Monthly Archives: March 2018

nftu #10 – a further thought on August Sander

Reading Max Kozloff’s essay, New Documents Revisited (part of the introduction to Meister, S. H. (2017) Arbus, Friedlander, Winogrand – New documents, 1967.  Museum of Modern Art, New York) the following sentence jumped out at me from the section on Diane Arbus (p.24):

‘Growing out of that tradition [commercial studio practice…based on deference to the sitter’s performance] Sander came to visualize pictures that were about personal performance, not an endorsement of them.’

This seems to me as good a way as any of describing the effect of pictures like that of the Pastry Cook in Face of Our Time (1929, plate 16) as he stands there in his kitchen,  spoon and bowl in hand, hidden behind his moustache in his white coat. There is an implied distance between Sander and his subjects that is vital, I think and that lack of endorsement is at the heart of it…

exercise 4.1 – looking at advertisements

OCA tutor Dawn Woolley writes a regular blog  called ‘Looking at Advertisements’. Read one of Dawn’s articles and write a blog post or make a comment on the site in response.

– IaP Coursebook – p.75

I looked at two of Dawn’s posts: the Protein World “Beach Body” post and then followed up by having a look at the related post looking at an earlier Protein World advertisement.


I had picked the first post to read because I remembered seeing the advert on the tube when it’s campaign was active in 2015. I remembered noticing the advert for two main reasons: when I first saw it, I was struck by how confrontational the image of the woman was; then a few days later I noticed it had been overwritten in marker pen with a phrase I hadn’t seen deployed in public since the late 80’s – “This Offends!”

The original advert – I saw it as one of the array of advertisement cards above the windows of a tube train, angled down at me – was above my eyeline, compounding the way that the centre of the image is firmly set around her navel. it is her body (or rather her flat, evenly tanned stomach) not her face that is ready for the beach. This is less apparent on a screen, although one of the blog illustrations does show it in its original setting on the tube.

The discussion of the photography in Dawn’s blog (and in the comments that follow)  is mostly concerned with the passivity of the woman in the image with her eyes shut, or in shadow. I (the viewer of the advert)  am looking at her; she is not looking at anyone. I am active; she is passive. Indeed, looking at the image and the way the shadow falls on the yellow background, it is not clear whether she is lying down, on a yellow beach, sun bathing, while I am positioned to stare down at her. There was concern that – unlike the earlier advert featuring a man – the photograph could not be traced back to an “art photography” context, but not that this would in some way validate the objectification.

It appears to fit in nicely with Berger’s critique of the treatment of women as subjects of a male gaze in fine art (in Ways of Seeing).  I followed the link of the 2015 post back to the post about the previous year’s ad:

Here the discussion was much more around the appropriation of the style of Alexander Rodchenko’s photographs, taken in the aftermath of the Russian revolution, which often featured pictures of heroic individuals, rendered strange by the angel they were viewed from. Unlike the woman, with her closed, shadowed eyes, the man’s chin juts out and his eyeline is set on some distant horizon where the promise of the ‘Protein Revolution’ – another, link back to Rodchenko, verbal this time – is realised in all its glory. His right arm is frozen as it swings over the camera. It doesn’t matter that you can’t see his pace properly because this is  synecdoche (the figure of speech where a part stands in for the whole) – it doesn’t matter that you can’t make out the face, you’re looking at the six pack.

Figures of speech of course are drawn from classical rhetoric. Similarly – as much as the allusions to Rodchenko and revolutionary Russian, this draws on half-remembered ideas about classical statuary. The man in image two is standing, frozen, towering above you like a collossus; the woman could be a caryatid. And photographs of people in poses drawn from classical statuary have been used to legitimise the sexualised gaze pretty much since photography began.

Just as the “beach body” picture could be seen to fit into the category of the ‘cheesecake’ pinup, the male torso depicted here is a fairly standard ‘beefcake’ shot, objectifying a paradoxically feminised image of the hairless but honed male body with the repeated muscular V-s pointing down below the (eyelevel) waist-band of his trousers. This is homo-eroticism, but not so overtly that a militantly straight body-builder would be put off buying the product,

I am not the target audience for this. I feel no envy (or a wish to be like the man pictured). I do not desire the man himself. I am certainly not going to pick up a tub of whey protein and take it back home to Fiona so she can get herself beach-body ready in time for summer.

However, I do think of Clive James’ description of Arnold Schwarzenegger looking like “a brown condom stuffed with walnuts” and this in turn leads me on to Steve Bell describing David Cameron as looking like a condom stuffed with ham. Neither comparison is flattering. Both are funny. Both are powerfully visual. The fact that this is what I think of locates me as someone who sees themself as above all this bodybuilding stuff, as a mind rather than a body. I also think of the pilot in Airplane asking the boy who is visiting the airliner’s cockpit, ‘Son – do you like Gladiator movies? … Have you ever seen a grown man naked?’. I find it all slightly ridiculous while hoping I don’t come across as appearing superior (not a flattering look).

Returning to the adverts though, it’s interesting how poor the text is at closing off these unauthorised readings of them. I assume that – as a man – I should wish to have a six-pack and am prepared to do something about it; how I am supposed to regard the woman, I don’t know; I have even less idea of how I would be supposed to view her if I was – the assumed target of the second ad – a woman. Maybe I’m supposed to make women envious simply by going, ‘mmm –  nice’ but she seems too fierce (or as I said at the begiining of this post, confrontational) for that. Both pictures seem to be too open (and to remain so, despite the text) to prevent unintended readings at odds with their text. They are strong images, and they provoke; if they were less strong, I assume that – as someone who is not part of their intended audience – I would not remember them. If the beach body ad was less strong, it would not have been defaced by angry women. Similarly, a weaker image in the first ad would not have led me to distance myself from it through humour. Both adverts provoke, but not necessarily in the way that their makers intended.

nftu #9 – personal narrative and a question of curation

Now, I’ve taken all the pictures for Assignment 3 on the underground, I’ve got time to read during my commute again. This morning I read the interview with Sonia Boyce in the Guardian, which (besides the obvious relevance of the furore about the – temporary – removal of Hylas and the Nymphs from Manchester Art Gallery to stuff I had been thinking about the male gaze and the representation of women in art – there’s even reference to Berger’s Ways of Seeing) fired off two quick bursts of associative thought.

1: How my identity as a white, straight man has simplified my ability to inhabit various narratives through my life.

“Even though there were a lot of female students, they were thought about as though they were being trained to become the wives of artists, not artists themselves. As a black person, there wasn’t a narrative at all.” – Sonia Boyce, quoted in the Guardian

(Like Chris Huhne in Grayson Perry’s Ch4 series about Identity, but hopefully less complacently)  I have never really had to consider what I am doing inhabiting any of the roles I’ve played in my life, as they all have seemed a natural result of stuff that I haven’t had to think about, like “being clever” or “being male” or “white” or “middle class”. Sonia Boyce on the other hand has had to write her own story to explain herself (“…she was the first black female artist to enter the collection and, she later discovered to her shock, only the fifth woman. In 2016, she became the first black woman to be elected a Royal Academician...” – Guardian). I wonder how I would turned out with a less friction-free path through life.

2: The extent to which curation is a process of constant, conscious construction (which is also a major strand in all the discussion of the BBC’s plural re-make of Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization)

“Nor do paintings arrive on museum walls by magic. Someone decides to put them up – and, later, to take them down or move them around, which is the job of a curator. This might happen for all kinds of reasons, including the changing of taste or, indeed, a shift in the limits of acceptability.  Hylas and the Nymphs was removed through an impulse to reveal normally hidden institutional machinery to the public, and to invite them to take a stake in it.” – Charlotte Higgins, author of the Guardian article

This set me thinking about the extent to which the various curators – John Szarkowski in particular – of the photography department at MOMA in New York had shaped the general idea of what photography is , not just in America, but here as well.

Where would a British Eggleston have been able to buttonhole a curator like Szarkowski who would have had the clout to catapult him into the art world stratosphere? Of course it is possible that there could never have been a British Eggleston. And there is also the question of whether the art world embracing photography is a good thing in the first place.

I am capable of tracing multiple, parallel paths through American 20th Century Photography (and beyond); I can even name a string of specific canonical exhibitions; but my knowledge of British photography over the same period is much more patchy with plenty of gaps that are filled in my US canon. I know much more about the FSA’s work in the US during the 30s than I do of Mass Observation’s here for example. MOMA has carried out a task to place photography and photographers at the heart of “the culture”  that the great institutions in UK have barely started on. even now.

But there is still scope to dig  here, I think…

(This is not to belittle the stuff that is done by the V&A or The Photographers’ Gallery or even the Johnny-come-lately-to-the-photography-party that is the Tate collossus; but it is striking how much more visible the US photographers are over here.)

assignment 3 – inspiration and research – Paul Graham

I have written about Paul Graham before, during the big post that lies at the heart of my experience of Context and Narrative; I had taken some photographs in his late style and thought that trying to apply this to catching stories on the escalators of the Moscow Metro would be an interesting thing to try. This – alongside the pictures of Walker Evans and Lukáš Kuzma – fed into my work for the “unaware” project in part two of this course, especially the pictures I took during a trip last summer to Kiev.

Wishing to find out more about Graham’s recent work, I had also bought the book collecting his three latest series (The Whiteness of the Whale) and  found an interview with him about the related exhibition of these pictures in 2016 at Pier 24 in San Francisco in 2016. Continue reading

Assignment 3 – A Mirror

 

The Pictures:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(The gallery/slideshow feature does not appear to have a way to disable auto-start. I will continue to look for a way to let you start the show playing once you’re ready, but suspect I need to upgrade my wordpress account.)

Statement:

I was born on a small Scottish island, living there until I was eighteen, Despite – or maybe because of – this, I have always felt that, by nature, I am a creature of the city. I enjoy the bustle, the sense that things are forever changing and evolving around me, that nothing is ever static. But also, I enjoy the anonymity offered to me by my unmarked presence in a crowd of which I am only a small part.

In his book, The Language of Cities, Deyan Sudjik explores this tension between being alone and yet – at the same time – of being part of something much greater than just your experience of it. He sets out the ways by which those who belong to a city differ from those how simply visit. And of the many ways that people can acquire a sense of belonging in that most rootless of modern places, one of the most potent is to be found in the way people navigate their way through the the complexities of its public transport system.

Based on the most recent available statistics (collected in 2016) more than 225,000 people enter or exit Oxford Circus Station daily, making it the fourth busiest station on the London Underground. Eight times a week I pass through Oxford Circus station on my way to or from work.  Normally, I join the further mass of people who change from one line to another without actually leaving the station.

We  find ways to idnetify where we need to stand in order to be in front of a door when the next train finishes sliding into the station and we make sure we will be in the right carriage to leave our final stop by the shortest route. We have glyphs and other markers; marks on the wall and scuffed spots on the platform.  We recognise other people doing the same and identify with them; we may even begin to spot the same faces recurring, day by day, over time.

But as we make our daily commute, we shut our eyes or find other ways of vanishing into ourselves, into our phones, our newspapers or our books. We do not make eye contact with one another; nor do we stare. We distance ourselves, becoming alone again amongst the thronging people around us.  But at the same time, sharing transport helps makes us part of a functioning community, not getting in one another’s’ way, standing on the right and walking on the left and letting people get off the train before boarding ourselves. We share our journeys with each other even if we only rarely acknowledge this..

Normally when I am taking pictures,  I feel that I am putting distance – a pane of glass perhaps –  between myself and the event or thing or person that I am photographing. Taking the pictures for this project has worked differently, opening me up to my surroundings, making me more aware of the people who surround me as I travel to work. I am able to see myself reflected back at me as they do the same things that I do. 

They say there are a million stories in the naked city; mine is just one of them and parts of it are very like the many other people’s stories, too…


A more traditional, prints-on-a-wall presentation of the pictures is shown in this post.


Reference:

  • Sudjic, Deyan (2017) The Language of Cities. London, Penguin

Assignment 3a – A Mirror (alternative presentation)

Statement:

I was born on a small Scottish island, living there until I was eighteen, Despite – or maybe because of – this, I have always felt that, by nature, I am a creature of the city. I enjoy the bustle, the sense that things are forever changing and evolving around me, that nothing is ever static. But also, I enjoy the anonymity offered to me by my unmarked presence in a crowd of which I am only a small part.

In his book, The Language of Cities, Deyan Sudjik explores this tension between being alone and yet – at the same time – of being part of something much greater than just your experience of it. He sets out the ways by which those who belong to a city differ from those how simply visit. And of the many ways that people can acquire a sense of belonging in that most rootless of modern places, one of the most potent is to be found in the way people navigate their way through the the complexities of its public transport system.

Based on the most recent available statistics (collected in 2016) more than 225,000 people enter or exit Oxford Circus Station daily, making it the fourth busiest station on the London Underground. Eight times a week I pass through Oxford Circus station on my way to or from work.  Normally, I join the further mass of people who change from one line to another without actually leaving the station.

We  find ways to idnetify where we need to stand in order to be in front of a door when the next train finishes sliding into the station and we make sure we will be in the right carriage to leave our final stop by the shortest route. We have glyphs and other markers; marks on the wall and scuffed spots on the platform.  We recognise other people doing the same and identify with them; we may even begin to spot the same faces recurring, day by day, over time.

But as we make our daily commute, we shut our eyes or find other ways of vanishing into ourselves, into our phones, our newspapers or our books. We do not make eye contact with one another; nor do we stare. We distance ourselves, becoming alone again amongst the thronging people around us.  But at the same time, sharing transport helps makes us part of a functioning community, not getting in one another’s’ way, standing on the right and walking on the left and letting people get off the train before boarding ourselves. We share our journeys with each other even if we only rarely acknowledge this..

Normally when I am taking pictures,  I feel that I am putting distance – a pane of glass perhaps –  between myself and the event or thing or person that I am photographing. Taking the pictures for this project has worked differently, opening me up to my surroundings, making me more aware of the people who surround me as I travel to work. I am able to see myself reflected back at me as they do the same things that I do. 

They say there are a million stories in the naked city; mine is just one of them and parts of it are very like the many other people’s stories, too…

The Pictures

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This post shows the possible layout for an installation of the photographs. The three asterisks indicate individual groups of pictures with the following block of pictures appearing further along a wall or working clockwise round a room.

There is a separate post here, displaying the pictures as a slideshow and with no variation in picture size, that probably works better as an online thing, without the need to scroll.

 


Reference:

  • Sudjic, Deyan (2017) The Language of Cities. London, Penguin

assignment 3 – further editing

While continuing to make the last pictures I needed for the assignment on the underground, I had quite radically changed and simplified the form that my submission for this assignment would take.  A post describing the process that led to this can be found here
Here is a quick run through: Click on the gallery thumbnails if you want to view them larger.

Prologue

Orientation

Waiting for the train

Arrival

Disembarkation

Embarkation

The lady in the red coat gets on board

Departure

Now it was time to go back to the questions posed by the coursebook (on p.71)

• What order should the images be shown in?
• Are there too many repetitive images?
• Do you need to let go of earlier images because the project has changed?
• Are you too close to some of your favourite pictures and they don’t fit the sequence?
• Do you need to re-shoot any for technical reasons?
• Are there any gaps that need to be filled?

It still needed work, but it was getting there, I thought. The main problem was the number of (repetitive) images in the sections between the arrival and departure of the train.  I had already got rid of a lot of images as the project had changed to concentrate on the Oxford Circus part of my morning commute; the fact that I really liked some of the dropped sequences (the ‘on the Central Line’ section – in the previous post –  works nicely for all sorts of reasons, I think, but it did not fit into the revised timebox), but I don’t think that held me back from putting them to one side.

Order was straightforward. If I was going to build up a sense of the experience of passing through Oxford Circus Station, changing from the Victoria Line to the Central Line, it needed to combine the various passes I had made through the station in a chronological order.

The people waiting (my proxies or in terms of this module, mirrors) needed to build up, a train needed to come; people needed to spill out and the waiting people get on board; the train needed to leave with them on it. Ideally there would be some sense of this being a repetitive cycle as the next lot of passengers began the wait for the next train.

In order to get this across, I needed to create an idea of a place where the action would occur. The final exercise for this part of the course had worked through the idea of different sorts of gaze. The first type of look I had looked at was the one that came out of consciousness of the photographer’s (my) presence. This tied in both with Stephen Shore’s idea of taking ‘a screenshot of my field of vision’ (discussed in this post) and the ideas around producing a subjective representation of an individual’s experience of – primarily urban – life examined in Christopher Butler’s Modernism – a very short introduction. Modernism may be quite old hat (and there is nothing particularly cutting edge about American Surfaces any more either), but this gives a way of establishing me as a participant in the everyday drama that was unfolding in my series of pictures.

The Critical Bin

All the pictures for the central section of my sequences had been taken using a fixed focal length fixed lens from the same viewpoint – to one side of the bin that I used to locate where the correct doors of the correct carriage of the central line train I would take west would  be to allow me to both get on and get off again, by the way out when I got to my destination. (You can see it reflected in the dark windows of the stationary trains in some of the pictures, if you look hard enough.) Standing there, I had tried to keep the camera pointed straight ahead giving me a rectangular stage where the action could unfold.

In order to stop this single frame being both repetitive and flat, I needed the action to move through it on different parallel planes. The trains and people moving along the platform established some of this; I used the direction the people were  the people I was focusing on were looking and the sense of their actual movement to help articulate the transition between the individual pictures:

At this point, I also went back to the digital pictures and adjusted the crop of the pictures so to accentuate this sense of movement over the groups of selected pictures.  I also realised that the sequence would hang together better if individuals – the woman in the red coat or the tall man with a beard and a rucksack, for example –  could be followed from sequence to sequence.

The winnowing process could now be carried out again on the sections of the narrative that remained after I had abandoned the initial  idea of spreading the assignment over my entire journey. I had made another another batch of 6×4  prints made from pictures I had taken during the time I was working through the various edits to try and fill gaps (people getting onto the trains were tricky to isolate and I wanted a better train-leaving-the-station picture) and to add in further pictures of people who were recurring throughout the series:

Once this process was complete and I had made a final selection, I needed to work out how to display them. Again, both Short and Hurn and Jay had highlighted how different presentations – a photo story in a a Sunday supplement; an exhibition at a gallery; part of a book – all called for different numbers of images and for them to be sequenced in different ways.

I decided to put together two sequences which will form part of this log: a slideshow which should approximate the main presentation of the images at assessment, when A4 prints will be viewed one after the other as they are moved from one side of a clamshell box to the other; and a layout that could be used to display the prints framed, on the walls of an exhibition space.

Here, and for tutorial purposes, I would treat the slideshow as the primary view, with the exhibition layout acting as a variant.

Also, as a footnote almost, I have varied the size of some of the images within the exhibition view, playing around with the html to use a table to order and size the pictures on the page that will be displayed in your browser. I realise that this sort of thing – like having people smile in portraits – can be frowned upon, but I was very impressed by the variety of sizes of print displayed at Jurgen Tillmans’ retrospective at the Tate last year. The variations in size of the pictures broke things up, forcing the viewer  to move in closer for one picture and then to step back for the next, making it impossible to simply move along the walls, going from picture to picture to picture with them all blurring in one simple sequence. Viewing the pictures became much more active in the process, adding a lot to the experience of viewing the huge number of pictures shown.

Also, to return to the influence of Paul Graham on the development of this piece of work,  the way the pictures are printed and arranged across the pages of his recent collection of  work made in  America, The Whiteness of the Whale (2015)  led me to think about how differing the size of the individual images relative to one another might affect the way they are perceived. In  A Shimmer of Possibility (2005-2007)  irregular sizes within groups of pictures (where a cutaway to a parked station wagon is much larger than the main sequence of a man mowing a grass verge during a rain shower for example) vary the rhythm of viewing them while in  The Present (2008-2011)  each of a pair of pictures is presented the same size, but the size varies from pair to pair. The effect is very different from the regular steady progression from picture to picture as your turn the pages of Walker Evans’ American Photographs or Robert Frank’s The Americans.

I think that what I have tried here  is only the beginnings of experimenting with online layout beyond what is available in basic WordPress, but it is definitely something I would like to develop further as I move on.


Reference:

  • Butler, C (2010) Modernism – a very short introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press
  • Graham, P (2015) The Whiteness of the Whale. Mack Books