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.

Towards a Philosophy of Photography

I have been reading a book titled ‘Towards a Philosophy of Photography’ by Vilém Flusser (1983) which I found highly enjoyable and more importantly for my course quite timely in influencing my thought process for taking photographs.

I liked Flusser’s use of terminology that the photograph’s surface is a place for ‘magic’. He used this term frequently and after reading why he used such an archaic term to describe a photograph’s surface, I have to agree with him. His reasoning was that the magic of a photograph is non-linear and can recur again and again. This is in contradiction to the linear nature of the texts produced before technical images were invented.

‘images come between the world and human beings. … Instead of representing the world, they obscure it until human beings’ lives finally become a function of the images they create.’ – (Flusser, 1983). This to me seemed a lot like Jean Baudrillard’s (1981) descriptions of hyperreality in Simulacra and Simulation, although I found this description by Flusser more eloquent and easier to understand. As I understood, instead of images functioning for us, we’ve come to function for the image-world. One contributing factor for this line of thought would be the prevalence of images nowadays and the escalating volume they are produced at.

The idea that the camera can control the photographer was a thought-provoking one for me. This would occur if the photographer makes largely ‘redundant’ photographs and succumbs to the ambition of ‘only’ producing images as new variations of a theme. I had already been thinking about this during the course and kind of agreed it was present in my own photography but didn’t know how to mitigate this trend. Therefore I was intrigued to see whether Vilém Flusser could answer this burgeoning question in my head.

Thinking of photographs in terms of numbers rather than text was an interesting concept for me. I thought of it as meaning I would come up with new and exciting combinations of numbers making up each photograph’s identification. However, would I simultaneously just be helping to exhaust the well of information that the photographic universe possesses, without giving much thought to the order I gather up this information?

One explanation Flusser argued for was that instead of the photographic universe constantly being in a state of flux (as in new photographs constantly being produced), he proposes ‘a standstill situation: to find the same newspapers on our breakfast tables every day or to see the same posters on city walls for months on end.’ – (Flusser, 1983). This interested me because images seem to change so fast now. It would be refreshing to see an Instagram feed or magazine with images that stay similar or the same in a standstill situation while people continue their lives. It would be my inclination that people would take more notice of the news for instance if there was a standstill situation in the image world.

At the end of the book (in the afterword) there resides a quote by Flusser regarding what he thinks ‘freedom’ means – a key attribute to developing a philosophy of photography in his conclusion to his book. He defines being free as: ‘Not cutting off one’s ties with others but making networks out of these connections in co-operation with them. – (Flusser, 1983). I felt this was a touching quote to be left with and one that was also thought-provoking. It made me think about how photographer’s can break the chain of ‘just’ discovering new combinations for a variation on a theme by being free. Also looking forward to Assignment 3, which was to be based on my local community, this quote gave me hope of finding some freedom in my photography within connections I’d already made.

References:

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. 2nd ed. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Flusser, V. (2014). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 3rd ed. London: Reaktion Books.

Simulacra and Simulation Notes

I have been making notes on Jean Baudrillard’s (1981) essay Simulacra and Simulation. Although the sentences were sometimes very long and the language used challenging for me to say the least, I discovered there was much food for thought present amidst this.

As the language used was challenging, I found thinking about certain topics/concepts Baudrillard brought up in more colloquial terms worked for me in ‘deciphering’ the text. For example ‘dissimulate’ simply translates to conceal and reality he often speaks of I found more useful to think of as three-dimensions with a fourth-dimension looming around. The world he compares reality to is this fourth, somewhat invisible dimension which seemingly has no limits. While the real stays stuck in three dimensions, the fourth dimension multiplies seemingly infinitely as ever more data/information is added to it.

‘Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.’ – (Baudrillard, 1981). I deciphered from Baudrillard (in the above quote and later on in Simulacra and Simulation) that today we see around us a hyperreal; a simulation based on abstractions of reality but of a reality that has since passed. Baudrillard to my understanding goes on to say how the hyperreal precedes the abstractions of reality (images etc) even though the hyperreal formed afterwards. This is because since reality has passed, the hyperreal now controls what the abstractions of reality are. Another way I perceived of saying this was for example the image-world is now governed by an autonomous structure – the hyperreal. The hyperreal while affected by remnants of reality, has since usurped the remnants as it is now so prevalent. So the hyperreal formed from these simulacra selects information from them based on capital and forms a new order of images.

Baudrillard balances the two sides to the image which I hadn’t considered in depth before: ‘the murderous capacity of images, murderers of the real, murderers of their own model as the Byzantine icons could murder the divine identity. To this murderous capacity is opposed the dialectical capacity of representations as a visible and intelligible mediation of the Real.’ – (Baudrillard, 1981). Although Baudrillard used extreme and complicated language here, I felt I understood what he was communicating. That is while the image could be seen to be ‘bad’ or ‘murderous’ as Baudrillard puts it, by defacing reality and indeed their own image, they could at the same time be seen as providing a meaningful, visible discourse of reality. However, such is the desire to represent reality in the form of images, that the image-world takes over and reality ceases to exist. Masking this ‘absence of a basic reality’ – (Baudrillard, 1981) would be images themselves, now forming their own world but not one which bears relation to reality. I had myself recently begun to wonder as I sometimes created photographs which had similarly been photographed a lot of other times, whether I was helping accomplish anything meaningful or perhaps instead just contributing to the deluge of oversaturated media? I felt secretly the latter was probably true and I hoped for a way of thinking about my photography which would enable me to achieve the former. Reading through this part of Baudrillard’s text I felt there was a chance of finding other, useful bits later on which could further clear up in my head how to make meaningful images if possible.

I enjoyed reading the examples Baudrillard gave to explain the points he was making, although I didn’t fully comprehend all of his points. One example which I felt I understood better was about the caves of the Lascaux: ‘It is in this way, under the pretext of saving the original, that the caves of Lascaux have been forbidden to visitors and an exact replica constructed 500 metres away, so that everyone can see them (you glance through a peephole at the real grotto and then visit the reconstituted whole).’ – (Baudrillard, 1981). This example reminded me very much of Datong in China where replicas of famous bridges and parts of cities are built. I only knew about Datong because I stumbled across an article about it on the Guardian. The article: ‘Back to the future: the fake relics of the ‘old’ Chinese city of Datong’ – (Ren, 2014) made me think about these replicas and the implications for building them but I didn’t make the connection until I reread Baudrillard’s text and what he goes on to say. Baudrillard (1981) goes on to say: ‘It is possible that the very memory of the original caves will fade in the mind of future generations, but from now on there is no longer any difference: the duplication is sufficient to render both artificial.’ If this same line of thinking about the caves of Lascaux was applied to Datong (even though Datong’s replicas were built on the same ground), it would mean the new and old cities would become ‘artificial’, while the memory of the original fades. This same analogy could somewhat be applicable to the real world compared to photographs/images, where there are so many replicas of the real world made in the image world that both the real world and image world become artificial.

‘Parody makes obedience and transgression equivalent, and that is the most serious crime, since it cancels out the difference upon which the law is based.’ – (Baudrillard, 1981). Parody interested me as one kind of simulation because I would say it is a kind of sarcastic humour which is dangerous in a way. For example it is difficult to tell whether someone is telling a joke when they say it sarcastically because it is founded upon real life. By making a parody of real life the person telling the joke is leaving it up to the observer to make up their mind which way to take the ‘joke’. I could imagine this to be quite powerful in the form of visual parody, especially in a photograph form. Perhaps introducing this type of humour would be a way to create provocation in my images, if I so desired.

 

References:

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. 2nd ed. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Ren, Y. (2014). Back to the future: the fake relics of the ‘old’ Chinese city of Datong. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/oct/15/datong-china-old-city-back-to-the-future-fake-relics [Accessed 15 Jun. 2017].

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017

Today (the last day the exhibition was on!) I decided to make a trip to the Tate Modern to see the Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 exhibition.

Looking at a Photograph of a Dismantled Printer
Looking at a Photograph of a Dismantled Printer

I found the exhibition which I considered as a journey through his mind a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I didn’t really want it to end! There were many features of the exhibition which made it interesting for me but one which stood out was the presentation. As mentioned I considered it a journey through Wolfgang Tillmans’ mind and I felt the haphazard yet semi-organised layout could perhaps reflect the nature of his mind. This was further illustrated by the sticking or clipping of certain photographs to the wall while others were more conventionally framed. I gleaned from this that the framed ones might constitute more something of more importance to TIllmans or at least that they were more structured in his head. The same could also be said of the size of the prints, some of which were huge and filled most of the not insubstantial walls. Another aspect of the exhibition’s layout was the use of vitrines which I saw as adding even more depth to the exhibition. In some ways I liked the fact Tillmans had left the viewer to decide for themselves what the exhibition’s photographs were about because there was practically no information in the rooms. However, an exhibition handout explaining the photographs was on request.

Two People Looking at Two of Wolfgang Tillmans's Prints
Two People Looking at Two of Wolfgang Tillmans’s Prints

The often intimate documentation process was like a visual diary with a very honest and even democratic insight into Tillmans own life. I felt like I could learn from this for personal projects where he was seemingly indiscriminate of what he included in the camera’s view.

A Person Looking at a Portrait by Wolfgang Tillmans
A Person Looking at a Portrait by Wolfgang Tillmans
Two People Looking at a Portrait by Wolfgang Tillmans
Two People Looking at a Portrait by Wolfgang Tillmans

The majority of his work was in colour which was interesting to me. I felt the use of colour kept the photos more contemporary and immediate (and for the ones with political messages more topical). Although I felt he didn’t explicitly take advantage of colour like with colour relationships, the use of colour allowed him to be more personal and of course add vibrancy to the majority of photos. Having said that, one photograph caught my eye where he found the same colour palette of pink/purple and so used colour to his advantage there.

An Example of Where I Felt Tillmans Used Colour Well
An Example of Where I Felt Tillmans Used Colour Well
Someone from the Tate Looking at a Photograph of Static
Someone from the Tate Looking at a Photograph of Static

One area of the exhibition I felt was a bit self-indulgent initially (the accolades he had accumulated in a room of vitrines), came to grow on me if you were to take on board my assertions that Tillmans was taking you on a journey through his mind. In many people’s heads I imagine there would be a space for work you are proud of and would like to flaunt and Tillmans did so in this room. Likewise there was a room of portraits which I assumed had some significance to Tillmans which he had decided to share on a large scale. Nearby in the previous room there was a set of prints – portraits of people which for some reason had been printed much smaller but in a grid. I assumed this was people he had met more briefly and so were of less importance to him in his mind.

People Looking at the Exhibition Vitrines
People Looking at the Exhibition Vitrines

The thing I came away was a sense of Tillmans as a sensitive person who was highly aware of his surroundings and who wasn’t afraid to document his life for all to see and share it in some (very) big prints. One subject Tillmans addressed in his work was that of our perception of the modern world and when I was reading a review of Tillmans’ exhibition at the Tate Modern, I read a section that encapsulated what this might mean for him. The article was by the Guardian and the bit that caught my eye read: ‘In its shifting, mutating, circling inconstancy – and in its dynamic liveliness – this art reflects the condition of life itself. Until it ends, Tillmans’s enterprise must always be a work in progress, more seen and more shown by the day.’ – (Cumming, 2017). I felt this description mirrored what I saw in the exhibition and the modern climate for image sharing being prevalent throughout society.

A Person at the Exhibition Looking at a Photograph of a Photograph Being Transformed into a Physical Object
A Person at the Exhibition Looking at a Photograph of a Photograph Being Transformed into a Physical Object
I Felt the Illusion Was More Powerful in This Second, Similar Photograph
I Felt the Illusion Was More Powerful in This Second, Similar Photograph
Someone 'Reaching Out' for One of Wolfgang Tillmans's Prints!
Someone ‘Reaching Out’ for One of Wolfgang Tillmans’s Prints!
A Person Looking at a Massive Print by Wolfgang Tillmans
A Person Looking at a Massive Print by Wolfgang Tillmans

References:

Cumming, L. (2017). Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017; Eduardo Paolozzi review – from the chaos of time. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/19/wolfgang-tillmans-2017-review-tate-modern-eduardo-paolozzi-whitechapel-gallery [Accessed 13 Jun. 2017].

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 [Exhibition] 15th Feb – 11 Jun 2017. Tate Modern, London.

Colour in Documentary

I had heard and indeed experienced for myself that colour was a harder medium to work in than black and white. Black and white allows the user to concentrate on form and light. With an added bonus of heavier post-processing potentially being applied, the black and white photographer can enable the viewer to be further removed from reality while at the same time maintain a degree of truthfulness because of the black and white medium’s fact-based traditions. Colour on the other hand is much more immediate and colour relationships have to be considered as well as other elements of a photograph. On top of this the viewer has a harder time decoding the photograph as they work out the photographer’s intentions in the colour medium. Therefore I found it useful to read a description about William Eggleston as an example of transcribing his own visceral world into a social document.

William Eggleston, Untitled (Memphis), 1970.
William Eggleston, Untitled (Memphis), 1970.

First I read the press release for Eggleston’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976 where he was the only photographer featured who used colour. What Szarkowski wrote in the press release concerning Eggleston’s use of colour seemed to correlate with a text I had been reading called ‘Towards a Philosophy of Photography’ by Vilém Flusser (2014). I had been recommended this text by my tutor to observe the discrepancies between black and white and then colour mediums. One thing I’d picked up on in both texts was how colour was intrinsically linked to the object. As Szarkowski puts it: ‘These photographers work not as if color were a separate problem to be resolved in isolation, “but rather as though the world it-self existed in color, as though the blue and the sky were one thing,”’ – (Szarkowski, 1976). As Vilém Flusser puts it: ‘The green of a photographed field, for example, is an image of the concept ‘green’, just as it occurs in chemical theory, and the camera (or rather the film inserted into it) is programmed to translate this concept into the image’ – (Flusser, 2014). What I gathered from these comments was that there is a code in colour photographs which make them translate as literal variations of the world once decoded by the viewer. Here the colour photograph seems at first glance to reflect the real world but in fact the viewer has to decode what they are seeing on the surface of the photograph in order to ‘get’ the colour concept. I had always thought of colour as a separate design element to be incorporated into the (colour) photograph but hadn’t seen it as something which couldn’t be dissociated from the object.

Szarkowski’s writing on Eggleston’s use of colour in the press release for MoMA’s 1976 exhibition also reminded me of an essay I’d previously come across by Thomas Weski (2009) entitled: ‘WILLIAM EGGLESTON: “The Tender-Cruel Camera”’ found on the website American Suburb X. Weski (2009) divulges Eggleston deliberately chose to employ a snapshot aesthetic to his colour images. He also: ’emphasizes hues that soak the scene or resonate in a critical way, virtually creating effects of sound, silence, smell, temperature, pressure–sensations that black-and-white photography has yet to evoke.’ – (Weski, 2009). He accomplishes this by using the controversial dye-transfer technique to subtly add perceptions of atmosphere through the colour treatment. In combination with a centre-weighted composition where seemingly incidental details are included going towards the edge of the frame as well as the obvious in the centre, Eggleston’s photographs become a lot more meaningful than the snapshot aesthetic he models them on. I wasn’t sure how I’d implement this into my own photography but it did get me thinking that with colour photography at least it’s not so much how well the photograph is taken but how well it is conceptualised that creates an impact for the viewer. Also how it is processed and/or shared by the photographer for the viewer might also be of importance, for example Eggleston with his dye-transfer technique.

References:

Weski, T. (2009). WILLIAM EGGLESTON: “The Tender-Cruel Camera” – ASX | AMERICAN SUBURB X | Photography & Culture. [online] AMERICAN SUBURB X. Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/01/theory-william-eggleston-tender-cruel.html [Accessed 27 May 2017].

Flusser, V. (2014). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 3rd ed. London: Reaktion Books, p.43.

Szarkowski, J. (1976). Color Photographs by William Eggleston at the Museum of Modern Art. [Exhibition].