According to Nigel Shafran his Washing-up 2000 series didn’t start out as a concept, but was just a close-by subject that gradually evolved into a series. This is the kind of impetus that a lot of his work springs from. Shafran always tries to build in ambiguity into his work so that the interpretation is left open to the viewer.
If I have a mental picture of what I want it is never really open-ended enough for me. If you just let go a bit and accept how things are, the possibilities become completely infinite. There’s a quote that I have probably got wrong that says, ‘to concern yourself with art, the subject is lost. To concern yourself with the subject, the art is found’.
Nigel Shafran in Interview with Charlotte Cotton
His photos show the viewer the everyday-ness of domestic life, giving the humdrum activities, that we all perform without any depth of thought, another dimension. Shafran’s photos could be considered worthy of a time capsule to show people what the world looked like in the twenty-first century.
In contrast Sarah Lynch’s work is very much concept-driven. Lynch takes fragile objects like blades of grass, paper, cotton and builds sculptures with them. The objects are engineering works of balance and tensile strength, but throughout all the works the main theme that comes through for me is the fragility of life.
I really admire the effort that gone into the setup to make this image. There must have been a lot of trial and error to achieve this sculpture.
I have to admit that my goal of making people stop and pause for a while is a relatively new one, I used to say I wanted to save the world. If I go by my old benchmark I haven’t succeeded yet!
I looked at Laura Letinsky’s work when I was doing the Art of Photography, my first module. As back then, I still don’t really relate very well to her work. Yes, its all about the light and trying to copy the Dutch Renaissance painters in moods and tones – that I do get. I think when she lost me was when she started combining food with magazine cutouts in some of her oevres.
In an interview with Aperture Magazine Letinsky states: “still lifes … interests me as a genre in the same way that concepts of love interest me—its association with the feminine, its characterization as “less important,” its affiliations with domesticity and intimacy” (Aperture). She goes on to say that her work is about looking at something and other bodily experiences. Personally I do have to wonder what “other bodily experience” I should be having when viewing the image below.
I do see slight nuances or new takes on the Dutch Renaissance painters in some of her work. But whereas the Dutch still lifes reflect new discoveries, opulence and abundance, Letinsky’s seem to reflect waste, mess and disposable garbage. I’m still not sure exactly how the octopus fits in in the image above or what he represents, apart from weirdness.
I wanted there to be a palpable absence, this feeling of something missing–like it’s the end of the play and the curtain has not only fallen, but re-opened, and now they’re sweeping out the theater.
Mouth to Mouth
Susan Bright in Art Photography Now claims that the fruit in Letinsky’s images “is not laden with the symbolic meanings of painting, but act in a more metaphorical way, hinting at the delicacy and frailness of domesticity” (Bright p. 110).
Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now (2nd edition). London: Thames & Hudson
We are asked to read Chapter 4 of The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton and comment on the following statements:
To what extent do you think the strategy of using objects or environments as metaphor is a useful tool in photography? When might it fall down?
Course Manual Identity and Place p. 99
First off, I have to admit that I did read this chapter by Charlotte Cotton again, having first read her book when I was doing The Art of Photography module. I still find her method of writing a little tangential. There is just too much thrown at the reader in the way of artists mentioned, (which is great to be introduced to all these photographers, make no mistake) but then she falls down on providing the meat to go with them. I find the critiques of the works rather fleeting and superficial. I would really prefer more depth than just scratching the surface.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “metaphor” as:
“A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable”, or “A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else”. We all use metaphors in our everyday speech without even thinking about it. Life is a comparison. We are forever comparing something to something else, especially when we are referencing intangible concepts. Metaphors subtly shape the way we view the world.
Obviously using objects or environments as a metaphor can be extremely useful. The photographer doesn’t have to rely on the availability of a model(s) and can either stage the still-life or visit the environment. However, it still remains up to the viewer to ascertain the significance and meaning of the the image.
An image’s evocative power can, like speech, be described as poetic. …Factual or poetic, whatever the ambience and mood recognized, it is not due to the object as such, but is rather the consequence of a formal arrangement.
If one looks at still-lifes by Irving Penn for example, one can see how much thought has gone into the staging of the metaphors within his images. In the image above, we can see that all the elements are touching each other. The elements are very deliberately arranged: the number 64 die rests above a dice showing a 6 and a 4. Six and four add up to ten which is represented in the domino balanced on the sherry glass. Compositionally the photograph is arranged on a horizontal and vertical axis. The red liqueur in the glass correspond with the red game pieces and ace of hearts card while the black dots on the domino match the lettering on the number 64 as well as the dice and chess piece and black coffee. The two green playing cards provide a unifying vertical axis. The yellow chip is the only item that does not have a corresponding equivalent.
The detritus in the image (burnout match, stains and cigarette ash) is representative of life – the passage of time. These items add some texture to the scene of an otherwise glossy perfection.
However, uniting all the games is their expressing the duality of human life.
The various games represented in the image reflect the various stages of mastering one’s life. Chess, the ultimate game of strategy is symbolic of intellectualism. The card and dice games reference risk and chance. The domino is symbolic of the eternal search to fit in, while the yellow chip could be seen to represent the investment that is risked in life. Common to all the games is the need to think, to be one step ahead.
The image subtly points towards the questions of life – those of the luck necessary to survive in life as in a game, and those of the risks one is willing to take.
In light of this brief exploratory analysis of the image above, it is clear that to be a successful image, the still-life staging and arrangement needs to be very carefully planned and thought out. This is something that I will have to pay close attention to, because I really struggle with still-lifes.
There probably isn’t a better time to look at Sarah Pickering’s work than now, just shortly after the attack on London Bridge, the Manchester bombing and the Westminster episode. Pickering’s Public Order is a body of work depicting the training ground used for police riot training. I reviewed Pickering’s work during Context & Narrative and my initial impression then was as follows: “This sign of past activity (or is it a future activity – it is up to the viewer to decide) juxtaposes with those images which are more sterile, with deserted clean streets and boarded up windows. … As we look deeper into the images, more layers are peeled away” (Lynda Kuit, Context & Narrative).
There is a strange dichotomy present in her images. On the one hand there is the reality of the aftermath of some kind of violent action, albeit a rather sterile aftermath, and on the other there is the fact that these dwellings or structures are fake. But on first glance, one doesn’t realise that this is a set. The absence of people is immediately obvious and quite disturbing. Post riot scenes usually are full of people milling around, disorientated and distressed – the vocality of the image shouting out from the photograph. But there is no sense of noise in Pickering’s images. They are strangely silent, like silent witnesses, yet we know someone, some people were there.
Pickering’s project Incident features images shot in a training venue for fire fighters, learning to use their breathing apparatus and move and detect the source of fire in heavy smoke conditions. The prints are in black and white which helps to emphasis the sooty conditions and residual heat of the fire and subsequent dampness.
The contrast between bright light and its dark absence indicates the frantic motion of fire and human that must have occurred there.
Pickering describes the materiality of the large scale prints as being very seductive, the surface mimicking the carbon covered surfaces in the training building (Photoparley).
Both bodies of work are a depiction of the work of public safety officers and the training they undergo to do their daily job. The training is rigourous – it has to be. The real life situations that these police officers and fire fighters will have to encounter will be worse than the training scenarios, which are necessary to ensure that these men and women are mentally and physically able to do the job required of them. As much as communities depend on them, they depend upon each other in their line of work, each person linked to the other for safety and moral encouragement.
Elliott Wilcox’s two bodies of work, Courtsand Walls that concentrate on the ‘distinctions between object and representation within constructed leisure space’ (Wilcox, Walls). His photographs of climbing walls I find a little disturbing – some of the textures of the “rock” surfaces seem to be rather other worldly, with strange shapes, rather like fossils imprinted in them at random spots. The coloured hand- and footholds add to this alien-ness (I’m half expecting Darth Vader to make an appearance somewhere). Others have the scuff marks of many feet as their main decoration bearing evidence of a torturous struggle.
On the other hand, Courts, does not have this effect on me. I find this body of work more abstract, yet infinitely more intriguing. What fascinates me most in this work are the lines and I’m itching to know the meaning of them. Having only ever set foot on a squash court once in my life and that many eons ago, I don’t have any memory or sense of familiarity with these lines, so I’m wondering which indoor sport these courts represent. These images are all about texture and colour as well as angles. The walls bear testimony to the amount of activity that has taken place in these courts, each mark reverberating with the sound of a ball hitting the wall.
When I was reading the blurb about Richard Wentworth in our course manual, my mind immediately went to local Vancouver artist, Liz Magor’s work who I reviewed last year in Context and Narrative. Wentworth makes sculptures and photography of familiar objects in unfamiliar positions/scenarios – repurposing their original intent in humourous ways.
Whereas Magor’s work was a bit confusing for me (there is probably some underlying sustainability motif running through her work), I immediately connected with Wentworth’s photographs. I have always admired people who can repurpose items in imaginative ways and Wentworth’s depictions are very chuckle-worthy. Through the object, one can feel the presence of the absent person. It is as if he or she has just stepped out of the frame for a minute and the frame is put on the pause button until the person returns. It is this juxtaposition of materials and found objects that make his work intriguing.
Our course manual, after briefly discussing William Eggleston’s interpretations of his surroundings, his way of making photos of found objects over and above those containing people, emphasizes that these types of photographs ‘become fictionalised and transformed, telling a story that somehow stems from a ‘real place’ yet becomes other’ (OCA Identity and Place Course Manual p 94). ‘The real location, found objects and characters, combined with technology and the photographer’s eye, come together to create a new world, one balanced loosely between recognition and art’ (OCA Identity and Place Course Manual p 95).
We are asked to reflect on the following points:
Where does that leave the photographer? As storyteller or history writer?
Do you tend towards fact or fiction?
How could you blend your approach?
Where is your departure from wanting/needing to depict reality?
Eggleston was inspired by Cartier-Bresson, but after frustratingly spending time in Paris trying to emulate Cartier-Bresson, he realised that he had to try something new. For him new meant photographing shopping centres – no one was photographing malls at that time. So Eggleston started photographing the banal and ordinary things that get overlooked and taken for granted. He never took more than one photograph of a particular subject and very often shot from the hip, which “resulted in images that were “rebellious, unwieldy, uncomfortable, and thus not easy to decipher” (ArtsyNet).
Coming back to the first point above, I think that by nature a story teller is a history writer (and vice versa). Making photographs of found objects is, in a way, making a historical record at that particular moment in time, a building up of an archive. The objects in the photograph create their own story, whether it be fact or fiction is really up to the viewer to decide.
I would probably have to say that I tend more towards fact than fiction. For me fiction would be a completely staged, scenario with subjects in costume, in a made setting or set in a specific location as I did in C&N’s assignment 5. Of course, I’m also aware that most photography is staged, even if the subjects are not being directed, they might be fully aware of the camera and so there are behaviour changes. I think this would be the ideal way of blending the approach – having a scenario where the subject is aware of the camera but is going about his/her day as it it wasn’t there.
“The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion ….” – Richard Avedon
Avedon’s quote above really sums up my departure point for wanting/needing to depict reality. I am not overly concerned whether my images are depicted as fact or fiction. Prior to my studies at OCA I probably would have been deeply concerned if my images were not interpreted the same way that I saw them. I’d like to think that I’ve moved on from there after three years of study. All photos have an element of reality in them, after all the subject matter stands in representation of the actual thing/person that was positioned in front of the lens. But is that the actual narrative? After all the photographer instills his voice or imparts a piece of himself when making the photograph and how that adds to the ‘reality’ viewed by the viewer can only be left to the viewer’s authorship.