Tag Archives: book

About Looking by John Berger

about-looking

Among my pile of books yet to read as part of my studies I had ‘About Looking’ by John Berger.  I have only recently been introduced to this author through my Context and Narrative Course, I read his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ and watched the accompanying BBC TV program on You-Tube which I found very interesting. I then went onto read ‘Understanding a Photograph’, in preparation for my fourth assignment.  The recent sad news of John Berger’s death prompted me to read this book, ‘About Looking’.

This book is made up of a selection of essays, Berger wrote from the mid 1960’s up to the late 1970’s.

His first essay examines how man looks and sees himself; how he regards animals and his world around him and compares this to how other animals regards themselves, man and the world through their eyes.

His next essay looks at pictures by August Sander the famous farm hands going to a dance photo and another image of a local musical band posing for their photograph and he discusses how their suits give away their status in society despite their smart attire.

Also included is an essay on the works of Paul Strand.  The rest of the book moves away from photography and looks at works by other artists from the 17th century such as Hals through to Artist’s such as Francis Bacon and Giacometti of the 20th.

An interesting read, Berger had his own style of writing and if you have heard him speak you can almost hear his voice coming through the pages of the book.

He was clearly very passionate about art and I am sure a nice guy to have met.  I am sure all who were fortunate enough to have met him will miss him.

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The Burden of Representaion, Essays on Photographies Histories by John Tagg

burden-of-representation

I have just finished reading this book that I began in November!

Tagg looks at how photography has been influenced and how it has influenced history in Europe and North America by examining historical records in the UK and Europe and USA.  Taking examples of photographs taken in the 19th century for recording likeness’ of prisoners, photos of slums such as in Leeds that were used to push to challenge the Local Authorities and fight for improved living conditions for the poor.  Images taken in the early part of the 20th century to document the results of economic rescission in the rural community of the USA.  Tagg analyses both images and back the ground events to produce a strong argument for his book and often makes reference to a French philosopher, Michel Foucault, that who I should perhaps find more about and how his ideas may help in my creativity.

An interesting book, a little heavy and have your dictionary to hand but worth studying as his method of research is good and his idea that arguments that are not fully tested with good background research are weak and likely to be biased.  I think Tagg alludes to this when referring to John Berger and Susan Sontag.

 

Crisis of the Real, Andy Grundberg

crisis_of_the_real

Andy Grundberg is an American art critic, based in New York who over a period of the 1980’s and 1990′ has written a number of important essays of artists and their exhibitions which he has written for The New York Times, etc.  His critical analysis of artist such as Walker Evans, Georgia O’Keefe, Joel Sternfield, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Robert Mapplethorpe, Lewis Hine, Robert Heinecken, gives a very good insight into a great many of 2oth century artists both modernist and postmodernist with a helpful explanation as to the difference.  I found this book as recommended reading on Amazon and I dare say I expect to find it listed among future recommended or required readings in my OCA journey.  A good book to read.

The Photography Reader, edited by liz Wells

the_photography_reader

This book is full of famouse / influential essays for photography and a particular essay of  interest is ‘See Photographically’ be Edward Weston.  In his essay under the section ‘Recording an image’ he describes an image being a piece of art when the artist has pre-visualized his intended work and selected the elements, composed and framed his picture through a planned process.  This I feel simply sums up true art and can be applied to music, painting, sculpture any medium that can be hailed as art.  additional good essays to read or re-read are Barthes expects from ‘Camera Lucida’ and Rhetoric Of The Image, Walter Benjamin’s extracts from ‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’.  Also there are some good essays on fetishism which helps to understand the full meaning and use of this term, which would typically be only associated with sexual deviations.

Again this was a book listed as recommended reading of my Art of Photography course which had no bearing to the subject matter covered in the syllabus.  However, this book made sense with connection to the course on ‘Context and Narrative’ as many of the essays had been referred to or covered, yet it is odd that this book is not on the reading list.  I found the book a little dry at times as the essays differ in style; but overall this is a book that I am glad to have read.

Assignment 5 – Making it up

Club Class

from an original story by: Earl Hamner Jr.

club-class

A Traveller and his best friend were walking along a road they were both dead; and looking for somewhere to rest.

Eventually, they came to a high stone wall along one side of the road.  Set in to the wall was a tall arched open door.  Standing in the doorway was a smartly dressed, attractive, young lady.  The Traveller greeted her and asked her where they were.

“Why, this is Heaven!” She replied.

“Wow!” the man replied and they both proceeded to enter.

But the young lady stopped them and said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t accept pets.  There is a place for your dog just up the road, leave him with me and I will take care of him.”

The Traveller thought for a moment and unable to leave his friend outside he decided to continue his journey along the road.  Further along they came to a gate that stood alone, with neither a wall nor fence attached; and it looked as if it had never been closed, he saw a man behind the gate, leaning against a tree, reading a book.

“Excuse me!” called the Traveller. “Do you have any water?”

“Yes, there’s a pump over there, come on in.”

“How about my friend here?”  (Gesturing to his dog).

“You should find a bowl by the pump.”

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was a hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveller filled the water bowl for his friend before taking a long drink for himself.

When they were finished, the Traveller asked the ‘Gateman’,

“What do you call this place?”

“This is Heaven,” he answered.

“I’m confused,” Protested the Traveller. “The young lady down the road said that that was Heaven, too.”

Shaking his head sadly the ‘Gateman’ replied, “Oh no!  That’s certainly not Heaven! That’s the gate to hell!”

“But can you not do something to stop her tricking people in to entering hell?”  Demanded the Traveller.

“No!  We’re just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind.”  He replied with a wry smile.

no-dogs-1

So much for the contextual narrative!  What do we see?

A man stands in the foreground holding a dog on a lead, whilst gripping a walking stick with the other hand.  He’s looking at the dog that’s looking back, he’s dressed in a suit with a Yorkshire cap; both he and his dog are drained of any warm colours with a distinct cold blue hue tone as is most of the image.  In the background we see a sign indicating no dogs on a wall by an open door, inside the doorway we see a smartly dressed young woman, she appears to be pointing or wagging her finger, her mannerism implies a negative signal and her legs crossed emphasizes this negative message.   She appears to be illuminated by very warm amber light and a red halo rims around her head.

My intention for this image is to create a division between the outside world of the Traveller and his dog with the world beyond the door in which the women stands.  To achieve this I used the white balance settings of my camera, gelled speedlights and made additional enhancements in Lightroom.  The Traveller is between worlds, it is cold.  He and his dog are both dead and I wanted their shades to reflect this.  The young lady on the other hand is standing somewhere that is very warm and I wanted to convey this; I also wanted to hint at danger using rim lighting.

There is another message in this picture, one of temptation.  The young lady represents the fetish pleasures of capitalism; her sexuality is to tempt the man away from his moral values.  The price for this implied promise of luxury and pleasure is that he must be selfish and turn away from anything that could hold him back.  His dog represents his values and socialistic principles of loyalty, trust, responsibility and selflessness.

I didn’t want to create an obvious ‘Lucifer’ therefore I thought that a sharp dressed business woman would act as a suitably modern metaphor for him/her.

When creating this image, I tried to keep in mind Barthes idea of studium and punctum.  The Traveller and dog is part of the studium of the picture punctuated by the warm coloured image of the attractive women (the punctum).  I wanted to carefully construct a single image to project my intended narrative.

This was a particularly tricky picture to make when depending on the unreliability of a dog and using non-professional models.  Further complication was that my chosen doorway was unavailable to me due to a lost key.  The location I chose happened to be my local church which had the ideal doors.  I obtained permission from the Vicar however, on the appointed day the Vicar had taken his wife away for her Birthday and not informed anyone of our arrangement.  No one had the key to my chosen Choir Vestry door; so I had to use a fire escape door instead.  This side door was exposed to the wind and also needed to be wedged open and in the process of the shoot I dropped an expensive speedlight that bounced and although remained serviceable may now need to be serviced by Nikon.  I was unable to get the perfect shot as either the speedlights failed to fire at the perfect time or the dog kept moving around and directing my models is still a new experience.  I ended the afternoon feeling low as I thought that I had failed to get a suitable image.  I gave myself a couple of days space and looked again and I was pleased to find some images that I could collage together to make one suitable picture in Photoshop.

I enjoyed making this image and although it may not have a great wow factor, I am pleased that I was able to achieve my vision.  I would like to make more images based on a narrative theme in the future, perhaps using novels biblical stories, sagas, legends and songs.

The Essential Kafka, published by Wordsworth Classics

the-essential-kafka

As part of my preparation for my final assignment, I decided to read the works of Franz Kafka in order to try and find some visual ideas for an image that was rich in metaphor.

Much of Kafka’s work was never published in his lifetime and thanks to his friend who saved his work from destruction against Kafka’s dying wishes we are able to read these stories today.

The Trial

Joseph K is a Senior Bank-Clark who one day awakens to find two men in his room to arrest him.  He does not discover for what crime he is accused of; but that his crime is serious and his guilt is assumed.  However, he is freed and informed that his case is under investigation and that he can continue to go about his normal business but he must present himself when required and he must build a defense.   Throughout the book we never discover what the crime he is accused of is, nor who accuses him or why.  He discovers that the Courts are all hidden in attics and all the Court personnel are only identified by a gold button sown to their jackets.

The whole story implies a form of neurosis of the mind.  Is K really a victim of a secret Justice system  or is he having some-kind of nervous-breakdown?  This story is full of metaphors.  I believe Leni to represent K’s idea of Justice, she is flirtatious, she is attracted to all of the Advocates clients; but she wants to help and she wants to be wanted.  The Advocate is K’s idea of a typical lawyer who does his best to string out the work as far as he can for profit.  I suspect that K meets the Judge in the Cathedral, he is the Priest and he gives K advise in the form of a story of a man who waits in vein to be admitted to the law only to discover on his death that the door he had waited at for so long was exclusively his.

I have been reading this novel as a result of my research for this course.  I learned of this novel through a essay written by Walter Benjamin and I am considering a couple of passages from this story to use as an idea to inspire an image for my last assignment.

The ideas are:

From the book The Essential Kafka, published by Wordsworth Classics.

The Trial:

First idea:  A portrait of a man sitting in a chair looking important, distinguished, implying authority, implying a Judge.  He is posed to suggest that at any-moment he is about to leap from his chair.  One hand grips the arm-rest the other holds a paper marker ‘Petition’ .  Behind his a blind-folded, pretty woman stands holding scales in her left hand and a sword in her right.  The idea is that she represents Justice; but her pose must also suggest the Greek female Goddess of hunting.  She should be dressed classically one breast exposed like that from the famous French revolutionary picture of Liberty charging forward.  (Chapter 6, The Uncle – Leni, page 81, lines 23-35 and page 109, Chapter 7, The Advocate – the Manufacturer – the Painter, line 32 to page 110 to line 11).

Second idea:  An open door, above the door is a sign that reads ‘THE LAW’ on the door a smaller sign reads ‘Restricted’.  A Doorman stands guard by the door and a Country Gentleman sits on stool looking dejected.  Behind the Doorman light appears to be streaming out from the doorway.  The Doorman must appear to look like he is on guard but is not appearing to be attempting to bar access.  (Chapter 9, In The Cathedral, page 161 – 162).

The Castle,

The hero of this story is just known as ‘K’ and is a Surveyor who arrives at the village below the castle looking for lodgings before reporting to the castle to begin work.  He discovers that he is not expected and is treated as an undesirable outsider by the villagers.  The Castle then confirms that he has been appointed and advises that he must wait for further instructions.  The castle appears to be inaccessible without permission and he is unable to find anyone who can grant him an audience with anyone in the castle.  This story is a nightmare vision of bureaucracy gone mad with tear upon tear of management that makes anything practically impossible to get done and all the servants that are the management of the castle are aloof from the villagers can only be communicated through unreliable messengers.  I believe that Kafka is describing metaphorically difficulties he had with his father and perhaps difficulties that he may have experienced as a Jew in post Austrian Hungarian Europe.  The story ends in mid-sentence as Kafka never finished the novel.

Metamorphosis – The Transformation of Gregor Samsa

Was this the dark foresight of a German speaking Czech Jew of the 1920’s?   Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to find that he has become an giant beetle, he can no longer be understood by his family and his new physique repulses them and he is forced to live imprisoned in his bedroom with only his younger sister brave enough to show enough compassion to feed him and clean his room.  Kafka uses a dark sense of humor in his writing and provides no happy ending but suggests that as one thing comes to an end there is always the beauty of a brighter tomorrow.

The judgement

We are first told that the hero of this story is a successful business man living and working in partnership with his father and is writing to his friend in St. Peters-burg about his impending marriage.  These facts are all thrown in to doubt when he discusses his letter and engagement with his ailing father.

Letter To My Father

This is a letter that Kafka wrote to his father but never gave to him.  Addressing his feeling towards his father and venting his frustrations and anger to a man he has grown up to fear and resent.  In this letter we learn a little of what has influenced Kafka’s writings and imagination.  There is a very useful visual metaphor in this text.  Page 590, line 26.

The idea

To the left a man stands facing a sheer cliff-face that he is trying to climb; to his right a flight of stairs is being climbed by another.  there is a barrier between the two men; so preventing the man on the left from using the same path to ascend.

The Genius of Photography by Gerry Badger

the_genius_of_photography

‘The Genius of Photography, How Photography Has Changed Our Lives’ by Gerry Badger, published by Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

This book was on my recommended reading list for ‘The Art of Photography’ course but I feel that much of the reading list for that course did not echo the syllabus and I did not choose to read it at the time, preferring more relevant books that could assist me in the exercises, subject matter and assignments.  However, for this current course and for future courses this book has been more relevant and made more sense to me.

This book looks at the history of photography from a critical point-of-view as to it’s impact and development as an artistic practice.  How it has been influenced and influenced the art movements of the 19th, 20th and now the 21st century up to 2007.  Focusing on Photographers and examples of their work that have influenced the photographic art movement in their day from Daguerre to the unknown photographers using mobile-phone cameras for images that both informs and shocks the 21st century public.

Although much of the topics in this book have been covered in other books that I have already read, re-reading them will only re-enforce them to my memory and helps to plant ideas for future image making in to my sub-conscious.