Tag Archives: London

About Looking by John Berger

about-looking

John Berger, About Looking (1980) London: Bloomsbury. ISBN: 978-0-7475-9957-9

Among my pile of books yet to read as part of my studies I had ‘About Looking’ by John Berger.  I have only recently been introduced to this author through my Context and Narrative Course, I read his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ and watched the accompanying BBC TV program on YouTube which I found very interesting. I then went onto read ‘Understanding a Photograph’, in preparation for my fourth assignment.  The recent sad news of John Berger’s death prompted me to read this book, ‘About Looking’.

This book is made up of a selection of essays, Berger wrote from the mid 1960’s up to the late 1970’s.

His first essay examines how man looks and sees himself; how he regards animals and his world around him and compares this to how other animals regards themselves, man and the world through their eyes.

His next essay looks at pictures by August Sander the famous farm hands going to a dance photo, Young Farmers (1914) and another image of a local musical band posing for their photograph and he discusses how their suits give away their status in society despite their smart attire.

Also included is an essay on the works of Paul Strand.  The rest of the book moves away from photography and looks at works by other artists from the 17th century such as Hals through to Artist’s such as Francis Bacon and Giacometti of the 20th century.

An interesting read, Berger had his own style of writing and if you have heard him speak you can almost hear his voice coming through the pages of the book.

He was clearly very passionate about art and I am sure a nice guy to have met.  I am sure all who were fortunate enough to have met him will miss him.

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.

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)

 

 

 

Strange and Familiar and The Unseen City

This linked photo is by Cas Oorthuys, titled ‘Black Oxford Students, Oxford, 1962’.  From the Strange and Familiar website exhibition at the Barbican.

Yesterday I visited two exhibitions currently being held in London curated by Martin Parr. The first exhibition that I visited was displayed in The Barbican and was called Strange and Familiar.  This was on two floors and exhibited the work of over twenty photographers who had visited the UK and photographed the British people as they saw them.  These images covered a period from the 1930’s up to present day and looked at British life different angles of social and political points of view.

The Artist’s work on display:

Edith Tudor-Hart, coming to England in the 1930’s a devote Communist she took an interest in the social and political life of the English contrasting the haves and have-nots in her photographs.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cartier-Bresson first came to England to photograph for the Coronation of George VI and later for the Queen’s Silver-Jubilee and captured images of the British and their relationships with the monarchy.

Robert Frank, visited England in the early 1950’s before his famous ‘The Americans’ project and spent some time in London observing the life of the City and the world of the Bankers and then travelled to Wales and stayed amongst the Welsh mining community of Caerau where he felt more at home at photographed their daily-lives, visiting the coal-face as well as seeing their social-life.  Frank was made to feel more at home in the Welsh community than he did in the City and his photographs reflect this in his views on London as seen as an outsider and his views of his Welsh hosts that have invited him in to their homes and their community and his images reflect that of a view from an insider.

Paul Strand visited the UK in the 1950’s and spent sometime living with crofters in the Outer-Hebrides of Scotland and like Frank was able to take photos from the privileged viewpoint of an insider.  Strand’s particular interest and theme to many of his photographs during this project is texture, shapes and patterns.

Cas Oorthuys visited the UK in the 1950’s and photographed the daily-life of austerity for the English and including photos of the first Caribbean immigrants to England and his photographs of Black Afro-Caribbean students at Oxford reflecting the cultural diversity that was developing in the UK during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Sergio Larrain Visited England in the 1950’s in these images I notice his use of design, lines, angels, patterns frames within frames and reflections.

Gilles Peress, visited the UK in the 1970’s and photographed the troubles in Northern-Ireland.  Working in black-and-white he records the Orange marches, street scenes aftermath of riots and murders with a compositional consideration to design, and texture.  His images contrasted from the violence and misery of the working-class Northern Irish to the ordered and gentile life the privileged playing cricket or fox-hunting.  My favorite image amongst Peress’ work was a picture of a child being slapped by her mother with the TV in the background with a shocked looking child staring open-mouthed from the screen.  Peress used a slow enough shutter speed to provide motion–blur for the mother and child whilst fast enough to have a sharp background.

Akihiko Okamura is a Japanese artist who visited the UK in the late 1960’s early 70’s and recorded his time in Northern-Ireland in colour photographs surreal images of ladies preparing tea and biscuits in the middle of a street with burned-out houses in the background and shrines made to victims of the riots.

Garry Winogrand came to the UK in the 1960’s and recorded the London street scene of the ‘swinging 60s’

Candida Hofer like Winogrand Hofer came to England in the 1960’s and spent time in Liverpool recording the street scenes of Liverpool’s 60s era.

Evelyn Hofer used a large format camera to slow the process down and take photos of people and place in 1960’s London.

Bruce Davidson An American photographer who visited England in the 1960’s taking street photography in London and Wales with an interest in the poor and destitute.

Gian Butturini Butturini is also know as a film director but in the 1960’s Butturini photographed the London scene from street to Rock concert and contrasted with the political troubles in Northern-Ireland.

Frank Habicht Habicht’s images are of the young ‘hip’ London scene of the late 60’s.

Hans Eijkelboom visited the Bullring in Birmingham and with a concealed camera photographed people as the passed by him at the centres main entrance.  He has studied how people dress alike and how he has been able to catagorize people by their clothes.  For example he grouped images of people wearing the same or similar garments such as striped or spotted dresses, flowery beach style shirts, Adidas advertising T-shirts, boob tube tops, etc.  He cleverly transitioned one category to another by selecting couples that were dressed in the two categories he was switching from and to this must have been produced over a long period of time.  This project questioned peoples sense of individualism as clearly a large percentage of people dress alike; so perhaps as not to stand out and lacking of imagination.  Many looked like they were mimicking the manikins in shops or copying the models in the lower end clothes catalogues.

Bruce Gilden using a wide angled lens and cropping tightly Gilden has produced some strong unflattering portraits of people living on the streets or down on their luck that he has come across on the streets of Glasgow.  The wide angle lenses have almost caricatured them by lengthening their faces and ugly-fying them.

Hans Van-Der-Meer is a Dutch photographer who came to England and was influenced by the old Dutch landscape masters and used their style in his choice of viewpoints when photographing British amateur football matches by making use of the large space with the players small in the frame.

Raymond Depardon worked in Glasgow around the early 1980s photographing a declining city as the factories closed.  These pictures in colour capture this depressing period in Britain’s history.

Rineke Dijkstra has used a large format camera.

Tina Barney again using a large format camera she has taken portraits in the style of the old master painters.

Axell Hutte visited London and took an interest in the architecture of the post war social housing developments, many of which have declined and since been re-developed.

Jim Dow an American photographer who spent some time in England in the early 1990s Dow took an interest in British small shops as seen from both inside and out.  Many of these shops were already in decline when he was photographing them and as this decline continues these images are fast becoming things of nostalgia.

Shinro Ohtake captured images of Britain in the year of the queens Silver-Jubilee of 1977 with some interesting views of the British as seen from an outsider.

This linked image is by Martin Parr from his collection of photographs of the unseen city.

The Unseen City photographed by Martin Parr http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160301-unseen-city-martin-parr-reveals-the-square-miles-secrets

The second exhibition was displayed at the Guildhall Art Gallery and was called The Unseen City, photos taken my Martin Parr of events involving the Guildhall such as The Lord Mayor’s Show.  These colour images offered an exclusive behind the scenes view of the prestigious events that annually take place at the Guildhall.  Parr captured candid shots of the organizers, patrons and staff as they went about their preparation and participation of events such as the swan upping and Lord Major’s show, the unseen side of these public and exclusive events.  I thought that these images were a good representation of a viewpoint seen from an outsider, an invited guest, whom, finding the whole scenario strange sees much more than his hosts and captures it in his camera.

I found the two exhibitions complemented each-other as their underlining theme was what is British-ness?  This second exhibition contrasted to the first as this showed a hidden side to the British that is usually closed to both photographers and most of the British.  A Britain representing the world of the elite and privileged ruling-class, this is an unelected class, Bankers and Lords that quietly work behind the scenes of British Politics and who ultimately pull the strings.

 

 

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

Camera_Lucida

Camera Lucida, by Roland Barthes, (2000) London, Vintage Classics, ISBN: 9-780099-225416.

Barthes examines, photography, what photography is, and how it works as a medium for art, commercial, social and private use.  This is an important book to read, unfortunately it can be a little hard to read, perhaps because of the translation and Barthes academic language; but worth persevering with.

  • Barthes classifies photos as either, ‘Empirical’, (Professional / Amateurs) ‘Rhetorical’ (Landscape / Objects / Portraits / Nudes) or ‘Aesthetic’, (Realism / Pictorialism).
  • A photograph is never anything but an antiphon (chant) of, “Look see,” “Here it is.”  It points a finger at the relationship it hold, it can not escape its denoted meaning. (page 5).
  • A photograph never distinguishes itself from its referent (what it represents).
  • A photo is a ‘signifier’
  • Barthes identifies two elements to a picture that is needed to make it interesting and he named them ‘Studium’ and ‘Punctum’.  Words he has taken from the Latin language.  ‘Studium’ is the general pleasing or good composition of the picture and Punctum is an element that punctuates through the image, an element that ‘pricks’ / creates an emotional response of some kind. (Page 25 – 28.)

The one thing that I got but didn’t fully realise until now is his idea of studium and punctum, a fellow student helped me with this when he posted a link to a good video explaining this theory.  https://phlearn.com/punctum-better-image

 

Maria Kapajeva

Photos by Mary Kapajeva. These linked images are from her website: http://www.mariakapajeva.com
Maria Kapajeva is an Eastern European artist living and working in London.  I find her work very interesting and she has a unique style.  Being a female artist she naturally brings in some feminine topics to her work but she combines them with cultural and modern influences that make these topics interesting.  I like her style.  The above image taken from her project ‘Family’ I particularly liked, as I liked the idea of two linking images.

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.

Working in Black & White

Working in Black and White

Working in Black & White, by David Prakel, Basics Photography, Published by AVA.

I have just read this book on black-and-white photography which covers both for film and digital with advice on developing and darkroom techniques for those unfamiliar with it and for digital post-production editing with Lightroom and Photoshop.  The book covers all aspects, including going about thinking about tones rather than colour; but explain a bit of colour theory to help with understanding the mental and physical grey-scale conversion.  If using film cameras there is also an explanation of filters for both cameras and darkroom enlargers, how and why they are used and how digital software that mimics filters that can be used and again why.  This book also looks at returning or adding colour to black and white prints either digitally or manually for various artistic effects.  This book offers allsorts of fresh ideas that can be brought to your work.

I began photography with a Pentax K1000 SLR working with Ilford Black and White film that I used to develop and print myself.  I would recommend any modern photographer who has only experience with digital cameras to have a go converting some images to black-and-white and playing with the effects.

The main reason I chose to read this book now is because I am going on a couple of courses at the Nikon school in London doing Film-Noir style black and white portrait photography.

On Photography, Susan Sontag

On_Photography

Susan Sontag, On Photography, (1979) London, Penguin, ISBN: 978-0-14-005397-5.

This book by Susan Sontag is a collection of essays discussing how photography has influenced the world since its invention and how it has played a part in the surrealist art movement in the 20th Century.

The book was first published in 1977 and although photography has moved on she spends a lot of time discussing how photography was first introduced accepted or not and how it came to be the most enduring and influential part of the surrealist movement.  She also looks at how photographs are used and how they can be re-used.

Topics and points to note:

  • In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge out notion of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.
  • Photos are a grammar and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.
  • Photos give us the sense that we can hold the world in our hands.
  • In photographs the image is also an object.
  • As object they can be collected, bought & sold, cherished, thrown away, lost & found, etc, etc.
  • Photographs furnish evidence, they appear to provide proof when something is in doubt.
  • A photograph justifies, for example through use of surveillance and is a presumption of proof that something exists.
  • Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that like all mass art form, photography is not practiced by people as an art.  It is mainly a social rite, a defence against anxiety and a tool of power.
  • Photographs can abet desire and emotions of morality.
  • The industrialisation of photography permitted its rapid absorption into bureaucratic ways of running society…photographs became part of the general furniture of the environment – touchstones and confirmations of that reductive approach to reality which is considered realistic.  Photographs were enrolled in the service of important institutions of control, notably the family and the police, as symbolic object and as pieces of information….many important documents are not valid unless they have affixed to them, a photographic-token of the citizen’s face.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

I have just read a good book by John Berger called Ways of Seeing (1972) London: Penguin. ISBN: 978-0-141-03579-6.

The book complemented a BBC four part TV series of the same name first broadcasted in 1974 and is available to watch on YouTube.  The T.V. series and book was ground breaking work for demystifying the Art of oil paintings and demonstrating how the reading of pictures has changed and been adapted for modern life.  John Berger begins by explaining how photography has had a dramatic effect on art particularly for the oil painting by both making it more democratically available to be seen by many but by producing facsimile copies it has also changed the way pictures are and can be seen.  For example a facsimile of Adam and God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome will not be identical (a perfect double) as there will only be one original and can only be seen in situ above your head.  Therefor any facsimile will be seen out on context of it’s location and out of context from the rest of the fresco.  By removing the original context will potentially change the meaning and interpretation of the picture.

Publicity – John Berger has used examples of advertising (he refers to it as publicity) to demonstrate how the meanings of pictures can be changed and manipulated.  He also discussed how the Nude has been used in art and how the pictorial language for the female Nude has changed over the centuries from medieval Adam and Eve frescos to the 19th century realists illustrating the symbols of vanity, desire, purity, and ownership, etc. that have been associated with the Nude in the language of the picture.  Again John Berger has illustrated how modern photographers have used oil painting of nudes to construct their own nude images by copying poses and themes and how advertising has also used the nude to convey a message for commerce.

Ways of Seeing is made up of seven chapters, three of these chapters are picture essays with no text.

A good book but perhaps a little hard to understand without watching the BBC series as well.  However, it is easy to find on YouTube and I am sure the BBC still broadcast it for Schools and Colleges.