Category Archives: Multimedia

Jeff Wall: In order to make a picture

I have a few documentaries recorded on my PVR which I haven’t got around to watching yet, so a few nights ago I made a start. The movie director, Lu Nelson “provides an insider’s look at the work and process of world renowned Vancouver photographer Jeff Wall. The documentary was created as a portrait of Wall working in the studio and on location in the process of making two works: Spring Snow and Woman Covered with a Tray.

Commentaries were interspersed throughout the documentary by Peter Galassi, former Chief Curator of MOMA, Willard Holmes, COO Museum of Fine Art in Houston and former director of the Vancouver Art Gallery and Jean-Francois Chevrier, Art Historian, Curator and author. My notes consist of selected transcriptions, made mainly be these three people and a few quotes from Wall.

Jeff Wall
  • Wall crafts images, gradually building it up. Makes images that transmit and transform – his work constantly responds to the present. Transforms the tradition of the pictorial reinventing it first and transforms it by reinventing it.
  • Wall: “I want to slow photography down – slowing the time down by overcoming obstacles in order to make a picture”.
  • Wall’s compositions were inspired by things he had seen. By ‘seen things’ he was picking up on the famous expression of Victor Hugo: ‘seen things’.
  • The realm of chronicles is completely surpassed in Wall’s work. He re-stages everything, he replays things that there is a work of composition – of re-composition – and this work of re-composition transforms and displaces the ‘seen thing’ and translates the specificity of the ‘seen thing’ into a generic figure and so obviously we can’t speak anymore of the specificity of the ‘seen thing’ because there is no longer any objectivity that one could isolate. There is a process: a process of transformation, a process of displacement, a process of figuration, quite simply.
  • Wall: “Failing in your own eyes leaves a residue of ambition. Not reactive, but making things happen.” He refers to his work as ‘cinematography’.
  • Wall on the difference of an image and picture. An image happens instantaneously. A picture – how it is constructed, holds onto ambiguity. Movement and life are incalculable and photography captures that.
  • Wall: “Every picture is a start-over situation”.
Reference List

Knowledge Network (2017). Jeff Wall: In Order to Make a Picture. Dir. Lu Nelson. The West Films. 45 min 01 sec. [Accessed 15 May, 2017]

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Lecture: Zoë Druick, Documentary and the Politics of Authenticity (Walker Evans: Depth of Field Exhibition)

This talk considers Walker Evans’ photographic practice in light of international currents of documentary in the 1920s and 30s. Evans was certainly not alone in balancing the demands of working with state and corporate sponsors in his time. But why were documentary media considered to be such a central technique for political visualization of the era? And how do issues of authenticity persist in documentary practice today? Zoë Druick is Associate Dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology and Professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University.

Vancouver Art Gallery

This was an extremely interesting lecture and I’m so glad it is preserved on video because I will probably go back and watch it later down the line again if I do the documentary module in level 2. Below are some brief notes from Druick’s lecture.

  • We are constantly thinking and talking about a hierarchy of ways of representing reality, some of which we think are more valid and more authentic than others. Take a look back and see how this was also the case in previous decades.
  • John Grierson in the 1920’s developed the origin of “documentary”. He defined it as “The creative treatment of actuality”. Good definition because it is so vague – it can be applied to just about any project. Grierson came up with this idea in response to political thinkers he studied with. American documentary tradition/British documentary tradition/Canadian documentary tradition were kept quite distinct but there was actually quite a flow of ideas and films and photos later between these spaces, also the USSR.
  • There are hierarchies of reality based forms:
    • Educational film
    • Government Information film
    • Industrial film
    • Newsreel
  • Documentary is a more heightened sense of authenticity than any of the other forms.
  • Real goal is to produce something which is geared to the present moment, but that will have some sort of more lasting artistic kind of ambition or accomplishment. This is done by combining information with emotion.
  • Experiments in USSR in art forms: see Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov – non fiction films of post revolution era. The focus was always on the revolution, reform of society – better for the common man, e.g. Rodchenko posters.
  • British films – documentary films took up residence in the Post Office. Made films showing the patterns of modern life, in particular social problems, political solutions e.g. film Night Mail.
  • Mass Observation group in Britain – tried to understand what ordinary working class people were thinking about the monarchy during this period (abdication of King Edward VIII). See Humphrey Spender’s Worktown People Photographs from Northern England 1937-38.
  • Indexical media that could show you something of the real world, to enable you to understand the crisis, to make it more than newsreel and different from propaganda.
  • American case – there was no official state sponsorship initially. However, US government was pushed to provide sponsorships as a result of harsh economic conditions and strife. People didn’t know what was happening across the country re the Great Depression. New Deal established relief agencies to publish information – later became FSA (1935-1938). Photos were circulated in magazines when news stories occurred. The goal was to identify the social problem and come up with a political solution.
  • Walker Evans was always distancing himself from the politics or the idea that his art was being tainted politically or was propaganda.
  • He pursues a non-intimate form of representation where he is always putting people into much larger contexts, either doing that in single images or he is doing that in sequencing of his images. Building little narratives that give you some insight into what people are going through.
Men in front of Savoy Barber Shop Vicksburg, Mississippi by Walker Evans

 

  • Signs in image are giving inter textual points of other information which help give you more context – sign on left reads New Deal Barber Shop. There is no appeal by the people in the image to the viewer – just going about their daily lives – not soliciting pity or concern.
  • Evans uses montage within single images – see A graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania November 1935. One can see the whole life of a town – where they live, where they work and where they dies and it provides this huge overview and then works on two levels:
    • as the document of this particular town;
    • as a larger comment on human life.
  • By way of comparison with the film that was made by the Works Progress Administration (flooding of the Mississippi – see Erosion near Jackson, Mississippi (erosion through over-logging); The Bessie Levee augmented with sandbags during the 1937 flood, near Tiptonville, Tennessee (building up of the levees to contain the river – small people in the much larger landscape) and Forrest City, Arkansas (flood victims).
  • Conveys a current and pressing event at the time – displacement of victims, construction of camps to house and feed them. But at the same time the way e presents them in the larger landscape which includes the layers of the tents and the wood depersonalizes it again, making it into a bigger and universal image of human displacement.
  • Strategies: social problem –> political solution. Case studies – Let us now praise famous men – atypical work for Evans – only work where he names the people and treats them as a case.
  • Another strategy – spatial strategy. Highlighting the multitude of different categories of individuals who are all operating within a kind of bounded spatial location. Evans was very influenced by August Sander and his project, People of the 20th Century. Can see Sanders’ influence in Evans work – Dock Workers, Havana 1933 and Coal Loader, Havana 1933. Full frontal, unadorned form of portraiture with generic titles without sentimentality. Not images that evoke a lot of pathos.

  • Another kind of spatial narrative which Evans was inspired by is typified by the City Symphony film. The spatial organization is the city and usually the time period is a single day in the city. Not political enough according to Grierson. See Lunch Counter and Men Eating lunch on steps.
  • Subway Portraits – don’t establish a relationship between photographer and subject (because of hidden camera) – no communication. Organization in grids – cinematic style of this work – each individual image is reliant on the assemblage for its meaning. Same can be said for Labor Anonymous.
  • Evans had an abiding interest in serial imagery.
  • With regards social problems – Evans rejects politics but he is always interested in people’s struggles and putting working class people into a bigger context. He does use the case study even if under duress with James Agee.
  • Uses a lot of spatial representation. His images are often put into relation with other images that give us a sense of overall multiplicity that is some how synchronized, whether through shared social experiences or shared spatiality.
  • All this becomes a distinctive way in which Evans works through the problem of documentary, which is not just about trying to find some thing beautiful in the every day but also about exploring and trying to convey some larger meaning about what you find.
  • Documentary has come full circle. First were re-enactments, then were shot as the events were happening, now back to re-enactments again. Rarely sponsored by states any more.
  • Documentary is a way and a genre to help us discuss and think through just how we come to know what we know and what we do with what we think we know about the world.
  • Evans show a struggle to establish documentary forms that on the one hand make social statements, and on the other hand and at the same time make lasting works of art, which is a hugely challenging goal.
Reference List

Vancouver Art Gallery (2017) Lecture: Zoë Druick, Documentary and the Politics of Authenticity [user-generated content online] Creat. Vancouver Art Gallery.  8 February, 2017.  1 hr 44 min 11 sec Available at https://vimeo.com/203204777 (Accessed 14 May, 2017)

Vancouver Art Gallery (n.d.) Video Documentation [online] Available at: http://vanartgallery.bc.ca/events_and_programs/videos.html [Accessed 14 May, 2017]

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Artist’s Talk: Wolfgang Tillmans

In October 2016 Wolfgang Tillmans gave a lecture at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I was unable to make the lecture but was very pleased to see that the lecture has been recorded and posted on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s website. The Canadian Art Foundation, in partnership with the Vancouver Art Gallery, hosted this talk with  Wolfgang Tillmans. Tillmans was joined in conversation by New York– and Toronto-based writer and critic Tom McDonough, a lead contributor to the recently published monograph Wolfgang Tillmans: What’s wrong with redistribution? (Walther König).

One of the most influential artists of his generation, Tillmans has radically redefined how photographic images are made, exhibited and encountered.

Vancouver Art Gallery (2016)

This talk was Tillmans’s first visit to Canada in more than 20 years.

I made brief notes while watching the video as he presented images from numerous bodies of work.

  • Clothes are great interest to him. What fascinates Tillmans is the air between our clothes and our body. The clothes are like a membrane between us and the outer world.
  • Borders: visible and perceived borders. Always shows his large scale photos as unframed prints.
  • Approach to his work – asks “is this possible?” Experimental approach works on conceptual, technical and contextual levels – looking at what colleagues have made in the past. Find architectural landscape fascinating.
  • “What’s wrong with redistribution?” exhibition. Truth study installation centre – table top installation consisting of 28 hollow-core doors, raised glass with space between photos and glass. Makes pictures with light-sensitive papers. All centred around truth or claims of truth e.g. articles of weapons of mass destruction in 1990’s.
  • Times Mirrored series – today is history – it is not so far away.
  • Distinguishes between his lens based work and non-lens based work. With his non-lens based work he likes to evoke associations of reality within the brain (with light sensitive papers).
  • Has an impure approach to the idea of authenticity. His work was often described as authentic pictures of youth (ref his nude photos taken in his 20’s) but he didn’t have a documentary approach or needed to be a chronicler. Mixed stated/unstaged and found/unfound situations. Doesn’t distinguish between them. Saw sexuality as the centre of the problems of the world. Doesn’t want sexuality to be sensationalist, just wants it to be part of normal life.
  • Doesn’t categorise his work into subject matter. Different subjects are treated as parallel. Always resists the paradigm of the serious.
  • Explained his Brexit campaign (image and text). Originally made posters typographically (no pictures), then realised they would be more emotive with images. Launched a campaign – something imbued in the pictures – ideas of a border. Intentions behind the camera go into the picture and become visible.
  • Installation strategy: Photography sits wonderfully on pages or in a magazine, but it can’t allow for spatial experience. he wants to make contemporary pictures in spaces – amazing laboratory. Never felt the reason that everything should be arranged in linear format. Uses floor to ceiling. Matrix that he has been using for the past 25 years is 10 x 15 cm then 30 x 40cm then 50 x 60 cm and then the large format prints. A page is flat. The interest in the gallery is showing the object of the print. What is often misinterpreted in the beginning as a grunge or slacker, careless attitude of just taping the prints to the wall, was actually an exploration of how he could show the purity of the naked sheet of photograph in a room without hiding it behind perspex or window mount or frames and he has always considered prints as very, very shallow cubes that have a dimension off the wall. They have space.
  • Some reoccurring questions regarding his use of space cropped up in the Q&A session. He emphasized that one has to have an awareness of the space – see if it touches or not, does it have a tiny bit of air or does it squash – depth is not often resolved in museums. One needs humility in front of the object. He doesn’t control everything. Observes cause and effect. The only thing in art that matters is the question “how is it made?”

The moment you think you have mastered something, you have lost it.

Wolfgang Tillmans (2016)

Reference List

Vancouver Art Gallery (2016).  Artist’s Talk: Wolfgang Tillmans [user-generated content online] Creat. The Candian Art Foundation and Vancouver Art Gallery. 5 January, 2017. 1 hr 47min 05 sec Available at: https://vimeo.com/198274114 (Accessed 13 May, 2017)

Camera Obscura

Being in Canada I feel I have to plug the Canadian photographers whenever they appear in some national or international media, particularly if I’ve met the photographer. I’m just posting this interesting video on the camera obscura which Ross den Otter from Vancouver created for last year’s Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver.  Ross was featured yesterday in American Photo, and the video can be seen below.

Reference List

den Otter, Ross (2016) Camera Obscura [ user-generated content online] Creat. Ryan Mund. 28 November, 2016. 6 mins 31 secs. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHkr3g4EXNE (Accessed 4 February, 2017)

Leuchter, Miriam (2017) Watch This: Ross den Otter Make Portraits with a Camera Obscura [online] American Photo. Available at: http://www.americanphotomag.com/watch-ross-den-otter-make-portraits-with-camera-obscura [Accessed 4 February, 2017]

No Body’s Perfect with Rankin and Alison Lapper

I was so please my husband has subscribed to a proxy server and I can now view BBC’s iPlayer documentaries. I sat enthralled, watching No Body’s Perfect with Rankin and Alison Lapper the other day.

Together Rankin and artist, Alison Lapper explore how photography, social media and the selfie culture has affected people’s sense of identity. Lapper was born without arms and shortened legs, a condition known as phocomelia. Lapper paints using her mouth and uses her own body as her inspiration.

rankinlapper

Lapper interviewed four subjects and got them to agree to come for a photographic session with Rankin. The subjects were a gentleman who had lost his leg to cancer at the age of 18, a beautiful young girl suffering from body dysmorphia, a vibrant woman suffering from alopecia since the age of 11 and a young man suffering from neurofibromatosis. All the subjects had various hang-ups about their bodies.

Rankin’s working method was a joy to watch. He photographed his subjects in a very empathetic manner, gradually building up to the point where they confronted their insecurities, and in most cases realised they were all beautiful/handsome and that they did not have to conform to the Western dictates of the “perfect” body type.

Bibliography

No Body’s Perfect with Rankin and Alison Lapper (2016) [television programme online] Pres. Ranking and Alison Lapper. BBC iPlayer.  Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0824cwc/no-bodys-perfect-with-rankin-and-alison-lapper?suggid=b0824cwc (Accessed 13 November, 2016)

The Curated Ego: What Makes a Good Selfie?

I am really struggling to come up with ideas for Assignment 2. I’ve been finding myself in the creative doldrums for the last couple of months and need to find a way out of this terrible spiral. I was looking through some photographers’ work, searching for inspiration when I happened on an interesting video on Carly Clarke’s website in which one of her photos was featured.

The talk was by James Kilner, Senior Lecturer in Human Motor Neurosciences, University College London. Briefly the talk was about what goes on in our brain when we look at portraits, or specifically selfies. Basically the brain has to recognise that we are looking at a face and what emotions are being presented. We then possibly have some kind of empathic response and maybe we extract some kind of higher level of perception and meaning about what we think this person may be doing. Kilner then went on to explain how the brain processes the visual information but more importantly how visual information is perceived. Our brain can influence our percepts, and he quoted Gustave Flaubert who said “there is no such thing as reality. There is only perception”. What we see out there has been clouded by our own experiences in our lifetime (shades of Roland Barthes indeed). Apparently we are all very bad at visual representation and this is due to the poor visual feedback we have of ourselves. An extremely interesting video to watch.

Reference List

National Portrait Gallery (2014).  Part 4: The Curated Ego: What Makes a Good Selfie? [user-generated content online] Creat. studioSTRIKE at the National Portrait Gallery. 3 March, 2014.  12 min 57 sec Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPEjV-9BB5g (Accessed 23 October, 2016)

Art in the Twenty-first Century : Vancouver

ART21 on PBS has a new season of “Art in the Twenty-First Century”. This series concentrates on featuring the most innovative art around the globe. “Intimate footage allows the viewer to observe the artists at work, watch their process as they transform inspiration into art, and hear their thoughts as they grapple with the physical and visual challenges of achieving their artistic visions” (PBS). Each episode features a different city. This particular episode featured Vancouver and local artists Liz Magor, Stan Douglas, Brian Jungen and Jeff Wall.

I have seen Liz Magor’s work at the Catriona Jefferies Gallery and also at the Vancouver Art Gallery. When I viewed her work Catriona Jefferies Gallery I found it rather strange in that she used various materials that were clearly bound for the landfill. After watching the video, however, I have a better understanding of where she is coming from. She likes using objects in her sculptures, more correctly to create sculptures. She has a series of sculptures where she has created casts from worker’s gloves, where she acknowledges that she has fetishized the gloves, repurposing them and creating new contexts. She actually likens this process to photography – taking an object, then creating the negative (mould) and then creating the positive (the actual cast). The slowness of the process serves her intellectual awareness.

Stan Douglas’ work is extremely interesting. He showcased a historical app that he had made in historical Hogan’s Alley. He uses historical data to recreate or restage existing narratives. Also featured were some of his video work that work in parallax, where the viewer has to watch two or three screens simultaneously. One of the works featured was a live performance (Helen Lawrence) enacted in front of a blue screen that was filmed every night. The performance is a blend of film noir, computer simulation, and theatre.

What you see from the audience is bifocal: Three-dimensional actors in colourful costumes moving about in real space; and, at the same time the live-feed of them, turned two-dimensional and inserted into a visual black-and-white space displayed from familiarly disorienting film-noir camera angles.

Nestruck, Globe and Mail

Brian Jungen’s work is a very contemporary rendition of First Nations art. Like Liz Magor he repurposes objects to create new sculptures. Featured was a massive rendition of a whale’s skeleton, made entirely from white plastic garden chairs. I was quite flabbergasted when I saw that as it looks so realistic (on film anyway). The main theme that seems to run through his work is commodification. Using Nike running shoes he created various Native masks. He found that his artwork became so tied up with his identity.

Jeff Wall featured in Art in the Twenty-first Century on PBS
Jeff Wall featured in Art in the Twenty-first Century on PBS

There were quite a few take-aways from Jeff Wall’s segment – statements made by him while discussing his working method. Here are a couple of quotes from Wall:

“There is no difference in between capturing a gesture by accident and capturing a gesture by design. So it is not really possible to have fakery in photography.”

“Pictures can never narrate. They can only imply a narrative but they can never deliberate. So what happens is when the viewer is having that experience, what they are really doing is writing the story. They are intuiting a narrative for themselves which will not be the same narrative for everybody.”

A really succinct way of summing up Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author”. Wall’s work is very big and it was rather interesting to see the pre-exhibition behind scenes of conveying his large works to the fourth floor of the gallery (they had to be lifted by crane) and the mechanics of manoeuvring the images to the correct places to be hung.

The series is also available online, but it seems that it is not viewable in the UK.

Reference List

Art21 (2016). Art in the Twenty-first century [online]. PBS. Available at: http://www.pbs.org/show/art-21/ [Accessed 2 October, 2016]

Nestruck, J.K. (2014). Helen Lawrence: groundbreaking and old-fashioned, all at once [online]. Play Review. The Globe and Mail. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/theatre-reviews/helen-lawrence-groundbreaking-and-old-fashioned-all-at-once/article17589706/ [Accessed 2 October, 2016]