Tag Archives: posing

About Looking by John Berger

about-looking

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 You-Tube 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 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.

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.

Advertisements

Research Point – A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing by Diane Arbus

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966 photographed by Diane Arbus.  This image brings back memories of my childhood, as my Uncle and Aunt looked similar to this when I was just a toddler.  My Uncle had that Teddy-boy look of the 60’s and my Aunt had her hair in this style which must have been very common at that time on both sides of the Atlantic (I believe that it was known as the Beehive).  The image clearly suggests an awkwardness in the attitude of the husband and wife, neither appear relaxed or very cheerful.  The wife appears distant and unhappy whilst the husband is trying to make more of an effort; but there appears to be a mix of friendliness and sadness in his eyes whilst his mouth suggests a faint smile.  Perhaps they have argued, perhaps the husband likes the photographer Diane Arbus and his wife is aware of it.  Perhaps his young wife feels trapped, her life over before it really began torn by her youth and her duty and love as a mother of two young children, one of which is disabled and likely to be quit a handful on top of that of the baby.  The baby appears fairly quite and happy whilst the boy may be sensing his parents mood as he gives the appearance of acting and looking confused and restless.  I note that the mother has clearly spent time on her appearance with her cloths, hair, make-up and eye-brows.  Is this for the benefit of the camera, herself or for the trip out?

This picture is the subject of an essay by Liz Jobey and was published in Singular Images, Essays on Remarkable Photographs.  Edited by Sophie Howarth and published by Tate Publishing.  (This book is currently out-of-print and I obtained a copy second-hand through Amazon.

According to Jobey’s essay this photo was taken on a Sunday in 1966 and the parents were taking their children out for the day.  Arbus had got to know this young N.Y. Brooklyn family and had visited then at their apartment and took some photos there as well as this one.  their names were Richard and Marylin Daurin, Richard was an immigrant from Italy working as a car mechanic he met his wife in high school and Marylin was still only 16 when they were married.  They had three children, the two in the picture is Richard Jnr. and Dawn.  Marylin was 23 when this photo was taken and she told Arbus that she was often mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor (which I suspect she encouraged by her choice of hair and make-up).  This image was first published in a special family issue of the British ‘Sunday Times’ titled ‘The American families’ with photos of the Daurin’s in the Bronx juxtaposed against the life-style of a wealthy Westchester couple.

When Arbus sent this photo to Peter Crookston the magazine’s deputy editor for the Sunday Times supplement she of Richard and Marylin, “They were undeniably close in a painful sort of way.”  However, Crookston re-wrote this for the caption as, “Richard Jnr. is mentally retarded and the family is close in a painful sort of way.”  Arbus later wrote a letter to Crookston complaining about his miss-quotation.

Arbus, by her own admission had a way with charming people in to posing for her and she became famous for seeking out people of the fringes of society and taking their portraits.  These people whom many would derogatory call freaks would be mentally ill down and outs, dwarfs, transsexuals, etc.  Sadly Arbus committed suicide in 1971.

Exercise-Project-1-The Language of Photography

Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1974.  Titled, ‘Dog legs’ This linked image is from: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk

At first glance the joke in this picture can be easily missed, simply a small ‘cute’ dog on a lead with it’s owners in a park.  The image has been taken at a very low angle from the level of the small dog cutting off the rest of the owners bodies from the frame.  But a second look and something is wrong with the two pairs of legs.  The nearest (probably) the dog’s mistress in her high length boots and now we notice the second pair of legs belong to another dog that appears to be only standing on it’s hind legs like a man.  (In fact with very close scrutiny you can work out that these are a tall dog’s front legs and the dog is standing diagonally to the photographer with it’s belly and hind legs cropped from the frame.) The subjects are positioned approximately one-quarter of the way up the frame with the cute dog to the right looking in to the lens; so drawing the viewer’s eye away from the left side of the picture.  The small dog is what Roland Barthes would call the ‘punctum’ in the image. The mistress stands in the middle and our eyes naturally glance at the boots which we expect to see the second pair of legs take third place in our visual priority and so don’t stand out until we take a closer look at the picture.  The image is also in black-and-white this also helps with the deception.  If it had been in colour I am sure the tan fur legs would have appeared more obviously in the image and the joke would have been weaker.  Erwitt had used a structure of vertical lines in this image which has an element of design. The image is backlit which makes his subjects stand out from the background.  The composition draws the eyes from the bottom of the picture through these vertical lines to the top.  The placement of the tall dog’s legs next to the lady’s boots looks natural, as if two people were standing posing before the photographer with their dog.  The depth-of-field is kept fairly shallow to keep the eyes from looking deeper in to the background that is unimportant.

Exercise-1-Project-2-Masquerades

In the following examples, the artists have taken on the personality of another individual by dressing as the subject and acting as the subject and standing in for the subject.


Photo by Nikki S Lee. This linked image is available to view online: http://tiffobenii.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/artwork_images_139001_379786_nikkis-lee.jpg”

Nikki S Lee has taken this idea and used both a mixture of observation and performance to replace an individual from a group shot and replace that person with herself.  To obtain these images she has assimilated herself in to a range of social groups from Punks, Hispanics, Strippers and Yuppies.  The photos were either taken by a friend or a member of the infiltrated group.  Lee researched her subjects scrutinizing the social conventions, dress and body-language.  She has even photoshopped to change her weight, age, size and even skin colour to blend in to the group.


Photo by Nikki S Lee. This linked image is available to view online: http://annex.guggenheim.org/collections/media/902/2001.3_ph_web.jpg”

In Lee’s work I do see a little voyeuristic style as we appear to be looking at other peoples private snap shots of friends in a social world outside of our own.  Although Lee had infiltrated these groups in order to get her images I would say that using the word exploitation is too strong as I don’t think her intention is to exploit her subjects.  I believe that she is attempting to break the myths that surround these social-groups.


Photo by Trish Morrissey. This linked image is available on line: http://trishmorrissey.com/media/images/front-w/Sylvia-Westbrook.jpg”

Trish Morrissey has used self-portraiture in a novel way by approaching groups and families (strangers to her) and asking if she could change cloths with them and be photographed posing as the member of the group or family that she represented by wearing that persons cloths, for her project ‘Front’.  In another project, ‘seven Years’ she has taken the idea of family snaps and with the help of her sister, props and costume she has re-staged old photos to link her family memories with her own experiences and reappraise her family relationships.


This linked image is available on line: http://trishmorrissey.com/media/images/seven-years-w/September-4th-1972.jpg

I would have to admit that I would find it bizarre if someone came up to me and asked to swap cloths for a photo.  However, dependant on the mood I was in at the time and that I they has sufficiently convinced me of their sincerity I may well co-operate as I am not shy at taking-part in the unusual.


Photo by Trish Morrissey. This linked image is available on line: http://trishmorrissey.com/media/images/the-failed-realist-w/Party-Girl.jpg”

Morrissey, has used deadpan combined with surrealist art for this style of work.