Tag Archives: Les Monaghan

Les Monaghan and Gillian Wearing

Les Monaghan’s oevre, The Desire Project, is quite similar in concept to Gillian Wearing’s Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say Not What Others Want You To Say. Both bodies of work reflect the thoughts and concerns of the subjects. Both Wearing and Monahan’s work encompasses the public vs private persona of the individual. However, where Wearing has chosen to photograph her subjects in a variety of places – on the streets, in alleys, in the malls, Monaghan has chosen to photograph his subjects in about four consistent locations which lends more of a coherence to the work. He has also photographed all his subjects from a lower angle so that they are looking down at him slightly, which seems to empower them. This was further emphasised in the exhibition which was held in the Frenchgate Centre in Doncaster where the prints which were enlarged to almost life-size and hung high on the shopping mall’s walls.

Monaghan’s images are captioned with answers to one question posed to them, namely, “What do you want?” The answers to this question range quite a bit, but most people just want happiness, peace, health and a better world.

“Political and societal changes have rendered us all as individual consumers, those portrayed have been photographed alone, but when exhibited they are grouped together and their desires for health, happiness and a better world coalesce.

“We want the same things, we want to get along, we want to be social, we want community.”

Les Monaghan, BBC News

Gillian Wearing made her first major work in a busy area of South London. She stopped pedestrians and requested them to write down what was on their mind and with photographed them holding their statement.

As indicated by the title of the work, Wearing has written that this collaboration ‘interrupts the logic of photo-documentary and snapshot photography by the subjects’ clear collusion and engineering of their own representation.’

Gillian Wearing (Tate)

Wearing made her series in the 1990’s when economic conditions were quite different to what they are now and this is reflected in the thoughts written on the signs. Back then there was no social media and the ordinary man in the street didn’t really have a public voice. In making her body of work Wearing affords the man or woman in the street of whatever class or station in life, an opportunity to voice their concerns.

By Gillian Wearing

There is a feeling of randomness running through Wearing’s work. This is probably due to the variety of poses, crops and background that occur in her work. I can see now why my tutor has been urging me to try and keep the same shooting format and distance as I do think it makes for a cleaner presentation.

Reference List

Coombes, Phil (2016). The Desire Project: What Do You Want? [online] BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures-36132932 [Accessed 10 May, 2017]

Gartenfeld, Alex (2012). Gillian Wearing [online] Interview Magazine. Available at: http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/london-gillian-wearing/ [Accessed 10 May, 2017]

Wearing, Gillian (1992-3). Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say [online] Tate. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wearing-signs-that-say-what-you-want-them-to-say-and-not-signs-that-say-what-someone-else-66092/2 [Accessed 10 May, 2017]



Assignment 3 – Tutor Feedback

My tutor and I had a Skype session for my Assignment 3 feedback. Overall it was slightly better than I had expected. My comments are in italics below.

She mentioned that my initial idea of workplace politics and an approach informed by Brian Griffin have merit, but my edit wasn’t cohesive and I need to hone my conceptual ideas.

I totally agree with this statement. I had struggled with the edit and with the shoot and reshoots as well.

She suggested taking the images and focusing on the behaviour of women in the workplace because making this a gendered body of work could create layers of meaning. Potential readings might include women within the workplace as a mirror of myself (or as multiple selves); relations between women in the workplace, performances and identities of women in the workplace; gender equality within the workplace (glass ceiling, etc).

I did have a good chuckle when my tutor suggested removing all the men from the series as “they weren’t doing anything anyway”. I think maybe I may have been trying to be too representative to all the various groups on campus i.e. faculty, all departments, student groups, instead of focusing on something which was in retrospect emerging in my work, namely the female colleagues. I have a few more ideas floating around in my head which I think will be able to bring more cohesion to the series.

My tutor mentioned my strongest visual are:

  • Fig 20 – the lighting in this image is cinematic. Combined with the pose it creates a narrative and she positioned it within the context of Hannah Starkey and Philip Lorca di Corcia.

I was very pleased to receive the feedback on this image, because I almost didn’t include it in the series as it was repeated image of the same colleague. I agree the lighting is amazing. Our staff kitchen has these jam jar lights which hang over the counters and create wonderful pools of light which are extremely atmospheric.

  • Fig 14 – my tutor mentioned that this image would have been must stronger had my colleague who was standing had a deadpan facial expression.  She also suggested that I step back so that more of the office and desk could be seen. She liked the uneasy pose of the subject who was standing and the power dynamics and hierarchies at play in this image.

I am pleased that the power dynamics came through in this image because that is what I was aiming for. In fairness to my colleague, she is lucky to have one of those mouths that turn up at the corners even when she is serious. But I have informed my two colleagues that I want to reshoot this image and will hopefully managed to get her to engage in an extremely serious expression.

  • Fig 12 – my tutor mentioned that this image also has potential, but she would prefer to see a disengagement with the camera and more of her office space.

I do have an image of her looking down at her computer and which also shows more of her office space, so will include that in the rework.

  • DSC5102 from my contact sheet – my tutor said there was real merit in this image, but my colleague on the left was not making eye contact with the camera and was half smiling again. The image would be stronger if she was also looking into the camera. The tightness of the office space, the blandness and the paraphernalia work in this image and the positioning of the subjects are good.

In defense of my colleagues I had asked the two at the back to look in different directions, as in the work of Brian Griffin, but the one on the right looked into the lens just as I pressed the shutter. However, I do see my tutor’s point and will reshoot this one with a bit more interaction.

  • DSC5249 and DSC4839 were also mentioned as potential interesting images.

DSC5249 is an image of students preparing food for an event on campus, while DSC4839 is a candid image that I fired off from behind my desk of my assistant eating a muffin. I would have included that image in my final edit if the resolution had been decent. As it stands the focus is quite soft.

  • Fig 3 also had some potential in a Brian Griffin style.

I was a little hesitant about including this image as two of my colleagues were having the giggles posing for this image, possibly because they were being observed by a group of students. I may be able to reshoot this image, but won’t be able to do it with the same subjects as one of the ladies no longer works at the university. Perhaps I can substitute with senior student.

My tutor is happy with my coursework, evidencing of my research and analysis on my blog and finds that the blog is easy to navigate and demonstrates my learning journey.

She suggested that I look at Hannah Starkey and Philip Lorca diCorcia and also the work of Sarah Jones, particularly the uneasy looking young women in rooms.

I have looked at Philip Lorca diCorcia’s work before during assignment 2 and also in Context and Narrative (post here).  Hannah Starkey was also mentioned in my assignment 2 feedback and I also researched her in Context and Narrative (post here). Sarah Jones’s work I am not familiar with and I look forward to exploring her work.

Pointers for the next assignment

My tutor suggested that for the next assignment which makes use of text and visual, I should look at Les Monaghan’s Desire Project (in relation to this we also discussed my place of work, a university and the potential of photographing graduating students. this is an interesting event (transition) happening at an interesting point of their lives (a kind of coming of age), we talked about the relevance of Rineke Dijkstra’s work here).

When I had mentioned graduation to my tutor I had meant it as a possible source to supplement my assignment 3. I will be taking photos of the processional, students as they come off the stage and the recessional at graduation. There is also a flashmob that is performed each year, but I know I will be very hard pressed to extract serious, deadpan faces at this event. So I will have to see what transpires on the day. I did have a look at Rineke Dijkstra’s work while working through Julian Stallabrass’s journal article ‘What’s in a Face/? Blankness and Significance in Contemporary Art Photography’

Karen Knorr – the series Belgravia and Gentlemen

This work was suggested to me during assignment 1 and I thought I had done a write up on it, but it might have slipped my attention, so I will relook at Knorr’s work.

John Kippin

I’m not familiar with Kippin’s work so look forward to seeing how he combines text and images.

Helen Maurene Cooper’s, in her book Paint and Polish, positions text down the side of the page. http://www.onomatopee.net/project.php?progID=3aeacd7195c415e05a925c68cb7b9f50

Les Monaghan

My tutor advised me to take a look at OCA tutor, Les Monaghan’s work, who also happens to be her husband. The particular oeuvre she was referring to was his ongoing series on the RAF’s survival exercises. She provided a bit of a backstory which definitely helps in the interpretation of Monaghan’s images. Monaghan was granted permission to shoot the RAF during their survival exercises, but was not allowed to interact with them. The result is at times, quite poetic and at other times has an element of surveillance.

There are numerous blog entries on Monaghan’s blog about this work.  In Moortrek – July 2013 The images are dominated by tall trees as the exercises take place in the forest. The RAF trainees are at times difficult to discern due to the camouflage of their uniforms which lets them blend in seamless into the environment. This results in the viewer searching through the trees for clues. Sometimes the subject(s) is at quite a distance from the photographer and this invokes a feeling of nostalgia. A sense of anticipation develops within the viewer. These tiny figures so dwarfed by the massive trees convey a sense of awe and fatalistic resignation to the elements of nature.

From Moortrek July 2013 series by Les Monaghan Reproduced with permission from Les Monaghan
From Moortrek July 2013 series by Les Monaghan
Reproduced with permission from Les Monaghan

The images are quite dark as well, being shot in the forest. I could be wrong, but it seems that Monaghan mainly made use of natural light. Occasionally splashes of bright red from the survival equipment provide the only colour variance from the otherwise overwhelmingly greenish/black palette.

In contrast, Moortrek – December 2012 takes place during the winter, in snowy conditions. (See links below for photos as there are a few Moortrek – December 2012 entries). In these images the RAF trainees no longer blend in with the surroundings. The forest is no longer such a dark, mysterious place. The snow on the forest floor and trees has brightened the images and the RAF trainees are now quite visible in their outdoor surroundings.

From Moortrek December 2012 series by Les Monaghan Reproduced with permission from Les Monaghan
From Moortrek December 2012 series by Les Monaghan
Reproduced with permission from Les Monaghan

The mood changes in Moortrek – September 2012. There seems to be a more personal element emerging and this is confirmed in Monaghan’s statement: “As the training follows similar lines each time and I am not interested in a documentary enquiry, I am free to overlay my feelings on the scene.” It is interesting to notice that in the earlier images in the Moortrek series – those of 2011 – the photographer is closer to the trainees. He is almost participating in their activities, but not quite. As the years go by, he seems to distance himself more and more from the troops, and a more personal nuance begins to become apparent in the work.

From Moortrek August 2011 series by Les Monaghan Reproduced with permission from Les Monaghan
From Moortrek August 2011 series by Les Monaghan
Reproduced with permission from Les Monaghan

Les Monaghan directed me to the statement which accompanies this body of work, which I am posting below (click on statement to enlarge). I particularly like the dual format: the bold text of each word beginning the line serves as the title to the work if read vertically, while the horizontal text forms a free form poem about the work.

monaghan-current-conflicts-statementI really do like this work and am trying to think how this approach might work in my assignment. I think it might be rather difficult as office spaces (which is where my location is) are usually quite cramped and restricting, but there might be a few instances where I can apply some of these techniques. I’ll keep an open mind. Of course over the course the ten years that I have been working at the university I have taken hundreds of photos of staff, faculty and students, but unfortunately will not be able to use any of those images. But it might be worth considering doing a side project by using the archive at a later stage.

Reference List

Monaghan, Les (2012) Moortrek – September 2012 [online] Available at: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2012/11/more-images-from-september-moortrek.html [Accessed 17 January, 2017]


Monaghan, Les (2013) Moortrek – July 2013 [online] Available at: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2013/07/moortrek-july-2013.html [Accessed 17 January,  2017]

Monaghan, Les (2012) Moortrek – December 2012 [online] Available at: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2012/12/moortrek-december-2012_2252.html [Accessed 17 January, 2017]

Monaghan, Les (2012) Moortrek – December 2012 [online] Available at:  http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2012/12/moortrek-december-2012_23.html [Accessed 17 January, 2017]

Monaghan, Les (2012) Moortrek – December 2012 [online] Available at: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2012/12/moortrek-december-2012.html [Accessed 17 January, 2017]

Monaghan, Les (2012) Moortrek – September 2012 [online] Available at: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2012/11/more-images-from-september-moortrek.html [Accessed 17 January, 2017]

Monaghan, Les (2012) Moortrek – September 2012 [online] Available at: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2012/11/moortrek-september-2012.html [Accessed 17 January, 2017]

Monaghan, Les (2011) Moortrek – August 2011 – trek [online] Available at: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2011/11/moortrek-august-2011-trek.html [Accessed 17 January, 2017]

Monaghan, Les (2011) Moortrek – March 2011 – first encounter [online] Available at: http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.ca/2011/11/moortrek-march-2011-first-encounter.html [Accessed 17 January, 2017]