Category Archives: Part Four

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.

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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.

 

Exercise – Analysis of an advertisement image.

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This is an advertisement that I scanned from Home and Antique magazine, published November 2015.  It is an advertisement for a wood-burning heater / stove which is at present a popular and trendy home accessory.  This image has been made in colour with what appears to be a warm colour temperature balance.

To the left we have our product the stove, in use, with a stack of neatly cut and arranged logs underneath providing an interesting design what otherwise would be an empty space under the stove and implies convenient and useful storage.  The stove’s chrome handle has been set at a slight angle; so as to be easily seen to imply ease of access  to the stove for adding additional fuel.  The stove stands against a grey wall that contrasts the warm orange and yellows of the flames with the cold but elegantly stylish grey coloured wall.

To the right of the stove we see a record-playing turntable on a small table that visually links the product with an idea of a modern fashion for the Retro and this message is re-enforced by the male subject who appears to be sitting on the floor with a pair of stereo headphones around his neck and a vinyl LP in his hands.  The vinyl record he holds is also a visual reference to the advertisement’s text referring to the ‘Crackle’ and Pop in the anchoring text along with the reference to ‘soundtrack’ and ‘sound from a real fire’.

The text helps to bring together all of these elements in to the audiences psyche.  The manufacturer appears to have carefully composed this image to suggest that their customers are connoisseurs of good taste and by owning their product they have added value and quality to their home and standard of living.  The use of the record player and LP helps to advertise a feature of their product that they believe to be a strength but can not easily be conveyed by either photo or text which is the gentle sound of the burning logs that would can enjoyed as background noise to a warm and cosy room.

This composition was created for the audience that would typically buy this magazine, an affluent middleclass customer who would have an interest in this type of product to complement their taste in antiques and the retro.  The advert also suggest a younger customer, perhaps one that will be spending their money on home improvements.

Exercise-Project-1-The Language of Photography

Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1974.  Titled, ‘Dog legs’ This linked image is from: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk

At first glance the joke in this picture can be easily missed, simply a small ‘cute’ dog on a lead with it’s owners in a park.  The image has been taken at a very low angle from the level of the small dog cutting off the rest of the owners bodies from the frame.  But a second look and something is wrong with the two pairs of legs.  The nearest (probably) the dog’s mistress in her high length boots and now we notice the second pair of legs belong to another dog that appears to be only standing on it’s hind legs like a man.  (In fact with very close scrutiny you can work out that these are a tall dog’s front legs and the dog is standing diagonally to the photographer with it’s belly and hind legs cropped from the frame.) The subjects are positioned approximately one-quarter of the way up the frame with the cute dog to the right looking in to the lens; so drawing the viewer’s eye away from the left side of the picture.  The small dog is what Roland Barthes would call the ‘punctum’ in the image. The mistress stands in the middle and our eyes naturally glance at the boots which we expect to see the second pair of legs take third place in our visual priority and so don’t stand out until we take a closer look at the picture.  The image is also in black-and-white this also helps with the deception.  If it had been in colour I am sure the tan fur legs would have appeared more obviously in the image and the joke would have been weaker.  Erwitt had used a structure of vertical lines in this image which has an element of design. The image is backlit which makes his subjects stand out from the background.  The composition draws the eyes from the bottom of the picture through these vertical lines to the top.  The placement of the tall dog’s legs next to the lady’s boots looks natural, as if two people were standing posing before the photographer with their dog.  The depth-of-field is kept fairly shallow to keep the eyes from looking deeper in to the background that is unimportant.