Exercise 1.1 Historic Portrait

For this portrait, Beatrice Cenci, Julia Margaret Cameron drew her inspiration from Percy Shelley’s verse drama, The Cenci, A Tragedy, in Five Acts which was written in 1819. It is a tragic drama about a cruel father who physically abuses his daughter and tortures his family who in desperation plot his murder in order to free themselves from his tyranny. The family succeeds in their plot, but are almost immediately found out, put on trial and executed.

Cameron was frequently ridiculed for her out of focus portraits, the photographic establishment at the time insisting on technically correct and sharp photos. Cameron, however, was not deterred and insisted on making art and based a lot of her work on that of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, studying their lighting techniques. The portrait was made in 1866 during Cameron’s period of making life size, large heads photographs – her “historical and mythical images” (Gurshtein, 2007).  She used an 18″ x 22″ Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear lens with a focal length of 30″ and used f8 as an aperture. This concentration on the subject’s head meant that the background was out of focus thus rendering the portrait timeless. In defending her “out of focus” work Cameron stated in a letter to Sir John Herschel:

‘What is focus – and who has the right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?’

[Roberts, p55]

Study of Beatrice Cenci by Julia Margaret Cameron (1866)
Study of Beatrice Cenci by Julia Margaret Cameron (1866)

The styling of her subject was based on Guido Reni’s painting of Beatrice Cenci, seen below. The model for Cameron’s portrait was May Prinsep. In both renditions the subjects wear a turban, but Cameron’s Beatrice’s turban is loosely wound and the hair cascades in a rather disheveled state down to her shoulders, suggesting the turmoil that the poor girl must have suffered, also alluding to her sexuality. Loose hair during Victorian times was a symbol of female sexuality, hair usually worn bound up or covered with a cap. Her head is angled slightly to camera left, forming a diagonal across the frame. Cameron’s focus is on the camera left side of the subject’s face, which is shadowed, while the opposite side is slightly out of focus and well lit. Perhaps this duality in the lighting is representative of the suffering Beatrice Cenci went through.

In comparing Cameron’s Beatrice to Reni’s Beatrice, I find Reni’s Beatrice to be more defiant. She is gazing directly at the viewer with a pleading look in her eyes, yet at the same time there is an air of resignation about her gaze. Cameron’s Beatrice, on the other hand, does not make eye contact with the viewer at all. Her eyes are downcast and turned to camera left, forcing us into her dark side, enhancing the sense of foreboding. There is tremendous sadness in her expression, one can feel her heartbreak.  One senses that her spirit is broken. The soft focus surrounding her head seems to pull her backwards into the frame, like a slow whirlpool, gradually erasing her, just as she faces her death sentence. This portrait just oozes emotion.

Beatrice Cenci by Guido Reni
Beatrice Cenci by Guido Reni
Reference List

Beatrice Cenci [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Margaret_Cameron [Accessed 5 May, 2016]

Gurshtein, Ksenya A. (2007) The Mountain and the Mole-hill: Julia Margaret Cameron’s Allegories [online]. The University of Michigan Museums of Art and Archeology Bulletin Volume 17. Available at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bulletinfront/0054307.0017.101?view=text;rgn=main [Accessed 5 May, 2016]

Reni, Guido, Beatrice Cenci [online] Bukowskis. Stockholm. Available at: https://www.bukowskis.com/en/auctions/S192/434-guido-reni-efter-beatrice-cenci [Accessed 5 May, 2016]

Roberts, Pam (1992) ‘Julia Margaret Cameron: A Triumph over Criticism’ In: Clarke, Graham (ed.) The Portrait in Photography. London: Reaktion Books Ltd. pp. 47-70.

Bibliography

Clarke, Graham (1997). The Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press

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Exercise The Square Mile

The Brief:

In our earliest years we know a patch of ground in a detail we will never know anywhere again – site of discovery and putting names to things – people and places – working with difference and similitude – textures, smells – also of play, imagination, experiment – find the best location for doing things – creating worlds under our own control, fantasy landscapes.

(Professor Mike Pearson)

There is a concept within Welsh culture called Y Filltir Sgwar (The Square Mile), described above by Professor Mike Pearson. It is the intimate connection between people and their childhood ‘home’ surroundings.

Make a series of 6-12 photographs in response to this concept. You may wish to re-trace places you know very well, examining how they might have changed; or if you’re in a new environment you may wish to … explore your new surroundings and meet some of the people around you.

You may wish to explore the concept further, or you may deviate from this … focus on architecture and landscape … Try to make your final set of photographs ‘sit’ together as a series to communicate your idea. Give your photographs titles or write short captions if you wish.


Well, I could definitely not visit any childhood surrounds as they are over 16,000 km away from where I am now, so that concept was immediately nixed. I know my surrounds in my new city where I live pretty well and have seen many changes over the twenty years that I have been here in Vancouver.

However, ever since we made the move to Canada, I have been continuously fascinated by the concept of the alleys that run between the houses on a block, giving access to the back yards. This is something quite foreign to South Africans. You tend to have a driveway off the street and your neighbour’s backyard abuts yours.

In walking the streets during snowfalls one becomes disoriented, and can quite easily end up in one of the alleys.

It has always been a source of fascination to me to see that the front of the house that is presented to the “public” is usually well kept, tidy and neat, while the back yard and more precisely the area bordering on the alley can very often be the exact opposite of the “public” image. All sorts of disrepair abound. Fences are rotted and hang higgledy-piggledy all over the place. Unwanted items line the alley, waiting for a passerby to come and take them away. Moss overruns roof tiles and some old garages just need a big bad wolf to huff and puff and blow them down. Every alley is a potential playground for the local children.

Of course there are the houses that have the same “public” image in their back yard that they do in the front. But those back yards are not as interesting. I find them more bland and sterile. Perhaps it is their predictability that disinterests me.

Lately the neighbourhood is undergoing a rapid change. Old houses are being demolished and huge, new million dollar homes are going up in their places. The historical homes are fast becoming a thing of the past. (A historical home is classified as anything from 50 – 80 years here in Vancouver). Any wooden structure that survives past 80 years in this wet climate is just a mould trap.

In traversing the alleys around my home, one does come across some amusing situations, a few of which I have included below. This then is my Square Mile of Backyards as Seen from the Alley.

Brooms, snow shovels, moss and logs
Brooms, snow shovel, moss, logs, trashcans and composter
Mystery object under tarp secured with logs and crate
Mystery object under tarp secured with logs and crate
Wash basin anyone?
Wash basin anyone?
No speeding in the lane
No speeding in the lane
Hot house in the alley
Hot house in the alley
Owner is long gone
Owner is long gone
The builders only have to climb a three foot wall to use these facilities
The builders only have to climb a three foot wall to use these facilities
Little honey bee
Little honey bee
Three free chairs
Three free chairs
House demolished - time for new development
House demolished – time for new development
Straining to stay upright with this load
Straining to stay upright with this load

Since completing this exercise I have come across Michael Wolf’s work on the back alleys in Hong Kong in which he has documented typologies of the ephemera found in these alleys. His images are quirky and humerous. His subject matter ranges from mops, rubber gloves to clothing blown onto neon signs to broken chairs. The images abound in bright colours, imparting a playful impression on the viewer. How can we take these banal items seriously anyway?

Bibliography

Wolf, Michael (n.d.) Hong Kong Trilogy [online]. LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/michael-wolf-hong-kong-trilogy [Accessed 8 May, 2016]

Reflection Point – Social Media

I was so looking forward to watching the Grayson Perry series Who are You, but sadly it seems that I am unable to access that content from Canada. I was only able to watch this  3 minute introduction from the National Portrait Gallery’s Youtube feed, which doesn’t really offer any information that is not already mentioned in the course manual.

According to the course manual, Perry sets about getting to know his ten subject by interviewing them, visiting them and their communities to find out what makes them tick. This is all under the umbrella of research which is crucial to achieving a strong outcome in one’s work.

For this reflection point we are asked the following:

If you have a social media picture, write a paragraph describing the ‘you’ it portrays. What aspects of yourself remain hidden?

For this exercise I am going to use one of my past social media photos. It was taken on a day when the whole family went ski-dooing for the first time. We had to wear full face helmets and goggles for some or other reason I found this terribly claustrophobic. I also struggled to breathe with the goggles as the padding felt as if it was constricting my sinuses. This photo definitely does not show my personality at all. I mean I look more like Darth Vader for goodness sake! Only my eyes are visible and portion of my frozen nose. What this photo probably does convey is the hidden trepidation I was feeling on this whole outing.

Past Social Media Profile
Past Social Media Profile

If you were to construct a more ‘accurate’ portrait of yourself, including various aspects of who you are, what would you choose to include? How might you visualise these things?

Try creating a new, more honest, self-portrait.

I am a very friendly person, for the most part a little introverted, but when the mood strikes me I can be rather extroverted. Obviously I would choose to open up my facial features so that my personality comes more to the fore. I’ve often referred to myself as being a WYSIWYG gal – what you see is what you get. I am not pretentious. I have unruly curly hair, which at my age I have given up on – it must do its own thing. I believe the eyes are key to expressing personality and my visualisation would take place around those areas. But there is that word again – self-portrait. Really difficult to take a decent photo of oneself I always feel. Here is one I took just recently, after a trip to the hairdresser.

New Social Media Photo
New Social Media Photo

 

Reference List

Grayson Perry: Who Are You? [vidcast, online] National Portrait Gallery 13/11/2014. 3 mins 30 secs.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oym9gw_u_L8 (accessed 23 April, 2016)

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

This vast collection of photos ranging from the 1860s to the 1920s was on exhibition at the Presentation House Gallery in North Vancouver.  It is an archive of rarely viewed images which were donated to the University of British Columbia by the Langmann family.

The photographs document the pioneering history of British Columbia, touching on political events, land surveys, logging camps, First Nations people and their displacement and city life. Roughly sixty years of historical documentary photography were on display.

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

I was amazed at the quality of the photographs. All probably taken with large format cameras and showing incredible detail. Some of the key photographers included Frederick Dally, Charles Horetzky, Charles McMunn, Hannah and Richard Maynard, Ben Leeso, Edward Curtis and Leonard Frank. There was even a large format camera in one of the rooms.

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection | Daguerreotypes and Carte de visites
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection | Daguerreotypes and Carte de visites

The highlight for me was a display of beautiful colour daguerrotypes and carte de visites. The two sets of daguerrotypes were quite unlike any that I have seen before. Their colours soft and satiny, they lay in their velvet cases like precious jewels – which they undoubtedly are! It was also interesting to see the cartes de visite on display. I had no idea that they were actually so big and quite elaborate. Some had rounded corners, others had round or oval vignettes and some had borders. They must have been quite the collector’s items in the high society of that time. The carte de visite was used as a calling card and was indicative of one’s status and social class. E.A. McCauley states in Train Your Gaze (p 96) that “people of rank, whose names might or might not be recognized, visited other people of rank, who demanded to know the identity of the caller before admitting him into their homes.”

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

Nanitch means “to look” in Chinook jargon – the trade language of the Pacific Northwest at that time. Questioning colonialist narratives of progress, the exhibition emphasizes the contradictions of settlement.

Presentation House Gallery

It was incredibly interesting to see photographs of the city of Vancouver. A view of from one of our oldest hotels over a street, which today is one of our extremely busy main streets, lined with designer shops and high rises, shows a view of wide open spaces, a boardwalk and a couple of double storey homes and a view to the mountains. It is rather amazing to see how much the city has changed, but yet in certain ways has still stayed the same. It is still a harbour and logging city. There are still immigrants arriving on the shores, so has the tide of colonisation been stemmed? The face of society has changed, becoming more multicultural. Industrial ventures still continue, gentrification is taking place within the inner city, commerce and political events still occur – the products and topics might have changed though and the inequities of the indigenous peoples’ displacement are still concerns which need to be addressed. With our history laid out before us, do we ever really take the time to look, deeply examine the past and learn from our mistakes? Nanitch!

Reference List

Angier, Roswell (2015). Train Your Gaze | A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography. London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Capture Photography Festival. (2016) Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection. North Vancouver: Presentation House Gallery and the University of British Columbia Library.

Mirrored Explosions | Sanaz Mazinani

Mirror reflections have multifarious interpretations: some view the image as objective truth, while others identify its inherent reversal as proof of the mirror’s deception or illusion. Mirrors confine and frame the visible, although they may also exaggerate it infinitely — for example, when two mirrors face each other.

Pantea Haghighi, 2016

Sanaz Mazinani is an artist, curator, and educator who is based in San Francisco and Toronto. She has an undergraduate degree from Ontario College of Art & Design University, and a Masters in Fine Arts from Stanford University and has exhibited in Toronto, Zurich, San Francisco and Dubai.

In this body of work she addresses perceptions of war. Her intricate collages are more like scuptures hanging on a wall than photographs – not one rectangular or square frame to be see! Indeed upon entering the Museum the very first image one sees is an image which resembles the shape of the underbelly of a stealth bomber airplane.

Image in Mirrored Explosions exhibition by Sanaz Mazinani
Image in Mirrored Explosions exhibition by Sanaz Mazinani

Mazinani uses found images of war and political unrest sourced from the internet to make her collages. By duplicating and mirroring the components of her collages in a kaleidoscopic format, she creates intricate patterns drawn from her Persian heritage. The attention to detail is very evident.

Dark Explosion, 2011 by Sanaz Mazinani
Dark Explosion, 2011 by Sanaz Mazinani

She juxtaposes images of war in the Middle East with images of political protest; images of George W Bush and Bill Clinton; fighter jets with terrorists thereby jarring us our of our comfort zones and forcing us to look closely. The collages are small so one really has to zoom in and look at the structures very closely in order to make out the details and it is this realisation when the penny drops of what the collage actually consists of that stops the viewer in his/her tracks.

Redacted March, 2011 by Sanaz Mazinani
Redacted March, 2011 by Sanaz Mazinani

Mazinani ruptures our modes of observation, forcibly asking: How does an image’s mediation affect moral or political judgments? To what extent are these images real to us? How can the implications of war be more visibly, and tangibly, understood through representation?

Pantea Haghighi, 2016

Fireworks and Howitzer, 2014 by Sanaz Mazinani
Fireworks and Howitzer, 2014 by Sanaz Mazinani

Sanaz Mazinani states in a prior artist’s statement where some of these images were exhibited as part of the Frames of the Visible project:

I use the semiotics of pattern to re-mediate images drawn from the mediascape, and intervene into the very perspectival frames of vision. Creating a space to reflect on popular media’s representation of warfare and deliver a message on the complex and woven relationships that demonstrate the nature of modern existence in a globalized world.

Sanaz Mazinani

Some of the detail of her collages can be seen on her website. I was in awe of this work. It is so creative and painstakingly performed and at the same time so deceptive. And that brings us back to the age old question of what is truth in photography?

I came across an interesting video clip of Sanaz Mazinani explaining some of her work and I include it below for some extra insight into her work.

Reference List

Haghighi, Pantea (2016). Mirrored Explosions | Sanaz Mazinani. West Vancouver: West Vancouver Museum

Art + Activism with Sanaz Mazinani | KQED Arts (2015) KQED Art [School online] Creat. by Wanak, J; Farr, K; Williams, M; Brown, J.  30 June 2015. 5 mins 23 secs. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTp_nLgcPyU [Accessed 19 April, 2016]

Chris Shepherd: Constructs

Rounding off my tour of exhibitions last week was Chris Shepherd’s Constructs which is on show at the Bau-Xi Gallery on Granville Street.  It was another set of abstract work.

Shepherd’s images are the result of photographing something, then cutting, tearing, shredding or folding the print, rearranging it in another form and rephotographing it. He explains his methods in his wall text which was so helpful and a great learning tool.

Memory, nostalgia, documentation and other established tropes of the medium become secondary to the form and object, opening a dialogue about what an image is and what it means.

Chris Shepherd

Some of the images that I really was drawn to were his Bowie Sky images. He explains that the day after David Bowie passed away, he was out walking with his camera and he started to talk photos of the sky overhead. Upon returning to the studio he printed the images, arranged them in a sort of shuffled pattern, then photographed it (Bowie Sky Cubed). His other Bowie Sky Stripped image was made by slicing the photograph by hand using a ruler and utility knife – rather like large shreds, the rearranging the order and photographing again. When looking at the image one almost gets the impressing of movement from the way the strips have been arranged. His final image (Bowie Sky Stripped and Formed) was made by taking the strips he had used for the previous photograph, curling them and arranging them into a ball and then photographing the end result. I think this image was my favourite as there seems to be a bit of a mystery to this intricately formed ball of print strips. More of his work can be seen on his website.

Sky Crumpled, 2016 and Bowie Sky Stripped and Formed, 2016 by Chris Shepherd
Sky Crumpled, 2016 and Bowie Sky Stripped and Formed, 2016 by Chris Shepherd

This method of deconstructing an existing photograph and constructing a sculpture or another image from the result is incredibly interesting. But the economical me shudders to think of the cost of the prints that get destroyed in order to create another image. Reading Shepherd’s blog is extremely enlightening. His blog reads like a diary, documenting his processes and learning as he creates his images.

Reference List

Chris Shepherd [online]. Available at: http://chrisshepherd.net/ [Accessed 19 April, 2016]

Update 24 April, 2016

Photographer, Chris Shepherd stopped by my blog today and was kind enough to leave a comment on my review on the comments link above.

Scream the Exhibition

I came across this exhibition quite by accident as it was in the Mainspace gallery right next to the Grunt Gallery where I was viewing another exhibition. So while I was there anyway I decided to check it out.

Wendy D (that seems to be the name she goes by) is a professional photographer, based in Vancouver, Canada.

The room was literally plastered ceiling to floor (almost)  with 5 x 7 prints in black and white of people screaming followed by their reaction afterwards. Photographer Wendy D states that this project was initiated by a fellow artist who felt the need to scream and she took the photograph. This was her inspiration to start this 10 year long project in which she has documented over 200 people. “That got me thinking about the complexities of scream both as an individual act and the constraints society imposes on the expression of it”, she states on her website. The exhibition could almost be classified as a typology of the scream.

It is really interesting to view the different expressions on people’s faces as they scream and then the hilarity that follows the release of the pent up frustration. The different muscles that are engaged in the body when a person screams are also worth noting. Tendons bulge in the neck, straining to break free, muscles bunch in the chest and arms. Frown marks appear creasing the skin, while eyebrows bunch together or move skyward on the facial planes.

Scream the exhibition by Wendy D
Scream the exhibition by Wendy D

In contrast, once that release is out, the subjects erupt into laughter and the facial muscles soften the contours of their faces. The mood changes instantaneously. The person is relaxed. Some subjects really get into the experiment, while others are a little more contained in their screams, and this is really evident when looking at the laughing image afterwards. Those who gave the scream their all, ended up laughing more too.

This was a fun and very lighthearted exhibition to view delivering many chuckles as we went around the room.

Reference List

Wendy D (2016) Scream the exhibition (online) Available at: http://www.wendyd.ca/scream-the-exhibition/ [Accessed 18 April, 2016]