Own Research – Magnum Talk – The Journey with Matt Black and Antoine d’Agata Barbican October 2 2017

A great journey has long been regarded as an access point to creativity, to new experiences, places and people, and often to introspection and self-learning.

I was looking forward to hearing David Campney in this talk, but at the last minute he was replaced by Aaron Schuman, and to be honest I was a little disappointed in his interview technique. He did not seem to bring the best out of either men. However, that could just have been their personalities….

Matt Black and Antoine d’Agata were in conversation, ‘exploring the concept of the journey as a structure for visually responding to the world.’ They discussed their personal take on the photographic road trip and how the journey can be used as a framework for making photographs.

Matt Black

Matt Black is from California’s Central Valley, an agricultural region in the heart of the state. His work has explored the connections between migration, poverty, agriculture, and the environment in his native rural California and in southern Mexico.

For over 20 years, photographer Matt Black explored the issues of poverty, migration and farming in California’s Central Valley, examining the extreme economic hardship in one of the country’s richest states and is highly critical of the contrast in the richest nation in the world also having these pockets of huge deprivation. He photographed people living at or below the poverty line. According to MSNBC, fully 45 million people living in the US ‘meet the official guidelines for poverty’ many are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Apparently there are 250K more Mexicans in California than in Mexico, leaving ghost towns behind. Mexico has lost 80% of its population, which is a staggering figure.

Black was inspired by the work of the FSA but he believed they should have documented the black Africans more than they did, he followed one family, tracking down Hayley Jones, the daughter of the original migrants, and three generations later she is still working in the fields. There is a distinct lack of opportunity and mobility.

In 2014 he took to Instagram for his latest project, Geography of Poverty, using the social app’s mapping feature to pinpoint California’s poorest communities. In the December he was named TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year.

California always seemed special and unique in terms of how it symbolised promise and progress, so it seemed somehow symbolic to begin there and travel east, but what has surprised me is the similarities I have encountered as I travelled from one community to another. All these diverse communities are connected, not least in their powerlessness. In the mainstream media, poverty is often looked at in isolation, but it is an American problem. It seems to me that it goes unreported because it does not fit the way America sees itself.

After two decades of concentrating on California’s Central Valley, Black expanded his project to the rest of the country.

His on-going project The Geography of Poverty, saw him travelling 48,000 miles across 44 States to photograph designated ‘poverty areas’ and highlight the growing gap between rich and poor and Matt Black was awarded the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Prize for this project. He also received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 2016 and was named Senior Fellow at the Emerson Collective. With his high contrast black and white being described as ‘stark and impressionistic.’ I thought they were highly atmospheric, maybe a little too romantic despite the subject matter, and had a grainy retrospective feel about them which reminded me very much of the early work of Sebastião Salgado, Other Americas, plus his Kuwait body of work.

Going back to the theme of ‘the journey’ for Black, the goal was to use it as a storytelling mechanism.

Every stop along the way has a level of poverty above 20%, I wanted to find a continuous route that linked all of these towns, which are no more than a couple of hundred miles from each other. And the fact that you can link all of these communities from coast to coast and back again is telling.

What I took away from Matt Black was:

The idea of always beginning from home and comparing photographic experiences to what you know of yourself, it ‘contextualizes what I am seeing.’

Taking a journey away from home and then returning.

Looking for similar motifs in the unfamiliar

Exploring similarities within different communities

Seeing a lot very fast

Inclusion of captions/text/interviews with people

Thinking about different platforms for the results

Antoine d’Agata

Born in Marseilles, Antoine d’Agata left France in 1983 and remained overseas for the next ten years. Finding himself in New York in 1990, he pursued an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Centre of Photography, where his teachers included Larry Clark and Nan Goldin.

Antoine d’Agata was totally different from Matt Black. He spoke very little, put on a PowerPoint presentation set to a throbbing beat to display his images, and let the work speak for itself. Growing up as a punk in Marseilles had a very strong influence on his life and subsequent photography. His images were firmly within the realms of Daidō Moriyama; they were black and white, grainy, out of focus and looked at the seedier side of life. For his first books published in 1998, De Mala Muerte and Male Noche, d’Agata ‘travelled the world to document characters of the night’s further edges: for sex workers, addicts, war-torn communities and homeless.’ d’Agata informed us that he looked for fragility.

In 2001, he published Hometown and won the Niépce Prize for young photographers. ‘Compiling intimate and provocative images, the book focused on his travels in France and personal journey.’

Unlike Black he undertook no preparation prior to setting out, other than ‘mental preparation’. d’Agata travels the world, documenting his personal experiences and encounters, and oddly more often than not hands his camera over to others to take the photographs. His intention is to be part of the action, not outside it…he did not wish to be a tourist or a consumer…and a lot of the images I suspected him to be the subject of, or part of,  were very dubious in nature, and I suspect he had consumed many things… When asked how he knew his work was finished , or know that the journey was over he replied ‘when the darkness became ‘normal’ and it becomes comfortable…’

He believes in going as far as he can as a human being, but always considers the responsible way in which to represent something. Having said that he thinks he challenges Magnum’s comfort zone, but thinks his work has documentary value. D’Agata has lived as he stated a very murky and nomadic life. Immersing himself in his subjects,  ‘prostitutes and other marginalised misfits,’ and never shies away from dangerous, drug-addled and sex-fuelled situations.

Most of my photographic strategies are aimed at reaching the highest levels of pleasure or unconsciousness and, in this sense, sex and drugs are highly enjoyable working methods. Part of my recent work could be easily described as some chaotic and biased sociology of ecstasy. I live my life with people who use pleasure as a way to impose their existence and identity in a world that denies them every right. But pleasure can’t be separated from pain and alienation. Pleasure is still a dark territory to me and I am exhausted exploring its limits. It’s just a route. Satisfaction isn’t the aim. Feeling might be the point. I’m hooked on adrenaline.

Because he get so involved in the lives of his subjects he does not think his work is voyeuristic nor exploitative. Since 2005 Antoine d’Agata has had no settled place of residence but has worked around the world, he has a passion for his work that does not always fit a commercial niche and runs many workshops to make ends meet.

What did I take away from Antoine?

Don’t do drugs!

Don’t be scared of looking at the uncomfortable things in life

To not always consume but to try to sometimes be part of the action

Challenge reality and the understanding of the world through the eyes of others

Photographs don’t always have to be about aethetics

Research

https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/matt-black/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/29/matt-black-photography-poverty-geography-california-us-sean-ohagan

http://www.galleryintell.com/matt-black-geography-of-poverty/

https://www.magnumphotos.com/?s=Antoine+d%27Agata

https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/ppzp78/fear-desire-drugs-fucking-608-v17n11

 

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Own Research Magnum Photos Now: Storytelling Telling Stories: the Single Image vs. the Series – Matt Stuart and Patrick Zachmann @ The Barbican July 17 2017

This year Magnum and the Barbican Centre have been cultivating a relationship where they have been organising both talks and exhibitions featuring Magnum photographers. The talk which I recently attended  was concerned with the art of story-telling and the debate as to whether or not this can be achieved with a single image.

The audience was given a brief history of the founding of Magnum and the diversity of its membership and more contemporary approaches to the different genres: Henri Cartier-Bresson, ‘the artistically inclined street photographer’; Robert Capa the archetypal photojournalist; George Rodger the tireless traveller; and David ‘Chim’ Seymour  the concerned humanitarian.’

The discussion was chaired by Geoff Dyer; the invited photographers were Patrick Zachmann and Magnum nominee Matt Stuart, and they argued their different viewpoints with regards to the use of a single image or series of images as a tool for storytelling.

Matt Stuart

Matt Stuart explained that his approach is based upon the ideals of Cartier-Bresson: ‘Sometimes there’s a unique picture whose composition possesses such vigour and richness and whose content so radiates outward from it that the single picture is a whole story in itself.’ Despite being interested in stories he believes that the single image is the ‘holy grail.’

Stuart acknowledged that this isn’t always easy, having spent the last 20 years or so ‘walking the streets of London hunting the single image and the only thing that links these single images together is the place.’ The first book he published contained 10 years of work. Stuart went onto explain how his single images ‘contain a depth of narrative’:

There’s often one picture that I find that you can pull from something if you absolutely have to, and my daily grind is to try and get one picture from the day of what actually happened.

An interview for Lensculture gave more background details on his approach and 2016 Magnum nomination. Recently he has been trying to vary his approach and tried to take images just for one week, then just one day followed by just one hour to sharpen his observation skills and trying to tell a story with a minimum/one image.

As he explained, he flicked through a PowerPoint presentation., highlighting the importance of spotting body language and background information that provides juxtaposition, or cohesion:

Sometimes, especially with street photography, stories can be implied, and in this particular picture I think there’s an interesting collision between these two people. There’s a man who is pretty evidently lost in the foreground, and you can tell he’s lost due to the fact he has a map, he’s on the telephone and he’s covering his mouth. Body language is something that I’m quite interested in and something that I look at a lot when I’m out on the street, so I realize when people appear to be lost. The two young men behind him know exactly where they’re going, or at least that’s the implication because one of them is pointing confidently. The difference between the two has made this strange swirl of gestures of two men who know where they’re going and one man doesn’t.

GB. England. London. 2006. Oxford Street.

Stuart continued the talk by telling us how he now has tried to change what he occasionally photographs, previously his images were about capturing humour and odd situations but more recently he has been drawn to the more serious reportage side of documenting image that, within them, narrate an entire story. Examples he cites and images he showed included the recent tragedy of The Grenfell Tower fire and the London Bridge terror attacks. Both of these events had to be handled with respect and dignity as they were both complex  and emotional. He told us of people who wanted to tell him their story, of people staring open mouthed as events unfolded.

After the terror attacks on June 3rd, 2017, Stuart walked with intent, hoping to capture a photograph that summed up the mood of the day. He showed us a series of images he took of a woman crossing London Bridge with a Union Flag hanging from her handbag, discussing why he went with one over the other, the discrete semiotics that helped convey the mood.

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I decided to get up very early in the morning and go to London Bridge. I was there at 5 o’clock in the morning; I was looking at people walking along the bridge and coming to work, and at about 8 o’clock, which I know is a busy time on London bridge, I saw a woman walking with a Union Jack in her bag. It was just the stick poking out, and I thought, ‘That’s strange that she is walking with a Union Jack in her bag,’ so I followed her, which is something you do a lot as a street photographer, and took two frames that I find interesting. I found her very relevant to the day. In another moment she pulled out the flag and just walked across this bridge with it, so there’s two images with different moods – one potentially positive and one more sorrowful.

He asked us to consider which is weirder? The man who carries things or the man who photographs the man who carries things?

Brexit came up as a typical and topical subject…something that I will think about with my assignment 5.

Patrick Zachmann

Patrick Zachmann’s approach to photography is the exact opposite of Matt Stuart’s, preferring a ‘long-term approach to building a story.’

He feels his commitment is to tell stories about the outside world and himself, he believes by doing this he understands himself better through looking at ‘others’.

Some of his images, whilst looking like straight documentary, occasionally are not quite what they would seem. The example that sticks most in my mind was a Chinese drama student demonstrating against the then current regime. Zachmann captured her performance piece as she writhed on the floor in agony, without the captioning on the image you would have thought she had just been struck down. Although his image was a truthful documentation of an event, by not revealing the entire picture the narrative was open to interpretation, maybe even misrepresentation. This is why he strongly believes that captions are an important tool for his style of documentary photography. He also keeps a diary to ensure that when he edits and uses his images at a later date he always knows the context and backstory, photography is not enough in his opinion it can go further.

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His work as been described ‘incorporating cinematic ploys…interwoven with narrative strands of fiction.’ Zachmann gets to know his subject matter over a long time, approaching it from many different angles and perspectives, which enables him to have a multi-layered narrative. Again a relief to hear was his confession that there will be images that are weaker than others, ‘like music there is a rhythm.’ The images that really make no sense he does not include. NB to self to edit ruthlessly.

At first he did not identify with Magnum and even now he does not allow the organisation to pressure him into doing things he does not want to do. He advises anyone ‘keep going your way.’

Zachmann and Stuart, despite having totally different photographic voices were appreciative of each other’s work. Zachmann commented:

I’m not like Matt Stuart but I really like his work as a street photographer. I have never identified with street photographers. From the beginning, my commitment to photography is to tell stories – about the world, about others, and about myself and my own family, often through that work.

I am very often asked if I consider myself more a photojournalist or an artist and I have never been very clear on my answer, and I’ve recently come to think that I am both.

This was quite reassuring when you are struggling to pigeon-hole your own take on the ‘art’ of photography, finding your own voice.

Zachmann is fascinated by diaspora – a scattered population whose origin lies within a smaller geographic locale. Diaspora can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland – he considered his own family history and wondered how much of this influenced his approach.

His projects are many and varied and focus on groups in society from a range  of different countries. He gains inspiration from many sources, both film and newspapers. For example one of the earliest projects that brought him acclaim – his body of regarding the police and mafia in Naples – was inspired by a small newspaper story.  This developed into ‘a collection of cinematographic photographs’ which culminated in his first book, Madonna! in 1982. This was eventually accompanied by a fictional novel inspired by the experience illustrated with the images, published a year later. Note to self on how you can further develop an idea and sustain your practice.

As mentioned earlier Zachmann spent much time in China, his first trip being in 1982, and returning on several occasions over the following decades, taking inspiration from the Shanghai film noirs of the 1930s.  Once more this investigation into another lifestyle led him to a smaller group within that society as he examined ‘the underbelly of the city.’

I really found a love for these movies, which were dealing with the underworld of the Triads – the Chinese mafia, secret societies, prostitution and illegal gambling; all these things interested me as a photographer, visually. Then, when I started my work on Chinese diaspora and then I continued working in China, I realized that, consciously or unconsciously…that’s also what I think makes the difference between a journalist and an artist. When you’re a journalist you cannot be led by your unconscious or by interesting light or faces, but you have to look for information.

Being patient and forging relationships also helped him capture hard to document images. Zachmann photographed the now long-gone “Forbidden” or “Walled City, a ‘lawless area in Hong Kong that belonged to mainland, communist China.’ Gaining access through a nervous guide, referred to as “W” enabled him to photograph the dark world of the Walled City. He thinks that the quality of light is the most effective tool when telling a story, shooting in black and white with a Leica. The atmospheric images reminded me of Bladerunner.

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Zachmann was photographing Beijing youth in 1988 to 89, he captured images of the Tiananmen Square protests at their beginnings, while there was more of a festival feeling, describing it as a “Chinese Woodstock.”

Having spent a great deal of time understanding Chinese culture from various entry points, Zachmann’s images could be said to be ‘more nuanced, than the foreign press. A fact that I have discovered to be true – it is easier to photograph what you know or have researched.

Research

http://www.mattstuart.com/

https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/patrick-zachmann/

 

 

Suggested Research – in response to Assignment Four

As assignment 4 was an essay there were no images to re-work, but Russell included several links and interesting points within his feedback. I decided to research the ideas and to see if they would form any alterations to my essay.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/nikon-sexist-men-32-photographers-asia-no-woman-new-camera-promote-fx-format-d850-a7946111.html

Nikon labelled sexist after asking 32 male photographers to promote its new camera – but no women
‘We had not put enough of a focus on this area,’ admits camera giant

In September 2017 Nikon in Asia was severely criticised on Social Media after selecting 32 “creative individuals” to test and promote its new camera, the D850,  without including a single woman. In a statement they said this was more accident than design as some of the females invited to take part were unavailable but admitted that they should have in effect tried harder.

At a global level, Nikon has invited four photographers to act as ambassadors for the launch of the D850, one of which is Italian photographer Rosita Lipari.

We take pride in celebrating female talent and include many brilliant female photographers in our Ambassador line-ups globally and will continue to do so.

Rosita Lipari is a wedding photographer who takes very different shots compared to ‘traditional’ work.

https://mywed.com/en/photographer/lipari/

In the fashion industry there will always be some kind of divide until society throughout the world stops seeing one, or emphasising it. Different cultures have different laws/rules governing how men/women can act. Photography is just a reflection of this wider world.

Most recently John Lewis thought they would partially address this imbalance by getting rid of gender labels, but this seems to have backfired with some as much as it has been praised by others.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/john-lewis-boys-girls-clothing-labels-gender-neutral-unisex-children-a7925336.html

Reading the article drew my attention to this as well.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/national-trust-sexist-hats-girls-selling-children-future-footballers-wife-charity-a7919601.html

Fashion is a minefield for larger stores it would seem.

Gap, for example, came under fire for referring to girls as “social butterflies” and boys as “little scholars” in an advert promoting its new clothing range.

Asda was criticised for the gender disparity in its clothing, with girls’ clothes featuring slogans such as “Hey Cutie” and “Ponies Rock” in contrast with “Future Scientist” and “Bows Will Be Boys” on boys’ clothing.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4860060/pretending-sexes-ludicrous.html

Being a parent to now grown-up children I never forced them to wear ‘gender’ specific clothing. As a toddler my daughter wore hand-me-downs from both sexes, I hated anything pink but sometimes she would choose the most girly fluffy tops to wear, the next day she would be happy grubbing about in shorts and t-shirts that were ‘male’ in design. Likewise when my son came along he would dress-up in bride’s outfits and push a pink buggy, he also insisted on playing with my daughter’s Barbie dolls, so much so I eventually bought him one, to go along with an Action Man!

I don’t think it is the labels that desperately need to alter, at the end of the day at a certain point the male and female body shape does start to alter, but the inclusion of different designs, colours and slogans on the clothing would be a better way forward.

To look at how Instagram may be helping the ‘female gaze’ or influencing photography in general Russell pointed me towards an article on the recent Instagram selfies of Cindy Sherman.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/aug/09/cindy-sherman-instagram-selfies-filtering-life

“Cindy prefers not to comment on her Instagram posts.”

This was the reply from Cindy Sherman’s New York gallery, Metro Pictures…

A private Instagram account run by Sherman featuring a new series of selfies was recently made public, creating an art world sensation overnight. Sherman has a long history of dramatically staged self-portraiture, and in a sense pioneered the idea of the “selfie” decades before social media began.

That area between real life and the theatre of the selfie is what Sherman is already so adept at presenting, but in the context of an era where Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized women for their physical appearance, her images of distorted female faces take on a much more defiant tone.

The article also linked ideas of what the future holds for presenting/exhibiting work:

What does our digital landscape mean for the changing nature of exhibiting one’s work? Is it better or worse than showing in a real gallery space? “The difference between exhibiting online over exhibiting in a real space is ‘depth’ in every possible sense,” said New York writer and curator Jeffrey Grunthaner. “You can’t really take a point of view on an image; there’s no genuine scale to it. It’s simply there, floating in digitality. There’s a certain potential for dictating exactly how viewers look at an artwork that is quite appealing. As I see it, the difficulty in accepting the ascendancy of exhibiting online relates to the proscribed corporate identity most online venues have.”

A section that resonated with me, which may help the flow of my essay was a comment on narcissism:

In many cases, Instagram is not art but a digital dumping ground – a playground for society’s worst narcissists. For an artist like Sherman to be using it as an exhibition space raises the bar for users seeking attention or claiming to be artists.

Russell also directed me to look at work by the late Francesca Woodman

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/aug/31/searching-for-the-real-francesca-woodman

The first solo shows of her work opened in 1986, and drew a great deal of attention. More crucially, she was championed by American critic Rosalind Krauss, who saw her photographs – perhaps somewhat predictably – as an attempt to resist the male gaze (Krauss has written that Woodman exhibits a tendency to “camouflage” herself, attempting to “hide” even as she stands in front of the camera). Although some continued to see the work as adolescent and excessively narcissistic, others began to regard Woodman as the last of the great Modernist photographers, a line that may be traced back to Man Ray and the other surrealists. Later, Cindy Sherman, a contemporary of Woodman’s, became a fan – and perhaps Woodman’s influence can also be seen in the work of Nan Goldin and David Armstrong.

From the Victoria Miro website:

Woodman is often situated alongside her contemporaries of the late 1970s such as Ana Mendieta and Hannah Wilke, yet her work also foreshadows artists such as Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas, Nan Goldin and Karen Finley in their subsequent dialogues with the self and reinterpretations of the female body.

It was also suggested that I look further into Annie Leibovitz and Sally Mann, both are so prolific but I liked this article on Annie Leibovitz:

…and I found these whilst diving about the web:

http://unframed.lacma.org/2013/11/18/see-the-light-through-the-female-gaze
https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-female-gaze-1
https://i-d.vice.com/en_us/article/evxgwp/4-young-female-photographers-sound-off-on-social-media-gender-bias-and-girlgaze

The inspiring exhibition #girlgaze: a frame of mind collects photographs captured by a diverse crew of international young female-identifying artists. Primarily sourced from social media, these visionaries are given the authority and significance they deserve in an IRL framework at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. Each of the 150-plus images broaches the complex topic of selfhood and all that encompasses, from body image to beauty to race. We spoke to four participating young women — with sharply differentiated aesthetics and philosophies — and discussed the photographers they admire, the way gender shapes their vision, and what they wish to change in both the photography industry and the world at large.

https://www.annenbergphotospace.org/exhibits/girlgaze

#girlgaze: a frame of mind is an interactive, digitally driven exhibit for all ages that maps the imaginative landscape of young, female and trans-identifying photographers from around the world. Largely sourced through social media, the curated images’ raw vitality is their only constant – female, WOC, and trans-identifying perspectives are presented on everything from identity and standards of beauty to relationships, mental health and creativity. While viewing these stunning, never-before-exhibited images, visitors will have the opportunity to create and share their own photos on social media.

The exhibit curators are Girlgaze, a collective founded by the famed British-born television host, women’s advocate and photographer Amanda de Cadenet. Girlgaze began as a social media movement with over 450,000 submissions on Instagram and has grown into the first multimedia platform to support girls behind the camera. In addition to its digital showcase for images, Girlgaze provides a larger ecosystem supporting the work and careers of fledgling female and gender-nonconforming photographers, artists and creatives, from providing grants to securing jobs.

https://hazlitt.net/blog/female-gaze-sally-mann-and-kim-kardashian-west

When I found Sally Mann’s work—its arrestingly private views of family, of bodies, of something too subjective to name—my understanding of the way a photograph bore through the eye, inward, proved useless. Here were photographs so technically familiar, yet completely alien in terms of how and what they showed: the bracing intimacy of a mother’s connection to her child. A wife’s perspective of her husband’s ailing body. She was the photographer who made me realize I’d only ever looked at pictures taken by men.

On the topic of self-image, anxiety, insecurity and confidence…This was just plain scary…to think a lot Western women undergo surgery to a prescriptive ideal of beauty and now Chinese women are doing the same!

http://shanghaiist.com/2014/11/10/20-women-before-after-plastic-surgery.php

…and another link provided by Russell

https://www.whatsonweibo.com/chinese-celebrities-weibo-followers-top-10-2017/

Another fascinating cultural difference on gender came to light when I found several articles about Muxes.

https://www.vix.com/en/identity/526920/meet-muxes-mexican-indigenous-individuals-identifying-as-a-third-gender

https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Meet-the-Gender-Smashing-Muxes-of-Mexico–Not-Man-Woman-Trans-or-Gay-20170515-0020.html

I haven’t made any real in-depth observations or comments on this page as there is so much to look up and think about. This is more a page for reference and further contemplation!

 

The documentary project – other OCA students’ work

Some Documentary Projects.

Not our Time; Penny Watson
http://marmalade-cafe.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/not-our-time.html

https://weareoca.com/subject/photography/student-work-uncovered-penny-watson/

As with most of us who choose to ‘document’ Penny has chose a subject very close to her heart, her grandmother, and it shows though in the sensitive nature of the work. I found the imagery well presented and moving. Showing ‘a day in the life’ was something we were asked to deliberately not do and it was interesting to see the progression of a day rather than the progression of a narrative. Is it easier to do a day in the life? Or do you have to have more intimate knowledge of the subject? Another student asked can you sustain the same level of intimacy once you move away from a family member?

Behind the scenes: Beth Aston

Beth Aston’s project was again on a very personal level as she chose to document her own battle with illness. This I found to be very brave, Her choice of lighting, black and white imagery and lighting were used to great effect. The close cropping added another layer of visual coherence. I wonder what elements of this style of photography she would apply to another project or would she chose a different direction?

A Dozen Eggs: Harry Pearce

http://www.harrypearce.co.uk/gallery_515190.html

Another directly personal project where Harry Pearce documented his ‘siblings’ lives into a single family album.’ What came across as everyday snaps I loved the natural lighting on these and the inclusion of text adding a different layer.In time they will be a document to the fashions and ideals of a by gone age.

Feet: Omar Camilleri
http://omarcamilleri.com/2010/09/23/feet-photographic-exhibition/

I love his opening statment

Why FEET? This is an original project which will bring out the diversities of life and at the same time it reflects today’s realities and challenges. Any theme is a challenge for any artist. And any theme can be a source of inspiration.

I really enjoyed the diversity of this project as well as the photographic skills and high quality of the resulting images. Feet can so tell someone’s life story, from cheap shoes causing deformities, to the occupational hazards of being a dancer, to the innocence of a new born and the excited exuberance of youth

The Dad Project: Briony Campbell

http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/

This project in a way was too close for comfort. My mum died from terminal bowl cancer in 2012 and at the time I wondered if I should document it? In some ways I wanted to but in others I felt it was an intrusion into our last moments together. As a daughter and a photographer was I over stepping the line to make a project out of her last days? I don’t think she would have minded if I had asked. We laughed at so many things in those last days. Anyone listening probably were horrified by our irreverent conversations. How many other people cut out paper fish and seaweed and stuck it to a urine bag? Would have made an interesting photograph!

Well done to Briony for having the courage to complete this emotive set of images which tell the story of many others in the same situation.

100th Street: Tanya Ahmed
http://vimeo.com/43594038

This video was enlightening on many levels, Tanya’s acknowledgement that she is a photographer and has always been a photographer yet working on the OCA course helped her look in a different direction to how her own style of photography changed slightly from focusing on the built environment to that of the people within the buildings. She also cleverly used another photographer as inspiration, reworking Bruce Davidson’s work of the 1950’s www.magnumphotos.com Her own personal involvement within the community must of been a great help when soliciting the collaboration of the residents and being given access to their homes.

The Documentary project – crowd funding

Research was directed towards several links…but as with some of the other links in the coursework some are now defunct : the 2011 BJP link in the course notes comes up page not found  and following the link to Emphas.is, the specialist photojournalism crowd-funding platform covered in the OCA article, takes me to a different site called Crowd Angels?

Find a Crowd Angel to guide your project. You‘ll need other stuff then just money to execute your idea. Maybe someone to cover your back. Maybe expert advice. Certainly exposure. You know what? There’s still good folks out there. You just have to find them. Our Crowd Angels will cover your back.

Kickerstarter still seem to be alive and kicking however ….

From the OCA article written by Jose:

 

Launched in 2009 as a web platform for funding personal creative projects, Kickstarter is the original crowd-funding concept. Thanks to Kickstarter photographer Pete Brook has been able to raise nearly $8,000 for his Prison Photography project. A worthwhile cause of universal social appeal, coupled with an intelligent marketing strategy, will allow Brook to develop his project and… put pressure through public opinion and raise awareness of the social issues he is concerned with…

Kickstarter projects are only funded if the fundraising target is met. Amazon manages donations but no money exchanges hands until the deadline for raising funds is over. It is only then that Kickstarter and Amazon get their commission – 5% and 3-5% respectively.

There are many benefits to crowd funding, not at least the fact that a photographer, completing a project others would ‘like to see’,  not only no longer has to bear the financial brunt, but they can also gauge the level of interest in the suggest idea. New forums for documentary photography are opened and work can reach many different audiences. A photographer backed by ‘the few’ could retain more editorial control than one backed by a major publisher. There are also potential rewards for sponsors, so on the surface it’s a win win situation.

Are there pitfalls?  Well further research has revealed that Emphas.is went bust with all the inherent difficulties:

While all photographers who successfully raised funds on the platform received the money they were owed before the company’s liquidation, a group of photographers have seen their work become hostage to Emphas.is’ internal divisions.

As Jose pointed out would all the projects that are worthy be overshadowed by ‘that which is comparatively trivial and self-indulgent … [or] be dangerously blurred in crowd-funding.’

His main concern was that once funded the successful documentary bidders would decide to publicise their work on a pro-bono basis resulting in a ‘surplus of quality and free documentary work.’ This indeed would be manna from heaven for editors and a kick in the teeth for professional paid photographers. As noted the quality of crowd funded work and even straight forward amateur work that you can find on the web can be outstanding.

Another pitfall I guess is being able to promote and market yourself as a commodity!

The comments on the article also threw out some other valuable links:

http://www.david-campbell.org/2011/04/19/crowd-funding-photojournalism-review/
http://www.david-campbell.org/2011/04/08/the-back-catalogue-photojournalism-in-the-new-media-economy/
https://crowdbooks.com/

Personally I think crowd funding can be the way forward for many valid projects that would otherwise get overlooked.

Research

Crowdfunding http://www.weareoca.com/photography/crowd-funding/ [Accessed  07 Oct 2017]

Prison Photography https://prisonphotography.org [Accessed  07 Oct 2017]

Emphas.is story http://www.bjp-online.com/2013/10/crowdfunding-platform-emphas-is-goes-insolvent-amid-internal-conflicts/ [Accessed  07 Oct 2017]

New forums for documentary – Post Documentary Art

The main issue between documentary and art is how a gallery positions i.e. defines the work itself.

Ignatieff (2003) stated ‘ Photography which loses sight of documentation risks becoming mannerism, while photography which loses the ambition or art loses the possibility of becoming forgettable.’

What he was possibly trying to say was that certain bodies of work put forward in a way as to be considered an art practice ‘fuses expression and information’ and has a legitimate forum within a gallery as it disseminates and articulates. A prime example given is Jim Goldberg’s Open See project which I was lucky to see in 2011. I am sure I wrote a huge review about it at the time but currently can’t find it! I know I really enjoyed the use of ephemera, different ways to display the work and how he allowed and encouraged his subjects to personalise their images by writing over the Polaroid photographs.

The title, Open See, comes from one such quote ‘in the open see [sic] there is no border.’

Exercise

Listen to Jim Goldberg talking about Open See and his exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery.

Visit Goldberg’s website and reflect on how or if it works as a documentary project within the gallery space.

Open See, which was a book and an accompanying exhibition, were both part of a project about what Goldberg calls the ‘new Europeans’ – illegal immigrants, refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and eastern Europe.

Goldberg was commissioned by the Magnum photographic and began this body of work in 2003 in Greece, which at the time had an estimated two million immigrants, most of whom lived a ‘clandestine life, unable to work legally or avail themselves of even the most basic rights.’ This project won him the Henri Cartier-Bresson prize, which helped fund his subsequent travels to the various countries of origin of his subjects: Ukraine, Bangladesh, Liberia and many others.

Described as ‘documentary story telling’ he uses many formats – Polaroids, photographs, video stills, found images and hand-written texts –  all which go towards creating ‘a fragmented narrative that fractures the received conventions of reportage or straight documentary.’

Goldberg explains

Since 1970, I’ve been using text and ephemera as well as photographs in order to tell stories of one kind or another,There’s a thread that runs through all the work that is to do with bearing witness. The photographs are about asking questions, though, not answering them. I’m not a politically radical person. In fact, I’m much more interested in being radical aesthetically.

So does this project work in a gallery setting? Is it documentary or is it art? Is it appropriate to consider documentary photography as art?

Open See does not come across as documentary in the traditional sense, although I strongly believe it is a documentary project; it highlights global issues that need to still be resolved and gave voice to usually invisible individuals. It could be considered to be overly artistic in the way it was created and presented, but the original intent was to inform and make people question rather than to be pieces of art to be hung on the wall, and be admired for aesthetic reasons alone.

Photography and photography as art has become more accessible. No matter how much we dislike the ‘commodification’  of documentary photography it does generate much needed funds for new projects and allows photographers to self- fund if necessary.  This I feel does make the gallery a valid setting for documentary work and Open See, in my opinion, works brilliantly as both Documentary and Art.

Research

Open See at TPG http://vimeo.com/22120588 [Accessed 29/09/2017]

Open See http://www.opensee.org [Accessed 29/09/2017]

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/nov/01/jim-goldberg-open-see-review   [Accessed 29/09/2017]

New forums for documentary – Post documentary Photography, Art and Ethics

Exercise

Read the article ‘Images that Demand Consummation: Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics’ by Ine Gevers (Documentary Now! 2005).

Summarise in your learning log the key points made by the author.

The article was broken into different sub-headings so I will respond likewise.

Preamble

Main points –

  • Documentary photography is a tradition with its own history and reflection.
  • Since the Seventies there has been such a blurring of boundaries
  • In today’s post-media age,  should there be a new label of ‘post-documentary photography. ‘
  • What is the ethical stance of the photographers?

Introduction

Main points –

  • Aesthetics is a complicated concept, and needs much clarification and examination.
  • Looked at etymologically, aesthetics has an ethical foundation.
  • Aesthetics and ethics are intertwined. Aesthetics growing from ‘ethics of perception’ into ‘a concept that appeared to be more and more autonomous and was no longer accountable to anything or anybody.’
  • Ethics and aesthetics is a contentious issue with ‘The media merely see ethics and aesthetics as antitheses.’ ‘Thoughts about beauty and truth seem to have ended in stalemate.’
  • ‘Faded aesthetics’ (a new sub-label?) can be ‘presumptuous, elitist, arrogant, undemocratic and even fascistic at times.’ it ‘judges, censures, discriminates, stereotypes and restricts.’
  • Aesthetics has become dogmatic and can cause more harm than good.
  • Postdocumentary photographers, filmmakers and artists question if their work can be defined on an ethical instead of purely an aesthetic perspective
  • Oscar van Alphen is cited as being influenced by Barthes, Foucault and Bataille, and  turning away from aesthetics.

Photography: objective, aesthetic, colonial

  • Photography opens up our world, enlarges our awareness, creates knowledge and makes everyone share in experiences
  • Photographic images, whether they are documents, snapshots or works of art, can turn people into objects. Introducing cliche and the ‘numbing of our conscience’ – Susan Sontag
  • Documentary rather than being a mirror to reality too often is used as a tool for propaganda and indoctrination.
  • Documentary photography  too often supports the ‘status quo of oppressive institutions and practices.’
  • Documentary film and photography are being harshly viewed in light of  post-colonialism.
  • ‘Representation in its totality is in a crisis’ – possibly a little over dramatic in tone?

Examples

  • Gevers links photography to scientific disciplines, archiving and research
  • Postulates that American artist, writer and activist Martha Rosler is not a documentary photographer herself but uses documentary photography in her work. Subverting ‘qualities as factuality, veracity and objectivity in relation to both the photographic image and the word.’
  • Rosler introduces the idea that photographs alone are incomplete, inconsistent and inadequate ‘descriptive documents’ embrace different disciplines and media, also collaborative projects with people.
  • Gevers discusses Allan Sekula, who has ‘appropriated documentary photography as his domain’ yet ‘opts more consciously for a recognisable aesthetic approach,’ focusing on ‘social, cultural and political-economic developments in today’s (post)capitalist society. The photographic work never stands by itself.’

 

Representation – interpretation – counter-presentation

  • Photographic documents can be turned into commodities which can be distasteful given some of the subject matter, being ‘distorted’ by presentation e.g. The Killing Fields
  • ‘In 1997 the Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited a selection of the S-21 portraits, oblivious to their problematic role in the politics of representation. Elaborating on an existing tradition, the photographs were selected and presented on humanitarian grounds. The public, however, regarded the photographs as art, an aesthetic appreciation that was nurtured with no shame whatsoever.’
  • A more recent example would be images from Abu Ghraib prison, ‘which were sent out into the world like trophies.’

Alienation as strategy

  • The reaction of the art world to the attack on the Twin Towers was a mix of shock but impotence
  • The awareness of the aesthetic impacted on what to show and how to show it
  • More and more filmmakers are turning to deliberately not showing images, a tactic that goes back to Guy Debord’s 1952 film without images, Howls for Sad.
  • Alfredo Jaar (1994) travelled Rwanda and took thousands of photographs following the mass slaughters – later, he made an installation Real Pictures. The installation contained many photographs from Rwanda, but only one could actually be seen. The rest lay in piles of closed black boxes.

‘The artist’ in aesthetic terms

  • More philosophy from Alain Badiou, ‘the artist’ is someone ‘who feels the necessity to pursue a personal truth and to remain faithful to it in spite of considerable opposition. According to this argument, being an artist and ethics are inextricably bound up with each other.’
  • Truth is not something that can be communicated

Personal is political

  • Gevers returns to Rosler and an argument that ‘photographers and artists have shifted their attention to ‘the small’, the personal. Their goal, it seems, is no longer to change the world but to know it.’
  • The Atlas Group’s pictures show how, on the basis of personal experience, truths can be formed and put into context in such a way that the viewer can supplement them with his/her own experiences and observations.
  • Photographs themselves have no weight. Only those images acquire meaning that have it in themselves to unleash such a truth-process
  • It is up to the viewer as co-author to give weight to the image – Barthes punctum

 

Wow…ok…lots of insights and having to pick between examples to get to the main points which seem to be that ethics and aesthetics collide a lot in documentary photography, that don’t believe everything you see, everyone has an agenda…messages can be put across in many ways. The interpretation of the image is the responsibility of the viewer and when this is realised ‘only then can an image, a documentary photograph, a written intervention, a staged situation, give the other the opportunity to become involved and engrossed.’

Research

Gevers, I. (2005) ‘Images that Demand Consummation: Postdocumentary Photography, Art and Ethics’ in Documentary Now!

http://inegevers.net/site/?s=publications&id=244

New forums for documentary – The Documentary Project

Research Point

Research the current activities of Photovoice and some of their archived projects.

PhotoVoice’s vision is for a world in which everybody has the opportunity to represent themselves and tell their own story

If you want to know why Photography in particular they also give the answer to this.

Photography is a highly flexible tool that crosses cultural and linguistic barriers, and can be adapted to all abilities. Its power lies in its dual role as both art form and way to record facts.

It provides an accessible way to describe realities, communicate perspectives, and raise awareness of social and global issues.

Its low cost and ease of dissemination encourages sharing and increases the potential to generate dialogue and discussion.

The aim of this research is to look at the ‘the documentary value and visual qualities’ of the images produced, but it was also interesting to look deeply into the charitable organisation, especially at their aims, ensuring that they:

  • Design and develop projects specific to communities, issues and needs, and based on engagement with them
  • Promote the imagery produced from the projects utilising media, events and exhibitions
  • Provide consultancy, training, materials and resources to organisations wishing to use participatory photography in their work

They also have a statement of ethical  practice.

Every project they have participated in is visible via their projects link. Whilst not every image undertaken for that specific project may not be available on their site you can research further and discover more at individual links.

Without diving too much into the ethics or consequence of the projects I found this article which summed up or mentioned many of the issues previously covered within the course e.g representing a different culture without being stereotypical, ethics and possible exploitation, making the ugly look beautiful, environmental issues and wanting to campaign to change something,  using ‘people, landscape and still life to convey the true and often unheard story,’ the use of social media and different mediums to convey a message, although as yet I don’t think the images were taken by the indigenous population.

https://photovoice.org/cairo-to-cape-town-africas-plastic-footprint/

 

Continue reading “New forums for documentary – The Documentary Project”

Post-Colonial ethnography

Now I am back in the world of study, having spent far too long applying for a new job, and eventually securing one, dealing with personal ‘moments,’ attending weddings and generally spending time over the summer on my house and garden, it is time to look at Post-colonial ethnography. (As well as catch up on other study bits and generally panic about deadlines)

 

Having looked closely at control and discipline we are now asked to explore an aspect of that, according to Elizabeth Edwards (1992, p.105),  a research Professor in Photographic History and Director of Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University, photographers and photography is obsessive in wanting to ‘record, catalogue, explore, reveal, compare and measure the human body…’ This was especially so during the Victorian colonial photography era. The methods used by the ethnographers and anthropologists during the mid-nineteenth century are now recognised as demonstrating ‘the unequal relationship between the colonisers and the colonised.’Three names we are introduced to are: Thomas H Huxley, Louis Agassiz and J T Zealy.

 

Thomas H Huxley was a pioneering biologist and educator who supported Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and introduced an anthropometric method which all colonial governors were asked to adopt. Naturalist and scientist Louis Agassiz, in another project, commissioned J T Zealy to photograph slaves in Columbia, South Carolina.On reflection, have the historical and contemporary photographers who captured indigenous groups, accurately represented the peoples they have studied? Were they occasionally ‘faked’ or romanticized? Who were the intended audience? Was it science or just another excuse to gawp at the exotic ‘other’ or an attempt to make the colonisers feel superior?
In discussing this topic you cannot avoid the name of Edward S. Curtis or the term ‘the Curtis syndrome.’  Edwards (2001) comments on his ‘obsessive commitment’ in capturing tribes of the North American Indian by stating “… documenting traditional culture in the face of irreversible change is not necessarily pure ‘documentary’. It evokes feelings of nostalgia at the passing of cultures and an aetheticised ‘nobility’ which transcends documentary.”Martha Rosler was not so kind and wrote: ‘[he]… was also interested in preserving someone’s cultural heritage… he carried a stock of more or less authentic, more or less appropriate (often less, on both counts) clothing and accoutrements with which to deck out his sitters…the heritage was considered sufficiently preserved… In Curtis; case, the photographic record was often retouched, gold-toned and bound in gold-decorated volumes… financed by J.P.Morgan.’Which makes you question all over again the authenticity and intention of the photographs we see. Do Curtis’ 20 volumes which span 30 years work contain a realism? I would hope that somewhere in there, even if a bit of a jumble, he managed to capture several tribes of vanishing people.

Bronislaw Malinowski, sometimes described as ‘the father of the functionalist school of anthropology’ (which is based on the notion that all the parts of the society work together as an integrated whole) perceived, and substantiated, ‘the fact that the mind of the “primitive” man was essentially no different than that of “civilized” peoples.’ He also held the view that the ‘ethnographic subject disappears at the very moment of its recognition.’ He saw that information being recorded was not a true reflection of the peoples being studied, not their way of life nor their intellect. Also, that once scientists arrived en masse they influenced the behaviours of others.

Malinowski vigorously emphasized the importance of immersing oneself deeply in the indigenous language or languages. But perhaps more than any other researcher before him, Malinowski embraced the value of studying everyday life in all its mundane aspects. Thus for him it was not enough to simply record what tribal members said about their religious beliefs, sexual practices, marriage customs, or trade relationships – it was important to also studying how this measured up to, or played out in, what they did in everyday life.

Exercise

Browse the catalogue Tribal Portraits:Vintage and Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent , Bernard J Shapero Rare Books. Core resources TribalPortraits.pdf and write a brief commentary.

Tribal Portraits: Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent was an exhibition and sale of over 200 rare images dating from 1865 to the present day, some of which had not been on the open market for decades.

A small sample of images are below:

Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--006
African Dinka girls, by George Rodger, 1948. The Dinka are Sudanese tribespeople who rely on cattle herding at riverside camps in the dry season and grow millet and other grains in fixed settlements during the rainy season
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--001
Benin Woman Smoking, by Hector Acebes, 1953
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent

 

Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--010
Chief Kingo by C Vincenti, 1898
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
 
Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--008
Contemporary African Couple by Seydou Keita, 1956. Keita (1921–2001) was a self-taught portrait photographer from Bamako, Mali
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--005
Early Morning Wait at Lake Rudolph, by Mirella Ricciardi, 1968. Lake Rudolph, now known as Lake Turkana, is in Kenya’s arid Great Rift Valley. Up to three million years ago, when the area was more fertile, the lakeside was home for some of humans’ earliest known ancestors
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--003
Five Turbanned Dahomey Women by Irving Penn, 1967. Dahomey in west Africa is now the Republic of Benin
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--002
M’suguma Dancers in Tanzania by C Vincenti, 1898
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--009
Nuba Dancers of Cau, by Leni Riefenstahl, 1975. The Nuba inhabit the Nuba Mountains in Kordofan province, Sudan. Between 1962 and 1969 the filmmaker Riefenstahllived intermittently among the Nuba in remote valleys of Central Sudan, “studying them at close quarters, taking unique and fascinating photographs, which now constitute a lasting record of what was once their way of life … “
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--004
Portrait Study, East Africa, 1875, photographer unknown
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent
Gallery-Tribal-Portraits--007
Children from the Wagogo Tribe Wear Special Headgear for the Circumcision Ceremony, by George Rodger, 1947. The Wagogo or Gogo are based in the Dodoma Region of central Tanzania. They are traditionally pastoralist, but in recent decades have migrated to urban areas or work on plantations
Photograph: Tribal Portraits Vintage & Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent

Untitled-1

Noting that most of the images on the Guardian website only featured frontal nudity of women I thought I would address the balance! I also love this image as the photographer focuses on the serious business of capturing a posed portrait of what I assume to be a form of traditional dress other people aimlessly mill about or intentionally photobomb the image. None are adorned like the subjects so it is easy to see why the audiences from the Victorian era, or even now given depending on the images, people assume that different cultures walk around in such exotic attire, or naked all the time, which obviously they don’t.

From researching various photographic works there is a tendency from photographers to follow suit, no matter what the genre. The way in which reviewers and curators write about the images also romanticise various bodies of work:

On Sebastião Salgado:

These Sebastião Salgado photographs were shot during a time of extreme industrial growth, marred by harsh social inequalities and political turmoil. The harshness and cruelty of this period is present at every turn in Salgado’s arresting images, juxtaposed with these curious observations of tenderness and romance in humanity. The result is a remarkable series of emotive photographs, that invite us into a world where – in Salgado’s own words – “dignity and poverty ride on the same horse”.

 On Peter Lavery:
…the Xingu and the Yawalapeti are lucky to have him as their silent recorder, their likeness shimmering for prosperity in an alchemical mix of silver and whatever precious metals it may take…
As to be expected with a catalogue devoted to one area of photography the subject matter is broadly similar despite a few different approaches to capturing the portraits. Are or reactions different to these different approaches? I’ll try to sum it up as I go along…difficult when their is so much material to comment on.One of my favourite images is that on the front cover, taken by George Rodger: I like the silhouette, shadow and the framing, the candid nature of the image, even if possibly staged, and the naturalness of the action. However, not all his images were given this treatment as seen above, although none seem to take advantage or show any disrespect.rodger-keyholeMirella Ricciardi was another featured photographer, and not one I had previously heard of…typical blurb on her site reads:

Born in Kenya, then still a colony of British East Africa; to an Italian father and a French mother, Mirella Ricciardi grew up on the shores of Lake Naivasha in a household that was both sophisticated and wild. She was married at twenty-five to the Italian adventurer Lorenzo Ricciardi, who swept her off her feet and hired her as the photographer on the film he was making in Kenya.

Having finally severed her umbilical tie to the African continent, she now lives in the East Sussex English countryside surrounded by her Archive.

Romantic again, also smacks of colonialism even if not intentional, the ‘I have embraced the wild primitiveness of Africa yet due to my upbringing and background remain apart from it and sophisticated and above all that….’ attitude. Her images seem to veer more towards the posed and artistic and still fall into the trap of naming people within a ‘group’ rather than as individuals.

I found it quite hard to categorically state that I did or did not like the way in which some of the photographers worked. For example Hector Acebes seemed to take overtly sensual images of nubile young boys and girls yet on the other-hand capture some genuinely interesting ‘activity’ and landscape shots.

However, he wasn’t as bad as Lehnert & Landrock:

The photographic studio of Lehnert & Landrock, active in Tunisia and Cairo in the early years of the twentieth century, specialised in producing images of the landscapes, architecture and people of North Africa. Made in large part for a European audience, the work was originally distributed through a series of monographs, as well as being sold from their own shops in the form of original prints, heliogravures and reproduction gravure and lithographic postcards. Since the 1980s, this work has enjoyed the renewed attention of scholars and collectors.

 

 

Lehnert_&_Landrock_-_211_-_Bedouine
Lehnert & Landrock – 211 – Bedouine.jpg  From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Contemporary photographer Antoine Schneck, applied a totally different creative technique removing almost all contextual information from his portraiture.

There was a smattering of images either taken in a studio or outside against painted backdrops. I always find this odd if trying to reveal an indigenous population within its own environment. The photographers who fell into this trap were C. Vincenti, Pascal Sebah, and even Irving Penn…these images remind me of the typological approach of August Sander.

In conclusion this catalogue illustrates the diverse nature of ethnographical anthropological approaches in capturing African tribes. None supply the entire context or background story, but then what photograph can or does? On reviewing these images and harking back to the exercise on ‘the gaze’ it does make me think twice about how I should represent any future subject matter myself… note…don’t use bed sheets and palm fronds!

Primitive typologies/Research Point

Under this section we are introduced to the work of Peter Lavery ‘Of Humankind’, David Bruce’s images of the San, Juan Echeverra’s studio images of the Himba of Namibia and Alvaro Leiva’s work regarding peoples of the Amazon Basin, and to question if and how photographers capture indigenous peoples honestly and without falling into the many traps there are associated with this genre. The traps being:

  • Decontextualisation – primitive nudity /erotica (e.g. Lehnert & Landrock)
  • Romanticism – the ‘noble savage’ (e.g. Edward S. Curtis)
  • Primivitism – projecting exotic ‘other’ (e.g. in some cases George Rodger)
  • Dehumanisation – the treatment of subjects as specimens not individuals (e.g. J T Zealy )

Peter Lavery

is certainly guilty of decontextualised tribal portraits with his use of B&W portraits taken against a black velvet backdrop, which harks back to the Victorian era and typology aesthetic, thus reducing his subjects to stereotypes. This is quite at odds with a statement made on his website which was to:

make portraits for himself of people he met in his travels and who interested him not as types but as individuals.

My argument is also underlined  by his lack of captioning or use of the individuals’ names.
Juan Echeverria

 

also parallels with Lavery to a certain extent as much of his work it decontextualises the subject from their environment by placing them against a plain backdrop. In some instances the images are printed in sepia or B&W. There is, yet again, a smattering of nudity, some of which seems in context whilst others appear voyeuristic.HimbaDavid Bruceseems to treat his subjects with a more gently human approach to his direct portraiture. As with others many are against a plain backdrop and taken in B&W but he seems to engage with his subjects, they are smiling, pulling faces, interacting with him on an equal level. The variety of expressions reveal the engagement rather than the usual serious/bored detachment often found. He includes small detail shots as well as wider contextual everyday activities. I found myself warming to his body of work.

 

Alvero Leiva

was born in 1970 in Madrid. In 1989 he started shooting travel photography, and has travelled to over eighty countries on assignment. In conjunction with his commercial work, he has worked for the past seven years on The River People. The project documents the daily lives of people along five of the world’s major rivers – the Amazon, Ganges, Mekong, Mississippi and Niger.

Researching this photographer was made fun by his website seeming to be out of action for a while and a typo in the course notes spelling his name Leyva! A selection of his work can be seen here and he was featured in an edition of foto8 magazine.

From the small amount of work I could find he also shoots in B&W and uses large landscapes, small detail and incorporates more natural/candid shots than formally posed.

In completing my own research the obvious name that appeared was Jimmy Nelson, I then thought of Sebastião Salgado’s body of work Genesis, and also that by Jacob Maentz. There were many more I could use but have previously mentioned them in other posts when exploring how famine is presented or capturing the exotic ‘other’.

The reasons behind believing they succeed more often than not is that they generally, not always (they do also fall into some of the traps, especially Salgado)

  • use colour over B&W
  • use candid photography
  • shoot within the natural environment
  • name the subjects with captions

Jimmy Nelson

wanted to ‘create carefully orchestrated portraits of these amazing peoples, at their absolute proudest.’  Endearingly honest his website tells us:

Jimmy Nelson is not an anthropologist or a man of science. He does not claim to have the knowledge to address the questions we have about indigenous and other traditional cultures. He is a photographer and a storyteller. What started as a naive engagement with the peoples he met during work assignments, has over a period of three decades turned into a personal project. The book ‘Before they pass away’ is an homage to the cultures he will probably never fully understand, but who will never stop luring him to explore.

In an interview in the Guardian (2014) he admits his pictures are ‘intended to be aesthetic rather than factual…There is no sociology, no statistics. It’s how I see the world..’

His images are definitely more on the ‘Art’ end of the scale but he tempers this with captions, naming not only the tribe but the individual people within his images.

AG_Exhibition_JimmyNelson_3
Tumbu, Hango, Peter, Hapiya, Kati, Hengene and Steven Huli Wigmen, Ambua Falls, Tari Valley, Papua New Guinea 2010.

Rather than focusing on the fact they are vanishing Nelson has since altered his view he now believes :

Where there are challenges, there are solutions. he has come to appreciate the pride, strength, vigour, honour and resilience of the people he asked to pose for his lense. This provides him with an unending inspiration to continue his work.

In this light, ‘before’ attains a meaning that is diametrically opposed to the fatalistic reading of doom. ‘Before’ signals a moment of opportunity, a call for action and an appeal. To decide with confidence that we value what we have and will take our support into the future.

Jacob Maentz

again uses colour and occasionally relevant captions, even if once more he enjoys taking slightly romantic and artistically composed images.

Badjao (Badjau) community in Mindanao, Spearfisherman.
Badjao (Baju) spearfisherman. (Mindanao, Philippines)

 

 

 

 

Philippines - Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath
Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath – A woman in rubble covers her nose from the strong smell. (Tacloban, Philippines)

The above shot shows he does not shy away from the difficult situations either. When downloading this image from his website it was called ‘Yolanda’ so presumably although her name is not used within the caption, Maentz knows exactly who she was.

 

Research

Davidbrucephotography.co.za. (2017). Ju/’hoansi Bushmen | DAVID BRUCE. [online] Available at: http://davidbrucephotography.co.za/juhoansi-bushmen/ [Accessed 29 August 2017]
http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/thuxley.html [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

Jimmynelson.com. (2017). Jimmy & Projects – JIMMY NELSON. [online] Available at: https://www.jimmynelson.com/jimmy-projects [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

http://peterlavery.com/portfolio/humankind/ [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

http://www.juanecheverria.com/  [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

http://www.anotherafrica.net/art-culture/antoine-schneck-a-hyper-reality-of-burkinabe-portraiture [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/edward-curtis-epic-project-to-photograph-native-americans-162523282/  [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

http://everydayarchive.org/awt/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/rosler-martha_in-around-afterthoughts.pdf [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

http://www.nndb.com/people/320/000099023/ [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

http://www.gillianhayes.com/Inf231F12/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/ethnography-ways-submit.pdf [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

https://www.theguardian.com/science/gallery/2008/nov/25/tribal-portraits-african-photography [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/tribalportraits.pdf [Accessed 29 Aug 2017]

https://www.culturewhisper.com/r/article/preview/5337 [Accessed 29 August 2017]

http://davidbrucephotography.co.za/juhoansi-bushmen/ [Accessed 29 August 2017]

Ethics of Aesthetics – Reflecting on the war photograph

The Brighton Photo Biennial’s 2008 programme Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War, explored conflict photography, the making of, use, circulation and relevance in today’s society. The exhibition was curated by Julian Stallabrass, who took the Iraq War as his point of reference.

Whilst researching this topic I came across:

Are You a Vulture? Reflecting on the ethics and aesthetics of atrocity coverage and its aftermath Rughani, Pratap (2010). Book Chapter published in: Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution Peter Lang : Oxford, pp 157 – 172.

Which also covered many similar points but I will probably do a separate review on this essay.

Exercise

This exercise asks that we read the two essays in the BPB 2008 programme and look at the work and the curator selected for the exhibition, writing a short press release of about 250 words in our learning log.

  • Making an ugly world beautiful? Morality and aesthetics in the aftermath by Sarah James.
  •  The Power and Impotence of Images by Julian Stallabrass.

Firstly I thought I would research WHY press releases are made in the first place, sounds obvious I know but a good starting point.

Different from an invitation, a press release contains background information about the artist, the work, and the show. It is targeted to members of the press who may want to check out, write about, or even review your show. That having said, you can also send your press release to clients, galleryists, curators, or anyone you think might be interested in knowing more about your work.

I thought I would also check out the original press release and found one here, which had a word count of 175.

A  review of both essays…

I found the essay by Julian Stallabrass to be uncomfortably informative. During the Iraq war and subsequent War on Terror, we were all made aware of the torture that was being meted out to detainees. Probably most of the general public thoughts went along the lines of ‘good they deserve it.’ But does anyone ‘deserve it’? Many people commit atrocities due to indoctrination or mental issues. Many of the victims of torture, we are told, are innocent, or if not completely innocent have no real information to give.  Should we even trust information given under duress?

The fact that many of these torture sessions were photographed makes me wonder why? Was this for further degradation? Did the powers that be learn anything from observing still images of a man tied to a bed with a pair of panties covering his face?

Stallabrass does not talk about the morality of torture but informs us that the power of imagery has altered from a historical point of view. Torture during the Vietnam War was a state secret, whereas by the Iraq War it had become an overt policy. The nature of photography had also changed and his essay explores the ‘changing relationship between military strategy, the conduct of war, the media and its technology.’

He asks us to consider the vast amount of amateur footage that was published, the embedding of photojournalists with the military, giving unfettered access to military operations, and the encouragement to produce positive propaganda images only. This had a restrictive downside; narrow points of view, some censorship meaning highly controlled and sanitised images, those that Kenneth Jarecke railed against. How much was staged for the cameras, to sell a clean and anodyne war to the folks back home?

The media controlled the publication of stronger imagery due to fear of upsetting viewers and advertisers, proving the old adage that money talks. The rise of TV news and digital photography has probably exacerbated the decline of the paid rate for printed materials. Newspaper barons now have profit as a prime motive, information is published unchecked. ‘cliché reigns..[the] press has become degraded in public opinion…thought of as unreliable, gullible, mendacious and venal.’ To this effect ‘unrestrained capitalism works against the interests of democracy.’

There are seemingly two facets of photography; the photo-journalistic – speeding and intimate – and the ‘aftermath’ images which tend to be exhibited in museums – slow, sometimes artistically beautiful and ‘severely composed’. Whichever facet you view people remain cynical of the press and the imagery served up before them. There appears to be a lack of opposition to war, the Coalition seemingly allowed to engage in Nazi like tactics with ‘inadequate comment from the press…and with little published photographic representation.’ This is why the biennial and the work of Edmund Clarke is becoming more and more important.

Stallabrass concludes that whilst he believes that the biennial is ‘powerless’ in greatly swaying opinion or changing the course of these forces, ‘if…we have become to behave like Nazis, and if that cannot be grasped…if it does not cause a fundamental questioning…then something about our democracy is broken.’

I think I agree with him.

Sarah James looks more at the aftermath, the Sublime and the ethics behind making an ugly world beautiful. The examples of photographers who fulfil this criteria she cites as: Simon Norfolk, Paul Seawright, Joel Meyerowitz and Sophie Ristelhueber. (note to self to research more on SR)

Yet again these bodies of work link to the war on terror, Harlan K Ullman and James P Wade defined the new mode of warfare as shock and awe. James links the political strategy of shock and awe to the imagery also produced, describing an aesthetic of violence, a staging of the key events exploited to create ‘a dangerous range of…war-mongering emotions.’ It is her opinion that this war is also being fought over the precise meaning of the photographs, that these images depict ‘highly aestheticised’, surreal depopulated landscapes. The fact that they appear devoid of life adds to the abstraction.

Both Meyerowitz and Norfolk refer to the sublime and how this art term may need a new definition. Is it wrong that such destruction can look beautiful? This is a question that has been asked many times before over different subject matters for example Edward Burtynsky with his take on pollution and the oil industry. I think it is warranted as the slow process, several of the photographers used large format cameras, offers a different perspective. I don’t think that the empty landscapes, urban or otherwise, make me dismiss the people who once dwelt in the battered tenements. More so I wonder what happened to them, question the right we have to bomb the innocent populous. I don’t think a ravaged building needs to have a dead body or displaced person out front to make me empathise with the situation.

I don’t know that I fully agree with her summation that these aftermath images are totally detached. The Ground Zero imagery had a poetic beauty about them but that added to the poignancy of the event. Sebastião Salgado’s images of Kuwait are stunning, but they also reveal the horrendous effect that the war had on the oil fields and the workers.

James asks ‘does a war photography that seeks to represent the inhuman, abstract and even horrifically beautiful world of this contemporary military sublime offer any resistance against it?’ This was also a question asked by Stallabrass. Is there resistance to the war? I ask is it the photographer who is creating little resistance or the political will of the people that is influencing the imagery?

The article leaves us to contemplate the success or failure of this type of work, reminding us that ‘the sublime is the peculiar place where aesthetics and ethics merge, and that it is an uncomfortable coalition at the best of times.

 

followed by the press release…

Press Release

 

Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War – BPB 2008
The Brighton Photo Biennial feasts on strong meat this year. Guest curator Professor Julian Stallabrass, lecturer at the Courtauld Institute, is also a writer and photographer, with a keen interest in the relationship between art and the political. Along with other renowned theorists he investigates the urgent issues which arise from the depiction of war, the use of these images by the media, the circulation of unofficial amateur images, censorship, the military as a PR and image-producing machine, and the impact of digital media.

 
The Biennial, housed in several venues from Bexhill on Sea to Chichester, Portsmouth, Winchester, as well as in Brighton, will display images ranging from the Russian Revolution to more recent conflict, focusing predominantly on Iraq and Afghanistan. It will analyse how images are informed by the changing social and political climate.

 
Fully embracing the multimedia experience itself, this year BPB 2008 with three exhibition venues in Brighton, will have on offer an extensive film programme, talks, workshops and portfolio reviews along with a series of participatory and publicly sited projects. Furthermore, BPB 2008 looks to inspire the vast online community by launching a new website as a platform for ideas and discussion around the theme of photography and conflict.

 

Research

https://shop.photoworks.org.uk/products/memory-of-fire-images-of-war-and-the-war-of-images-julian-stallabrass    [Accessed 4/07/2017]

https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-192053616/brighton-photo-biennial-memory-of-fire-the-war-of [Accessed 4/07/2017]

https://thepracticalartworld.com/2011/06/19/how-to-create-a-press-release-for-your-art-exhibition/ [Accessed 4/07/2017]

https://thevaultimaging.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/recent-press-release-brighton-photo-biennial-2008-memory-of-fire-the-war-of-images-and-images-of-war/ [Accessed 4/07/2017]

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/guy-lane-memory-of-fire-the-war-of-images-and-images-of-war [Accessed 4/07/2017]

Are You a Vulture? Reflecting on the ethics and aesthetics of atrocity coverage and its aftermath Rughani, Pratap (2010). Book Chapter published in: Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution Peter Lang : Oxford, pp 157 – 172.