Tag Archives: Hollywood

The result of my final Assessment.

512659 Shaun Mullins PH4CAN Results Letter

512659 Shaun Mullins PH4CAN Marksheet

I have received my marks and confirmation that I have passed!  Which is great!

I am however, a little disappointed at the marks I got as I did my very best and read as many books as I could lay my hands on to fully understand the theory and concepts behind this course and put them in to practical practice.

I found my photographic assignments very challenging, and I spent a great deal of time reading for research and brainstorming for ideas which my blogs illustrate with my handwritten notes, sketched ideas.  I was disappointed that as a result of all that my images are criticized as being ‘stock-photography’.  It is also very ironic because at one point when I really couldn’t come up with any ideas I tried looking for stock-photos for inspiration but found nothing of any use.  So clearly their is a great stock-photography web-site I don’t know about, or maybe I’m just not good at asking the right questions to find them.  Anyway, these images came out of my head not anyone else’s but as I keep reading in every book OCA lists, “There is no such thing as a new idea” (unless you are an Assessor of cause)  Maybe, my ideas were cliche; I don’t know, I haven’t seen enough photos like mine to know, but I guess the assessors have.  I bow the their experience.  My images were considered too obvious,  hopefully in time my experience will teach my imagination to be more sophisticated and in turn more subtle.  My new course is also helping with ideas of motifs and the rule-of-three which I can use in photo essays to be able to put over an idea in subtler ways as they do in Hollywood.  Art like science works best with cross-fertilization of ideas, theories and practices.  For example, Geologist and Paleontologists have a better understanding of their work by being aware of the others sciences.

With regards to my essay, I was congratulated on producing a good essay.  I was criticized for reading too diverse range of books and authors; but at this stage of my course I am still trying to learn as much as I can whilst looking for something that can inspire me enough to confidently specialize in.  I prefer portraiture work and the Film-Noir images I did with Nikon really gave me a buzz; so I think that style of work is my forte.  I love using all kinds of lighting to create interesting / stunning images and just using natural-light I find boring.  This is where I think I will start drilling.

Anyway, I passed and I now need 40 points to reach my 120 which I hope I can achieve for my next course which was a new challenge, film-making.

If anyone other than myself bothers to read this, please wish me luck!

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

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

I learned about the existence of this essay from a text-book I read a few weeks ago (Reading Photographs by AVA Publications) whilst on holiday and thought it useful to get a copy and read it for myself.

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey has only recently been published as a book accompanied by an illustrated essay by  Rachel Rose.  This essay has apparently been very influential in the world of cinema since it’s first publication in ‘Screen’ 1975.  So I thought it important to read it.

The essay discusses a similar argument to John Berger in his famous ‘The Way of Seeing’ regarding how woman have been used in the arts and media as sexual voyeuristic objects. that employed and seen on the movie screen.  Mulvey goes on to argue that women on the cinema screen represent castration due to their lack of the male sexual organ and also objects of desire by way of their glamour.  Mulvey suggests that the audience is encouraged to become voyeurs by the the theater that puts them in the dark; so that they can feel that they can look in private.  She also goes on to consider the ideas of voyeurism that she believes has been explored by the great Hollywood Directors, Sternberg and Hitchcock, in their movies, Morocco and Dishonored by Sternberg and ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Marnie’.  Much of Mulvey’s essay is now regarded as out of date regarding how women are now portrayed in modern films (by Mulvey’s own admission as a footnote).

A small book of about only 30 readable pages, interesting and I am sure that if I didn’t read it now I would find myself reading it later in my degree course.

 

The Fae Richards Photo Archive

http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/zoe-leonard-cheryl-dunye/

The artist Zoe Leonard and film-maker Cheryl Dunye collaborated to produce a project about a fictional American-African movie star called Fae Richards of the early 20th century and create an album of photographs charting her life and history from childhood at the turn of the 20th century through her glamorous carrier as a Hollywood movie star to her involvement with the civil-rights movement of the 50’s in to her old age.

The purpose was to question the truth of achievement and how history is recorded.  To ask, who gets included in written histories and why?  Who is left out and why? Who is in control of the information?

This is a cleaver project and required actors, carefully chosen costumes props and locations as well as authentic looking photography.

Working log for Assignment II – The Unseen

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For my second assignment, I have been given a choice between photographing the unseen or using props to create a narrative.  This is my learning log.

For this project I have decided to choose the first option, the unseen.  My reason, is that I feel that this is more challenging and it can help me become more familiar with the theory of semiotics and how to put it into practice in my future compositions.  The Unseen is another form of pictorial narrative; but this time I am going about it in another way.

Part of my brief is to make a list of at least seven ideas for the unseen.  Maybe my life is a little too ordinary and dull but seven ideas was tough and all I could manage.

MY PLANNING

I first made a note of the assignment criteria to help guide my thoughts.

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I then considered technical methods for image making that might inspire some ideas.

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I then continued to put my thoughts on paper as to what I could conceder as unseen.

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I then made a list of potential subjects.

From these general lists I fell upon the subject of depression and hope in the context of redundancy.

I then decided to write a narrative which I gave a working-title of ‘Redundant Reflections’ .  Now I had my first draft of my narrative, I could then start thinking about what pictures I wanted / needed and how they might look like.  Therefore, I broke it down in to sections in my mind, then made a list of the images that I believed would complement the text.  I initially listed eight images then later decided that seven was enough.

I sketched out some ideas for images. a couple I used and for other images that I later produced simply came out my head as worked with my camera.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

The first image that I made from my narrative represents the beginning of my recovery from my depression.  I wanted something to both represent my dog how she has contributed positively to my life. The lead refers both to a dog and walks / exercise, a toy representing fun and happiness / love and a dog biscuit that suggesting reward.

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D-800e, 24-120mm f/4, @50mm, 1/80, f/4.5, ISO-320, ambient light, RAW.  Adjustments in Lightroom and converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.

The second image I created is for the opening image to this project, representing my redundancy.  I thought of finding something that I used and is recognized as a familiar object that would be associated with work but now could also be considered redundant as a useful object.  A popular object from the recent past that is both no longer in fashion and redundant in popular use was my old Filo-Fax which has now been replaced by electronic diaries.  My first idea was to photograph it with other redundant objects such as a feather quill pen and bottled ink, old stamps and old redundant currency.  When I put it all together, I didn’t like it.  I then realized that I was looking for a strong metaphoric message for redundancy and that was simple.  Simply throw the Filo-Fax in the bin!   By chance the two pieces of paper that found themselves at the top of the bin couldn’t have been better placed.  An eye and a sales brochure with the words “Just You” as if to say, “We just got rid of you.”  In order to get a good exposure for the white paper and black Filo-Fax, I used my Sekonda hand-held lightmeter to take an incident reading.

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D-800e, 24-120mm f/4, @120mm, 1/125, f/5.6, ISO-5000, ambient light, metered using hand-held incident lightmeter, RAW.  Adjustments made in Lightroom, converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.

The next image I created was the second image for the first paragraph to represent my job hunting and the market conditions.  The idea for this image came strait off the page of my narrative.

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D-800e, 24-120mm f/4, @31mm 1/80, f/8, ISO-4000, ambient light, metered using incident measurement from hand-held lightmeter.  Adjustments made in Lightroom, converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.

For the next image I worked on, my  initial idea was to play on the words ‘learning curve’ and using a stack of books to make a curve; but as you may see, I don’t think that this idea worked too well; so I stopped and read the book ‘This Means This, This Means That’ by Sean Hall, to get fresh inspiration.  The final composition was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, he has used this point of view in a couple of his films.  The red No Entry symbol on the front cover of the book, I thought, would look better returned to red. by colour popping.

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D-800e, 24-120mm f/4 @65mm, 1/160, f/4, ISO-4000, ambient lighting.  Adjusted in Lightroom and converted to greyscale in Photoshop.

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D-800e, 24-120mm f/4 @58mm, 1/80, f/9, ISO-4000, ambient lighting.  Adjusted in Lightroom and converted to grey-scale and colour-popped in Photoshop.

Alfred Hitchcock.

However, when I asked my student forum to comment on my work, the consistent opinion was to keep all the pictures in grey-scale except for the last image which they agreed worked in colour; so I changed this back to full grey-scale and made alterations to the text as also suggested.

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Camera settings unchanged from above.

I had an idea for the ending as something to suggest a new beginning and optimism for the future.  At the time of this project it was early spring with the buds just coming out and ideal for my last image.  I decided that although I have chosen to use grey-scale the last image must emphasise hope and I felt that a colour image dominated by green would suggest this.  Plus I feel that this change to colour also acts as a full-stop to the narrative.

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D800e, 105mm f/2.8, 1/80, f/8, ISO-125, ambient light only, adjustments made in Lightroom.

I then set about trying to create an image to suggest shock, I couldn’t find any examples on the internet other than foolish images of people looking wide eyed and open mouthed.  I considered a broken cup or spilt tea / coffee but I wasn’t sure that that would suggest anything other than a broken cup or a spillage.  I then had the idea of filling a cup with tea and photographing it as I banged it on a table to capture the shock wave like ripples. But as you can see, I don’t think that the image is powerful enough to convey what I was after.  In the end I decided that this image was not needed for the narrative anyway.

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D800e, 105mm f/2.8, 1/250, f/3, ISO-800, remote shutter control with remote speedlight in a soft-box.  Adjustments made in Lightroom, converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.

I decided to move on to produce an image conveying the business travel and my choice of image with the pillow can also be associated with the sack.  I am particularly pleased with this image, it’s simple but I think to the point.  (I hope you agree.)

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D800e, 24-120mm f/4, @58mm, 1/60, f/4, ISO-800, ambient light only.  Adjustments made in Lightroom, converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.

The last image I made for the set was to convey an impression of depression and poor health.  This came surprisingly easily, as I recalled that Hollywood movies often uses the symbolism of a tub of ice-cream when the heroin is depressed or sad; so why not use the same idea?  My first attempt was okay; but I didn’t think was strong enough in it’s message; so I reshot using a hamburger that really represented bad diet and unhealthy living.  This image I believe best represents the result of my redundancy which I think is far better than trying to create something to just symbolize shock.

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D800e, 24-120mm f/4, @78mm, 1/125, f/8, ISO-125, remote speedlight in a soft-box.  Adjustments made in Lightroom, converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.

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D800e, 24-120mm f/4 @86mm, 1/125, f/4, ISO-125, remote speedlight in a soft-box.  Adjustments made in Lightroom, converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.

Have I met the assignment criteria?

  • Consider how to use the image and text together to create my chosen narrative.

Yes, I believe I achieved this.

  • Look at how images can be used to tell us about things we can’t see, to convey a feeling or suggestion.

Yes, I believe that my images meet this aim.

  • Try to keep to things that I have a personal interest in or curious about.

Yes, I believe that I have kept within this field.

  • Produce 7 – 10 tightly edited and visually consistent.

Yes, x 7 key images consistent with the narrative.

  • Write a 300 word Introduction.

Yes, A 300 word complementing narrative.

Based upon the feedback from my fellow students from my forum, particularly the very helpful and I thought good advice from Steve Middlehurst, who suggested adding the stills as well as the slideshow for the assessors to be able to clearly scrutinize each image.  With this in mind I decided to put the slideshow at the very top just beneath the title and as each image represents the unseen I feel it works well and added the large stills beneath the text for closer examination.

I sent away for my images to be printed by a third-party printing company, when they came back I found that the crop they had used was not the same as I had expected and seen on my screen then ordering through their online website.  I had waited a week for the photos to arrive and decided that it was too risky to try and get a better print from this same company; so I visited my local Tesco that has a photo-lab but they could not offer a service that included a border forcing me to try and coble one up in Photoshop. Moreover, they could not offer a matching matt-paper, silk being their nearest option.  I emailed my Tutor who insisted that  my presentation should be consistent.  At first I was annoyed and turned to my student forum for advice.  They were all great, I got a little from some reminding me that I should be printing my own work anyway if I want to be a professional photographer which I needed to hear even if I didn’t at first like it.  A fellow student suggested a Canon printer that he uses and I ordered one on Amazon Canon PI7250 for £50, plus paper and spare inks.  Thursday, mid-morning I took delivery of my new printer and after unpacking and setting up spent the rest of the day figuring out the mysteries of printer profiles and colour profiles.  Fortunately, I have been in the practice of calibrating my screen using a Colour Spyder4 and by late Thursday evening I printing out my assignment photos for my Tutor.  I can truly say this assignment has taught me lots.

 

 

 

 

 

Film Noir Part One

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D800e, 85mm f/1.4, 1/400, f/2.8, ISO-125.

On Saturday, I attended the Nikon School in London for their ‘Film-Noir, Part 1’ course.  The day consisted of lighting techniques just using portable speedlights with demonstrations and practical hands-on exercises with between one and two speedlights to create stylized ‘film-noir’ images, typical of the Hollywood age of the silver-screen.  This is a shot using two remote speedlights, one in a soft-box the other naked.

Some more examples of the work I made on this great day!

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Truffaut Hitchcock

Truffaut Hitchcock

Truffaut Hitchcock, by Francois Truffaut, published by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

This Easter weekend, I indulged in a little guilty pleasure.  Taking a break from my photography studies, I read a great book by Francois Truffaut, a famous French film Director and film critic.  He got to know and became friends with Alfred Hitchcock and spent a couple of weeks with Hitchcock in Hollywood interviewing the great man, which he published in this fascinating book.

I blog this in to my Context and Narrative working-log as I believe that as a photographer there is a lot that can be learned from Hitchcock.  For example, as a young British film-maker in the 1920’s, he noticed how the Americans always back-lit their actors; so that they appeared separate from the back ground, this was not practiced by other British film-makers at that time.  He understood the power of composition and had ‘the way of seeing’ as a photographer.  Some of his tricks can be replicated with a still-camera and therefor makes his creativity interesting to me, as I may be able to apply some of it from time to time in my own work.

Still photographer or movie-maker this is a good book to read, for a movie-maker I would suggest an important book to read.  Tomorrow, I am going to see a film about this interview between Truffaut and Hitchcock and I have found this extract of Truffaut’s recorded interview with Hitchcock as they discuss the making of Psycho https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV6NwhGp7VU on YouTube.

Research point – What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

The medium of photography began with the development of the monochrome / black and white image and for decades photographers honed their skills learning how to work with a very limited pallet of only shades of grey.  However, photographers quickly realized that black and white could produce stunning images and could exaggerate a sense of atmosphere that normal colour vision could not.  The portraits of the Hollywood stars of the 30’s and 40’s are a good illustration on the power of black and white.

When colour photography first came in to being it was a costly process and did not really take off until the cost of film and development fell in the late 1950’s.  At this time established photographers were reluctant to start working in the new medium.  I suggest that this was partly due to being nervous about moving out of a familiar and tried and tested photographic field in to a new area that was also gaining a reputation for amateur ‘snappers’.  Professionals with reputations may have found this intimidating and threatening and at that time colour theory was still a mystery kept and only practised by the painters in the art world.  However, in the film industry colour had been in regular use since the late 1930’s and interestingly one of the great pioneers of colour film photography was a keen painter who enjoyed making copies of famous masters for his home and to understand how they were made.  I refer to the British cameraman and film director Jack Cardiff who was the first British cameraman trained to operate the Technicolor movie cameras.  I would recommend watching some of Cardiff’s films of the 1940’s to see some good examples of how Cardiff understood both lighting and colour: ‘The Red Shoes’, ‘Black Narcissus’, A ‘Matter of Life and Death’ to name just a few.

William Eggleston has been credited as the photographer who made colour photography excepted in the photographic world of fine art when John Szarkowski, )Director of Photography of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City) discovered him and his work.

Black and white works to simplify an image creating a sense of past tense something that happened, an event, a ‘moment’.

Colour adds a new dynamic, if used well, it can add impact, by using colour theory and with the right combination on colours an interesting composition can be created from something ordinary and bland.  We see in colour; and strong colours have impact on our senses and with this in mind, interesting and attention grabbing photographs can be found.

 

 

 

Research point – Project 2 – Photojournalism

Photojournalism is a word that has been coined to describe news images, i.e. images that are made to support news stories.  This type of photography can often be regarded (perhaps sometimes mistakenly) as a factual way of presenting information to the public.  However, we only need to visit a news stand on any typical day to see that the viewpoint that these images present to us are typically more reflective of the Publisher’s / Photographer’s employer’s own agenda than a strictly unbiased representation of the ‘Truth’.

This argument has been debated by many photographers, art critiques and scholars over the years.  Three prominent writers who have examined this topic are Marta Rosler in her 1981 essay, In, Around and Afterthoughts’ available to read in the book ‘The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography’, Edited and published by Richard Bolton,  MIT Press Cambridge.  Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’ Penguin.  Abigail Solomon-Godeau in her 1994 essay ‘Inside/Out’ available to read in the book ‘Public Information, Desire, Disaster, Document’ Edited by Kara Kirk, Published by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  All three of these author’s works are summarized in a very helpful book ‘Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange, published by Focal Press.

Martha Rosler’s 1981 essay, ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts’

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Walker Evans (1903 – 1975)

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00651773/resource/

In Rosler’s essay she looks at the photograph used in social politics between the haves and have-nots, she begins by asking why are photographers still making documentary style photographs of the Bowery area on New York, notorious for its drunks and down and outs which have has been covered by many photographers over the years with much questionable motives. She states that documentary photography in the USA represents, ‘a liberal social conscience’. However, she makes the argument that documentary photography has failed to achieve any status of ‘truth’ as it gained associations with ‘muckspreading’ and has ‘been partly strangled by the myth of journalistic objectivity’. She argues that the believability of documentary photography has come under attack from two political opposed camps. The left attack it as being a social institution that serves only the wealthy and helps to enforce the wealthy classes dominance over the poor. The right sees an attack on its truthfulness beneficial to their standpoint which considers social inequalities and elites as natural.

To support her argument She examines the history of documentary photography in the USA beginning at the turn of the century when some socially concerned individuals such a Jacob Riis tried to highlight the plight of the poor migrant works living and working in the slums on New York, the Farm Security Association (FSA) of the 1930’s and 40’s to changing attitudes in the later part of the 20th century.

She argues that in the early days of documentary photography by photographers such as Lewis Hine who were ‘propagandizing social work’ and trying to right wrongs, didn’t understand that it was not in the interest for the establishments to right these wrongs, as these wrongs were essential to the social system. She cynically argues that these conscientious, privileged, do-gooders were simply expressed sympathy for the poor and appealed to the self-interest of the privileged. They were making a strong case for charity rather than self-help.’ She goes on to make the case that, ‘charity is an argument for the preservation of class as it encourages the giving of little in order to pacify potentially dangerous lower classes.’

She gives examples of famous documentary style images to support her opinions. In the 1930’s, the period of the Great Depression in the USA and the Dust Bowl disaster an organization was set-up called the FSA to investigate and report back Washington the situation amongst the farming community as their work photographers were sent out to document what the saw. One such photographer was Dorothea Lange and she came across a women and her children in California who were victims of the depression, she took some photographs and made a note in her diary that she (the mother) ‘She thought that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.’ One of these photographs was to become one of the most iconic photographs ever produced and has been used re-used copied, imitated all across the world. Although the picture has become so famous no such fame or fortune fell upon the subject or her children. It has been argued that the camp that she was living in at that time received funding for better facilities that the mother Mrs. Thompson would have benefited from. The point that Rosler is making is that again nothing was done to help Mrs. Thomson get out of her poverty trap and when a follow up story was made in the 1970’s her identity was revealed to the world for the first time and she was still impoverished living on state benefits in a Caravan / Trailer. Rosler uses Mrs. Thompson case as an example of how documentary photography can abuse / victimize its subjects by publicly humiliating them by exposing their misery and in Mrs. Thompson’s case she suffered this form of victimization twice the second time with the 1970’s follow up story. Rosler also uses another example of multi exploitation of victims of documentary photography and uses another FSA photograph taken in the 30’s and published in the 40’s of a Tenant Farmers Wife and published in a book ‘Let us Praise Famous Men’ which documented the marginalized sharecroppers and children. A follow up story in the late 70’s published in the New York Times Magazine – Rosler cynically states that there a double irony with this follow up story as it first re-consigns the original story from marginal and pathetic to marginality and pathos and gives away the victims true identity thus making the subject a new victim. She also points out that the type of reader of the New York Times will get a certain satisfaction from this story that although the poorer are now better off they haven’t caught up.

Rosler has clearly put a lot of thought, research and work in to these arguments; but I am not sure she is fare in her judgments. She talks with the power on hindsight. When these photographs were taken the photographer was trying to show the world what they themselves saw. Riis and Lewis Hines tried to use photographs for a good cause, how their photographs were later seen, used, read or edited was beyond their control. The problem with anything a man does is that it can be often interpreted by others in ways beyond their control. This can be true of photographs – we will see what we want to see. A photograph of an unconscious drunk can be seen either as an image to highlight the plight of a down and out or cynically regarded as exploiting a vulnerable man’s dignity. Is it important to understand the photographer’s agenda or is more important to simply see the image and take from it what you like? After all, you are going to anyway.

Having said that I believe that a photograph can change situations providing the image is seen at the right time in the right place. I believe that an image has to be topical if it is to make the most impact. For example the migrant mother at the time of the depression when any people across the world were experiencing hard times the almost saintly stoic pose of the mother and child touched a chord with millions. Images of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau at the end of the war probably had maximum impact because by then hatred for Germany and Nazis was at its zenith and also perhaps a war tired world needed that jolt to remind them for what the fighting and suffering had been for.

Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’

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– In this book Sontag believes that the human psyche becomes deadened to the effects of shocking images of war and death.  She refers to her own experience that she had when first seeing photographs of Bergen- Belsen and Dachau in a Santa-Monica book store, July 1945 when she was only 12.  She can now refer to a time before and after she had seen these images and experienced ‘the epiphany’ as a result of these shocking pictures.  However, she goes on to say that as time has passed and more and more similar images have flooded the viewing world she believes that a saturation point has been reached were it is now difficult, if not impossible, to experience that sense of shock and horror.  At the time of writing this only 30 years had passed and images of carnage, destruction and death was almost a daily occurrence with images coming back from the Vietnam war.

I agree with this argument (to a degree), as we have all become more familiar with pictures of the holocaust, world war one and two, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.  These photos all begin to take on a similar image in our minds and unless they are able to touch us on a more personal level such as somewhere where we have lived, people we have known, children like our own, etc. then the new images that we see on a daily bases won’t necessarily move us as perhaps they are intended.  However, exceptions to this are events that are extremely dramatic and rare such as the events of 911 in New York.  However, I personally liken this type of photographic genre to be similar to Hollywood’s horror movies that have to keep finding new ideas for even gorier and stomach churning stories and images in order to keep providing the audiences with a feeling of shock and horror for which they are demanding.  We now need to see something very extraordinary in a picture to effect us like that of Sontag’s experience or of many of us with 911. I refer to an experience that can be identified as how we were before and how we were after.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s 1994 essay, ‘Inside/Out’

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– Published in the book ‘Public Information, Desire, Disaster Document’, Edited by Kara Kirk, Published by San-Francesco Museum for Modern Art. – In Solomon-Godeau’s essay she argues that there are two types of documentary photography, Inside and Out.

The first are of images taken by a photographer who is involved and a part of the subject matter ‘an insider’. She gives as an example of this type of photography as taken by Nan Goldin with her photographic work entitled “Ballard of Sexual Dependency” a collection of photographs documenting her stormy relationship with her boyfriend with candid shots of both her and her boyfriend together. Clearly she had kept her camera with her all the time; so her boyfriend appears to be behaving naturally as if the camera isn’t there.  Her project, ‘The Other Side’, Goldin used this same ‘insider’ technique with her transsexual friends, living with these people she was able to photograph them in normally very private moments.  Despite the closeness of the subject matter Goldin felt that the camera still leaves something out of the image something that a mere machine can not capture.  “If it were possible, I’d want no mechanism between me and the moment of photographing.”  Solomon-Godeau acknowledges, “that both of these works can be considered as exemplary of the insider position.” However, with regards to ‘The Other Side’ Solomon-Godeau questions, “how does the insider position determine the reception of these images or even the nature of the content?”  Solomon-Godeau goes on to reason that for example to photos of her friends dressing / undressing, indicating the intimate relationship the photographer has with the subject, ‘has a specific valency with respect to cross-dressing and transvestism’.  In other words these images can be read as either identities, roles, masquerades or “third genders”, as the title of “drag queen” or “transvestite” suggests a transforming through dressing-up.’  These images record moments in that transformation from male to extravagant fantasy, Hollywood style femininity and glamour, documenting a ritual that is itself about exteriority, appearance, performance. Solomon-Godeau points out, ‘that the very presence of a camera as they dress or undress, make love or bathe – instates a third term, even as the photographer wishes disavow it.’ – ‘The photographers own eyes is inevitably frustrated by the very mechanism of the camera – which cannot penetrate beyond that which is simply, there’.

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The second – Out, is documentary photographs taken by an outsider, amongst the photographers Solomon-Godeau refers to is Arbus, who photographed social and physical deviants in a way that prevented compassionate involvement. Susan Sontag described Arbus’ work as morbid voyeurism and Sontage uses Arbus as an example of photographs taken from the outside, ‘On Photography’. America Seen Through Photographs, Darkly’.

I personally don’t think that you need to be on the inside to produce a successful documentary project; but you do need close co-operation with those that are in ‘the inside’ in order for your work to imply any insight to the subject matter. I would simply refer anyone to a scientific documentary show such as BBC’s Horizon or reading a magazine journal such as ‘The Economist’, or trade journals.