Asssignment 4 – Feedback

I received feedback for assignment 4 from my tutor and as I had expected my assignment needed more work if it is to meet the brief. Whilst there were a number of positive comments about what I had written, the fact that had left a number of questions unresolved meant that the work was unresolved.

The feedback is very valuable though and I will redraft the assignment taking on board the comments my tutor made.

The full feedback can be found here: Assignment 4 Feedback J.O Tutor Report 4

In response to the feedback I sent what is set out below to my tutor:

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your feedback on Assignment 4. You will have read in the preparation section on my blog that I had some struggles with this assignment. I don’t have issues with writing but this type of writing is new to me and I recognise I need to work at it. I am pleased that the descriptive element of the assignment appears to have been ok, but I do see that I didn’t reach a proper conclusion and left more unanswered and unresolved. I guess defeating the object of the exercise! I think I hit a point where I just thought I needed to complete the work and submit it or I would have just kept going around in circles.

It has been a valuable exercise though, and your feedback has given me some helpful suggestions about how I might resolve some of the questions I left hanging in the submission. Your reference to Frank’s outsiders eye and the potential influence of European film noir set me thinking. There is something of the cinematic about the image and certainly film noir ‘esque’ (if I can say that!) Rather than the European tradition there is something to my eye, of the Hollywood ‘Chandler’ or ‘Hammett’ atmosphere to me in the image. Also, thinking about the image title, it does suggest something about drama. I think I became to fixed on tracking down exactly what the title meant In a literal sense) and it was this I focused on rather than what Frank might have been intending to communicate. My head works better in the empirical, but I need to begin to operate in the theoretical and the imaginative. I will use these thoughts to commit to a personal perspective that resolves the questions I posed in the essay. To compound arriving at a personal conclusion I think I also felt a bit of a block in arriving at a personal viewpoint given so many others have written so much about the meaning of Frank’s work, although I didn’t refer to that either!

I am interested in the notion of the ‘privileged flanuer’ that you refer to and will look up some of the references you made in the feedback. The idea of critique from those that remain in the mainstream with all its advantages, but critique what is around them seems a valuable area to delve further into. I did a quick search around Wilson’s ‘Outsider’ and have ordered a copy as it looked quite intriguing.

With all the above in mind I am going to redraft the essay in an attempt to come to a firmer conclusion about the image, using the permission that Frank himself gives in the quote at the end of my initial submission.

I will also look up some of the photographers whose work you have suggested that I consider further. Several are names that I am familiar with and Wearing and Crewdson are artists whose work I have blogged about in this course. Others are entirely unknown to me so I will seek them out.

I am pressing ahead with part 5 and pleased with the progress I am making. I have begun this weekend to start to plan, all be it in outline,  ideas for Assignment 5. I am keen that this is a piece of work that reflects what I have learned along the way during C&N. Many thanks again for your helpful critique, it is appreciated.

Best wishes

John

Assignment 4 Submission

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

Copyright Robert Frank

Motorama – Los Angeles – Robert Frank

This essay interprets a single image, reflects on its meaning and places it in a wider artistic, historical and political context. It also presents personal reflection about a single image and the artist’s intent.

The image that is the focus of this essay is Robert Frank’s: ‘Motorama – Los Angeles’, taken from ‘The Americans’ published in 1958.

Frank, a Swiss born photographer needs little introduction, ‘The Americans’ makes a major contribution to photography’s cannon, described by Peter Schjeldahl[1], art critic of The New Yorker as: ‘‘one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium.’’

‘The Americans’ was the product of a road trip in three parts[2], over several years. On coming to America Frank’s association with Edward Steichen, then the curator of Photography at MoMA and with photographer Walker Evans led him to successfully secure a Guggenheim grant to fund the project.

Motorama – Los Angeles at first glance might appear one of the less iconic images in ‘The Americans’. The image denotes a dark scene that on closer inspection reveals the illuminated interior of a car seen thorough its windscreen. Cars and people framed through windows are recurring tropes in Frank’s work. This image isolates the windscreen in a sea of darkness, hints of chrome in the highlights imply an expensive automobile at night. The image alone reveals little about the cars location. The framing and printing[3] place emphasis on the car’s occupants. All are children, but one stands out in particular, his face half lit, half in shadow stares directly out at the viewer. It is this face, self-assured and assertive in its expression, flanked by the two others, both staring at this protagonist, as if seeking approval or waiting for instruction that creates what Barthes (1979) would describe as the punctum: ‘that accident which pricks or bruises me’. The interplay of the expressions of the car’s occupants raises questions to the viewer about the relationships of the occupants. The absence of adults and the unknown location present additional questions to consider.

The occupants, protected in a steel and glass sanctuary from the surrounding darkness and all that connotes, could be an allegory about wealth, class, race and division. The car as a symbol of prosperity is not new. Two decades earlier, Margaret Bourke White’s image[4] of African Americans queuing for aid in front of a hoarding depicting a white happy family through the windscreen of their car, anchors it as a symbol of American prosperity. The hoardings captions read: ‘World’s highest standard of living’ and ‘there’s no way like the American way’. Frank’s subtler image, like Bourke Whites earlier work, raises questions about the validity of Americas view of itself in the 1950s as a place of growth and prosperity. Indeed, during Eisenhower’s[5] two terms of presidency the administration only balanced the budget on three occasions. Frank’s image doesn’t refute that Americans have wealth and happiness, but rather that this is not universal or evenly spread.

But all may not be what it seems, Motorama was GMs annual show of its latest models. It’s likely that Frank made this image at the show in March 1956[6]. Does this contextual information shift the meaning of the image, now simply a group of boys sitting in a show car? Does it change what is connoted? Connotations are subjective and they may still be valid, but it raises questions about precisely what Frank was communicating in this work.

Frank’s work certainly provoked a range of reactions and has been used to question a nation’s view of its self, presenting an alternative view of America that chimed with the ‘Beat’ generation[7] who’s literature and poetry also challenged the assumptions about the American dream. As Jobey (2009) states:

“Frank’s book was condemned almost unanimously when it was first published, but for decades now it has been recognised as a work that identified a cultural shift in America; that showed the country back to itself, and more clearly than most of its inhabitants cared to acknowledge.”

However, Dunford (2011) presents an argument for Frank’s work being hijacked by commentators wanting to make political arguments about America in the 1950s. In doing so Dunford suggests they have robbed it of its aesthetic and iconographic content. He cites Frank’s work being referenced by sociologists without any use of or reference to an image at all.

Barret’s (1988) notion of the ‘external context’ of an image might help understand where Frank’s work has been located and how the connotations present in ‘The Americans’ have become a tool for political and or sociological critique, as he suggests: the meaning of any photograph is dependent on the context in which it appears.

What a single image can connote and how widely varying interpretations can be drawn suggests the viewer ultimately constructs their own meaning in spite of the rich and varied commentary available about Frank’s work and its meaning. It is perhaps through Frank’s own words that the best insight is gained into the meaning and purpose of this image and his wider work. Writing in the U.S. Camera Annual (1958) Frank says:

“My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind—something has been accomplished.”

 Frank’s view of different facets of American life has certainly left an image in people minds, it might not however be the one he envisioned himself and in conclusion we might ask the question, does that matter?

 (1000 words –excluding quotes)

Footnotes

[1]
Peter Schjeldahl, Quoted in Dawidoff (2015)

[2] Sarah Kennel (2014) describes the three components of Frank’s road trip in her lecture to the Bowdoin College
[3] In researching this essay 8 distinct versions of the image were found with differing crops and varying degrees of darkness and light in the prints
[4] Bourke White’s image was part of an assignment looking at the impact of the 1937 flood of the Great Ohio River in Kentucky that displaced many residents. Source: Cosgrove 2014
[5] The Eisenhower Era 1952-1960- AP United states history Study Notes, found at: ww.apstudynotes.org/us-history/outlines/chapter-38-the-eisenhower-era-1952-1960/ (Accessed March 2017)
[6] Motorama was only held once in Los Angeles during the period Frank was working on The Americans. Frank started his road trip in July 1955, too late for the only other time Motorama was in LA Source 1- Kennell (2014) Source 2- GM Archive found at: https://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/1956_Motorama:_Design_for_Dreaming
[7] Beat Generation writers and artists such as Karouac, (who wrote the introduction to The Americans) Ginsberg and Burroughs questioned materialism, wealth and the inclusivity and equality in American society Source: http://www.online-literature.com/periods/beat.php

References 

Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, Vintage Classics-Random House, London

Barrett, T. (1986)  Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts  Art Education, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul., 1986), pp. 33-36. Found at: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/Barrett%20(1986)%20Photographs%20&%20Contexts.pdf (Accessed March 2017)

Campany, D. (2014) The Open Road- Photography & the American Road Trip, Aperture, London

Cosgrove, B. (2014) Behind the Picture-The American Way and the flood of ’37, found at: www.time.com/3879426/the-american-way-photos-from-the-great-ohio-river-flood-of-1937/ (Accessed March 2017)

Dawidoff, N. (2015) The man who saw America-Looking back with Robert Frank, the most influential photographer alive, New York Times Magazine found at: www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/magazine/robert-franks-america.html?_r=0 (Accessed March 2017)

 Dunford, T. (2011) Looking at Robert Frank’s “The Americans”- New English Review found at: http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/90393/sec_id/90393 (Accessed March 2017)

Dunford, T. (2012) Miss reading “On the Road” New English Review found at: http://www.newenglishreview.org/Terry_Dunford/Misreading_%22On_the_Road%22/ (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1958)  U.S. Camera Annual 1958 , p. 115 found at: www.americansuburbx.com/2012/07/robert-frank-a-statement-1958.html (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1959) The Americans, Stieidl (2008 Reprint), Gottingen

Howarth, S. (Ed.) (2005) Singular Images-Essays on Remarkable
Photographs, Tate Publishing, London

Jobey, L. (2009) Photographer Robert Frank: holding a mirror up to America, The Guardian, found at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/jan/29/robert-frank-america-photography (Accessed March 2017)

Kennel, S (2014) Robert Frank: Nobody’s Home, Bowdoin College Lecture found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfEhCoWcvrc (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2004) The Big Empty- The Guardian, found at: www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/oct/24/photography (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Robert Frank at 90- The Photographer that revealed America won’t look back. The Guardian found at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows (Accessed March 2017)

Papegoerge, T. (1981) Walker Evans and Robert Frank – An Essay on Influence, found at: www. americansuburbx.com/2010/07/theory-walker-evans-and-robert-frank.html (Accessed April 2017)

Reflection and Self EvaluationAs noted in my preparation entry on my blog, I struggled with this assignment and needed additional time to complete it. This was in a large part due to spending too much time overthinking the whole exercise. I have learned something from this though through the difficulties I experiences. Sometimes you just need to produce a piece of work, ‘warts and all’ and just submit it, there is always scope to redraft based upon feedback. In this instance, I managed to create a significant block for myself by over thinking and worrying too much about my essay. I will try not to make this mistake again!

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills: I used my knowledge and Frank and his work to undertake further research in the preparation of the essay. My references demonstrate a genuine engagement with the assignment and I have tried to make good use of primary and secondary sources in constructing the essay. I have used learning from earlier activity in this course and in Expressing Your Vision to produce a coherent response to the challenge of the assignment.

Quality of Outcome: The essay meets the core requirement of the assignment but would benefit from critique and view in order to make a more robust response to the question. I see my submission as being partially complete.

Demonstration of creativity: This is a hard criterion in the context of an essay although I have used a range of sources and reflections on franks work to produce this essay. I think the range of material demonstrate an attempt to produce a worthy response to the assignment all be it an in complete one at this stage. I await tutorial critique in order to refine what I have produced at this stage

Context: In the context of this section of the course and the requirements in the essay remit I feel I have started to respond to the question. I feel that the issues raised and the position I have taken in this work demonstrate an appropriate engagement with this section of the Context and Narrative course, I have more to do though to not only refine this essay but also to develop my writing around art. I need also to be more succinct, I really struggled with the 1000 word limit, which I recognise is part of the challenge in effective writing about art

Summary: I have had a good stab at this assignment but I am dissatisfied with what I have produced. I have set myself the task of reading more about ‘writing about art’ in order to try and overcome the barriers I experienced in this assignment.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Assignment 4 Preparation: An honest reflection on my problems with this assignment

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

I pondered on this assignment for far too long before making a proper start. I thought about a range of images that I might use and narrowed these down to three:

  • Robert Franks:  ‘Motorama LA’
  • Phillip Jones-Griffiths: ‘Boy destroying a piano in Pont-y-Waen’
  • John Bulmer’s:  ‘Manchester 1977’

But more importantly I  bought a copy of Sophie Howarth’s : Singular Images Essays on Remarkable Photographs and read much of it, some of it twice. This I  thought would be good preparation for thinking about the content of an essay. It also gave me access to Liz Jobey’s Essay about Diane Arbus’s image ‘A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday Outing NYC 1966 for the Part 4 Research Point.

As well as reading the Jobey’s essay several times I read all the other essays in the book with the exception of Geoffrey Batcham’s: Latticed Window (with camera obscura) August 1835. I will at some point soon read this one too.

In truth  I struggled with the Jobey’s essay. It wasn’t difficult to read and it was also very engaging, indeed it’s an excellent example of using a single image  as a window on the work of an artist. It takes an analysis of a single image and skilfully weaves a compelling and evidence based history on the life , work and death of Diane Arbus..

What I struggled with and I think it shows in my Research Point here, was that the essay created a real block for me in thinking about what i needed to write in my assignment. I now know much more about Arbus and that’s good, but I started to really over think what had to be in my 1000 word essay.

Where I really struggled was that perhaps I had perhaps completely misread the purpose of Assignment 4? Howarth’s introduction to: Singular Images Essays on Remarkable Photographs offers a compelling reason for focusing on a single image, the challenge between Van Deren Coke and Beaumont Newhall provides a rationale. But am I supposed to be reviewing a single image for meaning, i=or offer an greater insight into the photographer, their life and work? This I believe is what Jobey has done in her essay in Howart

In short I read the essay and thought how can I do anything like that in 1000 words. I know the assignment is not meant to be on the scale of Jobey’s, an accomplished writer, who also had 4,350 to make her case, but I suppose I slipped into a serious phase of over thinking assignment 4 perhaps. Other essays in the book seemed more achievable as a blue print for my assignment. In particular Dominic Willsdon’s:  Aegean Sea, Pilion 1990, using a Sugimoto image as the focus.

To cut a long story short my reflections and pondering on all of this ground me to a halt. I did decide upon an image fairly quickly and checked out my choice with my tutor and he was supportive of the image that I finally settle upon.

Struggling to make a start I immersed myself in reading about Robert Frank. Although, familiar with Frank’s work I felt I needed more background. Using the title of the image and some internet research I even tracked down to with in 4-5 days when and where precisely the image I had chosen was made. I found no reference to this in any of the material I read through so I felt fairly pleased that this, at least to me seemed like an original piece of research about Frank. All this activity though was to a large extent an diversion to setting pen to pare and writing the assignment. I even had to ask for an extension in order to complete it. What I wrote was the product of 5 to 6 drafts none of which am I really satisfied with , however, as the poet said: ‘what is writ is writ”

End Note

I should say, that I don’t have an issue with writing, but I have struggled with writing for this assignment. I have to get over it, move on and learn from the experience. I am sure their will be much more writing of this nature ahead!

References

Howarth, S. (Ed.) (2005) Singular Images-Essays on Remarkable Photographs, Tate Publishing, London