Psychogeographies – A Japanese connection

Ohh some new names and an old one...Anders Petersen, Jacob Aue Sobol and Daido ‘Stray Dog’ Moriyama.

The former apparently, have been influenced by the latter, to produce photographs in a continuous stream of consciousness (usually translated as B/S :oX) that is before I go look, so I won’t pre-judge… Moriyama is cited as being a co-founder of the magazine Provoke… what they don’t tell you is he joined for the second issue and it only lasted for three…lies, damn lies n statistics…

So, linked by are, bure, and bokeh…or translated as rough, blurred and out of focus, these three photographers operate at the ‘limit of expression and coherence.’

Moriyama I know through having visited the Klein/Moriyama exhibition in 2013…it will be intriguing to see if my opinion has changed and what work the other two photographers have been producing…

Exercise

Read Miranda Gavin’s review of Anders Petersen’s French Kiss and Jacob Aue Sobol’s I,Tokyo for Hotshoe Magazine.

Read ‘Bye, Bye Photography’ (AG Magazine#38) and research the work of Daido Moriyama.

Write a short reflective commentary about the connections between the three photographers styles.

Start thinking about the critical review… nooooooo brain is still on finishing this and assignment two…

Anders Petersen – French Kiss

As per usual a bit of research into the work before you read the review is always handy.

Continue reading “Psychogeographies – A Japanese connection”

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Psychogeographies – Street Photography

Oh….<coughs> LOLOLOLOL okay……so… new word scopophilia… coursework tells me that it links nicely with being a flâneur….hmmmm I think we need to sort out our stories before we get arrested…sorry officer I was just being a bit of a flâneur…you know…a man who saunters around observing society… rather than, oh what? Nah, don’t worry I was just indulging my innate scopophilia… you know…sexual pleasure derived chiefly from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity; voyeurism…. oh no damn I didn’t quite mean that…but oooops yeah that seems to be the closer of the definitions even Freud thinks so….

According to my little red folder Kertész’s scopophilia – the ‘pleasure that derives from looking’ (if you say so OCA ;oD if you say so) led to him working on a project about people reading …I’d say it inspired more his series on Distortion ;o)

 

But I am open-minded and will go with the flow…

These images are beautiful to me…I love the gentle peacefulness about them, the wonderfully surreal, and in general, because they are about reading and I so love to read…books….mmmmmm Waterstones….may be I just have a paraphilia for books.

Although I don’t consider myself to be a street photographer I do love people watching, sitting at rest and watching the little dramas unfold is great. I find I feel self-conscious, as most admit to, when focusing my camera on others, I don’t get in close enough, though I do experiment from time to time.

Exercise

Read the article ‘What is Street Photography?’ on the London Festival of Photography website…

Damn… yet another dead link..the London Festival of Photography website is no longer there…so inside I’ll drop into one of my favourite blogs for insights and links to the last posting.

Could be it was replaced by this which was useful as it gave some really good examples of the kind of things people are currently photographing, and the same here.

Delved a bit into iN-PUBLIC   and Seconds2Real which give you a flavour as to what is out there.

Now visit http://streetphotographynowproject.wordpress.com/

After reading the articles that I couldn’t find, but improvised I then am set a task to follow one of the weekly instructions on Street Photography Now project 2011 and uploading a selection to my blog…that will have to wait until I get out to take some next weekend so watch this space…

*Update*

I eventually got round to looking at the website in depth and chose the instruction:

#26 If you’re not sure its a picture shoot it anyway – Carolyn Drake

So I am combining some of these images with another exercise to do with surreal images…I had to build a small portfolio for each but then choose a selection of five for my blog. The portfolio is supposed to be in B&W but rather than convert them all I am just going to convert the 5 I have chosen.

Here is the small portfolio…

 

The five final images that fit the criteria #26 If you’re not sure its a picture shoot it anyway – Carolyn Drake, applies not only to me as the photographer but also the subjects within the shots themselves.

After taking shots over a few months I whittled them down to these few which include selfies, a professional wedding photographer and people taking snapshots:

My final choices were:

IMG_2578

IMG_2581

IMG_3070

IMG_3072

IMG_3233

Research Point –Vivian Maier 1926 – 2009

Vivian Maier, like Atget, was only discovered very late on in life. However, unlike Atget she did not ever use photography to make a living, it was a hobby she indulged in whilst working as a Nanny. She has now come under the umbrella of being a ‘street photographer’, reputedly taking more than 150,000 photographs during her lifetime, primarily of the people and architecture of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

During her lifetime, Maier’s work was unknown and unpublished, and she never even printed many of her negatives.

Maier left behind more than 100,000 images, in hundreds of boxes of negatives and undeveloped rolls of film, as well as some Super 8 home movie footage, audio tapes and trunks full of memorabilia. Some of this was auctioned when Maier, who had fallen on hard times, could no longer keep up payments on a storage locker. One of the buyers was an estate agent and flea-market enthusiast called John Maloof. When he began to print the black-and-white street portraits that were her specialty, he was captivated. Vivian Maier’s life and photography became his passion and, eventually, his living.

Out of all the research what intrigued me most was Ted Forbes take on it all…had this box of negatives fallen to another photographer like Abbott, or a curator like Szarkowski would his opinion be different? Atget and Maier run parallel in so many ways. Both suffering from being curated after their demise and with no input as to how they should be shown. Are they both just ‘good’ photographers who others are trying to hype? Is one so much better than the other or did they just get the right/wrong PR team?

I like some of both, other I think …’meh’…but that works with most artists/photographers/writers, some work is stronger than others. Here is a small selection of her work


From her work I need to select 5 images that show the influence of surrealist elements.

Image 1

1963. Chicago, IL
1963. Chicago, IL

This photograph has the elements of reflections in the puddles and reversed writing providing an unreal atmosphere to the image.

Image 2

1954, New York, NY
1954, New York, NY

Shadows and cropping are both elements of surrealism, cutting large portions of an image from the frame. The small child is framed by 2 unknown ‘giants’, both at either sides and behind in the ‘shadow world.’

Image 3

November 1953, New York, NY
November 1953, New York, NY

 

Unusual activity is also part of the surrealist movement. Why is someone doing a headstand in the street? The positioning of the advert provides an audience, whilst the young lady sporting only one shoe seems preoccupied by a hole in the one she has in her hand. Their clothes seem totally mis-matched as well.

Image 4

vm19xxw02129-11-mc
Audrey Hepburn at the Chicago premiere of “My Fair Lady” at the RKO Palace Theater. October 23, 1964

Blur, and dream-like images feature heavily within surrealism. This portrait of Audrey Hepburn is out of focus whilst her companion is lost to motion blur. Was this intentional? A signifier for the unobtainable dream or an accident? We shall never know.

Image 5

January 1956
January 1956

 

Juxtaposition, reflection…I just love this shot :o) shoes…cars…peaches… what more could you possibly want in a surreal photograph…I guess Kertész might have liked a distorted nude somewhere but we can’t always have want we want ;oP

Truth be told I think quite a lot of ‘good’ street photography, and even the not so good, does carry an element of the surreal, but life is surreal…nothing is straight forward, we only see snippets of life and most of that is just plain absurd when you examine it closely. A lot of Maier’s work does have elements of the surreal and most of that looks as if it was intentionally captured that way.

As far as her contribution to photography is concerned? I think that if she had published at the time she was an ‘active’ photographer she may have been more recognised…or perhaps not, knowing the issues of women in photography at the time, and the supposed fragility of her mental state. On looking at her images the majority of them, to me anyway, do stand comparison to those who came before, were contemporaries of hers, or have followed.

Contemporary Street Photography

I was fortunate enough to go along to the London Street Photography exhibition at the Museum of London in 2011 which even made the BBC News.

Curator Mike Seaborne reminded us that street photography wasn’t new and what we snap today will continue to provide a visual record of social and environmental change.

However, street photography in London is far from new. The first ‘instantaneous’ street scenes – those where traffic and people are captured in mid-motion – were taken in the early 1860s and by the 1890s candid street photographers with hand-held, and sometimes hidden, cameras were snapping Londoners unawares. The 20th century saw many famous and lesser-known photographers document life on the street for a variety of reasons. Their collective body of work provides us with a unique visual record of social and environmental change.

This was an interesting review by a non-photographer.

iN-PUBLIC had several photographers involved whose names are more recognised now.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and the companion book is a wealth of information with regards to historical and more contemporary practitioners. This is useful for me as I am considering some form of street photography for assignment two.

More useful links:

http://uk.complex.com/style/2012/06/the-50-greatest-street-photographers-right-now/

http://www.widewalls.ch/10-prominent-street-photographers/

http://www.streethunters.net/blog/2015/04/08/20-most-influential-street-photographers-2015/

http://nickturpin.com/category/street-photography/

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/jim-casper-21st-century-street-photography-250-new-examples

http://www.widewalls.ch/10-prominent-street-photographers/

I like Eric Kim, Nick Turpin and Matt Stuart, Joel Meyerowitz is a hero of mine, but he tends not to do so much ‘street’ now…and no doubt after fully researching this list I will add more….

 

Research

http://www.vivianmaier.com/

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/19/our-nanny-vivian-maier-photographer

http://uk.complex.com/style/2012/06/the-50-greatest-street-photographers-right-now/

Psychogeographies – B&W and surrealism -Canon Fodder

Brief notes:

Guy Debord – founder of the Situationist movement…

Psychogeography – a multisensory perception of the environment concerned with:

unpicking the manner in which the contemporary world warps the relationship between psyche and place – (Self, p.11)

Look at Graciela Itubides images of Juchitan – these ‘resonate with the legacy of the surrealists of inter-war Paris.’

The coursework tells us:

The surrealists …understood [the photographic document] as a charged, enigmatic fragment that left as much unknown as it revealed, coaxing the viewer back onto their own judgement or imagination. (Barson et al, 2006, p.54)

In looking at her work you can see parallels with the work of Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï and Kertész: the cropping, shadows, odd compositions and juxtaposition of objects.

I also need to look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, (whose work I saw at Somerset House)  André Kertész, George Brassaï, Man Ray, Paolo Pellegrin and Tony Ray-Jones, noting the key visual and conceptual characteristics that their work has in common. It was brilliant that I had been to the recent exhibition at the Atlas Gallery and seen work of these photographers first hand.

Back in 2011 I went to an exhibition of Hungarian photography and saw many original photographs from ManRay, Brassaï and Kertész. Although at the time I did not mention their surrealist leanings I bought the book, eyewitness Hungarian Photography in the Twentieth Century, which has many examples of their work, plus others. This review did a much better job than I did of describing what was there, and another from Beetles and Huxley.

Fortunately I work in a secondary school and support regularly within the art dept, therefore don’t struggle with the concept of surrealism within art or photography and quite like the idea of the surreal supplanting ‘reality’ within ‘straight’photography. Elliot Erwitt is one of my favourite street photographers who does the surreal so well.

Bullet pointed below is a list of some of the features regularly found within surrealist photography:

  • Dreamlike
  • Mystical/mythical
  • Depiction of the unseen
  • Alternative angles of the everyday/distortion
  • Reality/fantasy
  • Intangible/obscure/abstract
  • Erotic
  • Bizarre /unsettling
  • Juxtaposition
  • Everyday objects , people, and places shot in an unusual way
  • Use of lines /curves /shadow/light
  • Conceptual ideas
  • Choice of camera angle /lens/ light / framing/altered perspective
  • Post-processing/ darkroom techniques / digital manipulation / cropping
  • Double exposure / collage /photomontage/ etc
  • Unusual subject matter

All of the above photographic examples include several of these techniques. I can see why this is included within the coursework as it shows the crossover between documentary and surrealism, and the use of abstract/conceptual ideas which can be used within assignment two. Atget is mentioned in quite a few academic papers/essays as being the ‘father of modernism’ or using ‘surrealism’ to name but a few of his labels, so it is always good to research as to why and how this occurred.

Eugene Atget 1857 – 1927

Not that much really seems to be known about Atget, despite him amassing an archive of over 8,000 negatives which compiled ‘a visual compendium of the architecture, landscape, and artifacts that distinguish French culture and its history.’

Atget called his images ‘documents’ but is nowadays recognised more as a ‘forerunner of Surrealism’ as his urban scenes feature ‘snatched glimpses, tangential perspectives, odd reflections and bizarre details.’

Exercise

Read Canon Fodder: Authoring Eugene Atget by Abigail Solomon-Godeau.

Canon Fodder: Authoring Eugene Atget

At first I dreaded analyzing what appeared to be an overly long essay, full of overly long and academic language. However, I actually found it quite enlightening and in places amusing… I mean who doesn’t like poking fun at the establishment? Even though some of the language was tricky the overlying message was clear. I think it helped to read the brilliant americansuburbx article first, which set the scene.

The title itself gives you an inkling as to the content of the essay; the play on cannon fodder/canon fodder implies that Atget had no choice in the role he has been made to play within the battle of academia, and the designations being set out within the ‘art of photography’. He was sent out to fight the battles whilst the generals/curators and philosophers stood at the back and watched the raging debates: Atget held up as a standard, a model, a rule…

This is quite amusing as Atget didn’t even want recognition, nor to be described as a photographer:

In 1926, Man Ray reproduced an Atget photograph a group of pedestrians shading their eyes as they looked at the sky, watching an eclipse on the cover of a Surrealist magazine. When he told Atget of his intention, the older man replied, “Don’t put my name on it. These are simply documents I make.”

Atget was conferred the title of ‘author’…but of what? With a vast back catalogue of 10,000 images he could be called a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none; allow ‘the Atgetian deck to be shuffled’, sort them into ‘suits’ and you can make him fit any genre you like: primitive, documentary, modernist, unadorned-realist, surrealist, Marxist… it would appear that many philosophers, writers, photographers and curators have tried to claim him for their own.

The premise of Solomon-Godeau’s essay is that Atget is an invention of modern critical theory, the desire to have a pigeon-hole for everyone and a need, specifically, for a canon for the ‘art of photography’ and, like Meadows when the stars aligned for his project, the stars aligned for Atget to fall neatly into the firing line.

Solomon-Godeau pokes fun at Bernice Abbott, John Szarkowski and Margaret (Molly) Nesbit with regards to their deification of a man hard to classify, and the slavish way they hold him up to be the ‘father of photography’, whilst contradicting themselves within their own essays about him – effectively turning to wishy-washy waffle to describe his work when all else failed, or ‘swooning aestheticism’ as she puts it.

Abbott had her own agenda, after all she had previously owned the collection of Atget’s work; Szarkowski had a vested interest because MoMA bought the collection from her; as curator he had to make good on his investment. Solomon-Godeau writes:

Szarkowski, more than any other photography curator, has articulated a clearly defined position from within a particularly powerful institution of aesthetic validation.

This ties in closely with the previous exercise on Avedon and the positions of power held by institutions to further their own agendas. Apparently, Martha Rosler ‘dubbed MoMA “the Kremlin of Modernism”.’ Szarkowski shuffled the deck and imposed ‘thematic organizing’ onto the museums exhibitions and subsequent volumes.

Relieved to discover that she was not the only person questioning the deification of Atget, Solomon-Godeau cites Rosalind Krauss as another Doubting Thomas. In her essay Photography’s Discursive Spaces (Bolton,1992, p.294) Krauss also questions the interpretation of ‘this apparent incoherence’.

So who would you rather go with? Szarkowski who holds Atget up to be ‘an exemplary pedagogical lesson’ or Krauss who describes him like ‘the blind man’s elephant’?

Research

4127, amer (2011) Back to the past – Eugene Atget (2001) | #ASX. Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/07/eugene-atget-back-to-past-eugene-atget.html (Accessed: 1 January 2017).

Bolton, R. (ed.) (1992) The contest of meaning: Critical histories of photography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Eugène Atget (2016) Available at: https://www.moma.org/artists/229 (Accessed: 1 January 2017).

Here, S. (2013) Start here. Available at: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/09/30/6-lessons-eugene-atget-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/ (Accessed: 1 January 2017).

Iturbide, G. (2017) Juchitan – amber. Available at: http://www.amber-online.com/collection/juchitan/ (Accessed: 1 January 2017).

Self, W. (2013) Guy Debord’s the society of the spectacle. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/14/guy-debord-society-spectacle-will-self (Accessed: 1 January 2017).

Solomon-Godeau, A. (1991) ‘Canon Fodder’ in Photography at the Dock. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Victoria, Museum, A., Museum, O. and Team, W. (2013) Eugène Atget – Victoria and Albert Museum. Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/e/eugene-atget/ (Accessed: 1 January 2017).

Wells, L. (2009) Photography: a Critical Introduction (4th ed). Abingdon: Routledge.

People Surveys – Making Sense of Documentary Photography – James Curtis

Documentary photography has…come under harsh scrutiny from post-modern critics, who question its tendency to separate and exploit certain groups of people, serving up the poor as exotic fare or voyeuristic consumers. (Cited in Wells,1997. Rogers, 1994. p.5)

For the next exercise we are instructed to read the article ‘Making Sense of Documentary Photography’ by James Curtis and are given the information that:

Curtis contextualises the work of the FSA photographers within a tradition of early twentieth-century social documentary photography and touches on the issue of the FSA photographers’ methods and intentions. What is your view on this? Is there any sense in which the FSA photographers exploited their subjects?

Exercise

On nosing about I came across this really well researched blog post from fellow student Rob, and I hope he doesn’t mind me linking it here , as it touches on several points raised in this article and the previous research point.

The article itself touches on other photographers and circumstances, but on the whole deals with the FSA and, in particular, a few of the more famous photographers and photographs.

The introduction reminds us that we have to know how to fully analyse a picture in order to ‘gain any understanding of it at all.’ In order to do this it is useful to understand the context in which it was created and eventually used, effectively the methods of procuring the images and the intentions of use. Part of our issue with analyzing historical images in the ‘now,’ is having to overcome the initial concept that we ‘often treat the image as the product of a machine and therefore an objective artifact.’ (Curtis, 2003) That in allowing ‘publishers not authors’ to make the final selection we may not be being served up the whole truth of a situation, and the author of the image has lost control of the message they wanted to make, or how they wanted to make it.

Curtis breaks his essay into sections, the first being in relation to early documentary photography, where photographers readily embrace their label of ‘fact gatherers’ without ‘aesthetic or political agendas,’ but goes on to explain how they did have both, with Alexander Gardner and William Henry Jackson using methods of manipulation to achieve their photographic visions.

We then get modern documentary photography and a brief introduction to Riis and Hine, whose ‘photographic fieldwork’ probably paved the way for the FSA.  Rothstein recalled:

It was our job to document the problems of the Depression so that we could justify the New Deal legislation…

Stryker, who supervised the collection of photographic evidence, stated:

This goal had a specific audience in mind: middle-class Americans who lived in cities far from the locales depicted in the photographs and who comprised the vast majority of the readers of the newspapers and magazines in which the FSA pictures were reproduced.

So straight away the vocabulary used indicates the intention and the intended audience, does this automatically mean that images were going to be biased or manipulated, the subjects exploited? A means to an end?

In looking at who took the photograph you need to establish if they are ‘an historic actor bent upon communicating a message…conscious acts of persuasion.’ Curtis cites Brady and Lange as photographers who knew their audiences and delivered the required images to fit their desires. He also returns to the work of Riis, advising us that many of the images were staged, with some of the participants being paid ‘with cigarettes’.

Walker Evans moved furniture around in the Burroughs home to achieve an aesthetically pleasing image of a simple homestead.

Why, and for whom was the photograph taken? Hine worked for social reform agencies, therefore he had a very obvious agenda, which obviously had a direct bearing upon his work, he tried to portray the ‘deserving poor’ without condescension and with dignity – hopefully the same could be said of the FSA.

Curtis then shatters all illusions surrounding the Rothstein/Gees Bend image. He gives this image as a prime example of the ‘biases and racist assumptions’ of aid agencies:

  • Rothstein was asked to photograph the plantation as if it had not been receiving assistance for the past 2 years.
  • The family was made to appear to be a throwback to African Tribal society
  • The captions used implied that the photograph was of a single family group – one father – rather than a multi-generational group where the other males were still working or simply excluded from the group.
  • The captions also referred to the families as ‘descendants of slaves’ or the house ‘occupied by Negroes’.
  • White families were not portrayed with many children – in fact Lange deliberately only photographed her ‘Migrant Mother’ with 3 of her 7 children lest she lose sympathy for lack of family planning.

What I did find interesting was that whilst researching this image I came across it on the Met Museum website where it is now entitled ‘African-American Family at Gee’s Bend, Alabama’ and the blurb underneath tells us:

As one of the first three photographers hired by Roy Stryker at the Farm Security Administration, Rothstein became intimately familiar with the plight of rural families during the Depression. In this photograph, he deftly communicates the individual personalities of each family member despite the formality of the group pose. The image was reproduced in Richard Wright’s photo-text book, 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States (1941), in which the acclaimed author of Native Son and Black Boy combined New Deal photographs with his words to trace African-American history from slavery, through emancipation, sharecropping, and northern migration, to contemporary joblessness and racial prejudice.

Same image, different interpretations…

We then have to consider how the photograph was taken, not only the equipment used but the positioning and staging etc. here Curtis tells us that, despite all his protestations, Walker Evans must have asked his subjects to pose, due to shooting with a ‘bulky 8X10 view camera’ that required long exposure times. Many of his candid shots had to have been posed, and when comparing companion photographs of the same day this becomes even more apparent. Looking at the ‘outtakes’ allows for wider context and it is very useful that we can see all the archived images online now to get a fuller picture. As Curtis writes ‘this visual evidence offers a much more reliable guide to the photographer’s original intent’. This intent can be further emphasised or altered, depending on the narrative style chosen to present it, and the titles/captions finally assigned. Emotive language could fuse ‘the power of the raw image with the persuasiveness of the written word.’

Curtis ends with the power of the written word to underscore his point about racial attitudes. He chooses examples of work from Russell Lee taken of Mexican households in San Antonio and the Rio Grande valley. Four innocuous images are then pulled apart for their framing and captions:

  • No mother is seen within the images – was she deliberately left out to make it look like a struggling single father household?
  • the caption of a home made of ‘scrap lumber’ suggests the makeshift construction of the house and undermines the fathers ability to provide for his family
  • The girl drinking near a bucket in the kitchen suggests insanitary conditions and a contaminated water supply
  • The kitchen has a dirt floor and other captions draw attention to this health hazard
  • A child in bed is labelled ‘Mexican boy sick in bed’
  • Corner of the bedroom offers no insight as to the contents of the image – namely a home altar
  • the home alters mentioned elsewhere were described ad ‘primitive’

Curtis suggests that rather than trying to suggest these families also were in dire need Lee was making a statement that if ‘white Texans did not receive federal assistance that they would end up in a primitive condition akin to their Mexican neighbors.’

Having read all of that do I consider the FSA photographers exploited their subjects in any way? Does the ‘greater good’ argument win?.

To summarise, the FSA photographers were, to a certain extent, guilty of some manipulation and stage management. However, they did not falsify scenes – although they did imply meaning from omission or caption, nor did they promise anything in return for their subject’s time or photographs. Was this subtle manipulation ethical? I think it depends on the individual photograph and the underlying message. Leaving out a few children does not make the ‘Migrant Mother’ less tired or desperate, however the portrayal and captions of the Gees Bend and Mexican families make me feel less comfortable with saying it was acceptable.

Research

James Curtis, “Making Sense of Documentary Photography,” History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/Photos/, June 2003. (accessed 1 January 2017)

Wells, L. (ed.) (1997) Photography: A critical introduction. London: Routledge.

People Surveys -In The American East

Next up…read ‘In the American East’ by Richard Bolton (in Bolton, 1992, pp.262–83) and write a 200-word reflective commentary on its relevance to documentary practice.

Then look at the work of Charlotte Oestervang in Appalachia (Foto8, V6N1, June 2006, pp.58–9)

To understand the significance of the essay you have to be familiar with  the work of Richard Avedon and in this particular instance his body of work  In the American West.

Immediately below is a selection of his portraiture.

I found a good article about his work here and the link to In The American West is here. To appreciate his style this quote is quite handy:

I’ve worked out of a series of no’s…No to exquisite light, no to apparent compositions, no to the seduction of poses or narrative. And all these no’s force me to the ‘yes.’ I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us.

I often asked myself why he included the black frame of the edge of the negative, apparently the answer is to make it clear ‘that the only crop had been in his mind’s eye’. As you can see his style of portrait photography did not alter.

Continue reading “People Surveys -In The American East”

People Surveys – B&W portraits as a documentary strategy – Zed Nelson, Irving Penn & August Sander

The next exercise has me looking at August Sander, a photographer that I have heard of, and looking more closely at some work by Zed Nelson (new) and Irving Penn (known) and comparing the bodies of work. Is there any connection?

Zed Nelson – Disappearing Britain

To find out if there is a connection I need to dig into Zed Nelson first…from his website:

Having gained recognition and major awards as a documentary photographer working in some of the most troubled areas of the world, Nelson has increasingly turned his focus on Western society, adopting an increasingly conceptual approach to reflect on contemporary social issues.

Love Me … reflects on the cultural and commercial forces that drive a global obsession with youth and beauty. The project explores how a new form of globalization is taking place, where an increasingly narrow Western beauty ideal is being exported around the world like a crude universal brand. The project spans five years, and involved photography in 18 countries across five continents. Love Me was recently nominated for the 2011 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize, short-listed for the Leica European Publishers Award for Photography, and received First Prize in the 2010 Pictures of the Year International awards.

Previous awards include the Visa d’Or, France; First Prize in World Press Photo Competition; and the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, USA.

Nelson’s work has been exhibited at Tate Britain, the ICA and the National Portrait Gallery, and is in the permanent collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Nelson has had solo shows in London, Stockholm and New York.

The images we had to review were from his body of work called Disappearing Britain, which fits in neatly with the ideals of Meadows, who also wanted to capture the vanishing ‘English.’ Nelson also travelled around the country, photographing people from different walks of life, with a variety of occupations and interests. Also some of the ‘style’ is the same, B&W images, people having full length portraits taken, staring directly into the camera, it was voluntary…as people came off shift etc they were invited to pose in make shift studios where they worked and lived. However, they were isolated from their ‘backgrounds’ but all had props to enable the audience to understand their profession or interest.

Within this work Nelson wanted – through his portraits of specific people – to archive the losses that Great Britain went/is going through, due to privatisation – causing pit closures, reduced fish stocks, hunting bans, cut-backs in shipbuilding and other ‘fading traditions’.

These stories are not just about fading traditions, but also a compass to political, environmental and moral change.

Nelson categorised his subjects by profession/interest and there was no age or gender divide, he also captioned each image with the name of the subject and gave a little background information, making this a more personalised, less anonymous project. Due to this more personal approach the audience tends to feel the loss slightly more than the nostalgia, or that could be because I lived through the miners strike etc etc etc…

Irving Penn – Small Trades

A brief intro for those who have never heard of Irving Penn:

Irving Penn was one of the most respected photographers of the 20th century. In a career that began at the premiere fashion magazine Vogue in 1943 and spans more than six decades, he created innovative fashion, still life, and portrait studies. His photographs are defined by the elegant simplicity and meticulous rigor that became the trademarks of his style.


Continue reading “People Surveys – B&W portraits as a documentary strategy – Zed Nelson, Irving Penn & August Sander”

People Surveys – Daniel Meadows

…so much research…time consuming, but necessary and interesting. I had never heard of Daniel Meadows so it wasn’t a quick refresher or a light bulb moment where I went, ‘Oh I think I’ve seen his work!’ I am pretty sure this is all new to me so off I toddle to Google…gotta love the internet…In his own words:

Once upon a time…I lived in a double-decker bus, reg. JRR 404, better known as the Free Photographic Omnibus. She was my home, my travelling darkroom and gallery. For fourteen months in 1973 and ’74, we travelled about making a national portrait of the English. We covered 10,000 miles shooting pictures and giving them away. In January 1975 we parted company. But that wasn’t the end of the journey…

…I’m still working.

In those 14 months of travel he offered free portrait sessions in 22 different towns, photographed 958 people, the majority of whom remained anonymous, collecting their free portraits the following day.

Daniel’s time on the bus marked an important turning point for him; he came back with not just the ‘national portrait of the English’ he had aimed for, but an entirely new perspective on human nature.

Exercise

Listen to Daniel Meadows talk about his work then read the essay ‘The photographer as Recorder’ by Guy Lane.

Continue reading “People Surveys – Daniel Meadows”

Narrative -Sebastião Salgado

When writing stories at school we are told you should have a beginning, a middle and an end. As you progress through the years this becomes a little more sophisticated; you need to take into consideration the plot, the characters, the setting, the complication, the climax and the resolution. The story is more interesting if the reader has to infer meaning, that you use metaphors, symbolism, strong emotive language and vivid imagery.

Photo-stories work on exactly the same principle. If photographs contain the above they can work as stand-alone images or when edited properly, put into a specific order, interconnected events can tell a complete story. Re-arranging the order of the images can impact upon and even alter the story being told.

Exercise – Information and expression

Explore the denotative and connotative aspects of the documentary work of Sebastião Salgado by reading the essay written by Mraz: Sebastião Salgado: Ways of Seeing Latin America’ (2002).

Research the work referred to within the essay and evidence this research in your learning log.

Before launching into the essay I had a scout around online Googling dear old Sebastião. I was first introduced to him several years ago through his body of work about Kuwait  which was first published in 1991. Now 100 of these images have been reproduced, 25 years later, in Kuwait: A Desert on Fire. There are some truly stunning images within this limited edition book, for which he deservedly won the Oskar Barnack Award, recognising outstanding photography on the relationship between man and the environment. To be honest apart from this and Genesis I don’t really know much about his other bodies of work, although I do recognise some of his images when they come up from other studies I have completed. Genesis has been described as:

Mastering the monochrome with an extreme deftness to rival the virtuoso Ansel Adams, Salgado brings black-and-white photography to a new dimension; the tonal variations in his works, the contrasts of light and dark, recall the works of Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Georges de La Tour.

Whilst I really liked the compositions and the subjects taken – I went to the exhibition and I bought the book – I can’t agree with the above. I think there was nothing deft about his post-processing and someone should have told him to walk away from the RAW sliders…I can’t seem to find many reviews that agree with me…but thankfully I did which makes me feel less insecure about the review I did back in 2013! I agree with the comments made by most of the aesthetic beauty of the images, and producing what others expect to see, yeps, sometimes there is nothing wrong with a picture that just is good to look at… but I still can’t get over the post-processing…

Jose – whose work is featured in Context and Narrative, wrote a brilliant review at the time for WeAreOCA.

 

Sebastião Salgado: Ways of Seeing Latin America – John Mraz

To understand the context of the images Salgado took of the Latin Americans – Other Americas (1986), Terra (1997) and Migrations (2000) you probably need to know that he was born in Brazil, but left in 1969 due to his opposition to the military dictatorship and subsequent involvement in the activist movement. This meant when he eventually returned, he was capturing images that resonated with him on a very personal/intimate level as well as being an outsider.

Despite being hailed as a ‘legend of photo-journalism’ Salgado attracts his critics, me included from time to time, in the way he presents his work, his preference for grainy images, and how he tends to pander to his audience. With the Other Americas Mraz accused him of giving ‘his consumers in Europe and the USA what they expect and want…the exotic other.’

Other Americas

Other Americas was Salgado’s first book and as with a lot of his work it has mixed reviews, not that I’d expect his publisher to say anything other than it was brilliant (although it was also deemed award-winning) and Mraz is highly critical of it throughout his essay.

The overall tone is described as one of overwhelming ‘sadness, misery, doom and mystery’ and on looking at this video of his book I can understand why. The choice of music by the YouTube subscriber didn’t help!

 

What I couldn’t get over again was some of the post-processing! How much was that sky darkened? Look at the halo around those kids? It creates an ominous atmosphere and a sense of foreboding.

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It would appear that Salgado opted to make his images darker to convey a dour, depressing outlook. Mraz wonders if this portrayal of an alienated rural community was influenced by Frank’s alternative representation of the USA in The Americans.

Mraz’s other criticisms of the book are Salgado’s choice to: photograph only rural areas, the repeated signifiers, his style of narrative form and lack of accompanying text that did not allow for any other interpretation other than to believe this was a ‘natural’ way of life for Latin Americans. There was no hint of the ‘historical forces, such as dependent capitalism, imperialism and neo-liberalism’ which was making life so difficult. Why were all the subjects so miserable, even on supposedly joyous occasions such as a wedding, or celebrations on The Day of the Dead?

… photographs are by nature ambiguous and polysemic texts; their narrative capacity is weak and their meaning is often determined by the immediate context created for their publication: the synthesis of text, titles and […] the accumulated significance of the images themselves…

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What can you read into this? Why is the Bride in the front seat on her own looking so downcast? Are they on their way to the ceremony  or  away from the ceremony? Does she feel forced into the marriage, or maybe the groom has failed to show? Who is the woman? A friend or a relation? Have they had a disagreement? Is this why she too looks unhappy? Maybe she is against the marriage? There are so many connotations. The signifiers we can see are: a desert, derelict buildings, more ominous skies, two segregated silhouettes in the background… the future definitely does not look rosy…

On watching this video several times I can see Mraz’s point, the signifiers all point to death, oppression and alienation from each other. I could see: darkness, religious icons staring out, train tracks, crosses, poverty, funerals, dead bodies, cemeteries, fog, unsmiling faces, bones, workers in fields bending over, symbolism of the cross, sharp pointed plants, lots of windows/doors/frames separating people.

Mraz argues that as a fine art photo-journalist Salgado made the fatal mistake of using symbols within the images that failed to ‘adequately present the particularity ‘ of the situation. The audience only picks up on the misery and despair because the cumulative effect of the photo-essay’s sombre content gives us ‘no other interpretive framework.’

Continue reading “Narrative -Sebastião Salgado”

Narrative – Research Point – Semiotics – Robert Frank, The Americans

Read Chapters 4 (Narrative) and 5 (signs and Symbols) in Short, M. (2011) Creative Photography: Context and Narrative. Lausanne:AVA Publishing.

Lots of reading and research… sat here with a pile of books and dived into:
Susan Sontag: On Photography
John Berger & Jean Mohr: Another Way of Telling
Maria Short: Context and Narrative
Liz Wells: Photography – A Critical Introduction

I’ll begin with Maria Short but will slip in references to the others as I go along.

The aim was to read chapters 4&5, but as with the last directive I found it just as important to have read the previous chapter as well, not just cover what we ‘have’ to look at…Basic pointers… There is no point in having signs and symbols without having an audience. There is no point in having an audience if they cannot ‘read’ the images you are producing. There must be an intention ‘behind photographic communication’ and equally as important, you must appreciate the audience and ‘the context in which it will be viewed.’

Short continues by mentioning the process of picture making and how the photographer’s connection to the subject can influence the audience responses and reactions. Once again emphasising how important it can be to have intimate knowledge about your chosen subject, or at least a passion about it. She references Don McCullin, Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland.

Don McCullin from an interview he gave for The Guardian in May 2010; he realised he changed from being a ‘gung-ho’ war photographer, into someone who cared more about what he was capturing than securing approval from his peers or employers and climbing the career ladder, when he was covering the Biafran War in 1969. She writes: it occurred to him that his purpose should be to highlight the unacceptable. (p70)

Of Berenice Abbott’s love of New York after a decade in Paris, McCausland wrote: Only from passion and fantastic passion does any sense of reality in art, or life, come. (p73)

Moving swiftly on to Chapter 4: Narrative: the aim of narrative techniques is to ‘provide meaning, coherence…a sense of rhythm [they are] a kind of visual punctuation,’ (p96-113)

There are many ways that a photographer can form a narrative:

  • Linear story telling –  example Susan Dirges: Full Circle
  • Aesthetic continuity – example Jill Cole: Birds
  • A sequential story – example Jose Navarro: Trashumantes
  • Visual Punctuation – Example Barbara Taylor: Beds

In Another Way of Telling Mohr includes a delightfully simple set of images of a blind girl laughing outside his window, revealing her relationship with him and the world through sound and the animal noises he was imitating.

mohr

Difficulty may arise in trying to tell a narrative from within a single image. In this instance the narrative ‘can be drawn from all the components of the picture’ and this is why it is even more important to make sure that you are aware of all the narrative devises and their ‘implications…the aim of the narrative is to provide or anchor meaning and coherence.’

‘Absolute absorption’ helps a photographer spot all the elements coming together, they will ‘notice the symbolic, allegorical or metaphorical … [to] convey something that they have seen or intend.’

The quote from Mike Weaver, ‘The Picture as Photograph’, The Art of Photography, leads us nicely into Chapter 5.

The relation between fact and symbol, expression and idea…is the result of an artist’s negotiation with the actual world according to certain principles.

Chapter 5 : Signs and symbols.We see them everywhere; some we recognise instantly, some we know have meaning but we have not yet learnt them: red=hot, blue=cold…Morse Code I’d have to learn beyond … – – – …

The study of these signs and symbols is called semiotics and many people have had a go at being academic about it…

Ferdinand de Saussure – a Swiss linguist –  and Charles Sanders Peirce (yes my head doesn’t like the way he spells that either) an American philosopher and Roland Barthes- a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic and semiotician, – came up with the following: (you know you are in trouble when you have to add words to the dictionary…)

  • Signifier – the form that the signs take
  • Signified – the concept it represents
  • Representamen – the form
  • Interpretant – the sense made of the sign
  • An object – to which the sign refers
  • Studium – the general enthusiasm/interest in the photograph
  • Punctum – the point of the image, that which arrests attention

Other terminologies are:

  • Symbol – used to represent something else – the signifier does not resemble the signified
  • Icon – resembling or imitating the signifier – e.g. a cartoon, scale mode, metaphor
  • Indexical signifier – linked to the signified – e.g. smoke means fire, footprints – a trace of a physical being

Signs and symbols within a photograph may be a mix of staged imagery, previous research into an area, or pure good luck and skill at editing images. Practical techniques such as shallow depth of field, motion blur and lighting can also provide subtle nuances.

Robert Frank’s The Americans is often referred to when exploring symbolic meaning.

In going through Photography – a Critical Introduction (Wells 1997) I found the section on the symbolism used in the United Colours of Benetton’s advertising campaign really interesting, but a more in-depth response shall have to wait.

Barthes states in The Death of the Author (1967),  that the understanding and interpretation of an image is personal/subjective, therefore any intentional ‘meaning’  by the creator is no more or less important than a ‘meaning’ read by the audience.

Exercise 

Research The Americans, by Robert Frank, find five images within this body of work where symbols are used. Explain what they are and how they function in the images. Then read the introduction to the book by Jack Kerouac. Find symbolic references that you can also identify in Robert Frank’s photographs, these do not have to be the same images used previously.

I ducked and dived and found these videos that show his book and reveal some insights surrounding this iconic body of work.

 

Audio clip

This interview with Frank in The Guardian gives more information with regards to his background and how the book came about. The Americans was unusual in that it was visualised as a book from the outset and is not just a compilation of several bodies of work.

To sum it up: Frank created a book that was raw, captured a feel, an emotion, an essence, an era. He ripped up the compositional rule book and used a ‘snapshot aesthetic’ to create informal, ambiguous images that were often described as visual poetry; they were more of an artistic, emotional expression than a single message.

When published in 1958 people still had the ideal in their minds with regards to the ‘American Dream,’ but, as an outsider looking in, Frank showed them a different viewpoint, revealing how the country and its people were still trapped. Trapped by segregation, segregation of race, class and economy.

Publications were readily promoting glossy advertisements and holding up Hollywood icons as role models (not much has changed!) but Frank wanted to show what was beneath the mask, he portrayed everyday people and everyday situations. Initially his book was not well received. Not only because of the subject matter, but also in the way he chose to present his narrative; the informality of the shots, grain, the off-kilter framing and unusual subject matter meant that it did not receive rave reviews.

He had a knack for photographing what seemed to be the ordinary, the trivial, but the truths behind them, what lay beneath the mask and the profound perceptions you could make when reading the symbolism made for a wonderful historical, photographic legacy.

Below are the five images that I have chosen to look at in terms of their symbolism and my interpretation of their meaning.

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Movie Premier

The signifiers –

1. A blurred starlet
2. The evening gown and jewellery
3. Her disinterested gaze
4.She is central to the frame but walking out of it
5. The crowd of fans behind some smiling – not all looking at the actress
6. The woman with her hand to her face behind
7. The everyday dress of the crowd – e.g. headscarves
8. The Squires sign behind

The signified –

1. The starlet represents our fascination, then and now, of celebrity . That she is blurred illustrates that this way of life is an illusion, a mask, as well as Frank’s experimentation in ways to present his narrative.
2. The evening gown and jewellery underscore the divide between the rich and poor
3. Her disinterested gaze could show the lack of communication and unwillingness of the American people to try to alter the balance of this way of life.
4. That she is walking out of the frame represents how easy it was to ignore the harsh realities of life.
5. The smiles reveal the rush people get when meeting their heroes, the fact that not all are looking at her could signify the 15 minutes of fame culture and they are preparing for the next thing to come along.
6. The woman tentatively chewing her nails represents anonymity, how for the majority of us this is life, there is nothing more than this.
7. The everyday dress further illustrates the social and economic divide of the nation
8. The advertising sign portrays the advancement of consumerism

robert-frank-black-lady-and-white-baby-001

Charleston, South Carolina

The signifiers –

1. A street scene
2. A blurred background
3. A white baby
4. A black woman holding the baby
5. She is leaning against the wall
6. Neither subject are looking at the camera nor at each other
7. The style of blouse could be a uniform

The signified –

1.This is an everyday event
2. That the relationship between these two people are what is of import to the image
3. & 4. The interracial relationship reveals the class divide/racism that persisted in The South, that more often than not, black women were ‘the hired help.’
5. Leaning against the wall could represent the weary resignation of this situation
6. Illustrates how they are accepting of being together but are not really part of each others world.
7. Uniforms show how people accept their position in life and blindly follow instructions/rules without question

I chose this image in particular as it struck a chord having looked at the United Colours of Benetton section as mentioned earlier. The symbolism of this image upset many people due to the connotations of black slavery rather than the hoped for interpretation of racial acceptance. Frank’s version has been described as an American apartheid “Madonna and Child.”

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Elevator – Miami Beach 1955

The signifiers –

1.Blurred images
2. An elevator
3. Elevator operator in a uniform
4. Blank expression – far off gaze
5. Fur stole
6. Off-kilter framing

The signified –

1. Realities of life
2.Being trapped
3.Conformity
4.Isolation even if surrounded by others – dreaming of better things
5. The social and economic divide of the nation
6.The unfairness and occasional awkwardness of reality

The young girl was found many years later after coming across the image in an exhibition:

Robert Frank took about four photos of me without a flash in the elevator. I didn’t know he was taking them. And then when the elevator emptied of its ‘blurred demons,’he asked me to turn around and smile at the camera. And I flashed a smile, put my hands on my hips. I hammed it up for about eight or ten frames.

However, it was the moment she revealed her inner self that Frank captured and printed.

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Drugstore, Detroit, 1955-56

The signifiers –

1. Covered, blurred cake in the foreground
2. Lots of advertising for Orange Whip
3. Prints or adverts on the walls
4. Behind the counter there is mess on the floor
5. Long marble lunch counter
6. Male only customers appear to be of one race
7. Men sat at the counter appear not to be conversing
8. The servers appear to be of African-American heritage
9. Wearing uniforms
10. Food consumption

The signified –

1.Unobtainable luxury
2. & 3. Consumerism and consumption
4. Real life isn’t always tidy
5. The divide in society
6. Inequality of women/racial divide
7. Isolation
8. Sense of communities within community
9. Corporate identity, conformity, emphasises community within community
10. Rituals of food link us together

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Drive-in movie, Detroit 1955

The signifiers –

1.Large screen/drive-in
2. Two men on the screen
3. Cars

The signified –

1. Fascination with Hollywood, celebrity, escape from reality – the American Dream.
2. Inequality of women, women not portrayed, men’s status elevated.
3. Consumerism, mass production, isolation – drive in’s replacing the intimacy of the cinema and the closeness of couples sitting next to each other. The reliance on motor vehicles.

Introduction by Jack Kerouac

Kerouac reels off a list of symbolism to be found within the remaining images which also summarise the American psyche:the jukebox, coffins, funerals, cemeteries, crosses, windows, the American flag, canes, old people, cowboys and cowboy hats, open roads, cars, gas stations, cafes, musicians/music, ethnicity, urinals, telephone poles and television. These are signs of advancement, life and death, communications and status. Kerouac reads the images like poetry as intended by the originator.

It could be that the signs and symbols were just ‘there’ and it was skillful editing that managed to pull the images together. As America moved out of the Depression era and away from WWII consumerism and mass production took over, it would have been difficult to avoid what now, in some respects, have become cliches. Yet Frank managed to capture images to convey a certain atmosphere. The Detroit Drugstore image reminded me of this Danny Lyon shot, and whilst very similar in subject and composition the signifiers are slightly different and illustrate a totally different mood.

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SNCC Staff Sit-In, Atlanta Georgia, 1963 Danny Lyon

The counter does not seem to be used as a divide rather it is used as a meeting place suggesting community, the eye contact is not hostile, women are seen to be equal despite being in the minority in this shot, there is social interaction, there is less signage creating a less claustrophobic atmosphere. The marble counter and accoutrements are similar demonstrating that wherever you went in American you could expect the same. Sadly, many places are losing their identity to commercialism, walk down any High Street in the UK  and you will see the same chain stores offering the same goods. Even when you visit local attractions they all seem to buy their merchandise from the same manufacturer so that mementos are also generic!

Intentional or unintentional, signifiers will be captured within our images, or in scenes we might wish to capture. It is important to be aware of these visual clues and consider how they may alter or enhance the meaning of the narrative we are wishing to tell.

 

References

127, amer (2011) Robert Frank’s America (1982) | #ASX. Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/01/theory-robert-franks-america.html (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

Berger, J. and Mohr, J. (1989) Another way of telling. Cambridge: Penguin Books / Granta.

Here, S. (2013) Start here. Available at:
http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/01/07/timeless-lessons-street-photographers-can-learn-from-robert-franks-the-americans/ (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Robert Frank at 90: The photographer who revealed America won’t look back. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

Robert Frank’s elevator girl sees herself years later (2009) Available at: http://www.npr.org/2009/08/30/112389032/robert-franks-elevator-girl-sees-herself-years-later (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

Short, M. (2011) Basics creative photography 02: Context and narrative. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

Sontag, S. (2008) On photography. London: Penguin Classics.

Wells, L. (ed.) (1996) Photography: A critical introduction. London: Routledge.

Woodward, R.B. (2008) Robert Frank’s curious perspective. Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/robert-franks-curious-perspective-83745762/ (Accessed: 24 December 2016).

Narrative- Graham Clarke & Martin Shields

Graham Clarke: How do we read a photograph? From ‘The Photograph’ 1997

Clarke wrote that when we view a photograph we ‘engage in a series of complex readings which relate as much to the expectations and assumptions that we bring to the image as to the photographic subject itself’ and that the ‘photograph achieves meaning through what has been called a ‘photographic discourse [which] involves its own conventions and histories.’

He also reminds us that ‘in any image, however, the primary frame of reference remains the subject of the photograph’ even if this can cause problems. Clarke then discusses Roland Barthes’  distinctions between ‘the relative meaning of different elements within the photographic frame, distinguishing between what has been termed the denotative and the connotative.’

The meaning of these semiotic terms are:

denotative -the literal meaning and significance of any element in the image i.e. a gesture, expression, or an object. What we look at: a smile, a table, a street, a person – what an image SHOWS us.

connotative – the aspects of the elements of the scene -‘the imposition of second meaning on the photographic message proper’ … ‘its signs are gestures, attitudes, expressions, colours, and effects endowed with certain meanings by virtue of the practice of a certain society’.  Or to put it another way visual clues or ‘codes’ that underline and reflect ‘signification within the culture.’- what an image TELLS us.

When reflecting on the work of Lewis Hine Clarke states that his images ‘suggest a whole series of complicating levels and meanings’ and not only do we see things that are actually there but we infer meaning from these ‘structures and terms of reference.’ So documentary photographs both show and tell us something.

Exercise

To look at and analyse a photograph by Martin Shields, make a list of the denotations and connotations. Then compare my findings with those of other students.

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Denotations – what I can see

  • The image was taken so that the tenement buildings stretch into the distance.
  • Knowing people from Glasgow and having visited them, this looks typical Glaswegian council housing stock that has fallen into disrepair.
  • There is only one lamp-post.
  • The pavements and open spaces/possibly once grassy areas also look as if they have seen better days.
  • Two young boys, in the foreground, walk away from the camera arms around each others shoulders. They are in the centre of the frame.
  • They are facing towards each other conversing.
  • The boys are wearing clean, rival football kits, (no coats) possibly Celtic and Rangers, who have a fierce rivalry. They both carry a ball each.
  • One boy has a number 10 on his shirt.
  • Hard to tell due to the quality of the image, but the skies look typical, grey and overcast as there are no deep contrasts or shadows.

Connotations – what I can infer

  • This is a poorer working class area and the two boys are from working class backgrounds.
  • Despite the obvious rivalry of the teams they support they are good friends, suggesting a close-knit community or stronger bond beyond friendship.
  • The cleanliness of the kit implies they are just setting out to play.
  • The separate footballs could imply they are going to play in different games and that there is some form of divide between them.
  • The number 10 could be his age.
  • No coats suggest a warm summer’s day.
  • The lack of lighting could suggest danger at night.
  • The fact they are in the centre of the frame suggests that they are important – children signify hope for the future?
  • The cloudy sky could suggest problems lie ahead – maybe the houses are to be torn down and the boys will lose their friendship if re-housed?

What other students thought…

Rob

Denotation – the photo shows us:

Two young friends from rival football teams
Walking through a rundown area
Possibly on their way back from playing a match
They are in the very front of the image’s depth, with the path ahead stretching out in front of them

Connotation – the photo tells us:

That there are prospects for peace in a place divided by sectarian tension [my guess was Glasgow from the striped kit]
That the journey to peace starts with this generation
That the path ahead might be long and difficult

Leonie

Denotations
* Two young boys, about 11 years old
* Friends, comrades, both on their way to play football (they are still very clean)
* Walking through a poor, dilapidated area, I assume that they live here themselves, but the image doesn’t make that clear
* The flats are empty and deserted, in decay.The boys are walking on the grass, next to a road.
* It’s a cloudy summer day.
Connotations
* Even though you live in poverty, sports bring people together and build friendships
* Together you are much stronger than alone
* Together you can face decay and be able to put your mind on other things
* Every child has the right and need to play, this is universal and makes the viewer connect with the boys, even if they are from a different socio-economical background

Matt

Denotation:
Two boys with footballs.
Smiling with friendship, this can be seen in their raised cheek bones.
Rough waste ground.
Boarded up derelict houses in the background.
The boys have a football each, and support different teams, one stripes one a solid colour, this cannot be identified fully due to the black and white.

Connotation:
The image looks like it is set in a run down area of Glasgow.
The boys would appear to be a Celtic and a Rangers fans, this is muted and not as obvious as it would be in colour.
The boys may have gone out alone as they are both carrying footballs but are going away as friends.
Strong sectarian divide between the two football teams, Catholic and Protestant united by the younger generation.
The road running along the edge of the frame in their direction of travel could denote that they have a long way to go yet, the road is long and never-ending.
The rough ground they are on cold tell us that it is a long and bumpy path they have to travel.
Their friendship and happiness, their willingness to unite could be their way out of the area they live.
They are walking away from us as though to say we have a bond and a friendship

Anna

Denotations:
They are both of about the same age: -/+ 10 yrs old.
They are wearing different clean outfits – may be from opposing teams?
They are on their way to a football match – they are too clean for coming from a match.
They both carry a football but they are different.
They are walking on rough ground.
There are no trees or live plants visible.
There is 1 street lamp.
They are walking behind what may be blocks of social housing.
The low wall they are walking next to is not new & is crumbling away.
Some of the windows in the blocks of flats look boarded up.
The photo was taken early this century.
The photo is in B&W.

Connotations:
If the photo is posed:

The children are not from the council houses.
They look happy & there is no threat of violence.
They are well-fed and well looked after & probably come from a loving environment.
They are probably chatting about who will score more goals & what they will eat afterwards.
There is a terrific bond between them.
There is a dissonance between the surroundings & the boys’ outfits & demeanour.
There will be a happy ending.
The B&W nature of the photo suggests that the message it illustrates is to be taken seriously – as it appears in a newspaper but this is at odds with the boys’ friendship which is central to the photo.
The football removes the boys from any but the working class/lower middle class environment – or a staged environment.
If the photo is not posed:

The photographer treats the boys with respect.
These boys are survivors – they will stick together & make the most of life.
Their future is rosy although the overcast skies tell me otherwise.
The very straight, concrete lines of the walls & the layout of the blocks of flats connote that their lives have been set & they will not cross them, they will remain in their working class environment. This is at odds with the second connotation in this set.
The B&W & grainy nature of the image removes any creativity/joy & puts the content in the serious/difficult category of social reporting.
Wider social & cultural questions are implied in the football & denote a link with the social housing aspect of the council flats.
The boys are surrounded by social/economic/material deprivation.
The rough area they are walking on is likely to trip them up figuratively.
The contradictions in the image tell me that the photo was either staged for the newspaper article or that the children have been photoshopped in. It could also mean that my cultural compass is faulty!

On reviewing the comments made by other students there were some similarities and some differences. On the whole the similarities picked out the main points: the children being the central point of focus, the probable age of the children, the deprivation of the area, different football kits, friendship, possible divide/ problems ahead. Some considered that the image could have been staged; that did not cross my mind. In some instances there were  some differences: I had not considered the analogy of sport bringing people together nor the child’s right to play. Nor did I consider that they were well fed and that their kits were in good condition. Despite a few variations this suggested we all have a very similar cultural upbringing and therefore arrived at similar interpretations.

I then needed to read the original newspaper article and consider if the text related to my initial deconstruction and if it changed my perception of the image.

The main article was concerning the fact Glasgow tenants had voted to sell off council housing, or rather allow a housing association to take control, refurbish ‘crumbling’ homes and build many new homes.  From the tone of the story it would imply that tenants would not be being forced to move as it states that ‘existing tenants’ would not face a rent increase and could look forward to the ‘good-construction industry.’ Some people were for this move, believing in investment and speeding up regeneration, whilst the others against thought it would lead to higher rents and the end of social housing.

Has the text changed my deconstruction? Yes and no. I picked up on the poor housing in the background, and the area probably being in Glasgow –  well-known for its deprived slum areas –  but I thought the children were going to be the main subject. I read into the opposing shirts as a rivalry between children/their parents and that they represented a brighter future. This was a more literal reading of the photograph/story being about them. However, the article gives the image a more abstract interpretation; regenerating the area for the benefit of all, including the younger generation  with the opposing views being adults from the political divide.

The caption under the image emphasises the human element that currently the boys have to play in a rundown area and deserve better.

Clarke wrote that using the subject as the primary frame of reference could be problematic and Barthes stated ‘the structure of a photograph is not an isolated structure; it is in communication with at least one other structure, namely the text – title, caption or article – accompanying every press photograph… These two structures are cooperative but, since their units are heterogeneous, necessarily remain separate from one another.’

Which goes to prove that sometimes the symbolism is more conceptual that we imagine and that more often than not we needs words to help us truly read an image.

Research

Barthes photo message (no date) Available at: http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/lklichfall13/files/2013/09/Barthes-Photo-Message.pdf (Accessed: 23 December 2016).

Clarke, G. (1997) The photograph: A visual and cultural history. New York: Oxford University Press. (Clarke, 1997, pp. 27–31)

Graham Clarke (no date) Available at: http://www.photopedagogy.com/graham-clarke.html (Accessed: 23 December 2016).

(No Date) Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/footballboys.pdf (Accessed: 23 December 2016).

Shields, M. (no date) Two Young Footballers [Photograph]. Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/course-pdfs/ph2_documentary_260313.pdf (Accessed: 23 December 2016).