Tag Archives: documentary

One-Way Street & Other Writings by Walter Benjamin

One-Way Street

Walter BenjaminOne-way Street and other Writings, (2009) London: Penguin. ISBN:978-0-141-18947-5.

On the critique of violence, (1921) is an essay considering the use of violence as a form of law enforcement and justice.  An interesting essay for studying documentary theory.

There is an essay on surrealism and an essay about a Czech writer that I had not heard of but who sounds interesting Franz Kafka. I shall look for examples of his work.

A collection of essays that include Brief History of Photography, (1931) that looks at the early development of photography and such influencing works as August Sanders.

Also included is The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, (1936) Benjamin examines how photography has made the great art classics more available to be seen by the mass public but by doing so he considers that there value has diminished in virtue of the rarity for public access.  He then goes on to look at cinema as a new art form and how this form of media is changing and influencing art both politically and culturally.

Notes of interest for, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

  • Benjamin argues that recent technology has fundamentally changed the meaning of reproduction in art.
  • He argues that art has always been reproducible by limited technological means since the times of Ancient Greece by means of casting and embossing for bronzes, terracottas and coins.  Then much later came printing.
  • Until the development of photography and gramophone the reproduction of most art forms could retain their genuineness through provenance.
  • However photography and the gramophone has fundamentally changed the meaning of reproduction of art as a whole.
  • A piece of art holds its status of genuineness through provenance and provenance is beyond technological reproduction.
  • Something reproduced by manual means still holds its genuineness (even when branded a forgery).
  • Something reproduced by modern technological means does not.  For example a Brahms symphony reproduced in a concert hall 150 years after Brahms’ death still retains its genuineness.  However, if recorded and then played back the genuineness.  A painted copy (manual reproduction) of the Mona Lisa retains a genuineness.  However, a photograph (technological reproduction) of the Mona Lisa does not.
  • With the new technological reproduction of photography and gramophone, the reproduced works of art has now a new meaning: one that can go anywhere and be enjoyed by anyone. A symphony concert can now be enjoyed in a living room or a priceless Rembrandt painting from the pages of a book.
  • New methods of technological reproduction has also provided new ways in which to experience beyond the range of our normal senses for example slow motion and macro-photography.
  • Although technological reproduction does not physically alter or effect the original, it does alter the original’s value.  Its here and now is devalued.
  • The genuineness of a thing is the quintessence of everything about it since its creation that can be handed down, from its material duration to the historical witness duration to the historical witness that it bears. The latter (material duration and historical witness) being grounded in the former (the thing’s genuineness), what happens in the representation, where the former has been removed from human perception, is that the latter also starts to wobble. Nothing else, admittedly; however, what starts to wobble thus is the authority of the thing. (233).
  • The above passage suggests that when the genuineness has been removed the material duration and its historical witness becomes questionable.
  • ‘We can encapsulate what stands out here by using the term ‘aura’. We can say: what shrinks in an age where the work of art can be reproduced by technological means is its aura.’ (233)
  • Reproductive technology, we might say in general terms, removes the thing reproduced from the realm of tradition.  In making many copies of the reproduction, it substitutes for its unique incidence a multiplicity of incidences.  And in allowing the reproduction to come closer to whatever situation the person apprehending it is in, it actualises what is reproduced. (233)
  • Art’s meaning alters over time.
  • Within major historical periods, along with changes in the overall mode of being of the human collective, there are also changes in the manner of its sense perception. (234).  ‘A classical statue of Venus, for example, occupied a different traditional context for the Greeks, who made of it an object of worship, than for medieval clerics, who saw it as a threatening idol.’ (236)
  • ‘Works of art are received and adopted with different points of emphasis, two of which stand out as poles of each other. In one case the emphasis is on the work’s cultic value; in the other, on its display value.’ (237)
  • Much wisdom had already been thrown away on deciding whether photography was an art (without asking the prior question: whether, with the invention of photography, the very nature of art had undergone a change), but before long the theoreticians of film were asking a similarly hasty question. (240)
  • The fact that the work of art can now be reproduced by technological means alters the relationship of the mass to art.  From being very backward (faced with a Picasso, for instance), it has become highly progressive (given, say, Chaplin).  Yet this progressive response is characterised by the fact that in it the pleasure of looking and experiencing is associated, directly and profoundly with the stance of passing an expert judgement.  The link is an important social indicator.  In fact, the more the social significance of an art diminishes, the greater the extent (as clearly turning out to be the case with painting) to which the critical and pleasure-seeking stances of the public diverge. (248-249)

 

 

 

Research Point – Gregory Crewdson

Fascinating documentary following the work of Gregory Crewdsen as he prepares and takes the photos of his cinematic scale images using cinematic-lights a film-crew of up to 60, professional actors, cranes, assistance from police and fire departments, closure of streets exactly as a scene from a movie would be organized, staged and shot only instead of a cinematic movie camera Crewdson uses a large-format still camera.  He will then take the best examples and merge them together in Photoshop collage them in to one final perfect image.

Do I think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

yes, I find his images both beautiful and disturbing, as I believe, is his intention in order to create an interesting and engaging narrative.

Do I think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’?  What does this mean?

Yes, I do.  His pictures are almost dream like, the scenes are very surreal.  They encourage the audience to wonder what is happening? what has just happened? what is about to happen?  They are like that moment in a dream that is taking that turn in to the nightmare.  This touches on our own imagination, our own fears, our own anxieties.

What is your main goal when making pictures?  Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal?  Why or why not?

My main goal is to make interesting pictures, if the subject matter is beauty then that is what I want to create, if the subject matter is not then I want to make the image suitable for the subject with a choice of composition that holds the audience at least for a little while.  I do not think that there is anything wrong in making beautiful pictures; but it can become a little dull and boring if we can not vary the subject matter and produce images that offer some kind of narrative or symbiotic meaning that can engage, challenge and even entertain the audience in some way.

I like Crewdson’s pictures they may not be as subtle as Wall or DiCorcia but they are very well made and they can appeal to a public that doesn’t have to first have an acquired taste or understanding of art to appreciate the picture that they are viewing.

 

 

Art Photography Now

Art Photography Now

I have just finished reading Art Photography Now by Susan Bright.  Book cover image by Viviane Sassen.  Published by Thames & Hudson.

This book illustrates and discusses the work of the currently generation of established Artists in photography.  Bright has divided her book in to different photographic genres: Portrait, Landscape, Narrative, Object, Fashion, Documentary, City.  With examples of work from Artists who are particularly known for a specific genre for example: Martin Parr – Documentary, Corrine Day – Fashion, Gillian Wearing – Portraiture.

An interesting read and a book to keep on the shelf for reference.  Some styles I had not seen before which I liked for example: Katy Grannan – Portrait; Rochard Misrach Andreas Gursky Dan Holdsworth and Doug Aitken – Landscape; Hannah Starkey, Bill Hensen and Jeff Wall – Narrative; Camille Vivier, Jonathan Villiers – Fashion; Erwin Wurm, Allan Sekula – Document; Naoya Hatakeyama, Richard Wentworth, Paul Graham, Philip-Lorca Dicorcia, Rut Blees Luxemburg.

I like Vivian Sassen’s portraiture style, I like her photo used for the book cover, this photo has the added punctum of the golden hand.

Photography The Key Concepts

Photography_The_Key_Concepts

Davis Bate, Photography, The Key Concepts, (2009) London, New Delhi, New York, Sydney, Bloomsbury, ISBN:978-1-84520-667-3.

Divided into eight chapters / subjects: History, Photographic Theory, Documentary and Storytelling, Looking at Portraits, In the Landscape, The Rhetoric of Still Life, Art Photography, Global Photography.

This is a very good book to refer back to as it contains lots of  brief explanations to subjects that keep cropping up through out my degree course such as photographic theory such as aesthetics, representation, structuralism, semiotics, etc.

Each chapter / subject can be read separately depending on which photographic genre you are working with such as portrait or landscape and some subjects will complement them all such as History and Theory.

Hitchcocks, The Lodger.

Ivor Novello

The trailer to ‘The Lodger’.

Last week I watched an interesting documentary at the cinema about the interview and resulting friendship between Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock.  The documentary was about Hitchcock’s genius as a film director, which until Truffaut sang his praises was largely being ignored and undermined.

After watching the documentary, I purchased, ‘The Lodger‘ which is Hitchcock’s first film with his recognisable style. (he had made several others films before this one; but this is the first movie that was all his own.)

This was made in 1926 and is silent.  Hitchcock, keeps the text to a minimum, using clever composition and symbols to carry the narrative.  This is film making at it’s purist and at the height of it’s craft.  Although I am a still photographer, I look for ideas from the film makers who were inventing ideas that still photographers are today discussing and adopting.

In this image taken from the film, the lodger who is suspected as a serial killer looks out from his window and Hitchcock has cleverly cast a shadow of a crucifix on his face.

The film begins with this image, a girl is drowning, a victim of ‘The Avenger’.  Hitchcock set the camera facing up under a plate of glass and got the girl to lay facing down over the glass a lens.

In this scene the lodger, Ivor Novello, is pacing up and down in his room disturbing the others in the house.  Hitchcock, used a glass floor for Novello to walk on and super-imposed that image with the chandelier rocking by his heavy steps.

This was a cleaver idea, but Hitchcock didn’t think that it worked too well, he wanted the van to look like a face with the heads of the driver and mate as the eyes, the newspaper sign for a nose and the cars chrome bumper as the mouth.

As a story, perhaps a little naïve for today’s standards but enjoyable all the same.  If you are interested in film making it has to be one to watch.  Hitchcock couldn’t understand why with the advent of sound so much visual film making skills were quickly forgotten to be replaced with too much un-necessary dialogue.  He was always the believer that if you could tell it in pictures why explain it with dialogue.  It has been said that with a Hitchcock film, even his later ones, the story can still be followed with the sound turned down.  Now that is an artist in my book!

 

Bending the Frame by Fred Ritchin

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I have just finished reading this book which is a critical look at the current challenges facing photojournalism and documentary photography.  Ritchin looks at how the rise of the digital media through the internet is threatening and changing photojournalism and traditional documentary photography.  He points out that less funding is available to documentary photographers from the traditional sources and that the day of the front page is coming to an end with a predicted total disappearance of the printed newspaper by 2040, beginning with the USA by 2017.  Ritchen suggests that the news media is going through a transition and new ways to grab and hold the readers attention has to be found.  This he acknowledges will be difficult as news images now have to compete right next to an attention grabbing advertising image, something that just was not done in print.  Moreover, with digital webpages images are constantly being replaced or slide-showed in order to maximise display space whilst the viewers attention spans diminish faster than the slide shows.  In a shrinking market for newspaper and magazine publishers Ritchin observes that it is tougher for new photographers to get their work published as publishers / editors are more interested in the fame of the photographer than the work he produces, suggesting that modern editors are more influenced and controlled by capitalistic ideas of celebrating the celebrity in order to sell.

An interesting and useful book for anyone looking to work in  photojournalism / editorial world.

I purchased it and read it as I thought that it might have relevant information for my course on Context and Narrative; but although it was an interesting read providing background to this industry I am not sure how useful I will find it in the future.  I will keep it on my shelf in case I need to refer back at a later date.

Reflections of part one

I began this course not ever having thought much of what documentary photography was, in fact if asked I would have guessed and suggested that it was a form of photojournalism and probably a title given to a number of images pertaining to a news of magazine story.  I now understand that documentary photography has a much broader meaning and is very much linked to the Art photographer as describing their project work and I look forward to my next section.

I also learned that street photography / photojournalism is not that easy or straightforward, as I learned when I went out and about with my DSLR to take street style photographs.  Planning is always essential even if it is just arming yourself with some compositional ideas to find and photograph.

Working Log for Assignment One – Two sides of the story

The Report

The Statement

For this assignment I was tasked to create two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story to explore the convincing nature of documentary photography.

The aim of this assignment was to demonstrate that images and ideas about truth have problematic relationships.

Planning

Key_Points_Learning_Aims

I began this project by first scribbling down some ideas on note paper, considering the key points and learning aims before brainstorming for some ideas. I then made lists headed ‘Context’ and ‘Narrative’ and began to formulate ideas with a mind-mapping / tree graphs that helped filter ideas which led me to the idea of witnessing an incident that can be interpreted either as an attack or a rescue.

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To try to make these two sets of images look authentic, I decided that a camera-phone was the best and most appropriate choice of camera for this particular narrative. Therefore, I hope that by using this method of recording the ‘incident’, I will have created both an implied appearance of truth for a citizen-journalistic story and an evidence style narrative.

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I then considered the photographs that I required to tell the two versions of the same story by making a list and then sketching out some ideas as a storyboard. I then approached my friends and parents with my idea and obtained their helpful co-operation.

Next I reconnoitred the proposed location taking notes of light, traffic, and the bus time table and made some test shots.

Putting the plan into action.

I first wrote my two narratives one I headed “The Statement” and the other I headed “The Report” and briefed my models and driver of the car using it.

Due to the bright sun I chose to photograph from the opposite side the road from my original test shots and the Church helped with the background. Normally this road is very quiet but (typically) was busy which reduced the time I had to make the pictures and limited the opportunities to re-shoot. I found the camera-phone’s response time to be slow and difficult to review properly a further complication was my father didn’t understand that I needed him to stop the car almost on the zebra-crossing for a more dramatic picture and the busy traffic prevented me from being able to either re-position the car or I before a queue began to form. Therefore, I was only partially successful with obtaining all the photos that I was happy with. As I could not re-shoot, I had to use Photoshop to manipulate two images to make them more dramatic. I have re-used three images in both narratives as they work for both, one I have cropped out the bus to emphasise the assailants escape.  I then hand wrote labels for each photo that I attached and downloaded a Met Police witness statement that I had wrote for ‘The Statement’ and typed ‘The Report’ as a covering letter to a newspaper to help support the ‘context’ for both stories.  I used an online printing service for my photos but on receiving them and physically examining them, I made a couple of editing decisions by removing a couple of chosen pictures from the original choice and ordering two additional duplicates. Finally before sending, I made one final editorial decision requiring getting a single photo from the photo lab at Tesco’s, hence why one image ‘the escaping attacker’ is of a different size and crop.  Clearly this is the downside of not having your own printing facilities.

Merged photos – left image, lady looking the wrong way for the narrative to work but good pose of running man, right image lady looking the right way but not good pose for the running man, both images merged using Photoshop.

Merged photos – left good poses but car too far away, right car taken from this image and merged with left picture using Photoshop.

Three printed images edited from the final selection.   Reason – I did not consider them necessary to the narrative.

Images duplicated as they suited both narratives and the bus image re-used but cropped for ‘The Statement’ narrative to imply that the attacker was escaping.

Summing up

Key points –

  • Two sets of images 5-7 each total 10-14.
  • Suggest two alternative points of view.
  • Must tell a story.
  • Look convincing.  This is subjective but I feel I made fairly convincing.
  • Candid style.

Learning aims –

  • I believe that I met my learning aims exploring the nature of documentary photography by producing two contrasting points of view of the same incident.
  • I understood the power of imagery for both inside and outside the frame as demonstrated by my choice of framing / cropping, positioning for the view and editorial of the prints.
  • I understood context and putting it in to practice with my choice of images and use of text for the captions for each photo and the addition of the letter and police statement.

Ansel Adams

Hi have just watched a very interesting documentary on the life of Ansel Adams the great American landscape photographer on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvt1ImIKi0U  .

I mention it in my blog as Adams’ work, Serra Nevada the John Muir Trail was pivotal in persuading Congress and President Roosevelt to in act a law to protect the wilderness of the Serra Nevada which became known as Kings Canyon National Park.  It struck me that documentary photography can take on many unexpected forms and can sometimes make a difference.