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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.