Monthly Archives: July 2016

Singular Images, Essays on Remarkable Photographs.

Singular Images

I have just finished this book, ‘Singular Images Essays on Remarkable Photographs, edited by Sophie Howarth.  I have read this book to help prepare myself for my assignment which is to write an essay on a photograph.

I enjoyed this book and I found it very interesting describing how the photographs were made, the context and connotations.

This book has has following essays:

Latticed Window (with the camera obscura) August 1835- William Fox-Talbot by Geoffrey Batchen

Chimney Sweeps Walking 1852 – Charles Negre by Mary Warner Marien

Iago, Study from an Italian 1867 – Julia Margaret-Cameron by Roger Hargreaves

Dust Breeding 1920 – Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp by David Campany

A Snicket, Halifax 1937 – Bill Brandt by Nigel Warburton

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing N.Y.C. 1966 – Diane Arbus by Liz Jobey

Jubilee Street Party, Elland, Yorksire 1977 – Martin Parr by Val Williams

The Hug, New York City 1980 – Nan Goldin by Darsie Alexander

Aegean Sea, Pilion 1990 – Hiroshi Sugimoto by Dominic Willsdon

San Zaccaria, Venice 1995 – Thomas Struth by Sophie Howarth

A view from an apartment 2004-5 – Jeff Wall by Sheena Wagstaff

I would recommend this book and I found it a good and easy read.

 

 

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Research Point – A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing by Diane Arbus

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966 photographed by Diane Arbus.  This image brings back memories of my childhood, as my Uncle and Aunt looked similar to this when I was just a toddler.  My Uncle had that Teddy-boy look of the 60’s and my Aunt had her hair in this style which must have been very common at that time on both sides of the Atlantic (I believe that it was known as the Beehive).  The image clearly suggests an awkwardness in the attitude of the husband and wife, neither appear relaxed or very cheerful.  The wife appears distant and unhappy whilst the husband is trying to make more of an effort; but there appears to be a mix of friendliness and sadness in his eyes whilst his mouth suggests a faint smile.  Perhaps they have argued, perhaps the husband likes the photographer Diane Arbus and his wife is aware of it.  Perhaps his young wife feels trapped, her life over before it really began torn by her youth and her duty and love as a mother of two young children, one of which is disabled and likely to be quit a handful on top of that of the baby.  The baby appears fairly quite and happy whilst the boy may be sensing his parents mood as he gives the appearance of acting and looking confused and restless.  I note that the mother has clearly spent time on her appearance with her cloths, hair, make-up and eye-brows.  Is this for the benefit of the camera, herself or for the trip out?

This picture is the subject of an essay by Liz Jobey and was published in Singular Images, Essays on Remarkable Photographs.  Edited by Sophie Howarth and published by Tate Publishing.  (This book is currently out-of-print and I obtained a copy second-hand through Amazon.

According to Jobey’s essay this photo was taken on a Sunday in 1966 and the parents were taking their children out for the day.  Arbus had got to know this young N.Y. Brooklyn family and had visited then at their apartment and took some photos there as well as this one.  their names were Richard and Marylin Daurin, Richard was an immigrant from Italy working as a car mechanic he met his wife in high school and Marylin was still only 16 when they were married.  They had three children, the two in the picture is Richard Jnr. and Dawn.  Marylin was 23 when this photo was taken and she told Arbus that she was often mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor (which I suspect she encouraged by her choice of hair and make-up).  This image was first published in a special family issue of the British ‘Sunday Times’ titled ‘The American families’ with photos of the Daurin’s in the Bronx juxtaposed against the life-style of a wealthy Westchester couple.

When Arbus sent this photo to Peter Crookston the magazine’s deputy editor for the Sunday Times supplement she of Richard and Marylin, “They were undeniably close in a painful sort of way.”  However, Crookston re-wrote this for the caption as, “Richard Jnr. is mentally retarded and the family is close in a painful sort of way.”  Arbus later wrote a letter to Crookston complaining about his miss-quotation.

Arbus, by her own admission had a way with charming people in to posing for her and she became famous for seeking out people of the fringes of society and taking their portraits.  These people whom many would derogatory call freaks would be mentally ill down and outs, dwarfs, transsexuals, etc.  Sadly Arbus committed suicide in 1971.

Reading Photographs – thoughts about Photos that are not intended for the means of expression or communication.

At the beginning of section 4, ‘Reading photographs’ for my course, ‘Context and Narrative’, I have been asked to try to think of any photos that may be produced that are not intended for expression or communication.

Assuming that the photo hasn’t been over of under exposed to a degree that the image is totally white or black then the short answer is no.  For surely all photos either express something or communicate something.

However, my first thought as to a possible contender would be a photo taken for say quality-control to record that something was made or fitted to a set standard or requirement.  components in a nuclear-power-station that once fitted can not easily be inspected or checked and therefor are photographed during installation.  But this still communicates a detail of information that may at a later date be referred to.

I can only suggest that a live picture from a CCTV that is both unrecorded and un-viewed comes close to this description, for as long as no one is watching the monitor screen then the images communicate nothing nor do they express any meaning.  There existence has little point.  Perhaps a philosopher can take this observation and apply it to any photograph arguing that for as long as no one is looking at a picture, the picture  communicates nothing and nor does it expresses anything  until there a pair of eyes to look upon it.  This argument may be stretched to argue that without cultural / or use of a humans recognized visual language then any photo may not make sense to the viewer.  For example as viewed through the eyes on an insect, domestic pet or a Martian.

 

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell.

The_Problems_of_Philosophy

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, ISBN: 9781514341018.

I purchased this book earlier this year to read as part of my study for my photography degree.  I can not recall why I ordered it as it is not listed anywhere as a book to read but as I had it and was going away on holiday where I would have the time and opportunity to read it.

Russell discusses the fundamental argument of philosophy by discussing what is real?  He begins by arguing for and against the physical existence of the table he is sitting at and do people all experience the sense of sight, sound, smell and touch the same way?  He refers to the information that we receive regarding sight, smell, touch etc. as sense-data which is an interesting choice of words given that this book was written in 1912 and I believe was an expression originally coined by J.M. Keynes.  Almost 21st century I.T. language.

This was not too hard to read, if perhaps seeming a little bizarre to read about an argument about the existence of a table but again I like to keep an open mind as I often find that knowledge always find a use, if only to be a bore at a dreadful party!

Understanding a Photograph, by John Berger.

Understandin_a_Photograph_John_Berger

Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, published by Penguin.  This is the second book I have read by Berger, the first was ‘Ways of Seeing’.  I read this book whilst on holiday which I took with me as I thought that it would help in my preparation for my fourth assignment which is to write an essay about a photograph.

This book is a collection of essays discussing for example the image of the post-mortum image of Che Guevara and it’s similarity to two famous paintings one of The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt and Mantegna’s painting of the dead Christ.  Berger also writes an interesting essay on the use of photo-montage for political use and essay on Paul Strand, W. Eugene Smith and a tribute to Cartier-Bresson.  He also has writes an interesting essay on a meeting the had with Henry Cartier-Bresson in his flat in Paris (who he was a friend) called ‘A man begging on the Metro’.

Berger is a good writer; but also a typical academic.  He studied art at college and is keen on photography but not a photographer therefore his writing can be regarded as a little dry for the hands on type (of which I am one).  However, I would recommend reading this book for ideas on constructing an essay for photography.  When reading these academic books I sometimes find it hard to gauge what I am actually learn from them. Where on the other hand an exercise book that may refer to these books are more clear and filters out the flowery academic language to explain the heart of the message.

I read these books as well as the text books to try to get a more rounded idea of the intended subjects however, the Jury is still out as to whether this is making a difference to my knowledge.

 

Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images.

Reading Photographs

I have been reading this book whilst on holiday, in preparation for my next assignment, Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images, by Richard Salkeld, published by Bloomsbury.  This is part of a set of about x10 text-books that are very good and this appears to be last last one of the series for photography that I hadn’t read.

This book  is divided in to 6 chapters covering the following topics:

  1. What is a Photograph – Briefly covers the history from invention and marriage of chemistry and optics, through to the evolution of photography and its practice. Case-study.
  2. Reading the signs – Briefly covers the theory of meaning, language, semiotics, ideology in an easy to understand way.  Case-study.
  3. Truth and Lies – Considers images reflecting truth in what is real, representation and reality, facts and fiction.  Case-study.
  4. Identity – Covers people and portraits, signifying identity, looking,the body.  Case-study.
  5. Big-Brother – The modern world, the bad, the mad and the other, surveillance society: and Panopticon (originally a 19th century idea to watch prisoners in a specially designed prison). Who is looking at whom? Public spaces – private lives.  Case-study.
  6. Aesthetics – Is it Art? What is art? Photography as art the history of an idea, into postmodernism.  Case-study.

This is a very good and useful book to read, in fact I read it twice.  An easy read and very well illustrated with profiles on key authors for further reading such as Roland Barthes and John Berger to name just a couple.  I would strongly recommend this book and I am surprised that it is not listed as either recommended or essential reading for my OCA course covering Context and Narrative.

Reflections for Assignment Three

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I am happy and confident that I have met the criteria for this third assignment which was to put in to practice what I had learned through my research in order to create a self-portraiture project.  I believe that I have been able to create all the submitted images to both include me and to be about me, in context to the narrative, as provided by my friends and family.

I have found this project extremely challenging, the hardest part was finding the ideas for suitable images that could metaphorically represent my chosen subjects as clearly as possible.  However, I also found it very enjoyable as well as a little stressful.  The planning took a great deal longer than I had originally imagined.

Trying to take a photo whilst not being behind the camera was also fraught with difficulties.  I invested in a piece software by Nikon (Camera Control Pro 2, available on a free 30 day trial from the Nikon website) in order to operate the camera remotely through a tethered lap-top but even with this added aid the task was still trick trying to keep the subject in focus.

I feel reasonably happy with my final presented work and I hope that my Tutor likes it.