The manipulated image-some further thoughts

hoch6

I was struck by Jones (2013) guardian article referenced in the coursework ‘manipulated image’ section. Whilst the photoshopped self of Tony Blair in front of an black smoke inferno, this photoshopped image by activist artists’ Kennardphillips has be around for a little while and one might even argue that its inclusion as part of the marketing materials for an Imperil War Museum exhibition i some ways neuters its political effect. What i mean is that when the provocative becomes culturally acceptable artwork, it does perhaps loose some of its political impact.

There are lots of questions I have about image manipulation and where the boundaries lie. As I write this short blog entry there is an ongoing on-line delete about photo journalist Steve Mc Curry’s alleged use of photoshop to manipulate some of his very iconic mages. On one side he appears to be being pilloried for questionable journalist ethics and a lack of truth in images that up until now have generally been regarded as exceptional records. On the other side he is being defended as having made the minimal corrections that ‘secure’ rather than change the truth.

I guess the notion of truth is at the heart of this debate and also for me the issue of whether when an image becomes a work of art is truth as important? I genuinely don’t have a clue about the answer to this question, but in seeking one I have spent some time looking at the work of Hannah Hoch the german artists who made many photomontage ( image manipulation in the pre photoshop days) Hoch used scissors and glue to create something new out of images, many for the purpose of challenging the Weimar Republics view of women in that society. Influenced by Dadaist’s her work i think is a valid today is it was nearly 100 years ago. I know I need to justify such as statement so as evidence i offer the image and commentary below:

Mondeschau

I have read much on the internet about this work and there are a variety of interpretations of its intent. To me the most coherent descriptions hint at Hoch’s challenge to the fashion industry in the 1920’s and the uniformity it sought to to create in women. Uniformity can also implies compliance. Whilst the dresses on each of the three figures are very similar her stark montage of the faces faces literally show multiple facets and difference.

So what has this to do with the Blair photoshop image and the debate about whether McCurry did or did not use photoshop. I think for me it is bad to the idea of truth , but this has to link to the original intent of the photographer. Koch set out to make a political point, images are distorted to make a wider truth. I don’ want to get into the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war but the Kennardphilips image uses manipulate to make a wider political point, that subsequently has become and artistic stamen, to me the fact that it is at home on a gallery wall flutes the political message.

I need to reflect further on this idea and as I make the manipulated image for Exercise 5 of Part one I am struck by the idea that untruths may make more of statement than the truth actually does. There is something alarming but not all together unfamiliar about the point made by Jones (2013) in his Guardian article:

‘Art could not stop the war in Iraq. It can influence how that war is remembered.’

This is very true for a whole range of conflicts and artists and photographers body of works through history shape how the collective conscious remembers these conflicts irrespective of the truth or not in this images!

References

Jones, J, (2013) The Tony Blair ‘selfie’ Photo Op will have a place in history, Guardian Newspaper. Found at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/15/tony-blair-selfie-photo-op-imperial-war-museum (Accessed May 2016)

Zhang, M. (2016) More Photoshopped Photos Emerge in the Steve McCurry Scandal, PetaPixel found at: http://www.petapixel.com/2016/05/26/photoshopped-photos-emerge-steve-mccurry-scandal/ (Accessed May 2016)

Hannah Höch- German Photomontage artist. Found at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-hoch-hannah.htm (Accessed May 2016)

Trent Parke- Minutes to Midnight

Minutes to midnight 1-5745

Magnum photographer Trent Parke has spent his career turning his camera on his native Australia. Parke, who’s presentational preference is to create hand made photo books has published a number of very engaging works of art in this form.

Minutes to Midnight was the first of his books that I encountered and I have to say I was drawn not only to the edgy evocative images on each of its pages but also his approach to art practice and indeed the philosophy that underpins his work as an artist.

Minutes to Midnight is the product of  a road trip across Australia and is an eclectic mix of gritty black and white images that shines a light on the emotional state of Australia during a time of national and global change.

Made in 2003 , the images of rural and urban scenes capture people and place in shadows and light and all the works in the book say something about how Australians were facing the impact of issues such as 9/11, the Bali bombings and the huge bush fires and drought in the the country at the time  There is a sense of the uneasy about the work, not least because there is a simile narrative in some very disparate images locations. It’s worth noting that the  work was in part created in response to a newspaper article suggesting that 60% of Australians believed the country had lost it’s innocence.  

There are a wide range of pictures in the book, from scenes of people living in challenging circumstances in remote outback communities to scenes of commuters in the cities of the vast country. Parke creates a strong and coherent narrative of ‘unsettlement’ about a country of contrasts and one that is not without challenge and tragedy. His use of black and white grainy film is in my view very evocative and even in some of the harsher images there is an intrinsic sense of beauty .

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Parke was awarded  the W. Eugene Smith Award for humanistic photography for this body of work. To my eye Parke is a master in using light creatively to capture an instant  in time that says more than just the elements contained within the frame.

Parke himself suggests that a single image can contain a narrative and although he creates strong themes (using recurring motifs such as; young children holding babies, rural and urban landscapes presented in a very high contrast manner, dead animals, scnes with a single figure bathed in light) in individual images, there is a strong and coherent narrative of unsettlement, change and uncertainty that runs through this work.

A particular  draw for me to his work is that he uses film and controls all aspects of the production of his black and white work.  He  takes many shots and repeatedly visits the the same locations to achieve the image he wants, the image he has visualised based upon some discovery or some moment of inspiration when reviewing his developed negatives.

The image below typifies his approach. On just one negative he saw the effect of the lights and shadows naturally projected onto passing vehicles. The silhouettes  of people on the street at a particular time of day create a haunting and almost unreal set of shadows and light. He returened again and again to the same location at the same time for several  months to finally capture the image that he imagined. He is a object less on patience, application and perseverance!

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Copyright Trent Parke

Parkes background is interesting and has  elements of profound sadness about it.  Although as the video listed in the references below demonstrates he has an incredibly positive outlook on life and making images is central to his life.

trent_parke

At the age of 13 while at home with his mother, she had a fatal asthma attack and died. There was nothing the young Parke could do and this had a profound impact on his future. His mother had a small darkroom and she made and sold images to local newspapers. Following her death he picked up her camera and began to make pictures. He eventually worked as a photographer for a newspaper whilst also playing cricket professionally. Eventually he had to choose between the two career paths and selected photography. He then went o to be a sports photographers for one of the Australian national newspapers. His experience and skill as a sport photographer I believe  can be seen in some of his work. Choosing not to travel beyond his own country he has taken an immersive approach to recording his country in his own way.

Learning Points from Trent Parke’s work

  • Persistence and perseverance, he keeps returning to themes and ideas until he gets them right, this is by far the biggest lesson that i take from his work. 
  • Contrast in the narrative, he uses a wide range of themes from landscape, to group shots to protests to tell the story of a people and a land, i thought buyer were real parole ( although their work is quite different) to the philosophy and motivation behind is work and that of Alex Soth.
  • Film still has a place and a role to play, pardon the pun!!

References

Parke, Trent (2013) Minutes to Midnight, Steidl

Interview with Trent Parke by David Hanlon found at: https://vimeo.com/106406707 (Accessed May 2015)

In Public Interview -Trent Parke found at: http://www.in-public.com/TrentParke (Accessed May 2015)

The manipulated image- W. Eugene Smith, Albert Schweitzer and Life Magazine

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I read with interest project 5 in the course materials that reflected upon image manipulation both past and present. I had been reading about and looking at the work of W.Eugene Smith when I came across the controversy that led him to resign as a photographer for the magazine ‘Life’. The story seemed to me to resonate with the themes being explored in this part of the course so I thought I would add some notes on the issue to my blog.

W. Eugene Smith is to me an iconic 20th century photographers who is one of the progenitors of the photo essays and to my eye a master of  work in low light. He produced a number of outstanding bodies of work ranging from his very visceral war photography while embedded with american troops fighting the japans in World War II, (during which time he was injured) to his classic photo  photo essays “Country Doctor” (1948) and “Nurse Midwife” (1951). His three year long study of Pittsburg (1955–1958) is an in depth study of the city and  record and his Jazz Loft Project (1957 to 1965) is an entrancing view of the Jazz set in New York City. His images of the Japans city of Minamata provide a record, indeed a whistleblowing exposure of the toxic poising of a generation.

 

It is his 1954  photo essay for Life magazine ‘Man of Mercy’, a study of the great Albert Schweitzer, that raises issues about truth and manipulation. Smith parted company with Life Magazine following a dispute about the image below.

W. Eugene Smith

© W. Eugene Smith

Smith manipulated this image by adding the silhouette of the saw and hand in the bottom right of the photograph. He felt the addition of these elements added to the ‘greater truth’ about Schweitzer and this justified the addition. Life’s policy forbad such an addition and Smith and the magazine parted company.

The ‘greater truth’ referred to by Smith was  the fact that Schweitzer had personally overseen the building of the hospital in which he worked. Smith obviously felt that the addition enhanced the image in the it added a key element to the narrative. It was however seen by Life’s editors as a fake image. 

I am genuinely torn by the rights and wrongs of Smith’s image manipulation and by modern standards of photoshopping this seems minor. But the truth is the image was faked, whatever the motive. It raises for me questions about where the boundaries lie in the truth of an image. When we enhance the colour, sharpen the foreground or darken the sky, are we not guilty of the same act as Smith? I suspect this is a theme to which I will return!

References

Cosgrove, B. (2014) Behind the Picture: Albert Schweitzer in Africa, found at:  www.time.com/3878732/albert-schweitzer-in-africa-behind-the-picture (Accessed May 2016)

Exercise (3): Sarah Pickering-Public Order

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Copyright Sarah Pickering

Pickering’s  work in ‘Public Order’ raises questions about facades, what is real and what is not. I could also relate to the issues raised in the course materials about the impact this work has on the imaginations. If whole townscapes exist for th police to practice for riots and emergencies, what do we not know about. there are some profound questions about society, order and control. That said in Pickering interview referenced below, she describes the police being very open and transparent, o the point of being disappointed that she photographed the location empty and was less intreated in making images of the faux riots they were staging.

The initial image in the course materials did look like an early morning street scene or a long exposure image of a street (I have used this technique to make a street appear empty during the day). It is only on closer inspection that something doesn’t look quite right, in particular the fact that all of the windows were uniformly blank. There is also something of a film set look about the image and the second image showing the scene from the ear gives away that this is a facade. This too reminds me of a film set.

How do Pickering’s images make you feel?

At first look that have an authenticity about them but closer inspection reveals something  unsettling about them, particularly as i moved through the various empty and somewhat easy training ground scenes. The images raise questions about why we need such spaces and the fact that the police nee dot train for riot bad unrest. I did wonder how often the police use such a facility and what their expectations is of the frequency of its and civil unrest. Are the police continual un a state of readiness for such events. 

Is Public Order an effective use of documentary is it misleading?

The fact that I am thinking about civil disorder and the role of the police in society while looking at the images says something about the authenticity of the work as informative documentary photography. Although the images focus on a subject that has a degree of ‘fakes’ about it, the underlying theme to me is far from fake, indeed it is unsettling, as stated because it alerts the view about real police activity, which in term says something about the nature of society. In a time of relative calm, it raises the spectre of civil disorder and the police’s need to be prepared for it, in this sense the work shines a light on society, all be it from a somewhat oblique perspective.

References

Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Colberg, J. (2010) Review-Explosions, Fires and Public Order, Conscientious found at: http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2010/03/review_explosions_fires_and_public_order_by_sarah_pickering/

Sarah Pickering on Public Order & Explosion series: Excerpt- Found at: http://vimeo.com/11931505

Research Point-Sectarian Murder

Paul Seawright- Sectarian Murder

Dandy+Street

Copyright Paul Seawright

Seawright’s Sectarian Murder is for me the quintessential example of ‘Aftermath Photography’. It also has a biographical component in that the artist made a sequence of images at locations close to where he grew up as a child. The work was also influenced by a diary he kept which amongst other things recorded key news events in his youth. I was interested to read that Kelly(1996) suggests the work originally had no title and the current title was coined by reviewers and critics rather than Seawright himself.

Visiting the sites of murders or places where the bodies of the murdered catholics and protestant  were dumped Seawright uses a well lit, almost forensic approach to recording the location of the atrocity. There is almost a calm, even banal feel to the locations and the images that contrast with the parallel texts that sits with each image. The text, taken fro news reports of the time set out the nature of the atrocity. The effect is a stark and for me uncomfortable contrast between the benign landscape location and the nature of the text about the murder. Seawright creates a different way in which to look at historic killings, placing them to some extent in the present. I believe this approach makes a strong and powerful stomata about the troubles in Ulster from a unique and non-journalistic perspective.

Seawright has raised for me questions about the boundaries between art and documentary photography. The boundary is blurred and i think both art and documentary images can exists simultaneously.

In the short Imperial War Museum video clip referenced in the course matures, Seawright’s gives a brief compelling argument of the difference between editorial images and art images. suggesting that there is a fine balance to be achieved, but in essence art images are visually engaging but give their meaning up slowly. It is hard to say whether i agree or diaper with this perspective. In reality I am still on a steep learning curve and I need to learn more in order to formulate a personal view point. That said I do agree with his assertion that editorial images, whether for advertising or journalistic purposes need to give up their meaning up more quickly. Viewers can have short attention spans so the desired information to be transmitted needs to be obvious and indeed immediately visible.

Perhaps this helps understand his perspective on photography as art practice, in that an art image can make a journalistic or documentary point ( as I believe Sectarian Murder does) but this is achieved differently. Rather than being a passive recipient of information, the viewer is an active participant in creating meaning.

So this begs the question in the course materials:

‘If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its meaning”

In response I might be over implying things but I think the meaning can remain the same and or a piece of art photography, depending on its context and narrative can also have  documentary meaning. What is perhaps different is how we arrived at the meaning, as Seawright suggests meaning is given up slowly and in some art images the meaning relies on the viewer doing some work in the interpretation.

To support this position I think the image below, by Alec Soth supports this view. Taken from his Songbook collection the image exists as a piece of art but also serves as a documentary image too.

Alec-Soth-Songbook-3

References

Kelly, L. (1996) quoted in British Photography- The Hyman Collection Paul Seawright – Sectarian Murder. Found at: http://www.britishphotography.org/artists/17199/ei/1739/paul-seawright-paul-seawright-sectarian-murder-1988 (Acessed May 2016)

Seawright, P. (1988) Sectarian Murder- found at: http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian/ (Accessed May 2016)

Seawright, P. (2013) catalyst-Imperial War Museum found at: http:// http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WszamWSHE50 (Accessed May 2016)

Soth, A, (2015) Songbook, Mack

Exercise-Find a street that particularly interests you

Inspite of what seemed like a period of really poor weather I traveled from my rule home to the local city and made a series of both colour and Black and white images. I was quite disciplined in the process and set my camera to monochrome to make the black and white images. I shot a sequence in black and white and then reported the activity with the camera back in colour mode. As some one who still predominately shoots film I am very familiar with the idea of shooting specifically in colour or in black and white and feel I d have a different mind set in each mode.  when shooting black and white I am looking much more at tone and when making colour images I do lok for relationships between colour and shape. 

This proved to be an interesting exercise and below I have picked out a few examples of  from both the black and white set and the colour set.

Looses monmono 2 18mm f4 1-4000 (1 of 1)

Exch 1906 mono 18mm f4 1-4000 (1 of 1)

Rough Sleeper mono 2 18mm f4 1-4000 (1 of 1)

Viking Norwich colour 27mm f3.2 1-4000 (1 of 1)

Div in mono 27mm 1-600 f2.8 iso 4000 (1 of 1)

Features of the Black and white set

  • Content, structure and composition stand out first
  • Black and white images ask an inherent question about time. I know i search images for indicators within the image that allow me to date it. The second image above perhaps illustrate this. it is clearly and old building, it is though the YMCA posters in the windows that denote that its is reality contemporary, this isn’t always possible and some recent black and white images can have a timeless feel
  • Signage also stands out and can date an image
  • I tend to hunt for the narrative or story almost immediately in a black and white image

Rough Sleeper colour  2 18mm f4 1-4000 (1 of 1)

Looses 27mm 1-600 f4.5 iso 4000 (1 of 1)

Roys colour 27mm 1-500 f6.4 iso 4000 (1 of 1)

Div colour 27mm 1-600 f2.8 iso 4000 (1 of 1)

out of time 3 colour 27mm 1-2600 f2.8 iso 4000 (1 of 1)

Features of the colour set

  • Composition is significantly influenced by the relationships between colours
  • The images are clearly contemporary
  • The dull weather is more obvious 

Learning points from the exercise

There is to me value in setting out to shoot in black and white rather than simply converting in post processing, this exercise affirmed that view. It was also iterating to reshoot a theme in short succession thinking separately about colour and black and white.

Thinking specifically about reportage approaches as opposed to documentary style, colour is perhaps more likely to create a sense of intimacy and connection between the view and the subject and scene and whist I have seen lost of black and white so called reportage approaches in fields such as wedding photography I am not convinced that this type of work is anything more than nostalgia.

Contact Sheets

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Contacts Sheets-2Contacts Sheets-4

 

 

Reportage- Research Point

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Do some research into contemporary street photography. Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr are some good names to start with, but you may be able to find further examples for yourself.

  • What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?
  • Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?
  • How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?

Make some notes in your learning Log

It is a really challenging question to consider the difference that colour makes to a field that has a deep and long established history on black and white. I read Scott’s (1988) excellent book Street Photography fro Atget to Cartier Breton. In his description of how street photography developed as artists moved out of their studios and onto the streets, in part as developing technology allowed this transition he summed up the rationale for why black and white images were so much part of the genre of street photography.

‘Colour is often taxed for being preoccupied with appearances, with distractive superficialising glamour; while black and white for its part, has all the gravity of a perceptual asceticism, which by dint of self denial is able to reveal and intepret underlying relationships.’ pp21-22

This statement far more eloquently than I provides a rationale for making images in black and white. It is interesting therefore that a number of photographers chose to buck what at one point was the common trend. The course matures make specific reference to Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Martin Parr all of whom have aeration for their use of colour. there are others such as Nan Goldin and William Klein who could be added to the canon of artists who chose to work against the prevailing orthodoxy of black and white and chose to work in colour. In many respects these artists laid a foundation of acceptability for other to use colour and a survey of more recent work such as Street Photography Now reveals that Coloues is the main medium.

In considering artists that paved the way for this shift I am am real fan of the work of British photographer John Bulmer.  As a child in the 1970’s I  have many recollections of spending Sunday evening thumbing through the Sunday Times colour supplement. In an era  of photo essays it was documentary photographers such as Bulmer who’s work, often in colour could be found. Perhaps in part through nostalgia, but more importantly through the quality of his colour work, I find his use of colours offers greater insight into the worlds (many of which were disappearing) afforded by the colour images he made.

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Copyright John Bulmer

 There is still a very distinct gritty and indeed grainy style to the work but colour locates it in a particular time and affords the viewer more information. I was struck by Boothroyd’s (2015) suggestion that reportage also puts the viewer in the place the photographer:

‘as though one is experiencing the story for ones self’      pp31

There is an intimacy in strong reportage that colour directly contributes to in my limited view. Bummer does this with his colour work and there is a strange sense when looking at some of his cooler work because the subject may no longer exist, as in the image below where in many cases neither pit, miners in the sense of their ponies have long since been consigned to history.

Bulmer_TC06

Copyright John Bulmer

Although Bulmer is often associated with pictures of the north of England his work in Belfast and Norther Ireland in the high of the conflict there I think offer a perspective on the question about how images comment on britishness. His work in Belfast is quite different to that of Graham and Seawright who came after him a took a ver different approach. In the case of Seawright an aftermath or late approach. The image below say so much to me and works because it is in colour. The Union Jack Mural locates the work in a particular place and the principle subject locates the work in time. Although in monochrome this would still be an engaging image, it is Bulmer’s use of colour that gives the work power in my opinion.

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Copyright John Bulmer

When considering the use of colour in contemporary photography Martin Parr and his quirky take on the British offers further insight into the power of colour. Parr has a very distinctive style and his use of close up ring flash and macro lens create a very distinct and recognisable approach. There has been some criticism of Parr in that his work might be interpreted  as being pejorative in that some have claimed it paints a mocking picture of some communities. He fiercely refutes this and suggests that his work opens up worlds that the wealthy and more affluent would otherwise never have seen. A good example are his images of holiday makers in New Brighton in his phonebook: The Last Resort. In this work he present a window into the world of families holidaying in the other resort at a time when Thatcher was extolling the virtue of wealth creation and the cult of the individual. What ever position views taken to Parr’s work it certainly says more than the pictorial element contained within each frame.

martin_parr_the_last_resort_1146_67

So, what difference does colour make? I suspect there are people with far more knowledge than me who have pondered on this question. I will offer a humble option though. Colour provides more than just additional information. Colour allows the photographer to make a more personal statement. Why? whilst some image makers have created very personal and individual monochrome work, Trent Parke comes to mind, much monochrome work looks very similar in my view. Colour offers some addiotnal layers of creativity and also allows for images to be far more located in time as well as place. I need to reflect further on this though as this course progresses.

I have really trudged thinking about the suggested shift away from the surrealist approaches of earlier documentary photography. I part that I see surrealist influence in much contemporary start photography. Indeed Street Photography Now is full of surrealist images. Surrealist work in many media often contain unexpected juxtapositions hat make the viewer as questions about what is real and to be frank I as stated I see this in some of the work around to day. As an experiment whist writing this I looked on Flickr at the images that were being  explored this afternoon, more than 10% were acutely observed absurdities caught in plan sight. many had a cultural dimension to them, suggesting to me that surrealism as well as quirks of culture have a role to play in presenting , British, american or otherwise cultural representation of the world around us us. to illustrate this point I found the image below, very much capturing america  (for example) today.

BN-MP005_trumpi_P_20160212160655

 

References

Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, OCA, Barnsley

Bulmer, J. ( 2012) The North, Bluecoat Publ., London

Scott, C. (2013) Street Photography- From Atget to Cartier Bresson, IB Tauris, London

Howarth, S. & McLaren, S  Street Photography Nw

Parr, M. (2008) The Last Resort, Dewi Lewis Publ. London

Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, OCA, Barnsley