8 Ways to Change the World

After having read through an article titled ‘Seeing and Believing’ written by Max Houghton (2005) I feel I have procured a better idea of the challenges facing non-governmental organisations in changing the way they raise awareness about the people they aid.

Houghton calls for an inward revolution for the way NGOs manage those more fortunate’s perceptions of those less fortunate – those less fortunate being the people non-governmental organisations aid. One way Paul Lowe, lecturer at LCC, suggests this can be done is for NGOs concentrate at least some of their efforts on local photographers who know their own country and inhabitants better: ‘It’s most significant to use indigenous photographers to represent their own country when there is no local voice at all, so all we ever get is a western point of view.’ – (Lowe, n.d.). However, there is a danger, Shahidul Alam of Drik agency in Bangladesh fears, where by teaching the local people photography’s (documentary) language, the local photographers will become just another occidental photographer since the style of documentary or reportage was founded in the first half of the 20th century by westerners. ‘The danger therefore, is of becoming a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and eventually of becoming a wolf.’ – Alam ominously concludes. This is backed up by Adrian Evans, director of Panos Pictures in London, who states: ‘You can’t simply work with indigenous photographers because it’s ethically sound if they are not skilled up enough to do the work’ – (Evans, n.d.). Joseph Cabon concedes he prefers woking with people he has already met or in other words: is ‘more cautious about using people he hasn’t met face-to-face’. While I understand this reservation especially as Cabon is also looking for projects: ‘that would really inspire and challenge the photographers, rather than having them come back with yet another set that could have been taken four or five years ago’ – (Cabon, n.d.), I would say indigenous photographers could do something similar also.

My proposal would be to allow the indigenous photographers to work in there own styles but with an emphasis (perhaps on behalf of the people who eventually publish their work) on representing the people they photograph as people with hope and ‘evoke not pity but understanding’ and in creative ways, as was the case with Chris de Bode’s work for VSO in the exhibition ‘8 Ways to Change the World’ curated by Adrian Evans.

 

Ethiopia, Chimbiri, Nr. Debre Birhan, Highlands 1 - 8 Ways to Change the World - Chris de Bode
Ethiopia, Chimbiri, Nr. Debre Birhan, Highlands 1 – 8 Ways to Change the World – Chris de Bode

I also looked at the colour documentary photographers work for the ‘8 Ways to Change the World’ exhibition curated by Adrian Evans and three colour documentary photographers work stood out for me which I have tried to compare.

Ethiopia, Chimbiri, Nr. Debre Birhan, Highlands 2 - 8 Ways to Change the World - Chris de Bode
Ethiopia, Chimbiri, Nr. Debre Birhan, Highlands 2 – 8 Ways to Change the World – Chris de Bode

With extra information comes extra complications I have found when looking at the ‘8 Ways to Change the World’ exhibition by Panos Pictures. From this I mean that the extra information colour brings (which might be why it is the more prevalent medium in today’s documentary photography) also adds confusion for the viewer as they have more to take in. Not only is there composition and light to take in but now colour as well. Zed Nelson somewhat mitigates this fact by employing a shallow depth of field in some of his portraits so the viewer is clear what is the main subject of the photograph. In trying to work out why I felt Chris de Bode’s photographs work better (as they are) in colour than they might have been in black and white I could see that it was less the use of colour relationships as I was expecting the answer to be. Instead it was more the placement of the main subject compositionally in the frame (usually the centre), the amount of information present but which was reduced by isolating the subject from the rest of the frame and finally the interesting subject matter.

Action Aid Commission - 8 Ways to Change the World - Adam Hinton
Action Aid Commission – 8 Ways to Change the World – Adam Hinton

In contrast to the two aforementioned photographers, Adam Hinton, uses a much darker aperture (presumably to get the whole frame in focus) and almost a snapshot aesthetic which is objective in style and rich in information. I felt he carefully placed his subjects in the frame or filled his frame by paying attention to detail. This elevated his work out of the snapshot photograph. However it was less reactive and subjective than Chris de Bode’s and more factual and formal. In my opinion Zed Nelson’s work sits somewhere in between by employing similar strategies to de Bode’s and Hinton’s photography. However I liked de Bode’s way of seeing best as it seemed slightly more human, especially with regards to the ‘reactive’, unformulated poses and aesthetically-pleasing compositions.

References:

de Bode, C. (2005). Eight Ways to Change the World. [online] Chris de Bode. Available at: http://www.chrisdebode.com/stories#/eight-ways/ [Accessed 20 Jun. 2017].

Hinton, A. (2005). Adam Hinton. [online] Adamhinton.net. Available at: http://www.adamhinton.net/commission#project [Accessed 20 Jun. 2017].

Houghton, M. (2005). Volume 4 Number 3. [online] issuu. Available at: https://issuu.com/foto8/docs/vol4no3 [Accessed 20 Jun. 2017], pp. 34-37.

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In, Around, and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography by Martha Rosler

I have been asked to read and make notes on ‘In, Around, and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography)  by Martha Rosler. I must admit this was particularly hard reading for me. The essay was quite long but more pointedly it wasn’t very flowing with the language used complicated. In one sense this was good practice because it would bring me up to speed with the documentary terminology but on the other hand I didn’t feel I learnt that much from the essay apart from a few key points:

Right from the outset, I found Rosler hints that documentary as it is widely known is all but gone from contemporary practice – ‘What remains of it?’ – ‘It’ being  documentary photography. She goes on to assert: ‘Documentary … preceded the myth of journalistic objectivity and was partly strangled by it.’ – (Rosler, 1992). Apart from suggesting documentary as it was known had largely changed, this last quote embodied much of what I was coming to realise about photography in general. Including documentary; photography is subjective because it is the photographer’s interpretation of what they are seeing that informs the viewer. While it is true there are more objective approaches – Bate’s example of August Sander where he used typographical portraits springs to mind – ultimately they are always subjective results.

Documentary, as it was known, was comparatively futile in enabling positive change in Rosler’s examples because it was an exchange of information about less privileged people to another, more socially powerful group who didn’t want to undermine their own wealth. Instead Rosler argues intervention in the real world outside of the media was more constructive in enabling positive change. For example Cesar Chávez with the Farm Workers’ Organizing Committee.

My next point about Rosler’s essay would be concerning ‘It is impolite or dangerous to stare in person’, which she suggests, ‘as Diane Arbus knew when she arranged her satisfyingly immobilised imagery as surrogate for the real thing.’ – (Rosler, 1992). This for me implies there is a kind of mental, subconscious block induced between reality and photography where the viewer loses their inhibitions to gaze at what may alarm or discomfort them when looking at the person in a photograph. The viewer is still seeing – though through the image – because they recognise the subject through it as part of a photograph they are therefore ‘safe’ to look at for as long as is wanted. Because of this, in my opinion, the subject then becomes more distant and objectifiable.

Perhaps for this reason it is justifiable then that the photographer ‘who entered a situation of physical danger, social restrictedness, human decay, or combinations of these and saved us the trouble’ – (Rosler, 1992) should be accredited for their efforts. They as the taker photographer provided us with a platform to stare at, through photographs, the people and conflicts which reminded documentary viewers the realities of life (although not necessarily how to relate to them or avert them from happening respectively).

‘The subject of the article is the photographer.’ – (Rosler, 1992). This struck me as a bold statement from Rosler I partially agreed with. I had been convinced for a while that the subject of the photograph or the photograph itself were all that mattered as the eventual outcome of photographs being taken. Then I was sure it was how photographs related to each other and other forms of media (their context) as well as the photograph/subject that mattered. More recently I had started to come to the conclusion that the photographer, their relationship with the subject and viewer was another key aspect of photographs ‘mattering’. Sometimes I felt the photographer’s relationship with the subject could be more important than the composition/lighting of the photograph. The statement above somewhat reinforced this understanding I was beginning to grasp although more forcibly than I agreed with. It seems that often the photograph/photographer is more important than the subject, at least in documentary. Rosler then puts this thought to discussion by examining the interesting case of Florence Thompson, the subject of Dorothea Lange’s famous Migrant Mother (1936), where the photograph was seemingly more important than the subject’s real self. ‘Are photographic images, then, like civilization, made on the backs of the exploited?’ – (Rosler, 1992), made me think how the image world, while not necessarily bad, is ambivalent towards those it uses much like reality. However, by ‘exploiting’ those it uses in the image world, photographs help sometimes on a collective level in the real world.

I had become more aware that photography was intrinsically connected to the world outside of photography in that by having an interest in political issues for example in the outside world, the photographer could better inform their photographic practice. However, before reading Rosler’s essay I was not aware that political sides could affect the reading of photographs. On the one side the ‘left’ were guilty of undermining the integrity of the image by pushing for transparency of the real world on to the image world. For example Walker Evans’ subject Allie Mae (Burroughs) Moore was rephotographed by Scott Osborne much later but this time using her real name. On the other hand, the ‘right’ attempted to use photography to illustrate the divide between classes and equality. They did this by isolating ‘it within the gallery-museum-art-market nexus, effectively differentiating elite understanding and its objects from common understanding’ – (Rosler, 1992). One consequence of doing this I presumed was that the divide would grow further. All of this meant that the real meaning the photographer intended to convey behind the photograph was being undermined by political sides afterwards.

Rosler goes on to attack John Szarkowski for his passivity of the Vietnam war which was happening when he wrote of a new generation of photographers who constituted a more personal attitude and with relation to commonplace people in the more immediate society around them. I partly agreed with Rosler on this attack because the way he put it: ‘They like the real world, in spite of its terrors, as the source of all wonder and fascination and value’ – (Szarkowski, 1967), was quite pacifying of the terrible things that were happening in the world. However, I also felt that by undertaking projects which the photographer felt was local to their passion and place of living, they would be able to form a better relationship with their subject(s). Therefore Szarkowski’s assertions in his introduction to New Documents in 1967 were not totally unfounded. However, Rosler also states that under Szarkowski’s influence Garry Winogrand refused to accept responsibility for his photographs, claiming that: ‘all meaning in photography applies only to what resides within the “four walls” of the framing edges’. This was in direct contradiction to the work of Robert Frank who Rosler compares Winogrand’s work with. Where Frank based the presentation of his work on the photographs as a purposeful series, Winogrand approached his own work from a purely modernist stance as all meaning came from within each photograph. In this respect, Szarkowski’s comments in his introduction to New Documents made little sense if the ‘new generation’ of photographers with more personal motives for their photographs wanted to affect the world immediately around them meaningfully with the same attitude as Winogrand for example.

From 'The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems' - Martha Rosler, 1974-75
From ‘The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems’ – Martha Rosler, 1974-75

Finally Rosler finishes with an analysis of her own work: The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems. Rosler sardonically describes in this work through both photograph and text that of a world which belongs to the past. The medium used (photographs and text in a style from the 1930s) she argues should belong of the past too. That is because ‘There is nothing new attempted in a photographic style that was constructed in the 1930s when the message itself was newly understood, differently embedded’ – (Rosler, 1992) – in her own words. I would agree that this approach is dated and would tend to concentrate on ‘the ascendant classes … implied to have pity on and rescue members of the oppressed’ – (Rosler, 1992). As I understood from her text onwards photographers looking forwards can help instigate social change by analysing society that is all around us by exposing things like racism, sexism and class oppression, questioning whether ‘a radical documentary can be brought into existence’ – (Rosler, 1992). I would suggest that a visually striking and different aesthetic for photographs/bodies of work as compared to that of the 1930s or even Rosler’s own The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems would be necessary if Rosler’s encouraged approach was to work.

References:

Rosler, M. (1992). In Bolton, R. (ed.) (1992). The Contest of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.303-325.

Szarkowski, J. (1967). New Documents. [Exhibition] 28 Feb. 1967 – 7 May. 1967. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Context and Narrative by Maria Short – Chapter 5

I observed Short described the study of signs (semiotics) in a clear and concise manner, without being either too pedantic or complicated. She compared the dyadic and triadic systems for signs of de Saussure and Pierce respectively, for which Pierce used an additional element. Even though de Saussure’s model was easier to grasp, I felt that Pierce’s model satisfied all aspects of any sign’s reading. This was because it introduced the ‘object’ and the ‘interpretant’ in place of just the signified.

Once aware of how to recognise a sign in photography, it is important to be clear what kind of a sign it is. There are three types – symbolic, iconic and indexical. Indexicality in photography interested me the most as this property is intrinsic in every photograph. It means its there-ness – it is a part of something that happened and was recorded through light by the camera. This differs from the symbolic (where something represents something else) and the iconic (something which is perceptibly similar). Reading about the various types of signs did make me wonder whether they could be used in combination. Because indexical signs could be apparent within a photograph as well as be the photograph itself I wondered what the implications of an indexical sign appearing on an indexical photograph would be. Would the effect be like a double negative or compound the indexicality to the viewer?

Signs give extra information for the photograph to be read as the photographer intends. In this way they act as a visual metaphor, reading to the viewer pointers for meaning to be inferred. They can be subtle and unobtrusive or fill the entire photograph. They can also be a mood in the photograph so not something tangible. Ways I could envisage signs appearing in the photograph as visual metaphors after reading Chapter 5 of Context and Narrative would be:

  • a simple object out of place or unusual in the context of the photograph which signified something more
  • the use of focus where sharply focussed symbolises in the present while out of focus in the background is more distant and of the past
  • a visually recognisable sign or symbol appearing high up in the frame of the photograph standing for power or authority
  • lighting in the photograph creating a pointed mood because of the time of day which lends to the subjects of there photograph

Implementing signs into photographs I would imagine is easier if the photographer has time/inclination to construct the photograph. Because a lot of documentary is unconstructed where the photographer has to work quickly it becomes harder to think about which signs should appear where in the photographic frame. Yet this placement can give the signs extra meaning or none at all if left out of the frame. Short alludes to this in Chapter 5 and gives some pointers as to how to work with this – ‘If the photographer is clear as to the function, purpose and intention behind the photographs, these [on-the-spot] decisions are easier’ – (Short, 2011). For this reason, I would think it is very important to have a clear rationale or concept behind your images beforehand so that you can implement the signs as you see them.

References:

Short, M. (2011). Context and Narrative. 1st ed. Lausanne: AVA Publishing SA, pp.120-141.

Context and Narrative by Maria Short – Chapter 4

Right at the start of Chapter 4 – ‘Narrative’, I liked the description Short uses for the question what is narrative in photography. Here Short describes the techniques used to provide narrative in photography to be ‘seen as a kind of visual punctuation.’ – (Short, 2011). From this I gathered certain techniques provide the framework from which a photographer could structure their vision, much like the commas and full stops in this written sentence.(!)

The chapter starts properly by identifying what narrative is and I reconfirmed in my head it is essentially a story. However, because the medium is photography the format can be linear or in other ways too because it is a visual medium. I saw this as the ‘visual punctuation’ informing the visual word order and meaning of the sentence.

The first half of the chapter is dedicated to narrative within a series or set of photographs and while this may be less applicable to me for Assignment 2 of documentary, where I have to produce single-image narratives, it will no doubt prove of use beyond the assignment. Some techniques key to providing a strong narrative within a series or set of photographs Short outlined consisted of aesthetic continuity, so a theme is formed, size of the images in relation to each other as they appear and juxtaposition of the images in the series. I felt the latter of these techniques (juxtaposition) could also be assigned to the components of a single image in order to provide narrative there as well.

This led me onto the second half of the chapter ‘Narrative’ dealing with single-image narratives. Short initially poses the question: ‘what exactly is narrative within a single image and how does a photographer work to convey or create it?’ – (Short, 2011). I was left slightly frustrated after reading the page she poses the question on because she seems at first to not answer the latter part to the question directly or at least not as I had expected. I would have expected the answer to be solely the juxtaposition of compositional elements within the single-image. Reading this page and beyond again however, she does indeed hint at the juxtapositional element of not only composition but light and colour too when she asks: ‘What is the relevance of the empty space/dark sky/colour of the carpet?’ – (Short, 2011). She then additionally goes on to add in the next few pages ,methods for creating meaning in single-images – some of which I want thought of before. For example, she states that it is important to have clear preconceptions about the aim of the project. At the same time she suggests how ‘being open to unexpected elements contributing to the photograph’ can add extra, unforeseen meaning. This is later backed up at the end of the chapter with the case study. I had begun to understand that experimentation with photographs as they are being taken and after they are taken improve on concepts, which is very important. It is good practice to have a clear reason for taking the photographs in the first place though.

Another aspect I discerned from the single-image narrative part of the chapter was about immersing yourself in a project to the point that you are absorbed by your practice and are not thinking about creating art. This approach can yield work which is art once it has been selected from the larger body produced form the documentary practice. Short used the example of Cartier-Bresson’s lesser known photojournalistic bodies of work like his coverage of Mahatma Ghandi’s funeral to illustrate this concept. Perhaps I had been taking a wrong or at least starkly contrasting approach to that of Cartier-Bresson’s practice. Whereas I had tried to produce documentary images which could be considered as art, Cartier-Bresson produced large volumes of work where he was completely absorbed in producing images before selecting images he felt were art. Ironically, I had been heavily influenced by Cartier-Bresson’s art photographs in the first place as they seemed to exist as single decisive moments in time and I had only observed them singularly previously. Therefore it was a bit of a revelation at least some of them weren’t taken with art in mind particularly, like with Short’s example of Cartier-Bresson’s coverage of Mahatma Ghandi’s funeral. This reminded me of an article I had recently been reading by Eric Kim about forgetting composition when shooting photographs, entitled: Don’t Think About Composition When Shooting Street Photography. I had been browsing the internet, looking for inspiration for my assignment when I came across this fairly provocatively titled article with regards to street photography. I found it useful however in a similar way to Short’s example of of Cartier-Bresson’s coverage of Mahatma Ghandi’s funeral. The emphasis was to take photographs first and worry about (composition in this case) later. Kim still gives a list of basic compositional techniques to bear in mind before going on a shoot but argues: ‘use composition as a tool after you’ve taken a bunch of photos, in order to know which photo to keep (and which to ditch).’ – (Kim, n.d.). He then backs this up with a quote: ‘I would rather choose an emotional photo with soul (with poor composition), rather than a soul-less photo (with a great composition)’ – (Kim, n.d.) which resonates with some of what I had been thinking. Short is of the opinion that ‘total immersion in the process enables the photographer to be highly tuned into the vital aspects of the photograph’, so much so that as an experienced photographer absorbed in the process you can anticipate ‘At what angle and place in the frame movement will be frozen’ and ‘How and where light is falling’ – (Short, 2011). This implies once the photographer is absorbed in the project completely, composition becomes natural. It seems that with ‘total immersion’ in a project the photographer gets the best of both worlds – soulful photos (as there is now a more meaningful interaction with the subject) and good composition. If the composition isn’t exactly right the photographer could presumably select another photograph to use from the many they’d taken. One of these photographs is more likely to be ‘art’ than shooting sporadically and without absorption into the process.

References:

Cartier-Bresson, H. (1948). Mahatma Gandhi’s last days and funeral procession, 1948. [online] Magnum Photos. Available at: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2K7O3R96EH_T [Accessed 23 Mar. 2017].

Kim, E. (n.d.). Don’t Think About Composition When Shooting Street Photography. [online] Eric Kim Photography. Available at: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/no-composition/ [Accessed 23 Mar. 2017].

Short, M. (2011). Context and Narrative. 1st ed. Lausanne: AVA Publishing SA, pp.96-119.

Marcus Bleasdale Interview

The work of Marcus Bleasdale with his photojournalism makes my own trivial pursuits seem quite selfish and ignorant especially with regards to his choice of subject to portray. He has literally changed his way of life to dedicate bringing to light inequalities in the world while I have so far chosen a much more enclosed, introspective perspective. I should remind myself there are still inequalities where I live and try to bring about change in these places.

 

He talks about the single-image narrative still being a powerful tool – ‘I know Tom [Stoddart]’s work has been used to raise large amounts of money for aid agencies just through the strength of the single image.’ – (Bleasdale, 2005). This is inspiring for my second assignment for Documentary because he was talking in regards to how other people read the image. My target audience – other people where I live – would need to understand what I was trying to tell through single images.

His work is still documentary and yet he often builds a rapport with his subjects for the photographs first and then this he believes is reflected into pictures. This is illustrated when he says: ‘I spend a lot of time helping as much as I can expanding the relationship that I have as a photographer and a human being.’, followed by: ‘If your subjects have respect for you and you for them, then I think this will be evident in the final image.’ – (Bleasdale, 2005). This interested me greatly because usually I would take candid photographs so the photograph remained unconstructed. This is something which I feel is controversial in documentary; is the photographer then not constructing the image and tailoring it to mean something else despite their best intentions? However if the photographer did not build this (relative novelty for me) of a rapport between photographer and subject, then the photograph wouldn’t be as intimate and affecting. Therefore if the goal is to bring about social change, then the photographs where there is a rapport visible on some level between photographer and subject would have more of a profound effect on the viewer. Indeed this is something I could see in Bleasdale’s work; specifically the ‘Sakura Lisi’ series.

References:

Bleasdale, M. (2005). Inside. Foto8, [online] (Vol4No3), pp.68-70. Available at: https://issuu.com/foto8/docs/vol4no3 [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017].

Bleasdale, M. (2008). The Rape of a Nation. [online] Marcus Bleasdale – Photographer. Available at: http://www.marcusbleasdale.com/new-gallery/ [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017].

Notes on ‘Mirror of Visual Culture’ by Maartje Van Den Heuvel

I have just finished reading a very intriguing, introspective (of the art world) essay by Maartje Van Den Heuvel entitled ‘Mirror of Visual Culture‘ and I have written down my notes as I went along.

Van Den Heuvel suggests documentary can still exist in the museum today, though only because documentary today is progressing from the documentary tradition, with photographers and filmmakers finding new ways to approach the genre. She explains this is necessary because the media is becoming ever-more prominent in society and as this increases so does visual literacy. Visual literacy is a way of saying viewers and indeed photographers understand and (produce work for) the world/images around them. This is the case so much so that the photographers have begun creating images based upon the way images are viewed in the context of the media – ‘art is beginning to function more and more as a mirror of visual culture’ – (Van Den  Heuvel, 2005). The implications of that made me think of a kind of meta-image where the image references itself. This was hard for me to imagine producing myself but something which also interested me greatly. Maybe the photographers would do this subtly in the form of visual metaphors. It is also important to remember that the media becoming more prominent in art not only applies to photographers but also filmmakers, advertisers, graphic designers or other image makers.

In ‘Documentary: the Militant Eye Witness’ (the first part of the essay), Van Den Heuvel makes the assertion we are talking about documentary tradition originating with Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine (around 1900) and continuing with photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans with the FSA project (1935-1944). While this documentary tradition was often seen as being realistic and objective, during later years (1970s onwards), these suppositions were usurped by the belief that mostly all documentary was subjective in some way. This coincided with the advent of TVs becoming widely available. Ironically as soon as people became more visually literate they also changed what they used as their ‘window on the world’ to the TV. This was for me yet another paradox of the photograph, other paradoxes including a photograph’s reproducibility and semi-permanence set against how fleeting it is in the first place. Also how photographs connote and denote at the same time and the fact we (now) see photographs everywhere and yet they are essentially transparent objects. I felt at least some of these paradoxes could be related back to how to represent the ‘meta-image’ where the image references itself visually.

 

Van Den Heuvel in ‘Documentary Remix’ implies a lot of the photographers use classic documentary as a base and expand their ideas from there. This is similar I think to what my course is doing, making me look at classic documentary as a starting point and allowing me to form my own personal voice. She also uses a lot of examples of photographers thinking about and producing work approaching documentary in new ways. I aim to look at at a few of the artists she mentions as a lot of their projects sounded compelling.

 

References:

Van Den Heuvel (2005). Mirror of Visual Culture. Documentary Now! [online] Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/heuvel_discussingdocumentary.pdf [Accessed 3/3/2017].

Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document

I was asked to find out how did B+W become such a respected and trusted medium in documentary in Campany’s 2006 essay: ‘Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document’.

I didn’t find too much relating directly to how the black and white image became such a respected and trusted medium in documentary in Campany’s essay. The most I actually found was a description comparing two photographs: ‘with their cluttered foregrounds, flattened vertical backgrounds and bold interplay of black and white shapes.’ – (Campany, 2006). This last bit indicated for me that form was more important in black and white photographs than colour. Maybe Brandt realised this was a strength of his work as especially in his later years (1960s onwards), Brandt’s style of processing grew harsher. He ‘sacrificed the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white’ – (Campany, 2006). The high contrast between black and white thus creating distinct form became even more important and helped him to create a status as a documentary artist – ‘his latest photography was pursued more openly as art’ – (Campany, 2006). It seemed to me that Brandt wanted to emphasise the form in his photographs to suggest juxtapositions and interplay within the frame through the black and white medium.

‘However, Dinner is Served is unusual in that something of those tensions is at play within its frame.’ – (Campany, 2006). Rather than a photoessay where meaning is put forward from one photograph to another – tensions being palpable between photographs, here is suggested the concept of a single-image narrative. By juxtaposing various elements within the frame, Brandt creates tensions in one photograph which Campany feels is unusual. I found this of interest because for my second assignment for documentary I have been asked to produce 8 single-image narratives of the same theme. By looking at the image ‘Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner’ which juxtaposes the foreground elements with the similar yet contrasting faces of the two parlour maids, I could potentially gain some insight into how to create single-image narratives.

For instance there is the main theme of social class disparity with both the parlourmaids uneasy about their status in relation to the foreground ‘upper-class’ elements. Then there is a sub-theme where there is another social class divide amongst the more senior parlourmaid and the under-parlourmaid. Here, the more senior parlourmaid looks more indignant while the under-parlourmaid appears a bit tense and afraid.

 

parlourmaid-and-under-parlourmaid-ready-to-serve-dinner-1936-by-bill-brandt-1904-1983-c28133a
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner (1936) – Bill Brandt

I was also pulled into the world of the Surrealists. Their photographic document was a ‘charged, enigmatic fragment that left as much known as it revealed, coaxing the viewer back onto their own judgement or imagination.’ – (Campany, 2006). This offered a solution to the problem I was experiencing where my work was aiming to be a literal visual document, mainly denoting but not connoting much. Brandt himself was wary of this approach: ‘he remained unconvinced of the efficacy of the photograph as a means of straightforward social description’ – (Campany, 2006). By perhaps using visual metaphors and unresolved connotations I could get across the meaning I was aiming to convey to the viewer in the context of a theme.

References:

Brandt, B. (1936). Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner. [Photograph].

Campany, D. (2006). Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document. [online] David Campany. Available at: http://davidcampany.com/bill-brandts-art-of-the-document/ [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].