Category Archives: Practitioners

‘Photography is now over’ – Wim Wenders

It was a bit startling to read this when 1/3 of the way through a photography degree, especially coming from Wim Wenders, my favourite film director and a keen photographer himself!

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/12/wim-wenders-interview-polaroids-instant-stories-photographers-gallery?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Wenders, who created Paris, Texas and Until the end of the world, makes the argument that “It’s not just the meaning of the image that has changed – the act of looking does not have the same meaning. Now, it’s about showing, sending and maybe remembering. It is no longer essentially about the image”.

I would take the view that photography has always changed perceptions about how we see, and always will. Neipce, Fox Talbot and Daguerre opened the door for people to see themselves perhaps for the first time unadulterated by a painter’s vision. Sontag argued in the 70’s that Photography was undermining our sense of empathy through constantly seeing war images.

The ‘selfie generation’ is driving one such paradigm shift in ‘seeing’ right now. I believe that to be Wenders’ key point when he talks about ‘Now it’s about showing, telling and maybe remembering’ instead of having “produced something that was, in itself, a singular moment. As such, it had a certain sacredness. That whole notion is gone.”

Firstly, outside of the ‘selfie culture’ i’m not sure that I agree with him.  There is a thriving commiunity of contemporary photographic artists as well as installation artists using the medium as a tool for displaying their work.

Looking at the selfie culture itself, he has a point.  But Pictorialism, abstract and other movements may come and go as Wenders laments, but the fundamentals of photography are unchanged as it evolves as an art form. i.e. it is for the photographer to derive meaning from what he sees before him and communicate that meaning through an image.

I do agree that an intended meaning of “Look! Me at the Eiffel Tower doing a duck face” on a selfie isn’t very stimulating to most people.

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Martin Kollar – This Place

This caught my eye, so saving to my blog for reference.

Kollar’s This Place is an example of work that contains few people but says a lot about how and where they live.

Set in Israel, Images of people-less settlements eerily suggest clean, modern living while at the same time suggest isolation, abandonment and lonliness.  There are signs of life everywhere – building, shops, children making ramps out of junk to play on -but noone to be seen.  Their abence makes you womder whether an air raid alarm has sounded? People fled in fear? Disputed settlements in the West Bank or Gaza Strip? The tension in the lives of these people is clear without them being, in the main, visible.

http://www.this-place.org/photographers/martin-kollar/

Laura Letinsky

Canadian photographer Letinsky’s still lifes resemble the aftermath of a restaurant table, fruit peelings and dirty crockery arranged in an apparently haphazard but actually carefully placed layout.

Why would Letinsky apply all the meticulous control over lighting, perspective and placement as for any normal still life in order to recreate a ‘pile of washing up’?

It could be as simple as Keith Arnatt’s Rubbish Tip, or Tillmans’ exploration of the aesthetic beauty in discarded items.  But that would not be consistent with her careful placement of items with all the attention to detail of a normal still life study.

I find that I admire her work a lot, noting how it is “a vehicle to explore the tension between the small and minute and larger social structures“. 

Although carefully placed and so storytelling rather than historical in nature, I feel like a historian gazing over a map of a battlefield when I view it.  Where was the power around the dinner table? Did the meal end amicably or with someone getting up to leave? Were passions high or convivial?  A landmark birthday or celebration?  The detritus on the table resembles the fallen soldiers on the battlefield, the dirty plates their bombed-out garrisons and hides.  I often perceive elements of our human condition and relationships in her images, all backed by crisp white linen.

Letinsky talks about how “photography conflicts with and constrains our sense of our environment by reinforcing certain ideas we have about perception.”  I’m not confident that I fully understand her point here, but it could be a reference to how we take and consume photographs, reinforcing these perceptions unconsciously as we go in order to make thing fit our model of the world.  The plain white tablecloths may well invite us to view the images – and the human behaviours they represent – with a fresh backdrop, not influenced by our prejudices and past experiences.

 

Alfred Stieglitz: Clouds

Reading Sontag’s On Photography again, Chapter 5 introduced me for the first time to the cloud formations of Alfred Stieglitz,  taken between 1922 and 1935.

For some time I’ve been collecting my own series of cloud images, a few of which are shown here, for apparently similar reasons to Stieglitz in that:

  1. They are aesthetically pleasing to look at:
  2. They can “represent corresponding inner states, emotions and ideas

Clouds can be transient, heavy, light, mysterious, forbidding, domineering or airy.  They can influence moods and reflect them.  Of course they can also be changed for better or worse by man in the form of contrails, hinting that the scars man makes on our environment.

So are they images about people or the clouds themselves?  What does choosing to take the photograph, like or dislike it reveal about us as people?

There is something disorientating about an image without any ground.  Yet looking up is such a natural thing to do.  Are these Landscapes? Skyscrapes?  Naturescapes?  The decision to include or exclude the ground has a significant effect on how the image is viewed, becoming abstract formations by the simple action of cropping or selective framing.

http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/artwork/Stieglitz-Equivalent_Series1.htm

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Study Visit – Cathedral of the Pines, Gregory Crewdson.

Crewdson is known for his meticulously planned, cinematic ‘frames’. This exhibition, Cathedral of the Pines, is said to be his most personal to date.

Up until this point my relationship with Crewdson’s work was mixed.  On one hand it is impossible not to be full of admiration for the depth of planning, choreography and technical quality in each image.

In fact I would describe his work as a Hollywood movie lasting just 1/125th of a second.

But is it too clinical?  How much of Crewdson am I really  seeing here, or is it sanitised and synthesised? Is it so objectively, so precisely, reconstructed that it loses the essence of the original idea?

Looking wider, how much of the recognition should go to his numerous crew instead?  Does it matter that a ‘Director of Photography’ is employed to do a lot of the thinking?

Does it matter whether or not he actually presses the shutter:

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/06/monkey-selfie-case-animal-photo-copyright

There are recurring themes in the works: Bare bulbs; cars with open doors; semi naked ladies staring blankly; sheds or outside toilets.  The holes in the ground – reminiscent of his tales of his his father’s psychotherapist practice on the basement of his childhood home.

There is a curious portrayal of the genders too.  The female is seen in many images as naked, wet hair, staring forward at nothing obvious.  The signifiers are of vulnerability and introspection.  By contrast only one male is shown completely naked, but safely cocooned within the steel shell of his VW Camper.

It is tempting to treat each image as an intellectual puzzle, knowing that each and every element in the image is placed deliberately the brain tries to ‘solve’ the riddle.  I found myself trying to find the reason for every included element like a scene of crime detective.  Like an accountant going over a balance sheet, I felt that everything should be objectified rather than left as a subjective artistic view.

But it dawned on me that the opposite might actually be true.  Since every element is a faithful reproduction of Crewdson’s original vision for the photograph, it could equally be argued that we are seeing a reproduction that is very faithful indeed.  Like a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork – everything uncannily replicated, true to his original idea.

Why the recurring themes like car doors and blankly staring ladies?  Is Crewdson moving the key elements of his mind around, juxtaposing them in different scenarios?  We all have recurring thoughts and dreams that we seek to reconcile as part of our life work.  How therapeutic is it for Crewdson to analyse, dissect and reconstruct these inner thoughts?

Indeed, a fellow student on the visit questioned whether we would similarly challenge a painter, having spent months meticulously working on an oil painting.  Clearly we would not.  On reflection it seems unfair to challenge Crewdson for being so meticulous about his work.

I initially found this exhibition difficult for the reasons outlined.  As well as gaining a much better understanding of his work, I came away with great respect for Crewdson as an individual too, not just for the sheer technical accomplishment, but for the almost obsessive attention to detail to faithfully create what is in his mind.

With this in mind, the work is surely authentic and courageous because I now know that he did not miss out anything at all in what he is showing us about his inner thoughts.  The interpretation is left up me – and I’m not the psychotherapist here.

 

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Michael Wolf – Tokyo Compression

this caught my eye and wanted to save it.  

https://www.flowersgallery.com/artists/michael-wolf/works/view/56349-tokyo-compression-73

Michael Wolf stands on the Tokyo underground platform as the steamed-up windows reveal the commuters that scroll before him. As we look at the disquieting images we might ask why people tolerate this? You can feel the discomfort. The fingers down the condensation-soaked windows look like fingernails against a cell wall.

But we can also see how it feels ‘normal’ to be a commuter in this every day. It is tolerated.  A fascinating insight into what we humans will accept.

The condensation reduces the faces to abstracts, not real people, just shapes and colours behind a window.  We cant see their gaze, their expressions.  It is as though their humanity is suspended while on the train.  Faceless.  Until they arrive at the other end.

At the Flowers Gallery until 1 July.

 

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Liz Hingley – taking the perfect portrait

Taking someone’s portrait is always a disruptive and often very awkward event. Everyone has their default portrait pose. The role of the photographer is to push beyond, to find that mysterious intimate moment that only a camera can freeze.”

Enjoyed reading this because it acknowledges the discomfort that I’ve been experiencing around photographing people.

Hingley’s message is that it is normal – even for her.  The magic happens when we dare to oush through it.

Full article: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/05/how-to-shoot-the-perfect-portrait-liz-hingley-one-of-the-winners-of-the-portrait-of-britain-2016/