Tag Archives: social

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

 

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.

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.

Research point – One in 8 Million, The New York Times

One in 8 Million is an interesting online photo project in which a diverse range of people living in New York city talk about themselves with a slide show of still and black and white photographs that play-out in time with the audio narration.  The pictures have been photographed to compliment the transcript and are a good example of how the theory of relay and on occasion anchoring is used with the audio.  A very interesting social documentary on the diversity of New Yorkers.  The interviews reflect what the individuals personality and identity from a woman into sexual bondage to a reformed drugs dealer, An immigrant from Nepal who is a baggage handler at JFK to a Blue Chip Broker and everyone in between a total of 54 different subjects all with there own story and collection of photos, that runs for two and a half minutes each.  Very interesting and entertaining.  Martin Parr, comments that in order to make interesting social documentaries he makes the entertaining to disguise the intended social message.

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.

Surrealism

http://www.surrealism.org/

Surrealism, is an art form and cultural movement that developed in the 1920’s.  It’s root begins before the first world war and continued to grow during the war; but it was in the 1920’s that surrealism began to influence the art world, music, literature, philosophical thought social theory and even political thinking and practice.

Useful to photography, surrealist’s work features ideas such as elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non-logical inferred conclusions.

The photographers Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson were very much influenced by this movement as was artists such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, etc.  Writers of the surrealist movement:  Andre Bretton, Pierre Reverdy, etc.

Philosophers such as Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse were also influential in the surrealism movement.

Surrealism has the idea that ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important; but that their arrangements must be open to the full range of imagination.  Freud’s ideas of free association, dream analysis and the unconscious was vital to the surrealists for developing methods to liberate imagination.  They embraced idiosyncrasy while rejecting any suggestion of underlying madness.

Following this line of thought the surrealists theorised that, ‘one could combine in the same frame elements not normally found together to produce illogical and startling effects’.  Pierre Reverdy wrote: “a juxtaposition of two or more or less distant realities.  The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be – the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.”

The surrealism movement aimed to revolutionize human experience, its personal, cultural, social and political aspects.  Surrealists wanted to free people from restrictive customs and structures and false rationality and at various times the surrealists aligned themselves with Anarchists and Marxists.