Category Archives: Research and Reflection

A Matter of cleaning up: treating history in the work of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall

I came across this journal article purely by chance and as it relates to image and text I made a few brief notes.

By comparing the works of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall, van Gelder considers two photographic artistic methodologies. She also looks at the different ways that Sekula and Wall treat the relationship between the photograph and its caption(s); diverging attitudes towards the pictorial aspects of photography; the interaction between their essays and images – which differs widely.

‘there is a larger montage principle at work than that internal to any single work, or even book. Any retrospective look allows for that larger montage to emerge’.

Allan Sekula

Sekula’s preferred method of working is to encourage the viewer to consider his entire project in totality, with ‘cross-references and meaningful links to invisible but recoverable images’.  Sekula is sceptical of the legibility of the individual image and so prefers to present his work as a combination of text and images.

Build a sequence based on another picture that is not part of the sequence.

Allan Sekula (artist statement)

Photographs that were not part of an exhibition/presentation, but which were part of the original concept often contributed to the conceptual framework he was working with. The absent photos are part of his visual thought pattern. Sekula works with diptychs and triptychs, double and triple motifs that change the content of the images slightly. So the captioning of his images is quite important in providing clues to the relationship of the images. His captioning is quite cryptic, subtly concealed, often providing links to other images or even essays, not working on a one-to-one relationship with the image they are paired with. (This might be why I found the one exhibition of his work I attended a few years ago quite confusing – wish I had know about this at that time).

Both artists are art critics in their own right as well, but the way they present their work is again entirely different. Sekula does not delineate his critical texts from his images in his presentational methods – both are always intermingled. Wall, on the other hand, does not exhibit his photographs together with his essays. His essays are published in exhibition catalogues or art magazines. His way of working confirms the division of labour between the artist and the critic. He is an artist/critic. Wall fixes the meaning of his photographs with his use of text, while Sekula tries to get rid of the discursive schism between the critical essay and the images.

‘[A]s soon as you create a relay between a text and an image, you undermine any purist claims for either text or image. Neither element is foundational. The image is no longer the truth upon which the text is a commentary or subjective gloss, nor is the text a pinning down of a truth that is otherwise elusive in the image’.

Allan Sekula

For Sekula ‘an image is always part of the larger montage that is made up by the non-totalitarian totality-to employ a Deleuzian term-of his photographic archive’ (more on Deleuze here). Sekula’s texts help to contextualise and further the work and offer the viewer an insight to the photographer’s point of view. His texts and photographs are so interwoven that it is difficult to discern where Sekula the artist or Sekula the critic begins and ends.

van Gelder then compares of a few of Wall’s photographs with those of Sekula’s and goes into a little more of the specifics of the points mentioned above.

Reference List

van Gelder, H. (2007) A matter of cleaning up: Treating history in the work of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall, History of Photography, 31:1, 68-80, DOI:10.1080/03087298.2007.10443503. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2007.10443503 [Accessed 14 August, 2017]

Julia Nathanson and Mariko Hino

Just before I went on vacation, while I was doing the Research Point 2 exercise for part 5 of the course, I looked briefly at two photographers who photographed alleys and mentioned that I would do a proper write up on them once I returned.

Julia Nathanson is a Canadian photographer from Toronto. She attended New York Film Academy and has won numerous awards for her mobile photography, been published in Hipstography, The App Whisperer, and National Geographic and has won numerous awards including Hipstography’s Street Series of the Year in 2014 and 2015, and the Mobile Photo Grand Prize at PhotoIndependent in 2016.

Her series In the Lane features brightly saturated images of scenarios in the alleys of Toronto and various found ephemera she comes across. What stands out for me is the work is all about colour – blues and oranges/orange and green/red, blue and green/bright reds and blues … I don’t actually have a cell phone but I can see that some filters have been applied to some of her images, which enhance the colours.

I find her work playful, almost like a child’s colouring in book and it just makes me feel rather happy, even if one is viewing rather dingy items.

From In the Lane series by Julia Nathanson

In contrast, Mariko Hino’s work Restore, also featured on LensCulture, is more serious, inviting contemplation. While zooming in and focusing more on the details found in the alleys, her overall colour palette is more subdued and the images more ambiguous. Hino is from Tokyo and received the Ryo Owada Award for her work in the ‘Heart Art Communication Best Artist Exhibition’ held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum.

Restore – 9 by Mariko Hino

It is so interesting to see that similar subject matter can be tackled basically from the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Reference List

Hino, Mariko (n.d.) Mariko Hino [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/mariko-hino [Accessed 9 August, 2017]

Nathanson, Julia (n.d.) In the Lane [online] Julian Nathanson Photography. Available at: http://www.julianathanson.com/in-the-lane/ [Accessed 9 August, 2017]

Indexicality and the Depiction of Time

I came across a rather interesting paper on indexicality entitled Indexicality and the Depiction of Time on the Radicality of Vanishing Zone by Liat Lavi. The paper specifically addresses works by Roi Kuper, namely Vanishing Zones and Atlantis. I have made some brief notes on the paper and I’m hoping some of these ideas will feed into my assignment.

  • Indexicality refers to the direct relation that a photograph has to reality. A photographic image is a physical trace of the world it depicts.
  • Photography is also symbolic – builds on interpretation. Is usually hyper-iconic – bears an extreme resemblance to the object it represents.
  • Iconic nature of a photograph is not separate from the indexical nature. There is a relationship between the indexicality and the iconic nature of the photo (strong-indexicality).
  • Examples of strong-indexicality – myth of Butades’ daughter – traces the contour of her lover’s face on the wall as he prepares to leave for battle; Saint Veronica who wiped off the blood and sweat off Christ’s face with her veil as was left with an imprint of his face on the veil.
  • The manner in which these myths combine icon and index together serve two purposes: (1) to bridge the divide between the real and the  representation, and (2) to overcome time and defy death.
  • Although straight photography conveys a sense of timelessness, every photography that is produced measures some element of time, as there is no zero exposure time.
  • “Straight-photography … functions out of time by capturing a durationless moment, by reducing the present to a temporal vanishing point” (Lavi). Apart from fixing reality in time, photography also toys with the idea that a “temporal presence could be given eternal form(Lavi).
  • There are two very different ways of dealing with time:
    • time as a succession of momentary, durationless states
      (presentism – only the present moment exists)
    • time as eternal and fixed (4 dimensional – time in all its entirety already exists)
  • Change is illusive and difficult to capture
  • “When photography is abstract, it is primarily judged through this abstraction and regarded as a reaction to the all-pervasive strong-indexicality that is photography’s (‘true’) nature” (Lavi).
  • Photography is either indexical (natural, realistic and in sharp focus) or anti-indexical (vague, blurred or manipulated in any form)
  • This dichotomy affects how time is perceived in a photograph. An indexical photograph “captures a durationless moment and transposes it out of time by giving it eternal form” (Lavi). The anti-indexical image seems to operate outside of time.
  • How can change be captured? Long exposure provide one solution, but run the risk of erasing any moving object in the frame. Only stationery objects can be captured. I would argue that capturing the blurred smear of people or moving objects might constitute change as the traces of their various positions of their journey might be visible so long as the exposure is not too long.
  • Another way of capturing change is re-photography. Examples of such projects are David Taylor’s Working the Line; Zane Williams’ Double Take and Mark Klett’s After the Ruins. Re-photography is using found photos or stock images taken quite a long time ago and then rephotographing the same location from the same view point and presenting them side by side. When differences are very slight the viewer has to work harder to discern the change in time.
  • Lavi concludes his paper by stating that “photography seems unable to capture time as change” (Lavi). He cites two works by Roi Kuper to support this: Vanishing Zones and Atlantis. Both bodies of work are about the passage of time. From the artist’s statement for Atlantis:

The rays of the sun breaking on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, spread before the eyes of the viewer, erase a stretch of water, hide but also indicate an enveloping place that repeats 23 times while only the sparkles on the water vary.

Roi Kuper (Atlantis)

Atlantis project by Roi Kuper
  • Vanishing Zones is an entirely different project. Kuper made these images by printing the images, then separated the paper layers and saved the emulsion, then he contact printed it to create a new negative and reprinted that, repeating the process. He also scrunched up the prints and re-flattened them out or buried them in the garden for weeks, dug them up, washed them in water and rephotographed again, until parts of the original image were erased and eventually crumbled entirely.
  • The images in Vanishing Zones “capture a ‘chunk of time’; they transmute the photograph into an organic entity, giving form to the wrinkled and scarred body of the photograph” (Lavi).
  • Time operates on memory, sometimes distorting or hiding our memories.
Reference List

Lavi, Liat (n.d.) Indexicality and the Depiction of time on the Radicality of Vanishing Zone [online] Available at: http://www.roikuper.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/vanishing_zones_liat_eng-libre-1.pdf [Accessed 28 July, 2017]

Bibliography
Mikulinsky, Romi (n.d.) “And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past”? On Roi Kuper’s “Vanishing Zones” [online] Available at: http://www.roikuper.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/vanishing-zones-Romi-Mikulinsky.pdf [Accessed 29 July, 2017]

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What does photographer Pedro Meyer think?

At this stage of the course where I can see the finishing line looming up ahead, it was very inspiring and thought provoking to view this video where Pedro Meyer gives his thoughts on photography.

He comments on the concept of modern art and the idea of inspiration. Meyer urges the viewer to forget about being a photographer, but instead concentrate on becoming a story teller. This is when the magic begins to happen. Its well worth putting aside the fifteen minutes to watch this video, especially if one is feeling a little down and demotivated. There is no way that I can so eloquently put his ideas across in writing so I’ll let him speak for himself.

Reference List

Forbes, Ted. What does photographer Pedro Meyer think? [vidcast, online] The Art of Photography 19/7/2017. 15 min 49 secs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Be1dfn8Chl8&feature=em-subs_digest (accessed 24/07/2017)

Martina Lindqvist

Martina Lindqvist’s project Neighbours was made on a visit back to her village in Finland. Her project reflects the remoteness of this rural population and these abandoned simple structures reflect this. The series features “dilapidated houses shot in plain, snowy environments that metaphorically speak to her sense of isolation and disconnect” (Slate). There is a surreal element to her images, that slowly penetrates one’s subconsciousness when viewing the work. She has digitally removed all traces of vegetation and other details around the houses. It is almost as if she has turned these houses into still life images. Indeed they appear so. She has digitally created a uniform grey sky as backdrop for each image with white snow in the foreground. The composition is very centrally placed with the houses all in the centre of the frame and the horizon line cutting across the centre as well. Melancholia and nostalgia just ooze from her photos.

Untitled 04 (Neighbours), Colour Photograph, 2013 by Martina Lindqvist
Reference List

Lindqvist, Martina (n.d.) Neighbours [online]. Martina Lindqvist. Available at: http://www.martinalindqvist.com/neighbours01.html [Accessed 24 July, 2017]

Rosenberg, D. (n.d.) How These Snowy, Dilapidated Houses Helped a Photographer Connect to Her Finnish Roots [online] Slate.com. Available at: http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2014/11/09/martina_lindqvist_neighbours_is_a_series_that_metaphorically_speaks_to_the.html [Accessed 24 July, 2017]

Wilkes, R. (2014) Martina Lindqvist shows the devastating effect of urban migration on rural Finland… [online] We-heart.com. Available at: https://www.we-heart.com/2014/10/07/martina-lindqvist-photographers-gallery-london/ [Accessed 24 July, 2017]

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David Spero

David Spero has done quite an extensive project called Settlements which is a window on the world of low impact ecological homes in Britain. A low impact development is a development that ‘through its low negative environmental impact either enhances or does not significantly diminish environmental quality’ (Guardian). All these low impact developments in the series are involved in permaculture which is an holistic approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems. Permaculture tends towards maximizing diversity and replicating natural systems, encouraging biodiversity and soil health and moves towards a system where human beings are a complementary part of the landscape.

I found David’s talk quite interesting, although it was directed more towards an audience of architects than photographers. I was rather intrigued to learn that these settlers used the terminology of “roundhouse” and “longhouse” which, of course, are also part of Canadian First Nations culture and it was interesting to compare the similarities of the structures, the First Nations structures being much larger though as they are used for communal gatherings as can be seen on the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre’s website.

Spero first started off photographing the people’s homes from a mid-range distance but gradually he started taking communal portraits of the settlers and photographing the insides of the dwellings. For settlements that are off-the-grid, these houses are really quite sophisticated in design and space usage.

Reference List

Siegle, L. (2005) If you go down to the woods today [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2005/nov/27/observermagazine.ethicalliving [Accessed 24 July, 2017]

Spero, David (n.d.) Settlements [online] Available at; http://www.davidspero.co.uk/settlements/#ts-533 [Accessed 23 July, 2017]

The Photographer’s Gallery (2015) David Spero – Structures and Environment: Two Photographic Projects [vidcast, online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAuRgmtBG2M 56 min 32 sec [Accessed 23 July, 2017]

Paul Gaffney

Paul Gaffney’s We Make the path by Walking is a body of work that he made while walking approximately three and a half thousand kilometres over the space of one year. He was interested in the idea of long distance walking as a form of meditation and immersion in the passing landscape.

His photos do have a contemplative feel to them and one does get the sense that one is accompanying the photographer on his journey. The book can be seen here: http://www.paulgaffneyphotography.com/We-Make-the-Path-by-Walking. The actual book is presented in a beautiful wooden container, together with a individual print signed by Gaffney.

The first photo in the book sets the scene with an image of a pathway leading off a road – the start of the journey. The pathway is the visible thread that links all the images, the metaphor for the journey. All the photos in the book convey a sense of languid tranquility, of time standing still. The images are all in colour with the exception of two black and white photos towards the middle of the book. These two images struck a discord within me and one has to wonder why they weren’t rendered in colour. They just seem out of place.

The Western approach to landscape typically has been very much tied up in thinking from around the Enlightenment era, the sense of distance and separation. In comparison, around the same time, the Eastern approach was more about trying to get across the essence of space, rather than a straight representation of a place, or a particular point of view. I was particularly interested in reading about the way that Chinese landscape painters in ancient times would see themselves as more of a conduit through which the universe expresses itself.

Paul Gaffney, American Suburbx (2016)

Reference List

Gaffney, P. (n.d.) We Make the Path by Walking [online] Paul Gaffney Photography.com. Available at: http://www.paulgaffneyphotography.com/We-Make-the-Path-by-Walking [Accessed 23 June, 2017]

Shinkle, E. (2016) An Interview with Paul Gaffney [online] American Suburbx. Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2016/04/an-interview-with-paul-gaffney.html [Accessed 23 June, 2017]

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