Part 3: Reflections

I had a number of external interruptions to this part of the course, serious enough for me to request an extension to the deadline for submission of the assignment. Fortunately they all seem to be behind me now and I have finally completed the essays and assignment.

I enjoyed practising my photoshop skills in the exercises on ‘a persuasive image’ and ‘local history’, this will be important for my plans for Assignment 6 and creating a collage/montage for that assignment.

I also enjoyed putting into practice the concept of ‘appropriation’ that I learned about in Part 2. Before starting the course I doubt that I would ever have considered using Google Streetview to form part of an image, now having tried it I can see that it has its uses.

Indeed I got a great deal out of Assignment 3, I am starting to think beyond the picturesque, in my background reading for the course I came across a quote by Graham Sutherland (Tate n.d.) “I learnt that landscape was not necessarily scenic”. I think that I am just about getting to that stage at the moment – thinking beyond the scenic or the classical view and trying to look at landscapes in a different way.

I am quite pleased with how Assignment 3 has turned out, a good example I think of how I am ‘getting beyond the scenic’ but also of my thinking more deeply about how to portray a theme, not just the idea of having a series of triptychs but of trying to get a robust definition of place and then interpreting it.

REFERENCE
Tate (n.d.) Paintings and Drawings by Graham Sutherland – Exhibition at Tate Britain. At: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/paintings-and-drawings-graham-sutherland (Accessed on 25 March 2018)

Assignment 6 Backup

The course handbook advises that one should have a back up option for Assignment 6.

I still intend to produce photo collage/montage for Assignment 6, but by way of back up I have been taking photos in my garden of the changing nature through the seasons. I am fortunate in having a large garden which gives a bit more scope for using it in this way.

These are a less adventurous way of tackling the assignment – but at least they will be there if any major disaster strikes! Not all of the images would be included but at least I will have some to choose from.

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Exercise 3.6: The Memory of Photography

This was a challenging essay to get into and to understand just what the main points of Bate’s argument was. He refers, amongst others, to the works of Freud, Derrida, Foucault and Barthes in his examination of quite how photographs preserve, influence or even suppress memories. He starts by drawing on the distinction drawn by Freud between the ‘Natural Memory’ our normal capacity to remember things; and ‘Artificial Memory’ which is the range of devices used by humans to aid their recall of memories. Photographs are one of the devices used in Artificial Memory.

The article considers a photograph taken by Henry Fox Talbot of the erection of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. Bate considers that this one photograph exhibits “the double phenomena proposed by Jacques Le Goff as transforming modern memory: the development of public space as literal memory sites the nineteenth – century craze for erecting monuments to the dead and the photograph itself as a memory device”.

Using this image Bate states that he wants “to argue that a favourite photograph might also be an ’empty shell’ for the favourite story about childhood”. He links the distinction between voluntary and involuntary memory with the work of Barthes. He thinks that Barthes’ punctum is like involuntary memory whereas voluntary memory is more like the studium. The punctum “has an effect on us involuntarily. If we follow an associative path for the image to our memory it can lead to other memories, even a suppressed memory and, with critical work, an essential repressed memory-trace”. He believes that “the image provides a scene in which we may bring voluntary (studium) or involuntary (punctum) memories to bear upon it”.

Bate describes how reading a novel by Susan Sontag about Lady Hamilton triggered a personal memory of childhood, via the photograph of the erection of Nelson’s column, which involved visits to HMS Victory.

He considers that at the heart of Fox Talbot’s image “is not only a record of the retroactive remembering of Nelson, whose historical purpose is forming a national identity but also an interpretation of it”.

Having read Camera Lucida I was interested to read of Bate’s linking of voluntary and involuntary memory with studium and punctum. It widened my concept of how studium and punctum may work within an image. It is also interesting to consider how this can affect an individual’s view of a photograph. As Bate concludes his essay “in terms of history and memory, photographs demand analysis rather than hypnotic reverie”. It is always useful to understand what may be influencing your view of an image.

Exercise 3.5: Local History

This exercise asks for a short investigation into a historical aspect of the area in which I live. For this task I chose to look into the history of brush making in Wymondham where I live. In particular I wanted to look at the history of the Briton Brush Factory, which was demolished some years ago and a housing estate built on the site.

I discovered a receipt which was for sale on Ebay from the Briton Brush Company, Wymondham, dated 1931, which shows that the company was originally established as S.D. Page and Sons in 1750, (the receipt shows the company’s telephone number as Wymondham 12 !).

Martins and Williamson (2008) describe the formation of a large factory for S.D. Page and Son in 1880 and how soon after that it moved to Wymondham. Grace’s Guide (2017) describe how in “1920 D. Matthew and Son amalgamated with S. D. Page and Sons, to form the Briton Brush Co, at Page’s factory in Lady’s Lane, Wymondham”. It also has some adverts for the various brushes produced at the factory.

Wymondham Town Archive (Fowle and Garner 2011) have a number of photos of brush factory workers.

Grace’s Guide (2017) records that in “1985 The company closed. After closing the factory was pulled down to make way for housing and the estate on the former brush works site has such road names as Briton Way and Page’s Way”.

In the previous part of this course I had looked at how artists had used Google Street View to produce images and I thought that I would like to try this. So I used it to find the ‘Briton Estate’ in Wymondham. It is not a particularly large area with just a few roads. There were a few instances where people were walking down the road and this gave me the idea to make an image from Street View where I replaced the figures with those of brush factory workers taken from the town archive photos.

I converted the final image to black and white (it looked very strange with the monochrome figures of factory workers on a coloured background. I deliberately left the Google street names and text on the image to maintain the link between the workers and the site of the factory.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Fowle, R. and Garner, M. (2011) Wymondham Town Archive Photo Album. At: http://wymondham-archive.norfolkparishes.gov.uk/category/photos/ (Accessed on 16 March 2018)

Grace’s Guide (2017). At: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Briton_Brush_Co (Accessed on 16 March 2018)

Martins, S.W. and Williamson, T. (2008) The countryside of East Anglia: changing landscapes, 1870-1950. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

Exercise 3.4: A Persuasive Image

PART 1

For this exercise I have chosen 3 images that argue a particular point. I have tried to choose three very different types of image, but all three have a related theme – the environment.

The first image is a very explicit message constructed by Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps, the image can be seen at https://www.kennardphillipps.com/new-work-greenpeace-savethearctic-campaign-song-oil-ice-fire/  It was produced as part of a video for the Greenpeace ‘Save the Arctic’ campaign. It is based on ‘Christina’s World’ a 1948 painting by Andrew Wyeth (The original can be seen at https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78455). The Greenpeace video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMsVvDwf-eA) starts with Wyeth’s image and ends with the KennardPhillipps’ version. The power of this image comes from its subversion of the original bucolic scene into an horrific vision of oil tar and refinery. The, not so subtle, message being that this is what oil exploration could do to the Arctic.

The second image I chose is also about the environment and pollution, but it is much more subtle. Justin Hofman’s image of a seahorse clinging to a plastic cotton bud (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/09/seahorse-ocean-pollution/) sums up in one simple image the damage being done to our natural environment. Keefe (2017) describes how the photograph was taken and quotes Hofman’s summary of the image that “This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans”.

My final image is and advert for a car. The photograph at https://pushevs.com/2017/05/10/volkswagen-starts-advertising-new-e-golf/ shows a car being driven in a mountain landscape. The road is clear of any other traffic and the mountain air looks clear and unpolluted. This is used a background for the promotion of what is an electric car. The setting of the car sweeping towards you from the right, the clean, natural scenery behind and the prominent text announcing the ‘all-electric’ car are designed to promote the green credentials of the vehicle.

REFERENCES
Hofman, J. (2017) This Heartbreaking Photo Reveals a Troubling Reality. At: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/09/seahorse-ocean-pollution/ (Accessed on 15 March 2018)


 

PART 2

This part of the exercise asked me to consider an issue that I feel strongly about and design an image that would have a persuasive effect on the viewer.

I have been particularly taken with the work of Peter Kennard and I also wanted to experiment with collage/montage work in preparation for my final asssignment. I also feel strongly about environmental issues and pollution. So I decided to try to produce an image on this topic.

So, influenced by the work of KennardPhillipps, and with due respect to John Everett Millais, I produced Ophelia 2018!

 

Image of Ophelia, John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Exercise 3.3: ‘Late Photography’

David Campany’s essay “Safety in Numbness” takes as it’s starting point a documentary shown on Channel 4 which followed the photographer Joel Meyerowitz as he documented the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.

Campany’s main thrust seems to be that when events such as the 9/11 attacks happen they are now shown in great detail and querying whether there is a need for the type of approach taken by Meyerowitz “The programme contained video images at least as informative and descriptive as the photographs, yet television was presenting itself as unable to perform a task now given over to photography”. Campany believes that Meyerowitz’s images may come to be remembered, not so much for the images themselves but that there was “a need, a desire, to nominate an official body of images, and that these should be photographs”.
He then questions the concept of ‘late’ photography which he thinks “foregoes the representation of events in progress and so cedes them to other media”. This means that such photographs will have a different relationship to memory. He states that “The photograph can be an aid to memory, but it can also become an obstacle that blocks access to the understanding of the past”. He even wonders if the ‘primitivism’ of photographic images appeals as a way of helping us through the complexity of memory recall when surrounded by multiple still and moving images in a wide range of technologies.

Campany then discusses the changing nature of war and the reporting of it. He describes Vietnam as the last ‘photographers war’ in later conflicts photographers simply weren’t allowed in or their movements severely restricted. Therefore many of the images were of the aftermath of the event leading to us being able to “see the damage afterwards, but at the cost of a sense of removal”.

Finally Campany considers the possible effect of late photography on the viewer “There is a sense in which the late photograph in all its silence, can easily flatter the ideological paralysis of those who gaze at it with a lack of social or political will to make sense of its circumstance”.

When I first read the essay I found myself disagreeing with much of what was being said, but after rereading it a few times, many of the points that Campany was making started to make a lot more sense. On first reading I thought that the main points were that contemporaneous and moving images gave a better representation of an event than a ‘late’ photograph. While this is part of the argument, I think that Campany’s main concern is around the effect that late photography has on how we view events.
It started to dawn on me that perhaps I had been viewing ‘late’ photographs as artistic forms rather than records of events and that this obviously had some effect on how I viewed that event.

I remember the events of 9/11 vividly, I can remember the initial confusion as to whether it was a dreadful accident and then the dawning realisation of the full horror of what had occurred. Everyone in the office were glued to their computer screens trying to keep up to date with events through news websites that could not cope with the volume of traffic. The most striking images were moving images of the planes striking the buildings, of the fire and of people fleeing the scene. The next day the newspapers were full of images of the attack, the front page images used were of the moment of impact of the planes and of people fleeing. As the days passed the images changed to ones of the aftermath of the event – the hundreds of photographs posted by relatives seeking information about those who were missing.

I think that in many respects Meyerowitz’s photographs are almost ‘delayed’ as opposed to ‘late’ photography. They show the results of the attack, and it is important to bear this in mind and not to think that the only valid images are ones taken at the actual moment of occurrence. The effect of a terrorist attack or a war goes on for some considerable time and I think that it is important to consider images of the aftermath as of equal validity to those of the actual moment of the event.

By way of comparison Robert Capa’s photograph of the Death of a  Loyalist Soldier in the Spanish Civil War shows the actual moment of the man being shot, but to me it has less resonance than Don McCullin’s image of a Shell-shocked GI in Vietnam awaiting evacuation. In some ways McCullin’s image is almost ‘late’ photography in that it shows the effects or aftermath of war. To me it is more moving because of the way it humanises the event, perhaps in this way it differs from some late photography that perhaps dehumanises the event.
I have thought a lot more now about regarding Meyerowitz’s images of ground zero. Technically they are undoubtedly stunning images, showing the devastation on the site and of the people engaged in clearing it up. It is important to have a record such as this, after all the site has been cleared and a permanent memorial erected to the people who died. But it is also important to remember that it is a record of only part of the event, the immediate aftermath on that particular site. Of the images that I found online, I couldn’t get a resonance with what actually happened on the day. The work tells part of the story of the aftermath, but what of the people affected, those injured, the bereaved, the deceased; their stories don’t seem to be told here, but arguably these are the most important to remember. 

Exhibition: The Impressionists in London

I visited the Impressionists in London exhibition at Tate Britain, both out of general interest in Impressionist art, but also wanting to have a close look at how the Impressionists approached landscape painting in a City.

The exhibition opened by setting the scene as to why French artists moved to London at this point. Following defeat in the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris commune uprising, the city was in ruins. A number of photographs portrayed the landscape at the time.

By Alphonse J. Liébert (French, 1827–1913) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This was an interesting introduction to the exhibition, on the train down to London I had been reading about the ‘picturesque’ and thought that I might see some examples on display. So it came as something of a surprise that the first ‘landscapes’ in the exhibition were of the ruins of the city similar to the one above. Describing one of the photos, of the Suresnes Bridge taken around 1870, the gallery notes stated that “ Parisiens were struck by the beauty of the ruins … here the play of light and reflections of the industrial landscape in the Seine create a poetry which at first diverts attraction from the damage that was done by the Prussians to the suspended bridge of Suresnes”. This did give a lot of context to the influences on the Impressionist painters that moved to London at the time.

In the exhibition I found the work of Camille Pissarro particularly interesting. The gallery notes explained that “During his stay in London 1870-71 Pissarro became interested in the encroachment of the suburbs on rural spaces”.

Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, Camille Pissarro [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The gallery contrasts Pissarro’s Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, from 1871 with Turners 1844 Rain, Steam and Speed, commenting how Pissarro “Painted a picture of daily life in his new surroundings”. In the context of my studies of landscape I was intrigued by how this ‘picture of daily life’ was used as a subject. It was not what I had traditionally associated with the Impressionists, although there were other paintings in the exhibition that I would have classified as typical impressionist landscapes.  

Kew Green from 1882 was also interesting, withe the gallery notes explaining how it “demonstrates the endurance of Pissarro’s attention in Britain to a landscape in which nature and industry coexist; the picture dominated to the left by the standpipe tower of the old Kew Bridge Pumping Station”.

Kew Green, Camille Pissarro [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The exhibition itself has received some scathing reviews, LUKE (2017) calls it “inaccurate and dishonest” while JONES (2017) states “Unfortunately, I must soberly report that Tate Britain has created the worst show about the impressionists I have ever seen. It comes close to achieving the impossible: making Monet dull”. The main thrust of their complaints is that the show title is misleading as the exhibition contains works by French artists in exile in London, but who would not be classified as Impressionist artists. Indeed a substantial part of the exhibition is given over to work by these artists.

I personally appreciated the opportunity to see the work of Pissarro and Monet, but was less attracted to the work of Tissot and did find the room devoted to Legros’ work less rewarding than the other artists.

However I did learn to rethink my ideas of what landscape is, particularly from seeing the work of Pissarro and how landscape can ‘paint a picture of daily life’.

 

REFERENCES

Jones, J. (2017) Impressionists in London review – how not to tell the origin story of modern art. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/30/impressionists-in-london-review-tate-britain-exhibition (Accessed on 24 February 2018)

Luke, B. (2017) Impressionists in London, exhibition review: Inaccurate and dishonest. At: https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/arts/impressionists-in-london-exhibition-review-inaccurate-and-dishonest-a3712261.html (Accessed on 24 February 2018)

 

Exercise 3.2: Postcard Views

Part 1

It was quite a revelation to see the postcards that we had sent from holidays over the past few years. All of the  cards were very much in the ‘picturesque’ category.

Interestingly, most images seem to have been photographed from a very elevated position, aerial photography in some cases. It is almost as if I was selecting images that I wasn’t able to capture myself. They all seem somewhat remote from any sense of identity of the place, especially the scenes of beaches, but even the scene of the theatre at Epidavros.  The postcards do, though, serve a purpose in conveying to the sender, as well as the recipient, an image taken from a viewpoint they were unlikely  to have seen.

The images of bays and beaches also seem remote, again having been photographed from a distance,  this perhaps is intended to beautify the scene. It is considered more picturesque to view from a distance rather than convey an image of crammed together sun loungers and parasols. In this sense  the remoteness is not just from the actual scene but also from the reality of it.

Part 2

I think that Graham Clarke’s comments are very true – to an extent. Certainly when visiting other countries one will always take one’s own views and perspectives and these could well differ greatly from the norms and perspectives of the host country. Some of the landscape views in other countries may have religious or other significance to the people of that country, something that may not be recognised or be able to be conveyed by a photographer from another culture.

What is less obvious to me is Clarke’s statement that “landscape photography insists on the land as spectacle and involves an element of pleasure”. Perhaps this may be the case when pursuing the picturesque, but is it always the case? Whilst one is always putting one’s own interpretation of a scene, does that necessarily make one a ‘tourist’or an ‘outsider’. Perhaps to some degree the answer lies with the intention of the photographer, While there will always be an element of interpretation to the scene, some photographers go to great lengths to immerse themselves in the landscape. I am particularly thinking here of the work of Awoiska van der Molen. Describing her work in the Canaries O’HAGAN (2014) describes how she “spent long periods of time there alone, honing not just her craft but the sense of isolation needed to ‘gain access to the stoic nature of the landscape‘,  as she so memorably puts it”.

 

REFERENCES

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Bewitched by blackness: photographing the desolate beauty of the Canaries. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/26/photography-awoiska-van-der-molen-sequester-canary-islands-landscape-nature (Accessed on 26 February 2018)

Andreas Gursky at the Hayward Gallery

I visited the Andreas Gursky exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, a little unsure of what to expect I had seen single images of his work (Montparnasse) as part of other exhibitions, but never a solo display of his work.

I found it fascinating how, in many images, he adopts such a distant viewpoint that the human becomes almost inconsequential. It was interesting to read from the gallery notes how some of the images are constructed. What appears to be a single image may have been taken from multiple viewpoints and then combined so that the final product appears flat and completely in focus across the whole plan with no evidence of receding perspective.

The guidebook for the exhibition explained Gursky’s views on photography and painting. “Across many different works Gursky has borrowed from and made use of compositional structures common to post-war painting, not least the ‘all-over’ decentred composition that the American abstract painter Jackson ollack, and others, pioneered in the late 1940’s and 1950’s”.

“To Gursky – an artist interested in a ‘painterly’, rather than an ‘objective’ view of the world – the main distinction between photography and painting is the fact that ‘the viewer … reads photography as what is presented, whereas painting is about the presentation as such’. Photography, for Gursky, is not just a way to document the world, but rather a way to represent his ideas about it”.

I did find one of Gursky’s images resonated with Russian Constructivism/suprematism paintings.

Andreas Gursky, Beijing 2010

 

Lyubov Popova

 

The exhibition has has good reviews, Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian writes “he employs digital technology to both challenge the notion of the photograph and do what great photography has always done, show us the world we live in anew”.

I found myself looking at how Gursky had presented some of the images and how I might have approached the same subject. I first thought of this when I saw his image Cheops 2005

I too have been to Egypt and seen the pyramids (although long before 2005) where I took this image in a much more traditional way.

 

However I also considered how some of Gursky’s images may have influenced my own picture taking. My framing and composition of this image taken on the North Norfok coast

was influenced by having seen Untitled I 

Finally, reading some of the reviews of the exhibition led back to the subject of ‘the sublime’. An article in The Economist (2018) concludes “Critics have described Mr Gursky as an arbiter of something they call the “contemporary sublime”. In the late 18th and 19th century, the Romantic conception of the sublime took nature as it object, capable of inspiring astonishment and awe—“that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended”, according to Edmund Burke. The contemporary sublime instead takes technology and the capitalist-industrial system as its focus. Mr Gursky treats things like stock-exchanges, skyscrapers, a Formula One racing track, the interior of a Prada shop and an Amazon warehouse with the same reverence as a sweeping vista from a mountaintop. “He makes crowds of people look tiny and relentless…like a minute, leisurely colony of ants,” says Alix Ohlin, a writer.

 

REFERENCE

O’Hagan, S. (2018) Andreas Gursky review – godlike visions from the great chronicler of our age. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jan/20/andreas-gursky-hayward-gallery-godlike-vision (Accessed on 25 February 2018)

The Economist (2018) Andreas Gursky, master of the contemporary sublime. At: https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2018/01/crowds-and-concrete (Accessed on 25 February 2018)

Exercise 3.1: Reflecting on the picturesque

What is the ‘picturesque’?

SMITH (2003) describes the picturesque as “the middle ground between the extremes of the beautiful and sublime – evoking a sense of reality of the landscape”. Discussing Gilpin’s notion of ‘picturesque’ in the British Landscape, the Victoria and Albert Museum, describes how 18th century travelers “learned to look at the British countryside as an interesting subject for painting. We see this mind-set in the ‘Claude glass’, which travelers used to reflect actual landscapes as if seen in a painting”.

RABB (2010) states that picturesque “refers to the charm of discovering the landscape in its natural state” and “The artist and the viewer delight in unspoiled panoramas: sunsets behind majestic mountains, an egret taking off from a quiet marsh, a deer bathed in a shaft of light in the woods”. She describes how Gilpin encouraged people to “engage in picturesque travel” – where the traveller endeavoured to “discover beauty created solely by nature”. The National Gallery considers that “As an aesthetic concept applied to painting, it looks back to the ‘classical picturesque’ style seen in the works of Claude and Poussin, and the Romantic picturesque derived from Elsheimer and Salvator Rosa”.

My own view, certainly upon starting this course, is that the term picturesque derives from a traditional form of aesthetic pleasure displayed in an ‘attractive’ landscape. What makes an ‘attractive’ landscape, the framing and composition of the scene will play a great part in defining this, as will the subject matter itself. Generally speaking I would consider the typical Claude Lorraine painting to portray a picturesque landscape.

Landscape with shepherds; Claude Lorrain [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The painting is in the romantic tradition using both linear and ariel perspective to give a sense of depth to the scene. It contains all the elements that I would use to describe picturesque; rolling landscape, stretching into the distance, a calm rural scene.

I think that much of my landscape photography to date has been an attempt to capture and convey images of the picturesque. This was brought home to me last year when on holiday in Corfu. W e were approaching the top of a hill with a spectacular view over the bay below. I had been taking some photos when a tour group arrived at the same point. The tour guide addressed the group in French, which I understood a little of, but it was his final words that stood out “le photo!”, at which point the group dutifully took out their cameras to capture the scene.
I guess I had been indulging in ‘picturesque travel’ up to that point. I had taken other images (some for a previous module for this course) on that holiday, which were not picturesque, but this did bring home to me just how how normal it seemed to be to seek out and photograph the picturesque.

 

REFERENCES

Rabb, L. (2010) 19th Century Landscape – The Pastoral, the Picturesque and the Sublime. At: http://artmuseum.arizona.edu/events/event/19th-century-landscape-the-pastoral-the-picturesque-and-the-sublime (Accessed on 24 February 2018)
Smith, L. (2003) Beautiful, sublime . At: http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/beautifulsublime.htm (Accessed on 24 February 2018)
Victoria and Albert Museum, Online Museum, Web Team, webmaster@vam.ac.uk (2013) Topography: Portraits of Places. At: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/british-watercolours-landscape-genre/ (Accessed on 24 February 2018)
National Gallery: Glossary. At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/picturesque (Accessed on 24 February 2018)

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