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Category : Body of Work

Genres: Personal Journeys & Responding to the Archive

The course notes go on to look at two further genres :

  • Personal Journeys and Fictional Autobiography
  • Responding to the Archive

I might come back to them separately in the future but for now, what if they’re combined?

Nan Goldin is one of the photographers mentioned in the first section and a quote of hers that sums up the personal journey approach is [1] ‘There is a popular notion that the photographer is by nature a voyeur, the last one to be invited to the party. But I’m not crashing; this is my party. This is my family, my history.

Then Sekula is referenced in the notes with respect to the archive and he suggests that we might “regard these photographs as ‘historical documents’ …. or treat these photographs as “aesthetic objects’“.

In terms of “historical documents’ Sekula is wary; suggesting that “The viewer of standard pictorial histories loses any ground in the present from which to make critical evaluations.” and regarding the aesthetic approach suggests a romantic or post-romantic approach.

Again, what if these are all combined?

When my parents in law died we found the archive of my father-in-law’s photographs. To call a number of boxes of transparencies and prints from the 1920s to the 1970s an archive might seem slightly misleading but many of those images are now in the Imperial War Museum as a section of the museum’s World War II archive so I think tat we can safely call them an official archive.

At the same time we found my mother-in-law’s diaries from almost as long a period and the combination of the two make a fascinating story combining Sekula’s history with the romantic. During much of the war my father-in-law was based in the USA whilst my mother-in-law was back home in the Land Army. Two contemporaneous elements from the sets provide a typical contrast between the two.

 

1941_02_14 Ashley Walk

The first couple of elements shows the similarities of their lives at the time

 4th April 1941: They had a bomb in the garden last night. Quite a mess but no-one was hurt. Olive and I were fire watching but the men sent us in and did it for us

 

Manhattan Project Los Alamos 1The second set shows the differences with the image being from Los Alamos in the USA and the diary entry showing life back home.

Had interview at Labour Exchange with Hon. Mrs Bathurst for the Land Army. Was accepted for the Forestry Branch and will , in due course, go to a training camp in Sussex or Suffolk. Got a permit for knitting wool for the forces

 

 

The story that unfolds with the two series, the images and the diaries, could become horribly romantic or as dry as Sekula describes historical archives to be. Alternatively it could be a fascinating insight into lives before, during and after the Second World War described from a personal viewpoint, showing “insiderness” to reuse Solomon-Godeau’s word.

My problem with taking this forward as a major project is how does it evolve, how do I show progress ? The two archives as they stand are fixed, to add extraneous elements to them would dilute the story though additional material could be beneficial in places. In addition we’ve already produced a book covering this for other family members so it would be like revisiting old work – not something that I really want to do for a Major Project at this stage.

Perhaps it’s something that I’ll revisit at a later date but for now I’ll park it … regretfully.

Incidentally, the photo at the top is from the archive. I love it for the scenery, the history and the sense of adventure … a bit like this course really !

Gaz

References

  1. Nan Goldin (1986). Nan Goldin:The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency . New York: Aperture. 1-144.
  2. Sekula, A.,‘Reading an Archive: Photography between Labour and Capital’ in Evans, J. & Hall, S. (eds.) (1999) Visual Culture: The Reader, London: Sage

Genres – Tableaux; Tom Hunter

Much of this entry appeared in the blog post that I uploaded as part of the Documentary module but it’s worth a revisit because of the links to the research that the course asks us to do on tableaux.

Hunter lived in a Hackney squat and, unsurprisingly, took exception to the Hackney Gazette which described the area as “a crime-ridden, derelict ghetto, a cancer – a blot on the landscape”. Much of his work is aimed at giving the people there, the community, a voice. By creating carefully scripted images, full of colour and light, he aims to create empathy whilst drawing attention to the issues of that community in defiance of the Gazette’s views.

Hunter2Hunter1

Many of these scripted works refer to historical paintings such as “Anchor and Hope” part of his Unheralded Stories series. It closely follows “Christina’s World“, an iconic 1948 painting by American painter Andrew Wyeth. In Wyeth’s original work a young woman, suffering from polio, is seen crawling through a cornfield to a house. In Hunter’s version the woman crawling through long grass towards a council estate [1] “yields up a memory of pitched battles with the council as squatters organized an autonomous and collectively self-supporting community in a Clapton estate“. As the article goes on to note, many of the images in the series reference the friction arising when nature meets city.

The issue of nature vs city is very much a global issue but Hunter, in much of his work, is mindful of his phrase “Think Global, Act Local“. Whilst aware of the global issues it’s the local issues that he’s trying to publicise whether they are manifestation of globalisation or not.

Diane Smyth used that phrase as the title of her article [2] in the BJP on Humter’s work, August 2010. In the article Smyth explains that the historical references are designed to lend gravity to the images, ensuring that the scenes stay in the public conciousness. Hunter himself explains “I wanted to make them monumental ……. There is an argument that aesthetics creates a barrier; I’m arguing it takes the barrier down and helps you engage more“.

Hunter goes on to explain his staging of his images, sometimes merely posing his subjects, other times staging the whole scene. All of the images are taken on location so the environment is accurate. The scenes themselves retain historical veracity even if they are posed. Despite this veracity the staging of the images raises the question if “Is it documentary ?” but to me this is just a label, it does not detract from Hunter’s work, nor is it really relevant. There are so many definitions of “documentary work” that some will contradict Hunter’s work others will support it – either way his work is adept at publicising local, social issues.

My personal view relates to the actual purpose of documentary which, to me, is to publicise, whether it be social injustice, an environmental issue, the life of a pride of lions or just the story of a country fair. Hunter’s view very much fulfils this criteria so, to me, it’s documentary even if doesn’t adhere to all of the strict definitions.

Hunter3 Finally, Tom Hunter himself explains in a BBC Radio essay [3], the background to his career and, specifically, to what is probably his most famous work, “Woman reading a Possession Order”. Having been served with an eviction notice along with his friends and neighbours Hunter took this as a challenge to their lifestyle, setting out to produce work that might help then in their fight. He began looking at various artists and their approach to social injustice, taking inspirations from various sources, in particular Peter Kennard’s 1980 work “Haywain with Cruise Missiles“.

Focussing on Vermeer at the suggestion of Kennard, who was Hunter’s tutor at the time, he became interested in the photorealistic aspect of Vermeer’s work, possibly developed using a camera obscura. (See Philip Steadman’s book, “Vermeer’s Camera”  or the Hockney-Falco thesis named after two proponents of the theory). On further study Hunter identified two other attributes of Vermeer’s work [3] “His paintings focus upon minute details and illuminate his subjects with such devotion” which resonated with Hunter’s photographic approach and [3] “Vermeer was a painter of the people, a revolutionary artist who, by use of realism and social commentary, elevates ordinary folk to a higher status within their time and forever more“.

Hunter4Hunter5These attributes gave Hunter the impetus for “Woman reading a Possession Order”, produced to highlight the issues that he and his neighbours were facing. Vermeer’s original image, “A Girl Reading at an Open Window“, is believed by some commentators to show her reading a love letter from a fiancé fighting for his country in a war of independence against the oppressive rule of colonial Spain. The similarity of the compositions and lighting ensures that Hunter’s intention of enhancing the memorability of his image is satisfied. The emotions of the two subjects similarly enhances the connection whilst the differences, for example the baby in the foreground replacing the fruit of the original, only serve to emphasise the current, local issue.

The memorability of these images is enhanced by Hunter’s deliberate “copying” of historical compositions but his pain-staking attention to detail, particularly the lighting, deserves to make the images memorable in their own right.

The reasons for revisiting this entry are related to the earlier post on genres. In his interview with Diane Smyth [2] Hunter states “In school you’re taught this is how you paint, these are the painters who are considered important, this is how you make a beautiful image  – even if you reject it, it’s burnt into you skull …. he might start to explore … or he might not, but either way I think that we do understand that relationship to beauty“. To me this sums up the need to understand genres even when we don’t use them. In fact I still don’t think we should use them until we’ve completed the work.

The second reason for returning was Hunter’s empathy with the community that he chose to depict. Very much in the mode of Chambi rather than Salgado (see previous post) Hunter retains that inside view which lends credibility to the image, inviting the trust of the viewer rather than the voyeurism. This generally clarifies the story or intent of the image rather than the deliberate uncertainty of the more elaborate Crewsdon tableaux.

Gaz

References

1. Slyce, J, Unheralded Stories, Online at http://www.tomhunter.org/unheralded-stories-series/

2. Smyth, D, BJP – Think Global, Act Local,   http://www.tomhunter.org/think-global-act-local/

3. Hunter, T., Under the Influence, Under the Influencehttp://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zt7ky

Genres – Tableaux

The first of the genres that the course notes explore is Tableaux or, more completely, tableaux vivants or living pictures. The genre typically takes inspiration from stage and screen, using actors, props and choreography to tell a story. We’re asked to look at the work of Gregory Crewsdon in particular and to me it has always been his work that has typified the extremes of the tableaux genre. Using large detailed and prop-filled sets with actors under instruction the similarities to film production are immediately obvious. Similarly the overlap with many artists such as Edward Hopper is equally obvious and Crewsdon himself pays tribute to the American artist Hopper (Drawing on Hopper, 2016).

Hopper has been profoundly influential to me as an artist .. emerging from a distinctly American tradition, Hopper’s work deals with ideas of beauty, sadness, alienation, and desire. I think it is now virtually impossible to read America visually without referring back to the archive of visual images created by artists who found inspiration in Hopper’s paintings. His art has shaped the essential themes and interests in the work of so many contemporary painters, writers, and, above all, photographers and filmmakers.”

More interestingly, to me at least, was his comment in an interview (Loh and Vescovi, no date) “what’s important to me is that there’s a necessary alienation between me and the subject. I don’t want to know them well. I don’t want to have any intimate contact with them.

The convoluted reason as to why this interested my was a comment by Solomon-Godeau (Solomon-Godeau, 1994, p6) where she talks about the work of Jeff Wall, another photographer known for his detailed tableaux:
But where faux realism, simulation or iconoclasm function more or less effectively to counter or obviate the problematics of inside/outside, it is perhaps more to the point to question the validity of the binarism itself. For what is really at issue is the fundamentally unanswerable question of how reality is in fact to be known, and in this respect, the truth claims of photography – always disputed – are now for the most part rejected.

Although she is primarily concerned with the truthfulness or validity of the image and goes on to discuss this, it’s her description of Wall’s, and by inference Crewsdon’s, binarism (i.e. the looking in from outside) that resonates with Crewsdon’s comment above. During the Documentary module I compared the work of Salgado and Chambi, two South American photographers noted for their cultural images. Whereas Chambi’s work was very much on the inside of the culture, Salgado’s was very much on the outside looking in and it was very definitely the former that understood and captured the realities of the local culture. This binarism as exemplified by Salgado resonates with one of the key issues of my Body of Work portfolio i.e. the “outisderness” (S-G, 1994) of the typical tourist.

Returning to Solomon-Godeau’s binarism, this is an issue that I’ve had in the past with many tableaux images, although extremely interesting I find that many are very much on the outside and correspondingly shallow. At this point I have to admit that it’s the extreme tableaux that cause this reaction and the more subtle tableaux of Tom Hunter and Hannah Starkey seem to work better with the subject and are more genuine.

Having said that I have to mention Crewsdon’s work, Sanctuary (White Cube, 2009) – shot in the Cinecittà film studios, outside Rome, these images step outside of his normal tableaux work and capture the beauty of the studios in perfect detail. As Hodgson (2011) describes “… he has achieved a density of reference in these pictures which would be overwhelming and academic were it not for the sheer beauty of the prints.

I’ll try and cover the more subtle tableaux of Starkey and Hunter in a later post

Gaz
References

White Cube , Sanctuary, (2009) Gregory Crewdson [online] Available from: http://whitecube.com/artists/gregory_crewdson/ [Accessed 06/05/2016]

Art, N. G. of (2016) ‘Edward hopper’, available at http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2007/hopper.html, accessed 9 July 2016.

Drawing on hopper: Gregory Crewdson/Edward hopper › Williams College museum of art (2016) available at http://wcma.williams.edu/exhibit/crewdson-hopper/, accessed 9 July 2016.

Loh, A. and Vescovi, A. (no date) ‘Interview with photographer Gregory Crewdson’, available at http://theamericanreader.com/interview-with-photographer-gregory-crewdson/, accessed 9 July 2016.

Solomon-Godeau, A., (1994), ‘Inside/Out’ in Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1994.

Hodgson, F. (2011) ‘Sanctuary – Gregory Crewdson’, available at https://francishodgson.com/2011/06/27/sanctuary-gregory-crewdson/, accessed 9 July 2016.

Weir boundary in Windsor Great Park

Genres

The first section of the course asks us to look at genres within photography, a term that I’ve always disliked because of its prohibitive nature. To me it’s always felt like a constraining term in the sense that you must shoot either Documentary, Landscape or Portraiture for example; much like my days at school, many years ago, when things had to be done a certain way or else it was wrong. Given that some of my teachers, in maths in particular, were very set in their ways this caused the occasional spot of friction! It’s this firm categorisation that has always raised my hackles, not just in photography but in any field or social issue.

The course notes go on to describe genres as “simply a way of categorising certain areas of interest” which is less constraining but categories, almost by definition, are restrictive. In other fields such as film-making this categorisation allows the public to understand what kind of film it is, allowing them to make decisions before viewing it. In photography this is less important and simply creates a shorthand for discussion or, in the case of Bate’s book, Photography: The key concepts, a traditional framework that he uses to structure the book. Here he uses the traditional genres Landscape, Portraiture, Documentary etc whereas the course notes refer to fields within these traditional genres:

·         Tableaux
·         Personal journeys
·         The Archive
·         Psychogeography
·         Conceptual
·         Genre hopping

Rather than considering them as fields the notes suggest, these terms “… refer more to certain narrative structures … used by artists to define and position themselves more specifically …. than the more traditional terms might allow for“.

Whilst discussing environmental change and “politics of the environment” Wells (2004) further explains this as  “genres are defined not by uniformity, but by clusters of characteristic themes …revitalised through experimentation and new issues”.

Combining these two viewpoints together creates a much more flexible, realistic view of genres within photography, simply allowing the discussion of new themes arising from the changing photographic landscape but also creating the opportunity for alternative ways of looking at one’s own work.

In my particular case I mentioned my plans for my Body of Work portfolio, looking at the “Tourism Space” (Kowalczyk, 2014) of Windsor Great Park. Traditionally it could be argued that the images, or at least the initial and imagined images, fell into the Landscape genre with a touch of Documentary. More realistically they could be discussed as a personal journey or psychogeography or even a new genre “Analytic” based around the analysis required to create the concept in the first place.

In fact looking at genres in this way rather than the traditional, prescriptive method used in film-making actually enables rather than inhibits the discovery required during the early stages of defining a portfolio.

The course notes for this section suggest that that we might like to use them to think about the different branches of photography and how we might like our work to sit in relation to them. Alternatively they suggest that we might be drawn to one and repulsed by another. In fact I think that this is totally the wrong way to look at them. By all means look at the different genres to get ideas, meander through the categories, imagine your work being defined by them but by categorising your work before completing your portfolio immediately suggests a lack of imagination, a self-imposed constraint. Surely it’s better to have knowledge of the genres being discussed, of the type of work described by each and then go off and produce, only in the latter stages identifying with a genre ?

The course notes ask us to look at some of the genres in more detail so I’ll go on to do that in further posts.

Gaz

References

Bate, D. (2008) Photography: The key concepts, New York: Berg Publishers.
Kowalczyk, A. (2014), The Phenomenology of Tourism Space, Tourism, ISSN 0867-5856, 01/2014, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp. 9 – 15
Wells, L. (2004) Photography: A critical introduction (3rd edition), London, NY: Routledge.

Renaissance

It’s been so long since I actually produced anything for this course that it must have seemed to everyone that I’d given up on the course but now it’s time to get started again. Shortly after submitting my first assignment I was due to set off on a lengthy period of travel which I was going to use for research and moving on through the course. Unfortunately, before I could agree a way forward my tutor resigned which meant that I started off without a clear, agreed path.

Not really a major problem since I simply had to choose a new tutor (which took some time) and touch base with him when I was briefly back in the country. After a lengthy, incredibly useful chat with him I set off, full of enthusiasm and new ideas (thanks, David !). In fact, the problem was dismissing many of the ideas down to a manageable few that I could take forward.

One of the key points from my chat with my tutor had been the very simple point that the project had to be able to develop during the course or, more to the point, the project had to be such that I could demonstrate development as I progressed through the project. Surprisingly that really helped to focus my thoughts. For example, one of my favourite ideas was (and still is for the future) to work with a couple of charities that I know who are active in Africa helping to conserve wildlife whilst working with the local communities. I had access to the work that they were doing, I had the ability to get out there on a number of occasions, I had a clear view of what was required. The trouble was, that clear view was almost an end point in itself, there was limited opportunity to develop the idea and develop my skills through the module so that project was discarded …. for now at least.

Chile Bolivia borderDuring this period I had plenty of opportunity to read around the subject, basically immerse myself in theory, which was extremely immersive but not much help in focusing on a theme. At one point I crossed from Chile to Bolivia at an “interesting” border crossing. At 5,000 metres the act of taking a large step over the small trench that had been scraped in the ground to mark the border took a fair bit of the limited oxygen in my lungs. This did however get me thinking about the concept of a border – what did it actually mean?

I’d been back home a few times and been taking images that interested me in the local area because I knew that I wanted a local slant to my portfolio. This was partly because of my relationship with a couple of local galleries but more to do with the fact that I wanted access to my subject for the forthcoming course so that I could maximise my opportunities to make the images.

It was only when I had some time back home to ponder things that I started pulling together some of my experiences together with some of the reading that I’d done and the idea of “borders” or “boundaries”. Living in Windsor we get over 8 million tourists a year and I started looking at the areas that I’d been photographing compared to the areas that the tourists visited. Not surprisingly there was a marked difference so I started looking at “why?” and this is where my thoughts on borders when I was a few thousand miles away came back to me. What was the perceived boundary that kept the tourists penned in a certain area?

Coincidentally David had sent me an extract from Goodwin’s work “Introducing Human Geographies” and one of the chapters, Driver’s work on “Imaginative Geographies”, suggested a theme around the imaginative geography of tourists in Windsor Great Park; What created this geography or “Tourism Space” (Kowalczyk, 2014) within the park.

To me this seemed an ideal project, local, plenty of scope to develop, interesting ( at least to me ) and it also allowed me to look at the semiotics of boundaries – semiotics being something that had interested me from the Documentary module.

I’ll expand on this in further posts but just to mention that the OCA have, obviously, been chasing me to make sure that I was OK with the course despite my virtual disappearance. I called them a couple of times to confirm that everything was still fine and on one of those occasions spoke to one of the student support people there (I’d like to mention her name but don’t want to without asking her permission). Although I didn’t need really help, she was excellent to speak to and when I suggested that my slow approach to this module might be strange she laughed, explaining that she’d done something very similar with her dissertation and not to worry about it. So to anybody else who’s worried that their approach is “different” – don’t be concerned.

Gaz

References

DRIVER, F. 2014. Imaginative Geographies. In: GOODWIN, M. et al. (eds.) Introducing Human Geographies. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

KOWALCZYK, A. (2014), The Phenomenology of Tourism Space, Tourism, ISSN 0867-5856, 01/2014, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp. 9 – 15

Beginning Body of Work

So here I am, after a slow meander through the OCA Photography path I’ve now arrived at the level 3 module, Body of Work. In many ways this is the culmination of the whole pathway, creating a single body of work to showcase my “talents” or, failing that, showcasing everything that I’ve learnt in the earlier modules. I’ve skimmed the notes a couple of times, just to get a feel for what’s needed and I think that I’m going to enjoy this. The iterative way of working, building on ideas is very much how I worked on those early assignments that interested me the most so I can empathise with the course already. I just need to translate that way of working into a longer, more in-depth and wide-ranging (if that’s not an oxymoron) area or theme.

One thing that’s clear from the course notes is that there’s no requirement to decide on a theme at this early stage. In fact the implication is that would be totally wrong, far better to allow the theme to develop naturally. Again this approach suits me well  since I have both no idea of which way to go and, at the same time, too many ideas. The early part of the module looks at genres and investigates some examples , not of traditional genres such as Landscape, Documentary etc but more of narrative structures that have been adopted by photographers to define their work e.g. tableaux, psychogeography or conceptual.

Again, this works well for me since my only concern with the course is the need to focus on one genre when I’ve enjoyed so many through the other modules. Thinking about the end product in this way removes that concern, especially when the section ends with the concept of “genre hopping”.

“Please don’t feel restricted to one genre or style. As you can see from the genres touched upon above, the approaches are multi-layered and the boundaries become very blurred. Documentary may veer into tableaux and conceptual photography may merge with the archive, for example. These outlines are meant to trigger inspiration and you’re free to pick and choose from whatever style you are drawn to. The most important thing is to use the style that best suits the work.”

Again, this sounds like fun.

To get started I went through some portfolios from earlier modules, just to clarify in my own mind what it was about these portfolios that had piqued my interest. These are under “portfolios” above and aren’t necessarily those portfolios that I felt were my best, just those that most interested me. The only common theme was that they all tried to tell a story, usually of a place, which I guess is what a portfolio is really all about.

In addition, the critical review from the documentary module interested me. There I wrote about the effect of culture on photojournalism and I’d like to develop some of the ideas from that essay , primarily around semiotics, in this body of work.

Overall that sounds like a suitably vague place to start and see where this takes me.

Gaz