Tag Archives: experience

Photography a Critical Introduction, Edited by Liz Wells

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Photography a Critical Introduction, edited by Liz Wells, published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

The image on the front cover of this book was very appropriate for my experience when first reading this book: ‘Babel’ from Cockaign, by Gayle Chong Kwan.

The last listed book in my recommended reading list for the ‘Context and Narrative’ course to be read which completes my reading for both essential and recommended for the course. Phew!

I originally purchased and began reading this book for my ‘Art of Photography’ (AOP) course but I didn’t understand the relevance to my course and I also found it to be too heavy reading for me at that time and I only got half way through chapter one before putting it down.  I was keen to read books themed closer to the topics covered in the syllabus and additional technical books on composition, lighting, exposure, etc to bring me up to speed with my basic photography skills.  I felt that this book should have been listed in the essential reading list for my AOP course as none of the syllabus touched on critical theory and therefore wasn’t even appropriate for recommended reading.  However, this book was listed as recommended reading for this current coarse of Context and Narrative and in my opinion this should in fact be listed as essential reading.

This book is definitely worth reading once the critical theory of art in photography needs to be explored and understood.  There was much that linked to my current studying and I could see likely future links to my next courses, particularly chapter 4, ‘The subject as object: photography and the human body’ which discussed various forms of fetishism in art and explained what this word means in the art world.  Not just sex and deviant behavior but also desire and even a form of addiction which can be exploited by advertising, etc.

I still found it a heavy book and it took almost three weeks for me to read, but thanks to all the other reading that I have now done and the clear link it had to my current studying I was able to relate to the subject matter.  I am pleased that I have finally read this book and I realize that I made the right decision  two years ago to put the book down as I would not have understood a word and the messages that are now useful would have been missed.  I probably would not have thought to read it again; so missing a second chance to learn something from this book.

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Exercise, Project 1, Telling a story

Country Doctor I have just been looking at two photo essays, the first is W. Eugene Smith’s, County Doctor and the second is Bryony Campbell’s, The Dad Project.

Two very different essays , the first was made with the photographer W. Eugene Smith’s chronicling the life of a Country Doctor in the State of Colorado in the late 1940 over a period of three weeks for Life magazine.  The images and accompanying text paints a portrait of a general practitioner dedicated to his work and his community with some dramatic images and some apparent good candid portraits. Smith claims that he began by taking pictures without film in order to relax his subjects and as they got used to his company he then started taking picture for real.  However, he is also had no qualms about staging photographs in order to provide life magazine with the images required.  Smith was also an outsider and although he spent several weeks with Dr. Ceriani the documentary element lacks a personal – emotional involvement type feeling to the pictures.

Bryony Campbell’s work on the other-hand seems to be electrically charged with raw emotional involvement.  Campbell’s images clearly have not been staged and this honesty to her work produces such strong emotional feelings that they are almost palpable.  Whilst Smith’s work make an interesting documentary, Campbell’s work touches her audience on a much more personal level.  The sensitive subject matter she has chosen to document touches us all as it is a subject that we all have to face but all either don’t want to talk about or know how to talk about, Campbell’s essay gives people that opportunity.  As it is about her and her family it is clearly a documentary from the inside and so instead of appearing to be intrusive or insensitive the work appears to be candid and honest.

Campbell describes her work of The Dad Project as an end without an end, this could refer to her spiritual belief but I suspect that it has more to do with that this project has become a part of her life and a part of her.  She writes in her website blog that at the end of an interview at the BBC for the World Service the interviewer asked her, “Is it hard to talk about the experience and then just get on with a normal day?  Do you feel that the project is stopping you from moving on?”  Campbell reflects that the project has become part of her normal day and that it has helped her in her grieving process and as such does not feel the need to ‘move on’.  One does not get over the loss of a loved one, one simply learns how to live with that loss and therefore in a sense we all experience at some-point an end without an end.