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]


Assignment 5 Planning – something to consider

I just want to jot down a further exploration idea for my assignment 5 in relation to found objects in alleys, before I lose my train of thought. I am wondering what the difference or quality of discarded items would be in different socio-economic neighbourhoods. Would the discarded items in a predominately high/upper income suburb be in better quality than those in a middle class or low income neighbourhood? What kind of “scrap” would I find there? Where would be the most proliferation of junk? Where would the owners place the items?

I’m pondering this because on the two days that I have spent driving around I have come across most of the items in the alleyways behind the houses, but have also come across some items on the pavement in front of the houses and this seems to convey a sense of desperation that that owner really wants to get rid of the item as there is obviously more passing traffic in the roads than in the alleys. But yesterday on the way to work, at an extremely busy intersection near my home, I came across, from what I could see from the car, a good sofa that had been dumped in the park between two bus stops. So now there might be another factor to consider – people driving their junk to some public place to dispose of it. The sofa might have been owned by someone living across the road, but then why wouldn’t they put it on the sidewalk outside their house, or in their alley?

One of the profs at the university where I work was quite interested to see the photos that I had taken so far and she remarked that it would be really interesting to write a story about each piece of furniture (she is a creative writer), so maybe we can collaborate down the line on this later.

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]

Assignment 5 – Idea 2 – Life is Scrap

Just a quick posting for some feedback on a possible idea for Assignment 5. I am amazed at the way our society just throws stuff out – sometimes perfectly serviceable items. What further amazes me and has for the twenty years I’ve been living here is that no much effort is made to sell on the unwanted item. Yes, there are garage sales here, but it seems that whatever is left over on that day is relegated to the sidewalk ‘free for the taking’.  Behind the houses in the alleys even more items appear and there is an unwritten rule here that if the thing is in the alley you can take it if you want it.

Yesterday I drove around for only an hour and took photos of found objects in the alleys (see contact sheets below). Before I get too involved in this project I would like to hear back from my peers to see if this has some potential. If I go forward with this as my assignment, I will obviously flesh out the notions of the throw-away society that we have become and the resultant consequences.

Life is Scrap Contact Sheet 1
Life is Scrap Contact Sheet 2


Assignment 5 – Back to the Drawing Board

Well it seems that the fates have conspired against me! I have now been forced to go back to the drawing board for my assignment 5. Mother Nature has intervened! At the moment there are about 138 forest fires burning in British Columbia and the location of these fires range anything from 300 to 600 kms distance from Vancouver. You’d think that wouldn’t affect me right? Not so – the winds have changed, and a high pressure belt is sitting tucked in tight and all that smoke has now blanketed Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. It is unbelievable just how thick it is. I live at the foot of one of the local ski slopes and I cannot even see the mountain anymore.  There is no way I can try my original ideas under these conditions.

Photo on the left on a regular day; photo on the right with smoke

As you can see from the photo on the right the mountain is no longer visible. If I was doing the Landscape module now this would be perfect for the sublime exercises :-). The sun is also completely blanketed and appears as a small fuzzy orange blob in the sky – barely visible. Its all very apocalyptic and extremely eerie. Any night photography renders the sky orange, as I found out last night. I’m not even going to mention the respiratory dangers this smoke is causing. Our air quality index is currently standing at 7 which is extremely high.

I have just read a news article that the substation that supplies power to Vancouver and Vancouver Island could be in danger as well. I’m not going to think about those repercussions just yet … but if I do go silent you’ll all know why.


Assignment 5 – Planning – Call for Peer Review

I’ve been out and have had fun experimenting with the multiple exposures for my assignment. At this point, I’m just playing, seeing where the images lead me, but am very broadly (at the moment) aiming towards something in the line of “the effect of commodification on recreation” or “the effect of industrialization on nature”. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but something is lurking there in my brain about this. Maybe encroachment would be a better term than effect. But as I said I’m still working on finding the hook.

I want to ensure that each image is textured by some natural element, e.g. water/sand, etc. The colour palette is quite different from the images that I made in Mexico – altogether much softer there, even though I was shooting in bright sunlight (see my initial Assignment 5 planning page). I think it is the dark green mountains that are affecting my colour palette here and of course the sea isn’t as turquoise as in Mexico (can you tell I’m still in holiday mode?).

Any way, I would be very grateful for some feedback, while I’m searching for other locations to shoot. Many thanks.

Contact Sheet 1
Contact Sheet 2








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]

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]