Category Archives: Project 4 The Gallery Wall – documentary as art

Exercise, Project 4, Sarah Pickering

I have just been looking at the work of Sarah Pickering on her website: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/ much of her work on the website appears to have been with the assistance of the Police and Fire Brigade.

All her images lack people, all her images are totally empty of people in the streets, rooms, exhibitions spaces, etc.

For me Pickering’s project, ‘Public Order’ produces a feelings of silence, vacancy / emptiness, stillness and either implied or suggested impending doom.  The images from the Fire Brigades training facilities, ‘Fire Scene’, are disturbing images of disaster and menace, in so much as they are scenes of house fires with all the victims personal affects in place and it is easy to imagine the victim or victims asleep near by and that these are real events.  In her project ‘Incident’ she examines the charred, smoke damaged and scorched interiors of rooms and corridors that the fire brigade practice searching through under fire conditions with the recovery of victims.  Again these images produce a sense of stillness, and menace the use of black and white also adds an ‘atmosphere’ that I think Pickering wanted to convey in these images.

Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

Yes, I believe ‘Public Order’ is an effective use of documentary.  The images have been set out on her website and the viewpoints that she has selected to take her pictures it is very easy to quickly realise that what you are looking at is either an Army or Police training ground.  The very first image of the entrance to the railway station and the fictional town name of Denton (made famous by ‘Inspector Frost’) clearly shows a station entrance lacking any turn styles and what appears to be film set like building fronts.  As you view each image we are taken on a tour of this training ground and we see signs of recent past use, the two cars blocking the road, make shift barricades with tires and shopping trolleys all tell their story as to the past action.  She takes us behind the scenes to where riot helmets are kept and other scenarios can be acted out.

Is this possibly misleading?

This question  is subject to the context that the images are placed with, are they not?  If we were to say that these images are of a training installation purely for the welfare for us all to protect us from Aliens, Zombies, and Vampire hoards then we would clearly be misleading.  Moreover, to suggest that these facilities could not be used to train a security force to subdue an unhappy population would also be misleading.  We can only except its existence and trust our society that in its openness to allow access and publicity for such sites we are assured that they have no other agenda than the protection public.  should these images have been taken covertly and leaked on to the internet to expose the existence of this facility then the whole context and narrative would be different.

 

 

 

 

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Research point – Paul Seawright’s ‘Sectarian Murders’.

The work of Paul SeawrightSectarian Murders‘ (http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian) is and interesting example where a photographic artist has challenged the boundaries of documentary photography by taking images that are only linked by extracts from newspaper reports and the locations in the images.  The images themselves don’t offer clues to their context until the text and images are tied together.  However, the photographers choices of view points creates both an interesting design element to the pictures for an art point of view and the linking text creates a context for a narrative that the viewer can construct themselves.

Seawright’s argument is that to create good documentary photography for an art gallery he must produce interesting images that do not give up their full meaning in one glance.  He suggest such images are advertising or journalistic editorial images chosen for their impact.  He argues that a good artist never makes plain the message in a picture and by leaving a ‘space’ in his images he allows the viewer to construct their own narrative to the images meaning.  This is not a new idea, a visit to any art gallery and viewing many a painting by masters old and contemporary will demonstrate this practice in use.  This is a cleaver and imaginative form of documentary photography.

I do not necessarily believe that by defining a piece of documentary work as a art will change its meaning.  We can define anything as art, I think that what we currently term art is something that is considered suitable for a public display in a gallery or a book.  Therefore, images of the burning Hindenburg, Neil Armstrong on the moon, a starving Ethiopian child suitable framed and displayed becomes an image of art and exhibited in a  chosen context these images can build their own narrative subject to that context and the viewers own imagination.