Tag Archives: visual

The Essential Kafka, published by Wordsworth Classics

the-essential-kafka

As part of my preparation for my final assignment, I decided to read the works of Franz Kafka in order to try and find some visual ideas for an image that was rich in metaphor.

Much of Kafka’s work was never published in his lifetime and thanks to his friend who saved his work from destruction against Kafka’s dying wishes we are able to read these stories today.

The Trial

Joseph K is a Senior Bank-Clark who one day awakens to find two men in his room to arrest him.  He does not discover for what crime he is accused of; but that his crime is serious and his guilt is assumed.  However, he is freed and informed that his case is under investigation and that he can continue to go about his normal business but he must present himself when required and he must build a defense.   Throughout the book we never discover what the crime he is accused of is, nor who accuses him or why.  He discovers that the Courts are all hidden in attics and all the Court personnel are only identified by a gold button sown to their jackets.

The whole story implies a form of neurosis of the mind.  Is K really a victim of a secret Justice system  or is he having some-kind of nervous-breakdown?  This story is full of metaphors.  I believe Leni to represent K’s idea of Justice, she is flirtatious, she is attracted to all of the Advocates clients; but she wants to help and she wants to be wanted.  The Advocate is K’s idea of a typical lawyer who does his best to string out the work as far as he can for profit.  I suspect that K meets the Judge in the Cathedral, he is the Priest and he gives K advise in the form of a story of a man who waits in vein to be admitted to the law only to discover on his death that the door he had waited at for so long was exclusively his.

I have been reading this novel as a result of my research for this course.  I learned of this novel through a essay written by Walter Benjamin and I am considering a couple of passages from this story to use as an idea to inspire an image for my last assignment.

The ideas are:

From the book The Essential Kafka, published by Wordsworth Classics.

The Trial:

First idea:  A portrait of a man sitting in a chair looking important, distinguished, implying authority, implying a Judge.  He is posed to suggest that at any-moment he is about to leap from his chair.  One hand grips the arm-rest the other holds a paper marker ‘Petition’ .  Behind his a blind-folded, pretty woman stands holding scales in her left hand and a sword in her right.  The idea is that she represents Justice; but her pose must also suggest the Greek female Goddess of hunting.  She should be dressed classically one breast exposed like that from the famous French revolutionary picture of Liberty charging forward.  (Chapter 6, The Uncle – Leni, page 81, lines 23-35 and page 109, Chapter 7, The Advocate – the Manufacturer – the Painter, line 32 to page 110 to line 11).

Second idea:  An open door, above the door is a sign that reads ‘THE LAW’ on the door a smaller sign reads ‘Restricted’.  A Doorman stands guard by the door and a Country Gentleman sits on stool looking dejected.  Behind the Doorman light appears to be streaming out from the doorway.  The Doorman must appear to look like he is on guard but is not appearing to be attempting to bar access.  (Chapter 9, In The Cathedral, page 161 – 162).

The Castle,

The hero of this story is just known as ‘K’ and is a Surveyor who arrives at the village below the castle looking for lodgings before reporting to the castle to begin work.  He discovers that he is not expected and is treated as an undesirable outsider by the villagers.  The Castle then confirms that he has been appointed and advises that he must wait for further instructions.  The castle appears to be inaccessible without permission and he is unable to find anyone who can grant him an audience with anyone in the castle.  This story is a nightmare vision of bureaucracy gone mad with tear upon tear of management that makes anything practically impossible to get done and all the servants that are the management of the castle are aloof from the villagers can only be communicated through unreliable messengers.  I believe that Kafka is describing metaphorically difficulties he had with his father and perhaps difficulties that he may have experienced as a Jew in post Austrian Hungarian Europe.  The story ends in mid-sentence as Kafka never finished the novel.

Metamorphosis – The Transformation of Gregor Samsa

Was this the dark foresight of a German speaking Czech Jew of the 1920’s?   Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to find that he has become an giant beetle, he can no longer be understood by his family and his new physique repulses them and he is forced to live imprisoned in his bedroom with only his younger sister brave enough to show enough compassion to feed him and clean his room.  Kafka uses a dark sense of humor in his writing and provides no happy ending but suggests that as one thing comes to an end there is always the beauty of a brighter tomorrow.

The judgement

We are first told that the hero of this story is a successful business man living and working in partnership with his father and is writing to his friend in St. Peters-burg about his impending marriage.  These facts are all thrown in to doubt when he discusses his letter and engagement with his ailing father.

Letter To My Father

This is a letter that Kafka wrote to his father but never gave to him.  Addressing his feeling towards his father and venting his frustrations and anger to a man he has grown up to fear and resent.  In this letter we learn a little of what has influenced Kafka’s writings and imagination.  There is a very useful visual metaphor in this text.  Page 590, line 26.

The idea

To the left a man stands facing a sheer cliff-face that he is trying to climb; to his right a flight of stairs is being climbed by another.  there is a barrier between the two men; so preventing the man on the left from using the same path to ascend.

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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.

 

Reading Photographs – thoughts about Photos that are not intended for the means of expression or communication.

At the beginning of section 4, ‘Reading photographs’ for my course, ‘Context and Narrative’, I have been asked to try to think of any photos that may be produced that are not intended for expression or communication.

Assuming that the photo hasn’t been over of under exposed to a degree that the image is totally white or black then the short answer is no.  For surely all photos either express something or communicate something.

However, my first thought as to a possible contender would be a photo taken for say quality-control to record that something was made or fitted to a set standard or requirement.  components in a nuclear-power-station that once fitted can not easily be inspected or checked and therefor are photographed during installation.  But this still communicates a detail of information that may at a later date be referred to.

I can only suggest that a live picture from a CCTV that is both unrecorded and un-viewed comes close to this description, for as long as no one is watching the monitor screen then the images communicate nothing nor do they express any meaning.  There existence has little point.  Perhaps a philosopher can take this observation and apply it to any photograph arguing that for as long as no one is looking at a picture, the picture  communicates nothing and nor does it expresses anything  until there a pair of eyes to look upon it.  This argument may be stretched to argue that without cultural / or use of a humans recognized visual language then any photo may not make sense to the viewer.  For example as viewed through the eyes on an insect, domestic pet or a Martian.

 

Working log-1 for Assignment Three – My father’s character assessment

For this assignment, I am tasked to create a photo or photos that are of a self-portraiture nature.  The brief is fairly loose; but I have had an idea that I first checked with my Tutor to be sure that it would be acceptable.

My idea is to explore the question of my identity,  how is my identity seen from other peoples perspective?

I have asked a couple of close friends and family to write a frank and honest assessment of my character and from these assessments I will extract ideas for creating images that represent Shaun Mullins as regarded by others.

My first assessment is from my father, Barrie Mullins.

Dads Character Statement

Having been given my character assessment from my father, I started to jot down some thoughts and ideas.   Having read it through several times I divided the text into subject matter to develop.

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With these thoughts I narrowed it down to three subjects to use from my father’s assessment and began to think about what each can represent.

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And looked again at the text and how my chosen subjects are used in context to my fathers narrative.

‘High ability’ (“when he wishes to exercise it.”)

‘He appears to denigrate any achievements’

‘A man that one would trust’

I now began to sketch and jot down ideas.

I made the decision to work in black-and-white for this assignment and as these are ‘self-portraits,  I felt that it was more appropriate and perhaps stronger for the composition if the are all framed in a portrait format.

My first attempt was for ‘High ability’ with an idea that immediately came to me and I quickly made it without bothering to sketch it first.

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However, I felt that it didn’t link to my father’s text, nor was it strong enough symbolically.  I also decided that I want to make self-portrait styled pictures that only imply my presence with at most say only a hand, a shadow or just a part of my body, etc.

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This was my next attempt; but I still felt that it didn’t convey the message of ‘High ability’.  Moreover, perhaps even my father’s face was not necessary either.  I moved on to another shot I had properly planned with a sketch.

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This shot is for the last image, ‘A man that one would trust’.  My father is 87 and I thought about how this suggestion of trust could be manifested in an image linking my father and it occurred to me that giving my father a helping hand might work and this is the image I had in mind and I think it works.

My next image that I took was another attempt at ‘High ability’

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However, I felt that this image still wasn’t strong enough and my wife didn’t like it either although she felt that the image of Sir Edmond Hillary conquering Everest was a strong symbol; so I had to organize a re-shoot with my father.  Unfortunately, despite his keenness to help, his patience is very short and due to his age he tires very easily and quickly; so he was quit challenging to work with, particularly when some of the shots I needed were challenging to make particularly as I had restricted myself to a portrait format.

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During this same shoot, I also attempted to get an image for ‘He appears to denigrate any achievements’.  But again I felt that this just didn’t work.

On our next session together I had re-planned and the results for the two needed images I believe are now much stronger and meet the requirements that I was looking for.

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This image is to represent ‘He appears to denigrate any achievements’ and I felt I needed to contrast praise with denial / refusal and I had the idea of simply my father clapping and with myself holding out my hands asking him to stop.  I really only wanted the hands to symbolism the sentiment, this proved more tricky that first thought and when I tried to sketch my mental idea I struggled.  I turned to my camera and fitting it to my tripod and tethering to a computer to see what the camera was seeing I tried different ways of composing the image.  In the end I decided to lay the camera of the ground looking up whilst still tethered to my lap-top in order to see and compose and take the picture.  With my father this still took over an hour to do and in the end I had to merge two photos together in Photoshop to get the desired combined poses in one image.  My kitchen skylight worked to provide a nice blank background with a faint cross which is the frame of the pyramid skylight that also is a nice subtle addition to the image.  Also, my fathers hands in the act of applauding with my own hands out stretched to ask him to stop appears to mimic the faint cross in the skylight.

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By the time I had made some useful images for ‘He appears to denigrate any achievements’ my father was very tired; but my last image was fairly straightforward and easy to make as I could hold the camera in my hand and take the shot over my father’s shoulder for this image of my father holding a photo of Sir Edmond Hillary with my British and American Private Pilot’s Licences that he refers to in his assessment.

I now believe that I have three images that now work and link effectively to my fathers text creating a visual narrative.  One or two of my images may be considered strong enough to stand alone; but they all clearly gain strength as a visual narrative when seen together and are linked to the text.

I have decided to only use the second and third images in my final presentation.

Exercise – Analysis of an advertisement image.

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This is an advertisement that I scanned from Home and Antique magazine, published November 2015.  It is an advertisement for a wood-burning heater / stove which is at present a popular and trendy home accessory.  This image has been made in colour with what appears to be a warm colour temperature balance.

To the left we have our product the stove, in use, with a stack of neatly cut and arranged logs underneath providing an interesting design what otherwise would be an empty space under the stove and implies convenient and useful storage.  The stove’s chrome handle has been set at a slight angle; so as to be easily seen to imply ease of access  to the stove for adding additional fuel.  The stove stands against a grey wall that contrasts the warm orange and yellows of the flames with the cold but elegantly stylish grey coloured wall.

To the right of the stove we see a record-playing turntable on a small table that visually links the product with an idea of a modern fashion for the Retro and this message is re-enforced by the male subject who appears to be sitting on the floor with a pair of stereo headphones around his neck and a vinyl LP in his hands.  The vinyl record he holds is also a visual reference to the advertisement’s text referring to the ‘Crackle’ and Pop in the anchoring text along with the reference to ‘soundtrack’ and ‘sound from a real fire’.

The text helps to bring together all of these elements in to the audiences psyche.  The manufacturer appears to have carefully composed this image to suggest that their customers are connoisseurs of good taste and by owning their product they have added value and quality to their home and standard of living.  The use of the record player and LP helps to advertise a feature of their product that they believe to be a strength but can not easily be conveyed by either photo or text which is the gentle sound of the burning logs that would can enjoyed as background noise to a warm and cosy room.

This composition was created for the audience that would typically buy this magazine, an affluent middleclass customer who would have an interest in this type of product to complement their taste in antiques and the retro.  The advert also suggest a younger customer, perhaps one that will be spending their money on home improvements.

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.

Considered points to a narrative or essay

  • Do the pictures have a consistent theme?
  • What elements back up your central theme?
  • What disrupts it?
  • Are there good reasons for this disruption?
  • Do the images have a visual consistency that holds the together as a recognisable set?