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

Exercise 3.8 Re-photographing

So I gave Mikey a print of the photo I’d just taken of him and he went home and ‘affected’ it. The result below is my chosen image from the second photo shoot. I could have chosen a more objective image, a passport like photo with him presenting the affected image of his face to the camera, but I wanted to explore this with more depth.

 

DSC_5429pp1

 

Mikey took a scalpel to the print I gave him, cutting out sections he then swapped them about and replaced them upside down. The result is a disfigurement of his own face and I was really curious as to why anyone would do that. My untested hypothesis is that it would be quite a male thing to do and that I shouldn’t imagine too many women would do something similar. The underlying premise being that many women seek to enhance their looks by ‘affecting’ their faces with make-up. For men the face isn’t always about attraction. But that would be another body of work more akin to an end of degree show!

So, what interpretation can I draw from the final image. The affected photo had been rendered into a mask but it is a mask that is saying ‘keep away’. Classical conventions of art say beauty and truth are synonymous with each other and with so with beauty come purity. Mikey has created a mask of ugliness in a conventional sense. Ugliness, disfigurement and the like are not to be trusted, symptomatic of evil perhaps, and so we should keep away.

But while Mikey has made himself just such a mask the final image has caught him off guard allowing us a slight glimpse behind the mask. Turned away with his head looking downwards we see something of the real personal behind the mask. This is not someone we should be wary of, he’s not actively seeking to drive us away. We are now left with ambiguity and unanswered questions over the role of mask. Why does Mikey want to scare us away when there is nothing to be frightened of?

Exercise 3.7 A Significant Object

My most Significant Object? It was a difficult one to consider, not because I’ve got loads of stuff to choose from but rather I don’t really treasure things. That said I don’t part with stuff either so perhaps I’m a bit of a paradox. After mulling this over for a while I came up an old pair of binoculars. They are rather special. Not only were they great quality ‘bins’ in their day but also they were my first pair of quality ‘bins’. As a young keen birder I soldiered on for years with poor quality optics but around 1990 I got the money together for a pair of karl Zeiss 7 x 42s. And they were gorgeous – they are gorgeous – amazing performance in low light and a close focus that made them great for watching butterflies and dragonflies too. But optics improved and I wanted to keep up with the developments, however, I did have a strong sentimental attachment to these bins are so they been stored away for years. So here is my ‘Significant Object’

 

DSC_5289blog

 

The exercise also ask us to look at the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, and the folded up and posted images of Moyra Davey. I particularly like the work of the Bechers and I feel drawn to it for two reasons. Firstly, their subject matter appeals because I like these old industrial buildings. Architecture like this was part of the townscape in which I grew up and though I cannot say I’ve worked in such places I am fascinated by industrial buildings whose form is dictated by its function. This seems to occur less in modern industrial settings. I was interested to discover they undertook a lot of research and recording of data about the buildings they photographed and considered their work as a recording of a rapidly disappearing landscape. The grouping of similar building types together in grid has a resonance for me it that they are akin to the pictures in birdwatchers’ field guides. Here pictures of similar bird species are group together allowing the viewer to note the similarities and difference between closely related species. Similarly, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work draws attention to the similarities and differences between each structure (Hacking, 2012: 402 – 403)

Water Towers 1972?2009 by Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher 1931-2007, 1934-2015

 

Though I could find references to Moyra Davey’s work on the Internet it was difficult to get a close up view. This image from the Tate’s website being about the only one I could find.

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Most of the others show her work displayed on gallery walls taken with fairly long shots and so it’s be difficult to develop a firm response to her work. Folding the printed image up and posting it to the gallery is an interesting idea (note the stamps, labels and sticky tape on the Tate photograph) but I feel it would be best viewed on a gallery wall. The subject matter of photographs, however, I do find interesting. Making images of daily routines and banal scenes that most of us will ignore as we go through life I find compelling and I can understand how beauty can be realised when they cease to be overlooked.

 

Greengrassi

 

The next part of the exercise was to photograph objects similar to my ‘significant object’ belonging to others. With birdwatching friends this was quite easy. How I was to go about photographing them however was quite taxing. Though I’ve had binoculars for 40 years I confess that they a very boring subject to photograph. My first consideration was to photograph the person wearing them (all birders wear them around their necks) but this felt like the person would become the subject. Then I thought about getting closer and shooting the ‘bins’ minus the birder’s head. This seemed a good solution but them some of my friends are women and essentially, because of the way binoculars hang, I’d be photographing their bust!

After researching the Bechers an idea came to me. Given the right camera angle and lighting I could try to make the binoculars look like industrial silos. As I don’t have a macro lens I chose to get in close with a 24mm wide angle. The camera would be lower than the binoculars and so angled upwards and a wide f-stop was chosen to render the background out of focus. Each binocular was photographed in the same setting in the more or less the same light, again a nod the Becher’s own approach. For the sequence of three I cropped the top of the each image and used photoshop to make them monochrome but then applied a ‘green’ filter to lighten the background foliage. So here they are, binoculars under the influence of Bernd and Hill Becher…

 

 

                References

Bernd & Hilla Becher

Hacking, Juliet Photography: the whole story (2012) Thames & Hudson

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/bernd-becher-and-hilla-becher-718

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/dusseldorf-school-photography

 

Moyra Davey

http://murrayguy.com/moyra-davey/selected-works/

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/moyra-davey-hangmen-england

 

Project 2 Genre in Photography: Exercise 3.6 Mixing Genres

I thought long and hard about this one before picking up a camera. I ‘dig’ the different genres and could relate to mixing them about a little but then stumbled over the ‘dual’ types: a portrait in a portrait, a landscape in a landscape. I am aware of how some photographers have used printed photographs in their work and so I began to consider if I should do something similar. What I lacked of course was a subject.

I cannot recall the exact moment it came to me but the catalyst was viewing some photos on disc my Dad had burnt for me a few years ago. He’d bought a cheap slide scanner and began to scan some of the hundreds (thousands!) of 35mm slides he’d gathered over the years. They were from holidays in Cumbria where as family we’d stay in youth hostels and climb the fells. My Dad is now into his eighties and while fit and active he no longer takes to the hills. That said he is still a fell-walker. While he might now follow the blogs of others who do it, the spirit of being a fell-walker is still at the heart of his own identity. His recollection of days in the hills is quite remarkable. In the early years I used to be accompany my parents and while I have a vague notion that I’d stood on such-and-such a summit my Dad talks about the route taken what the weather was like! So, the ‘subject’ for this exercise was to be my Dad but my Dad the fell-walker.

I planned to use the scanned images in two ways. In the ‘still life’ we see the contents of a fell-walker’s rucksack spread out across a table. Amongst them are some printed photos from the scanned slides (some of these date back to mid 70’s). The ‘story or event’ image is a set of photos showing my Dad packing the rucksack with these items, including the photos. Here the images serve as a thinly veiled metaphor for his memories.

The portrait image uses a scanned slide in a different format. Here I took to Photoshop and removed the background of a staged contemporary photo of my Dad and placed him in the photo of him climbing Striding Edge, Blencathra in the mid 80’s. I had planned to use this approach for the ‘landscape’ photo. When shooting the ‘still life’ my Dad produced a battered and well-thumbed copy of a Wainright guidebook. Skimming through it I noticed how he’d written the dates when he’d climbed the various peaks. Wainright started each new mountain with a title page filled with one of his classic ink drawings. This had to be my ‘landscape’ and what could be more appropriate then ‘Coniston Old Man’? So, I borrowed the book and scanned the title page.

 

Subject-Portrait-blog-v2

Subject and Landscape

 

DSC_5236 blog v2

Subject and Still Life

 

subject event3blog

Subject and Event

 

Subject-Landscapev3 blog

Subject and Landscape

I’ve really enjoyed this exercise. Not only has it given me the opportunity to express something about my Dad but it tested some of my own skills. I’d never used Photoshop in this way before. Although I was keen to learn new skills I am very cautious about how they might be applied. I took a conscious decision not to try and ‘blend’ my 2017 Dad into these photos from decades ago. I wanted to use the exercise to say something about identity, age and memory so my 2017 Dad had to stand proud from his younger self in the ‘portrait’ image. To emphasise this distinction all of the contemporary shots were taken with a fill-flash.

 

Part 3 Picture Analysis: Sophie Calle

My initial reaction to Sophie Calle’s Suite Venitienne was somewhat sceptical. Her work is several steps removed from ‘street photography’ where individuals might be captured in a single shot. The idea of following people and taking photos of them in itself seems a bit odd but then to go to the lengths of flying to another country and city and pursuing an individual seemed weird.

It raised ethical issues in my head linked to surveillance and the privacy of the individual. The Human Rights Act would forbid the state from conducting similar acts without good reason, for example national security, so why should it be OK for an artist to do it? Learning from the course materials that Calle’s own life is open to public scrutiny didn’t really help with my concerns. Calle choses to make her life an open book but the people she followed don’t have any control over what she exhibits.

From this I took to the Internet to discover more about Calle’s work. The course materials suggest that as a conceptual artist who uses photography as a key mode of expression she is less concerned with aesthetics. While I’ve not see the whole of Suite Venitienne I did find the comment puzzling. The websites I visited have exercised curatorial control over the images they chose to display but images I came across from Suite Venitienne have a strong aesthetic quality to them – perhaps I’m not understanding the concept of aesthetics?

Three images from Sophie Calle’s Suite Venitienne

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sophie_calle_suite-venitienne_sophie-calle-14586_6343_w800_130146

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Upon closer examination of Suite Venitienne it becomes clear that Calle displayed her work akin to that of professional surveillance. In fact in other works she has reversed the role and hired a private detective to follow her. Images are placed alongside text that documents her attempts to track down her subject. Written as though part of a case file of a private detective, they describe her time in Venice. I must admit I found the juxtaposition of images and text quite appealing. It has a playful, perhaps role playing sensibility to it – here Calle get to play out a fantasty role of a private eye. Some of the grainy monochrome and unconventional compositions at times seem filmic as though stills from 1960’s French cinema vertiae, while others looked like the work of Henri Cartier Bresson. Overall, while reservations about the ethics of her approach still trouble me I have to some extent been seduced,  won over, by the presentation of the work.

The course materials at this point pose a couple of questions. One concerns an adventure that would place me in a different subjective position photographically. I puzzled over this for a while before the penny dropped for me. Hadn’t I already done this in my re-working of Exercise 3.4 Documenting Change? Seated on a train with my little ‘point and shoot’ camera I took a range of images very different from what I’m accustomed too. I did like this experiment and felt a sense of freedom doing it: being free from having to produce considered, crisp, focussed images. I was giving up some of the control of the image making, allowing movement of the train, for example, to influence the outcome of the image. Another experimental approach was used for Exercise 3.5 Photographs from Text and I feel my appetite for pushing the boundaries of my usual ‘vanilla’ approach is growing.

The final question is about taking a job that would give me access to a kind of subject that would be new to me. This is trickier. I already have a full time job and it’s one that at present is not conducive to photography – I’m working on it but it’s a slow burn! Taking another ‘job’, however, would limit my free time and impact on my ability to complete my OCA work. In the recent past I have explored being a voluntary photographer but out here in rural Suffolk the opportunities are fairly scare.

References

David Campany ‘Art and Photography’ abridged and revised edition 2012 (Phaidon)

http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/7349/sophie-calle-suite-venitienne

https://www.perrotin.com/artists/Sophie_Calle/1#news

http://sigliopress.com/book/suite-venitienne/

http://www.artcritical.com/2015/07/16/emmalea-russo-on-sophie-calle/

Exercise 3.5 Photographs From Text

I puzzled over this exercise for some time. Linking, blending, merging of words and images is not something I have tried before. Even creating photographs inspired by a piece of text didn’t feel like an easy task. In part this might be due to a couple of factors. Firstly, I think I’m a little dyslexic. It’s not a major issue for me but I do exhibit some signs of having the condition and secondly, and perhaps related to this I hardly read any fiction. There are books a plenty in the house but my fiction collection is negligible.

I did consider trying to do something with Philip Larkin’s ‘Here’. I first heard this poem on Radio 4 and very quickly recognised that it is about Hull, where I was born and spent the first 27 years of my life. But with Hull now being about 5 hours away popping over to take some snaps wasn’t going to be easy. In stead I returned to a book I first read about 15 years ago. One of my great loves is cycling, both riding a bike and following professional racing. The Rider by Tim Krabbe is novel about one man’s account of a race he entered. Kilometer by kilometer the race unfolds and Krabbe give us his particular take on what it means to part of this sub culture.

Click on the images to enlarge

The text in full:

On a bike your consciousness is small. The harder you work the smaller it gets. Every thought that arises is immediately and utterly true, every unexpected event is something you’d known all along but had only forgotten for a moment.   (The Rider Tim Krabbe p.33 (English translation) 2002 Bloomsbury)

I could have photographed by own bike and perhaps with some technical difficulties me riding it. Moreover, I could have gone down to some of our local amateur races and taken shots there. However, the work of Tillmans is still whirling around in my head from the study visit a couple of weeks ago. As with my reworking of Exercise 3.4 it has encouraging me to experiment, or more accurately become more playful, and try new approaches.

The images are photographs from a TV screen and the race is the three week long Giro D’Italia. I haven’t attempted to hide the TV graphics feeling that these might add to the drama of the race and the same can be said for the lines and curves caught of a TV image captured by the camera. Because they from the TV they feel akin borrowed images but each has been subject to manipulation. In some I had zoomed into the screen while others have later been cropped. All have had the already vivid colours intensified a little and obviously the words of Krabbe added over the top.

Krabbe’s account of the influence of riding a bike on the consciousness is so true. While leaning towards portraiture I was trying to address the psychology identified by Krabbe, reflected in the sometimes expressionless faces of the riders in what is a tense section of the race. I admit to including this as a ‘sub text’ where a group of five riders are being chased down by the peleton.

In the course of doing this exercise I researched the work of Barbara Kruger and Gillian Wearing. I found both rather appealing but I easily identified with Kruger. Her satirical approach matched my sense of humour and I’m sure we share similar political values. Wearing’s signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say occasionally has a brutal honesty about it. I like the fact she was critiquing the genre of documentary photography by giving her subjects the opportunity to express themselves directly. However, I’m not convinced it completely addresses problems with ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries because Wearing herself and the act of curation is still involved in selection; choosing which images to present to the public.

'I signed on and they would not give me nothing' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963

Gillian Wearing

you_constuct

Barbara Kruger

References

Gillian Wearing

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wearing-im-desperate-p78348

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wearing-signs-that-say-what-you-want-them-to-say-and-not-signs-that-say-what-someone-else-66092

Barbara Kruger

http://www.theartstory.org/artist-kruger-barbara.htm

http://www.barbarakruger.com

 

A Reworking of Exercise 3.4?

My artistic brain cells had just been given a major workout down the gym at Tate Modern. The OCA study visit to see the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition turned out to be more of an intellectual mind stretching exercise than the simplicity of his work suggests. Still, I came away inspired. I can’t profess to fully engage with abstract work but somehow Tillmans had got me thinking and while browsing around the Tate Modern bookshop I saw a title called ‘Why it doesn’t have to be in focus’. This made me smile, if not laugh out loud. “I know that…” I smugly reminded myself but then realised all of stuff is in focus!

Waiting for my train at Liverpool Street, drinking an overpriced coffee in paper cup, I began to think about my trees in Exercise 3.4. Ultimately, it’s about the passage of time and how this reflects upon the subject but what if I tweaked it a little? Railways are all about time, they make a fetish out of it! So with my creativity tweaked by Tillmans I set about recording my return to Suffolk. Now the journey becomes the subject and the influence of 63 minutes upon it is that we move along the linear structure of the railway.

The work is presented as a slide show in a Powerpoint file.

On Time