Friday, May 10, 2013
The mediums of painting and photography have become inextricably entwined since their juncture in the nineteenth century. Painting had been a primary source of historic documentation up until the Neo-classical era when the emphasis on practitioners was precision, detail and representation. The emergence of the romantic and impressionist movements coincided with the development of the first primitive photographic images and it was at this time that the British painter JMW Turner came to prominence, positively and negatively, as a pioneer in a new way of representation.
Turner was undoubtedly a gifted artist and was recognised as so from a very early age when he became academically trained in painting and drawing. It was not long before a young Turner began to adopt a style of his own. This was a time of great change in the world of arts and Turner’s style would pre-empt, by almost half a century, a move for painters away from the role of recording the world as the evolution of the camera afforded photography this task.
Turner was raised in London and remained there for many of his formative years, becoming popular with commissions at an early age that would see him earn much respect and the wealth that would accompany it. He remained in London but soon grew weary of depicting a city of regency, wealth and a Britain that was looked upon as a model of political and social stability at the time. Turner understood there was another side to his country and it was this that would become so influential in his painting from that point on.
Turner relentlessly studied nature and light and stripped both aspects of representation back to their basic forms. It was during his extensive travels that the main inspiration for many of his greatest works germinated. While travelling throughout the British Isles and mainland Europe, he fervently recorded what he saw in writing, drawing and painting. His tour of France and Switzerland alone resulted in more than 400 drawings. It is reported that on a walk with a friend in 1820, the two paused and sketched what lay before them as a storm brewed only for turner to exclaim that “in two years you will see this and it will be called Hannibal Crossing the Alps!” Regardless of the accuracy of the legend, it is evident from his extensive works that Turner did indeed rely heavily on his obsessive fieldwork notations to inform even his most abstract paintings.
What is evident also is that Turner manipulated the canvas to present something to the viewer that interested him or that in his mind should interest the viewer. His many paintings are undoubtedly beautiful pieces in terms of simple aesthetics. What is also evident is that he presents an image that appears frozen in time, captured through a process of layers of brushstrokes and impasto, but that this image serves to draw the viewer to a subject matter that exists outside the enclosure of the frame. We understand from his vast archive of preparatory works what interested this man, what he was passionate about and how he felt about political and social standards of that time. What we also understand is that Turner felt compelled to create a style of representation that would best convey his emotions and perception of these thoughts. His paintings often pitch us right into the midst of a scene of terror through his use of light and colour to create that particular atmosphere. What exists outside the frame captured is what manifests itself within the image presented to us.
The evolution of the camera changed the way we look at the world at this time and continues to do so to this very day. The evolution of the camera resulted in images being produced in a fraction of the time required to produce a similar painting with the advantage of also capturing ,much more detail, particularly in large format images. Interestingly the evolution of the camera continues as the need to hang around for a long exposure is no longer necessary as the development of digital media continues to progress. It is with reference to a practitioner of an 8x10 view camera however that this essay will look to to draw comparison with the works of Turner.
Richard Misrach was born in Los Angeles in 1949 and is often credited as being one of the forerunners in the renaissance of colour photography and large scale representation since the 1970s. Much of his work is captured using an 8” x 10” view camera and a process the photographer describes as a ‘slow, meditative and contemplative way of working’. Although it may appear paradoxical to compare one artist who spent a lifetime developing a new method representation with one who chooses to work with quite traditional methods, the point of study here focuses on what both pioneers chose to represent and what meaning can be read into this, not the tools involved in completing the process.
Misrach has completed many hugely successful projects over the past number of decades with series such as the Desert Cantos series or On the Beach exemplifying his skill in this field. Misrach regularly refers to the theme of landscape and human intervention that interests him or what he describes as “the collision between man and nature”. Many of his projects involve complete immersion in the subject, often for prolonged periods of time with the photographer capturing thousands of images as well as recording detailed analysis of location, time, light values, etc. Similarities can be drawn at this point with the preparatory work of Turner who sketched many scenes before drawing from this resource to create a particular detail in a painting. Similarly, Misrach’s technique involves capturing many images from dawn until dusk, whenever light and wind values allow for optimum use of his 8x10 camera. He admits to being lucky to use on average one in every hundred frames captured in his works, a percentage return comparable with many of his peers, and one that remains constant even over a career spanning four decades.
What is also very much present in the series of photographs that Misrach does present to us is his use of imagery to communicate an idea. He often refers to the influence of civil war photographs on his own work, their beauty evident yet also conveying a very poignant narrative of a historic event. Misrach underlines the power of aesthetics in portrayal of such an event and the important impact this has had on his own works. He recognises photographic images as important historic documents but also as things that change meaning over time. And time is a key factor in his work. His decision not to publish any images of the Oakland Hills fire for a period of twenty years after the event a strategic way of differentiating his work from that of glorified journalism to a more reflective piece of work.
Misrach’s photographs have previously been compared with landscape paintings of the past. His images of the Golden Gate Bridge have been compared to the paintings of Mark Rothko and Albert Bierstadt, his repetitive approach to subject matter likened to Cézanne, or to Monet’s depiction of Rouen Cathedral at different times of the year. Misrach’s observations of this scene over a three year period are a very obvious example of his running theme of the relationship between man and nature, but what is also very important although less obviously stated is his interest in what happens beyond the frame of the camera. What makes this series powerful for Misrach is the position from which the perspective is taken, a "privileged position high up in the peaceful, well-to-do, sylvan Berkeley hills." In a publication accompanying his Golden Gate exhibition he states that "to own a view is as much about property values as it is about ocular pleasures”. In quite the same way Turner did, Misrach produces a beautiful, captivating image that draws the viewer into the subject matter while simultaneously encouraging them to explore something deeper that exists outside of the frame.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him
William Eggleston's exhibition at MOMA in 1976 is widely considered to be the tipping point in the eventual acceptance of colour photography as a legitimate artistic medium.
Inspired by the visual arts, he has since gone on to inspire a generation of artists with his colourful vivid and sometime uneasy depictions of the everyday.
|Green Dress, 1970|
His subject matter is familiar to us. We relate to the images but are unsettled as, through his camera, we now see the familiar through a new light, a new angle and in a new intensity of colour.
There exists a heightened sense of reality. The everyday qualities of the objects, people or landscapes are replaced with an unexpected and unsettling aura through unusual but balanced compositions and real but unnaturally saturated colours.
Eggleston’s photographs look like they were taken by a Martian who lost the ticket for his flight home and ended up working at a gun shop in a small town near Memphis
|William Eggleston, from William Eggleston in the Real World|
The 2005 documentary William Eggleston in the Real World shows us first hand how the artist probes and searches out his subjects; peering into shop windows, front gardens, roaming the streets and buildings as if he had lost something precious. When found, the subject is photographed, once, and the haphazard but exhaustive search continues again.
I believe in taking one picture of one picture
WILLI AM EGGLESTON
|Green Car, 1965|
Colour is the defining characteristic of his work. Through colour, the ‘pictures’ relate on a sensory and emotional level providing the transformative power to turn the banal and common into the surreal. Without colour the unusual would revert to its common state. If reproduced in back & white Eggleston believes that his images, except for purposes of identification, “might as well not be reproduced” at all.
The following is an exploration into the role colour plays in transforming the world we know in into this world that we thought we knew. It is a journey, under a number of themed headings, through the colourful world of William Eggleston examining his relationship with colour, his influences and his own influence on contemporary visual arts.
To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life
1. THE PROCESS
Any discussion relating to Eggleston and his use of colour has to include, or even start with, his discovery of the dye transfer process in 1972, a process exclusively used at that time for the commercial printing of magazines and advertisements.
That is what got me interested. I would look at these advertisements say in Vogue…and I kept thinking, 'I wonder what Eggleston would look like in this process?WILLI AM EGGLESTON
|Cigarette Advertisement, 1970s|
It was a complex, expensive and time-consuming process that basically involved the separation of three color negatives, made by photographing the original negative with black & white film through three filters (red, green and blue). The separations (matrices) were in turn soaked in organic dyes of yellow, magenta and cyan and then meticulously aligned and rolled over specialist paper, transferring the dye to paper.
|Two girls on couch, 1976 (separations)|
Photographic colour prints were predominately produced at that time as a C-Print (chromogenic coupler print) producing more “faithful” and less dramatic results than that of the dye process. The dye process exaggerated the colour values of an image allowing a photographer to obtain higher saturation in nominated colour fields (e.g. red) without affecting the rest of the colours in the image. It gave a new level of control only provided in recent times by the emergence of digital photography.
Eggleston now had a new lush set of paints allowing an unprecedented influence and control over his pictures. He now had a medium capable of depicting the world he was seeing.
|Green Window, 1993|
The dye transfer process helped Eggleston inject the ordinary with a heightened level of colour, intensifying the atmosphere and tension in in the frame and dislocating the viewer form the real world being presented.
|Hot Sauce, 1980|
Eggleston's work and career was now transformed. Colour was now not just part of the picture but it was the picture. A process that was being utilised to best show off products for sale was now being used to to show vivid and visceral depictions of common everyday objects, landscapes and people.
As advertisements were presenting abstracted realities to its audiences so to was Eggleston and both used the dye transfer process to help achieve this abstraction. A process used to seduce, entice and persuade was now being applied to the bland of the everyday. It was this juxtaposition that in some way unsettled the viewer. Eggleston used the seductive, enticing and persuasive colour dye process and applied it to common objects and in doing so made us think about the very nature of his subject matter.
It was also this abstraction of colour that turned what could be deemed photography into art. We were no longer seeing the world through the eyes of a photographer but through that of an artist with a new found medium.
I don’t think anything has the seductivity of the dyes…by the time you get into those dyes it doesn’t look at all like the scene, which in some cases is what you want
The vivid dyes defamiliarise the objects presented. We are provided a new intensifying filter of Eggleston to see the world through, rendering the ordinary strange.
You’re stepping into some kind of jagged world that seems like Eggleston’s World
|Shoes under a bed, c. 1973|
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Richard Misrach was born in Los Angeles in 1949 and is often credited as being one of the forerunners in the renaissance of colour photography and large scale representation since the 1970s. Much of his work deals with what he describes as “the collision between man and nature”. In 1997 Misrach began a project from the porch of his home on a steep Berkeley hill in San Francisco with his 8 x 10 camera. This work took place over a three year period in which time Misrach captured over seven hundred images of the vista beyond his porch which encapsulated the Golden Gate Bridge and the adjacent topography. Images of the bridge in all states of visibility, luminosity and atmospheric conditions were recorded from a single vantage point at all times of day and night as well as encompassing the seasons of the year.
The series shows the diminutively scaled bridge in the distance in a multitude of conditions. Each frame displays a strip of land and sea oppressed beneath a vast sky. We see iconic images of a global landmark in San Francisco Bay portrayed in flaming orange sunsets as well as being overshadowed by rolling storm clouds passing over head or even obliterated from view as incoming storm systems engulf the structure within their mighty form, leaving the viewer alone with the surrounding hillsides. Misrach captures the Golden Gate Bridge in its celebrated as well as lesser seen states. Sometimes the bridge is an eloquent silhouette, sometimes glistening in the sunlight while other times faint and shrouded in mist or cloud. Each frame displays an extraordinary spectrum of light and colour. Each frame is unique. Each frame is beautiful.
Misrach’s photographs have previously been compared with landscape paintings of the past. His images of the Golden Gate Bridge have been compared to the paintings of Mark Rothko and Albert Bierstadt, his repetitive approach to subject matter likened to Cézanne, or to Monet’s depiction of Rouen Cathedral at different times of the year. It must be noted however that Misrach’s concern’s are rooted further beyond the sheer physical beauty of the scene extending out beyond his porch. His Golden Gate exhibition included a publication in which Misrach notes what is not apparent in his photographs is "privileged position high up in the peaceful, well-to-do, sylvan Berkeley hills." He states that "to own a view is as much about property values as it is about ocular pleasures." What makes the series of images more powerful for Misrach is the perspective from Berkeley.
The photographic series offers a commentary on the politics of the view from this particular place in San Francisco, the relationship of wealth, power and privilege at this time as is particularly highlighted when the bridge is obscured from sight by atmospheric conditions and the eye is drawn to the island in the foreground that once housed a prison as well as the luxurious dwellings dotted along the hillside. One of the recurring themes in Misrach’s works since the early 1980s is that of the “altered landscape” or the condition of aesthetic beauty of the natural world as mediated by human intervention in the landscape as he tries to “reconcile my interests” in topographical and political landscapes. In this instance Misrach treasures this vista as he believes humans have affected the environment in a positive manner.
“I love it. It’s beautiful to look at, its scale. Everything about it was just magnificently done”
Misrach not only photographs the content occupying the frame. In an interview with Peter Brown, he outlines the great lengths he goes to in making formally engaging pictures, “I pay attention to the frame, to the light, etc. I've always felt that the best of my pictures function in a way that historical painting used to… just as Gericault's Raft of the Medusa was both a remarkable visual experience, it also embodies a specific political event”.
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London in 1775 during the Neoclassical period that saw him trained academically in painting and drawing. However, it was not long before Turner began to adopt a style of his own and he spent the rest of his life developing this looser style, pulling away from the Neoclassical norms of depicting historical events in great detail, choosing instead a Romantic approach based on emphasised luminosity and atmosphere. Turner relentlessly studied nature and light and stripped both aspects of representation back to their basic forms. It was during his extensive travels that the main inspiration for many of his greatest works germinated. While travelling throughout the British Isles and mainland Europe, he fervently recorded what he saw in writing, drawing and painting. His tour of France and Switzerland alone resulted in more than 400 drawings from which he later drew information and inspiration from to create magnificent landscape paintings. Over five decades Turner relied on these sketchbooks to inform even his most abstracted paintings. Upon his death in 1851, Turner left almost 30,000 pieces of his work to the British Nation.
During his career, Turner progressively paid less attention to detail in his paintings and focused more on the effects of light and colour as achieved through his self developed use of watercolour and oil paints. The result was truly magnificent with images increasingly immersed in strategically selected light and atmospheric conditions.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
The relation between SUBJECT and IMAGE.
- Walker Evans, Luc Delaheye, Bruce Davidson and Michael Wolf
After studying these 4 photographers a little closer, and more specifically their series of subway photography, a thing I noticed was the photographers relation to the subject.
Evans and Delaheye uses the same method of a hidden camera in order to photograph people unaware of the situation. The motionless images allows us to linger in the faces of ordinary people, which the social rules of society won´t allow us in public.
on the contrary Davidson and Wolf is very much in your face photographers.
Davidson directly asks people if he can take their photo and their by gain a sort of reconstruction of the scene he was interested in to begin with.
And Wolf takes the photos as the train doors shut close on a stuffed subway. He´s object are unwilling participants in the images, and he gains that imitate reaction on peoples faces when you invade their personal space.
So the question is then - as I noticed in the last post – do we learn more about a person form them not knowing or from allowing them to participate?
Code inconnu, Michael Haneke, 2000
"I stole these photographs between ’95 and ’97 in the Paris metro. ‘Stole’ because it is against the law to take them, it’s forbidden. The law states that everyone owns their own image. But our image, this worthless alias of ourselves, is everywhere without us knowing it. How and why can it be said to belong to us? But more importantly, there’s another rule, that non-aggression pact we all subscribe to: the prohibition against looking at others. Apart from the odd illicit glance, you keep staring at the wall. We are very much alone in these public places and there’s violence in this calm acceptance of a closed world.
I am sitting in front of someone to record his image, the form of evidence, but just like him I too stare into the distance and feign absence. I try to be like him. It’s all a sham, a necessary lie lasting long enough to take a picture. If to look is to be free, the same holds true for photographing: I hold my breath and let the shutter go." - Luc Delahaye, L’Autre, Phaidon Press, London, 1999
Luc Delahaye is a french photographer who started as a photo journalist in the 1980´s, he is particularly known for the work he did doing war in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Yoguslavia. In the beginning of the 1990´s he started to question the work he was doing; “ I had lost my faith in photography and I wanted to understand what it really is about. So I decided to see what would happen when no photographer is there, just the subject and the camera”
His first more contemporary project was “Portraits”. A project were he would ask homeless and poor people to have their portrait taken in a photo-booth, and thereby removing himself from the process. “They sat in this cramped booth while I was looking away; in the solitude of their experience they were confident in the machine, they knew it´s power of revelation. Those who have lost everything in life have nothing to hide, they are naked.”
His next project was L'Autre. For almost 2,5 years Delahaye secretly photographed passengers on the subway in Paris with a hidden camera. In order to take the images he pressed the shutter as the train door closed and photograph the person sitting in front of him. In that way the camera would not be heard and the object would not react. He then cropped the images to only show the faces and a little of the background, so that each face seems locked in a mask.
L'Autre, six cropped images.
Jean Baudrillard states in his introductory essay to L'Autre; “No-one is looking at anyone else. The lens alone sees, but it is hidden. What Luc Delahaye captures then isn´t exactly the Other (L'Autre) but what remains of the Other when he, the photographer isn´t there.”
The series explores a relationship between the photographer and the object, such as the american photographer Walker Evans did it in the 1930´s - by photographing people sitting opposite him with a hidden camera. The photograph then captures an anonymity between subject and camera.
“The guard is down and the mask is off, even more than in lone bedrooms where there´s a mirror. People´s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.” - Walker Evans
Walker Evans, Many are called
By hiding the camera the subjects do not look at the photographer, but maintains their private space. The subjects mouth are slack, their eyes are unfocused and their features are not made up for a pose.
But when you study the images the faces are no longer passive or unaware, but withdrawn like they are hiding something. We attempt to put ourselves in their place when looking at the image, in order to understand them - and maybe in the end understand more about ourselves. We try to read a meaning into their faces, and force a significance onto them.
Baudrillard writes: “There’s the same reversal everywhere, expressing a fatigue on the part of the subject, a weariness of being oneself and asserting oneself. And also the secret confused demand that the Other should think us, that the objects of the world should think us”
On the road - Bert Teunissen
(spell checking in progress)
Bert Teunissen’s most famous project Domestic Landscapes, a serie of photographs of European homes built before the World War II and their inahbitants, leeds the Dutch photograph to cover over 50 000 km of roads around Europe. More than a way to reach his final goal, he considered the road as a trip on its own. His book On the Road is a collection of picture taken during his travels.
“It brings me to my destination,
It is both the bridge and the barrier between me and my destiny,
It is inviting and defiant at the same time,
It is in front of me and behind me,
It can be smooth or rough,
it is the vein of my world.
When I’m on it, I’m on track
I follow its source where I will find my treasure,
And Then it will bring me back home again“
Pictures are in black and white in a 18x24 format. He took the pictures of the landscape while driving. They are framed by car furniture (wheel on the bottom and sun visor on the top), with a least one hand visible. Comparaison with Lee Friedlander’s and his project America by Car is inevitable, but both seem to reach a different goal. Friedlander focuses on landscapes, buildings, people or urban details. Car and roads are the frame, they emphasize the subject. In Teunissen’s work, the trip himself is the main subject. Photos are by the way not situated. They don’t have any legend, and may be taken everywhere in Europe. Only naturals elements such as sunshine, snow on the road or rain on the windshield vary. Even the windshield blurred in the middle of some pictures doesn’t disturb the main topic of the work, evocated by the artist himslef in the beggining of the book : a personnal reflexion about the destiny and the way to reach it.
The style chosen by Teunissen may refer to the documentary style. Procedure is very systematic, all the pictures are made from the same point of view (form the driver seat), looking straight ahead on the road with no external elements to disturb the view on it. All the picture are in black and white, in low resolution and printed on cheap sheets of newspaper. The final book is rolled up in a cardboard box.
But despite the very systematic procedure and the references to the journalistic style, Teunissen’s work is fare from documentary. Separatly, pictures are anonymous. No detail allows us to say where or when the picture is from. But the artist show them in couple, two pictures in one page. Sometimes the two pictures are formally really closed (trees on the side, infinite perspective...), sometimes they are not. But put together, they seem to tell a story, to refer to Teunissen’s own experiences when he had cover European roads to work on his Domestic Landscapes project.
He said about it "Traveling to Bulgaria for instance is a three day journey just to get there, and then the work starts. But three days in your car - that’s a trip on its own. Traveling through a country where you’ve never been before and meeting all these people and seeing all these things... I felt like I needed to do something with that experience. I couldn’t just do it and only go for the Domestic Landscape and then come back home with nothing to show for where I’ve been. [...] I’ve been doing it for years. It’s the joy of looking. That’s what it is for me".
On the road appears like a really personnal work. It looks first of all as a thanks to the road he had to take, not as a pragmatic way to reach a place from anothor one, but as an important part of his artistic process.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Flash photography brought a whole new meaning to the saying, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’.
Looking at works by Arthur Fellig, ‘Weegee’ and Kohei Yoshiyuki, the exposure of these photographs give us a greater depth of the story that surrounds the subject in the image. The flashlight over exposes the whole scene, essentially turning the light on the surrounding context, making what is normally invisible, visible.
Weegee brought out a book called ‘Naked City, 1945. This is a documentary book of Weegee’s images up to the mid 1940’s.
Instead of the usual ten foot shot other tabloid photographers would take, Weegee would sometimes take a shot a hundred feet away so as to get the whole scene, dramatising and at the same time humanising the story. An Example of this is the Picture he shot in Little Italy, 10 Prince Street, Balcony Seats at a murder.
Weegee’s Images gives us a view of New York's urban life throughout the depression years. He gave the viewer the shock value of raw cuts taken from crime scenes, murders, car crashes, drunks falling asleep on pavements.
Alongside the tabloid snaps Weegee also picked up on the after hours social life NewYork had to offer in the1930’s and 1940’s. It seems he could never put the camera down, even in movie theatres. He seems to be checking out how far he can push going undercover, makinghimself become invisible. This maybe down to the use of using infrared flash, capturing these young couples kissing in Movie theatres without them or anyone else for that matter noticing, or else it was too late for anyone to do anything as the shot had already been taken.
Weegee’s images are relative to the works by Kohei Yoshiyuki, another nocturnal photographer.
Yoshiyuki, a japanese commercial photographer, is known for his ‘The Park’ series of voyeuristic images taken from Chuo Park, Shinjuku, Japan.
Like Weegee, Yoshiyuki portrays a different side to Japanese culture that no one would expect to see.
These events were first witnessed by Yoshiyuki when he was a young photograher walking home with a colleague through Chuo Park in the early 1970’s.
He tried to take pictures of what was happening but it was too dark, so he went back with two colleagues with a kodak infrared flashbulb unit.
He had to become friends with all the voyeurs in the different parks for approximately six month before he could take pictures of the their creepy fetish behaviour towards couples in the park at night.
His images give us the feeling that we are following behind him whilst he is following the voyeurs. This feeling is portrayed in the exhibition that was held at the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibition comprised of life size images with gallery lights off. The images were shown to the viewer by the viewer holding a flashlight, making them feel like a Yoshiyuki whilst taking the pictures in the dark.
‘I wanted people to look at the bodies an inch at a time’
Yoshiyuki and Weegee tested the parameters of privacy as much as the voyeurs do. This is due to their hidden camera. taking illicit and intimate pictures without their subject knowing. The act of exhibiting and publishing of these public/ private moments is what pose difficult questions to what is private and whether we should go along with whats being revealed or do we reject it. It is how the paparazzi work today, recording public and private hidden moments of a subject without them knowing, giving their audience a chance to see the unseen.