Tag Archives: opinion

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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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

Working log for Assignment 4

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

My task for this assignment is to write a 1000 word essay on an image of my choosing.

I can choose anything I like a from famous art photograph to something from the family album but the image must have scope to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

If choosing a well-known photograph, take time to research it’s context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc.  Add all this information into the essay in order to be able to draw a conclusion from my own interpretation of the facts.

If I choose to use a found photograph, a picture from my own collection, or perhaps one from an old family album, use it as an opportunity to find out something new.  Look directly at the photograph for information.  It may be interesting to compare and contrast memory with the information being seen anew ‘reading’ the picture so intensely.

You must use the facts as a means to draw my own conclusion about what the picture means to me.  I may wish to apply what I’ve learned in part 4 regarding translation, interpretation, connotation, signs, punctum, etc.  Be sure to get the definitions correct!

Follow though association and other images that relate to the discussion. directly or indirectly.  Look at the broader context of the image and it’s background and specific narrative as well as my own personnel interpretation of it and what thoughts it triggers for me.  Follow these associations in a thoughtful and formal way.  Enjoy the process!

The first task for this assignment was to decide upon the picture, I had just finished assignment 3 and I was holidaying in Spain where I could relax empty my head and ‘re-boot’.  After the first week I was able to think again and ideas began to come to me, I had taken my laptop with me so that I could use it with my camera and I began to search for ideas.  My first idea was of a photograph that I came across earlier this year taken in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by an American photographer in 1944.  The image shows local Germans forced to tour the concentration camp and I was fascinated by the expressions each of these civilians made, some visibly shocked and ashamed others indignant and cold.  However, one night after a meal in the port we came home to the flat and put on the video and chose to watch Gone-with-the-Wind.  I hadn’t seen this movie in years and I was taken by the photography and some of the scenes that were so good.  I was particularly taken by the last image from part one.  Scarlet O’Hara has returned to Tara having escaped the siege of Atlanta only to find Tara pillaged by the invading Union army starving she eats a raw horse radish that she has dug from the soil with her bare hands.  At this point we see a transition in her from desperation to determination and the scene ends with her standing under a battle scared tree making an oath to god that no matter what she has to do she will never go hungry again.  This was a very powerful scene and a very powerful image provides a strong sense of foreboding for part two.

This was my first idea for an essay.  US Army photograph, 1944.

Image-25-resized

This image I photographed in the Spanish fruit and veg. market of Altea that neighbors my holiday home town of Calpe a year or so ago.  I saw this scene and discreetly pointed my point and shoot Canon camera and caught it right at the best moment.

This was the image that I was so taken with in the motion-picture and I was luck enough to find it on the web.

When I returned to England I emailed my Tutor my suggested options and asked for his opinion.  He replied the image from Gone-with-the-Wind.  I was pleased that he had suggested this image as by now this was my favorite option.

After carefully looking at this picture I highlighted the cloud formation to help with my essay.

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I also looked at how this image is composed.

gone-with-the-wind-1

I then began to make a list of basic information to start the research process which I typed as a word documents. Preperation for assignment 4  I then began researching through websites and for additional ideas on essay writing I  read, Reading Photographs, Basics Creative Photography, by Richard Salkeld, published by Bloomsbury,  Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, published by Penguin,’One Way Street and other writings’ by Walter Benjamin, published by Penguin, the essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ 1975 by Rachel Rose.  The Bible and ‘Inferno’ by Dante Alighieri, published by The Folio Society.

As I researched I kept a record of the source on a word document that I could refer to again later.  Notes  Having accumulated my reference material I began to write my essay, at this point I was not concerned with the word count as I could cut away as necessary. Working Title I also included images in my basic work.   when I came up with a title for my essay I resaved the document under it’s new name and continued to work on it.  Draft-1-Its a Lilly! I then emailed my Tutor for advice on my word-count and he advised that I was allowed + or – 5-10%; so I made sure that when stripping away I had an idea of my safe envelope; so as not to take out anything unnecessarily Final Draft-Its a Lilly  I then edited down my list of reference material relevant to my final draft and added it Notes for draft .

Finally I checked with my Assignment criteria to make sure that I had understood and followed it.

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I then read it to my wife and she pointed out that the only thing I had not mentioned was how the picture made me feel.  It was such an obvious observation but in my had not thought to mention it!  This is a good example of being too close to the work to be able point out the obvious.  this I easily rectified as the original attraction was the sense of foreboding and unease that this image conveyed.

The idea of the title for my work came through my research in to Technicolor and I watched several very good documentaries on YouTube that told the story of the development and use of technicolor which included an anecdotal story from an aging actor who played one on the Munchkins in Wizard of Oz who was puzzled why the always called out “It’s a Lilly!” at the end of a scene.

This time I only got one response from the Facebook OCA forum when I put out my request to critique my essay, but I took on board the comment that I should change the title for the last paragraph which I agreed with.  I decided to change it from ‘Conclusion’ to ‘So why the title’.  However, I also sent my work to a friend who I could rely on to give a good constructive critique and he came back with some suggestions to shorten a couple of sentences and punctuation corrections sending me his suggested amendments highlighted in red.   ShaunDraftEssay from this I made my final changes Amended Final Draft-Its a Lilly-1

 

 

Exercise-Project-3-Self-absented Portraiture


Photo by Nigel Shafran, Titled, 4th January 2004. Three bean soup, cauliflower vegetable cheese. Morning coffee and croissants. From the series Washing-up. Available to view online: http://nigelshafran.com

This image has a tell-tale clue that this is a man’s washing-up from the drying paint-brush hanging over the sink.  It doesn’t surprise me that these photos are taken by a man; but the choice of subject matter does.  I am sure many married men (I being one) often do the washing up.  My father often washes up for my mother but he often does such a poor job of it needs cleaning again.  Thankfully I don’t follow in this tradition.

I would agree with the opinion that gender does contribute to a the creation on an image.  for the reasons that certain issues will have more of a personal interest to one gender than the other for example – various feminine social, private and public politics; sexuality; male and female health issues to mention just a few.

These images have been composed without including people in the frame.  The angles and vantage points of the camera puts the viewer at normal head height relative to the subject matter.  This gives the impression to me of putting the viewer in to the picture; so that this not only can represent the artists daily chores but also offering up the chore to the viewer to do.

As a still-life the concept of putting the viewer in to the picture I do find interesting but these images as they stand as photos of washing-up, I wouldn’t spend much time in a gallery scrutinizing.  Has these images been carefully arranged?  Perhaps, perhaps not.

Project 3, Exercise.

In this last project of this section, I have looked at the concept of creating images that convey a sense of the unseen, for example feelings and emotions.  I have already started to think about this form of art with my last exercise of creating images for a  poem and this project is moving this theory forward in to use of every day life and personal experiences.

I have been introduced to three different projects by photography students as examples of creating images out of the unseen.  The first is by Peter Mansell (My Space) who has taken photos of objects and even of empty spaces that represent his disability and his life.  I very much like these simple but well thought out and composed images.  I got a very real sense of his visits to the hospital and Peter’s life at home.

The second project is by Dewald Botha (Ring Road) I liked the interesting perspective and sense of being on the outside.  The timing of the photos suggest early morning with a cold mist and overcast looking skies this could of course just be smog but it evokes a sense of cold and the unusual locations of not belonging almost like trespassing.

The third project is by Jodie Taylor (Memories of Childhood) the link for this only illustrates three photos but I was able to understand the sentiment and sense of nostalgia as we see these places of her childhood.  I think that all of the photos from all three projects are cleverly conceived and nicely composed.  The project that resonates most with me was Dewald Botha’s, ‘Ring Road’.  I have been in sales for much of my life and I was a Territory Sales Rep. I was working from home; so I was always a little bit of an outsider even with my own company as I would only visit their offices for sales meetings and training days.  I have often found that we set boundaries for ourselves in both our professional and personal life and boundaries is the subject that Botha explores.  I often used the M25 to travel to all compass points of my sales territory and his choice of subject matter struck a cord.

Authorial Control

This concept of loss of authorial control doesn’t mean a lot to me.  The point of creating an image, sculpture, music or literature is to express your ideas in to something of substance; but how other people choose to interpret the work is up to them.  Hopefully if you have done a good job the meaning of that idea is obvious and will be experienced as you intended it to be.  (Unless the idea was to be deliberately ambiguous and to enjoy watching others make interesting interpretations.)  A photograph can be easily re-used re-labelled and re-contextualized and perhaps as students and later as photographers we will do this to other peoples work and one day others will do it with ours.  That’s life.  Moreover, if a photographer is employed by a magazine then that employer must have rights over the editorial decisions.  A wedding photographer on the other hand has more control; but at the end of the day the Bride and Groom can always re-frame the pictures and add their own captions etc.  In my opinion it’s not worth loosing our hair over this idea of authorial control.