Development and possibilities of my practice
12th February 2017
BA Hons Photography
Word Count: 3116
Word count of quotes: 293
(3000 words 10%, quotes must not exceed 15% of total)
Table of Contents
The meeting table of the Board of Directors of ArcelorMittal
The New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California, 1974
‘Construction Detail, East Wall, Xerox, 1821 Dyer Road, Santa Ana 1974’
Editorial for Baku Magazine
From the series Lost in the Wilderness, 2015
Aperture Remix Exhibition,
Summer Nights at the Dollar Tree
Sleeping by the Mississippi,
Kaskaskia, Illinois 2002
From the book, On the beach,
ISBN: 1597110485, 9781597110488
From The Polaroid Book: Selections from the polaroid collections of photography. Edited by Steve Crist. Köln, Germany: Taschen GmbH. P.306
Me and You X Bing Bang,
Jewelry Look Book 2015
Financial Times Magazine,
September 7/8 2013,
Photographer: Jillian Edelstein
Having completed a year of study at degree level in this field, I had extended my knowledge about photography both critically and visually, being more aware of previous works from artists of different generations including both historical and contemporary references. Those artists who made me think more about my own work understanding of the work I was creating was the likes of Duane Michals, Brandon Stanton, Stephen Shore and Martha Rosler. I gained a significant amount of professional and photographic progress over the year achieving how texts and images work together and how they could be shown in the context of an exhibition space. However, it was not until the first term of year two where I started to understand further how small visual elements when pieced together can change and impact a photograph’s intentions, feel and outcome on the audience who views it. This is evidenced in a lot of documentary works that I have been looking at such as Alec Soth and Kalpesh Lathigra. One element I have been focusing on in the months’ prior is the use of colour with in an image and how it is controlled, when put in a series, makes several images coherent and controlled to make a viewer feel a certain emotion. Colour, context and the type of camera used can increase the speaking voice of a documentary piece. It has been a fundamental building block for my photographic practice exploring new genres, how they relate in series and the power behind an image that is carefully constructed to achieve a desired outcome and emotion.
The definition of landscapes is ambiguous, vague, can be sometimes obscure and puzzling. The genre in photography revolves around the ‘representation of inland scenery, as of prairie, woodland, mountains; the branch of painting, photography, ect, dealing with such pictures; a view, prospect or vista of scenery or tract of land with its distinguishing characteristics either natural and/or man-made.’ (Landscape., 2002). With spaces having the ability and opportunity to be any type of scenery; interior spaces, seascapes, town, roof, moon and cityscapes, this immediately reminded me of an oeuvre I saw in Amsterdam this summer by Dutch photographer Jacqueline Hassink called Mindscapes (fig.1). Hassink photographed the corporate spaces of some of Fortune 500’s corporations gaining access into their private spaces to explore the concept of the table as a metaphor of economic power. Her work isn’t beautiful nor picturesque, it is a factual document. Their interaction with these spaces can be openly observed through her factual and deadpan aesthetic to get a true understanding of the mindset of key individuals, you can almost imagine what takes place within these peopleless landscapes she has photographed.
This leads me on to the deadpan aesthetic, a descriptive form photography and the New Topographics movement that had taken place during 1975 curated by William Jenkins (New Topographics, 2015). An exhibition that was in complete contrast to what had been portrayed as Landscape photography by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. ‘The most exhibited and canonical works of both trends, such as Adams’ Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico of 1941 and O’Sullivan’s Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, 1873, traded on traditional conventions of glorifying the western landscape, such as concepts of the sublime and the picturesque.’ (Goldberg, 1988). The combined imagery from the artists in the exhibition shown an America that had been built ‘man made’ by not glorifying the effects the sculptures have had on what once was a flat landscape. They photographed around them a political message about how the space was being taken away to industrialisation and new cities (fig.2). ‘Their stark, beautifully printed images of this mundane but oddly fascinating topography was both a reflection of the increasingly suburbanised world around them, and a reaction to the tyranny of idealised landscape photography.’ (O’Hagan, 2010) My work therefore was influenced and followed by this type of contemporary documentary photography ‘the mundane’. It has deeply informed my aesthetics and conceptual approaches to the genre and photography as modern art. The deadpan, mundane quality feel is what I want to reproduce in my images of landscapes and when paired with text or weighted research/story behind one image, it will bring it to a level where that one-way communication is easier to be understood by the viewer and audience.
A portrait is a representation or depiction of an individual that is of that individual or one that gives strong sense/impression of a specific person (National Gallerires,2011). Communicating and sharing one’s self, filled with soul and personality, that can be shown clearly through a 2D image which is then saved and shared to the world is the most exciting part about portrait photography for me. Sharing and placing importance on a stranger not dependent on social class allows a satisfaction to be recognised within the sitter and observer. ‘‘The satisfaction of having one’s portrait painted was the satisfaction of being personally recognised and confirmed in one’s position: it had nothing to do with the modern lonely desire to be recognised ‘for what one really is’’ (Berger, 2008). People who I meet openly talk about their life and stories they have had, an interpersonal quality I seem to have when approaching strangers. I want to share that to the world, documenting their existence. Recording the people I encounter from an outsider’s perspective from the camera I hold close to me because I wouldn’t be able to do this any other way. Photographing their faces for me is a way to represent them as people, their lives, what they’re going through or have been going through. ‘They are more informative, more psychologically revealing, and in general more accurate’ (Berger, 2008).
I desire to capture portraits from a disconnected view point, considering the person in front of me while revealing clues about them, where and how they live and what they do as we are all unique. I feel that without photographing the people I meet associated with this project, I am not being able to be empathetic, authentic and realistic when representing them. To achieve this, it is important that me, the photographer and sitter to connect in this moment of capturing their portrait. This shows through on an image if not achieved which distorts the storytelling element within a portrait. It depends upon the gaze I take and the sitter participating. ‘In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.’ (Barthes, 1980). With my interpersonal skills, I am going to gain knowledge of their lives beforehand, building a relationship so that with the information I know about them, I can photograph them in a way that will truly represent themselves within the styles of visual sources of inspiration such as Alec Soth (fig. 3), Spencer Murphy (fig.4) and Kalpesh Lathigra (fig.5). One thing in common with these works and an aspect that has been truly challenging during the brief is to find a colour pallet to communicate the sensory feelings I felt and make a coherent piece.
Still life is ‘a painting or drawing of inanimate objects, such as fruit, flowers, etc’ (Still life definition, Collins English dictionary, 2016). ‘I realized that socks are not just socks but can also be viewed as ‘significant’ things.’ (Wolfgang, T, 2011) Still life photography is of an object we as humans that we may see pass in our everyday lives. The genre and the practitioners within it, bring to these inanimate objects, a significant amount of importance. The photographers bring objects to our eyes in a new perspective. For the majority, it is not the importance of the object, but the importance of the perspective.
My approach to the still life aspect of the brief was to be observational. Simply placing what I find of importance to an everyday object that simultaneously fits into the landscape and portrait sets. The picture will be carefully positioned and not just merely glanced at and then recorded. The construction would prompt questions around the sentimental value the owner holds over the everyday object, that will ultimately increase its value and importance to the sequence. Instead of the audience asking ‘Why am I looking at this?’. It will prompt ‘I wonder when the owner first got this?’ ‘I wonder how many times it has been used, is it special?’ The twist I want to make may also be around superstition and how this alone holds such a supernatural belief and strength to an everyday object I may photograph. Putting the two together will place another level of importance to an otherwise forgotten object we see past every day. ‘Superstition is a belief, half-belief, or practice for which there appears to be no rational substance’ (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011). In response to Tillmans, I wanted my still life pictures to be as they were, how they were found and how they look, notice all plauses be in the past tense as a ‘recording’. Authenticity in my imagery and stories is a main priority therefore I don’t want complicated studio lighting or distracting backdrops to play a part in my imagery. To explain further, I refer to Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi (Fig.7) visual elements to best match my approach in stark contrast to a studio lit still life product shot in Alexander Kent’s Heinz bottle (Fig. 8).
Moving image is a ‘sequence of consecutive photographic images projected onto a screen in such rapid succession as to give the illusion of movement.’ (Moving picture, 2003)
I want to create a moving image piece that goes against the grammar of cinema, the three-act structure. Where one moving image sets the story with a scene, rises to an action as pressure comes to a questioning point, crisis, falling towards the end of the film. Influenced heavily by Alec Soth’s response to Robert Adam’s monograph ‘Summer Nights’. Alec called his piece ‘Summer Nights at the Dollar Tree’ (fig.6) , indicating the film is going to be not only his take on the nights in that area, but a film of true authenticity, left for the viewer to oversee the scenes and interpret them as they wish. It questions how technology, no matter how revolutionary new cameras and recording equipment may be, assimilate our surroundings. Soth uses daytime ordinary people within their places in America to reveal hidden beauty with no encouraging crisis to build up to. The scenes shown are wide landscapes that follow the rules of a photographic composition but at 25 frames per second, not one. I wanted to explore this to add to another dimension of my still landscapes I have taken for the project. The reason for choosing to film my moving image in this way was to explore what a moving image added to a Landscape still image. The ambient noises, passer-by and moving vehicles seen visually in a short film which are only imaginable in a still frame (culturally limiting and restrictive) communicates the whole situation and environment. Keeping the camera stapled to a fixed position allows for this comparison between the still to see how much of an added effect it has to the storytelling element.
I first started to consider my subject matter after the Landscape lecture given by Katy where I was introduced to the trio ‘The Beautiful, The Picturesque and The Sublime’. During the lecture, I was brought to the picture by Richard Misrach from ‘On the beach’ (fig.9). I thought about an idea to photograph ‘elements’. Perhaps it came about due to my fear of swimming and drowning. This brought me to the path of death which is already well documented predominantly by Joel Sternfeld ‘On this site’, Antonio Olmos, Jack Latham and Melinda Hunt. After a significant amount of research, tutorials with Lecturers and a group crit, this documenting death idea came to light the opposite, purpose and aspirations. This has then grown to documenting aspiring people who choose to do sport. A hobby that started as a pastime to something much more worthwhile and how we can depict an individual with the sport they choose to practice and strive to become a significant figure in it.
The visual approach was mainly decided subconsciously looking at the works of Joel Sternfeld, Alec Soth, Stephen Shore last year and in addition new artists shown in the first few lectures of this year (landscape, portrait, still life). However, with this subject matter I knew I wanted to slow the process down to produce carefully selected and processed imagery for me to work harder to have them be all coherent (be it pre and post production, shoot less, think and tweak more). I placed an essential element of importance to the visual look I desired which was muted colours, 4×5 film ‘look’, reducing the wide tonal range that the modern DSLR provides, increasing the luminance on dominant colours, soft light, sharp focus and minimising any compositions or lighting that could ‘beautify’ an object, person or environment. This in my opinion would strip/reduce any attempt on my behalf to make what I am photographing subjective and provide a detailed description of what is in front of me. I did not want to potentially effect in a positive and negative way the portrayal of my subject. However, as Richard Avedon said ‘All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.’ (R Avedon, 2014). I can only try my best to show a portion of the truth, which is a constant thought in the background with my photography.
With this brief, I wanted to test what I know and what genres I had not given much thought and shot before. This would therefore give me a wider skillset and further testing into areas I would have dismissed without this opportunity. I choose People as my subject which allowed me to test different types of portraiture to see what I liked producing therefore being informative for my career progression after university. My first approach involved a film camera, the Polaroid Instax Mini which was an experiment in its self. I had never shot film before this brief but what fascinated me the most was the intimacy this medium brought to photography and the images I had seen from The Polaroid Book (Hitchcock, 2005). I wanted to explore the boundaries of the Insider view that I feel I dismissed on the discovery of last year, explore the male gaze and show the intimacy and closeness of a relationship through a camera. The male gaze is the magnet that draws the active male towards a passive female caused by sexual imbalance. As tradition, women are simultaneously looked and at and put on show which is styled accordingly, coded for a strong visual and erotic impact, playing to and fulfils the male desire (Mulvey, 1999). Influences included in this area; Gabriele Basilico (Fig. 10) and Petra Collins (Fig. 11). I think the work I produced with a new material I am not greatly familiar with were successful. The images depicted a narrative that were taking place and I wanted to tell this story while simultaneously testing the preceding theories. The images display the relationship between a close subject and photographer that is conveyed clearly with the use of an instant film camera with flash, photographed in a safe place (the subject’s bedroom) followed by close compositions of slight nudity, overall giving an insight into the personal relationship that exists and a non-existent psychological nervousness one subject may experience with the exclusion of the affectionate ethereal.
I also wanted to test professional fashion studio photography that could be used in advertising of a brand or product. Using a model and lighting to sell the products the model he/she wears. New approaches and materials involved using a beauty dish to direct a flattering soft light and directing the model to give me what I wanted in a series of fashion shots. However, the images I achieved were not able to portray a deeper meaning or narrative. Although this is possible in the genre, it is something I needed to develop further to make the series tell a story as well as sell a fashion item/culture/brand.
With all the approaches in rough cut, they had a similar mind set behind them and constant thought behind the production. How my work would be produced and shown in a commercial context in the way I want to be perceived and shown in the world. Where do I sit myself within the Photography industry? Fine art on one spectrum or solely commercial on the other continuum, with either one influencing story, context and the speed in which the narrative is shown to the audience (Thein, 2013). I want to fit my work into companies like Redwood London who produces contract publishing including M&S Magazine (fig.12) with a specific brand purpose working with international brands. Publications such as Financial Times Magazine (fig.13) as another outlet to share personal, assigned and documentary work.
The past five months of development and application to my subjects and the theories associated have been a challenging yet advancing time. What I have gained in knowledge is invaluable to my storytelling imagery I produce and understanding the images in a series working together. “What’s hard is taking a collection of great pictures and making them work together. It’s like language: everyone can speak but putting the words together is the real challenge.” (Soth, 2015). This is fundamentally the most important aspect I have learned in this time understanding what happens when a photographer produces a coherent series to further enhance the language being spoken. It is then applying practical and professional context on top of the work to make it a commercially viable piece of content for brands and consumers to absorb, to then therefore make a healthy living as a photographer. Or at the other end, work that is more fine art and belongs in art galleries. Understanding where I sit in the industry with the work I make is going to be a life lesson that I am always moving along. I want to spend more of my time in the future developing documentary work that have a deep interest where that can be submitted to Editorial magazines for publication (paying to me indirectly). At the same time producing work for commercial environments like Advertising, Design, Contract Publishing to sustain a reasonable living as a working photographer.
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