Tag Archives: Europe

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.

 

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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.

Assignment 4 -“A picture is worth a thousand words” (It’s a Lilly)

It’s a Lilly!

A still image from the end of the first act of the epic movie ‘Gone with the Wind’, Selznick International Pictures, Metro Goldwin Mayor, (AOL Time Warner Company).

It’s a Lilly!

The image

This image is fabricated, created from scratch in a Hollywood film studio.  The sky is hand painted using a technique called movie-matte-painting The tree and fence are just props.

The first impression I have, looking at this picture, is a sense of foreboding and a feeling of uneasiness.

What we see: a sunset, a triangular shaped cirrus cloud, a very low horizon, a picket fence and a small female figure.  We appear to be looking at her from in front and to her right, so as to see the silhouette of her chest.  Her left arm is just out of view, but her posture suggests that it must be mimicking the right. To the far right of the picture stands a tree. Its branches are naked.  One branch leans over towards the female figure and ends in a shape reminiscent of a hand-held scythe, with the tip of its blade pointing down on the figure below.

My interpretation

This is the final image from the last scene in Act 1 of the motion-picture ‘Gone with the Wind’. The audience has just witnessed this lady turn from desperation to determination; and the final image is made to look satanical with its fiery sky a witch like figure and a scary looking tree.  We are encouraged to draw parallels from our imagination.  I see Dante’s imaginable idea of ‘The Inferno’ and to quote from Canto III, lines 1 -3, ‘Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lost for aye.’ I am also reminded of the lines from psalm 23:4, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me…..

I see a lot of symbolism in this image:

From the point-of-view of the movie, The American Civil War was still within living memory of an elderly American generation; and perhaps because it was made with access to living witnesses some of the scenes are so remarkable (the siege of Atlanta for example). Therefore, the movie makers intended that this image translates that fences still need mending between the North and South.

However, I see the picket fence on several levels:

1, As representing home, family and her life; it is rickety and in need of repair.

2, Seen with a stripped tree, the broken picket fence also appears to suggest destruction and hardship.

3, The fences denote a road; and the setting sun behind her, with the fence leading to the foreground, connotes a journey.

The horizon has been set very low to give emphasis to the sky above Scarlet’s head, she stands as a small figure, as if under heaven or a damned soul at the bottom of the pit.  The sky is like her name Scarlet; and it is also acts as a signifier for many ideas: the unholy oath she just made in this scene, loss of innocence, war, and a sun setting over a disappearing civilization and way of life.

I see 1939 in this picture, war had been declared in Europe.  For many people watching this film, their own civilization was in danger of going the way of the South and the sun was setting over their world and their way of life.

The space for the sky on the left is filled with a triangular cirrus cloud with a faint suggestion of a crucifix in its pattern, strengthening this idea of heaven and earth.  This iconic symbol can be identified for denoting, love and peace; but it also connotes hope, forgiveness and unity under one faith.

The lone female stands like the tree leaning back angled in symmetry with its trunk.  Her arms hang down by her sides and her visible hand appears clenched.  Her posture suggests that she is standing to attention, just as a tired and battle weary soldier might stand.  For the American audience of 1939, the woman could be regarded on different levels, depending on who you were:

1 For middle-class white Southern and Northern citizens she is the fair and defiant but beaten and battered South.

2, She could also be symbolic for many working class Americans who suffered during the 1930s economic recession; and could be regarded as a figure denoting a nation that is getting back on to her feet and standing defiantly against her adversaries; thus connoting National strength and endurance.

3, In 1939 many people were still denied equal rights.  For the audience, this figure in silhouette could therefore be black, white, yellow or any cast the viewer chooses.  She is a woman, considered the weaker sex, but seen here to be strong and encouraging hope. “I know I have the body butt of a weake and feble woman, butt I have the harte and stomack of a king, and of a king of England too” Elizabeth I, 1588, Tilbury.

The tree is stripped and broken, yet it still stands, heroically defying the ill winds that have stripped it.  In his book, ‘Camera Lucida’, Roland Barthes described a feature in a picture that is a focal-point that he calls a ‘Punctum’ something that makes a nice picture an interesting picture.  I see the tree as the Punctum in this picture.  The silhouetted woman against the sunset and cloud makes a nice picture which Barthes calls the ‘Studium’ but the sinister tree with the branch hanging over her head turns this in to a more engaging photo (in my opinion).  The branch immediately above Scarlet’s head looks like a bony finger; it appears to point down on Scarlet like a condemning finger that is passing judgment.  In the context of the movie the tree could also represent the Union with its terrible judicial judgement on the South.

So why the title?

As the Technicolor movie camera began to photograph this scene a technician would have held a card with different colours printed on it in front of the camera to assist for colour calibration later on in development. The Technicolor team referred to it as a ‘Lilly‘ card if the filming was successful at the end of the scene the technician would call “It’s a Lilly!”

Word Doc.  Amended Final Draft-Its a Lilly-1

References

Link to Image http://dearmrgable.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/gwtw5555.jpg

The trailer to Gone with the Wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFu-jemU-bA

Selznick International Pictures  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selznick_International_Pictures

David O. Selznick Biography  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_O._Selznic

MGM history  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

MGM website:  http://www.mgm.com/

MGM  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

AOL Time Warner http://www.timewarner.com/

Movie matte painting video – Gone with the Wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idQOBhiF-DM

Movie matte painting video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_kaA6250S4

Met Office / Cirrus Clouds:  http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/clouds/high-clouds/cirrus

Dante Alighieri Inferno, Canto III Lines 1 – 3.  Translation by Henry Francis Cary, Published by London Folio Society (MCMXCVIII)

Dante’s Biography:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dante_Alighieri

psalm 23:4 – Translation from the original tongues being the version set forth A.D. 1611 Revised A.D. 1881 – 1885 and A.D. 1901 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised A.D. 1952 (The Bible Revised Standard Version Published by WM Collins Sons & CO Ltd. For The British & Foreign Bible Society)

The American Civil War https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_War

Atlanta  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta

Scarlet O’Hara  Biography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarlett_O%27Hara

The South  http://docsouth.unc.edu/

Confederate Army https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_States_Army

1930s economic recession  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression

Elizabeth I Tilbury speech http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/elizabeth-i-tilbury-speech

Rolland Barthes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Barthes

Union Army https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Army

Technicolor https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technicolor

Technicolor color card ‘A lilly’  http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Technicolor

The three strip Technicolor process  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technicolor#Three-strip_Technicolor

Technicolor Film Camera https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-T8MVrw1L0

CMYK https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CMYK_color_model

Photography a Concise History

Photography_a_Concise_History

I have just finished reading this book Photography a Concise History by Ian Jeffrey, published by Thames and Hudson.  ISBN: 0-500-20187-0.  This book was first published in 1981; so the history only goes up as fay as 1979 and is typically biased towards black-and-white images.  I guess partly due to the attitude towards colour photography at that time and also most amateurs and artists who may be reading this book would have predominately been working in black-and-white anyway.  Jeffrey sums up in the last lines of his book that he felt that American photographers were producing more diverse and interesting imagery than their European cousins at that time (1970s).

Interesting book for timeline of development of photography for mainly Europe and America the rest of the world is hardly mentioned.  Early images are linked to the technical development of photography but this thread appears to be is lost by the 1920s and the development of the Leica.  However, very little is mentioned about Japan’s development of cameras or examples of artists work using any.  Interestingly by the time this book went to print most professional and amateurs were all using Japanese cameras.

A book to keep for reference.