A fellow student posted a link in our Facebook group to this video of Laura El-Tantawy’s In the Shadow of the Pyramids.
My recent reading has focused on the connection between memory and photography and I’ve also been thinking increasingly about the shared indexicality of photography and sound recordings (including music). El-Tantawy’s work expresses the power of the combining the two media wonderfully.
I took a few hours out to explore the internet for photographers working with self-portraiture; to increase my awareness of popular photography in this genre, which is unknown territory for me, and for inspiration and ideas for my upcoming assignment.
The references section provides links to websites featuring the work that most interested me. Here are brief notes on each of the artists and my take on their work:
Brooke Shaden – composites using her own image in fantasy landscapes. Highly textured post-processing giving the impression of oil paintings / book illustrations. Fantasy-pictorialist? I think a cross-over between graphic art and photography.
Robert Bradley’s blog post suggest ways of thinking about self-portraiture and references a few photographers who publish on the web. In summary, put what it is you want to say about yourself before the image.
Brian Oldham’s ‘selected works’ show himself composited within unlikely images. Again there is an element of fantasy to this work.
De-milked features the work of 14 year old Zev – who uses composites to place miniature versions of himself into scenes – like a Gulliver’s Travels adventure. My impression is that the photos in the composites are carefully shot to ensure a degree of consistency, rather than placed in ‘fantasy’ Photoshop constructs.
Flavor-wire provides a round-up of famous photographers’ self-portraits taken in mirrors. Pre-digital, pre electronic-gizzmos!
Kyle Thompson’s work features himself within surreal narratives.
Mariell Amélie own work places her-self in various scenes, landscape an interiors. She adds human content and a sense scale to the landscapes she photographs.
Shaun O’Hagan, the Guardian’s renowned photography critic, gives his take on the 10 best photographic self-portraits.
Rosie Hardy shares on her website some of the images from her 365 day self-portraits. These are glamour/fantasy images that don’t tell us much about Rosie Hardy.
Roni River’s website tells us she uses self-portraits to help her step out of her ‘safety zone’ and overcome her anxieties.
Joel Tjintjelaar shares his top-10 self-portraits; not only photographers. Self-portraiture in particular seems to lend itself well to inspiration across media.
Vivien Maier’s self-portraits are studies of herself in reflections – mirrors, windows and anything that reflects!
Zang’s blogpost tells us about a 65-year-old female photographer who uses her own image in recreations of famous paintings.
Photographic self-portraiture takes a large variety of forms, with a range of motivations. Much of it may have questionable value as art, but nonetheless create visual spectacles.
In the feedback from my last assignment, I was encouraged to look at the work of Jason Evans. Specifically, his recent book NYLPT (New York London Paris Tokyo) that includes multiple-exposure pieces alongside music (music was the theme in my assignment). I also looked at some of his web-published work.
NYLPT is about ‘chance’ overlays during multiple exposures – Macbooks’ website includes a pdf with some examples of the images. Evan’s approach to the work seems to echo that of music making – in the background there is skill and experience, but the work itself appears improvised and left to chance. There is not too much detailed forethought to what is shot. But it works, just as an improvised solo from a skilled musician works.
The Daily Nice is a website that features a new photo everyday that pleases Evans in some way. The photos are taken with a snapshot camera – Evans doesn’t own a smart-phone and ‘likes to keep his technologies separate’. There are no words, no explanations, no links. Evan’s reflects on 10 years of running the site in an interview with It’s Nice That website. He is refreshing direct in his dialogue:
The filters on Instagram and other similar sites could be seen as exercises in turd polishing and then there’s the nostalgia.
The concept is simple – to remind Evans to keep looking for things everyday that are nice to photograph. I like it, not over-thought, not over-polished, just captured.
Evans’s own website is an interesting puzzle – no explanations or social media sharing, but a page of recent photos and a biographical page. The puzzling thing is as you flick between the two pages, the images change each time – slightly disorientating, but a nice surprise. Somehow the images are banal, yet captivating; just thrown together without careful presentation, like a scrap-book. A refreshing change from over-polished presentation. Perhaps like unpolished music can be a refreshing change from over-polished ‘turds’!
Here I continue to explore the concept of ‘relay’ between a photograph and text. I consider two pieces of work Sophie Calle’s ‘take care of yourself’ and Sophy Rickett’s ‘objects in the field’, reflecting on their postmodern approaches to narrative.
The spark for Calle’s work was a ‘dear jane’ letter she received, putting an end her relationship with a boyfriend. She describes the story in the Guardian’s podcast. Her work was to ask 107 women, with different professional perspectives, to respond to the letter. The responses are multimedia and include photographs, video, music and even a cross-word. It is a multiple relay, with each visual referencing the same letter. Tate shots gives a good indication of how the work must have appeared in exhibition. It seems a somewhat chaotic jumble of media – the sight and sound of 107 responses all received simultaneously – extreme relay. It is very difficult to respond to such a piece of work without viewing it first hand as it doesn’t lend itself to the small screen. A question asked of Calle was whether the purpose of the work was to shame her ex-partner, which she dismisses as not the case. There is a jumbled, post-modern narrative in the work – over one hundred characters responding in their own ways to a single protagonist’s dear Jane letter. There is no single media or tangible piece of work we can view or hold, it is more of an experience that needs to be attended. There is no single narrative, but multiple stories provided by everyone who contributes to the work. There is a strong sense of co-authorship; the artist’s work is the work of others.
Similarly to Calle, Sophie Rickett’s work is derived from the work of another person; in this case an astronomer who took photos of the sky using a telescope for research purposes. The Photographer’s Gallery blog explains the work and reproduces the text that accompanied the pictures. The text is not centred on the story of the making of the images themselves, but a montage of Rickett’s memories and associations as she completed the work, starting with her childhood recollection of an eye test (connection to telescopic optics). The relay between the images and the text works through the associations made by the artist. I feel that the text helps me to experience the pictures as the artist has experienced the work, derived from images captured by someone else.
Looking at this work is helping me to expand my appreciation of what art can be; though I am not yet completely sold on this approach to art and need more stretching to move beyond the tradition of an artist creating unique work with her own abilities. Perhaps I am of the generation that has grown up in the post-modern era and feel nostalgia for what seemed like simpler, more certain ways of living and culture, when it was not easily possible to steal music.
I was encouraged to look at the work of Nicky Bird, which she generously shares on her own website. Her website explains that her work:
investigates the contemporary relevance of found photographs, and hidden histories of specific sites, investigating how they remain resonant. She has explored this through photography, bookworks, the Internet and New Media. In varying ways she incorporates new photography with oral histories, genealogy, and collaborations with people who have a significant connection to the original site, archive or artefact,
I spent some time looking at Bird’s project, Beneath the surface / hidden place, and the video interviews explaining the work. The work was made in close collaboration with owners of old family snapshots, which were subsequently juxtaposed on images of the same locations in the present day. This struck me as a variation on rephotography (explored here) – not showing the difference between then and now, but the then set within the context of now. For Bird, a significant part of the work seems to be the engagement of the community with the past and the change that has brought the present.
Bird’s photos themselves are straight and banal, with the visual interest dependent on the concept of combining the present with the past in a transparent collage. They are the exploration of a concept through photography and, from the video, it sounds that photographer and her collaborators had fun in their making.
I was encouraged to look at Mark Klett’s rephotography work, following my C&N A1 project, in which I’d aimed to use the same scenes at different times to tell different fictional stories.
Klett’s work serves as an introduction to rephotography for me. The process: ‘”rephotographs” were made from the originals’ vantage points with as much precision as possible. Every attempt was also made to duplicate the original photographs’ lighting conditions, both in time of day and year. (Third View). Klett mentions that ‘repeat photographs’ were practiced as early as the 1960s by scientists but that the RSP project was the first to do so in an art context.
The BBC’s website features Colin Prior (a landscape photographer) explaining how to go about a rephotograph. He explains it simply as, Rephotography is the act of taking a new version of an existing photograph to create a “then and now” view of a location. The two images can then be compared, highlighting what has changed and what has remained the same.
Davidson’s handbook includes an in-depth chapter on rephotography, including its historic uses, useful techniques to locate sites, and case studies. He discusses its use in showing change:
Changes in the landscape, due to man’s activities
Changes in cultures, customs and ways of living
Changes in the environment and vegetation
Changes in the urban landscape
I’ve sometimes looked at the old photographs in my village pub and wondered how it would be to take photos of the same scenes today – I now know that there is a name for that area of photography, ‘rephotography’.
Liz Wells provides a case study, Benetton, Toscani and the Limits of Advertising, to draw out strategies for the analysis of commercial photography. She discusses Toscani’s work with Benetton from 1984 onwards and how it crossed into the realms of the art world by trying to reach beyond the usual purpose of eye-catching spectacle.
The strategies for analysis include:
Commercial impact – the success of the advertising campaigns and imagery representative of harmony (‘the united colours of Benetton’) in helping Benetton become a global brand.
Process of production – this refers to Benetton’s own operations and activities in making its products and contrasts them with the message of harmony presented in its adverts; summarised as cheap labour and restricting competition through engagement in trade tariffs, limiting availability of cheap materials for competitors.
The narrative of the images: in this case, the use of shock advertising to spark controversy and attention in the popular press, through ‘pseudo-documentary’ images. The Telegraph online shows some of these images in controversial Benetton ads in pictures. As does the Daily Mail, showing Benetton’s digitally manipulated images of world leaders apparently kissing (part of the ‘unhate’ advertising campaign).
Toscani himself was interviewed by CNN and asked about his controversial work, responding:
There are people who, when they look at a picture, they get angry at it. But they should get angry at themselves for not having the courage to look into the problem, … There isn’t such a thing as a shocking picture, there is shocking reality that is being reproduced through photography to the people who aren’t there.
Advert featuring man dying of AIDS
Toscani’s work has a different aesthetic to much advertising, which is often focused on portraying desirable lifestyles that can supposedly be attained through obtaining the advertised commodity. His work does not portray desirable states (for example dying of AIDS) but grabs attention through causing shock and courting controversy. Benetton’s products do not even feature in the adverts – just their name. We remember the brand name of Benetton and it has generated great wealth for its founders; Giuliana Benetton had a net worth of $2.8 billion (March 2015 Forbes.com).
Any inconsistency between the advertising message and the process of production is perhaps also part of broader issue relevant to Western society has a whole – many consumers are also culpable by buying lower priced products regardless of the process of production, forcing businesses to move production to low-cost locations, or go out of business.
On 20 November 2015, I attended a presentation by David Sault, a fine art photographer.
He discussed what he saw as the difference between fine art and contemporary photography; the former being more concerned with line, form, light and composition and the later with the expression of concepts.
He talked through different aspects of his work, including that he works in ‘portfolios’ or to different themes or ideas. He emphasised the importance of expressing an idea and having a reason for taking a photography – having the photography reflect your own vision.
It was interesting to hear how the work of artists (painters) inspired him – not that he attempted to mimic their style but took ideas from the concepts expressed in their work.
He showed some powerful images, which he’d used different processing techniques in Photoshop. These can seen on his website, along with some tips on using Photoshop.
I thoroughly enjoyed this BBC documentary on Andreas Feininger (1906-1999) and viewing his photography, particularly his use of telephoto lenses to shoot at a distance and capture the monumental scale of his subjects.
Some points of note:
He was one of the first to use telephoto, making his own camera around 1936 as it was too expensive to buy a lens.
He talked about standing further away to show monumental scale with a telephoto lens as it doesn’t distort the perspective of elements; they are kept in proportion. He discusses the use of different lenses for different purposes – giving an example of a wide-angle lens to exaggerate the perspective, and give a strong feeling of depth in a shot looking down on a skyscraper.
Feininger’s use of light is exquisite. He discusses how important it is particularly in b&w, using it to show different moods and aspects of same subject.
He has strong views that a photographic subject has to be unusual or eye catching otherwise he suggests they are boring (something that can be seen anywhere).
It is discussed how is work near to spirit of painting – it interprets the subject; not that it copies the painting. Also , how moment so important in photography (vs painting) as it can’t be changed afterwards.
BBC Master Photographers, Andreas Feininger (1983). Film editor Julian Miller (editor), Peter Adam (producer). [YouTube]. Available from:https://youtu.be/23UjjfnlDDc [accessed 21.11.15]
This is an interesting ASX interview – once I stopped laughing at the absurdly verbose opening question of the interviewer, which was so long it needed to be read from a script and left Graham switching off around three seconds in.
Stand-out points for me were:
Paul refusing to be pinned to any single interpretation of his work and simplification of human perception
An observation that we naturally see in shallow focus (which one can observe is true) and that deep depth of field is a trick of the camera lens. So Graham suggests that medium format street photography, full of detail, is interesting as it provides an opportunity to observe details we do not normally see. The observation also reminds me that if we want an audience to focus on a specific aspect of a photo we’d better keep a shallow depth of field (or other technique) or their natural senses are quickly overwhelmed by detail.
Graham’s straight forward use of language and explanation vs the interviewer’s ‘art-speak’ and poor questioning technique. Refreshing yet desperately disappointing that people believe that art-speak is any way to communicate. Including some reference to cinematic images that was particularly poorly articulated.
Graham talks about his use of space in exhibitions and how he likes to position the works depending on their original concept – for example a sequence in horizontal order. A place at disparate moments in time in vertical order.
Overall, a useful insight into Graham’s thinking best viewed at 1.5x speed to avoid distraction or boredom through the interviewers poor questioning technique.
ASX on YouTube (published 9.11.15). ASX speaks to Paul Graham on the occasion of his publication and exhibition, ‘The Whiteness of the Whale’. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuW_Vioovsg& [accessed 14.11.15]
Girard is one of France’s most important living photographers (L’Oeil). I was drawn to look into his work by his images and the commentary in Street Photography Now. Girard describes himself:
I am not a reporter. I prefer indefinite situations. My aim is to photograph the simple reality of things with both distance and empathy.
Girard’s photography appears carefully considered and composed using a medium-format camera (no shooting from the hip street photography here!). He works mostly in colour. His street photography gives us a view of a scene at a respectful distance; there are no close-up shots of strangers. The photos have a sense of calm and indeed show a version of reality that we might experience when walking in one of his spaces. They do not show extreme subjects or express irony just, as he puts it, simple reality.
His work Intelligent Landscapes and Blat’s excellent narrative provide further insight – there is nothing very decisive about the work but it show spaces for contemplation. They capture the spirit of the place and do not attempt to be sensational or present an aesthetic of beauty.
The idea of showing the ‘spirit’ of a place is an interesting perspective when often images of landscapes focus on the picturesque or spectacular.
Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813–75) is recognised as the farther of art photography; a genre that sees photographic style heavily influenced by painters and was predominant in the early years of photography as it tried to establish itself as art by mimicking art. Harding tells us that ‘He [Rejlander] favoured sentimental genre studies, narrative tableaux and portraits with a strong theatrical or emotional element’. This style was soon to be considered outdated, as straight photography took over.
Perhaps of more interest to contemporary photography is the fact that Rejlander pioneered techniques to combine negatives into a single image using combination printing. His most famous work, The Two Ways of Life, used over 30 separate negatives and took six weeks to produce (Becker). The simpler image below show the photographer introducing himself to himself.
The MFAH put on an exhibition, Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop, in which Rejlander’s work features. The notes to the exhibition explain:
Digitally altered photographs may be commonplace today, but they are nothing new. The ability to modify camera images is as old as photography itself—only the methods have changed. Tracing the practice from the 1840s through the 1980s, Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop shows that photography has always been a medium of fabricated truths and artful lies.
There is a book based on the exhibition, called Faking It. I’ve ordered a second-hand copy of this and look forward to exploring the pre-Photoshop works!
Contemporary Art photography has embraced the use of digital manipulation and stagings of scenes that are as significant a part of the process of image-making as the photography itself. Becker explains:
Fast-forward a century, however, and we’re back to debating what level of artifice and manipulation is acceptable in a photograph, and Rejlander’s work starts to seem, if a little less than ageless, intriguingly prescient.
Interesting times indeed. Perhaps straight photography’s grip is loosening as we are inundated with images from camera phones – photographs of the banal are everywhere, even if good ones are not.
I looked at the images from Sarah Pickering’s series Public Order and considered how they made me feel; and whether the series was an effective use of documentary, or misleading.
The context for the images had already been explained in the OCA’s C&N material, so it was not possible to view them fresh. I found nothing mysterious in the images – just the subject of a constructed scene; perhaps a film set or a construction for security or emergency services practice. The title of the work gives the subject away – public order is the police force. The photos provide information about the facility – some of the press reviews of the work (see website) reference post-modernism and how nothing is how it seems. I feel this is a stretch with this work, though I expect the perspective is based on one’s life experience.
I find nothing misleading in the images, but I do not find them an effective documentary – there is nothing of the purpose of the facility; it is not shown in use by the police. It is aftermath when there has been no real event, just a rehearsal.
I believe the images are viewed as art in their context as post-modernism; anything goes, fake. When it is clear what the subject is, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for me.
Paul Seawright (b 1965) is Professor of Photography and Head of Belfast School of Art at the University of Ulster. His website describes his series of photos, Sectarian Murder:
Sectarian Murder revisited the sites of Sectarian attacks during the 1970’s close to where Seawright grew up in Belfast. The texts are from newspaper reports at the time and document the murders of innocent civilians, killed for their perceived religion.
The work challenges the boundaries between documentary and art by connecting long-time aftermath photos of murder locations with text from newspaper reports about the murders. The narrative of the photos provides no trace of the original murders and we only know of the connection through the context provided by the newspaper text. The meaning of the photographs is not immediately apparent, unlike it would have been from the original photo-journalistic photos. Seawright explains this aspect in his interview with the IWM – the meaning of the photos is determined by the viewer, revealing itself as the work is studied. I found this mechanism effective, leading me to pause and reflect on what might have happened and upon the misery caused by the troubles.
Seawright’s work was originally conceived as art, although it has a firm connection with a documentary of events. The accompanying text provides a strong narrative that guides the viewer to find a meaning related to the artist’s intention. As long as the photos and text remain connected, so does the meaning.
However, if documentary photography is subsequently extracted from its context and presented as art, its meaning can be changed, as can any photograph when place in a different context. For example, Hariman and Lucaites explore the interpretations of Dorethea Lange’s iconic image, Migrant Mother, quoting John Szarkowski :
One could do very interesting research about all of the ways that the Migrant Mother has been used; all of the ways that it has been doctored, painted over, made to look Spanish and Russian; and all the things it has been used to prove.
In this post I take a brief tour of contemporary street photography and consider the difference colour has made to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white; look at the shift away from the influence of surrealism; and consider the use of irony to comment on cultural values.
Joel Meyerowitz (b 1938) is considered to be one of the pioneers in the use of the colour in the genre. While he was influenced by the black and white work of Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson (Westerbeck Jr C), he explains that he did not even think about whether to use colour film or black and white. “The world was in colour. It was just so obvious to me. I had no idea people were snobbish about colour. To me, black and white just seemed back there, historical.” (O’Hagan S). I think a significant aspect of the surreal quality of black and white street photographs lies in the fact that they have no colour and that is not how we consciously see the world. Meyerowitz’s work is full of the light, colour and structural patterns of NYC. Many of the images feature saturated blocks of colour, perhaps echoing the bright-lights of the advertising hoards. The work also makes use of irony; for example in an image of a besuited man who has tripped and lies on his back on the edge of the road, we do not expect to see a workman stepping over the man as if he were a piece of litter. This element adds irony to what would otherwise just be an unfortunate event – New Yorkers too busy with their own business to help the businessman.
Helen Levitt (1913 – 2009) was, like Meyerowitz a New York based photographer. Looking at her online collection of work at MoMa it is apparent that even when colour photography had been established, she still chose to work often in black and white. This is a contrast to Meyerowitz’s contemporary work, which seems to be entirely in colour. However, Johnson tells us that the first decade of Levitt’s colour work (slides) was stolen and never recovered; so perhaps the balance between colour and black and white images maybe have been different if this had not happened. Levitt’s use of colour is far more subdued that Meyerowitz’s, as are her subjects – she seems more concerned with the quieter moments of everyday life than the chaos of the city. I did not see the use of irony in her work, which has a gentle lyrical quality rather than a brash, poking approach.
Joel Sternfield (b 1944) was also a pioneer of the use of colour photography outside of advertising. His images make a subtle, understated use of colour and often capture the banal – there is nothing of Cartier-Bresson’s coming together of geometry in a decisive moment to make images that are compelling through their lines and shapes. The use of colour, however, adds another dimension that too draws us to the images.
Coombes in his BBC article explains that Paul Graham was one of a small group of British photographers fighting against the predominance of black and white documentary photography in the 1970s. One has to look hard into this image of a roundabout in Belfast to understand what it is about (and perhaps it doesn’t lend itself well to the small screen). There is a soldier running across the scene; Graham is showing us something that we might miss, a reflection on the UK’s surveillance society. In his image, bus converted to café, there is a strong sense of irony – a mode of public transport has been converted into a road-side café in a lay-by. There are political connotations here, with the state and availability of public transport in the UK continually under debate. This is a very British topic, and I suspect the irony would not be appreciated for those living outside that context.
I would guess that Cartier-Bresson would not consider the Graham’s roundabout worthy of photographing – it does not present any of the virtues of composition and symmetry that were important to him. The photograph works at a different level, it is not so much concerned with aesthetics.
Martin Parr is a British photographer who shares a generous amount of information about his work and himself on his own website. His admission to Magnum was controversial amongst some existing members, including Cartier-Bresson; Parr tells the story:
Henri came to my Small World opening in Paris in 1995 and said I was from another planet! I always cherish this remark, and wrote back, I know what you mean, but why shoot the messenger?
Parr was inspired by Meyerowitz to make the change to colour photography and, like Meyerowitz, uses bright, saturated colours. He also now uses digital photography rather than colour film, explaining that his use of flash enables him to capture the same colour brightness. His photography is based around projects of everyday topics that interest him; The Last Resort is a reflection, often brutal, on the state of British seaside resorts that have fallen into a state of disrepair as air-travel to warmer climates became more affordable, leaving only those less fortunate behind. With Parr’s vivid use of colours, we do not expect to see holiday-makers surrounded by litter and decay, but rather something more promotional. There is something ironic in the use of bright colours to show low-class subjects in decaying surroundings.
There has been a strong shift in street photography from the capturing of a moment to create an aesthetically pleasing photo, towards one of social and political commentary. I can understand why Cartier-Bresson and Martin Parr would have clashed – they indeed are from ‘different planets’.
Coombes P (2011).BBC [online]. Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-13133461
Howarth S and McLaren S (2010). Street photography now. Paperback ed. London: Thames & Hudson.
O’Hagan S (2011). The Guardian [online]. Paul Graham: ‘The photography I most respect pulls something out of the ether’. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/apr/11/paul-graham-interview-whitechapel-ohagan
Jun P (2012). It was here photography [blog]. Visual Irony. Available from: http://itwasherephotography.com/blog/visual-irony/ [accessed 17.10.15]
David Campany suggests that there are some ‘problems’ with ‘late photography’, that is photos taken after an event, rather than during and event (also known more precisely as ‘aftermath’ photography). His essay, Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’, explores these perceived problems in the context of Joel Meyerowitz’s work, Aftermath, which deals with the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Centre on September 11th, 2001.
So, what are the problems that Campany perceives? I read the following aspects:
Campany draws on the television programme, Reflections of Ground Zero, as scene-setting for the essay – commenting on its ritualistic melancholy and above all the ‘the contrast drawn between the complexity of the geopolitical situation and the simplicity of Meyerowitz’s camera and working method’. He states that ‘the photographs were being positioned as superior to the television programme in which they were presented’. This sets up Campany’s later comments on the relevance (or irrelevance) of photography in a multimedia age. Interestingly, I didn’t perceive that the TV programme proposed this view – it was dealing with Meyerowitz’s work in relation to 9/11 and his interaction with some of the people caught in the aftermath, not a comparison on the merits of the photography and televisual media.
There is an eloquently description of aftermath photos as ‘not so much the trace of an event as the trace of the trace of an event’. Campany summarises this type of photography, saying, ‘it turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened totting up the effects of the world’s activity. This is a kind of photograph that foregoes the representation of events in progress and so cedes them to other media.’ However, a recurring theme mentioned in the TV documentary was ‘the absence of people’ – from a building that was full of life and activity there was nothing. It was transformed in to a six acre grave yard. 10,000 body parts were found but only 800 identified. To me the event was still in progress – it didn’t stop with the fall of the towers, the aftermath was a continuation of the event; the poignant searching for survivors and bodies, the clearing of the ruins of biblical proportions. I feel Campany is off the mark in effectively dismissing ground zero as a non-event.
I believe, but it is not entirely clear from the text, Campany then suggests that photograph’s special place in relation to memories does not deserve to be above contemporary video photojournalism. He points out that memories develop and change (inferring like a moving picture). He says, ‘In popular consciousness (as opposed to popular unconsciousness) the still image continues to be thought of as being more memorable than those that move. Yet if the frozen photograph seems memorable in the contemporary mediasphere it is probably because it says very little.’ But surely this exactly the reason why it has greater relevance to memory – our short-term memory can only hold around seven pieces of information at one time (http://psychology.about.com/od/memory/f/short-term-memory.htm), so we are quickly and hopelessly overwhelmed by a stream of moving images. This is the human condition, not ‘popular consciousness’. A still image allows us time to absorb and reflect on information – this is not a cultural trend.
‘Today it is very rare that photographs actually break the news. The newspaper constitutes only a second wave of interpreted information or commentary. Furthermore when ‘late photographs’ appear in the slower forms of the illustrated magazine or gallery exhibit they are at one further remove.’ This is Campany’s suggestion for the reason in the trend towards aftermath photography. There is some truth in this but it is perhaps also a personal perspective of Campany as viewer of news. I am one of the, I assume, many who take their news through online/mobile apps, which are still-image driven rather television or streamed images. So, much of the information on the recent Syrian refugee crisis, I have seen accompanied by photos (including the infamous drowned toddler on the Turkish beach). Perhaps a more likely reason that photographers (and the media in general) are not present as events unfold is the greater control and organisation by police, security and military sources over access to events. There is also the deliberate targeting of journalists in conflict zones, which didn’t seem to be a factor in the decades up to the 1970s, to which Campany refers to as photojournalism’s glory-days.
Campany’s final concern about late photography is ‘in its apparent finitude and muteness it can leave us in permanent limbo, obliterating even the need for analysis and bolstering a kind of liberal melancholy that shuns political explanation like a vampire shuns garlic.’ I don’t understand why he singles out late-photography specifically as causing this kind of apathetic response to events. I would have thought a constant stream of over-whelming moving images is more likely to engender this kind of response – people spending huge chunks of their lives glued to TV screens, leaving little time for worthwhile activities. If anything, a still image (and it’s context) allows us time to reflect upon the information and decide upon a response – whereas with moving media we are quickly over-run by new information.
Late-photography suffers the same flaw as other photography as documentary, no-more, no-less; that is its message can be complete changed depending upon the situation in which it is viewed. For example, Meyerowitz’s photos could be viewed as celebratory by Muslim extremists. Campany refers to the context problem, saying:
It is not that a photograph naturally ‘says a thousand words’, rather that a thousand words can be said about it. This is why television and film tend to use the still image only for contrived and highly rhetorical moments of pathos, tension and melancholy.
And, this is exactly the value of the still image over the moving image – we have time to absorb, reflect and discuss. To not be in a rush for at least a short time.
Joachim Schmid is one of the founders of the genre of ‘found photography’. Schuhmacher introduces Schmid as ‘an archaeologist of the ordinary and everyday of our visual culture … preoccupied of what is commonly seen to be culturally devalued visual material, Schmid organizes and recycles pictures into ordered arrangements’.
Looking at his Flickr page, we can find an overview of his work ‘other people’s photographs’, a series of 96 books covering all manner of mundane subjects captured by Flickr users. In the pre-internet age he completed similar projects using paper photographs he ‘gathered’ (doesn’t like the word ‘collected’ as he see himself as a consumer of images, not collector) from junk shops etc.
In Boothroyd and Schuhmacher interviews, I tried to find a motivation for him wanting to spend his time working like this. Schmid explains:
There was a long struggle to establish photography as an art form and that struggle was won. The war is over, photography is acknowledged as an art form. The price the photography world paid for this victory was excluding everything that is not made by artists – ‘That’s actually not photography, that’s not art, it’s just bullshit it’s just rubbish’.
And then that he was interested in photography because it is much more than art. One of his interests is how people usually take the same sort of photographs, even though they are not ‘taught’ how to do this and therefore, he argues, there must be some kind of ‘unspoken or unconscious code’. I think it is much less mysterious than this – we are all surrounded by photographic images from an early age and we learn by copying and mimicking what we see – there is no need to be ‘taught’ with words. Just recently, when visiting Moscow, I was surprised by the numbers of young Russian girls taking selfies or iPhone photos of each other, adopting model-like poses. This is clearly mimicked behaviour and doesn’t need to be taught.
Schmid also talks about the physicality of photographs, saying:
An important feature of the work is the physical quality of photographs. They are kind of objects. They have an object like character, people have them in their wallets or wherever and then they tear them apart. I like the physicality of that work and I think it makes most of the fascination.
This aspect sounds like the attraction of a collector. Once Schmid scans the images and includes them in his books, the physicality of the photographs is necessarily lost and subsumed in the new physicality of the book.
Boothroyd asks a question about Schmid’s sanity, ‘Do you resonate with the idea that photography leads to madness? How do you save yourself from that? (Perhaps you don’t!)’. Schmid’s answer is interesting:
We don’t have such a clear definition of madness any more. To make things more difficult, the answer of a man who is suspected of being mad isn’t a useful diagnosis of the man’s condition. It’s a perfect Catch 22 situation.
It is difficult to reach a view on Schmid’s work without seeing it in one of his photo books, which he suggests are an important aspect of experiencing the work. However, I wonder how much of the interest in Schmid’s work is interest in his methods, and what he has to say, rather than his output. I can’t help imagining him as some sort of manic filing clerk of visual documents.
Boothroyd S (2013). Open College of Arts [website]. An Interview with Joachim Schmid. Available from: http://weareoca.com/photography/an-interview-with-joachim-schmid [accessed 26.9.15]
Joachim Schmid [Flickr album]. Other people’s photographs. Available from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joachimschmid/albums/72157617550680090 [ accessed 26.9.15]
Schmid J (nd) [blog]. Other peoples’ photographs. Available from: https://schmid.wordpress.com/works/2008–2011-other-people’s-photographs/ [ accessed 26.9.15]
Schuhmacher S (2013). ASX Interviews Joachim Schmid. American SuburbX [online magazine] . Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/12/asx-interview-interview-joachim-schmid-2013.html [ accessed 26.9.15]