Looking at the Work of Other OCA Students

I have mainly concentrated on the work of photographers unrelated to the OCA, either from independent learning or the suggested documentary-related photographers referenced in the course. However, I have been asked to look at some other OCA students work whose projects are about to reach their intended audience. I would say I was quite looking forward to this project as not only do I get to see some projects which have been produced by fellow students but more importantly, the work is to a standard that enables it to be appreciated by its intended audience.

Not Our Time – Penny Watson (2012)

First of all I looked at a project by Penny Watson entitled Not Our Time (2012). This project was obviously very personal to Penny and I felt the decisions she made in terms of aesthetics and composition allowed this to be reflected in the photographs. I found it very touching and one of the reasons for this was that the majority of the photos were environmental portraits, without losing the intimacy of Penny spending time with her grandmother. Other aesthetic decisions made included minimal post-processing, advising her grandmother not to smile or look at the camera and not employing flash at all. All of this and the fact she shot nearly 400 images for the project enabled her to portray her grandmother in a very convincing manner. One of the questions she posed in her book was: ‘I am intrigued to see whether photographing a family member rather than a stranger affects the images taken and whether any emotional connections are evident.’ – (Watson, 2012). The answer to this was I felt yes, although not directly. For instance there was no eye contact between the grandmother and the camera/Penny (one of Penny’s aesthetic choices). Instead there was a great deal of intimacy in the compositions of the environmental portraits which for me showed how Penny cared for her grandmother. Here Penny allowed the camera to do the talking in a subtle way rather than any direct intervention.

Behind the Scenes – Beth Aston

Beth Aston has sensitively documented her own illness and recovery. I felt the black and white medium worked well, turning the self-portarits into more abstract form and helping to disorient the viewer’s gaze in combination with the unusual camera angles. I thought the images I saw were highly effective in their communication with the viewer of the photographer/subject’s illness, with the considered lighting adding to this vision.

A Dozen Eggs – Harry Pearce (2012)

Another highly personal project involving his siblings, Harry Pearce documented members of his family. I felt this was clever because sometimes photographers overlook photographing something like siblings. I would say it was a project that finds extraordinary in the ordinary and interesting things from the banal. The photographs were again environmental portraits and again (like Penny Watson’s work) it was quite intimate, perhaps reflecting the photographer’s natural kinship with his siblings. By including extracts from the siblings, about random facts that were on their mind, the project was given more context.

Feet – Omar Camilleri (2010)

Who would think (or dare!) to do a project on something as seemingly trivial as feet!? Omar Camilleri managed to capture many different feet in a variety of ways, often in scenarios I wouldn’t have thought of. Some were humorous but many showed the toil of life and the burden that feet take on throughout this toil. I was impressed by the quality of the black and white images. In my opinion the choice of black and white was a good one; it showed off the stark nature of how feet were used as well as isolating them more from their respective backgrounds. Lastly the exhibition itself must have been amazing with massive pavaljuns displayed across streets.

The Dad Project – Briony Campbell

I found this project to be quite harrowing to look at compared to the others so far. It was most similar to me to Penny Watson’s Not Our Time (2012) except it documented moments leading up to and including the death of her father. For me the photography for Briony Campbell was a comfort for her during those times; there were also some happier pictures among the sad ones. I liked the fact not all the pictures were of her dad but some more abstract or of herself. I was glad she used small font for the captions under each photograph because I sort of would have liked if there were no captions at all. I thought the pictures could speak for themselves; however the captions did add context sometimes.

Living on 100th Street – Tanya Ahmed (2010-2011)

I liked the black and white treatment of Living on 100th Street anyway but when I realised that Bruce Davidson used the same treatment for his East 100th Street photos 40+ years prior, I felt this was a nice touch. The images were very good technically and quite a different approach to the other photographers I’ve looked at so far. The majority of the photographs for Living on 100th Street were environmental portraits (like some of the other projects I’ve looked at) but they were much more formal, without seeming staged. I would suggest Tanya Ahmed achieved this by what she called ‘collaborating’ with her subjects. This is something I could learn from, talking with the subjects first as when I tend to photograph people it tends to be quite rushed.

 

My thoughts after looking at the work of other OCA students whose work has reached or is about to reach their intended audience was that I was very inspired. The presentation methods used by some of the students were very imaginative but most of all I was struck by the personalised messages their projects were giving out. This came from generally diligent reactions to their briefs and incisive methods of working which allowed them to engage with their subjects intimately. This has then been reflected on me as the viewer and I would imagine many other viewers of each project.

References:

Ahmed, T. (2010-2011). Tanya Ahmed: Living on 100th Street. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/43594038 [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Campbell, B. (n.d.). The Dad Project – Briony Campbell | Photography & Film. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Camilleri, O. (2010). Feet- Photographic Exhibition. [online] Omar Camilleri. Available at: https://omarcamilleri.com/2010/09/23/feet-photographic-exhibition/ [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Pearce, H. (2012). a dozen eggs: Harry Pearce. [online] Harrypearce.co.uk. Available at: http://harrypearce.co.uk/gallery_515190.html [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Watson, P. (2012). Not Our Time. [online] Marmalade-cafe.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://marmalade-cafe.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/not-our-time.html [Accessed 12 May 2018].

Advertisements

Open See by Jim Goldberg – Does This Project Fuse Documentary and Art?

I thought Jim Goldberg’s project Open See was very interesting and imaginatively presented but also was very saddening and melancholy due to its subject matter. He chose to employ surprising visual strategies and methods for presentation considering the subject (of immigrants and their hard journey’s to supposedly better futures) is so sobering. Here he often used overlays to the photographs themselves in the form of coloured text. He also framed the photographs in unorthodox ways like taping round the edges onto a dark background or using coloured pen to frame the subjects. At first glance this seems almost amateurish presentation but by looking closer and observing the videos that are also available to see on the opensee.org website it seems to me that this overall aesthetic is coherent and intentional.

© Jim Goldberg/Magnum Photos - GREECE. Athens. 2003. Muzaffar "Alex" Jafari writes about his journey on foot from Afghanistan to Greece via Iran. Now Alex is in school and supports himself by working in a call center.
© Jim Goldberg/Magnum Photos – GREECE. Athens. 2003. Muzaffar “Alex” Jafari writes about his journey on foot from Afghanistan to Greece via Iran. Now Alex is in school and supports himself by working in a call center.

The reason Goldberg uses these methods is so the immigrants can tell their story with the photographs underlaid providing a stark reminder of the realities they face or have faced. Some stories show that the immigrants feel there will be a better future in Europe and are looking forwards but the reality (the photographs and text overlaid together) suggest otherwise. Other stories are less optimistic and the photographs provided underneath the text back this up. Also the videos the website links (of the paper boats and books being made out of the project) show their perilous situations and makes bare the disturbing insignificance some people ascribe to immigrants’ lives. This was apparent not only in the story about the boat carrying immigrants crashing into waves, read by a young girl but also by the fact they were folding the paper holding the immigrants’ photos and stories into a origami boat. This for me reflected with irony the plight of some immigrants and the challenges they face being accepted into the Western world. I felt the videos were not only consistent with the rest of the project but added to its meaning.

© Jim Goldberg/Magnum Photos - UKRAINE. 2006. Larysa, 39 years old. (Translation) "I was a dancer and sold to a man who was a terrorist- he held a gun to my head. Somehow I was rescued and escaped, but the fear has left scars on my heart. (and I will never be the same)"
© Jim Goldberg/Magnum Photos – UKRAINE. 2006. Larysa, 39 years old. (Translation) “I was a dancer and sold to a man who was a terrorist- he held a gun to my head. Somehow I was rescued and escaped, but the fear has left scars on my heart. (and I will never be the same)”

Using the photographs for the projects in this way showed the materiality of the image, how sometimes the image is not just a transparent object. It also for me showed the vulnerability of the immigrants. Therefore in my opinion Jim Goldberg’s Open See project works powerfully and the interactivity of the origami boats and paper books takes the traditional gallery space and transforms it into something more physical.

References:

Goldberg, J. (n.d.). OPEN SEE – JIM GOLDBERG. [online] Opensee.org. Available at: http://www.opensee.org/ [Accessed 21 Mar. 2018].

Cruel and Tender Exhibition

The ‘Photographic ‘truth’’ section of the Cruel and Tender: The Real in the Twentieth-Century Photograph (2003) exhibition’s Teacher’s Pack summed up nicely some notions about truth in photography. It addressed some issues I had been contemplating recently: ‘What we see in a photograph is always the result of a choice the photographer has made as he or she edits and sifts through the world around.’ – (Tate.org.uk, 2003) being a prime example. Documentary photographers can’t on their own cover everything in the world at any one time so of course it is subjective the information they seek and put forwards in their photographs. The way they put forwards this information in the photographs is subjective too. Because each photographer has varying interests and learned experiences in the world they approach photographing it differently. This thought has been conceived by myself before in: Two Levels to Subjectivity?.

It also raised questions over: ‘How can its [the photographic print] flatness ever make a true representation of a complex, three-dimensional scene?’ – (Tate.org.uk, 2003). The Teacher’s Pack didn’t answer this question directly; however it did get me thinking of how the 2-d shape of the photographic print medium could possibly be used to create a 3-d space. My mind wandered to the work of Tom Hunter’s (1993-1994) 3-d model project: \‘The Ghetto\’, street.’. Here he cleverly used 2-d photographs in a 3-d miniature space from the perspective of someone from the outside looking in, which lent perfectly to the photograph’s flatness. It made me wonder about how sculpture and photograph can intertwine and implementing this in my own work.

© Robert Heinecken (1966) Figure Sections/(Multiple Solution Puzzle)
© Robert Heinecken (1966) Figure Sections/(Multiple Solution Puzzle)

I performed a search on a search engine and found the exhibition Photography into Sculpture (1970) in the Museum of Modern Art. One of the first artists I looked at who featured in this exhibition was Robert Heinecken and he used photographs in sculptures which were then seemingly incidentally photographed. I liked the way the photographs were still clearly discernible but yet part of a bigger picture (or puzzle in this case). The puzzle was a sculpture which cleverly had multiple ways for it to be solved or viewed at (or photographed from). This was open to viewer interpretation which I liked and it also made me ponder on whether the artist had intended for the sculpture to be viewed in a certain way when he made it. Therefore the manner the sculpture was photographed (one edge of the sculpture facing towards the viewer so two sides were visible) intrigued me. Obviously in the exhibition you would be able to see the sculpture from all four sides but in the photograph you were more limited which is true of most photographic framing. This goes back to subjectivity in a photograph, the photographer has to make a choice (subconsciously or not) how to frame their subject.

© Fazal Sheikh (1993) Alima Hassan Abdullai and her brother Mahmoud, Somali refugee camp, Mandera, Kenya, 1993, from the series A Camel for the Son
© Fazal Sheikh (1993) Alima Hassan Abdullai and her brother Mahmoud, Somali refugee camp, Mandera, Kenya, 1993, from the series A Camel for the Son

A way to add extra information to inform the viewer is to contextualise the work through the use of text. Many documentary photographers have traditionally used captions or supporting texts for their photographs/projects. Fazal Sheikh takes this a step further by ‘recording all the information concerning the person photographed, time, place and other information, but also in the way he displays and organises the methods of distribution for his books which benefit human rights agencies’. This kind of comprehensive text contextualisation is clearly a conscious decision by the photographer to aid the viewer in their understanding of the photograph/project. I would say this methodology works for certain subjects. The subjects Sheikh decided to commit to for one of his projects in a Somali refugee camp for instance, benefited from this recording of extraneous information other than ‘just’ the photograph. This was because in my opinion the people depicted gained extra status for the reader of the photograph’s gaze. The dignified way the photographs were taken also added credence to the fact the refugees were real people but who had suffered worse than other people.

The Teacher’s Pack compares Fazal Sheikh’s way of working with Martin Parr’s work (like The Last Resort (1983-5)) and I thought this was an apt comparison. Parr often gives less respect to his subjects; photographing them satirically and captioning them minimally. I would suggest both projects work but in different ways. Sheikh treats his subjects respectfully and with dignity and presents them in a serious manner, for the reason it is a serious project. Parr on the other hand lets his photographs speak for themselves, as good humour doesn’t need explaining. There is a more serious edge to the images though as they tend to depict the more rundown sides to the beaches of Brighton in that time.

References:

Heinecken, R. (1966). Figure Sections/(Multiple Solution Puzzle). [Photograph] Retrieved from: https://news.artnet.com/market/aipad-still-beautifully-unsettling-after-all-these-years-10075 [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Hunter, T. (1993-94). \‘The Ghetto\’, street.’. [online] Available at: http://www.tomhunter.org/the-ghetto-street-2/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Parr, M (1983-5). The Last Resort. [online] Pro.magnumphotos.com. Available at: http://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2S5RYDYDHEB9 [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Photography into Sculpture (1970). The Museum of Modern Art [Exhibition] April 8–July 5, 1970.

Sheikh, F. (1993). Alima Hassan Abdullai and her brother Mahmoud, Somali refugee camp, Mandera, Kenya, 1993, from the series A Camel for the Son. [Photograph] Retrieved from: https://303magazine.com/2017/08/common-ground-dam-fazalsheikh/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

Tate.org.uk (2003). Teacher’s Pack – Cruel and Tender: The Real in the Twentieth-Century Photograph. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/6437 [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].

The Gaze and How It is Implemented in My Work

A large part of The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic (1991) talked about frontal portraits where the subject’s eyes make contact with the camera and therefore to a certain degree with the reader of the photograph. This was not relevant to much of my photography work including the documentary course as I tended to veer away from portraits – especially frontal ones. However, in Assignment 1 – Documentary I included a few frontal portraits and my tutor had highlighted the need for consistency where there were other people shots in the set where the person did not make eye contact. I now see why my tutor made this point because The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic (1991) made me realise just how different these two types of gazes by the subjects of the photograph can be for reader interpretation.

Later on in the essay it interested me where it mentioned if the readers gaze is interrupted (by disjointed composition or bad processing) then it is ‘more likely that the photographic gaze will be resisted by the reader.’ – (Collins and Lutz, 1991). This seemed to be related, like my tutor’s comments, to photographic consistency which was so important in ‘pulling the viewer (or ‘reader’) in to the photograph or set of photographs. Therefore I would endeavour to amend the series of photos for Assignment 1 where sometimes the subject made eye contact to instead either always having eye contact or none at all for the sakes of consistency. Also I would try to make sure the processing wasn’t over done which might also detract from the reader’s gaze into the image.

An aspect of the essay which was not particularly relevant for me was the comparisons and observations made about the non-Westerner’s and Westerner’s gazes. My work so far has been exclusively local-based and where I have lived is Western, therefore I could not associate with these gaze differences. However, I could see how this could be relevant to my practice: if I was photographing poorer or richer communities than myself then the subject’s gaze, the photographer’s (my own) gaze and the viewer’s gaze would be affected.

I have so far always edited and shot my own photographs; choosing the cropping, processing as well as where and how it appears in a sequence and with what, if any captions. Therefore I have had the luxury of being able to directly affect the reader’s gaze from the perspective of a magazine editor’s gaze and a photographer’s gaze. However, I learnt that despite affecting the reader’s gaze from both these perspectives, a lot of the photograph’s meaning was still down to the reader’s gaze. The reader’s gaze is about ‘what they imagine the world is about before the magazine arrives, what imagining the picture provokes, and what they remember afterwards of the story they make the picture tell’ – (Collins and Lutz, 1991). I imagined these points as the reader superimposing their own meaning over the intended meaning created by the photographer/editor. I myself have done this plenty of times when looking at artists’ photographs in exhibitions without looking at any captions or linking text first. This made me wonder whether I should look at embracing photography’s often inherent ambiguity rather than striving to make the meaning as legible as possible?

References:

Collins, J. and Lutz, C. (1991). The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. In. Wells, L. (2003). The Photography Reader. 1st ed. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 354-374.

On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography

As I read the first few lines about the Panopticon model conceived by Jeremy Bentham in 1786, my imagination was immediately captured. The Panopticon was an architectural construction: a central tower is enclosed by a circular building whose cellular spaces are open on the inside and their occupants exposed to the unremitting gaze the tower affords.’ – (Green, 2005). It reminded me not only of Big Brother and to some degree modern surveillance but upon reflection and to a lesser degree photography. Just as modern surveillance like CCTV is for the most part invisible so are photographs. The Panopticon model/CCTV/photograph allows the viewer to see whatever is displayed (inside the Panopticon/relayed from the CCTV/through the photograph) but not the other way round. At least I wouldn’t think people in photographs could see out of them!

The Panopticon - Jeremy Bentham - 1786
The Panopticon – Jeremy Bentham – 1786

As I understood from reading Green’s text on Foucault’s essay Discipline and Punish (1975), this one-way visibility gives the viewer a certain degree of power. This would be for the reason that the ‘prisoner’ – the person inside not looking out – can’t see the watchman but the watchman can see the prisoner. Whether this new form of disciplinary power is good or bad is questionable. Green (2005) states that Foucault was aware of this when he wrote Discipline and Punish (1975): ‘power cannot be regarded only, as it often has been, as a negative force which makes itself known through the operations of repression, exclusion, limitation or censorship. Power must also be recognised in its positive forms when it enables the production of knowledge’ – (Green, 2005). I could see this was somewhat true with disciplinary power in the form of CCTV when the power afforded from these technologies is used to inform.

Relating this back to photography, especially pertinent with the prevalence of photographs nowadays, the viewer has instant access (via the internet and social media) to a multitude of images which is only increasing. The viewers of the photographs can see the people or objects inside the photographs but the reverse isn’t true. Therefore it seems plausible the viewer of the images has power over the images and how they view them whereas the people and object’s depicted in the images have little power once uploaded. However, if you were to follow this train of thought a little further, there is more power attributed indirectly from people depicted in images uploaded to the viewer than there at first might seem. The reason for this would be the people depicted in the images uploaded are often the people who took the picture (selfies!) or at least people close to them and they can have the option of controlling who sees them as well as interacting after the fact with viewers of the images. Green touches on this briefly at the end of On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography (2005) as a possible solution for the invasive properties of power: ‘But just as the forms of power are localised and specific so should be the forms of resistance. We must engage power at the points of its application and operation; that is, within the particular domains of knowledge and the particular institutions through which it is operative.’ – (Green, 2005). This correlates back to the power of social media photography, where the social media platform through which the photography is operative contains at least some resistance to its power through control of exposure of images and interactivity.

Another significant point in On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography (2005) was that photography is a very good medium for recording subtle variations in the people it photographs as a form of power: ‘But clearly involved here was not the discovery of pre-existing truths which the camera so meticulously revealed but the construction of new kinds of knowledge about the individual in terms of visible physiological features by which it is possible to measure and compare each individual to another.’ – (Green, 2005). The indexical properties the photograph possesses surely went a long way to establishing the photographs as ‘a form of empirical truth or evidence of the real’ – (Green, 2005) but it was through comparison of the details of the photographs that allowed the viewer to gain a form of power. Combined with ‘physiological measurement and written documentation’ – (Green, 2005), these photographs informed the viewer much more powerfully than they would have singularly or without written documentation.

The major thing I took away from reading about Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1975) through Green’s On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography (2005) essay was that the viewer in most cases gains much more power from photographs than the ones who are photographed and in this manner photographs could stand as the perfect modern-day Panopticon. However, as mentioned, there exist certain ways of at least reducing the overwhelming power afforded the viewer through looking at photographs. That is because the social media platforms photographs are often viewed on nowadays allow the people in the photographs a certain degree of control back themselves.

References:

Foucault, M. and Sheridan, A. (1991). Discipline and Punish. 2nd ed. London: Penguin.

Green, D. (2005). On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography. In. The Camera Work Essays, pp. 119-131.

Imaginary Documents

Wandering around Deptford for my upcoming Assignment 3, I realised I wasn’t going to have a story suddenly jump out at me from the blue; I had to make the story arise. This was due to the apparent bleakness of much of Deptford apart from the high street. It was what my eyes showed me and was obvious too in the snapshots I was producing. This bleak appearance was however, a blessing in disguise as it made me start actively thinking for the first time what stories I could begin to put together and therefore what imaginary set of documents I could construe.

At first I was a bit tentative about creating an at least partly fictional story as most of what I had learnt about documentary photography so far seemed to veer towards the factual. I decided actually, after all, a lot of documentary is constructed on the most basic level of selection and framing anyway. Therefore, how much of what is selected and framed by the photographer is objective, factual documentary and how much of it is subjective?

Having said all of this, I selected a story which very much had its roots in the notion of this bleakness in Deptford which in my mind was quite factual. I thought I would contrast this with the hubbub of the market on Deptford High Street on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday.

As I was having the realisation that most documents are on some level subjective and so pulling a story from it was acceptable, I came across some text in my course. This text effectively mirrored what I was thinking but was written more eloquently. Here Jose Navarro, the course author, wrote:

Traditional thinking documentary photography supports the idea that the photographic document is evidence of something that happened out there, something that occurred without being choreographed or prompted by the photographer. Which is precisely what Mohamed Bourouissa doesn’t do. – Navarro (2012)

'la main' - périphérique - Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)
‘la main’ – périphérique – Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)

Bourouissa’s work intrigued me because it featured a style where a story was ‘pulled’ from reality but was done in such a way that it was difficult to tell whether the scenes had been staged. The work I looked at was: périphérique (2005-2009) and in particular la main (the hand) and la rencontre (the encounter); a couple of a series of edgy, unrestful images where the viewer was unsure of the authenticity of the scenes. I looked at these for a while and I’m still not sure whether they were staged or not. This was because it was hard to imagine the photographs being taken without being staged but the actor’s faces were so convincing and the snapshot framing was so dysfunctional that the scenes were believable.

I envisaged a landscape/documentary approach for photographing Deptford, which would mainly rely on found scenes. This would function quite differently as the scenes wouldn’t be staged but as a set I would be creating a narrative within which these found scenes fit in.

'la rencontre' - périphérique - Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)
‘la rencontre’ – périphérique – Mohamed Bourouissa (2005-2009)

One other realisation about tendencies for my own documentary practice was that I invariably seemed to want to try to create single-image narratives. Whether this was down to Assignment 2 – Documentary where I was asked to try to produce single-image narratives I was not sure. Either way I realised I was attempting to complete the assignments in single shots rather than thinking about how multiple photographs could relate to one another.

One possible solution I could foresee would be to focus on creating numerous images which, while quite possibly not depicting single-image narratives, when edited down and then put together produce a more telling narrative than singularly. Bourouissa’s series: périphérique (2005-2009) certainly worked as single-image narratives and together as a series, proving that both approaches could exist in tandem. However, I wanted to concentrate on looking at how multiple photographs could relate to one another in a series.

References:

Bourouissa, M. (2005-2009). périphérique [online] mohamedbourouissa.com Available at: http://www.mohamedbourouissa.com/peripherique/ [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017]

Navarro, J. (2012). OCA Documentary Course.

Reflections on Simon Roberts’ Project: We English

Simon Roberts strikes me as a photographer first, and a bit of a shrewd business man second. I saw nothing wrong with this – images are for sharing; if he didn’t commit to the business side of things his photographs would be shared less so it is just a means to an end (while at the same time providing himself and his family wth an income). He applies his business sense by marketing and publicising his upcoming project/book arduously; thereby increasing the chances it will sell well. He also employs clever strategies like creating a dedicated, dynamic website for the project which changes and is added to according to how the project is panning out a the time. Besides the (80%) business side of things, I have come across Roberts’ work before and I feel his (20%) photographic work is very technically sound and still creates a message.

Amerta Movement Workshop, Avebury Henge, Wiltshire, 2nd June 2008 - We English - Simon Roberts
Amerta Movement Workshop, Avebury Henge, Wiltshire, 2nd June 2008 – We English – Simon Roberts

In We English for example, he utilises a predominantly high viewpoint and concepts like: ‘he decided people should occupy no more than one third of the frame’ – (Houghton, 2009), presumably to aid narrative in his work where: ‘Such an image announces itself as a tableau, a site where a compressed narrative can bloom across the frame’ – (Houghton, 2009). This approach works in my opinion because it is almost as if the viewer has to make the narrative up for themselves from the people in the third of the frame and their relationship with the surrounding landscape.

One possible narrative Roberts might be trying to suggest in at least some of his photographs for We English is that the idealised, romantic picturesque of the past views has remained for the most part. The views might be changing (largely because of the influx of people evident in the photographs Roberts takes) but they are still ‘good enough’ to attract the tourists to their countryside in large numbers. This influx paradoxically makes the views less attractive, while on the other hand displays the views popularity.

Lingmell Fell, Wasdale Valley, Cumbria, 22nd August 2008 - We English - Simon Roberts
Lingmell Fell, Wasdale Valley, Cumbria, 22nd August 2008 – We English – Simon Roberts

One point Stephen Daniels eloquently highlights in his companion essay for We English: The English Outdoors – (Daniels, 2010) is:

While the presence of other excursionists in these pictures is often only implied or at any rate discreet, some artists addressed the popular encounter with landscape, in crowded scenes, sometimes expressly theatrical ones, in which the landscape is an arena of performance and narrative.

Roberts with We English, according to my observations certainly doesn’t back away from photographing people when he sees them in the English countryside and in fact even makes a feature of them, similar to Daniels’ aforementioned quote from The English Outdoors. I would say he goes a step further when he photographs people at famous tourist sites in Switzerland with Sight Sacralization: (Re)framing Switzerland – (Roberts, 2016). Here he definitely concentrates on the relationship between land and people and makes a fairly strong argument I feel that the act of tourists visiting popular tourist sites is a performance in itself and takes almost more significance than the landscape which is the cause for their activities such as selfies. I found this work very absorbing and clever in making a tourist site (which nowadays is often not aesthetically-pleasing) something quite beautiful at times and with a powerful narrative holding the project together.

References:

Daniels, S. (2010). The English Outdoors. [online] Simoncroberts.com. Available at: http://www.simoncroberts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/We_English-Stephen_Daniels_Essay.pdf [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Houghton, M. (2009). Foto8 Issue 25. [online] issuu. Available at: https://issuu.com/foto8/docs/issue25 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Roberts, S. (2008). We English. [online] Simoncroberts.com. Available at: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/we-english/#PHOTO_0 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Roberts, S. (2016). Sight Sacralization. [online] Simoncroberts.com. Available at: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/sight-sacralization/#PHOTO_0 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].