Exercise: Record a real conversation with a friend

Record a real conversation with a friend. (It’s up to you whether you ask permission or not!)

Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation.

Then listen to the recording and make note of the discrepancies. Perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunications etc.

Reflect upon the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?

This was an interesting exercise for a variety of reasons. I should say at the outset that for professional reasons I have a well developed memory system for listening to aural information, processing it and then feeding it back in as accurate a manner as possible. Indeed retaining one of my professional accreditations involves an annual assessment based upon listening to the three way conversation in controlled conditions and feeding back a detailed summary and synopsis of the key points from the triad. Dropping below an 80% accuracy level means failing the test and not getting the accreditation. This would be serious for my employment, so I am well prepared, attentive and regularly practicing this skill.

Against this back drop I recorded a conversation with a friend as part of the exercise. I pondered on whether I should say I was recording the conversation or not and in the end decided to record it secretly. I know this throws up a whole raft of ethical issues, but I felt that if I alerted the friend that I was recording the conversation it would have led to a different and less natural engagement, the dynamic would have been different and my friend perhaps more guarded.

In order to manage and address the ethical problems this approach I am revealing nothing about the friend, who they are, not even their gender or relationship to me. I also deleted the recording once I had completed this blog entry. Given some of the personal characteristics of the friend, I think there is a high probability they will never know about this blog entry and OCA exercise and anyone looking at the this online would never know the identity of my friend.

The topic of the conversation was taxation, rebates, engaging with the local tax office and the implications of in complete personal information and records. I need to sayat the outset  that myself and the friend have nothing to do with HMRC, nor the world of the fiscal! This just happened to be the conversation. My friend had a range of concerns and our conversation was about those concerns an might attempt to are advice and support, all of this at a personal friend to friend level and not from the stand point of expertise in taxation. My only knowledge of taxation is that I am a taxpayer!

The conversation was 17 minutes long during which time my friend was initially upset because of a personal circumstance. During the first 8 minutes I listened and made a small number of comments mostly affirming support and a desire to assist someone who was experiencing some real difficulties. In the latter part of the conversation based upon the information gleaned, I offered some suggestions, that might be interpreted as advice but were all caveatted with a denial of any claim of expertise on tax affairs. The conversation ended much more positively than it started with the friend listing for themself a set of actions they were going to follow up on. I left the conversation with a sense I had offered a listening ear and assisted the friend ‘see the wood for the trees’ around what they needed to do next.

Before listening to the recording a I made a written record of the key elements of the conversation as a sort of table of contents. There were 14 distinct elements I picked out during the exchange. These elements were all based upon what I felt where the most significant things we discussed. I also gave each of the 14 elements a ranking of importance based upon a reading of my friends worries and concerns. I completed my write up by listing the key words at the start of the conversation that framed the whole dialogue and also the actions my friend was going to pursue following the conversation.

As the above suggests, I brought my clinical and forensic professional approach to my review of the conversation. Listening then to the recording I learned something new about myself and my approach to listening and mentally recording conversations.

As stated above I have a tried and literally tested methodology for recalling conversations. What struck me about listing to this recording was the subtle nuisance of my friends emotions at different points in the conversation. My list of what was covered , how the conversation started and was framed and how it finished was as I suspected very accurate. However the relative importance I had assigned to the different elements of the conversation was challenged by the recording. Some of the things that I had recalled as being the most significant where called into questions by a review of how things were said in he recording rather than what was said. Although my recall was generally very accurate listening again to the conversation made me ask some questions about how I had interpreted  some aspects of the conversation. It made me think that accuracy of recall is not all about the content,  it is also about the nuisance, tone and what is sometimes not said. I didn’t have some revelation that my professional technique for listening was wrong, but it did make me think that my analytical approach can at times miss subtle aspects of meaning, particularly when dealing with something that is upsetting to one or more of the parties in a conversation. I then left the exercise and spent some days pondering on its relevance to photographic practice.

In considering the believability of of re-enected narratives, there will always be an element of bias , with the author (or participants) of a work recalling an event or events through a lens of their own perspective, biography, motives and intent. The concept of accuracy, which might link to more forensic perspectives on recall and memory has itself some limitations. There are a variety of contradictory perspectives on human memory and recall and there is a whole other potential blog post about neurons, axons, short term , long term memory and the bias and hierarchy when memory is being encoded, but  I feel myself drifting into the work of my professional life here, which in many respects I am trying to escape in this OCA work!

Reflecting on listening back to the recording I made of the conversation, where my focus had been on accurate recall of the content, I must confess it was the tone and cadence of my friends comments that I had paid less attention to. Language and communication are manifold concepts and meaning is transmitted through more than the words. Indeed meaning is created through the interplay of phonemes, pitch and intonation. In English we also have the added complication of not actually saying what we mean, our language is abstract at times, with us often not actually saying what we mean but rather, coding what we mean through tone and body language.

Where does this take us in terms of making pictures and re-encated narratives? Well I think we need a healthy scepticism about what we recall and we need either to check what we believe we saw , heard or did with a variety of sources. I often think about returning to my primary school as part of a visit, shortly before it was demolished. What I was confronted with as an adult did not fit with the recollections I carried in my head. For this reason we need to apply external references whenever possible.

Some summative thoughts:

  • Be skeptical about what we recall from our past
  • Be skeptical about memory in general
  • Where ever possible look for external references that will help shatpe recollections in to something that is closer to the truth
  • Accept that the past is gone and only a trace remains, even images only tell prt of the picture
  • Re-enactment or recreation of a past event can only ever be a subjective act with all the caveats about accuracy and truth
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The Fae Richards Photo Archive – Veracity in the Ficticious!

   

“The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.”                                   

Dunye and Leonard’s work: The Fae Richards archive strikes me as the use of a construct, indeed engineered fiction to tell about women, lesbianism in the Black community and the absence of real figures from this group in film, or in fact in contemporary American history.

Without doubt there were almost certainly black American lesbian’s in Hollywood, however the prevailing orthodoxy and power of the film studios must have made it impossible for women, let alone African American women to come out into society for much of the 20th Century. Black women will also have had racism to contend with compounding them being able to live an open life with regard to their sexuality. A further dimension was also the very traditional view of the church’s in black communities who to this day can have a negative stance around homosexuality.

In tha absence of genuine historic evidence, Leonard and Dunye have created a fictitious movie star, Fae Richards. Using traditional photographic styled records such as publicity images, family album images, film stills, candid images, the character of Richard is brought to life. There is a veracity to the fiction through the use of photographic evidence that looks very plausible. Although a falsehood, the faux archive tells of a wider truth and for me poses the question; can there be more truth ain a fictitious archive than in a genuine documentary archive where the honesty and intent of the photographer is unknown?

I am genuinely intrigued by this work and Dunye’s notion of ‘photographic falsification. We covered quite a bit about the photo as ‘document’ earlier in the course and as noted at the time in reference to Wells(2009) Photography as a technology can manipulate how we perceive the world around us. It is this very idea that Dunye and Leonard exploit using what they describe as ‘archival conventions’ to tell us about the life of black women who have never been included in the collective 20 century history or archive. This to me seems to be a process where the ends justify the falsehood.

Reading about this work has set me thinking about assignment 5 and how I might use the idea of a fictional narrative

References

Wells, E. (2009)Photography: A critical Introduction Routledge, Abingdon

The Fae Richerds Archive. Birmingham City University Art & Design Archives for cross discipline creative practice, found at:

Archives – Some personal thoughts

Do you have any archives that you could have access to? might you be able to use it for the beginning of a project? Blog about some ideas that you could comeback to one day.

As my previous blog entry highlights I have access to a large archive of family images, plotting the stories and journeys and eventual leaving home of me and my 2 siblings. We all hold different elements of this collective but fragmented  family archive. My father was a keen amateur photographer and there are thousands of image in monochrome and colour plotting and recording family trajectories. They also have a topographic character as they record us in a variety of places over time. we have of course all added to it in new and different ways.

As part of this family and personal story I also have a large personal archive on film and on hard drives of my own photographic work, from school boy darkroom experiments, to family snaps, actions images and to more serious photographic projects. This archive intersects my wider family archive creating a different trajectory.

I have for some time pondered on the idea of a topographic biography, by this I mean images of places that tell a wider story of transition, personal experience and the passage of time. I was born in a other country, I came to this country, we moved around as children, as an adult  I have repeated and extended this cycle. I have a very broad sense of what constitutes home and it is not defined by location, but rather by those around me.

I think it is this personal sense of transience that has been at the heart of my keenness in and developing photographic practice around people and place, my own work often centres around recording people and place to try and reveal some about time and culture. I am certain there is the potential for a significant project from these ideas. I recognise I need the assistance of academic tuition to develop and distill this idea further, a  level 3 project perhaps?

Postscript thought

I have along side my archive of negatives and photo;’s a growing virtual archive, recored in zeros and ones, hidden in solid sites hidden in blocks of silicon, out of sight inside the cards that slowly get bigger as time passes. Unlike their analogue counterparts they offer no glimpse of the past, only a question around what might they contain. I imagine this virtual archive is far more , the lot of the modern image maker and photographer. I ponder on what future generations might make of these electric images. What is the potential for a future Nicky Bird or John Maloof in a collection of cards and drives?

 

Question for Seller Exercise

Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log:

  • Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
  • Where does their meaning derive from?
  • When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

Nicky Birds work genuinely intrigues me. I am drawn to found photographs and their potential. Before getting to the questions in the exercise I want to think out loud about Bird’s work first. The idea of finding images on  Ebay and bidding on those that had no other bids or interest struck me as a very unique starting place to make art. Perhaps Birds background and interest in social history, biography and archeology where her starting points for “Question to seller’. Looking at her other work and particularly’ Beneath the Surface/Hidden Place which links found images from the past with their original location as its is now acts as a sort of conduit across time. There is a sense of history brought to life through the juxtaposition of the old and the current. As her website suggests her: ‘work investigates the contemporary relevance of found photographs.’

I couldn’t help compare this work with elements of Subotsky and Waterhouse’s (2014)  ‘Ponte City’. In this work the artists made images of a giant and decaying brutalist tower block ‘Ponte City’ in Johannesburg. Elements of the work used found photos and then re photographed them in the location where they were originally taken. This idea of an image being used again to make a link across time and in doing so pose question about where the occupants are now is to me highly engaging

Question to seller is though something more than just the image she bid for and won on eBay. As the title suggests she asked the seller about the images, in some cases they know nothing about the origins in others she gleans bits of information about the photographs. It is the interplay between the image and the sellers response that creates the work. there is one final stage and that is reselling the work, that is the image and the responses from sellers on eBay. There is something cyclical and final at the same time. To me the image takes on a new meaning, it isn’t merely a two dimensional artefact, but a small slice of someones history with an accompanying bit of text that may reveal something about the image or indeed offer nothing but questions.

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

I think there has been much written about what ends up in galleries, who chooses it and what this means to its value, beyond a specific question about Birds work. Berger (1972) talks about an elite in the past deciding what was displayed in a gallery as does Sontag, when talking about documentary photographs taking on a new value when shifted from the documentary form to the art form. Barrett (1986) in his work about Photographs and Contexts suggests:

‘The photographs placement in a galleries above all a tribute to the sensibilities of its maker”

All this suggests that there is an elevation in status, although this too will be context specific. An image displayed in a gallery at MoMaA may be perceived to have greater value and status  than an image displayed in a small local gallery? Another valuable will also be the retain and standing of the artist, which in turn my shift the value and status of a work, irrespective of the display space. in summary this is a tricky area with a variety of factors at play all of which have a degree of subjectivity.

Where does their meaning derive from?

In Bird’s work there is a clear interplay between the source of the image, the images, her questions to the seller, the sellers responses and the display of the work with the dialogues with the seller. In this sense the work is far more than just the image. The combination of all the elements create a wider work of art. There are layers of narrative, those within the image those with thin the text and the interplay between all these companies. there is also the individualised and subjective meaning that the viewer brings themselves, particular given the natures of the images a family photographs. We all have our own archive of these. Looking at other families photographs sets of in me thoughts of my own biography as recored in a fragmented set of images all residing on photographic paper in various cardboard boxes in different locations around the country. Fragments held by different family members. The idea of unifying this archive a distant and almost impossible fete!

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

In answering the question I first need to explore the notion of value. It might refer to a purely monastery idea and perhaps does in this context give the original source of the material. it might also mean a things intrinsic work?

Exploring the idea of monetary worth, in simple terms the auctioned work raised more money than the original images cost to purchase. The Belfast Photo video suggest the work achieved £205. There has of course been work and activity on the part of the artist and in the value of any work the artist will also be a feature of the monetary value of the work. The cost of art made by sought after artists will be driven by a supply and demand equations, that means that for example, reproducible prints from an original negative by for example Cartier Bresson can fetch $12,000 (source Artnet- Print Price for a copy of Behind the Gare Saint Lazare).

So in simple terms the answer to the question is probably yes, over time depending on Bird’s wonder work this item may go up in value. It may have already been auctioned again, in the cycles that is a feature of many works of art, that of the auction after auction after auction. indeed the work has an allegoric statement to make about art works in general, beyond the individual meaning within this work.

References

 

Barrett, T. (1986) Teaching about photography: Photographs and Contexts, Art Education. Found at: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/images/pdfs/Barrett%20(1986)%20Photographs%20&%20Contexts.pdf

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing, Penguin, London (Accessed May 2017)

Berger, J. (1967) Understanding the Photograph

Sontag, S (uyuy) On Photography, Pengiun, London

Subotsky, M. & Waterhouse, P. (2014) Ponte City, Steidl Verlag, Berlin

http://www.nickybird.com/projects/beneath-the-surface/Nicky Bird: Quest to seller:(Accessed May 2017)

http://www.nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/ (Accessed May 2017)

Interview with Nicky Bird, Photoparley, Found at: http://www.photoparley.wordpress.com/category/nicky-bird/ (Accessed May 2017)

 

Reflecting on the factual and the fictional

As stated in previous blog posts my developing practice is in the area of documentary image making. Initially a bit worried about the implications and what I might need to do  in this part of the course around constructed and fabricated images I have become progressively more intrigued . In no small part as a result of following up some of the photographers whose work is referenced in part 5 of C&N.

Starting with Tom Hunter, the idea of creating or even replicating elements of a news story through the construction of a scene that is representative of, rather than being the actual scene that might have been used in a newspaper, offers the opportunity to use a fiction to tell about a truth. There is also something about the use of the aesthetic to engage the vower in Hunters work, the course materials refer to Hunter drawing upon painting in his approach. The image below is a good example

© Tom Hunter

The scene of a road rage victim lying down with the menacing figure of the perpetrator standing over them is one that is unlikely to be seen in a newspaper, the sodium and tungsten lit tableaux has an engaging aesthetic quality, that belies the violence and drama of the scene. This is powerful imagery, acting as a sort of ‘proxy’ for the real event, carrying with real angst and menance. I need to ponder further on Hunters intent, which at this stage and from reading some background internet cemenatrt on Hunter leaves me uncertain is this about art or about story telling or even fiction to carry news? Whatever, i am suddenly quite keen o the idea of the tableaux image and its possibilities.

I also did some further on line research into Cindy Sherman. I was more familiar with this work and knew that Sherman used a self portraiture technique, drawing on the troops of film noir cinema, society portraits and old master paintings. A core theme of her work is to use this self porters approach to offer a perspective of how the women are seen in american society. I think this approach is well documented and what interested me about this work in the context of this part of the course is the images themselves and not necessarily  their intended message. I was drawn to the image below in terms of how it was constructed and achieved.

© Cindy Sherman

Not one of the more complex Sherman images but a tableaux of interest to me none the less. I think I need to experiment with some self portraiture and before trying to make a wider comment , just the practicalities and technical challenges are what appeals to me at present.

Philip Lorca Dicorcia’s work also intrigues me. of all the photographers referenced in this section of the cours it is decorcioa with whom I am most familiar having had the opportunity to see both Hustlers and Heads in person. As large glossy prints these works are aesthetically beautiful and have a wonderful depth to them, looking almost three dimensional an defying the flatness of the framed print. Contrasting his work  with Hunter and Sherman, these works feel far more like portraiture in the classical sense. In the case of ‘Hustlers’ the male prostitutes he photographs, are  real people, with all the challenges their circumstances present, but he creates a tableaux environment to tell a wider story. I noted his wikipedia page talks about his almost ‘baroque’ constructions in his constructed images. In the image below the Juke Box control, burger and drink container all add to the mundanity and strange beauty of the scene. DiCorcia’s approach  iis giving me some ideas for assignment 5.

© Philip Lorca Dicorcia

So what does all this tell me?

The tableaux is a mechanism top communicate a wider idea about the subject of the image.

The tableaux image offers the possibility for creativity beyond the purely documentary work that I am more familiar with.

Fiction created for the camera can just be fiction for its own sake own sake, or it can be an allegory to metaphor for something bigger and something real.

References

Hattenstone, S (2011) Cindy Sherman- Me, Myself and I, The Guardian, founds at:  www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jan/15/cindy-sherman-interview

Tom Hunter: Living in hell and other stories found at:  www.tomhunter.org/living-in-hell-and-other-stories/ (Accessed May 2017)

Research Point – Gregory Crewdson

Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.

Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be [accessed 24/02/14]

  • Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
  • Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?
  • What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

 

I hade seen some o the work of Crewdson prior to this part of the course and had been struck by both the cinematic quality  and the sheer scale of the work. As part of the of the ‘Perdidos en la Ciudad’ exhibition I visited at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern in Spain, there were 4 of Crewdson images filling a massive gallery space. I have to say the images in the flesh are utterly mesmerising, the detail is almost indescribable at close quarters. The use of well known hollywood actors as subject in the images adds to the epic cinematic qulkaity of the work. in a digital age the power of his 10×8 view camera negatives printed on a grand scale are utterly beautiful, in spite of their often sensitiser narrative. It is in this context and with a little familiarity that I respond to the questions in this research point.

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

Certainly but i need to explain why. The images are without doubt aesthetically engaging, the use of colour, the High Definition detail of the work couples with the use of lighting. As the OCA reference video: ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame‘ highlights, Crewdson pays great attention to the lighting using what appear to be the same techniques that a movie director wold employ. All of that said the placement of characters and objects in the frame couples with the location and the lighting challenge the view to ask questions about what is going on. i will use the image below to illustrate what I mean.

Copyright Gregory Crewdson

The seemingly simple scene of a residential district in the snow reveals something  about place and time and season, but the lone and small figure standing in the doorway of the building raises questions? The future could initially be overlooked, but like so many of Crewdson’s images the people in them add a tension to the scene. This particle image also has the title “Beneath the roses again asking questions of the view and almost holding the vower in intrigue. There is something eerie in his images in part created by the time taken, often in the strange light of twilight, which again adds to the intrigue. The images also have the look of ‘photo realistic painting and some of the smaller works i have seen by Crewdson demand close inspection to see that they are actually photographs. This all adds to the sense that there is far more to this work than the aesthetic.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

Crewdsons work has an almost fairy tail, other worldly quality even though he is using a clearly urban landscape at twilight. I was interested in the reference in ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame’ video to Crewdson’s father being a Psycho Analyst and the artist as a child hearing, without really being able to define what was being said as  his father worked with patients in a room below him in his childhood home. There is perhaps an ‘unconscious’ world being p in the portrayed in the twilight realm that Crewdson is creating in his work. This sense of the ‘psychological is to my eye further enhanced by the expressions on the faces of some of the subjects in the images as well as the nature of the ‘tableau’ he creates. The image below I feel illustrates this:

Copyright Gregory Crewdson

The image, called ‘Daughter is quite disturbing, the look on the face of the mother and the posture of the half clothed figure creates a troubling but simultaneously  intriguing tableau that is certainly not a normal family scene. Stephen Berg (2015) suggests that Crewdson’s work uses a ‘supernatural ‘quality to portray american life, drawing upon the work of Gary Winnogrand and Walker Evans , but offering a very personal take. The work is edgy and disturbing and for me the heart of the psychological feel that the work creates is the tension between the aesthetic beauty inherent in his work contrasts with the disturbing themes he is revealing. There is also a tension between the sense of the ‘credible’ that the aesthetic nature of his images offer , contrasted with the troubling themes within the work. this drama adds to the sense of the psychological in the work. There are lots of references on line to the influence of Hopper on Crewdson, Hopper too offers a sense of the psychological in his work, perhaps the solitude evident in some of his work. Crewdson work has encouraged me to visit the work of hopper too.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

These are tough questions to answer, not least because it would be hard to compete with the beauty of Crewdson’s images whatever my motive for image making! That said I do strive in my own developing practice to produce something that is aesthetically pleasing even if the motive is wider or there is a more specific intent in the work. Why? Well I believe that engaging viewer can be assisted by a visually aesthetic image. The surrealist to an extent used beauty and intrigue to engage the viewer and Crewdson uses a cinematic approach to engage the ver with what i think is a much greater message, one of the things that sit bowl the surface where all might not be what it seems at first glance. I am reminded of David lynch’s work such as Blue Velvet, where the picturesque picket fence  draws us in but later reveals the immensely sinister. Beauty has a way of engaging! i think i need to reflect on this more though as i move to make assignment 5.

References

Berg, S (2015) quoted in Koetzle (2015)

Koetzle, H-M (2015) A-Z, Taschen, Koln

Gregory Crewdson II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrU9-KSHtdY

Perdidos en la ciudad. La vida urbana en las colecciones delIVAM: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgQKOUlKUB4

 

Project 1 Setting the scene – Exercise

 Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8 [accessed 24/02/14]

Don’t read on until you’ve answered the following questions.

  • What does this scene tell you about the main character?
  • How does it do this? List the ‘clues’. 

Make some notes in your leaning log

What does this scene tell you about the main character?

This is a fast paced scene and a lot happens in the just over three minutes of the vignette. The pace is supported by the rhythm and time of the accompanying theme, ‘Then he Kissed me’ by the ‘Krystals’, produced by Phil Spectre. Every interaction the main character has with people on the journey from the parked car in the street all the way to the table being put out for hime in the club points to some one of importance and influence. There are hints of people wanting to make this character happy and there is a slight sense of menace in the wider context of the themes of the film. 

How does it do this?  List the ‘clues’.

There is a clear trail of close that give us insight into the character. Starting in the street with the money being handed to the concierge to watch the car, the bypassing of the queue into the club and the use of a different entrance, the tipping of the doorman and the comment from the doorman confirming that Ray Liotta’s character is known. The passage through the kitchen and other non public part of the club where encounters with the passers by again confirm this person is known and must be important if they are to by pass the usual way of getting into the club. arriving in the main club area the queue is bypassed again and the Maître d immediate turns his attention to the character, summoning three waiters who collectively set up a new table right at the front of the club near the stage all attentive on meeting Liotta’s characters needs. again he gives a large tip to the Maître d and no sooner has he been seated when surrounding customers greet hime cordially , followed by a bottle of white appears to be champagne arrives as a gift from an imprint loong individual at another table.  The cumulative affect of this trail of pandering and concern for his needs provides an narrative pointing to a person of importance and influence. 

It is a really well constructed and executed piece of cinema that kin three minutes gives the viewer a significant amount of information about this key figure in the film. W are left with a real sense of the life and influence of a ‘wise guy’ aka Mafiosa.

Constructed Images and fabricated realities- some initial thoughts

This final phase of Context and Narrative will really take me further out of my comfort zone I think. As someone who has been slowly but I think positively developing my documentary practice, helped greatly by engagement with the OCA, this area construction and fabrication will be very alien.

This is a good thing although i have some trepidation. I have in advance of this section of the course been looking at the work of Cindy Sherman and Geoff Wall. The idea o using photography as a medium of fiction, but a fiction that makes a wider statement about culture, gender and contemporary society is of genuine interest to me.

In making links to my interest in documentary work, I can’t help thinking about W. Eugene Smith’s departure from Life Magazine after the incident of doctoring an image in the set about Albert Schweitzer that I wrote about here .

I am also pondering the nature of the boundary between the real and the fictitious in any image given the photographer can send a message to the view through the clever use of angle, framing and post production.

Much to think about as I through ideas of constructed realities and it is this term that set me thinking. This is a theme i work with in my professional life and I am reminded of the work of the sociologists Berger and Lucian and their significant treatise on the nature of reality as a social construct created by language, context and social influences. To me this part of the course opens up a significant opportunity to see how reality can indeed be constructed through visual media  and how visual media has come to play a part in defining what we believe is real. I know this was touched upon in part one and it seems apposite that this is part of the final phase of the course.

References

Berger, P. and Luckman, T. (1981) The Social Construction of Reality, Peregrine, London

Research Point-Diane Arbus in Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth

A young  Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966

An essay by Liz Jobey: A critical and personal review

colour-processing-order-form-copy

copyright Diane Arbus Estate

Read and reflect upon the chapter on Diane Arbus in Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth (2005, London: Tate Publishing). This is out of print but you may be able to find it in your local university library: some of the chapters are available as pdfs online. You’ll find the Arbus chapter on the student website. 

Jobey’s essay offers a detailed and insightful analysis around a single image.  I cant’t help feeling the authors offers a significant caveat about how we interpret what she has written and also how we draw meaning from any image.  One of the opening comments is:

“The fictions we make about photographs are as unreliable as they are undeniable.”

Having read the essay several times this opening statement stood out more and more each time I visited the work. What  I have taken this to mean is that we need to be cautious in what we read into an image and it is ultimately a subjective viewpoint. There is a supreme irony in Jobey’s words in this statement in that she goes on to reveal  very concrete and credible set of insights into the family in the image, their lives, the cultural and temporal context of the image and to me, most of all, an insight into Arbus and her career in a single image. This essays offers a blueprint for the power that an individual work by an artist can reveal . The essay also demonstrates a very  eloquent and robust response to the challenge set  to Beaumont Newell by his friend and photographer Van Deren Coke  to speak for an hour about a single image. This challenge is the premise for Howarth’s(2005) book from which this particular essay is drawn.

To focus on the essay itself and the task set out in the C&N materials, Jobey uses the opening paragraphs of the essay to locate the family in the image in a  wider american trope of ordinary people whose lives may not have turned out as they expected. The reference to Raymond Carver (1938 –1988), the novelist and poet who exemplified ‘Dirty Realism’ further anchors the image and how it might be read in a genre that emphasises the disappointments, broken dreams and hard realities of the characters in this type of work. This early use of intertextuality weaves the potential connotations of the image into a bigger american story about unfulfilled expectations, dissatisfaction, disaffection and the challenges faced by the ordinary in their daily lives. Like  number of artists, Ginsburg,  and Karouac to name two, in the post war period, there is a challenge to a prevailing orthodoxy pedalled by a consumerist media that suggests the american dream is a reality for all.

A similar reference to ‘blue collar’ and Bruce Springsteen songs also makes a cultural link to the anthems of ‘Heartland Rock, a musical genre that concerns itself with the plight and their oppression by the ‘system’

Before describing the image and what it denotes in any detail beyond it being a Brooklyn family about to go out on a Sunday outing, Jobey boldly asserts in a style that might be deemed patronising to the subject and the readers, that :

“We pity them partly with hindsight for their compliance”

I have to question the use of ‘we’ and also ask the question is the compliancy to the request of the photographer or more about their position in late 1960’s american society?

It is only after this statement that we get the authors description of what is in the image. Joey forensically looks at each element of the image describing the four Characters and also making a range of assumption about them.

This too is interesting in that denotation and connotation are interwoven in the text as its set out what we literally see and what Jobey believes it connotes. We are also seeing this through a lens that has already told us in the opening paragraphs that this family have problems. The shy, but direct gaze of the father at the photographer, the only character in the scene how looks directly at Arbus and by default at us as the viewers is described  as being ‘tentative’. His presence in the image is contrasted with that of his wife, whose clothes, poise and ‘armoury of self protection’, the coat, bag.

We gain some further contextual and artistic insight through the reference to correspondence between Arbus and Peter Crookston the then deputy editor of the Sunday Time Magazine ( at one time a significant platform for photographers work)

 Jobey quotes Arbus describing the couples relationship :

“they were undeniable close in a painful sort of way'”

Jobey then ponders on whether the use of the term undeniably is patronising in that it might be interpreted as being judgemental. Through research into Arbus’s writing we then gain a much greater insight, through Arbus’s recollection of the couple into their lives and we gain a glimpse, all be it obliquely into the dialogue that must have take place between photographer and subject. This struck a real note of interest with me because I have in my own work in photographing strangers on the street tried to create sets of questions that try an balance insight through dialogue without appearing to pry. That might be a whole other blog post though. 

Jobey then locates this image and its publication in the Sunday Times Magazine in 1968 in real;ion to Arbus’s rise to notoriety following the inclusion of 35 of her images in an important exhibition at MoMA curated by John Szarkowski, then the Head of the Photography department t the “Modern’. Displayed along side the work of Freidlander and Winnogrand, this exhibition  was to showcase street photography in a new way. 

Gefter (2017) quoting Szarkowski says:

““New Documents” … a showcase for a new kind of photograph, from a generation of artists who had embraced an almost existential attitude toward the medium, adopting “the documentary approach toward more personal ends.”

Joey goes on to describe the different approach to documentary photography in Arbus’s work and her win need to reveal thins that in plain site are often missed by others. Quoting Arbus :

” really believe there are things that nobody would see if i didn’t photograph them”

We get a tangible sense that Arbus was doing far more than just documenting the world around her and her photographs have a very different intent to the previous work of documentary photographers many of whom might be described as having an altruistic intent. 

There are many references in the essay to ‘Freak’ one of Arbus’s main project and one which showcased in “New Documents’ Her engagement and subsequent recording of propel on the margins of American society because of their differences is also related to Arbus’s own inner struggles, struggles that ultimately led to her suicide in 1971. Born into a rich family Arbus had been protected from much that the majority had to face in terms of concerns about money, the future and trials the majority take for granted as part of life. There is a suggestion in the essay that argus’s engagement with people on the margins was an attempt to gain a greater insight in the the world she had been protected from. Although not apparent in the text i can’t help thinking that the patronising tone that i observe in some of Arbus’s statement is a function of her ‘elite’ background , although this perhaps reveals something of my prejudices about that rich? Interesting Sontag, quoted by Jobey suggested that Arbus work lacked compassion, a challenging statement given i think Arbus was may be trying to discover compassion through her work.

There is no doubt that Jobey achieves an immense amount in this essay, taking a single image,  Arbus has used to challenge or venue subvert the classic tropes of the family photograph, the map much about Arbus, her life and the impact of her work. I have learned much more about Arbus through this one image and I can’t help but feel far more daunted now about Assignment 4 and what is expected of me!

References

Evers, S. (2008) Raymond Carver: The King of Dirty Realists, The Guardian-2008 found at http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/aug/13/raymondcarverkingofthedir  (Accessed March 2017)

Gefter, P. (2017) The Exhibit that Transformed Photography, The New Yorker March 2017, found at:  http://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/the-exhibit-that-transformed-photography (Accessed March 2017)

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

King, S. (2009) Raymond Carver’s Life and stories, New York Times found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/books/review/King-t.html (Accessed March 2017)

Sparknotes (2017) ‘Dirty Realism’ defined found at: http://www.sparknotes.com/short-stories/cathedral/section3.rhtml (Accessed March 2017)

75 Reasons to Live: Jeffrey Fraenkel on Diane Arbus’s A Young Brooklyn Family Going for a Sunday Outing, N.Y.C. found at: http://www.sfmoma.org/watch/75-reasons-to-live-jeffrey-fraenkel-on-diane-arbuss-a-young-brooklyn-family-going-for-a-sunday-outin/ Accesed March 2017)

 

Research Point: ‘Insomnia'(1994) Jeff Wall

In preparation for Assignment 4 I looked at Boothroyd’s 2012 Beneath the Surface post on the OCA website. This is a very helpful entry point into thinking about the structure, content and nature of the critical essay required by this next assign,went. Writing is not new to me but I am more accustomed to technical objective writing where evidence based facts are the source of the documents I produce. Preparing a thousand word essay on a creative theme presents me with some uncertainty but also an interesting challenge.

wall-web

Copyright Jeff wall

In considering Jeff Walls 1974 image ‘Insomnia’, Boothroyd demonstrates some of the tools that might be used to review, deconstruct and then assemble meaning around a single image, as well as offering a possible structure for an essay. Although short the piece provides some basic description ‘in practice’ to the concepts of denotation and connotation as well as examples of signifiers and the signified. Most importantly it does set out as sort of essay plan idea by example.

This could be summarised as:

Introduction the image and the artist, some background  and links to their range of work

Literal description –what is in the image, a literal description, describing the place, the settings, the light and colours

Interpretive description –what the elements of the image might mean, to the author and the viewer, an exploratory discourse on the the layers of meaning within the imgae

A personal link for the authorher own work in Oxford, connecting this work to the authors own practice

The works contextwhere the work sits in the genre, the influences on the artist and links to wider works,

The central theme of insomnia -literary links and how this  work might connect to contemporary society, literary reference to Shakespeare as an example of intertextuality

The scale of the work -how its sits in our culture and a short subjective summary of its meaning

Although a very simplistic review on my part  of the structure of Boothroyd’s post, I found it helpful to deconstruct what she had written as a starting point for considering how I might structure how I might write about a chosen image.

I also looked at the use of specific text in this post and used the simple but i find helpful approach of creating a word cloud from the entire work. This is a technique i use in my working life to add some additional insight, I need to share the caveat that this is a very personal approach but I find it helpful, without reading too much into the activity.

beneath-the-surface_cloud

A starting point but more thought needed I think!

References

Boothroyd, S. (2012) Beneath the Surface found at: https://weareoca.com/photography/beneath-the-surface/ (Accessed February 2017)