Looking at Assignment four

As a lover of photography, I’d be lying if it didn’t get my back up that the topic of the essay was to find an artist who uses photography as A PART of their art. This module is about photography, so I did find it odd how it’s been dismissed as a form entirely.  The merits of this medium have been discussed throughout Part 4, looking at the digital world and how it has diluted a once mechanical medium, which was taken more seriously, was tangible, and perhaps better respected.

Present day realities of instagram and photobooks published by Beckham’s son, no wonder no one wants to call photography “art” anymore. The subjects are becoming mundane and one side or overly uncensored on the other, either shocking or average.

However, looking back….

The romantic age of the 70’s & 80’s, when Andy Warhol ran out of film one evening at a party, and Louise Lawler had an extra, which in turn he sent her a signed poster. When words held weight equally to their art or photograph, when women artists we’re finding their voice and taking the piss on the patriarchal unbalance of the Art world around them, when artists would contribute to each others work, by conglomerating ideas, and putting each other on their shoulders.  This was the Picture Generation.

Deriving their images from photographic sources, their philosophic underpinnings from the French Deconstructionists and their attitudes towards presentation from commercial and corporate campaigns, the Pictures artists ascended the heights of art world stardom in short order. Their assimilation of the mass media and use of nontraditional means is a prime influence on todays New Media. James Kalm

I wanted to find an artist who was firstly a photographer, not an artists who simply used photography as a tool. I wanted to make a point, that a photographer with enough vision, is already an artist, and their photograph worthy of the pretentious title of art.

I found this in the artist mentioned about Louise Lawler.

I really, really admire this woman, the more I research her work, the more layers peel away to reveal a modest, funny, feminist who speaks of worthy causes, politics, war, institutional art, by using photography as her voice.

She recreates her photographs from microscopic to monumental while capturing concise images which are clear and real.

She didn’t call herself an artist for years, and constantly challenged the ideas of how we see art, where is is located as well as it’s place considered a larger context.

I am constantly reminded of Jon Berger’s novel “Way’s of seeing” with I will revisit during the writing of this essay.

MoMA says this about Lawler’s work:

Lawler evokes critical theories of reception, acknowledging that the meaning of an artwork shifts and morphs depending on who looks at it and the context of its display.

 

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Exercise 2 — reviewing holiday snaps

  • Pick out any images that seem to give you more than just a record of place – images that take you right back there. What are the special qualities of these images? Of course, it’s impossible to isolate the technical elements of the photography from how you felt at the time, what you were doing, who you were with, but try and decide whether the images you’ve selected have anything in common.

These images are from my trip to Sapa April ’16.

When ever I take pictures, even holiday snaps, I consider the lighting, colour, composition and balance. These photos are more of a documentation of the tribal textile the Dao and H’mong practice, from the growning and spinning of hemp, to the weaving, dying and embroidery.

All of the images belong to a series, a story, so they have much in common, as to the women of the Hill Tribes in Northern Vietnam, who are living  the save traditions as their ancestors.

 

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I have asked my friend Sarah, who wasn’t there to review then to record her response;

The pictures are so colourful! The sequence really tells a story and the pics aren’t too staged which makes them feel more ‘authentic’ than normal holiday snaps. I get an idea of the whole day including the lunch you had! They really make me want to go and see the place for myself.

 

Exercise 1 – Landscape Photography

Landscape photography in a dense city such as Ho Chi Minh is a right task, unless you are in an apartment building high up, or on a bridge, or on the banks of the river where it bends.  It’s also very flat.

~Make two images of the same subject, one from afar with the telephoto setting on your camera/lens, the other from close to the subject with the widest setting on the camera/lens.

 

 

Landscape photography can feel very impersonal, without saying much about the subject matter. I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest form, unless there’s so much to photograph, you couldn’t possibly imagine capturing it all.

Exercise 4 – Photography and Time

Is photography simply providing an authentic record of the artwork – photographic evidence, or as a part of artwork itself?

You can’t have one without the other, is my answer.

To start with “documenting journeys” I believe art photography, by these photographers, Paul Graham, Robert Frank, Alec Sloth, Stephen Shores is true art. It’s not travel photography, or photo journalism, it’s a series of photographs which as a collective alongside the words of the photographer, turned into a photo book or photo essay creates something whole. You can say one photograph can’t be art, but what about a series, with accompanied words, titles, laid out in a book with balance and composition, or displayed in a gallery.  To say Robert Frank is not an artist is wrong, but perhaps to be a photographer, in the truest sense, means more than being an artist.  Why has art become elitist? Everyone uses different tools, it’s within the context of the work we should look, not at the medium.

I believe the same could be said for photo journalism, when journalists where on the front line, when they were risking their lives, and when the photos are taken in a non-documentary fashion, but in a humane one, depicting truth and realism.

The turn of the digital revolution diluted this medium in a way which can never be recovered, but instead gets worse with every new smart photo and app. I’d like to know when photography stopped being considered art, or was it ever? The arguments against are more now than ever.

It reminds me of craft vs art, or fashion vs design? Why has we got these categories which defines one from the other.  Has one side got a higher price tag than the other?

Photography is a necessary partner in land art for documentary reasons, but this doesn’t mean the artist doesn’t use this tool to manipulate the art, controlling what the viewer sees. How is that photograph then presented in form at a gallery/ museum, is it large, or small, framed, or projected. The ways of seeing change within the surrounded of that photograph.

The sequence of photography is the same, in Keith Arnatt’s Self Burial, the progression of images, slowly being deeper into the ground, can only be made sense of in a presentation of photographs, a contact sheet, a depiction of change in time.

Any art seen in a controlled environment is subject to the variable including the space, lighting, colours, words, and noise.  A photograph is not the art piece, it’s only a vessel to bring forth the whole.  The same as a photobook, it’s but a vessel to show the work, the journey, the time.

Photography and land art

Photography plays an essential roll in land art documentation, but I do not think the photography itself is the art. Land manipulation with the use of photography frames and filters would alter what/how the artist would like the viewer to see his work. The artist can choose the time of day, the weather, the lighting/colours, in order to portray the work.

I do not believe that the photograph is simply an after thought, but must be considered at the beginning of the project, with a sense of perspective, especially in Richard Long’s case, where he uses the whole landscape, including the mountains in the background, as a part of his composition.

Hamish Fulton – named as the walking Artist, uses photography in a more creative way, sometimes only to photograph the sky or ground once, with no relation to the whole landscape, only snipets of time. His strength is as a visual artists, using printed words on images.

Robert Smithson is one of the most famous land artist, Smithson’s Ways of Looking at the Land, by  Charlers Hagon on the New York times says this about his use of photography in his art:

“Smithson approached photography with a remarkable formal openness; included here are both positive and negative photostats, as well as collages and conventional prints. Photography served him primarily as a form of documentation, but this valuable exhibition makes clear how central and varied a role the medium played in his work”.

 

 

 

Hagen, Charles. “Review/Photography; Smithson’s Ways of Looking at the Land.” New York Times, 31 Dec. 1993. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=ucca&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA174725425&it=r&asid=e126a2a096d2e54944a014104c734a54. Accessed 17 Sept. 2017.

Room 4: Myth/History pg 98-99 looks at photographer Rodney Graham’s work called Aberdeen where he pays tribute to Kurt Cobain by going to his home town.

I’ve been looking at the idea of the pilgrimage of people going to a sacred place, be it religious or non-religious centers which could be considered tourist spots.

This idea intrigues me, and is touched upon in Neil Gaimon’s book “American Gods.”

There is an odd obsession with small towns in North America to erect monuments, or road side attractions, which people stop at on their journey, or perhaps, congregate to. Whereas in the past these would have been sacred places, they are now odd examples of a way to make a buck. Someplace so dull has transformed itself into a destination, or a tourist spot.

Here are some examples:

 

Here’s Wednesday (Oden from American God’s) take on House on the Rock:

“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”

“Come again?”

“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”

And:

“[I]n the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”

 

House-on-the-Rock
House on the Rock

Tourism and photography go hand in hand, and is an interesting coversation about place and journeys, spirituality and modern values. To be honest I enjoy all of these attractions, and think they are a great way for a small town to be remembered, which would have othewise be just a dot on the map, passed by and forgotton.

I think that’s what photography does best, it remembers.

Research Point — Documenting photographs through time and space.

Photographic journey which documents time and/or space are specific to photo journalism, journalists too many to name, but one stands out being in Vietnam,  Tim Page. Although some may not consider this art, I beg to dispute this, for art makes you feel, evaluate and question, this is what Tim Page’s work does.

Photographer Tim Page (CORBIS, 1968). 

I went to the War remenants museum in Ho Chi Minh a few months ago, and spent the whole time watching a video on Tim Page, his photographs, but also his commitment in life, devoted to help those caught in the wake of the war, 40 years on, you are still suffering from Agent Orange. His whole life is one based on spreading awareness, in hopes for change.

I believe photo journalism does a job in Art, that no other medium can do, and that is to tell the world, in graphic images, the undeniable truths of what’s happening around the world.

If art is not about viewing the world through different lenses of the creator in hope to change peoples perception, than I don’t know what else to call it. I don’t think art’s purpose is to pretty, it’s to bring up otherwise the unmentionable, to question everything. Until we see something that shifts our beliefs, we continue to believe what’s comforting, that’s human nature.  All those lives lost in the Vietnamese war, perhaps many forgotten, but some will be seen forever in the form of photographs, powerful portrayed, to remind us, and future generations, the horrors of war.

Documenting journeys

Paul Graham’s A1 project

Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces

Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi

Robert Frank’s The Americans.

What role do they play? Is it to tell a story, document a time, fulfill their own curiosity, is it to show us how other people live, or purely for beauty or shock? They all portray a realism, and honest truth of the world around them. They are not staged, nor deliberate, they simply are real.

All of these photographers have recorded a journey, a road trip, a travel, proving that the ride is more important than the destination. I love this type of photography because it overlaps places and time, recorded by one persons view. It’s a documentation of seemingly benign images of road signs, carriage ways, petrol stations, and people, but because they each belong to a time, we can see how much the everyday has changed. Movement and story, unsettled and never fully told.

I think people travel more these days, it’s normal, it’s common, so this style of photography has lost a bit of it’s magic. Now it’s all holiday pics, or backpacking, gone were the days of Guggenheim used cars.

The American’s, Jack Kerouac writes the introduction, and I can’t help to think they two are the same, one a writer, the other a photographer, held in time, and cherished by most. For jack Kerouac, the author of “On the Road” is too extremely apt, for him to write about Robert Frank’s book.

telephone poles toothpick time “dotting immensity”

Jack Kerouac

Poetry and photography and two in the same. They are not considered fine art, yet, perhaps they are the most human form of expression.

 

 

Exercise 3 —

  • Family photos are often cited as being the possessions that people would most want to save from a house fire. Why do you think that photographs are such a significant part of our lives? Write down how you feel about photos – or videos – from your family’s past.

I remember my mother saying this to me when I was young,  her photographs would be the first thing she would grab in the event of a fire. When my mom and dad got a divorce, this changed. There were boxes and boxes of photo albums that we only taking up space.

I think that we as humans do not trust our memories, and rely on photographs instead. We want to hold tight to those precious moments, until, maybe, there’s a change and those memories become tarnished.

I took the two album that had AJ written on the spine, and are now on my shelf downstairs. There are really only a handful of photographs, most of which I have memorized and had a vivid memory of the event, I have a really good memory, and used to play games with my younger self, I’d sit on a chair in the lounge or on a tree stump at the bottom of my dead-end street, and say to myself, “remember this moment, remember this moment, remember this moment” over and over again to see if it would work.. and in all honesty it did.  My youngest memory of doing that, I was 3, I know this because my dad was off work with a back injury and was working in the garage, he could never stay still. I sat in his big arm-chair, and say those words. I’ve got a picture of my dad and I in that chair, same age.

I think the reason is we don’t want to let go of our childhood, or those of our children, we want to hold the memories in our hands, scared of loosing them.

 

  • Will this archiving be affected by the digital revolution? Do you have images languishing on your hard drive that you keep meaning to process? Is flicking through images on someone’s phone or digital photo frame as potent as looking through an album or sorting through a box of photos? Or is it better?

Yes, archiving will definitely be affected by the digital revolution because of the volume of photographs, too many, in a sea of images, which ones actually stand out, and which ones will be missed. I feel like the over saturation will water down the meaning.

I saved some photographs on a CD, ones of my travels around Asia in my early 20’s, over 10 years ago.. will a computer still read them, and how will the quality compare. I’m sure they will look grainy in comparison.

I think, like the photographs Daniel Meadows took on his medium format camera, hold so much more value by which the quality of film produces, even the blurred ones. I really enjoyed The Photobus and got lost in his world for over an hour, watching his documentaries.  It was so poignant, the 48 polyfotos thumbnails of his parents on a slide show, the fact that his mum got MS, a disease he now suffers from.

I love what he said about shooting on Graeme St. whilst at college, when he was learning about the physics of photography

Physics of photography = illumination x time

U = (I/M+1) F

You equal I/me plus one where F equal the focal point of the lense

wheras Meadows says

Subject distance = the degree of engagement between the photographer and the photographed

The mechanical process both of science and effort add to the quality, the time, and the composition of each photograph.  The amount of consideration given adds much more value to processed images.

Digital images taken on a camera phone are superficially, temporarily, easily produces everyday with such thoughtlessness, then deleted equally.

On the other hand, SLRs give us the freedom, ease, and technology to create better, useful, and imaginative photographs of such quality, prints are to be cherished.  We must remember to print, create photo albums we can hold, and look through, to show our friends, to remember. This I think hold the most truth, an object, a picture, instead of an image on a screen.

Exercise 2 —

  • Does this make photography a medium uniquely suited to portraying time and the passage of time?

Yes, I believe that photography captures time in a realistic way, different from other mediums.  The passage of time, perhaps using time-lapse photography. It’s more scientific and mechanical than other form of art, and therefore to stand out as artistic, needs to hold a unique view of the world, stand out, shocking, extremely beautiful, or innately mundane, it needs to tell a story in a way that no other art form can do.

  • Can other creative art forms deal with the concept of time to the same extent?

The first example that comes into mind is the work of Damian Hurst, and specifically his piece A Thousand Years which was an installation piece of a cow’s head and flies, decomposition, and new life.

He’s other works including the life and death of butterflies In and out of love butterfly.

These two example are specific to the passage of time, but are not equivocal in capturing a moment in time, for this I think photography is a stand alone medium.