Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?
The question of voyeurism and exploitation in Lee’s work is a difficult question to answer. Coming from the point of view of a white English male in 2020 my initial reaction is to say that the works are at best cultural appropriation. A term which has become synonymous with racism, or rather the adoption of the traits of a race which doesn’t garner the same equality as the race that adopts those traits. the film ‘Get Out’ being an excellent example of this.
However, to play devils advocate on the subject matter at hand, I associate Lee’s work more with the idea of self than with appropriation. Devoid of any context I wouldn’t hold this opinion and possibly wrongly, I also believe that the fact Lee is Korean also lends itself to the idea that the works explore what social identity means.
On the surface the works could be seen as Lee inserting herself into a culture of which her national heritage does not belong, yet across the whole collection of. her images Lee never really seems out of place. Instead, she appears as a minority amongst minorities (a minority in the sense that the works are staged within a primarily white dominate country).
Her work suggests the lack of boundaries to social groups, in that there is no stereotypical member to the group only the influence of that society on shaping, adapting and ‘fitting in’ on the individual. An idea Western often associate with eastern ‘conformist’ societies. The work suggests the idea of predisposition but yet also the freedom to change those groups. The choice of the individual to define themselves.
I think this works as Lee deftly skirts the line of adoption, she appropriates the style of the culture but doesn’t attempt to impersonate another race in doing so.
Notably it is in the typically male, western, white roles that she seems most out of place. A comment more on the lack of diversity of not only race but gender within those roles.
Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?
The answer to would I partake in Morrissey’s work would all depend on the situation. I am inclined to say yes but the deciding factor will be dependant on the approach of the artist, the circumstances of approach and the willingness of the participants. From the look of the images it seems everyone involved was enjoying the moment and process which gives me no immediate cause for discontent. The idea of Morrissey challenging the social boundaries that we normally instigate and enforce in public is interesting. The relationship between strangers immediately and irrevokably created for the image gives all involved a memory and point of commonality.
Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.
Morrissey’s collection of images for ‘the Failed Realist’ consist of a series of self-portraits, shot as a head and shoulders, straight and flat headshot. The only continually developing part of each frame is the change of character painted onto her face by her young daughter. It both shows the many different roles that Morrissey plays as a mother but also the ever changing and developing interests of the young mind and the playful freedom of will that she has developed.
For ‘Seven Years’ Morrissey enlists the help of her sibling to re-enact, with fine attention to detail, compositions based on actual photos, memories and composites of their family life through the 1970’s and 80’s. The work reflects the relationships that the sisters have experienced, the conflicts, special moments and interpretations of stories and memories. Morrissey describes the works as reflect the familial tensions present in all families, but I see it more as the family influence on the individual.
For this exercise we are asked to reflect on several questions regarding the works of Elina Brotherus.
How do these images make you feel?
Overall I feel the images lend a sense of empathy to the subject. The collective works document a very personal journey for the artist and with the combination of isolated portraits highlighting the lack of ‘another’ and close up portraits tying the viewer to the portrait subject the viewer is drawn in to the narrative. Individually the images have different effects, some uncomfortable, the extreme closeness of an obviously upset subject, the ‘behind closed doors’ sense of being the medication, bruises and normally private moments associated with the process of IVF treatment. Some images have a sense of familiarity, the small details of the artists home and life that have shared experience such as the rubber ducks on the bath nd the appreciation of the cherry blossom. I also have a personal sense of nostalgia from the images in New York a place I spent two months and the image of Coney Island Cyclone reminds me of the time I spent there and the connotations its brings of family fun and enjoyment.
Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?
In the way we see here, I don’t believe there is an element of narcissism. Narcissism for me is more a practice of presenting the best possible version of yourself to the world, believing you are superior in some way. Here we see the artist at the most vulnerable, sharing her perceived failures and fragility. There can be a slight sense of self indulgence to vulnerable works, but I don’t believe that is necessarily a bad thing. Self-indulgence depends mostly on the purpose and proliferation of the act. I feel that using the arts to discover, understand, validate or process your feelings is a useful and effective tool. Creating something meaningful from a negative experience or emotion can be an uplifting and positive experience, I do however feel that an individual becomes dependant on the validation associated with sharing these works then it can become self-indulgent, limiting yourself or restricting yourself to reliving and wallowing in a frame of mind purely to receive the validation.
In both Woodman’s and Brotherus’s work we see collection of challenging and difficult works but we also see development of those times, breaks from those thoughts and themes of acceptance which separates them from self-indulgence.
What is the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?
Nakedness within these images I feel signifies the artists vulnerability, not only in that she is showing us typical unseen processes and emotions but also her own vulnerability at having her desire to have children in hands of the IVF treatment. Theres also the sense that nakedness signifies truth, the removal of our outer persona to show us unhindered by societal norms such as fashion and perception. Finally I feel that Brotherus’s nakedness refers to nature and the instinct to procreate. One of the most inherent purposes of humanity since before the advent of fashion.
Can such images ‘work’ without the accompanying text?
I believe that Brotherus has created a strong set of images with a coherent narrative which does an excellent job of communicating the theme of the set. The internal context of the images work very well with each frame containing reference to the theme, the discarded packaging, the blood in the toilet bowl, the drugs, pregnancy test and the isolation of the subject in most images all build to subtly tell a story. I do however believe that the text heightens the experience by communicating the sense of urgency and loss that Brotherus felt around the possibility and eventual end of her treatment. Also the text widens the appeal of the theme, a subject I can only assume would be more apparent to female viewers due to their own personal experiences, which a male could only experience vicariously and therefore miss the subtleties involved in this project.
Do you think any of these artists are also addressing the wider issues beyond the purely personal?
With work as personal as Woodman’s, Brotherus and Wearing it is easy to say that no, they don’t address the wider issues. I do however believe that in the sharing of stories so personal that they actually create a point of commonality that can unite the viewer with the wider issues. Facts and figures which support a wider issue are very good at condensing an idea down to its fundamentals but it is in the personal experience that we build empathy with the subject matter and for those with similar experiences it will be the relatability of the work that has the most impact.
Trying to summarise the contents of Ben Highmore’s ‘Everyday Life and Cultural Theory’ is not a task I have been looking forward to. Having taken 44 pages of notes (displayed below) the book is a deep dive into several notable authors theories on the definition of ‘everyday life’, attempts at cataloguing and theories of how to change and communicate the ‘feeling’ of the everyday.
Highmore takes the reader on a whistle stop tour of concepts proposed by Frued, Simmel, De Certeau, Jameson and others. These concepts cover; what is ‘everyday life’? How do we define ‘everyday life’? Can we and how could we document ‘everyday life’? Should we document ‘everyday life’? Is ‘everyday life’ universal? And a dozen other variations on these questions.
In essence the culmination of the views discussed in this text is that ‘Everyday Life’ is a result of the commoditisation and standardisation of a capitalist economy.
Alluding to theories of Quantum Physics and Relativistic Theory, the concept of ‘Everyday Life’ is described as a temporally variable monotony. That time moves more slowly due to the structured nature of living and working in an environment that is carefully planned and controlled to maximise the productivity of workers in an economy focussed on deriving profit from time. It is the repetitiveness of action that extends the experience of time which becomes apparent to the participant of the experience incurring boredom. Further to this, the idea of modernity and productivity drives the class system creating inequality and therefore parts of society which are tied to the routine of low level employment or social support systems, areas in which there is now time or money to expand knowledge or experience and where movement and actions are further controlled by the rules and regulations of the system.
I mention Quantum Physics here as reference to the idea that a mundane act becomes extraordinary by the act of us recording, observing or communicating tat act, much in the way that an atom can’t truly be observed without affecting that atom therefore fundamentally changing the course of that event.
Highmore also discusses the techniques, methods and mediums that have been utilised in an attempt to document the experience of the ‘everyday life’. Outlining the surrealist movement, sociological and ethnological techniques adopted by those attempting to comprehend the ‘everyday’. This includes the use of high detailed and structured cataloguing of movements such as the works of ‘Mass Observation’ through to the psychologic writings of Freud. In discussing these methods also writes about the counter to the academic approaches in which less systemic approaches are employed to reflect the complex fabric of the ‘everyday’.
Through out my reading of the book my ideas on the ‘everyday’, my thoughts on recording the ‘everyday’ and even my thoughts on societal standards as a while have been evolving continuously. It may be that I already have a tendency towards disliking capitalist economies yet I feel that the ideas presented here are compelling in supporting the idea of inequality at the hands of productivity.
My take away from the whole text on ‘the everyday’ is that I probably need to read it again to truly grasp all the theories as the text is very academic in its writing and involves dozens of references to authors, theorists and practitioners. Many of which I have no prior knowledge of but, I will attempt a summary of my future actions and how it pertains to my photographic work.
‘The Everyday’ is different for everyone yet for the majority there are fundamentals that remain constant. The complexity of the behaviours, routines and rituals of different regions, tribes and locales are deeply rooted in the environmental history and are easy to approximate and mimic but it is extremely difficult to truly understand the cultural meaning to the individual entrenched in that society. ‘The Everyday’ as a universal experience relates to the shared commonalities of individuals within a set social group, meaning what is a shared ‘everyday’ for a homeless person will never be the same for royalty, yet there is a shared everyday in the act of necessity such as meal times. As ‘The Everyday’ is a multifaceted experience, to communicate and understand the ‘everyday’ is to build a deep understanding of every aspect, the sights, smells, sounds etc. Trying to catalogue the extent of the ‘everyday’ is an unending task as every detail becomes massively complex resulting in an unending challenge, yet structure is part of what forms the ‘everyday’. The ‘everyday’ movement has become so intertwined and steeped in politics, either as a project to be undertaken in understanding the effects of politics or as a tool to engage reform, resistance and revolution, that it is almost impossible to separate the theories from the political views of those involved.
I’m several hundred words in to this post and still I haven’t really come to a summation that reflects the book or my intentions but I feel that may well be part of the issue discussed within the text. To call on the physics metaphor again, there isn’t a ‘Unified Theory’ of the ‘Everyday’
Start by doing some reflecting in your learning log. What kinds of subjects might be seen as unphotographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? List a few examples of things you’re experiencing now or have recently been thinking about. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth or revealing, but it can be if you want. Equally, it might be something as apparently trivial as how you’re going to fit everything into your busy day. At first you may come up with literal examples, but the more you think about them the more those ideas will develop into specific and more original ones. Make a list of at least seven ideas. Try and keep to things you have a personal interest in or curiosity about.
Keep a notebook with you at all times and make notes when ideas strike you as interesting. (This is good practice for all stages of the degree and beyond. Ideas books are something to be revisited time and again for ideas and hints for the photographer you’re becoming.)
Now implement one of your ideas. Aim for a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7–10 photographs.
‘Photographing the unseen’ is my chosen assignment for this part of the unit. the idea came around after speaking with my tutor in the assignment one feedback session about how I had been thinking about the images I have hung on my walls and how they remind me of certain emotions. This linked with the issues of lack of motivation during the Covid-19 lockdown period came together to form a theme of photographing the ‘unseen’ experience of living alone in isolation and the effects that can have on people.
I live alone and have for about 5 years now, in itself it is not an issue, I have several different interests and social groups to engage with during the week but, having to be cooped up indoors during the lockdown has meant I have missed out on most of those avenues of distraction. The monotony of each day without deadlines, appointments or distractions has been hard to manage. I’ve found myself whiling away the time watching tv, YouTube and gaming without much regard for the future as it always seems as if the world is on hold whilst we get the outbreak under control. I feel as this would be different for those who live with family as there would be more ‘normality’ surrounding them.
For the images I really wanted to capture everyday scenes but with a sense of the surreal nature of the experience. Using ideas from past assignments such as ‘Languages of Light’ and taking inspiration for other photo artists such as Jeff Wall, I aimed to create scenes that are natural but also strategic in their execution. Each scene is a moment I have lived but not necessarily an accurate representation of each. I aim to show the extremes but through a journey from the mundane as captured by the lighting and photographic techniques used in each frame.
For my research you can access detailed notes through my learning log with links listed in the bibliography.
Primarily my inspiration came from the information gathered regarding social isolation and the link to increased rates of loneliness, depression and physical health decline including lower average lifetimes. These are prevalent within the younger generations and low income demographics, with little difference in the amount of people living together but a slight lean towards males being more affected.
Further to this research into the specifics are the effects of loneliness and those affected, the tutor suggested reading of ‘Everyday Life and Cultural Theory – An Introduction’ (Ben Highmore 2002) has developed my understanding of capturing the ideas in photographic ways. The idea of surreal ness was already embedded in my mind from the way I personally felt about the experience of lockdown but this is further enforced by the ideas presented in this book. Surrealism as described is the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the extra-ordinary in order to create an engaging artwork. The idea of recording the everyday adopted this method in an attempt to communicate the feeling of the everyday, a complex process which I will discus further in another blog post. Using this ideas supported my original concept to capture everyday scenes of lockdown whilst challenging the perception by introducing different lighting, objects and compositions to emphasise the emotional side of what is presented.
For the compositional work Jeff Wall was my main inspiration drawing on his large format, staged compositions in which we see an apparently random moment in time but has been excruciatingly prepared to present exactly the ideas Wall strove to achieve. I enjoy the reinterpretation of the ‘decisive moment’ in which the artist looks to communicate beyond the aesthetics of the image and yet present it as a ‘decisive moment’ in its naturalness and familiarity.
I also found inspiration in the works of Francesca Woodman, not necessarily the content, aesthetics or composition of each frame, but in the description of self and the the communication of ideas. Woodman’s work is often said to communicate her impending suicide but as written in my blog post on the subject I feel her work was more her way of communicating her ideas of the world and self and that it is only in retrospect that we attach the idea of a ‘cry for help’. Her images also present surreal ideas in the way we see objects of mysticism and death juxtaposed with her sexuality, alongside her images of friendships, humour and family relationships.
A collection of images intended to capture the ‘unseen’ effects of isolation on the ‘unseen’ individual living alone. The use of conflicting and un-natural colour tones, lighting styles, inclusion of technological props and influences are a reflection of the state of mind during long periods without human interaction in a ‘real-life’ social interaction. The societal standards, deadlines and constant barrage stimulus that normally surrounds us is replaced with unending banality. Social media and online networking becoming our only contact with the outside world compounding the need to play for the camera whilst being our only source of socialisation, distraction, entertainment and information. As someone who lives alone, the period of lockdown has become a period of short attention spans and lack of drive. A never ending long weekend where every little job becomes an excuse for a rest as there is no deadline for completion and no accountability to others, friends or family. The only constant being my dog, my dependant, her walks and feeding times the only remnant of routine. The sporadic nature of emotion is reflected in the variety of images presented, some days are relatively normal whilst others, despite being filled with stimulus, stir little in the way of interest or joy. Occasionally, there can be a special moment that brings a smile and others when it feels as if no one would notice you were gone. I call the collection ‘Self Isolated – 1 Day in Lockdown’ so to gather the set into a time frame which signifies the constant shifting of mood and emphasising the longevity of the restrictions.
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills
This assignment has been the one where I spent more time planning shots than in any previous assignment, this seems counter to the idea of capturing the everyday but with a basis in real experiences in all of the images I feel that the planning has helped with the execution. Sketching out the compositions, framing and lighting first enabled me to then concentrate on ensuring that each image has compositional balance. Working in low light situations and in potentially risky scenarios was made easier after lots of practice in these techniques and the use of remote viewing software to use my phone as a trigger and image checker.
Quality of Outcome
I haven’t printed these images and in the short term don’t intend to purely from a cost perspective, currently my expenditure has to be focused on bills and rent and after spending several £100’s on the first unit for printing to then not be able to submit them has meant I will wait on printing until funds become available. The images themselves I have reviewed at 200% full size to inspect for distractions, dust and focus issues and overall I am very happy with the quality and would feel confident in printing in my usual size of 13″ x 19″. The only images I feel may have issue are ‘Night Light’ and Meeting’ as the lighting was very challenging and there is potential for break down in the blacks from black crush due to exposing to the left to preserve dynamic range for the highlights.
Demonstration of Creativity
Overall I am happy with the creative output. I believe I have taken aspects from other photographers work and style and brought them together in a way which is inline with my own vision and voice. I do however feel that the images are a little static and potentially there would have been room to ‘loosen’ the feel of some images by relaxing on the overall ‘sharpness’ of the images or by introducing some frames which contained more movement. However I do also feel that the static ness does play into the idea of a sedentary environment and when considering the images, two I decided not to include were of a more loose style which didn’t seem to feel right within the group.
I find it hard to pass judgement on the set of images as a whole, I feel that being so close to the subject both figuratively and literally, that I am naturally inclined to conclude that the images are well executed. In photographing the everyday there will, I feel, always been a sense of incompleteness. Here I think that the set is 90% what I set out to achieve but lacking some of the more etherealness, extra-ordinariness and drama that I originally set out to create. However in working through creative process I have also created tones and views that I wouldn’t have discovered had I stuck vehemently to my initial concept. The disjointedness of the images is something that bothers me as I feel that they are a great set of individual images but necessarily a coherent series in its base intent. However as I shot each image individually over a period of weeks I feel they reflect the emotion of that moment in time and together the disjointedness becomes part of the narrative, one of wavering commitment and engagement and a fluctuating sense of loneliness and depression.
“It is difficult not to read Woodman’s many self-portraits – she produced over five hundred during her short lifetime – as alluding to a troubled state of mind. She committed suicide at the age of twenty-two.” Bright, S. Auto focus: The self-portrait in contemporary photography (2010)
Bright’s analysis of Woodman’s photography as referenced is on the surface accurate. Woodman’s collection of images are typically darkly toned self-portraits, surreal in composition and posing, capturing herself often naked or exposing certain parts of her body. She uses long shutter speeds to distort her movements, creating an ethereal feel to the scenes also often selected for their run down and poorly maintained dusty appearances. These scenes compound the feeling of isolation, vulnerability and loss associated with the knowledge of the artists suicide.
In stating that on the surface these thoughts are accurate I refer to the fact that Bright is reviewing these images nearly 30 years after the artists suicide. The knowledge of the artist decision to take their own life combined with the knowledge that Woodman had recently experienced a relationship breakdown and several rejections of her work as an artist significantly impacts the interpretation of the artists extensive works. It is easy to take the knowledge we have now and attribute that to the works as a way of finding meaning within the images. Woodman often left her images untitled with little supporting information for the intention but we do have the accounts of friends and family to challenge the belief that the work is reflective of a troubled mind.
Woodman’s parents describe her as being “witty” and that her images were “often funny”, that “she had a good time”.
I think we see this in several of her images, Woodman produced over 800 prints with only around 120 ever being published. We often associate Woodman with only a select few of those images and I think this is were the idea of the photographs prophecising Woodman’s suicide comes from. The images I selected for fig.1 is an example of the other side of Woodman’s work. We see Woodman apparently dancing with a cat an image I can’t help but smile at and relate with.
Woodman has been described as suffering from depression most relevantly by her long term friend and room mate Betsy Berne. Betsy also described her as a feminist with a great sense of humour, also describing her work as contained witty and ironic themes. Space2 (Fig.2)shows the juxtaposition of Woodman, nude against the skull on display in a cabinet.
At first glance it is easy to see the skull as symbolic of a theme of death but looking closer at the image we see Woodman posing in an exaggerated sexualised form, we see the way the light falls perfectly for that type of pose and the framing of Woodman with the cabinet herself. More of a message on sexuality created by a feminist than a vision of the artists state of mind.
This short piece is more about when presented with information prior to the exploration of the art we have a pre conceived idea of what to conclude form the images. Knowing Woodman died by suicide gives us the subconscious bias to look for the depression in each frame. Viewing the images with a open mind we see the artist toying with the idea of life and death, of being here and not here and also the sexualisation of the nude female body. We also see her humour and relationships as well as her skill as a photographer. It is all these concepts and ideas that I find interesting, I relate to her depression and see her photography as her discovering her value, speaking about her self and trying to communicate her inner voice but I don’t see her body of work as “alluding to a troubled state of mind” only that we want to interpret what we see and taking her suicide as the driving force to her work is the easiest way to do that.
I state created in that sentence in reference to Wall’s style of recreating, paying homage to or honouring moments he has witnessed or art his has seen within his images. Wall is known for, in some parts controversially, photographing meticulously constructed scenes, much in the way a Hollywood film creates everything we see from scratch rather than photographing the ‘real’. The example above is his homage to a Japanese woodcut, Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri, ca. 1832 by Katsushika Hokusai (fig.2)
Whilst the clear influences are visible within Wall’s image, the scene has been recreated in a very western way, shot in Vancouver, Walls home, we see the differences in landscape, dress and objects. The image itself appears completely random and in the moment, yet it is composite of images taken over a 5 month period. Wall studied as a painter originally and this techniques of building the image from collage parts is typically much more in line with that field where one has the perceived freedom to create from nothing.
Wall’s work often reflect art pieces as with his image The Destroyed Room (fig.3)
This image has been attributed to being drawn from Death of Sardanapalus, Eugène DELACROIX (Charenton-Saint-Maurice (Val-de-Marne), 1798 – Paris, 1863) (fig.4)
In both images we see the use of red throughout the frame, a colour of passion and danger, affluence and excess. Whilst Wall’s image omits the bodies from the image this almost becomes the aftermath style of documentary photography capturing the remnants of Death of Saradanapalus.
Wall’s images are always engaging, I don’t always find that one is as good as the next but one cannot deny the technical ability and presentation skills on show in each frame. I feel his work is at its best when it takes the idea of photography as a modern painterly style medium and pushes it to the extreme. The commentary on the use of photography within the images such as with The destroyed Room and documentary or Milk (fig.5) and the Decisive Moment, are when he creates his best work.
Wall originally printed all his images to transparencies and backlit them in the same techniques used by advertising billboards that filled the streets on bus stops and shop fronts. this technique emphasises his cinematic style, emulating the effect of projection in giving the images an increased brightness and visibility as apposed to traditional print medium which relies on the reflection of light rather than light passing through. However he has moved to more traditional mediums in recent times as his work has darkened.
For my own work I look to take cues from Wall on the way he utilises every part of the frame, not necessarily filling it with redundant information but more in how nothing seems out of place, balanced and natural. I also enjoy the way he questions the use of photography as a medium, never hiding the fact he creates the images but rather perfecting the representation of the idea or event. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree that every image should be a painstakingly constructed tableau, in many ways this can rob the image of the spontaneity and emotion of a raw capture, I do feel that Wall walks the line very well in the majority of his images. I like the idea of modernising classical art, partly for a new audience but also to draw attention to the original pieces. The lit transparencies see to pop with life and detail, another reason for ensuring the images are pin perfect along with the sheer size of his prints often rivalling classical fine art in scope. I’ve often toyed with the idea of projection which is similar in ways, maintaining the cinematic but with the idea that the projection can place things where they do not belong. Finally I think the act of creating such elaborate and constructed images which appear ‘real’ would challenge the idea of surrealism in photography. Often people think of the weird and wonderful as constructs of surrealism but I find that in the medium of photography it becomes more about how within the real there are these strange occurrences among seemingly everyday scenes.
For assignment 2 I want to develop both technically and theoretically. Theoretically in that I want to capture images which have a natural appearance but have more depth within the frame and by depth I mean more to discover upon closer examination. Technically in that I am looking to improve and grow the cope of potential images through the ability to create the image I have in my head more accurately and in keeping with the desire to add depth and maintain naturalness, to do that in a why which is seemingly unplanned yet may have required dedicated effort to achieve that look.
Much in the way that I have found myself very attracted to the works of Jeff Wall a photographer who’s meticulous creations appear to be completely in the moment.
One point I have made a conscious effort to look into is the use of colour in film, I read a lot about cinema as that has been a major influence in my taste and having frequently been informed that my own work has a cinematic feel it seems prudent to lean into that going forward as a strength.
Colour theory is very much the ideas and rules around the use of colour to convey emotion, context and even narrative either through lighting, visual aesthetics or post processing. The idea being that humans have inherent interpretations of colour as signifiers of different states. An early example we learn is that red or yellow can both signify danger. We also learn through life by absorbing literature, marketing and film that utilise these theory and in a way self confirm the theory by emphasising it. By this I mean the use of blues in medical advertisements to show cleanness and calm, the use greens to reflect the colours in nature to give us the feeling of naturalness and yellows which we take from the sun to show warmth. It is in the extremes of these we find more extreme reactions such as jealousy, sickliness, cold and fear. A complex mixture of what we physically associate with and what we have been taught culturally. I would be very interested to know how different these associations could be across different cultures.
Another part of colour theory is how the colours interact either in a single frame or across a boarder story. the interactions can signify conflicts, collaborations and agreements and given a longer story the way the colour pallets change can reflect the change of setting, subject and character progression. As well as drawing attention to certain parts of the frame such as significant objects or people.
Colour is described general in three terms;
It is the adjustment of these qualities that give us the differences between colours and the ability to create endless combinations of tones. Albeit that the creation of various colours is a complex and debated subject for the purposes of this piece I am focusing on the use of specific colours to attribute different types of ‘feel’ to an image.
To achieve this one may choose to light an environment a certain way. Traditionally the use of flash photography limited the photographer to the colour temperature of the flash, typically around 5500k which is a measurement on the light temperature scale commonly associated with sunlight at noon, a workable temperature with little effect on the natural colours captured allowing for post processing to compensate for any localised variance or to allow for the artistic choice to shift the image to a more pleasing colour tone. With the advent of digital photography it is much easier to manipulate the temperature of individual part so the image to achieve the ‘look’ the photographer desires but this is still limited to the initial set up of the lighting. Another approach is the use of gels on lights to correct the temperature in the moment, for example using a flash at sunset would create a distracting difference between the natural light and the subject light but with a colour correction gel one can tint the flash to match. These gels also allow for the use of any range of colours to introduce non-naturally occurring light sources into the image whilst still allowing the flexibility and freedom to place lighting where needed without having to rely on post processing.
Having established ways to change colour temperature and introduce non-natural lighting the question I have is what colours and why? For this colour charts are widely available with commonly accepted partners, contrasts and meanings displayed in useful ways for reference. I found four common ways to group colours for use in a scheme;
Monochromatic – Single hue with changes to saturation and/or brightness
Complementary – Colours opposite each other on a colour wheel but paired
Analogous – 2,3 or 4 colours next to each other on a colour wheel used together
Triadic – Three colours separated equally across the wheel
When reviewing each of these schemes apart from their underlying intention to communicate through colour, the scheme also lends itself to different visual themes. Monochromatic can seem unreal and dreamlike, flooding an image with a single tone seems unnatural. Analogous can seem natural in that is shows more tones but also used to replicate certain film stocks and therefore time periods as well as being able to give weight to a monochromatic scheme by introducing additional colours. Complementary can take the same feel of the monochromatic but emphasise certain points and in other ways come seem more natural dependant on the hues and saturations selected. Complementary seems more dramatic and punchy when using strong saturation. Where as triadic is very pop-art, a sort of mundane surrealism.
Finally the choice of colour to influence feelings is supported by dozens of references on the internet but I chose this simple one as a starting point.
Is barber in his collection ‘Big Society’ looks to document ‘Britishness’ during the post 2007/2008 financial crash.
Speaking with Vice magazine he discusses the goals of the project and the concept as a whole. He looks to capture the ironic nationalism often driven via propaganda style tabloid news articles and marketing commonly found to appeal directly to those most affected by the influence of austerity measures placed upon the country post 2007-2008.
His mix of Union Jack and white cross England flags, showing the mis-placement and misrepresentation of which as a indicator of the irony and juxtaposition that the scene brings compared to the beliefs of those supporting the agenda of Britain first and National pride.
The fact that those most supportive of the measures taken and the government that implemented it are those most heavily affected by the measures.
Si, when asked ‘Would you say bad economy contributes to absurd behaviour?’ responds by agreeing but also stating ‘I want to photograph the roadside memorial, not the accident.’ A point I find is conveyed through several of the images in this collection. This desire to capture the aftermath of the effects rather than the causes or the specifics of what the austerity measures are leaves us with a collection of snippets and surface level observations.
Several of Barbers images are striking, most notably the following;
I selected this image (fig.1) as I find it is a good example of what the artist could have achieved across the collection. a well presented effective image with a caption that contextualises the information presented and helps build on the narrative of the collection.
I find this image (fig.2) another good image for the collection. The image itself speaks to the artist intent and presents us a jovial take on the points raised about Nationalism and a typical British scene, diving deeper one could find the ‘Eat British Food’ an ironic statement in an image which barely shows crops growing or a message to the highly specified nature of farming today. with the support of the simple caption presenting unbiased facts about what we see this gives the ability to build upon the given narrative.
However, I do find the rest of collection a mix of either exploitative, biased or unsubstantiated attempts at narrative.
I selected ‘migrant worker’ (fig.3) as an example of images that I feel fall in with the bias I mention as I find that the image it self is fine and when you associate it with migrant workers, as part of a larger narrative it would have been enough but the artist chose to include ‘watched over by a gangmaster’ in the caption to the image. As I mention the image itself is fine but I find nothing within the frame to support the caption other than an example of how captions can be used to sway a viewers thoughts or conclusions about what they see. It makes me think of a tabloid caption, provocative for the sake of engaging yet without any substance to support the claim.
I also selected this image (fig.4) as an example of the exploitative nature of some of Barbers work. This is the first of four almost identical images showing sex workers from Bradford. Not only are the images so up front and clear in their intent, they are the only sense of reputation in the collection, the only images to be shot in this harshly light way and framed tightly, fully revealing the subjects physicality and apparent scars and injuries from drugs and potentially issues that have dealt with whilst working. Their inclusion forms a noticeable break to the collection in comparison to the other images yet also garners the least amount of context from the presented captions. The subjects dehumanised to their first name and job title and presented in such a harsh manner it becomes as if the photographer has no respect for the subjects as individual people, the very nature of their work and the use of the location and name attached to the image putting them at great risk to the potential causes of their current situation such as fleeing abuse.
Altogether I feel that Si Barber more stumbled across his narrative than set out with a clear agenda or goal in mind. The mixing of simple factual captions and either under simplified or biased captions makes for a collection that doesn’t seem to agree with its own findings. We see the hardships people suffered in an aftermath style, the irony of those who are proud Britains being let down by their beliefs yet I feel that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the subject matter.
Speaking about (fig.5) Barber says ‘…whereas with the memorial you get a look at the pathetic nature of life. I don’t mean that life is pathetic but putting together this memorial with a couple bits of wood, can give you an idea of the fragility of life more than anything else.’ In this sentence I get the distinct feeling Barber revealed his true thoughts and tried to change that direction with a statement about fragility. I get the feeling he looks down on his subject, he hopes to elicit provocation by attempting to photograph a subject which could be controversial but lacks the empathy to truly communicate the stories of those involved.
At first I really wanted to enjoy and like this series as it had been suggested to me by my tutor but after starting writing I tend to start discovering my true thoughts. Overall, I think the collection would have benefitted from being split into different series with more coherence between the narratives and styles. Theres single images here were we need more to understand what we see and also micro sets where we discover little new which would have benefitted from being part of a larger narrative. I think in my previous paragraphs I made it clear that the more I reviewed the collection the less I respected the photographer and the more I felt I was seeing the work of a tabloid photographer attempting to step out from the shadows.
Following on from the feedback given in my Assignment 1 feedback I am looking into the suggested reading put forward by my Tutor. Strangely enough after watching the complete BBC series ‘The Genius of Photography, I made notes to follow up on the first suggested reading ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ by Richard Billingham.
‘Ray’s a Laugh’
This collection of images presented by Billingham documents his late teen/early twenties life with his father the titular Ray, an aging alcoholic single father, in the tower blocks of Cradley Heath one the mid 1990’s. Billinghams mother Liz, had moved out of the home one year prior to Billingham picking up a camera for the first time. Billinghams original goal was to photograph his father as a record to base his painting work on as his father was not one for sitting for long periods for him to study. This eventually developed into using the medium to comprehensively document the life of his father, his reconnection years later with his mother and the home life they shared whilst Billingham was at Sunderland University studying.
Billinghams work is intensely personal yet unabashed. In some ways this could be because the subjects of the images aren’t necessarily himself, but at the same time the association and recognition of the scene being of the artists home, life and family reflect back on him as an individual. The images are also a mixture of humour, violence, hurt and pain. The living conditions displayed and the apparent outbursts are so outrageous they become surreal, challenging us with the question of who could live like this or act like this?
The image of the cat flying through the air, shocked yet prepared to land, with Ray in the background apparently throwing the cat is both shocking and funny.
Yet we also see images that seem to show the love Billingham felt for his parents despite the obvious issues between them, him and the life they lead.
The series raises so many questions in regards to both the work and the subject. Billingham has been referred to as exploitative, presenting such provocative images could be seen that way but I feel that Billingham is in a position that allows this display due to his irrevocable involvement in the scenes we see. This is Billingham documenting his world, his tribe and his experiences. In different hands this series could easily slip into the exploitative, a third party with little knowledge and experience of the family, capturing a slim section of their lives and presenting the most egregious selection to provoke attention would be. There is a small but significant difference between exploitative and shocking. The difference being that the intimacy and rawness of these images can be shocking but as it is a personal story, one which can also reflect on the artist in negative light, we are more inclined to side with the artist empathetically.
My connection and empathy for the images may come from living in a similar council house scenario albeit without the extremes of the life Billingham has obviously endured. A single parent family with an abusive father, growing up in a working class family with close ties to the manual work found in factories and a school filled with classmates from drug dealing families, something most people I know can’t relate to. Thankfully my grandparents, mother and future step-father didn’t make the same mistakes as Billinghams parents yet I can understand how easily things could be different. Ray himself even reminds me of my Grandfather in his hallowed looks and grinning face, my Grandfather was one of the skinniest men I knew and smoked incessantly, drank his shot of whiskey each night and never stopped smiling yet he was a kind man who provided for my mother and her brothers, loved my grandmother dearly and always woke early to light the coal fire with a pressed white shirt and v-neck jumper. So physically similar yet different in the most fundamental ways.