Tag Archives: Reflection

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.

 
Advertisements

Reflection Point

Reflection point

• Where does that leave the photographer? As storyteller or history writer?

• Do you tend towards fact or fiction? 

• How could you blend your approach? 

• Where is your departure from wanting/needing to depict reality?

 

Make some notes on these questions in your learning log.

———–
 
The camera can be used to cover a wide specturm of content from story to historical,including a mix of the two.  At one end of the scale the camera can record the past with a degree of reliability – such as Eugene Atget’s portrayals of 19th century Paris. But even here there is selection rather than objectivity – history is said to be written by the victor, so can it ever be reliable?
 
The typologies of the Bechers probably get closest to authentic history due to their objectivity.
 
But the camera is a great storytelling device.  Eggleston and Shore – along with Frank and many others – curated their own images to recreate the story, the narrative, of how they felt everyday life was for people in Memphis or an other US town.  
 
The photographer always records a moment in time, a historical fact captured from that moment on.  Allowing ‘am here now’ to become ‘was there then’ (Barthes) indefinitely. Something that really did exist at a point in history.  But it can be influenced by storytelling before and after pressing the shutter, by arranging, posing, cropping, framing selectively to create a narrative.
 
Im not sure why photography comes against such scrutiny as to whether it provides a true historical account or not.  Historical novels and costume dramas never seem to suffer this and are widely accepted.
 
My personal work often tends towards fact rather than fiction.  But this raises the suggestion of being able to introduce more storytelling in order to expand the scope of areas I can explore.  Assignment 4 was an historical account of the places i frequented as a child, blended with an attempt to tell the story behind Thomas’ poem – and inspire the viewer to create their own story too.
 
The departure point for me is an ethical one of not wanting to deliberately mislead with the camera. Untruths are fine in photographic storytelling as long as people know thats what they are.  But nobody – not even Donald Trump it seems – wants to see ‘fake news’.