Monthly Archives: April 2017

Exercise 3.3: portrayal of marginalised groups

 

Write a reflection in your learning log about some of the ways in which marginalised or under-represented people or groups could be badly or unhelpfully portrayed. How might being an insider help combat this? 

Minority groups can be badly portrayed in many ways. For example:

  • As different-class citizens, of the ‘wrong’ social status or intelligence.  This works in two ways and is perhaps best demonstrated by the msinstream press: society is divided into ‘workshy hoodies’ or ‘Tory Toffs’ depending which side of the fence the editor resides on.
  • As freaks.  The victorians were noted for their freak shows including the Elephant Man, dwarfs and bearded ladies.  Instead of working to include these people within society they were exploited monetarily as objects of entertainment and ridicule
  • As dishonorable in some way.  In recent years many people have been interviewed by the police for alleged crimes against young people following the Saville affair.  Many of these would subsequently be released or acquitted as innocent, but not before being ‘judged’ as paedophiles by the press and neighbours, without any evidence, portrayed as guilty.  Of course some were.  But not all, caught in a frenzy by a pious mob.
  • As originating from a less worthy race or religion. For example muslims are often generalised as all being jihadi terrorists, based on the a tions of a small minority.
These all share a root cause of society’s desire to generalise and be judgmental.  By putting these people in a box that is ‘less worthy’, the power hungry can strengthen their hand at the expense of others.  The weak can make themselves feel more worthy by pulling others down.
 
While it might be stretching a point to refer to celebrities as ‘marginalised or under-represented’, paparazzi photography preys on their vulnerabilities of appearing like normal people – shattering the star’s persona by being snapped in an ill-fitting bikini or buying groceries without makeup.
 
Myths are told, retold and elaborated until acceped as truths.
 
Heres an example from the recent terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge:
 

Photo: Jamie Lorriman

 
A twitter comment, by a non-present American lambasted the muslim lady for walking on by and not helping.  This went viral in the time it took me to travel back to Derby from London.  However she was helping, making calls to assist.
 
A backlash ensued shortly after, triggered by the originsl photogrpher putting the record straight.  He was there as an insider, credible.  The American racist was not.  Public opinion moved in the other direction.
 
Photogrphy has freqnently been on the frontline of these debates. Arbus and Goldin used their personal skills to befriend, gain access to and photograph people on the fringes of sociery.  How far is this exploitation? Voyeurism of the less fortunate?  Or putting the record straight so that people see these people as…people, rather than crossing the street?
 
(Insert Sontag quote)
 
The insider photographer must gain trust – which can only be achieved through integity and having a genuine desire to portray the group positively and fairly.  He must state his position, either as sympathiser or objective independant recorder.
 
But when released the photograph is out of his control – potentially to be twisted as with the example above, catching the prevailing public mood.
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Exercise 3.2 – aspects of personality

This exercise requires me make a list of some unique aspects of my personality then set about expressing these attributes through a photograph.

I noted that the exercise does not use the word ‘portrait’ on this occasion.

I reflected on a few ideas then went for a walk around the city of Derby.  I opted for a gritty black and white aesthetic to echo the darker, more melancholy, shadow-self that resides below the happy, cheerful persona that other people identify with as being ‘Ian’:

_IMG2767 There is a constant conflict within me of wanting structure and order vs. seeking a simpler, less structured life where random fun things happen.

After taking this I also considered that there’s a voyeuristic element to this image – as though a person unknown is watching me through a venetian blind.  I fear our gradual loss of civil liberties caused by CCTV, internet surveillance, and so on as we cannot be assured that those watching us always have good intent.

 

_IMG2766This image describes me on two levels.  I love to be alone in nature, especially near trees and water.  Despite being in the centre of a busy city this rower have found his own quiet space, the image framed to exclude the surrounding buildings and bridges.

Like me, he’s seeking to enjoy a journey as much as the achievement of the destination.  No competitiveness, no challenge.  Just being, moving, travelling.

 

_IMG2764

Is this graffiti reflecting my nature of wanting to help and support people?  Or is it a mirror, reminding me how often I don’t do this?

 

_IMG2765

I’m easily discouraged by obstacles.  I’m trying to learn to step back and see the way around them.

 


I feel very inspired to develop this into a body of work and, for this reason alone, has been excellent at helping me out of a bit of a rut.  Compared to previous OCA courses I am finding the portraiture in I+P to be more challenging, so it was good to be ‘let off the portraiture leash’ for a while and take photos I enjoy again.

My idea is to consider developing this to see how this mirror of self, portrayed through inanimate objects, changes over time.  Perhaps a photobook over a year.  Like keeping a written journal but containing photographs.  It will be fascinating to see how feelings, mood, style and environment work together and evolve over a period of time.  I need to be careful to ensure that this introspective self indulgence doesn’t become all consuming though.   While I adore the work of Francesca Woodman, things didn’t end up well for her, as we know.  There are also aspects of the self-exploration into the troubled life of Claude Cahun here, as already explored in detail by Gillian Wearing: https://wordpress.com/post/ian513626photography1iandp.wordpress.com/1436

Often a fan of bold ‘Martin Parr like’ primary colours and implied humour, it was interesting to explore this darker side of self.  I believe we all have one inside us.  Hopefully the viewer would feel that they knew something of my personal journey when they reached the end of it.  Although it should really be a personal journal that triggers other ideas and thoughts.  My tutor has encouraged the use of a paper-based photo scrapbook and journal for this purpose so I will combine the two some how.   I note that some people engage on ‘Project 365’ and ‘Photo a Day’ projects.

 

Exercise 3.4 The Gaze

Here i decided to try and analyse the variety of gazes that might occur in an every day social context.  Inspired by the work of Muybridge in the 19th century to determine through photography exactly how a horse galloped, i wanted to explore how the gaze changes during a very short conversation, and how the viewer might then interpret it.

Here, friends were sat outside talking after a long country ramble.  A friend just out of shot is talking to the lady who is the subject of the photographs.  Effectively this is the spectator’s gaze with the person in the image removed.

Given that the entire sequence of images were taken in less than a minute, how many of these gazes reflect a variety? How many were picked up on by the person speaking to her at the time?  

Engaged, entertained?

 

Disbelief, embarrassment?

Happy.

Awkward? Embarrassed?

This was a deliberate attempt to try and explore how many different gazes could be extracted from a very short period of time and all other things in the frame remaining the same.  There is a strong narrative that comes through about the unseen speaker even though we dont actually see them.  We try to work out what they are saying: telling a rude joke? Announcing to the wider group an embarrasing secret about the subject? Daring the subject to do or say something?  Do they go a little too far, judging by the 3rd and 5th images?  The sequencing of the various gazes and expressions allow us to build our own story.

In assignment 2 I created titles for the images that clearly directed the viewer in order to ensure that my meaning came across.  Following discussions with my tutor about giving the viewer more room for interpretation it was interesting to explore that here.  I think I have decided that this is quite hard to do, reflecting a lack of courage in my work.  By giving people space for their own interpretation they might ‘miss the point’ and then declare my work to be rubbish.  But it is equally true that they might think it rubbish when they definitely do attach the intended meaning.  So better to be brave.  To guide rather than direct the viewer.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans 2017 – Tate Modern

Being a long standing admirer of Tillmans’ work I was keen to make the trip to London to see his exhibition at the Tate Modern.  Comprising 14 themed rooms of his work to date, the exhibition flyer/booklet stresses that this is not just a retrospective, however.

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/wolfgang-tillmans-2017

On entering the exhibition it soon becomes apparent why.  Each room is more of a themed installation than just gallery space.

One room may house images on the theme of ‘travel’, juxtaposing huge closeup abstract views of a car headlamp with scenes of remote corners of Africa, for example. Tillmans draws the observation that the car headlamps ‘are more angular now, giving them a more predatory appearance’, drawing parallels with human eyes and hinting at them reflecting a more aggressive rather than ‘wide eyed innocent’ world we now live in.

Another room, based upon his work Truth Study Center (2005 onwards), is ingeniously laid out on trestles rather than just the walls.  The subject matter highlights the difficulties separating fact from fiction in the modern world of photography, politics  and media – all the more poignant in the current era of ‘fake news’.  The trestles form a sort of maze through the room, getting in the way of our clear path through.  It is hard to see every table without going back on yourself at least once.

Other rooms explore issues of gender and sexuality, the environment and other topics.  One contains his books and posters laid out for perusing, evoking a feeling of visiting the photobook sale at the Format Photography Festival – except here of course there was only one exhibitor.

Further underlining the intention that this is a series of installations rather than just photographs, one room is empty apart from seats and a high quality hifi system.  Playing a small selection of tracks from Colourbox, Tillmans also wants us to take time out to appreciate this art form as the artist intended, not on a squarky little mobile phone speaker or headphones.

Tillmans continues to inspire for his ability to see everyday things in a way that reveal so much about the people around it.  There’s s strong political and environmental narrative in much of his work but this is done while still leaving the viewer space to reflect and think (the exception being the EU Referendum posters perhaps which leave no space for ambiguity!).

Footnote: I was disappointed to note that, shortly after my visit I saw that an OCA study visit has been set up for the same exhibition, led by my current tutor.  If only I’d waited a week!  If I can arrange to go, it would be interesting to visit again with my tutor and fellow students to see how their perception of the exhibition compares with my own.

Claude Cahun and Gillian Wearing: National Portrait Gallery

My tutor suggested I visit this as part of my feedback for Assignment 2.

Having encountered Wearing’s work before I instinctively disliked it, and so I expected the exhibition to be a challenge for me.  On the train to London I reflected upon why: did the idea of a mask make me uncomfortable?  Appropriating her own family members?  I felt that, as a photographer, I knew nothing of who she was, only what her relatives looked like.  

 It was clear that Cahun was a huge influence on Wearing.  Cahun was a French girl who transformed herself into the persona of a male over a period of several years in her teens and early adulthood.  Her dissatisfaction with herself gave rise to mental illness issues in her younger years, perhaps the frustration and madness being expressed in this image:

She said ‘behind this mask another mask, there can be no end to these disguises’.  It is as though she was tortured by a need to peel the onion of herself in the hope of finding a layer she was actually comfortable with.

With her partner Marcel Moore, she left France to be together in Jersey.  The exhibition suggests that many of the photos were actually taken by Moore rather than Cahun (leaving me to question who is really the photographer here).  When the Channel Islands were invaded the Germans imprisoned her for working at great personal risk for the resistance.

This image was taken towards the end of Cahun’s personal transformation (visually at least) into a man. She holds her head as though it were a mask being removed.  After all the changes in relationships, hair, clothing and where she lived, perhaps this is the symbolic moment where the mask is finally removed – she feels she is finally being her authentic self?

 

 

The Wearing part of the exhibition starts with a large print of her famous homage to Cahun, underlining the extent of the influence on Wearing from the outset.  However here Wearing holds a mask of herself while wearing one of Cahun.

 

Wearing started out studying are rather than photography.  She had an early fascination with masks and disembodied hands.  She also chronicled herself over several years using a Polaroid camera, raising questions about who we are really, how we evolve and change over time.

As the exhibition progresses towards the room housing Family Album, I found a growing appreciation for Wearing’s work.  She describes the people she emulates as people she admires – her ‘spiritual family’ as she calls them.  This includes other artists such as Mapplethorpe, Warhol and Sherman.  The mask becomes a substitute for the person that was once there.  Wearing goes behind the mask to find them as well as placing a camera in front of it.  Her empathy for her subjects comes through – there’s no effort to make them grotesque caracatures in masks, but to sympatheticly create a facimilie of the real thing.

Of course there is one flaw in every image’s authenticity, one that ties the images together as a set with a common theme and purpose – they all show Wearing’s eyes gazing directly back at the camera instead of the real owner’s.