Considered one of the pioneers of contemporary photography, David Bailey is credited with photographing some of the most compelling images of the last five decades. He first rose to fame making stars of a new generation of models including Jean Shrimpton and Penelope Tree. Since then his work has never failed to impress and inspire critics and admirers alike, capturing iconic images of legends such as: The Rolling Stones, the Kray twins, Damien Hirst and Kate Moss, these simple yet powerful black and white images have become a genre in their own right.
Mostly, David Bailey is known for his stark black and white portraits, however he also shot some stunning landscapes, capturing a vanishing part of London. Published in 1982, Bailey took photographs of his local area: NW1, Primrose Hill and Camden, which had been his home for nearly 30 years and was gradually altering, so he decided to:
…photograph the shuttered cinemas, boarded railway arches, crumbling Victorian facades, dormant car park and advertising hoardings. 34 years ago it was a statement of the suburban decay, and looking back on the images now it becomes even more poignant.
Gone is the history to be replaced with glass and steel, family businesses replaced by chain fashion stores and coffee shops.
Bailey owned a house in Gloucester Terrace – one of the few houses not split into flats – and from here he would wander through his neighbourhood selecting his subject matter. At the time is was grubby and cheap, not at all like the ‘swanky’ area it is now.
When I saw that these works were going to be on display at Heni London (a small upstairs gallery which I nearly walked passed!) I made a note that I should definitely go and have a look.
I was a little disappointed that they did not have any handouts, but you were allowed to photograph the exhibition which I found a pleasant but surprising change from most venues. The lovely assistant did tell me I could buy the book of:
…David’s thoughtful perspective on the area [which]is translated in these iconic, black and white archival photographs.
Displayed in a very light, airy, white, high ceiling-ed room, I was also surprised that the photographs were framed with highly reflective glass. Taking advantage of this I explored creating surreal images using the reflections of the beautiful large windows.
A brilliant study of how to shoot within your local area; the compositions and the smaller details evoke memories of the 70’s for me ( The design of the wall, framed within the car window, is a blast from the past! ) and capture the atmosphere of the place, linking to the coursework and my research into how photographers used authorship and reflexivity to create a sense of local identity. The body of work took four years to complete, Bailey using plate cameras and tripods and his trade mark black and white imagery.
“I’d look at something that took my fancy, I’d note the time of day and when the light was going to be right and then go back three or four times. I did it as a continuous work.”
Looking back he says the change he saw then was not a surprise – and our city is constantly on the move, making it more important to capture moments and preserve them.
London changes all the time, and that isn’t unique – everywhere changes, every day…I like continuous change – it is more interesting
When looking at the buildings he recounts how:
They seemed to tell the story of the people that lived there, like an invasion into their personal life…These buildings were the first building that I knew and they had a Gothic effect on me. I prefer buildings that have a certain history about them, and the people that lived in them, made love in them, gave birth or died in them. The facade of a building is like a person’s face, it tells a story.
Which fits in neatly if not slightly obscurely with the ideas expressed by David Campbell when he quoted: ‘Is it the case, as Robert Hariman has argued, that sometimes “things speak louder than faces.”’
As well as a personal account these images provide a historical documentation of the area, especially as the majority of independent businesses have been replaced by high street chains.
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.
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.
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…
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…
Assignment Two Single Image Narrative
Assignment Two Single Image Narrative
Assignment Two Single Image Narrative
Assignment Two Single Image Narrative
Assignment Two Single Image Narrative
Assignment Two Single Image Narrative
Assignment Two Single Image Narrative
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:
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
Audrey Hepburn at the Chicago premiere of “My Fair Lady” at the RKO Palace Theater. October 23, 1964
November 1953, New York, NY
1954, New York, NY
July 27, 1954, New York, NY
September 18, 1962
1963. Chicago, IL
From her work I need to select 5 images that show the influence of surrealist elements.
This photograph has the elements of reflections in the puddles and reversed writing providing an unreal atmosphere to the image.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Henri Cartier Bresson
Tony Ray Jones
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:
Depiction of the unseen
Alternative angles of the everyday/distortion
Everyday objects , people, and places shot in an unusual way
Use of lines /curves /shadow/light
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.
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.’
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’?
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?
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.
There is a lot of reference to the FSA from the outset in this coursework so I have already written and read quite a bit about it, but will add some more bits n bobs here.
Many photographers were involved within this project, which was very political in its motives. Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal aimed to deal with the effects of the Great Depression. The photographic evidence gathered by the FSA, formerly The Resettlement Administration, was essential to help gain public support for the New Deal legislation. This enterprise became the ‘best example of a major state-funded documentary project in the world’. (Wells, 1997. p.81)
The FSA photography group consisted of Theodor Jung, Edwin Rosskam, Louise Rosskam, Ben Shahn, John Collier, Sheldon Dick, Ann Rosener, Jack Delano, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, Gordon Parks, Arthur Rothstein, John Vachon and Marion Post Wolcott.
Information can be found here with regards to the work they undertook for the FSA.
So I need to look at some of the work undertaken by a few of these photographers and consider if the photographers were exploiting their subjects… Lets have a look at the definition of exploit…
1.make full use of and derive benefit from (a resource).
“500 companies sprang up to exploit this new technology”
synonyms: utilize, make use of, put to use, use, use to good advantage, turn/put to good use, make the most of, capitalize on, benefit from, turn to account, draw on; More
2.make use of (a situation) in a way considered unfair or underhand.
“the company was exploiting a legal loophole”
Reading those two definitions I would say that, yes, they were. They made full use of and derived benefit from the photographs they took, some of the photographers gained more that others, and the main drive was to benefit the FSA and in turn the farmers. History has shown us that not that many workers/farmers lives improved that dramatically and the numbers who directly benefited was small compared to those who were suffering. As Rosler informed us about Florence Thompson (our Migrant Mother) ‘she was proud to be the subject of the photograph, but that she had never made a penny out of it and that it had done her no good (Rosler, 1989:315).
Similar to the reports of Avedon’s sitters that they had been proud to participate in his body of work and be invited to the opening exhibition.
The FSA photographers were directed to capture certain images in a certain way, although they had no control over the final selected shots; even with some freedoms they certainly manipulated the truth, by using certain signifiers and framing in order to gather the evidence needed for the agency. According to Sontag (2008, p.62) the FSA project was ‘unabashedly propagandistic’ with Stryker ‘coaching his team about the attitude they were to take toward their problem subject’.
Margaret Bourke-White’s image Sharecroppers Home (1937) is one such example. The newspapers used on the wall for insulation in this instance are used to show ‘elements of white consumer America…the American Dream…’ from which the black child is ‘excluded’. The photograph is not just about ‘poverty, but also about injustice…inequalities…constructed to make us question…’ (Clarke, 1997. P.149)
All images had to be submitted, the control over what was released was again in the hands of the ‘dominant class’ and they chose the face of the ‘under class’ and how we viewed the Great Depression, ‘ the archive has been used as a resource from which some photographs have been more often selected than others…our sense of the project is constructed from the editing…’.(Wells, 1997. p.81)
Selective choice of images from Lange…
Dorothea Lange: Mother and baby of family on the road. Tulelake, Siskiyou County, California. 1939.
Explanatory notes read:
The car is parked outside the Employment Office. The family have arrived, before opening of the potato season. They have been on the road for one month–have sick baby.
…Father washed the baby’s face with edge of blanket dampened from canteen, for the photographs.
Both are truths…one is more realistic…which would you choose to show the situation, the feelings…?
However, some images were used to misinform such as Arthur Rothstein’s photograph Gee’s Bend 1937 where he was ‘instructed to photograph the community as if there had been no [such] assistance’ (Curtis, 2003).
There were more racial undertones to this image as well which I shall cover in the separate post regards the Curtis article.
More examples of what we aren’t typically shown…people smiling, dressed smartly and having fun!
Russell Lee: Saturday night in a saloon. Craigville, Minnesota. 1937.
Marion Post Wolcott: Jitterbugging in Negro juke joint, Saturday evening, outside Clarksdale, Mississippi. 1939.
Jack Delano: Fiddler (Mr. Ed. Larkin) for the square dances at the World’s Fair at Tunbridge, Vermont. 1941.
Russell Lee: Negro musicians playing accordion and washboard in automobile. Near New Iberia, Louisiana. 1938.
To complicate matters, adding to the ethical debate as illustrated above and in previous research, the individuals, and descendants, in some of these original images have been traced, re-photographed and publicised. At what point should we leave things alone? Does this further attention add a voyeuristic element? Is it important to understand the perspective now to gain further insights into the history of the events as they unfolded as well as the history of documentary photography?
Once they had completed the agency work was it right for individual photographers to go on and make money off of the back of poverty, write books etc? Wright Morris in In Our Image wrote:
In the photographer’s aspiration to be an ‘artist’ does he enlarge his own image at the expense of the photograph?
Clarke, G. (1997) The photograph: A visual and cultural history. New York: Oxford University Press.
Founded in 1937, by anthropologist Tom Harrisson, writer Charles Madge and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings, the Mass Observation organisation would work with volunteers and full-time observers on a range of social research projects, including East end Anti-Semitism and the West Fulham by-election 1938. Based in a Bolton house they called Worktown and Madge’s home in Blackheath, London, Harrison and Madge favoured different methods when it came to collecting data. Harrison preferred a top-down approach, where behaviour of a group or class of people would be observed, whereas Madge used a top down approach, asking individuals for responses and using surveys to provide qualitative data. After some initial hesitation, the government’s Ministry of Information would work with Mass Observation during WW2 to report on public morale and the effects of the war. Madge would leave the group in 1940, citing the government commissions as one of his reasons, believing that it was a slippery slope from being a majority government-funded organisation, to becoming a spying organ of the state, facilitating government manipulation of public opinion. After the war, many of the Mass Observation workers would go on to join the newly established Government Social Survey, and this coupled with lack of funding saw the organisation eventually merge into a market research company. Among sociologists and anthropologists, Mass Observation is still valued for its pioneering work in the field of participant observation.
For this section in the coursework we are asked to explore Humphrey Spender’s work on ‘Worktown’ and reflect on the style and themes used, paying particular attention to the ethics and purpose of the project. A link to an article ’90 and Counting’, published in BJP magazine is given to provide background information to the photographer and the project.
Spender was the Mass-Observation’s main photographer although the survey also included written material, with ‘eavesdroppers’ listening to conversations and making notes. The intention was to record the everyday life and customs of the British public accurately and unobtrusively. Spender wanted to be unobserved, capture natural reactions and leave behind any pre-conceived ideas that he may have had. Ethically, they had the best intentions yet the House of Commons referred to them as ‘spies and snoopers’ Barron, J. (2000)
An article in the Guardian quotes Spender as saying:
We were called spies, pryers, mass-eavesdroppers, nosey parkers, peeping-toms, lopers, snoopers, envelope-steamers, keyhole artists, sex maniacs, sissies and society playboys.
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.
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.
…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.
Listen to Daniel Meadows talk about his work then read the essay ‘The photographer as Recorder’ by Guy Lane.
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 GenesisI 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…
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 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.
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…
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.’