Tag Archives: gallery

The last Tycoon

Photo by William Eggleston.

Yesterday, Saturday, my wife and I visited London to see the William Eggleston Exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery and then go on to see a play.

The weather was warm but wet however, this didn’t dampen our day.  On arrival to Trafalgar square, I mistakenly went in to The National Gallery and after a quick scout around asked a member of staff where the William Eggleston exhibition was.  The young lady gave me a look that one would have expected to get from the head waiter at Simpsons when asked for a Big Mac and fries.  She politely and a little condescendingly informed me that I was in the wrong gallery and directed me around the corner for The National Portrait Gallery.

As I walked around the corner and entered The National Portrait Gallery, I noted that it is all part of the same building but separated and given a side entrance.  Unconsciously perhaps placing portraiture in it’s considered place in the hierarchy of Art.

Photo by William Eggleston, this eligant but prim woman sits legs crossed next to a post wrapped in chain and pad-locked.  The post appears to act like a metaphor you can look bot can’t touch!

Anyhow, having found the exhibition we enjoyed Eggleston’s mixture of black-and-white and colour photos of mostly friends and family.  Some of the pictures on display were seen for the very first time as they had come from his private collection.  Also there was a display of some of Eggleston’s video work that he had made in the early 70’s a genre that I was unaware that he has worked in.  His pictures and video was of his life in Mississippi and it was clear from his images that he is a very good observer a talent that I have always had myself but only now with this photography degree course can I see a real use for it and have a reason to develop it further.  This exhibition was about his portraiture based work and had interesting details about his subjects, such as the dentist who had lost his practice through his use of drugs and later died in suspicious circumstances; his road trip with Dennis Hopper; his friends and neighbors, etc.

Photo by William Eggleston.

This image Eggleston describes as his first attempt  with colour and pleased with it’s success that he felt worked continued.  I agree the low sun from the sun-set or sunrise gives this young man’s skin tomes a very warm hue.  I like the shadow that repeats, yet with what is probably Eggleston’s shadow it also suggests another narrative.  The lady in the corner also works for a triangular formed composition.

My personal favorite photo was of a girl he photographed in black-and-white in a local night club who was clearly had at least one too many.  (Didigiat image unavailable)

Eggleston’s Grand-father with his man-servant at a funeral, photographed by William Eggleston.

I note that many photographers that are recognized in the art world are from privileged or fairly affluent backgrounds, naturally photography is not a cheap past time and for it helps to mix in the right circles in order to get interesting pictures in sometimes exotic locations.  Eggleston is no exception, from a wealthy family background he has been fortunate enough to have the support and subject matter to tap in to.

Following on from this exhibition we ended the day enjoying a good play about a 30’s film producer, called ‘The Last Tycoon’ The play reminded me of my exhibition and the title reminded me of the photo of Eggleston’s Grand-father with his man-servant who is unconsciously mimicking his boss’ pose.

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Exercise – ‘Question for Sellers’ by Nicky Bird.

http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/

Nicky Bird purchased old unwanted photographs on Ebay, first waiting to see if anyone bid for them and if no-one did he purchased them himself and asked the seller, how they came to own the pictures and what they knew about them?

This is an interesting subject as I had never imagined that family photographs would ever become unwanted / redundant.  Their meaning lost, their memories forgotten.  That is until a recent event in my own life touched on this very subject.  My wife’s Aunt died without issue in 2011, her husband had died the year before and she left her whole estate to her four nieces.  When we were going through her things (which was a big task as she left a six bedroom house to be liquidated) I came across two old leather suitcases full of old family photos mainly of my wife’s Aunts family taken in the 30’s and 40’s.  No one was interested as Sarah’s Uncle was the family link and if I hadn’t have taken these cases myself they would have been lost for ever.  At the time I took them I had no thoughts of photography; but I felt a certain sense of responsibility that these lives should be remembered and these images should be kept.  I can’t explain why, I just thought it was the right thing to do.  Perhaps it is simply was that we all feel important and deep down wish to be remembered.  Photography gives us this chance, even if the name and the memory is lost the image can still tell future generations that we existed, what we looked like, how we dressed, and how we posed, even what the world around us looked like.  Photos are more important in this respect than say a painted portraits of a Victorian, for example. The photograph gives a better likeness, it captures the confidence or awkwardness of the subject; thus hinting at his or her character.  The camera captures background that can tell a little about that moment in time and perhaps history that the artist may leave out or re-interpret.  Sadly many family pictures will disappear over time and the surviving images will become more and more important.  Imagine if photography had been around at the time of the first Roman Republic, even if only all that survived was a few family photos of only ordinary citizens our historians would have a field day!

In this exercise I am asked if Bird’s second-hand pictures displayed on a gallery wall elevate their status?

I guess the answer has to be yes, for now they are now the focus of attention and anyone or anything that becomes the focus of attention must by default become elevated in status.

Where does their meaning derive from?

Their meaning derives only from the context of their use if they have lost their original identity.  An unwanted family photo of an unknown person, taken under unknown circumstances, perhaps even the location is unknown, then only the meaning that is attached to the picture from the exhibition exists.

When they are re-sold is their increased value because they are now art?

This is a commercial question and one that can not be simply answered with a yes or no.  If the exhibition is successful, if the pictures can attract a contemporary historians eye, if the pictures can capture the imagination of art collectors, there is a lot of ifs, if the seller can market these images correctly / cleverly to the right market.  Art is very subjective.

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.

Research point – Sophie Calle’s, Take Care of Yourself

take_carePhoto by Sophie Calle.

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=sophie+calle+take+care+of+yourself&view=detailv2&qpvt=sophie+calle+take+care+of+yourself&id=146C84BEE2771A29D7531289D3A155D79E5A8818&selectedindex=10&ccid=fgwGNZo8&simid=608002889935160216&thid=OIP.M7e0c06359a3c5e83367c18fc2bed29afo0&mode=overlay&first=1

Sophie Calle is a French photographer living and working in Paris.  Her project ‘Take Care of Yourself’ was inspired by a text message from her boyfriend who was dumping her by text.  The idea for the title was from how he signed off his text, “Prenez soins de vois” (Take care of yourself).  Calle writes that the idea came to her just a couple of days later after she had shown the message to friends and asked for there comments, she maintains that her agenda was never for revenge but was simply an inspired idea for an artistic project.  She makes no mention of the ex-lovers name and although she knows he was unhappy with the project, he decided (perhaps sensibly) not to interfere.

Once she decided to use her text as the subject for her project she spent two years showing around her text to a 107 professional women, photographed them reading it and invited them to analyse it according to their job: The text’s grammar and syntax was torn apart by a copy editor, his manners rubbished by an etiquette consultant, his lines pored over by a Talmudic scholar, his text re-ordered by a crossword setter, evaluated by a Judge, shot up by a markswomen, second guessed by a chess player, performed by actress, Jeanne Moreau, a psychiatrist called the author of the text “A twisted manipulator”  Taken from an interview with The Guardian, ‘He loves me not’ and a Guardian article about her exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery also see Review to the Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibition.

I found this to be a very funny, cleaver and entertaining idea of addressing a very personal and upsetting experience.  On one level in is a way she is getting even, on another level she is rising above it and by turning it on it’s head she is making art out of it.  On yet another level she is empowering other people who perhaps have experienced something very similar in their own lives.  I like the way she has creatively produced different images of the text, a ballet dancer reading it as she conducts stretching exercises on the bar, a lady reading the text with the text overlaid on the whole image, another turned in to a greeting card for example.

This project is a very interesting example of postmodern work it makes us consider our modern life styles and methods of communication and how this impacts on us as individuals and as human beings.  This insider position is also a reflection of modern women and their growing empowerment.

 

 

 

Research point – Paul Seawright’s ‘Sectarian Murders’.

The work of Paul SeawrightSectarian Murders‘ (http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian) is and interesting example where a photographic artist has challenged the boundaries of documentary photography by taking images that are only linked by extracts from newspaper reports and the locations in the images.  The images themselves don’t offer clues to their context until the text and images are tied together.  However, the photographers choices of view points creates both an interesting design element to the pictures for an art point of view and the linking text creates a context for a narrative that the viewer can construct themselves.

Seawright’s argument is that to create good documentary photography for an art gallery he must produce interesting images that do not give up their full meaning in one glance.  He suggest such images are advertising or journalistic editorial images chosen for their impact.  He argues that a good artist never makes plain the message in a picture and by leaving a ‘space’ in his images he allows the viewer to construct their own narrative to the images meaning.  This is not a new idea, a visit to any art gallery and viewing many a painting by masters old and contemporary will demonstrate this practice in use.  This is a cleaver and imaginative form of documentary photography.

I do not necessarily believe that by defining a piece of documentary work as a art will change its meaning.  We can define anything as art, I think that what we currently term art is something that is considered suitable for a public display in a gallery or a book.  Therefore, images of the burning Hindenburg, Neil Armstrong on the moon, a starving Ethiopian child suitable framed and displayed becomes an image of art and exhibited in a  chosen context these images can build their own narrative subject to that context and the viewers own imagination.