political animal at heart and I wanted to express something about how I feel. Magazines and newspapers would provide me with found images and as these were failing me I decided to look elsewhere; to the internet where a wider range of images was available.

So, with a range of printed photographs, a pair of scissors and a ‘Prit stick’ I set about creating this, my own piece of political photomontage. And if anyone is struggling to understand it, it’s not about Brexit!

 

Ex. 4.7 Juxtaposition

 

References

 

http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/heartfield/

 

http://www.theartstory.org/artist-hoch-hannah-artworks.htm#pnt_2

 

Robert Hughes (1991) ‘The Shock of the New’ Thames & Hudso

 

 

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Exercise 4.5 Layers – Look Who’s Back!

In the early days of my FiP journey I feel I treated the exercises in a rather clinically way. When photos of shadows were needed, I photographed shadows, when blurred movement was required I sought out the same. I appreciate the exercises are there for us to consider a function of the camera or particular approaches and techniques in image making. But as my photography is evolving I’m increasingly seeing opportunities within the exercises to make the kind of images or shoot the kind of subject matter that appeals to me.

That said, the creative process cannot be rushed too much. I pondered over this exercise for a few days, as initially my mind was blank. So, it required the use of a window and reflections to create a layered image with foreground and back background. There was an easy option involving large retail spaces. I work not for from shops like Tesco, M & S, and Next. I could loiter around these, particularly at dusk and take advantage of the large windows and bright lights. Yes I could but it would probably have been a technical and rather soulless response to the exercise. Then, late one evening while relaxing on the sofa the answer was staring me in the face.

Eagle-eyed followers of this blog will know that chez Dave is blessed with a conservatory. If you’ve missed it don’t worry; it only appears in the periphery due to its need for a good tidy up and de-clutter. Staring through the sitting room window into the conservatory I spied all the reflections and layers I needed. After a couple of test shots were taken it was identified that the windowsill also needed a good de-clutter. After some reflection I came up with a solution: the usual domestic detritus was removed and replaced with the three figures used in Ex. 4.1 – an opportunity to revisit this still life. Moreover, with a nod to Part 2’s lighting theme they were then lit from the left with a red cycle light to add a little atmosphere.

Ex. 4.5 layers 1

Picture Analysis: Laura Letinsky

This image by Letinsky is used on P.126 of the FiP workbook. We are invited to look closely at the image and then answer some questions regarding her approach and, more generally, around issues of representation.

Letinsky

 

Reality and Representation

 

With reference to the unreal or constructed imagery in Letinsky’s work the workbook posses the question what the are real and physical, things exist in my life. Well there are the obvious three-dimensional things like my home, the car I drive, the bicycle I ride, and the locations where I work and play. Then there are the people I know and relationships they bring; partner, friends, colleagues, neighbours etc.

After, this the question moves towards things in life that are representations, but before addressing that it is worth looking at some things that fall between the real and representational. I really enjoy a good bike ride around my local countryside and my love for birds and the natural world is well documented in this blog. These in themselves are not ‘physical’ but nor are they strictly representational. Such activities have to be interpreted and result in an emotional but sometime physical response from me. As for the representational within my life well, there will things like TV, radio and many aspects of the internet. Photography itself is representational: when I photograph a tree, for example, I create a representation of it, be it it in pixels on a screen or microscopic ink dots on paper.

The third question in the series asks how might all this representation affect people? So much of modern life is now ‘screen based’. Social media can help friends keep in touch more easily but then people’s experience of life is increasingly disjointed from human interaction. Human beings are social animals and social skills have to be learnt. With many of life’s interactions and transactions being undertaken via a screen based device we can easily reduce the effectiveness of skills like empathy, understanding and interpretation.

 

A response to Letinsky’s photograph:

A visual description – objects back ground and space

Upon close inspection of the work, it becomes obvious that Latinsky creates a unique world; one that defies gravity and really only exists in the viewfinder of her camera or computer screen. Of course these aren’t my words but ones I’ve lifted from the workbook explanation for exercise 4.2. Nonetheless they adequately describe her approach. She creates a scene with a largely white to mid grey background and little or no sense of perspective. However, into this world she introduces an implied tabletop populated with fruit and cutlery hinting at a domestic realm in her constructed reality.

 

Composition, design arrangement

The, albeit, sloping tabletop is placed in the bottom left quarter of the image. Two sharon fruit are placed together on the top. With them is a crescent shaped object (I don’t know what it is) and a small saucer. Either side of the fruit is a spoon. Both of the spoons look superimposed: the left-hand one has a red substance in it and the right-hand one carries what looks like yogurt. The latter spoon hovers just above the tabletop. Seemingly falling, but frozen in space, some cherry stones and stalks appear to have slipped from the tabletop.

 

Sense of space and dimensionality

As suggested already there is compressed feel about the perspective with the plinth-like table is positioned against the background. Also, there are some visual contradictions occurring within the image. The table appears quite two-dimensional but the table’s surface is obviously three-dimensional. While the two Sharon fruit are reflected on the surface of the tabletop unlike any of the other items, reinforcing the unreal, dream like quality of the image.

 

Connotations

As recommended in the workbook I looked at the wider work of Letinsky and David Bate. I also visited the Rijksmuseum website and explored the painting of Pieter Claesz. While I was aware that these early still-life works were riddled with symbolic meaning, I’ve now taken some steps now to understand what these meanings actually are. As such I could offer that Letinsky’s use of fruit is perhaps to emphasise the impermanence of life. Fruit is will soon rot and decay just as old age or illness will ultimately take us all. But I’m not sure this is what her work is about. The image is sparsely populated with objects and thus drawing conclusions from it seems problematic. With the risk of stereotyping I wonder if there is a feminist message here due to the implied domestic setting of the table and the serving of idealised food.

The FiP workbook gives some clues towards interpretation. Evolving from earlier works involving left over meals, where viewers are to become detectives looking for clues and connotations, Letinsky’s recent works advance this notion further, “looking at the ways people incorporate representations and collective fantasies into their ‘reality’ and their desire”. I’m not sure I fully appreciate this at this stage in my learning journey…

 

References:

http://davidbate.net/ARTWORKS/BUNGLED-MEMORIES.html

http://lauraletinsky.com/photographs/ill-form-and-void/

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/artists/pieter-claesz

 

Scans from my notebook – showing my “working out”…

Letinsky 1 blog

 

Letinsky 2 blog

 

Non OCA Work: Trees

Trees have become a bit of a fascination for me. The trigger was my partner being diagnosed with cancer late last year. How or why that should trigger an interest in photographing them I’m not really sure. I thought the bare trees of winter reminded me of the anatomical diagrams of the blood supply to the bowel shown to us by my partner’s surgeon but when the leaves returned the interest kept going. Around this somewhat difficult time we also visited the Paul Nash exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia and saw how trees played a significant role in his work.

If I was to pin myself down I could suggest the trees seem metaphorical. Older deciduous trees in particular seem to demonstrate they lived a life: despite rotten or broken branches, for example, they return to full leaf each Spring.

And so it was, that earlier in the year I chose a couple of trees to reflect the passing of time in Exercise 3.4: Documenting Change. With 3 images of each I showed the gradual acquisition and opening of the leaves. To experiment further, in Photoshop I combined all 3 images into 1 and while I was happy learning this new technique, I had to admit the final result looked like a bad case of camera shake!

After my even earlier experiments with blurred gulls, my tutor, Jayne Taylor, said “Don’t stop, go back and do it again, and then again…” This simple lesson has stuck with me and so after some rethinking I went back to my trees. When the images for first attempt were made I didn’t know I’d be later layering them in Photoshop. Upon my return, however, I made a more conscious effort to locate the tree in the same position within the viewfinder for each shot, and this is the result:

 

Tree 5406 - 14

 

Several images were made in a 180-degree arc around the tree. 360 would have been nice but on the other side was a potato field and I don’t think the farmers would have like me stomping through their crop. Recognising that the direction of the light would move through the series, I chose to take the shots on an overcast day with rather flat light. I feel the result is interesting in that is represents a move away from the 2 dimensional that I was trying to achieve but it lacks a bit of ‘zing’. So my plan to was re-shoot again but next time when the sun was out. This time it was a different tree and again I got images from a 180-degree arc and here is the much brighter ‘zingier’ result:

 

Oak C Ashe

 

I’d be interested to hear what others think of them. I’m not sure the images look their best as small photos on a computer screen. I’ve printed them on A4 photo-paper and the subtle shading and fine detail looks easier to appreciate. I feel they might look better rendered even larger and should try them out on A3.

Exercise 3.10 A Formal Portrait

Before attempting to create a formal portrait this exercise asked us to consider the work of Thomas Struth and Rineke Djkstra. Struth’s family portraits look quite objective to the point where they appear almost artless – perhaps they look like a family snap from a photo album. But of course this overlooks how he made the image. The stillness and relaxed concentration the sitters exhibit is due the lengthy exposure his shots required. Their objectivity being underlined by the lack of ‘creative’ postproduction, while the distance he sets his camera away from the group stops any psychological insight into the condition of his subjects – this conventionally, being one of the objectives of conventional portraiture.

 

Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo 1991 1991 by Thomas Struth born 1954

Thomas Struth: Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo 1991

 

A similar objective stance is found in Rineke Djkstra’s work. Her photo series of mothers with their newly born babies is amazingly striking. Here we enter an intimate realm that few people get to observe. The straightforward approach to her subject matter removes any of the romantic ‘babble’ amount motherhood and presents it as it really is.

 

Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29 1994 1994 by Rineke Dijkstra born 1959

Rineke Djkstra: Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29 1994

 

With this in mind it was interesting to read that women generally liked the work for it’s depiction of the reality of early parenthood while many men didn’t like to see women presented this way.

In other series Djkstra has made portraits of children and adolescents. She prefers them to adults as they present themselves as they are and not as they want others to see them. I guess, as we get older we start to react to the presence of a camera (I for example, always pull my stomach in!) and try to control the image we present. In photographing young people she is able to capture the guileless innocence of youth but often tinged with the self-consciousness of the teenager.

 

dijkstra_3

Rineke Dijkstra: Beach Series

 

References:

Thomas Struth

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/struth-the-shimada-family-yamaguchi-japan-1986-p77745

Rineke Djkstra

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/rineke-dijkstra-2666

http://www.eatonfineart.com/blog/2015/8/20/artspiration-rineke-dijkstra

 

For my formal portrait exercise I chose my partner, who has appeared elsewhere in this blog. The student notes suggests using the location of ‘the significant place’ in Ex 3.9 and incorporating the ‘significant object’ from Ex 3.7. So, we returned to Shingle Street and took binoculars with us – which is what we’d do anyway!

I fully understood what Djkstra was getting at when she made the comparison between adults and young people. My partner poses for me, even unconsciously I think, her behaviour and demeanour subtly changing in the presence of the camera. I took dozens of shots in this session and tried to catch her ‘off guard’. A few of photos do achieve this and she is seems as herself, more relaxed and less self conscious. The technique I adopted was to be conversational. Although I was giving some directions of where to stand, which way to look etc., we also had an on-going conversation about a pair of Kestrels that were hunting over a nearby stubble field. Of the many shots I took I narrowed my selection to 4 but really couldn’t decide which one to chose. Several days have passed since the shoot and each day I looked back the 4. Having lived with the selection I can now make a decision. Some might suggest it’s not exactly ‘formal’ as per the brief but them walking along a flood wall in coastal Suffolk while out birding isn’t a formal occasion. However what image does convey is the spirit of Jude on that day and in this ‘significant place’.

 

DSC_6478pp

 

Non OCA work: Gregory Crewdson ‘Cathedral of the Pines’ at the Photographers’ Gallery

I had a vague memory of seeing Crewdson on TV some years ago directing one his photos with a crew and lighting set up akin to a cinema production. At the time it didn’t really fall within the framework of what I would have called ‘photography’ and I felt somewhat indifferent towards it. Fast forward a few years and now I have a more open mind to such things. When I started this FiP course I still held this fairly narrow view but understood that my mind was in for a good stretching and that previously held positions might soon feel untenable.

The Cathedral of the Pines exhibition occupies three floors of the Photographers’ Gallery. His photos are very large and are not crowed next to each other on the walls, each has space to ‘breath’. Emerging from the lift on the fifth floor the first thing that struck me was the image quality. They are painterly, in the sense that composition and lighting has been meticulously worked out: a studio sensibility brought into the outdoors as well as domestic interiors. It’s also reasonable to assume Crewdson is using high quality camera.

CREWD-2014.Woman-at-Sink

The image quality is outstanding with lighting Rembrandt would have been proud of! (Gregory Crewdson: Woman at a Sink)

But enough of the ‘techie’ stuff, what of the images? Well to call them ‘staged’ feels like an understatement! Just with his attention to technical details he is again meticulous with the use of props and actors. Known for his cinematic approach calling the people who appear in his images ‘models’ doesn’t feel right. My knowledge of cinema is relatively thin bit it’s clear that he is influenced by it or perhaps, my appropriate for the current age, quality TV. The images in Cathedral of the Pines look like they could be stills from an HBO drama set in some small rural town in the USA where everyone knows everyone and they’ve all got ‘dirt’ on each other. There is also a further influence at work: men and half naked women sitting around flooded, disused and rusted quarry workings are suggestive of European landscape painting. Needless to say none of the images are not happy ones.

In the video Crewdson had made to accompany the exhibition we learn that experiences from his youth have informed the series and he tells us they raise questions rather than give answers. I discovered the video on Youtube after seeing the exhibition and felt pleased about this comment. That’s because as I went around the exhibition I found myself ‘people watching’. Looking into each image I tried to piece together what was going on in the lives of those depicted. The staging and the facial expressions all leaded me to conclude these folk were leading a miserable existence. With some imagination it wasn’t too much of a leap to conceive that loveless relationships, domestic abuse, even child abuse, and misogyny were taking place. In some images I was left wondering if the victims of these were planning to take things into their own hands to resolve their torments: the young women in the barn has to hand a fiendishly sharp looking saw, lengths of chain while some of the floorboards have been taken up. Throughout the images all the vehicles are old and people watch VHS tapes, which makes me think the series may have a sense of place and time about them. The same landscape painting can be found on the walls of at least two different dwellings. Moreover dead birds, chains, windfall apples, open doors when it snowy and icy outside all point to a thorough use of symbolism across the series.

But did I like it? Although the series is rather perturbing with its ever-present misery and depression I have become rather intrigued by it. It certainly raises lots of questions, even those beyond the obvious – for example, I’m OK with all the nakedness but why do these folk chose to go outside on cold winter’s day in bare feet? Writing this a few days after my visit to the gallery I’m still puzzling over it and feel more and drawn to the series – I’d certainly go and see it again if I got the chance. Staged photography was certainly not my ‘thing’ a few months ago but looking at the work of Crewdson and, earlier in FiP, Tom Hunter I am developing a greater understanding of it. I don’t know if it will ever become part of my own photographic vocabulary but with greater exposure to staged photography has come a greater acceptance and a deepening respect for it .

References

https://petapixel.com/2016/05/18/interview-gregory-crewdson/

 

 

Some Non OCA Research: Donald Weber

I subscribe to BJP and each month as read through the articles and look at the photos something will always make me stop and think. This month (BJP no. 7862 August 2017) so far (I haven’t read it all yet!) it’s a short interview with Donald Weber. In a few short answers I became intrigued about this guy. He was saying stuff that caught my attention but curiously none of his work was included in the interview. Does that matter? If it turned out that I was turned off by his work how then would I relate to his words?

Amongst the comments he made that appealed to me were:

  • Trust yourself. Allow yourself to open up and view the world as you see it. Experiment, don’t get caught up in photographic decorum

 

  • Let your curiosity get the better of you

 

  • Photographic practice is more about collaboration with others than the singularity of the ‘heroic artist’

 

  • Photography is a completely subjective experience.

 

Even though I’m still learning and by that I’m willing to try new approaches and techniques, I’m still developing my own vision. It is something I feel strongly about and so Weber’s comments have strong resonance for me.

I then went on to look at his work. Interested in Russian and Ukrainian life since he was a boy he has visited many times as a photographer. His series on Ukrainian police interrogation was just jaw-dropping. These images (at least the ones I’ve seen) were not voyeuristic, nor patronizing or sensationalistic, but demonstrated great empathy towards those being interrogated. It was also interesting to read his thoughts on the police, recognising that they were only doing what they were trained to do, so criticism is directed to the State and the power within bureaucracy.

Some References

An interview with Weber where he talks about his early influences to be come a photographer

https://birdinflight.com/inspiration/experience/20160418-donald-weber-luc-delahaye.html

Book review of Weber’s Interrogations

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/donald-weber-interrogations