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Research for work for Assignment 2

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.

(http://www.shootingfilm.net/2013/01/joiners-polaroid-collages-by-david.html  (6.12.17))

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.

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/63261569747064842/

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.

http://www.davidhockney.co/works/photos/composite-polaroids

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:

http://www.davidhockney.co/works/photos/photographic-collages

“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.

http://nadavkander.com/portraits/grids-panels/single#11

“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.

http://nadavkander.com/portraits#16

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.

 

 

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Assignment 2 – Tutor Feedback

A2 Feedback

I received the feedback on Assignment 2 from my tutor.  I was encouraged that I had fulfilled the brief and I agreed with some of the comments on the content.

“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.  Looking at the other idea of the ‘day in a life’ of a fire officer, I can see more of a connection between us but I think I was chasing something more illusive and hard to pin down.

Assignment 2 – Tutor Feedback and Response

A2 Feedback

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.

Assignment 2

Ok, round 2.  Having been away for two weeks, I came back full of thoughts about the way forward with what I have got.  The ones of the Fire Officer are good and work as a narrative but I am not sure that they communicate fully what he is about.  I also feel that they are better individually or would be better to develop the fireman side of it rather than trying to communicate the two sides of his life.  He is very active as he grew up a farmer’s son and is happiest when working out in the open. His overriding aim is helping people whether it is the neighbour to lay a hedge, have a student photographer trail round after him taking photos or be in charge of a major incident involving fire or a three car pile-up.  There is more to be done here but I am running out of time and this could be something that I come back to later in the course for an alternative assignment – maybe the mirror/window one.  It is interesting but not enough.

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My other approach has been using Barney as a model and the idea of dark and light sides to us.  My interest is in what we show and what we hide.  The other part of this is the feeling that I don’t particularly like doing portraits or seeing very posed portraits.  It’s a personal preference, probably because I am not good at posing people and I prefer moments that capture people unawares so that I get to see the dark side that is normally hidden, or apparently unaware so they display a different part of their bodies and faces. This could be the way forward.  While studying Context and Narrative, I came across an article about Nadav Kander and his photographs of David Beckham that he had taken over the course of several years.  The ones that caught my eye and imagination were of Beckham’s tattoos, and there were examples of diptychs and a panel like a contact sheet with sixteen individual shots of all parts of his upper body and head.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 18.36.10
By Nadav Kander

This one David Beckham, 16 pictures, 2015 illustrated that it is possible to get a portrait of someone without focusing solely on their face or have them looking at the camera.  I revisited Kander’s website to check it out again and found that my reaction to it had not changed.  In some ways, it breaks the codes of portraits and photographs that we all try to follow: don’t crop too tightly, have them looking at the camera, no closed eyes.  But it works as it is a combination of parts of him that make up the external appearance of the person he is.  It is difficult not to look at this without the fact that Beckham is extremely well known and there is the context of him being a footballer, a business man and husband/father.

With this in mind, I am going back to Barney and pursuing the original idea and expanding on the photographs that I took as a first shot to get a feel for it.  First round was outside in daylight, second round was inside using natural light with a bit of flash and round three is inside using a basic studio set up and continuous lighting.  I am interested to see if I can translate what I see in my mind onto a screen.

Assignment 2

Vice versa

The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits.

This assignment is about taking what has worked from the above exercises and then trying to develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio). You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. Pay close attention to the look and feel of each image and think how they will work together as a series. The theme is up to you to choose; you could take a series of images of a single subject or a series of subjects in a themed environment. There is no right answer, so experiment.

I have been finding it difficult to find any decent inspiration for a subject to photograph for this assignment.  I have had a few ideas and crossed the off for not being creative enough, adventurous enough, or simply interesting enough.  I have started questioning what constitutes a portrait and whether it means that it has to be of someone’s face, or could it be of parts of them.  I questioned this while trying out one idea which was to do a kind of montage after David Hockney.  I went to his exhibition in London a couple of months ago and was taken with both the vibrancy of his colour in paintings while also being fascinated by his photographic work.  It seems to simple yet to pull it off takes skill.  I also found them interesting and amusing, and the fact that he could do something so simplistic while being a more than proficient artist.

Son (1 of 2)

Carrying on from this, I asked my older son to sit for me while I photographed him in sections in order to try to pull together a montage that would be him.  I was casual about it as it was more a fact-finding mission than a first shoot. He was a bit reluctant but agreed to give me some time and sat for me.  He has tattoos on both arms, one more heavily decorated than the other, and I wanted to capture those as well as they are important to him, part of who he is as a person.  Using an 85mm fixed lens, I sat him in the shade on a bright sunny day against a blue backdrop of our shed.  Unconsciously, I managed to get him in blue and black sitting on a black chair against a blue backdrop.  He was patient while I did the shots that I wanted, and only occasionally slipped the mask.  In most of the images, he has the same expression – a resigned, neutral and slightly closed look.  It is the look of someone allowing themselves to be photographed rather than giving themselves to it.

My interest was increased by the other strand to what I was thinking about.  I was thinking about masks, about how we only present what we want others to see, and there is a dark side to us.  I was exploring the dark vs light aspect of our personalities, what we show and what we hide.  I was playing with trying to capture that at the same time.  He sat and I photographed him.  Then we used more of the sunlight and I was deliberately posing him so that some of his face was shaded.  I aimed for tight crops so that it was mainly head and shoulders rather than full body.

Post shoot, I went through them and looked at them more closely.  I did my montage which kind of worked but the interesting compilation came about through an expression that I caught of his when he had his eyes closed briefly.  It changed the feel of the overall image, and got me thinking more about the dark vs light.  It was a little as though a barrier had been let down briefly and that was more him.  The more I looked at the photos and the same expression throughout, the more I began thinking seriously about pursuing this as the assignment.  I am thinking about redoing it with some focus on different parts of him – the arms with their tattoos, maybe his legs as they both have tattoos, his eyes.  I was very drawn to the more unusual crops that I had made as part of the montage: the head showing just eyes and nose at the bottom of the frame; the bicep in one corner and one eye in the opposite corner; the hands resting in his lap showing the tattoos on his fingers; and the whole of him sitting static in the chair.  I keep coming back to this idea but wonder if it is too vague for the brief.  Harry Callahan did some of his wife in a similar manner – her arm on the beach, a blurred outline against a window, or the one illustrating the course materials of her in water showing just her head.  Robert Mapplethorpe also did some self-portraits of parts of his body – one shows just his head and half of his torso with an outstretched hand.  Are these still considered to be portraits?

Son (2 of 2)
Lots of portraits making up an image of my son

My alternative is to do still one person but along the lines of ‘Same person, different backgrounds’.  I have done an initial shoot that went well but could do with fleshing out a bit.  I spent some time with a Fire Officer who kindly allowed me to shoot him at home as well at one of the Fire Stations.  He suggested going back there at night to do one of the engine with blue lights flashing.  That would be so cool!  My tutor’s advice to me was “Shoot. Review, Shoot again.”  Whatever I decide, I think some more shooting is in order.

Sergey Ponomarev’s ‘A Lens on Syria’

Sergey Ponomarev’s A Lens on Syria at The Imperial War Museum

On a brief trip to London, I went to the Imperial War Museum to see the exhibitions on Syria.  One was Syria: Story of a Conflict, a collection of objects, personal stories and a video installation that gives an idea of how the country became ruined by the conflict going on between Government forces and the retaliation of rebels.  The other was A Lens on Syria by Russian photographer Sergey Ponomarev, again in two parts with a series of images, Assad’s Syria, and a slide show film The Exodus that illustrates the lengths that people went to to escape the regime and try to get a better life for their families in Europe.

The Syrian conflict began in 2011 and although we are aware through news reports that many thousands have fled to other parts of Europe, many have stayed behind in Syria whether in the cities or in camps outside the cities.  The devastation of buildings is immense and some of them were thousands of years old, part of all of our heritage and irreplaceable.  I had not realized how many people have died over there – nearly half a million – or how many have been displaced – millions rather than thousands.

Syria: Story of a Conflict was a film installation that had clips of news footage that tried to tell both sides of the story as well as the history.  Around the walls were photographs of Syrian people and their stories.

A Lens on Syria was a more direct approach to the issue with large vividly coloured images of the devastating effect that the conflict has had on the cities in Syria, particularly Homs.  I admit that I have a tentative personal connection here in that my uncle is Syrian and is from Homs.  His family were flour millers and owned a mill that provided income and a living for them.  He left the family business to live in Beirut in Lebanon with my aunt, but had to leave there in the 1970s through conflict, ending up in Canada where they still live.  I was interested to see if seeing photographs of the aftereffects of the conflict would open my eye, understand better or simply be an exercise in looking at clear photographs.

I have seen other photographs of some of the destruction (see 3) but this was also concerned with the effect on the people and how they still go about their lives amid rubble and fires.  The size of the images is big enough to grab the attention but not to overwhelm it.  They are vivid in colour which is to be expected given that they are about war and destruction, but also because the skies he shoots under are sunset, twilight or sunrise so adds a softer quality to them.  There is a pathos but also a dignity of the people.  There is little of the sky and at times they can feel a little claustrophobic as they are in cramped areas where there is rubble, or in a prison or street, or at night.

Sergey Ponomarev

The photographs tell a story of carrying on in spite of the damage and the bombings.  My uncle’s family moved a few miles out of Homs, there is no running water and sporadic electricity but they stay because it is their home and they would prefer to stay there rather than leave altogether.  I reacted to them through the slight knowledge that I have but also because they present an alternative view of what is going on rather than the one we are always resented with through the media. In addition, they are very clear and the viewer can spend time searching the whole frame for other things and look to the horizon.

Sergey Ponomarev

The one that particularly caught my eye is of a burnt out, partially destroyed building that still  has a poster of President Assad attached to it.  The pale orange sky of sunrise emphasises the pale concrete of the building and on closer inspection, it is a myriad of bits of metal with the sattelite dish to the top left hand corner standing out.  There is a symmetry with two halves of the building but then one collapses downwards and draws the eye away from it.  The poster is in stark contrast to the building as though it is stamp claiming it for the President.  Maybe it is.

TBH
Homs, Syria, 15 June 2014, from the series ‘Assad’s Syria’ © Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times

 

In contrast Exodus, the video is quite an emotional watch.  It has no soundtrack, just a looping slideshow of photographs taken of refugees as they travel on their way to what they believe will be a better, safer life.  There are heart wrenching images of desperate people in their thousands, walking in long columns (reminiscent of scenes of WWII when people had to leave their homes or of prisoners or, worse, of the Jews being led to their deaths), in boats, standing crying on the shore when they reach safety after trips in overloaded boats and clashes with security at borders.  The viewer is drawn in to the unfolding story while looking on from the safety of the room.

Having been to all these places, does Ponomarev think photography can change the world? “No,” he says. “We are now so overwhelmed with visual information, it’s always around us.” However, he does think his pictures might “disturb people from living in their normal, cosy lives and probably encourage them to take action”. This could be making a donation or volunteering.’ The Guardian.

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There is a sense that this is an impossible task to resolve while being amazed at the resilience of the human spirit, but wondering how long it can keep going. I also felt a bit hopeless, that there is nothing that I can do to change any of it, help these people.  But maybe that is what he is aiming at in that by seeing that these are people, men woman and children who see Europe as being the place that they will be safe, that we will be spurred on to doing something even if it is only buying a blanket to keep them warm in the winter.

It was a sobering exhibition while also being one that captured my imagination and interest.

 

  1. http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/04/on-show-sergey-ponomarevs-a-lens-on-syria/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/apr/02/syria-photographs-sergey-ponomarev-imperial-war-museum
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/26/syria-heritage-in-ruins-before-and-after-pictures