Category Archives: Part 2 The B & W document

Project: Psychogeographies–continued

A Japanese connection

I read  the three documents listed in this section without having ever seen any of the work by these photographers. When I did see it I was disappointed. All three seem to have the style of “no style” reminiscent of letting adolescent’s loose with a camera and then a darkroom and telling them to photograph whatever they like without restriction. I got nothing from “French Kiss” just a sense of “why bother”. Sobol’s “I Tokyo” gave me a little more. I read his introduction to the work and I got the same feeling that he had about the city from his work. I felt that in order to understand his work I would have to visit Tokyo…. I looked at Moriyama’s website and got the same impression of his style. I also found this brief talk by Christopher Phillips about the layout of the book “Bye Bye Photography”

http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/10/asx-tv-christopher-phillips-daido.html

Maybe my critique and appreciation of contemporary photography still has a little way to go. At the moment, I can understand that Moriyama’s work reflects the hiatus of post war Japan but Sobol and Petersen gave me little or nothing.

Project: Psychogeographies

6 November 2014

I read the introductory paragraph to this project and it seems to me to be an over elaborate term for simple everyday emotional and physical interaction with our environment. I have bought the Kindle Version of Psychogeography by Merlin Coverley. I’ve got 48 hours on  planes in the next month so I should get to grips with the concept in that time.

B&W and surrealism

I looked at Iturbides images but they did not fully engage my interest. There was nothing about them that craved my understanding. Perhaps it’s a cultural chasm or the context of the images needed more explanation. I’m not sure yet that I understand what surrealism means in relation to photography. I can’t get Dali and Breughel out of my head.

I tried to read Cannon Fodder but once again, the language and the heavy style of academic writing, the appalling sentence construction (I counted one sentence of 60 words) almost made me lose the will to live. I just couldn’t understand it. I read Badger (and watched the TV programme) on Atget in an attempt to engage with his work). The BBC’s “Genius of Photography” second episode, did a great deal to tie all of the photographers covered in this second section of the course together. The three Surrealists that I researched, Kertesz, Brassai and Man Ray, I found have these things in common:

  • Found effects and objects
  • Juxtaposition of form
  • Experimental use of perspective
  • Controlled composition
  • Experimental use of technique
  • Capture of individual expression

8 November 2014

Street Photographs

The link to the article “What is Street Photography?” no longer works. However I do have a copy of  Street Photography Now by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren (Thames and Hudson 2010) and I think the introduction covers the topic fairly well. This is a genre that I have enjoyed in the past. Many years ago I had the pleasure of hearing Bruce Gilden talk about his Coney Island project at the RPS in Bath. My interest hasn’t diminished over the years. I thought it worthwhile quoting the chapter a couple of times on topics that were relevant to my experience in completing the exercise in this section.

“Its harder and harder to take a picture without somebody in the picture who’s also taking a picture. We all take pictures now, that’s just what we do”  Gus Powell, Brooklyn based photographer.

“I don’t really want to disturb the flow of life around me. I much prefer waiting  and hoping for something to happen. It’s also much simpler. For me the whole point of photography is not to interfere with what’s happening, or might be about to happen. It could be more interesting than what I have in mind anyway. If nothing happens, that’s just too bad.”  Nils Jorgensen, speaking to Michael David Murphy

For the exercise I chose to sit in one place for an hour and see what unfolded. In addition to using my hand held camera, I also set my compact camera on the table in front of me, automatically taking a shot every minute. This is a continuation of an experiment I started in Rotterdam Railway Station earlier this year.

Guildhall Square

 

Guildhall Square Portsmouth – 7 November 2014

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To view a larger image, click the thumbnail.

Vivian Maier

Despite warnings from Google about malware on the www.vivianmaier.com website I explored it and identified these 5 images which I consider to have surreal or at the very least eccentric elements. (surreal = having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic) eccentric = deviating from the recognised or customary character, practice etc., irregular; erratic; peculiar; odd;

Undated, New York, NY Undated, New York, NY
The Sphinx of Giza and the Pyramid of Khufu, 1959. Egypt January 1956
Undated, Chicago  

I think the centre 2 images conform to the definition of surreal in that the juxtaposition of elements in the composition both have dream like quality and the photographer has chosen the viewpoint to achieve that. The remaining three images are just eccentric but none the less interesting for it. The dead cat, and the copy of Time magazine in the gutter reflect the transient nature of existence. The smoking chair may also demonstrate the  impermanence of material objects and could also serve as a warning. All three of those images are at the ‘edge’, at the roadside, the place in cities where the detritus is washed up and awaits disposal.

Project: People Surveys

Daniel Meadows I viewed the video of Meadows talking about his Free Photographic Omnibus project and found it interesting. I also read the “Photographer as Recorder” essay by Guy Lane which I found difficult to follow due to its overly complex academic language and patronising tone. What was interesting was the assertion that “Living Like This” the exhibition and book that resulted from the trip was less well remembered than the free portraits he took which was exhibited in 1997 under the title “National Portraits”.

B&W Portraits as a Documentary Strategy The images available online for the Zed Nelson “Disappearing Britain” and Irving Penn “Small Trades” projects did show a remarkable similarity in photographic style although different in the style of paraphernalia and dress of the subjects.

August Sander’s “People of the 20th Century”

There is only a basic description of Sander’s 7 archetypal categories in the SFMOMA document. To my modern idea, they do seem somewhat arbitrary but perhaps in those times, society’s structures may have been significantly different for them to make sense during that period in German history. On the Tate website I found some of the photographs from the collection and the captions attached to the images don’t always seem to match my idea of who or what type of person is portrayed.  Also on the Tate site, I found an interesting and useful article by Katherine Tubb here:

http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/face-face-ethical-encounter-germanys-dark-strangers-august-sanders

This article deals with one specific image and gives an insight into the socio-cultural context of Sander’s work. The image is captioned Circus Workers.

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It is described in the article as a picture of a white woman taking tea with an Indian man. The depiction of non Caucasian subjects is seen at the time as showing exoticism and permissiveness, highlighting Sander’s liberal values that led to his victimisation by the Nazis. “Disappearing Britain” does not appear to have this classification dilemma being a much smaller body of work, concentrating as it does on specific industries with not even the most basic demarcation of trades within them. 

“In the American East” by Richard Bolton

I have not yet been able to obtain a copy of this article. If I do, I will insert the reflective commentary into by blog later.

Without Bolton’s article I was unable to make much sense of Oestervang’s  pictures, perhaps the meaning will become clear later.

Mass Observation Britain 1930 – 40s

I used this link to the “Worktown” web resource: http://boltonworktown.co.uk/ and found interesting content in Badger 2007 p79 & *Wells 2009 p 93.

Who better to tell us about his working style than Spender himself. Liz Wells included two quotes in *“Photography a Critical Introduction”

My main anxiety, purpose, was to become invisible and to make my equipment invisible, which is one of the reasons I carried around an absolute minimum of equipment……Summing up the relics of feelings toward Mass Observation I think I can remember the main enemy being boredom and tedium and embarrassment. “ (Spender 1978:7)

“I had to be an invisible spy – an impossibility which I didn’t particularly enjoy trying to achieve….. I was somebody from another planet intruding on another way of life…… A constant feature of taking the kind of photograph we’re talking about even when people were unaware that they were actually being photographed – was a feeling that I was exploiting the people I was photographing, even when …..the aim was explicitly to help them. (Spender 1978:16)

The mass observation archive is arranged into twelve themes which cover pretty much all of the day to day activities in Bolton at the time, from street life, industry, leisure, religion, politics, sport and shopping. I think they have been arranged by what Harrisson thought was important in the people’s lives. For example the pub has its own category distinct from leisure. Work and industry are separated. The purpose of the project was straightforward enough, to record the lives of ordinary people, to find a way of properly recording and distributing the collected material, which included not only  photographs, but diaries and observation records of events so diverse as a funeral, election propaganda and a confrontation Spender had with the manager of the Saddle Hotel over the taking of photographs in the hotel bar.

The ethical question about the Mass Observation is tricky to answer from the perspective of history. The public reaction  to Harrisson’s project was predictable enough and Spender was on the receiving end of some hostility even though it may have been sometimes misplaced. In a time when the working man relied on a newspaper, the wireless and the cinema newsreel to understand his place in the world, that world was very narrow and resentment of strangers poking around with cameras and making notes was to be expected. The only real claim for MO is that it was a way of measuring public morale at a difficult time in European history. Although given the academic, class and political background of the men in charge, there could have been more to it.

Farm Security Administration – Research Sources

In addition to earlier research on Walker Evans and a workshop discussion at the Thames Valley study group last year about the Migrant Mother photograph, (In around and afterthoughts on documentary photography, Rosler)   I have used these sources to research the FSA project:

Badger 2007 pp 72, 77, 87, 245. Wells 2009 pp 39, 97. Dyer 2012 pp 4, 19, 29, 131, 214, 305-6.

Exercise: Making Sense of Documentary Photography by James Curtis

The course notes ask the question; “Is there any sense in which the FSA photographers exploited their subjects?”  The FSA’s remit was to record the lives of agricultural workers during the difficult years of the Depression of the 1930s to provide evidence of the need for reform; Roosevelt’s “New deal”. As such the photographers were given detailed briefs of what images to provide. In this sense, the FSA was exploiting the subjects in a positive way in the sense that the evidence would bring forth help for the suffering poor. James Curtis presents two examples which could be interpreted as exploitation. In the first case, the  captions of some of Arthur Rothstein’s pictures at Gee’s Bend Alabama seemed to “illustrate the biases and racist assumptions of the private and government and aid agencies”…. Rothstein having been misinformed of the nature of the occupation of the  plantation by the descendants of former slaves. Without the captions, the pictures tell a different story. In the second example, a picture by Russell Lee; “Christmas dinner in Iowa” four children are eating a meal in a poor shack. Their father is not at the table and the assumption is that their mother is absent which adds to the impact of the image. Another photograph taken at the time shows the mother at the door of the shack. Lee’s recollection many years later was that the family was motherless, clearly not the case. Curtis mentions other examples and also the fact that the FSA photographers also had no opportunity to edit their work and had to submit all pictures from an assignment. It is not clear if the captions supplied were from the photographer or gleaned from the brief he or she was given prior to shooting.

Project: Narrative

Information and Expression

For this section I have read John Mraz ‘s  essay. While I understood this to be an exposition of the way in which Salgado portrays his homelands as a native South American and the changes that Mraz claims to have found over time in this portrayal, from the production of Other Americas, Migrations and Terra;  I found it difficult to follow even after a second reading.

It is unfortunate that I was not able to obtain a copy of Other Americas from my local library. However, to complete this exercise I will look at Migrations, and Terra to identify and write about Information and Expression as they relate to Salgado’s portrayal of Latin America and its people. I will also look at Workers and the section on the Gold Miners of Serra Pelado as Mraz identifies this section as significant in terms of the change in Salgado’s portrayal of Latin America. What I did find interesting in the essay was a quote of Salgado by Mraz which explains why Salgado thinks long term projects are so valuable. I thought it was worth copying here: “When you work fast, what you put in is what you brought with you – your ideas and concepts. When you spend more time on a project, you learn to understand your subjects…….There comes a time when it is not you who is taking the pictures. Something special happens between the photographer and the people he is photographing. He realises that they are giving the pictures to him.

I started my research by looking at a brief article by Alan Riding of the New York Times (7 Sept 1986). Riding describes Salgado’s Other Americas as “the world as the other Americans saw it”. Salgado highlights the similarities of the lives of the peasants in the different nations as the inevitable changes that accompany the movement of labour from the land to the urban centres erode their way of life, locking them into a different yet still unremitting poverty.

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Ten of the images from the book can be found on the Amazonas Images website and I have looked at those as well as a so called “review” of the pages of the book on You Tube. Both provided a less than ideal view of the images but I was able to appreciate Mraz’s view that Salgado had linked “alienation to peasant culture with sadness, misery, death and enigma.” He also asks if Salgado did not borrow this aspect of Frank’s The Americans for his own work? These images are from Ecuador, Guatemala, Brazil, Bolivia and Mexico. It appears that he has used these rural scenes and unusually dressed peasants to represent an alienation that he feels is present in the countries of South America.

Workers, Gold, Serra Pelada, Brazil

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Mraz notes this section of the ‘Workers’ collection as a good example of a change of the representation of South American people, with a clear narrative compared to that of the pictures in ‘Other Americas’. There is no real need for text to explain the arduous conditions endured by the men working for a pittance against the lottery of riches from a lucky gold strike. The thirty or so images detail the immense scale in terms of size and numbers involved in the manual mining operations and the minute details of the experience, bulging muscles, straining ropes, mud, the ant like swarming of the men over the mine, the tension and resignation in the faces of the miners and the guards tells it all. The difference in the style of the presentation of the two works is marked.

Migrations

This massive book contains hundreds of images taken in 40 countries over a period of 6 years, documenting the lives of countless thousands of migrants in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe as the 20th century came to a close.

Abandoning the land in Ecuador:

Ecuador

Typical of the stories in the book, Abandoning the Land in Ecuador  shows a beautiful landscape but with marginal plots of land farmed by women and children at subsistence level in the mountains, while the men seek work in the cities or abroad. This image shows the wake of an old man who died alone after his children had migrated to the cities. The smoke from the burning straw is believed to carry his soul to heaven. The twelve or so images with very detailed captions illustrate the quiet dignity of the people and the hardship they endure.

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 Terra – Struggle of the Landless

This collection of images of the landless of Brazil has  detailed captions pages at the back of the book, a moving introduction by Jose Saramago and poems by Chico Buarque. It also contains images familiar from Workers, Migrations and Other Americas.

There is no doubt that this collection of images stands as a powerful indictment of the Brazilian government’s land reform policy, showing as it does the peasant’s struggle for work, land and justice at the turn of the 20th century.

Since 1995 governments have settled some 900,000 families—4m-5m people—in farming colonies, though sometimes in appalling conditions. The Economist, 26 April 2007 http://www.economist.com/node/9079861 for the full article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landless_Workers’_Movement and an overview of the struggle.

Images in the book cover the human faces of the Yanomami villages, seasonal work in the sugar fields, the cocoa plantations, gold miners, malnutrition, birth death, marriage, migration to the cities, the great drought of 1982-3 in Ceara province and the continuing struggle for land in the encampments along the highways in various parts of Brazil.

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Peasants commemorate victory on the lands of the Cuiaba plantation in 1996, Sergipe

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Wedding feast, Consancao, NE Brazil.

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Sao Paulo, children, often drug addicted live in cardboard boxes in the city.

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Migrants from the interior often find work as construction worker’s helpers in the ever growing city of Sao Paulo.

This collection of images form a moving story, not only by their sheer number and variety but by skilful editing. It is the people that tell this story. As Salgado is quoted as saying in Mraz’s essay, the people have given him the pictures.

Project: Narrative – Research on Semiotics

 

Exercise: The Americans by Robert Frank

1. I didn’t find it easy to understand this collection of images at first. Having read the book, I also researched and read the following insights.

  • From the Context and Narrative book I read that the book comprised 4 sections, each one starting with an image of the American flag. Short offers Sarah Greenough’s explanation that the book is “generally considered to be the single most important book of photographs since WW2” and the four sections challenged different aspects of American post war identity.
  • In his Guardian article in 2009, Sean O’Hagan doesn’t really explain why it is so important, just that it was, in Paris 1958 and USA in 1959. Even Frank himself seems uncertain, talking to O’Hagan, “People want to know so much….. All the time, this wanting to know. Where does it lead? Nowhere.”
  • John Szarkowski wrote; “The pictures took us by ambush(?) then…He established a new iconography for contemporary America comprised of bits of bus depots, lunch counters, strip developments, empty spaces, cars and unknowable faces.”
  • Gerry Badger says the book is “pessimistic with jukeboxes like alters, death, crosses and cars like coffins”

So the book is important because it was a new way of looking at the country which had never been done on such an extensive scale before. I managed to find  five symbols but my understanding of them is a bit sketchy (this may be down to the age of collection, over 50 years has elapsed since its publication so it is hardly contemporary). I managed to identify the four sections but the theme for the sections was not obvious. I couldn’t identify a unifying idea for any of them.

I found at least five symbols: some, like the US flag, used more than once and in different ways. In the first example Parade, Hoboken New Jersey for me it symbolises the perception I have that the American people tend to hide behind their flag and have a tendency not to question their government’s actions, especially with regard to foreign policy.

The jukebox as an altar is an interesting idea. Again it appears several times and in Candy Store, New York City a group of  teenagers are gathered around a particularly ornate example as acolytes of the emerging “Pop Culture” of the time.

A photograph simply entitled Los Angeles shows a view of a street with a single figure walking left to right uphill on a sidewalk below a large neon arrow also pointing to the right. Could this be Frank’s  thought on the American political direction at that time?

There is no doubt that Frank had picked up on the importance of the motor car in American society. There is an accumulation of images the automobile, ubiquitous as it is. Gerry Badger’s comment about the motor car as a coffin may have come from  Covered car – Long Beach, California juxtaposed as it is with the following image which appears to show the covered victims of a Car accident – US 66, between Winslow and Flagstaff Arizona.

Crosses are also shown in many of the photographs. In Beaufort, South Carolina a black woman is sitting outside, perhaps on the roadside verge below a ridge on which is a tall cross shape. It may be a telephone pole but I can see no wires. The woman is looking to her left and smiling, Beyond the  cross a watery sun hovers above the horizon. To me, this cross could be a sign of hope or redemption.

2. From Jack Kerouac’s introduction I have picked these symbolic references which were really about the words that he uses to describe the photographs. I picked up the symbolism from his interpretations.

….the picture of a chair in some cafe with the sun coming in the window and setting the chair in a holy halo… Cafe – Beaufort, South Carolina

….lying on his satin pillow in the tremendous fame of death…. Funeral St Helena, South Carolina

…. the sweet little white baby in the black nurses arms, both of them bemused in heaven…. Charleston South Carolina

….union boss, fat as Nero and eager a Caesar… Convention Hall Chicago

…..madman resting under a American flag canopy in old busted car seat…. Backyard, Venice West, California

Long shot of night road arrowing forlornly into immensities …. US 28 New Mexico

Having had a chance to look closely at this book, the 83 photographs seem to leave as many questions open as answered. Without the context of the period in time or the intimate knowledge of the nation (I was at primary school during this period and all that American meant to me was Popeye, The Lone Ranger and Davy Crockett) It is difficult to separate the iconic nature of the images which have formed my perception of the USA (photographically speaking) from the reality. We live in a world which runs against a media backdrop of the US, with TV, film, news and global branding that is inescapable. I’ve not been to the USA but I wonder if this manufactured experience has any connection to lives lead by US citizens today?

Reading–Edgelands– Journeys into England’s true wilderness

I liked this book. It is by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons-Roberts who are both poets. There are two reasons why I borrowed this book from the library, I saw it mentioned on the OCA Forum in a discussion about psychogeographies and I noticed the topic was coming up in this second section of the Documentary course. I thought it would make a useful source of ideas, if not for this course, certainly for Landscape. I was pleased to find that the authors view the English landscape in a similar way to me. The book is rich with descriptive imagery. The almost other-worldly experience of being out of your car in a place where everyone else is in theirs, was familiar to me. As a student I spent many hours in the no-mans-land between trunks roads and motorways thumbing lifts around the Midlands and South Wales. Very evocative, very familiar. As a reminder I will list the chapter headings so that I can bring to mind the wider context of the book.

Cars, Paths, Dens, Containers, Landfill, Water, Sewage, Wire, Gardens, Lofts, Canals, Bridges, Masts, Wasteland, Ruins, Woodlands, Venues, Mines, Power, Pallets, Hotels, Retail, Business, Ranges (golf), Lights, Airports, Weather and finally, Piers.

Project: Narrative

Exercise: Football Boys

Analyse Martin Shield’s photograph

Denotations Two young boys (12-13 years?) dressed in football kit each with a football tucked under their arm while their free arm is draped over the shoulder of the other. Walking away from the camera alongside a street that has been cleared of housing while in the near distance are derelict tenement blocks.

Connotations These lads are good mates. They are returning home after an enjoyable time playing football on nearby waste ground at the edge of a deprived landscape. They may be underprivileged but find joy in their friendship and shared love of the game.

Q. Does the text of the accompanying article relate to your initial deconstruction of the photograph? If so how?

A. Yes, but only in respect of their environment.

Q. Does the text change your perception of the image? If so, how?

A. Yes, but only in that the narrative I constructed illustrates only one aspect of the story. The text has put the image into the context of the story about the rebuilding of the estates in Glasgow.