When I was considering ideas for Assignment 2, I had in mind the polaroids of David Hockney that I had seen at the exhibition at the Tate in London in April. I really enjoyed that exhibition as the paintings were huge and colourful and playful, and it struck me that you have to be a very accomplished artist to be able to simplify something as he does while remaining still very artistic. More interesting was his use of photography to make montages or composites, portraits and landscapes from quite small to huge landscapes that fill a wall. The montages appeared to stretch the subject, but could have a more painting type effect or an interesting takes on a portrait that could be multiple layers of images. With the polaroids, he took the individual and sliced them up by taking polaroid shots of parts of them, working in a methodical manner so that it builds up a whole portrait like a jigsaw. There is, however, a disjointedness to them when looked at closely as each one can almost miss the part he is capturing but looked at from afar, there is the whole looking back.
Using varying numbers of Polaroid snaps or photolab-prints of a single subject Hockney arranged a patchwork to make a composite image. One of his first photomontages was of his mother. Because these photographs are taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times, the result is work that has an affinity with Cubism, which was one of Hockney’s major aims – discussing the way human vision works.
I’m not sure why I found these so interesting. I remember Polaroid cameras and photos from when I was a child so there is an element of nostalgia for the medium. Perhaps is it exactly as outlined above, that they question the way that we look. Hockney apparently is concerned with looking as are most artists, and this way of working dissects the total frame into sections so that the eye roves over it without stopping in order to find the whole. There is a symmetry to the images as the edges of the portraits are squared off to form the usual boundary of a frame. It is also a flow of time as there are subtle movements between frames and nothing is completely static. It is how we look and move, never looking at one thing for any length of time until we are looking closely for something.
Gregory Swimming Los Angeles March 31st 1982 (link above) was the image that really caught my eye at the time with its colour and sense of movement. 120 polaroids and there is a movement that flows with the body moving through the water. I think it is this that interested me and I wanted to explore his work a bit more, even maybe a replicate it a little.
Nicholas Wilder Studying Picasso, Los Angeles” 24th March 1982, composite polaroid, 48 1/2 x 26 1/2
Coming to the portrait section of the assignment, I was looking at Hockney’s images and trying to get a feel for how I could attempt to use this approach in a way that would make it more mine than his. Hockney did another type of montage where he overlapped the prints and spread them out to make another picture, often with patches of bare paper. I found the way that he took the emphasis away from the face and created a distorted perspective a starting point as I thought about what defines a portrait. Is is the whole of a person facing the camera or can it be parts that make up the whole. I followed this by looking at other works of his in this vein:
“Photographing Annie Leibovittz While She Is Photographing Me, Mojave Desert” Feb 1983, photogrphic collage, edition 4, 25 7/8 x 61 3/4
Interesting that something so sparse can be so powerful. The simple ideas are often the better ones for that reason. I know that I can overthink an idea so that it gets beyond me, which is what happened with Assignment 2 and despite my best intentions to be more creative myself, it did not work out that way.
The other artist that I looked at was Nadav Kander. I had seen him do a talk at the Photography Show in Birmingham in March 2017 and had admired his work particularly his portraits after reading an article about him working with David Beckham over a number of years. He had captured Beckham with his growing number of tattoos, something of great interest to me as I am fascinated by people’s decision to cover their bodies with tattoos and the tattoos themselves. Again, he had approached the portrait from a different angle and did a 16 box grid of Beckham’s top half using close ups and varying distances from the camera. It was black and white which enhanced the dark ink of the tattoos on his body and took away any distraction from backgrounds.
“David Beckham, 16 Pictures”, Nadav Kander, 2015
There is a connection between the photographer and the subject, with a willingness to show off his body art. I think that this is what i was trying to achieve by taking photographs of Barney and his tattoos, as well as the Hockney idea of lots of photos of parts of him. The image below was another that was interesting because it is a portrait but of someone’s hands. Nine black and white images in a grid showing closeup and full hands and fingers. It tells a story without having a body or face to add any information and therefore the viewer is left to make a story based on what is in the images.
David Millar (Hand Repeat), Nadav Kander, 2015
Two very influential photographers and artists, and I would have liked to have brought a little of their magic to my work, but I am still a long way off. However, we all start somewhere and this will be in my mind each time I think about this assignment, and revisit it eventually.