Assignment 2 – Tutor Suggested Research

1  – John Stezaker

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/australia-culture- blog/2014/mar/27/john-stezaker-sydney-biennale

Stezaker collects old photographs in order to deface them in order to create something new and arresting – so says the Guardian in the review of the Sydney Biennial in which he exhibited in 2014.  My tutor suggested looking at this work as it had relevance to what I was trying to achieve with my images in Assignment 2.  I had started looking at montage and collage as a way of exploring the person inside the person that I was photographing, in this instance my older son.  I had gone to the Hockney exhibition in London in 2017 and been really interested in his use of polaroid collages to make a whole image  Also interesting were the montages of landscapes scenes and I had had this in mind when approaching A2.  I still need to rework A2 as it was suggested that there was a distance between sitter and photographer, and I would like to go back to the original idea of the collage/montage to see if I can create what I was looking for at the time.  Stezaker was suggested as a point of reference to look further at collage and the use of different techniques to make images more arresting.

I looked at this article and then at the images that are held online by the Tate Gallery.  Stezaker made us of old movie stills and hand coloured postcards to merge them together to make a new image.  The use of postcards and photographs over the top of portraits obscures the original and often the eyes are hidden behind the front image meaning that the eye of the viewer searches around for other things to focus on.  The front image has some connection with the underlying photograph, through edges lining up or waves suggesting a confrontation.   There is a symmetry and a tension to what he does and it is unnerving to see faces partly replaced by something solid such as a picture of a mountain slope.  Our reaction is to connect with the eyes and when that doesn’t happen then there is a sense of something unresolved.  “What I do is destructive, but also an act of deliberate passivity.”  He does not shoot the images himself but uses them to create something else.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/stezaker-mask-xiii-t12346

This image is of a woman whose face is obscured by an upside down postcard of a stone house with arches at the front.  It was only when I read the notes attached that I realised that the edge of the house replaced the edge of her face and the arches made it look like a skull.  It shows that I am not examining images closely enough so I looked at the others more closely.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/stezaker-insert-t12343

I had picked up on the confrontational nature of this image with the man in a position of strength from the clenched hand on the desk.  His face is obscured and the eye roams the frame looking at the whole.  The breaking wave suggests a rising confrontation between the man and the woman – she has her back to the camera and appears to be clutching something in front of her, possibly as a defensive gesture.  The huge wave crashing over the seafront of the postcard Eastbourne suggests that this is monumental.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/stezaker-the-end-t12340

This is interesting because as I completed a collage for Assignment 3 in which I used several photos of one place at different times of the day to suggest the passing of time and that this particular activity was an ongoing one at all times of day and night.  I had not seen this particular image before I did the assignment and it was interesting to see how he had used the collage of Big Ben.  From the Tate website:

“Stezaker has commented that The End was:

a response to the current conventions of conceptual art in England which was obsessed with photo sequences and chronology … for several years (between 1973 and 1976 approx) I collected all of the images I could find of the subject both in postcard form and also in films. This was the beginning of my collection of film stills. I discovered that Big Ben was a key image in British Cinema and became a favourite way of ending films – usually with the chimes of midnight. I incorporated one of this collection of cinematic images of Big Ben with the words ‘THE END’ superimposed over it into a later re-presentation of the postcard fragment as a kind of pictorial title label. (Letter to the author, 26 October 2007.)”

I was interested by the fact he was looking at the colour of the sky as well as the parts of Big Ben and not all the views are from the same place so the clock appears in various parts of the frame and different sizes.  It makes it more interesting rather than the same viewpoint throughout, something to bear in mind for future works.

He clarified the difference between montage and collage: “Montage is about producing something seamless and legible, whereas collage is about interrupting the seam and making something illegible.”

2  – Annegret Soltau

The other artist suggested is Annegret Soltau who takes self-portraits then creates montages of her own body and face.  These can remake faces in grotesque representation of a face in a similar way to how Picasso would have drawn faces with huge eyes or all features on one side of the face.  In other work, she uses black thread sewn over to create sometimes delicate patterns on her face and body that change the way the viewer looks at it.  The thread images from early works are much more accessible and delicate, and it is as though they have been drawn on rather than stitched but closer inspection reveals an enclosing of her within a frame of thread.  It’s interesting to see a different style of altering photographs.  Her later works when she still uses stiches to make a collage but I personally found them more inaccessible and my eyes/brain constantly tried to ‘correct’ them, to make eyes the right size and the in the right place.  The stitching continues as a way of attaching the new parts to the original image.

https://wsimag.com/art/23956-annegret-soltau

This article explains more about her work, but I like the image that heads it. There is a pathos in this image of a woman resting her head on her arm on a table in a way that a weary mother might, or someone who is having trouble, with the arm outstretched and hand loosely clenched.  One way of looking at it is that the threads encircle her like a protective shield; another is that they are chains binding her to the table and her life.

http://www.annegret-soltau.de/en/galleries/kaleidoscope-1979-98/artworks/im-kaleidoskop-i

Another interesting approach to the fragmentation of the self.  There are no wild eyes in this one and so I can relate to it better – the big eyes are problematic personally and looking at them make me uneasy.

Soltau is an interesting artist using different techniques to disrupt the normality of a photograph, and explores her identity through her self-portraits that are then amended in some way that can change the meaning and the viewing.

 

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Assignment 2 – Tutor Feedback and Response

2.KarenAllen

I received the feedback on Assignment 2 from my tutor.  I was encouraged that I had fulfilled the brief but he made the comment that it lacked something, something with which I agree.

“I think the end series falls short of a really interesting set of images that would engage an objective audience but I have a feeling you are aware of this.”

I found this assignment very frustrating because I could not translate what I had in my mind into images on a page.  Eventually I settled for something that I felt was not what I wanted to submit but I had spent so much time chasing it, I needed to submit something and move on.  The end result was competent but not what I had wanted to achieve.  In fact, it was probably what I had achieved with the Fire Officer photos but with a slightly different emphasis.

He suggested looking at Celia’s Children Albert + George Clark, Los Angeles April 7th 1982 composite polaroid, 35 x 23 1/4 in by David Hockney as a comparison to see how the connection could be made between a photographer and the subjects.  I can see that the children are sitting awkwardly but there is a connection, and although they appear to be unwilling it is perhaps because of their age.  With Barney, there was a sense that he was humouring me and I found it difficult to draw out of him exactly what it was I wanted to portray.  I think that this is what my tutor is alluding to, that there is a distance between me as the photographer and Barney as a sitter.  Hockney was not the boys’ parent but still managed to capture something of their youth with a fondness.  Maybe that is where I failed in that Barney is my older son and that is the barrier to effectively direct him.

Portrait photography has never been  my strong point, maybe photography is not my strong point, and this assignment confirmed how difficult it is to produce works that have a connection.  One of the reasons that I choose to do academic study in photography is to stretch myself and try to get past the snapshot to something more interesting.  In this assignment I had seen a glimpse of what I was trying to do while essentially playing around with an idea, and while I pursued this it actually got further away from me leaving me feeling frustrated, annoyed and doubting that I could do anything of any value.  This is what my tutor picked up on but he has suggested that I might revisit the original idea again in order to experiment more to see what happens.  I am aware of time constraints in that I don’t want to take the full two years but I would like to do exactly that to see if I can find what I was looking for, even bossing Barney around a bit more.  I think that by not directing him and allowing him to do his own thing I actually moved away from creating something meaningful.  Obviously I need to plan better and have a clearer idea of HOW I am going to achieve my goal rather then letting it happen around me.  Maybe that is what my tutor is saying!

 

Assignment 2 – Analysis

 

  1. Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills

The photographs are evenly lit and have specific areas in focus as dictated by the location of the tattoo on the body.  The light source is mainly natural available light as the subject was outside in a shaded area.  The colours are mainly black and blue which gives a uniformity across the five images, with the blue background being the dominant one.  The framing is tight in order to isolate a specific area, and to make the subject the focus rather than the background being a distraction and taking attention away from the subject.  There is a uniformity across the series

 

  1. Quality of Outcome

The brief was to produce a set of five photographs that have a theme and make use of techniques covered in the chapter. These are five individual images that make up a whole, and concentrate on one person and his tattoos which are an integral part of him.  There is a symmetry with the use of left arm, left leg, right arm, right leg and whole body to bring them all together.  I was aiming for a montage approach but ended up with more of a trail from one side to the other. My inspiration had come from David Hockney and Nadav Kander, and this is an interpretation of what they produced.  This is not exactly what I had in mind but it was more difficult to portray than I thought, and this is the follow on from the exploration of the original idea.  The series has got a cohesion to it and gives an idea of him as a person but allows for more than one interpretation of what the tattoos mean.

 

  1. Demonstration of Creativity

I had an idea about trying to portray the light and dark sides of a person, what they show and what they hide.  Barney had agreed to be the model for the assignment and I did an initial trial where I took multiple photos in order to make a montage.  I found this really interesting and actually was closer to what I had thought I wanted to achieve, but moving on from the initial shoot was more difficult and the more photos I took, the further away I got from this idea.  The set works but maybe not as interestingly as the initial idea.  I was at a loss as to how to proceed and time was running away, therefore I followed the less imaginative path in order to complete the assignment and move on.

 

  1. Context

Portraits are harder than they appear and finding a theme to join them together is not straightforward. Barney was willing to sit for me, in a variety of setups from outdoors to studio in order for me to try to capture that illusive moment that I had seen in the initial trial.  The ‘Street and Studio’ suggested that there should be a mix of the two, but ‘studio’ always suggests something stiff and formal as well as difficult to achieve without the right equipment.  I tried doing both but erred on the side of caution and settled on natural light with one portrait.

 

  1. Overall

The set of photographs works within the context of the brief.  I was really interested in the montage idea but eventually found that the more I worked on it, the less it fulfilled what I had in mind.  I did not feel that I had time to keep on plugging away when the results were so illusive.  Part of the problem was that I had to keep asking Barney to do more of the same thing while not seeing that ‘something’ in the final images and maybe this was the reason that I felt that this was not the best assignment that I could have done. Again. Maybe I will return to this before assessment and redo it along the lines of the montage idea.  The initial set of my photos fired my imagination but ultimately I could not translate that into a finished product, which I find very frustrating.  However, the images that I produced were competent and that is what matters at the moment.

 

 

 

 

Assignment 2 Vice Versa – Notes

Vice versa

K.Allen_402873_PH4IAP_A1

This was more difficult than I first thought and took some time to pin down exactly what I wanted to cover.  In my mind, I had the work of David Hockney and Nadav Kander who both did portraits using sections of people’s bodies: Hockney did polaroid montages, Kander did a grid type structure. To get a consistency in the images, I used the same subject throughout and as I took more and more photographs, I kept coming back to the simpler background and getting closer to the subject.  This meant that the focus was on the person and the background was inconsequential.  I also had in mind Robert Mapplethorpe who closely cropped portraits on occasions as well as simplifying portraits into black and white.

 

Originally, I was looking at the idea of what we show or hide when having our photograph taken.   Barthes said in Camera Lucida (1980) that we change to whatever the photographer is wanting us to be, and how there is some sort of subconscious reaction to being photographed, that we change ourselves:

“In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.”

 

Barney (2 of 5)
I focussed the camera on the tattoo on his arm,
he closed his eyes while he thought the lens was pointing elsewhere,
and finally I caught a glimpse of what I was looking for on his face when I loaded the images.

 

Barney (3 of 5)
There is a “How long is thing going on for?” look here.

 

Barney (4 of 5)
Much more exaggerated dark vs light.
This is why it doesn’t work, this is too literal.

 

I had been struck by how Barney was willing to sit for me but his expression gave nothing away at all which is where I started. The theme of dark and light did not work as I was unable to capture the differences in the way that I thought.  This morphed into more an exploration of what the tattoos suggest about the person, the culmination of the tattoos into the whole being.  They are specific to each individual and chosen for reasons that I am sure sometimes are not very clear.

These tattoos bring together the things that are important to Barney: his music, his inner strength, his belonging to a social group and with the leg tattoo, a nod to his favourite rugby team.  The individual parts make up the person that he is and form part of his identity and how he sees himself.  I am from another generation where tattoos were simply not seen and not highly thought of as though they defined a certain subculture. Now they are displayed with pride and can be intricate works of art tailored to the individual.  They are an expression of individualism, a way of setting you apart from everyone else but also a way of belonging to a type of club, a tribe.

I came back to the ‘body parts’ approach after lining up several different sets of images, and this approach has a symmetrical look at the artwork on his arms and legs with a left and right, arms and legs and then finally the whole person.  I did set up a studio of sorts with plain white background and did several variations of what I had shot before to compare the blue background to the white. My feeling was that the sets with the blue background worked better overall as there was a more casual, less ‘setup’ feel to them.  I keep on looking for the expressions hoping to catch them but I have realized that we all hide when there is a camera there, and are unwilling to show anything that might be misconstrued.

 

 

Books:

  1. DVD: Mapplethorpe – Look at the Pictures, Bailey,F & Barbato,R, Dogwoof Studio, 2016
  2. Barthes, Roland (1980) Camera Lucida. Translated by Richard Howard 1981. London:

Vintage 2000

  1. Eskildsen, U (edited), Street and Studio: An Urban History of Photography, 2008, Tate Publishing

 

Websites:

https://www.nadavkander.com/ (accessed 4.10.2017)

Looking again at portraits of people that he has done.

 

http://www.davidhockney.co/works/photos/composite-polaroids (accessed 4.10.2017)

Composites and montages of people to make up a portrait overall

 

http://www.derekridgers.com/gallery2/y0agitkrozyrsnxafqqfncdh08eo5i(accessed 4.10.2017)

Smiler, 1984

Tattoos and set up of portraits

 

http://www.derekridgers.com/ih3d6jdsec7knjsoohijw6dkm5uoq9 (accessed 4.10.2017)

Carpet Face, Soho 2015

Tattoos.  Seen at a local exhibition in Torquay.

 

http://www.mapplethorpe.org/portfolios/portraits/(accessed 4.10.2017)

In addition to the DVD and other books read concerning the work of Mapplethorpe.

 

https://www.nadavkander.com/portraits/grids-panels/single#11 (accessed 16.10.2017)

David Beckham, 16 Pictures, 2015

Looking at the use of sections of the body

 

 

Assignment 2 Contact Sheets

Barney sat for me, initially as an experiment to try out taking lots of shots to mock up a montage. Natural Light, outside, shade then direct sunlight. The aim was to get a lot of images of parts of him so that I could bring them into one image.

Barney - Contact Sheet 1
Initial Shoot, August 2017, Outside, Natural Light

 

Contact Sheet 2-1

Contact Sheet 2-2
Shoot 2 September 2017, Inside, Natural Light

 

Contact Sheet 3-1

Contact Sheet 3-2
Shoot 3, September 2017, Inside, Continuous Lighting
Contact Sheet 4
Shoots 4 & 5, October 2017, Outside, Natural Light

These contact sheets show a selection of the images taken for the make up of the Assignment.