Assignment 4

The Brief:

Create a series of work (aim for 7 to 10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation…

Be wary of illustrating your text with pictures and vice versa. Allow for the viewers’ interpretation to be opened up rather than shut down by the pairings. You may decide not to include the actual words in the final production … as long as they have in some way informed the research and development of the concepts and have pushed the imagery further as a result.

Write a short reflective commentary (around 500 words) describing how your chosen ‘words’ have informed your series of images and make this available to your tutor alongside your images.


Working in a university, which caterers mainly to international students coming from all corners of the globe, is always challenging and presents many cultural challenges to staff and faculty. The way students learn in their home countries is very often different to the way education is offered here in North America. Students have to adapt not only to new ways of learning, but also learning in a language which isn’t their mother tongue. Then there is life outside the university – the scenery, ways of doing simple everyday tasks, and the culture is also different.

So with the new intake of students in our Summer semester I decided to tackle the theme of “culture shock” for this assignment. Culture shock is the experience a person undergoes when moving from one’s home country to another foreign country. In this sense I am not referring to the tourists, but to people who have moved for extended periods of times for reasons such as immigration, study, or work. If one is moving from a culture that is very different to the new one, there is usually a sense of disorientation, unfamiliarity and certain transitions that one feels.

“Culture shock” is a term used to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves from a familiar culture to an entirely different cultural or social environment. Familiar sights, sounds and smells are no longer around and small things can easily upset a person and feel out of proportion.

Culture shock for international students

At first everything is new and exciting. This is called the honeymoon phase – a period of romanticism and fascination with the locals. Memories of home and family are still fresh in the mind. Then reality slowly settles in and one becomes aware of the differences between the cultures. One can experience homesickness, difficulties with the language, general frustration and depression often set in at this stage (negotiation phase).

After a while one becomes accustomed to the new culture, has made friends and formed a social group – probably with people in the same situation and one begins to find a sense of equilibrium again. One begins to develop a more balanced point of view with regards to the new culture (adjustment phase). Once a person is completely comfortable in the host country that person will start participating in local communities. The person is more relaxed and confident and better able to cope with life and tend to develop a sense of belonging (adaption phase).

Prior to doing any research on culture shock, I thought that I could just target the new incoming students for their initial impressions, but the statements that I received were along the lines of:

  • “I feel good over here/I enjoyed being here/I love people and their gestures”
  • “I feel very good over here/I like the signals for crossing the roads/I love people as they helping anytime”
  • ”Smiling faces in a lovely city – Vancouver/Close to Heaven “Vancity”/Friendly people/Multicultural diversity”
  • “Welcoming, friendly people. Accepting towards international students/Vancouver is a beautiful city”

I then started targeting a cross-section of the student population ranging from brand new students to students who had just graduated and the responses were much more interesting.

 

Deepak from India (Honeymoon phase)
Nuttanit from Thailand (Honeymoon phase)
Flavio from Brazil (Honeymoon phase)
Anh from Vietnam (Negotiation phase)
Dayana from Kazakhstan (Negotiation phase)
Henrique from Brazil (Negotiation phase)
Huong from Vietnam (Negotiation phase)
Cesar from El Salvador (Adjustment phase)
Kamonpat from Thailand (Adjustment phase)
Joao from Brazil (Adjustment phase)
Maria from The Philippines (Adaption phase)
Akiko from Japan (Adaption phase)

My edited down contact sheets, largely straight out of camera, for the shoot, can be seen below.

ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)

I mainly used my 50mm prime lens to shoot this assignment. I was having a bit of trouble with my 18-140mm and not getting very sharp images. There was a distinct improvement when I switched to the 50mm. I have tried as far as I can to apply equal foot and head space to each photograph as this helps cement the coherence of the set of images. As I mentioned in my planning post and in my post for initial feedback I shot the series on the sidewalk outside the university’s building. Initially I had considered shooting in the alley next to the building as well, but as a result of the feedback, which I concurred with, I dropped that idea as the wall didn’t provide much background context.

I have tried to maintain a fairly even colour balance, but as I was shooting at different times of the day (whenever my models were available) and during a wide range of weather ranging from sunny, cloudy, semi-overcast to torrential downpour (and no I didn’t have my model standing in the rain – he was under an awning and I was in the rain) I know that one image is a little off from rest. I did consider changing the white balance and tested it out, but it really didn’t change too much except rendering the subject too orange, so I have left the balance set to daylight on that one.

Apart from the weather challenges, the other challenge I had was shooting around a lot of homeless people taking shelter under the awnings. We have a homeless shelter right next door to the university and I had to bin a few images because of their background presence in the images.

Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)

Ideally I think I would like to present this work in book format with the photos on the  recto side and the caption on the accompanying verso side. I have done a mockup using the Book feature in LightRoom for the first time – cover front and back and pages inside can be seen on by clicking on the links provided. I haven’t managed to figure out why LightRoom split the covers and book content into two separate files, but I will figure this out in time for assessment. This is a project that I can easily expand on as I feel that I haven’t exhausted all the nationalities that step through the doors of the university. I purposely did not want to photograph my subjects in front of any tourist spot, preferring rather to leave the location in the images identifiably similar but at the same time rather ambiguous allowing the viewer to puzzle over the identity of the actual city.

Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)

Although my subjects have written their statements from their own experiences in their own handwriting, they all without fail (and without knowing it) have revealed emotions and experiences that I have had as an immigrant more than twenty years ago. I think my project is a bit of an amalgamation of Les Monahan’s Desire Project (although mine was shot in natural light) and Gillian Wearing’s Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say. I have followed Monahan’s format of positioning the subjects, but have used Wearing’s method of using signs to convey the thoughts and concerns of the subjects. I feel that this way the experiences become more embedded in the image. The accompanying captions’ purpose is mainly to identify the country and the culture shock phase.

Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)

In preparation for this assignment I looked at the following photographers (my details remarks can be found on their pages):

  • Les Monaghan and Gillian Wearing – public vs private personae of the subjects and different use of text
  • John Kippin – use of text within the landscape genre
  • Helen Maurene Cooper – use of multicoloured text as well as vertical orientated text in margins
  • Karen Knorr – different relationships between image and text. Her presentations are more formal than the other photographers I research
  • Bill Owens – humourous, refreshing way of working with text

Some of the videos and multimedia I have watched between Assignment 3 and Assignment 4 are listed below. The in-depth write ups are on the pages linked below.

I attended the North Shore Photographic Society’s workshop/lecture presented by Russel and Wendy Kwan, detailed notes accessible from the link below:

I did reviews on the following books and journal article, detailed notes are on the pages linked below:

I managed to get to quite a few of the Capture Photography Festival exhibitions that were on in Vancouver. My detailed notes  on the relevant exhibitions that I  attended are on the pages linked below:

Reference List

Counselling Service (n.d.) Culture shock for international students [online] Warwick University. Available at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/tutors/counselling/informationpages/culture_shock/ [Accessed May 30, 2017]

Bibliography

Student Services (n.d.) Adjust to a New Culture | Stages and symptoms of culture shock [online] Simon Fraser University. Available at https://www.sfu.ca/students/exchange/current/new-culture/stages-and-symptoms.html [Accessed 30 May, 2017]

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Assignment 4 Feedback

So I posted a few initial images for initial peer review on the Level 1 Photography Facebook group, the Canadian OCA Students Facebook group as well as on the OCA Critique forum for the first time and was very pleasantly surprised with the depth of the feedback I received on the forum. As stated in my original posting, I had been having trouble getting a sharp resolution with my zoom lens for some or other reason, so I switch to my 50mm prime and the result was so much better. This was also confirmed in some of the feedback I received.

Some interesting points that were made (the in-depth discussion can be viewed at https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/initial-feedback-for-assignment-4-identity-place/4859/16):

  • This is a really interesting theme and I think continues the interest in cultural differences / mixing from some of your other work. I think the assignment briefs are best shaped to something in which we have a personal interest, as work then feels genuine, made with care – I already feel this in your planning. … Personally, I feel you photos that show the environmental context are more interesting (even the moving cars) as it adds to the sense of place; which is partially what you are conveying, people in new places and their response. (Andrew)
  • I like the project and all this people stuff! The white card consistent throughout is a definite I think, different colours is a unnecessary distraction and takes away that sense of uniformity. The variety can come in the location and obviously the subject. … As for background information I think it ultimately comes down to personal judgement – but I think it works say the last 2 with none and the one with a stationary car blurred out – fine, for me they all would still work together. … But an interesting topic and heading in the right direction! (Alan)
  • One last thing from me; it’s going to be a good series but so far some of them are a bit ‘moody’ as Alan says. There’s a lot you can do these days to fix things like that, investigate soft masking and the Shadows/Highlights control in PS. [Example shown – thanks for that Clive! That was a great help]. (Clive)
  • The girl “it’s common to say YES to SEX”……”never” on her top, says a lot. (Alan)
  • Fascinating project though challenging I guess. Personally having spend most of my life in foreign countries and cultures I can truly relate to the topic and the ‘change process’, something quite typical for all changes that one is facing in life. And the adaption process is truly a personal thing as it tells more about oneself. … The visuals are impressive, the surrounding space has something to say (includes clothing, gesture, mimic, and posture). Personally I try to look into the face of the person, what they are saying (like the text boards, quite social media distribution proof) and how it relates to content. (Stefan)
  • I think this is a great idea for a project, surprised none’s mentioned this project by Gillian Wearing: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/mar/04/gillian-wearing-signs-in-pictures2. Of course as a photography student the aesthetic is important and so demonstrating either competence (more than demonstrated here) or awareness (which you discuss) on a project which is prone to different conditions as a by product will, I’m sure, be acknowledged by your tutor. Nice one! (John)
  • A really interesting project Lynda and I am reminded of the Humans of New York approach. I found the text allowed me to engage further. Photographs #3 & #4 worked best for me as no distracting elements in the background. Perhaps a more shallow depth of field would work in this situation? (Nicola)
  • Yes of course Wearing but what about Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” film (I am not sure it was video back in ’65!)? Use that as a reference as well and think why in both cases. Is it a lack of voice? Is and an emphasis of voice? Don’t just think of the visuals, it isn’t just a way of carrying text in still image but much more. This is worth looking at for some insight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY4HtQ-XJQE (Peter). I have had a look at this video twice and am still chewing over Peter’s questions as this now introduces sound into the equation.
  • Some comments/suggestions from other Canadian students were to place my subjects at identifiable tourist attractions in Vancouver. I felt that this would restrict my project too much as I specifically want it to be rather generic in tone, and I also wanted to use the university location as part of the background.
  • Other comments can be seen at https://lyndakuitphotographyiap.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/assignment-4-planning-1st-feedback-request/#comments

I have taken on board quite a few of the suggestions: trying to eliminate people passing by the subject – although it is a very busy sidewalk where I’m shooting so I’m trying to restrict passersby to the background as far as possible. I’ve also had the students switch to white legal size paper to write their messages and have requested that they only write one thought instead of a few bullet points. This is more legible and they actually seem to think more about their message when they have only one thought to record.

I’m hoping to get an even mix of male and female students with a fairly equal distribution among the different culture shock phases, although I have no way of knowing how long the student has been in the country until we actually do the shoot. Its a question of getting the volunteers and then asking the questions. I’m also trying to get as diverse student representation as possible. At the moment I’m trying to round up some of the first students that I photographed for retakes – but that is a process rather like herding cats at the moment.

Overall I feel that this project is progressing along nicely. I’m feeling more confident about this assignment and am fairly confident that I will make the deadline this time.

Assignment 4 – Planning 1st Feedback Request

I’ve been doing a few shoots when the opportunity has arisen and had some feedback from the Canadian Students Google Hangout Group – we’re a mixed bunch coming from all disciplines. As I mentioned in my previous planning posting, I am going to gear my assignment towards Culture Shock among International Students. I’m hoping to cover all four stages of culture shock, namely the honeymoon phase where everything is still rosy and romantic for the new comers; the negotiation phase where the differences between the home country and the new country start to set in as well as possible anxiety; the adjustment phase where the students start to acclimatise to the new country and culture; and the adaptation phase where students are comfortable and embrace the new culture, while still maintaining links with their own.

XXX from India (Honeymoon Phase)

This was one of the first images I made and I wasn’t happy with the illegibility of the text, apart from the fact that the student decided to jot down quite a few points instead of just one. Not sure if all the pedestrian traffic is working in this image either. (I still have to get this student’s name for the project).

Anh from Vietnam (Adjustment Phase)

At this stage, I’d changed the paper size and asked the students only to jot down one idea and I feel this is working better and making more of a statement.

Dayana from Kazakhstan (negotiation phase)

I’ve also decided to switch to my prime 50mm lens as that gives me better bokeh and more clarity. For some or other reason that I just can’t fathom I’m having trouble with the Nikon 18 – 140mm with too much noise for my liking. (Dayana was shot with the 50mm, all the other images on this post were done with the 18-140mm).

As I mentioned in my initial planning posting, I am shooting these images outside the campus on the sidewalk and in the alley next to the building as I’m trying to keep the viewpoints fairly consistent, as Les Monahan did in his Desire Project.

Maria from Philippines (Adaption Phase)

I would like to show as diverse cross section of the student population as I can, as well as including an equal number of the male population. But this is where I’m at for the moment, and your feedback is most welcome and appreciated.

 

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Program Night: The Visual Thinking Series: Who’s Talking?

I attended my camera club, The North Shore Photographic Society’s program night last night. Presenters were Russel and Wendy Kwan. Unfortunately I forgot to take a notebook with me to make notes, but luckily Russel provided some take home notes of his presentation, albeit an abbreviated version so I’ll do my best to summarise his presentation from that.

The topic was on media transparency. What I really appreciate about Russel and Wendy is that they approach their topics as well as their judging from an art photography perspective. They are familiar with studium and punctum, so as a result their reviews are less from a technical point of view and the feedback more meaningful.

Russ’s presentation started off with a quote from Clement Greenberg’s essay The Camera’s Glass Eye: Review of an Exhibition of Edward Weston.

Photography is the most transparent of the art mediums devised or discovered by man. It is probably for this reason that it proves so difficult to make the photograph transcend its almost inevitable function as document and act as work of art as well. But we do have evidence that the two functions are compatible.

Clement Greenberg

I managed to find a copy of the essay online and was interested to read Greenberg’s statement that ‘art is a matter of conception and intuition, not of physical finish’. I rather like that statement! Greenberg states of Edward Weston’s photos that were on exhibit that  they were ‘merciless, crystalline clarity of detail and texture combined with the anonymous or inanimate nature of the object photographed, produces a hard, mechanical effect that seems contrived and without spontaneity’. In other words Weston’s photos were too technically perfect, had the same treatment applied to each and thus rendering them rather cold and impersonal. Greenberg goes on to state that a photographer should become more reliant on his subject and strive to express the subject’s identity or personality and his own feelings more directly. I’m thinking that this is where our voice comes into play. Greenberg directs his readers to the work of Walker Evans stating ‘Evans is an artist above all because of his original grasp of the anecdote’, even though Evans’ photos do not have the splendid finish that Weston’s have.

So back to the lecture:

As an image becomes more transparent, the audience becomes less aware of the image’s medium and maker. As an image becomes less transparent, the audience becomes more aware of the artifact itself and that someone made it.

Russ advised that photographers begin to think in terms of a schema around which to construct their photographs. Listening to his explanation of this, I realised that this is the way OCA urges us to work too.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884-86) by Georges Seurat
  • Transparency is like a sliding scale. It can be dialed up or down during the shoot or at post-processing.
  • Transparency may work differently when the image is viewed up close or from across an exhibition hall – refer to paintings done in the pointillism style – up close one sees varying size dots, but the effect is very different when one stands further back. See also Sally Mann’s Body Farm photos.
  • The snapshot is very transparent, the highly stylized photos not so much. Photographers generally settle for a middle ground between these two poles.
  • Having a well defined schema for a project is essential for coherence.
  • The constraints imposed on your work by the schema will influence the transparency of the photos.
  • The more constraints there are, the more distinctive the work will be.
  • Schema – a break down
    • Subject matter – what are you photographing? What is in/what is out?
    • Technique – how are you going to approach the subject matter? What gear? What lighting? What point of views? What post-processing?
    • Flavour – What do you want your audience to see/feel/learn when looking at your work? Do your choices of subject matter and technique work with the flavour you want to impart?

Russ had three criteria by which one should evaluate one’s photographs: truth, personal mark, message. According to him if one ranks truth important, but personal mark not necessary then the subjects in the photo are doing the talking. This is more in line with photojournalism – the photographer becomes invisible.

If one ranks truth not important, but personal mark important then transparency is not necessarily an ingredient needed. The photograher needs to do the talking here. Examples cited were Andreas Gursky’s work and  Sally Mann’s photographs of her children.

If truth and personal mark are both important then transparency is needed. Different techniques will be necessary to tell the anecdotes – see Erwin Elliott’s dog images.

If message is important then one will be looking of ways to photograph without regard for subjects, truth or one’s own personal stamp. This singular method of working is quite rare because one does need a combination of truth or personal mark at the very least to go with message in order for the photograph to work.

Russ then gave the group some homework and this is where I really had to chuckle – it all sounded so familiar:

  • come up with a message or emotional state you want to communicate – be very specific
  • write down your goals and be precise when describing your visual statement

Needless to say the audience was rather gobsmacked by all this information. To be told that they should throw the rules of composition out the window and concentrate on the transparency of the image instead really silenced them to such an extent that no a single question was asked. It will take a while for them to lose the ‘camera club mentality’ of doing images. I live in hope though 🙂 !!

Reference List

Greenberg, Clement (1946) The Camera’s Glass Eye: Review of an Exhibition of Edward Weston In The Collected Essays and Criticism, Arrogant Purpose (Vol 2) 1945 – 1949 edited by John O’Brian. Available at: http://docslide.us/documents/clement-greenberg-1946-the-cameras-glass-eye.html [Accessed 30 May, 2017]

Assignment 4 – Planning

After tossing a few ideas around – again centred around the university where I work, I came up with a short list of options. As it is the start of a new semester I thought that it might be viable to photograph new incoming students – our student population is mainly international – and see what their aspirations for the future were.  My other option was to do something with light projection and have text projected onto the students’ faces, but the more I thought about it I realised that some of the text might not be legible as it wraps over the facial planes. On the first day of the semester I came up with the idea, after watching the new students, of doing something related to culture shock – having the students comment  on differences that they experience in Canada from their home country.

I’ve done a few test shots and put this up for discussion in the Canadian Students Google Hangout this past Saturday and it was quite well received. One of the other students also confirmed my misgivings about light projecting text onto the students’ faces, but I’m keeping this idea in the background as I may be able to do something with it in Assignment 5, although I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.

For consistency I plan on shooting the students in three locations only – well two really – depending on the light and time of day. The one location will be right outside the university on the pavement – and depending on the light, they will either face north or south – so essentially two slightly different backgrounds, and the other will be in the alley at the side of the university.

One of the Canadian students suggested photographing the students at local tourist spots, but I feel that this would tie the project down to the actual city too much, instead of being more generic and ambiguous. Once I have taken more images I’ll post a selection for peer feedback.

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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