Tag Archives: Cartier-Bresson

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.

 

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Strange and Familiar and The Unseen City

This linked photo is by Cas Oorthuys, titled ‘Black Oxford Students, Oxford, 1962’.  From the Strange and Familiar website exhibition at the Barbican.

Yesterday I visited two exhibitions currently being held in London curated by Martin Parr. The first exhibition that I visited was displayed in The Barbican and was called Strange and Familiar.  This was on two floors and exhibited the work of over twenty photographers who had visited the UK and photographed the British people as they saw them.  These images covered a period from the 1930’s up to present day and looked at British life different angles of social and political points of view.

The Artist’s work on display:

Edith Tudor-Hart, coming to England in the 1930’s a devote Communist she took an interest in the social and political life of the English contrasting the haves and have-nots in her photographs.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cartier-Bresson first came to England to photograph for the Coronation of George VI and later for the Queen’s Silver-Jubilee and captured images of the British and their relationships with the monarchy.

Robert Frank, visited England in the early 1950’s before his famous ‘The Americans’ project and spent some time in London observing the life of the City and the world of the Bankers and then travelled to Wales and stayed amongst the Welsh mining community of Caerau where he felt more at home at photographed their daily-lives, visiting the coal-face as well as seeing their social-life.  Frank was made to feel more at home in the Welsh community than he did in the City and his photographs reflect this in his views on London as seen as an outsider and his views of his Welsh hosts that have invited him in to their homes and their community and his images reflect that of a view from an insider.

Paul Strand visited the UK in the 1950’s and spent sometime living with crofters in the Outer-Hebrides of Scotland and like Frank was able to take photos from the privileged viewpoint of an insider.  Strand’s particular interest and theme to many of his photographs during this project is texture, shapes and patterns.

Cas Oorthuys visited the UK in the 1950’s and photographed the daily-life of austerity for the English and including photos of the first Caribbean immigrants to England and his photographs of Black Afro-Caribbean students at Oxford reflecting the cultural diversity that was developing in the UK during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Sergio Larrain Visited England in the 1950’s in these images I notice his use of design, lines, angels, patterns frames within frames and reflections.

Gilles Peress, visited the UK in the 1970’s and photographed the troubles in Northern-Ireland.  Working in black-and-white he records the Orange marches, street scenes aftermath of riots and murders with a compositional consideration to design, and texture.  His images contrasted from the violence and misery of the working-class Northern Irish to the ordered and gentile life the privileged playing cricket or fox-hunting.  My favorite image amongst Peress’ work was a picture of a child being slapped by her mother with the TV in the background with a shocked looking child staring open-mouthed from the screen.  Peress used a slow enough shutter speed to provide motion–blur for the mother and child whilst fast enough to have a sharp background.

Akihiko Okamura is a Japanese artist who visited the UK in the late 1960’s early 70’s and recorded his time in Northern-Ireland in colour photographs surreal images of ladies preparing tea and biscuits in the middle of a street with burned-out houses in the background and shrines made to victims of the riots.

Garry Winogrand came to the UK in the 1960’s and recorded the London street scene of the ‘swinging 60s’

Candida Hofer like Winogrand Hofer came to England in the 1960’s and spent time in Liverpool recording the street scenes of Liverpool’s 60s era.

Evelyn Hofer used a large format camera to slow the process down and take photos of people and place in 1960’s London.

Bruce Davidson An American photographer who visited England in the 1960’s taking street photography in London and Wales with an interest in the poor and destitute.

Gian Butturini Butturini is also know as a film director but in the 1960’s Butturini photographed the London scene from street to Rock concert and contrasted with the political troubles in Northern-Ireland.

Frank Habicht Habicht’s images are of the young ‘hip’ London scene of the late 60’s.

Hans Eijkelboom visited the Bullring in Birmingham and with a concealed camera photographed people as the passed by him at the centres main entrance.  He has studied how people dress alike and how he has been able to catagorize people by their clothes.  For example he grouped images of people wearing the same or similar garments such as striped or spotted dresses, flowery beach style shirts, Adidas advertising T-shirts, boob tube tops, etc.  He cleverly transitioned one category to another by selecting couples that were dressed in the two categories he was switching from and to this must have been produced over a long period of time.  This project questioned peoples sense of individualism as clearly a large percentage of people dress alike; so perhaps as not to stand out and lacking of imagination.  Many looked like they were mimicking the manikins in shops or copying the models in the lower end clothes catalogues.

Bruce Gilden using a wide angled lens and cropping tightly Gilden has produced some strong unflattering portraits of people living on the streets or down on their luck that he has come across on the streets of Glasgow.  The wide angle lenses have almost caricatured them by lengthening their faces and ugly-fying them.

Hans Van-Der-Meer is a Dutch photographer who came to England and was influenced by the old Dutch landscape masters and used their style in his choice of viewpoints when photographing British amateur football matches by making use of the large space with the players small in the frame.

Raymond Depardon worked in Glasgow around the early 1980s photographing a declining city as the factories closed.  These pictures in colour capture this depressing period in Britain’s history.

Rineke Dijkstra has used a large format camera.

Tina Barney again using a large format camera she has taken portraits in the style of the old master painters.

Axell Hutte visited London and took an interest in the architecture of the post war social housing developments, many of which have declined and since been re-developed.

Jim Dow an American photographer who spent some time in England in the early 1990s Dow took an interest in British small shops as seen from both inside and out.  Many of these shops were already in decline when he was photographing them and as this decline continues these images are fast becoming things of nostalgia.

Shinro Ohtake captured images of Britain in the year of the queens Silver-Jubilee of 1977 with some interesting views of the British as seen from an outsider.

This linked image is by Martin Parr from his collection of photographs of the unseen city.

The Unseen City photographed by Martin Parr http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160301-unseen-city-martin-parr-reveals-the-square-miles-secrets

The second exhibition was displayed at the Guildhall Art Gallery and was called The Unseen City, photos taken my Martin Parr of events involving the Guildhall such as The Lord Mayor’s Show.  These colour images offered an exclusive behind the scenes view of the prestigious events that annually take place at the Guildhall.  Parr captured candid shots of the organizers, patrons and staff as they went about their preparation and participation of events such as the swan upping and Lord Major’s show, the unseen side of these public and exclusive events.  I thought that these images were a good representation of a viewpoint seen from an outsider, an invited guest, whom, finding the whole scenario strange sees much more than his hosts and captures it in his camera.

I found the two exhibitions complemented each-other as their underlining theme was what is British-ness?  This second exhibition contrasted to the first as this showed a hidden side to the British that is usually closed to both photographers and most of the British.  A Britain representing the world of the elite and privileged ruling-class, this is an unelected class, Bankers and Lords that quietly work behind the scenes of British Politics and who ultimately pull the strings.

 

 

The Photographers Eye

The Photographers Eye by John Szarkowski is an illustrated book compiled from photographs collected for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1964 and the theme of this book is based upon the theme of the exhibition.

Szarkowski introduces his book by explaining that it’s theme, ‘is an investigation of what photographs look like and why they look that way. It is concerned with photographic style and with photographic tradition: with the sense of possibilities that a photographer today takes to his work.’  Szarkowski looks at how the art of photography has evolved through the period of 125 years from the earliest surviving pictures to the 1960’s.  Szarkowski looks at how photography has created and taught us new ways of seeing; how photography could make it’s own rules independent of the established art world partly through ignorance and from the practicality dictated by the camera and its view and enthusiastic experimentation.  Szarkowshi has selected a range of photographs to illustrate how photographers from different backgrounds all came to share the same photographic vision that was not taught but learned through years of practice and considers the history of this medium, ‘in terms of photographers progressive awareness of characteristics and problems that have seemed inherent in the medium.’

He has divided his book into five sections examining five issues that he believes are characteristics inherent and problematic in photographs and understanding these five sections will help in the understand of the language for the ‘reading’ of a photograph.

The thing itself.

Outside of the studio the photograph, unlike a painting, is captured not created therefor the photographer has fewer choices in composition, he can only choose what to and what not to include in the frame.  However, instead of limiting what photographers would choose to make pictures of the camera’s ability to capture anything in an instant making a permanent record of it opened up opportunities to create images of the ordinary and bland subjects that artist would not have drawn or painted and make them interesting .  However, black and white images would leave out certain details and exaggerate others and yet the final image would still be accepted as a true representative of the subject.  Holgrove wrote, “The nineteenth century began by believing that what was reasonable was true and it would end up by believing that what it saw a photograph of was true.”  The almost lifelike reproduction of the black and white image helped raise the naïve notion that the camera doesn’t lie for which many photographers  were happy not to discourage.  George Bernard Shaw wrote that this was a double edged sword, “There is a terrible truthfulness about photography. The ordinary academician gets hold of a pretty model, paints her as well as he can, calls her Juliet, and puts a nice verse from Shakespeare underneath, and the picture is admired beyond measure.  The photographer finds the same pretty girl, he dresses her up and photographs her, and calls her Juliet, but somehow it is no good – it will still be Miss Wilkins, the model. It is too true to be Juliet.”

The detail

“If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.” Robert Capa.  Outside of the studio, unlike drawings and paintings, photographs can only record what is actually in from of them and in the real world of photography it is usually impossible to alter the position and distance of various subjects to simply improve the composition of the picture.  Therefore often a photographer can only position himself in a place that will only capture a part of the image.  Unlike drawings and paintings photography is unable to produce a story type narrative, as successful painting will often combine several events that have occurred over a period of time and the artist has combined them into one scene that can tell the whole story.  Photography can only capture one scene at a time and when a selection of images are put together to tell the story these images still require text in order to explain the connection to each picture and the event itself.  However, it was soon realised that the photograph could use symbols instead to represent the intended narrative, therefore photographers focused on detail some that may have seemed to ordinary and trivial or dull to the painter but when photographed could symbolise the scene / event / for the narrative that the photographer could not otherwise be so easily produce.  An example of this is a photograph of cannon balls scattered across a road symbolising the recent ferocious battle and bombardment.  The chosen detail is the spent and discarded ammunition on a deserted road symbolic of the recent action.  In this style of imagery few words are needed, the photographer is taking advantage of the viewers own imagination to complete the story for the picture.

The Frame

Where as in drawing and painting the frame is conceived, in photography it can only be selected forcing the photographer to choose what to include or not to include.  In this way what ever the photographer includes in to the frame will now have a relationship with one another that they may not of done in real life for example, two strangers photographed standing together on a platform waiting for a train can now appear to be companions simply because both were selected to be in the frame.  The painter begins with a blank canvas, the draftsman from the centre of his sheet the photographer from the frame.  The photographer must learn how to edit the real world, to isolate and juxtapose when unexpected elements come together within his frame.  The frame contains, what is inside the frame is subjected to close scrutiny but a photograph can also imply beyond the frame.

Time

A photograph is a moment of time captured by the camera this moment can be 1/1000’s of a second in length or up to several minutes or more.  A photograph captures this moment and freezes it in to an image describing a parcel of time which may allude to the past or future can only ever be viewed in the present.  This can mean that an image’s meaning can change or be re-interpreted by future generations of viewers.  Early photography required longer lengths of exposure time for the slower chemicals, often resulting in images never before seen, dogs with two heads babies with two faces transparent or elongated people as they moved during the exposure period.  Often theses early images have been regarded as photographic failures which ironically as film and cameras have improved and become faster modern photographers are now being deliberately replicating the affects for modern artistic styled pictures.  As the exposure time became faster images could be captured never before seen by the human eye, how the horse gallops, a bullet in flight, droplets of water thrown out from a splash as a stone hits the water, and many more sights invisible to the human eye due to the speed of the moment.  Cartier-Bresson defined the expression “The decisive moment” a visual climax a moment when the camera has captured a moment when all the elements came together to capture that image at the right moment.  Thanks to modern cameras with fast shutter speeds and fast continues shooting these decisive moments can be more easily captured providing of course you are prepared for them.  For example, sports photographers positioned to see and focused on the spot he or she will predict the moment will occur.

Vantage point

Unlike a drawing or a painting the photographer has limited choices when choosing a vantage point and so the photographer has sometimes been forced to use unusual view points such as very low level worm eye views, views from backstage seeing only the backs of the actors, birds eye views looking down, distorted and strange views created by lens distortion or patterns of light.  Through the necessity of moving his camera to see his subject clearly or to see it at all the photographer learned that the appearance of the world was a lot richer and less simple than he would have first guessed.  He also discovered, ‘that his pictures could not only reveal the clarity buy also the obscurity of things, and these mysterious and evasive images could also, in their own terms, seem ordered and meaningful.’

 

 

 

Research point – Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?

I would suggest that Robert Frank with his book ‘The Americans’ suggests a shift away from the influence of surrealism to realism.  Frank’s journey across the USA photographing Americans as he frankly saw them was different to the surrealist’s creating an artistic perspective.  Frank’s images heralded a new generation of photographers such as Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Joel Meyerowitz, Diane Arbus.

Surrealism

http://www.surrealism.org/

Surrealism, is an art form and cultural movement that developed in the 1920’s.  It’s root begins before the first world war and continued to grow during the war; but it was in the 1920’s that surrealism began to influence the art world, music, literature, philosophical thought social theory and even political thinking and practice.

Useful to photography, surrealist’s work features ideas such as elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non-logical inferred conclusions.

The photographers Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson were very much influenced by this movement as was artists such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, etc.  Writers of the surrealist movement:  Andre Bretton, Pierre Reverdy, etc.

Philosophers such as Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse were also influential in the surrealism movement.

Surrealism has the idea that ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important; but that their arrangements must be open to the full range of imagination.  Freud’s ideas of free association, dream analysis and the unconscious was vital to the surrealists for developing methods to liberate imagination.  They embraced idiosyncrasy while rejecting any suggestion of underlying madness.

Following this line of thought the surrealists theorised that, ‘one could combine in the same frame elements not normally found together to produce illogical and startling effects’.  Pierre Reverdy wrote: “a juxtaposition of two or more or less distant realities.  The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be – the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.”

The surrealism movement aimed to revolutionize human experience, its personal, cultural, social and political aspects.  Surrealists wanted to free people from restrictive customs and structures and false rationality and at various times the surrealists aligned themselves with Anarchists and Marxists.

Research point – Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz (6th March, 1938)

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http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=joel+meyerowitz+street+photography&id=B95A11F223F9EE32C348A82DF90DA2CC40924DF2&FORM=IARRTH

Meyerowitz specializes in Street and Landscape photography and began photographing in colour in 1962 during a time when there was still a resistance against colour photography in the art world.  in the early 1970s he taught the first colour classes at the Cooper Union in New York City.  Inspired by Robert Frank, Meyerowitz quite his job at an advertising agency to take photographs on the streets of New York with a 35mm camera and black and white film.  Joining the ranks of Tony Ray-Jones, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Tod Papageorge.  Meyerowitz has also taken inspiration from Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eugene Atget.

Meyerowitz switched to large format cameras and in 2001 was became the official photographer to record the aftermath and wreckage at ‘Ground Zero’ New York City with exclusive access whilst the clean up operation was underway.  Meyerowitz involvement was documented by Channel-Four and his work has been critiqued by the writer David Campany in his 2003 essay, ‘Safety-in-numbness’ (http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/).  He is also featured in a 2009 BBC documentary ‘The Genius of Photography’ and in 2013 the documentary film, ‘Finding Vivian Maier’.