Shape of Light Exhibition at Tate Modern

This exhibition is described by the Tate as displaying “100 years of Photography and Abstract Art”. I enjoyed the whole exhibition, but for the purposes of this note I will concentrate on those images relevant to landscape.

The exhibition started with a photograph by Pierre Dubreuil called Interpretation Picasso: The Railway c1911. The gallery notes explained how the image was made at the same time as Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubism. The photograph of a train is broken down into a complex picture of geometric designs. The image of the train can still be imagined but the viewer has to be actively involved in studying the photo rather than just seeing a representation of the locomotive. The photo was displayed next to a cubist painting, Mandora 1909-10 by Georges Braque.

 

 

This emphasised the intent of both artists to purposely represent reality in a different fashion. It was interesting to see the two images displayed together, but I think that the Dubreuil photograph suffered a little from being displayed alongside the Braque. To my mind this photograph doesn’t lend itself to exploring the simultaneous depiction of differing planes in the same way that can be achieved by painting. The image itself was interesting and of merit in its own right, but displaying it alongside the Braque perhaps most demonstrated the limitations of the technique.

It was very interesting to see images by photographers that I had studied in earlier exercises of this course. Several Lewis Balz photos were displayed in the setion on minimalism. It was good to be able to see original images rather than representations in books or on the internet.

A couple of things stood out to me in this part of the exhibition. Firstly the gallery note used exactly the same quote from Balz that had struck me when I was studying his work, and the Tate video, earlier in the course. He said that “photography is the only deductive art”, whereas as other art forms add meaning as the work progresses “photography begins with a world that’s perhaps over full and needs to sort out from that world what is meaningful”.

It was interesting to read on the gallery notes that Balz’s work was often displayed along with that of Carl Andre and that is how it was displayed in this exhibition.

I thought that this worked well – mainly because of the minimalist nature of the works, that the monochromatic effects and the geometric patterns complemented each other.

Seeing Balz’s work displayed in a gallery brought home the minimalist nature; for me his work was about pattern, isolating everything to display form or pattern.

The Tate website (Tate [s.d.]) describes minimalism as “an extreme form of abstract art developed in the USA in the 1960s and typified by artworks composed of simple geometric shapes based on the square and the rectangle“.

“Several important characteristics identify Minimalist Art. One of the most common is repetition, or creating multiple images of the same shape, especially simple geometric forms like lines and squares”. (Study.com Minimalist Art [s.d.]).

This perfectly describes the work of Lewis Balz that was on display

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Study.com Minimalist Art (s.d.) At: https://study.com/academy/lesson/minimalist-art-definition-characteristics-famous-painters.html  (Accessed on 24 June 2018)

 

Tate (s.d.) Minimalism – Art Term | Tate. At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/minimalism  (Accessed on 24 June 2018)

Living Cities Exhibition at Tate Modern

I visited Tate Modern to see the Shape of Light exhibition and, quite by accident, discovered a separate one called Living Cities. It was a display which the gallery notes described as “a variety of responses to the modern city from artists around the world”.  A couple of exhibits were of real interest to my study of landscape photography.

Birdhead

Two Chinese artists work together under the name Birdhead. According to the gallery notes their photographs “capture and make sense of their experience of daily life in their home city of Shanghai”.

What I liked about their work was the sense of humour and irreverence displaye in some of their images. I really like the photograph of fish displayed at a stall

I thought that this gave a real sense of what daily life must be like for many of the residents of Shanghai. One can almost smell the street scene! The timing of the shot is also just right, with the car in the background approaching, but not quite reaching the fish. A split second later and the car would have been behind the fish and provided a distracting background: the image would not have been as successful. The car adds motion to the image and suggests modern life whereas the fish display and stall provide a timeless feel.

The following image gives an interesting study of geometric forms against a cloudy sky – the contrast of the harsh lines of the city against the organic forms of nature comment on the city as a way of life.

It was also interesting to see a display of Stephen Shore photos from American Surfaces 1972-73. These were explained in the gallery notes as photos taken by Shore of “everyday scenes he encountered on a dedicated road trip across America”. This took me back to an earlier exercise in this course on ‘The Road’ and the work of someone like Alec Soth. What was interesting about Stephen Shore’s work was the size and nature of the images and how they were displayed.

A considerable variety of images were used, some landscapes, some portraits, others were interior scenes. The prints themselves were quite small, perhaps giving a more intimate feel to them.

I did not find many of the individual images compelling in the way that some of Alec Soth’s images were.

But what was interesting about this display was the way a composite picture of the road trip was formed from individual images that had caught the artist’s eye at some stage. It gave me further cause to consider the meaning of the term ‘landscape’ and how this can be conveyed. It showed to me how landscape does not necessarily mean a single image or even a single point in time, but can be represented by a series of images taken over a period, but with a relevance to a landscape as a unifying factor.

Part 4: Reflections

I have thoroughly enjoyed this part of the course, I learned a great deal from Assignment 4. Before undertaking the assignment I had a cursory knowledge of photomontage, but for the critical review I undertook a considerable amount of research. This was necessary as i now have a much better understanding of the genre and how it has been used, It will also help me a lot for my final assignment in Part 6, I have always thought I would like to produce a photomontage for that assignment, but my thoughts on how I will approach the task have developed considerably. I have many photographs that I have taken since I started this course, but I now realise that I want to produce something more than just an aesthetically pleasing image. I wish to produce images that make a statement about the issues I believe in (albeit within the confines of demonstrating the change in landscapes over the seasons).

How have I progressed over Part 4?

Technical and visual skills: I think that my analysis of images has improved. In his last comments on Part 3 my tutor suggested that I needed to move away from a descriptive approach to images to a more analytical one. I think that I have started to do this, in fact I think I have moved some way since the start of Part 4.

Quality of outcomes: I was pleased with my critical review which I hope has been conveyed in a concise and coherent style. It was as I was studying and writing the review that I perceived what I thought were two distinct styles in photomontage – the artistic approach adopted by the dadaists, Romare Bearden and the pop art movement as against the photographic style as shown by Henry Peach Robinson, Jeff Wall and Peter Kennard. One issues I was concerned with on the critical review was; had I tried to cover too many artists (four). Would it have been better to have just looked at two or three? While looking at fewer artists would have allowed more detailed analysis of each image, it would not have easily led to the conclusion I reached in terms of the two distinct styles. I therefore think that the approach to studying four artists was justified. 

Demonstration of creativity: As part of his feedback on Part 3 my tutor commented on “the ‘exploratory approach’ to developing my ideas and said I should continue to investigate this in future work”. I enjoyed the Bright and Barthes exercises in Part 4 and think that these will help to further develop my creativity. I believe that I will be able to develop this furtherwith the self-directed project in Part 5.

Context: I carried out considerable research for Assignment 4, there aren’t quotes from all the papers in my bibliography, but I have read all of the relevany=t parts and they informed my overall knowledge of photomontage and the individual artists. I believe I have put this knowledge to good effect in the critical review. I also learned how to make full use of Paperpile  which has been made available to OCA students via the UCA website . I found it of considerable use.

Assignment 4: Critical review comments

Photomontage

I embarked upon this project knowing a little (but not a great deal) about the topic. I had previously attended an OCA study visit to the Whitechapel Gallery to see the Hannah Hoch exhibition. I had also seen David Hockney’s collages, including Pearblossom Highway, in his exhibition at the Tate. I also came across Romare Bearden’s work at Tate Modern when I visited the Soul of a Nation – Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition. I had not come across his work before, but it was very striking and left an impression on me. I also knew of the work of Jeff Wall (but might not have called his work photomontage before writing this essay!). These all gave me the idea of tracing the development of photomontage over the years and looking at the changes that have occurred.

I learned a considerable amount through writing the essay . I had not come across Henry Peach Robinson before and I was fascinated by the dispute between him and Peter Henry Emerson over ‘straight’ photography or the use of artifice. It was interesting, at the conclusion of my essay, to note how this debate continues! With the number of photos being taken on mobile phones today and the widespread use of apps to digitally manipulate the images; I would have thought that nobody would expect photographs to still be the product of ‘straight’ photography. But it would seem that even the art critic Waldemar Januszczak still wants to believe that ‘the camera never lies’.

I also discovered how photomontage was used for propaganda by studying the work of John Heartfield. I hesitate to use the term propaganda as it usually has negative connotations – perhaps it would be more appropriate to describe it as ‘political work’. In either case the message of the work has not detracted from the aesthetic merits of the image.

It is interesting to compare present day works and what may have influenced them. For example Peter Kennard has used digital manipulation technology to combine images, but I would classify his work as being in the tradition of John Heartfield. Jeff Wall uses the same technology but I think his work is more in the tradition of Henry Peach Robinson than that of the Dadaists.

I believe that I have researched the subject thoroughly and presented the outcomes in a clear and coherent manner. I have tried to take on board the feedback from my tutor’s last report by making my critiques more analytical rather than simply being descriptive.

The Critical Review can be seen here: How Has Photomontage Been Used in the Creation of Landscape Images?

Photographic images have been remove from the document for copyright reasons

Exercise 4.6: Proposal for the self-directed project

*****  Following comment from my tutor I have revised my proposal for the self-directed project. The revised proposal (Self-directed project – amended version) can be seen here .

 

Revisiting the Norwich School

 Introduction

The Norwich School of Artists is the name given to a group of artists, mainly landscape painters, who were active at the beginning of the 19th century. The two best known members were John Crome and John Sell Cotman. Their paintings “were in a low-key realist manner inspired by Norfolk landscape and the life of the Norfolk Broads and rivers” (Tate [s.d.]). In this project I propose to revisit and photograph some of the scenes painted by members of the Norwich School.

In an earlier History of Art module for this course I produced a critical review on the Norwich School of painters, looking at their work in general, but also looking in detail at paintings by John Crome and John Sell Cotman. I thoroughly enjoyed researching their work and saw many of their paintings at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. I have also visited local auction sales to view Norwich School lots, even buying a couple of etchings in the process (the History of Art module have given me the knowledge and confidence to do so). This project would, therefore, have a special appeal to me.

Proposal

I will select a number of sites that feature in paintings, or prints, made by Norwich School artists and produce a landscape photograph of that site today. The aim is not to try to replicate the scene painted in the 1800s, but imply to use that as the starting point; I would then decide how to produce the photograph. I would aim to produce around ten final images.

Methodology

I envisage the process being undertaken in four stages.

Stage 1. In the Appendix below I have listed a number of paintings featuring local scenes. I will visit the sites and select around ten to photograph. On that visit I will also decide on the equipment needed for each site and the best time of day/weather conditions to photograph the scene. This is likely to take around two weeks.

Stage 2. During this period I will be taking the photographs at the chosen sites. Depending on weather conditions, this will take four to six weeks.

Stage 3. This stage involves the processing of the final images and will take about two weeks

Stage 4. This is the production of the hard copies of the final work. I envisage the final product being a photobook which on one page shows the original Norwich School image and on the facing page shows my contemporary interpretation of the landscape at that location.

Costs

The main costs at stages 1-3 will be travel expenses. The costs of stage 4 will relate to the production of the photobook. I envisage this to be a personal project, were the book to be made public then significant printing and copyright fees could be involved. This would be researched during the project.

 

479 words

 

Appendix 1: List of sites painted by Norwich School Artists

 

Site Artist 
Norwich Cathedral David Hodgson
Briton Arms, Elm Hill Henry Ninham
Yarmouth Sands Joseph Stannard
Haymarket John Thirtle
Mousehold Heath John Crome
Fye Bridge, Norwich John Thirtle
Norwich Market Place John Sell Cotman
Bishops Bridge, Norwich John Sell Cotman
Carrow Bridge James Stark
The River at Thorpe Joseph Stannard
Wymondham Church John Sell Cotman
Norwich River Afternoon John Crome
New Mills John Crome
The Yare at Thorpe John Crome
Whitlingham E T Daniell
Trowse Meadows George Vincent
The River Wensum John Crome
Bishop Bridge Norwich John Thirtle
   

Exercise 4.5: Signifier – Signified

Barthes refers to three messages:

  • The linguistic message
  • The coded iconic message (this signs each comprising signifier and signified)
  • Non-coded iconic message (the literal visual message)

 

 

I will use the Aptamil advert above to deconstruct the meaning according to Barthes’ analytical system.

The literal visual message shows, on the left side, a woman and child paddling on a beach, holding hands. On the right side packs of Aptamil and texts are shown.

The coded iconic messages consist:

Signifier Signified
Woman and child holding hands The protection of the adult (mother?) afforded to the child
The flat distant horizon Looking to the future, the mother guiding the child
The calm, milky colour of the sea and sky With the mother’s guidance, life’s journey ahead need not be troublesome
Colours of clothing Colours of the clothes are the same as the Aptamil packaging – linking the product to the people
Honeycomb structure surrounding the scientific terms The reassurance of the scientific basis of the product
The size of the Aptamil packs relative to the people Emphasising their importance but also associating it with growth
   

 

The advert also contains some text, which Barthes suggests can provide anchorage, it guides the perception and understanding of the advert.

In this case “Inspired by 40 years of breast milk research” offers reassurance that the company has been doing this work for a long time, that it is dependable. Note that it mentions breast milk research whereas the product is a substitute for breast milk.

The honeycomb cells mentioning “DHA, IRON and GOS/FOS” emphasise the scientific basis for the product (echoing the 40 year of research). Williamson (1978 p111) suggests Science “acquires some of the connotative qualities of what it replaces, while seeking to define by contrast precisely that which it replaces: ‘The Natural’”. I would suggest that many readers would not know what DHA or GOS/FOS stand for or what they do. The purpose of it is to reassure that Science is ‘replacing the natural’.

“Our most advance formula yet” reinforces the scientific basis of the product and how ‘modern’ it is.

“Their future starts today” guides the viewer through the whole message of the advert – this product is needed for the safe and secure development of your child.

The final line of text refers to an IMPORTANT NOTICE that ‘breast feeding is best’. However the placing and size of the font used indicates that this message is of lesser importance than anything else in the advert and suggests, therefore, that it is of little consequence.

 

Bibliography

 

Berry, N.J. (2010) ‘Got milk? : the influence of toddler formula advertising on attitudes and beliefs about infant feeding’ At:

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nina_Berry/publication/48828947_Got_milk_the_influence_of_toddler_formula_advertising_on_attitudes_and_beliefs_about_infant_feeding/links/573cec6708ae298602e5997a/Got-milk-the-influence-of-toddler-formula-advertising-on-attitudes-and-beliefs-about-infant-feeding.pdf  

Roland Barthes: Notes from Rhetoric of the Image (s.d.) At: https://www.mat.ucsb.edu/~g.legrady/rsc/barthes/rhetoric.html  (Accessed on 20 May 2018)

Williamson, J. (1978) ‘Decoding advertisements: ideology and meaning in advertising. London: Marion Boyars’

Exercise 4.4: ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’

Deborah Bright’s esssay was an interesting read, despite having been written over 30 years ago, there are many points still valid today.Her essay looks at cultural meanings in landscape photography.

Bright believes that, irrespective of aesthetic value, “every representation of a landscape is also a record of human values and actions imposed on the land over time” (Bright 1985). She also considers that landscape photographers have played a large part in constructing the way in which landscape images are perceived generally, and what is expected of them. In her essay she calls for a fresh look at the cultural meanings within landscape images and suggests three questions that could be asked to determine the ideologies behind the images:

– In whose interests were the images conceived
– Why we continue to make and consume them
– Why landscape is still seen through a masculine eye

Outlining how the current view of landscape images has developed she believes that the cowboy movie has “succeeded as no other form in masculinising the western landscape”. She continues to describe how the dominant landscape aesthetic developed from the ‘straight photography’ of Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz.

She considers that curators of galleries and exhibitions have determined the current aesthetic by their choices and publications. She describes how John Szarkowski produced a catalogue of images called American Landscapes. Of the 40 photographers represented, only two were women, Laura Gilpin and Dorothea Lange.

She goes on to compare the masculine and feminine views of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. John Pfahl’s Power Places (John Pfahl – Power Places [s.d.]) contains an image of the Three Mile Island plant https://johnpfahl.com/pages/powerplaceseast/01threemileisland.html. The image is portrayed in such a way that it is not immediately obvious to the viewer that the building is indeed a nuclear plant. The image almost glamourises the building, it seems to be in the style one would normally associate with the Taj Mahal. Very much in the tradition of Carleton Watkins, which Snyder describes as “visual harmony between the land and the new tokens of progress symbolised by the industrialisation of the land itself” (Mitchell 2002 p 187).

Bright contrasts this approach with that of Lisa Lewenz who produced a calendar of a series of views of the same plant, but placing it within its social context. https://oregondigital.org/catalog/oregondigital:df70bt88v shows the same building photographed by Pfahl but which gives a much stronger emphasis on the effect the building has locally. Again one has to look closely to see just what the building is, but taking the photograph from inside a domestic dwelling and framing the plant within a window adds a new dimension to the interpretation of the scene. The viewer is now confronted with the effect the building has on the local landscape rather than interpreting it as a beautiful landscape in it own right.

Bright herself then falls victim to gender stereotyping in her comment “Most ‘landscapes’ used by women – the home, beauty salon, shopping mall etc.”. Perhaps this is an indication of how this issue has changed over the years, today many people would take exception to that list as the sort of ‘landscapes used by women’ – no mention of workplace for example, just the connotation that women would mainly frequent ‘the home, beauty salon, shopping mall’.

This aside, Bright does then make some strong comments on the under representation of women landscape photographers in contemporary literature and at exhibitions.

Bright concludes with the comment that “Landscape imagery has almost always been used to argue for the timeless virtues of a nature that transcends history – which is to say, collective social action”.

She believes that landscape images with a purely aesthetic approach should not be the dominant genre and that landscape photographers should use it to “question the assumptions about nature and culture it has traditionally served”. So whereas the famous ‘Marlboro Man’ advertising images portray a very masculine view of the landscape, one that is aesthetically pleasing but which “symbolizes a natural, clean world that is not polluted by marginalizing white middle-class ideas of modern society with women’s rights, racial equality, etc.” (A Marlboro Man Story 2014)

Many things have changed since Bright first wrote the essay – most notably the law on advertising tobacco. But I suspect not much has changed in what are the major points of Bright’s essay in terms of the curation and selection of exhibitions. Otherwise The Guerrilla Girls would probably not have seen the need to produce this 2016 poster

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55d4aaa8e4b084df273878ef/57140fb240261dc8bae871ac/5afcbde8575d1f528bc69391/1526513191094/2016GuerrillaGirls-WealthPower.jpg

Bibliography

1984: a view from Three Mile Island | Oregon Digital (s.d.) At: https://oregondigital.org/catalog/oregondigital:df70bt88v (Accessed on 19 June 2018)

A Marlboro Man Story – Tobacco Advertising – K-Message (2014) At: http://www.k-message.com/marlboro-man-story/ (Accessed on 19 June 2018)

Bright, D. (1985) ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’ At: http://www.deborahbright.net/PDF/Bright-Marlboro.pdf

John Pfahl – Power Places (s.d.) At: https://johnpfahl.com/pages/powerplaceseast/01threemileisland.html (Accessed on 19 June 2018)

Mitchell, W.J.T. (2002) Landscape and Power, Second Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The Guerilla Girls (2016) At: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55d4aaa8e4b084df273878ef/57140fb240261dc8bae871ac/5afcbde8575d1f528bc69391/1526513191094/2016GuerrillaGirls-WealthPower.jpg (Accessed on 19 June 2018)

Exercise 4.3: A subjective voice

I grew up in a small town in the East Midlands close to the countryside and as a child I used to cycle around the local area. So far as I can remember, all the images of the countryside at that time were of country cottages and views of the countryside. These images were widespread in papers and magazines, on tins of biscuits and boxes of chocolates. I was keen on photography at the time and these stereotypical images heavily influenced my views on landscape and what constituted a good image.

Later in life I spent some years working in remoter areas of Indonesia. Living conditions for the local population were harsh with no running water or sanitation yet most of my photographs from the time are of striking landscapes or spectacular sunsets. Most of them were very ‘touristy’ views; I guess that this is understandable in that the photos were taken as momentos of my time there and to show to others ‘what it was like’.

I think that this has resulted in my having (until starting this course) a quite entrenched traditional view of what constitutes a good landscape image. Reading of Fay Godwin’s work, which addressed barriers to access in the countryside, showing the barbed wire around Stonehenge – at that time I would probably have tried to take a photo which didn’t show the barbed wire but simply concentrated on Stonehenge itself, concentrating on what I thought it should look like rather than the reality of the restricted access.

Finally my later subscriptions to photography magazines will also have had an influence on my views of landscape. Reading Photography Monthly and Practical Photography led me to think that the lessons in those journals on ‘take better landscape photos’ were the route to success.

Exercise 4.2: The British landscape during World War II

Taylor describes how images of the landscape were used to rally support for the war effort, of portraying a country ‘worth fighting for’. The underlying message was quite subtle “Landscape was a route to levels of emotion which were acceptably patriotic without being too nationalistic”. The images reinforced the historical point that the country had not been conquered for a thousand years. Patriotic propaganda portrayed the beauty of the countryside and idyllic villages and contrasted this to the nightmare of Nazi Germany as “an industrial society run amok”.

The article describes how the countryside changed as a result of the war (road signs obliterated, military buildings and manoeuvres, restricted access) and that the landscape images were used to recall the pastoral beauty.

Interestingly the Article then describes how, when the war began, picture editors started to turn down traditional landscape pictures, preferring those which showed the countryside supporting the war effort, for example by showing evacuee children in a rural setting. This also helped to promote the view that the countryside belonged to all the people.

Articles from Picture Post contrast the ‘British way of life – a shepherd with his flock in a village High Street’ with the ‘German way of life – street filled with marching soldiers’.

Finally Taylor describes how “The cliffs at Dover came to stand for a complete ring of natural bulwarks. Moreover, the white cliffs remained unsullied”. The cliffs came to represent “the absolute and inviolate boundary of the country”.

I found it interesting to read just how views of the landscape had been used as propaganda during the war and the way in which the age old stereotypes of countryside and village life were used to demonstrate something worth fighting for”.

I wondered if such images would be used in similar circumstances today, or was it just a product of its time. It is, of course, difficult to give a definitive answer to that question, but as shown by the Daily Mail poster of 2002 the image does still have a very strong resonance for a section of society. My own feeling is that the make up of the country’s population has changed significantly since the war and I am not so sure that traditional images would have the same effect. It is also worth remembering that how information is disseminated now has changed hugely, Picture Post has been replaced by Facebook. Nevertheless single images can have a powerful impact, but at the moment I suspect that several images might be required to appeal to different sections of the population.

Exercise 4.1: Critical review proposal

I emailed my tutor along with Assignment 3 setting out the following topic for my critical review

For the Critical Review in Assignment 4 I would like to look at the use of multiple images/photomontage in landscape photography. Perhaps I could look at the topic in general but then take a detailed look at two ore three individual images taken from different times, eg Carolling by Henry Peach Robinson and The Street by Romare Bearden. If space permitted I could widen it to how multiple images are currently used, eg Flooded Grave by Jeff Wall. Perhaps you could let me have your views on this type of approach. 

He replied that this would be appropriate for Assignment 4. 

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