Study Hangout 19/11/2017

Today I attended a study hangout with Anne, Bryn and Michael. We talked about very in depth subjects surrounding the ethics of photography including authentication of photographs as documents, subjectivity in photography related to the myth of objectivity, the death of the author and manipulation of the message. We related these in depth subjects with photography artists; the most prominent of these artists being Sebastião Salgado, closely followed by Don McCullin and then Martin Parr. Michael introduced us to the work of Simon Norfolk briefly who I aim to look at more closely as his work at first glance looked very interesting. I was not sure why our conversation was so theoretical but it may have been something to do with 75% of us having commenced work on the critical review or having just submitted it!

Balloon Vendor in Kabul - 2001 - From the Series: "Forensic Traces of War" © Simon Norfolk
Balloon Vendor in Kabul – 2001 – From the Series: “Forensic Traces of War” © Simon Norfolk

My opinions on the listed subjects were that it is very difficult to authenticate documents like photographs 100% as the viewer can usually interpret the evidence of photography being an indexical medium differently. This is even if supporting documents like text or (to a lesser degree) geotagging are included. I felt objectivity is a myth yet it is still possible to shoot in an objective style. Ultimately all photography is subjective (as even objective photography has its own aesthetic) but I would suggest some photography is more subjective than others. Relating to the death of the author, my stance was that this is true nowadays much more with the proliferation of images and ways of sharing them. Now it is not about who took the photograph but what the photograph depicts. The message of any photograph can be manipulated by means of supporting documents and other context like the photographer’s oeuvre.

We talked about the contrast in transparency of message between Salgado and McCullin where McCullin was very decisive in why he took photographs of war while Salgado’s reasoning seems more layered and less clear. We touched upon how my own critical review was going and I divulged that maybe the topic I’d chosen was proving to be too broad and therefore lacking direction. Finding relevant quotes and supporting work or photographs to back up my particular argument seemed like a way of tackling this.

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How to Photograph an Abstract Concept

As I have been studying documentary I have become increasingly aware of the need for a clear brief. This enables more incisive photography in my experience. The reverse I’ve found can also be true – in my recent Assignment 3 – Gentrification in Deptford I was struggling for a clear brief and started using post-conceptualisation as a strategy so that I could just start taking pictures and see what developed from there. However, for my upcoming Assignment 5 – A Personal Project, one of the requirements for the assignment is ‘a methodical approach’. Therefore I could either use post-conceptualisation as a method or do the opposite and produce a clear brief but not somewhere in between.

One area I’ve realised could be improved in my work would be the inclusion of an abstract concept rather than literal concepts in producing a clear brief. With the exception of Assignment 2 – Ephemerality of the Image where I developed the idea of an abstract concept, I have not explored abstract concepts. One essay that really inspired me with regards to abstract concepts particularly for Assignment 2 was Maartje van den Heuvel’s Mirror of Visual Culture. Here I eventually discovered a way of photographing an abstract concept – ephemerality of the image but the process of developing the ideas was quite drawn out.

I decided on a whim to make a search on the internet: “How to photograph an abstract concept” without much hope for inspiring results but was pleasantly surprised a few search results down to find something other than a list of ’20 ways to instantly improve my abstract photography’, which was what the rest of the results seemed to consist of! The search result in question linked to an essay by John Suler called Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche relating to conceptual photography. I found Suler’s essay to be accessible and practical and here were some of the observations I came away with after reading the essay:

I had been thinking about photography in the ‘wrong’ order in my mind at least; writing loose briefs and hoping for something creative to come out of my observations on research conducted. Instead I learned it was preferable to think of a concept in conceptual photography first and think about how this might best be represented as a photograph or set of photographs afterwards. In particular, ‘Photographs also offer a seemingly more real, tangible depiction of concepts that otherwise seem abstract or elusive.’ – (Suler, 2013). Many of my previous projects had been literal concepts so learning that one of photography’s strengths lay in depicting abstract concepts was interesting for me.

One part of Suler’s essay that I had an opinion on was: ‘[conceptual artists] are free to use an idea as the guide in creating a work, rather than being restrained by aesthetic standards about how things are supposed to done. – (Suler, 2013). Although I agreed with this statement on the most part (as opposed to creating just aesthetically-pleasing photographs like in non-conceptual photography), I felt there was an additional side to conceptual photography often being minimalistic and perfunctory in style. As the idea behind the photograph or set of photographs becomes more complex (the conceptual art I’ve come across often is quite complicated in concept), the execution of the photograph almost needs to be simple. This is in order to get across the message as lucidly as possible for a complicated idea. Suler (2013) touches upon this when he remarks ‘The process might be very challenging and creative, especially when dealing with complex or elusive concepts.’ when talking about creating artistic photographs for conceptual art. My response would be the perfunctory approach for the resultant photographs is kind of like a style for complicated concepts, not only to get across the message of the art but also also a deliberate attempt by the artist to signify the art is more important than the photograph.

A photograph’s concept can be translated into an image either specifically or ambiguously. When it is translated ambiguously, viewers tend to project their own meaning or understanding of the concept onto the photo which is what some photographers want according to Suler (2013): ‘The photo presents the container of a general concept or idea, but then people fill that container with their own personal meanings.’ When creating abstract concepts in photographs I would prefer for the viewer to infer meaning but for it to be not too ambiguous so somewhere in the middle. Suler (2013) is of the opinion that for the more specific of these approaches a clear understanding of the concept is desirable before visual communication commences.

As I was more interested in creating images for abstract concepts, it was useful to note from Suler’s essay that he recommended the use of a dictionary, thesaurus and online image search engine to aid the sender of the concept (the photographer) in acquiring a better understanding of the ins and outs of their abstract concept. He also states that ‘Symbols, metaphors, and similes are very useful when designing conceptual photographs.’ – (Suler, 2013) whereby the receiver of the concept (the viewer) could associate signs a photograph may possess in order to gain the sender’s meaning. Therefore if I wanted to create a photograph symbolising entropy of meaning in social media imagery, I could look up the definitions and synonyms for entropy and social media. Then I could see how other people represent entropy or social media in their photographs/images and also think about symbols, metaphors and similes that would be appropriate once I had a more lucid idea of what the concepts entailed.

Lastly, Suler touched upon post-conceptualisation (which I used for Assignment 3 – Gentrification in Deptford) although he used the term ‘reverse engineering’ of the conceptual photograph. Here he basically describes the process I went through with Assignment 3 where I took photographs first and then ‘apply an idea to it’ – (Suler, 2013). While both approaches can be effective I felt the more appropriate strategy of conceptualisation of an idea beforehand would perhaps be better for Assignment 5 where ‘a methodical approach’ was desirable.

References:

Suler, J. (2013). Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche. [online] Truecenterpublishing.com. Available at: http://truecenterpublishing.com/photopsy/conceptual.htm [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].

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 23 Oct. 2017].

Study Hangout 22/10/2017

Today I attended a study hangout with Miriam and Leonie.

The Hell of Sierra Pelada mines, 1980s - © Sebastiaou Salgado
The Hell of Sierra Pelada mines, 1980s – © Sebastiaou Salgado

It was good to hear their progress and we were at similar stages in the course although Leonie had almost finished Assignment 5. Miriam and I were starting the critical review for Assignment 4. I discussed my ideas for Assignment 4 with the group – the idea of beauty in documentary and whether a really aesthetically-pleasing photograph takes away from the meaning a photograph may be trying to convey. The responses from Leonie and Miriam were very interesting for me, with Leonie comparing the work of Tim Hetherington and Don McCullin’s American soldiers photographs saying that one was rendered completely differently from the other in regards to beauty. Looking at the two photographs side by side I could definitely relate to this observation.

Korengal Valley, Afghanistan - © Tim Hetherington - 2007
Korengal Valley, Afghanistan – © Tim Hetherington – 2007
'The Thousand Yard Stare' - © Don McCullin - 1968
‘The Thousand Yard Stare’ – © Don McCullin – 1968

I used the work of Sebastiaou Salgado as an example of aesthetic beauty with the potential for displacing meaning because his photographs have been typically so beautiful. Miriam countered this point by saying one of Sebastiaou Salgado’s photographs – that of a gold mine (The hell of Serra Pelada mines, 1980s, was the photograph I think she was referring to) means she no longer buys gold but only fair-trade; the photo by Sebastiaou Salgado had made such an impression on her. This could make the case that beauty captures the viewer’s attention with the possibility for meaning to be discovered afterwards in the same image, which should be something to consider when writing my critical review.

Lastly we discussed juggling things like work with the course and how it affects the flow of our studying. Also what our plans were after competing the documentary module and how often it would be helpful to liaise with our tutors in order to improve assignments.

Overall I found the study hangout to be very helpful as always but in particular it did give me some more points of consideration for my critical review.

Researching Gentrification in Deptford

Different boroughs in London begin the gentrification process at different times with Deptford beginning the process later on than most. Therefore perhaps less information concerning gentrification would be available than other areas. I decided I would research gentrification in the Deptford area specifically in order to get a better idea of how and why it was occurring. A search of ‘Gentrification in Deptford’ on the internet yielded some varied and informative results.

First I looked at a history of old Deptford. The name Deptford was derived from a ‘deep ford’ which ‘crossed what is now Deptford Creek, at the mouth of the river Ravensbourne.’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This is also ‘where Deptford Bridge DLR station is now located.’ – (Calafate-Faria, n.d.). It was first mentioned as ‘Depeford’ in 1293. The main influx of wealth came when Henry VIII ‘founded a naval dockyard … in 1513 and within a century Deptford had become one of the leading ports and a major industrial suburb.’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This prosperous dockyard lasted for many years but in 1869 it closed ‘due to the silting of the Thames. Its use was restricted to shipbuilding and distributing stores to other yards and fleets abroad.’ – (Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London, n.d.).

Despite the docks being replaced by a cattle market which subsequently closed in 1913, ‘Deptford suffered a long and damaging period of deterioration’ – (Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). This occurred because of Second World War bombing and postwar industrial decline. ‘Many of the large firms in Deptford closed down in the late 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in a high level of unemployment in the area. The history of the 21st century will be about economic recovery and urban regeneration.’ – (Deptford.towntalk.co.uk, n.d.). This last quote proves that Deptford was still a relatively poor area until the turn of the century (20th-21st).

Admittedly I was more interested in the history of Deptford from the 1980s to the start of the 21st century because it shaped gentrification in conjunction with the old Deptford. However, there was limited history from then on, perhaps because the changes had been not well documented? So I collected tidbits from the various sources I could find. One useful source stated that: ‘As a result of economical decline and redundancy, the Creek and Thames waterfront saw much of their industrial heritage demolished to make way for new development, notably the clearance of the Royal Dockyards (to make way for Convoys Wharf – in use until 2002)’ – (Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal, 2012). This suggested that Deptford was undergoing a period of transition from the 1970s to the turn of the 21st century and beyond.

During this period, ‘When Lewisham Council changed its housing policy for the estate in the late 1970s – giving priority to young single professionals – it gave impetus to the development of a radical arts and music scene that gained Deptford an almost legendary status in the 1970s and 80s.’ – (Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal, 2012). This showed Deptford’s art and culture based heritage which was important to Deptford’s identity. This could be the first signs of gentrification but a much larger sign happened later with the regeneration of Deptford’s high street since 2008 – along with a £2.1 million refurbishment to the high street: ‘The town centre’s image has been further enhanced by its contemporary new station building with its steel framework and glass facades.’ – (lewisham.gov.uk, n.d.).

Then later on in 2014, ‘The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson yesterday (Monday, March 31) approved plans to build up to 3,500 new homes and create over 2,000 new jobs on a site in Deptford that has been derelict for 14 years.’ – (london.gov.uk, 2014). The decision to develop Convoys Wharf (the development in question), ‘was taken against the will of the local council of Lewisham.’ – (Calafate-Faria, n.d.). This perhaps suggested the flats would be out of budget for many local residents and gentrification would occur.

 

A few of the results showed photographers’ projects. In particular one project which stood out to me was Gill Golding’s ongoing project: Deptford: A Town in Transition. She too used colour landscapes to document a changing Deptford and the gentrification taking place. I liked looking at her photographs because they were clear, colourful and juxtaposed the new with the old Deptford well. I felt they offered a good insight into the changes and conflicts arising in Deptford as regeneration progresses and gentrification becomes more prevalent.

References:

Calafate-Faria, F. (n.d.). Urban ‘regeneration’ in Deptford. [online] Goldsmiths, University of London. Available at: http://www.gold.ac.uk/news/comment-urban-regeneration-in-deptford/ [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Deptford Creekside Conservation Area Appraisal. (2012). [ebook] London: lewisham.gov.uk. Available at: https://www.lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/planning/conservation/conservation-areas/Documents/Deptford%20Creekside%20Conservation%20Area%20Appraisal.pdf [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Deptford.towntalk.co.uk. (n.d.). About Deptford Town Centre & Historical Information – Deptford TownTalk. [online] Available at: http://www.deptford.towntalk.co.uk/local/history [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Golding, G. (n.d.). Deptford: A Town in Transition. [online] Gill Golding / Photographer. Available at: http://www.gillgoldingphotography.com/deptford [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Hidden-london.com. (n.d.). Deptford – Hidden London. [online] Available at: http://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/deptford/ [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

lewisham.gov.uk. (n.d.). Deptford town centre regeneration. [online] Available at: http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/inmyarea/regeneration/deptford/deptford-centre/Pages/default.aspx [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

london.gov.uk. (2014). Mayor approves plans for major new development at Convoys Wharf. [online] Available at: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/development-at-convoys-wharf [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London. (n.d.). Royal Naval Dockyards. [online] Available at: http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/royal-naval-dockyards [Accessed 26 Aug. 2017].

Droste Self-Portraits

One day a while back I happened to buy a black and white photography magazine on a whim. The magazine was the July 2016 volume of Black + White Photography and in it there was an article called: A Modern Eye on some of the work of Dora Maurer. The work on show immediately caught my eye and I have come back to it a few times because it really captured my imagination. Seven Twists I-VI (1979) grasped my attention for the reason that initially it was quite striking to look at because of the optical illusion.

Seven Twists I-VI (1979) - Dora Maurer
Seven Twists I-VI (1979) – Dora Maurer

Afterwards I began to appreciate the organic qualities the photographs possessed. By this I meant there were subtle imperfections to the photographs-in-photographs which rendered the illusion as authentic and natural. As well as this these subtle imperfections also had a romantic appeal to them in my opinion – if everything had been lined up absolutely accurately the photographs would have appeared flat and utilitarian.

The illusion itself was a variation on the Droste effect but one that twisted as the photos were taken, printed and then photographed again inside a new self-portrait. I particularly liked the ‘blank canvas’ or photograph as the starting base for the work. I could imagine it would be possible to start using a self-portrait as the initial photograph instead but this approach for me suggested that the work was quite spontaneous and perhaps the illusion wouldn’t have been as strong without the blank photograph.

I decided I would try to incorporate this touch (the blank canvas starting point) which eliminating other touches (like the twisting effect) in my own Droste self-portrait. Because I appreciated the subtle imperfections of Maurer’s work, I wanted to make this a feature of my work. I did this by the inclusion of the remote cord from my hand to the camera as well as alternating the hand holding the canvas in each picture. This kind of attention to detail I was learning could make or break a photograph. Unlike Maurer, I tried to pay close attention to how the photographs-in-photographs ‘lined up’ – both inside each other and with the photographic frame. Like Maurer, I chose the black and white medium to make the illusion stronger and to remove a sense of time to disorient the viewer (as the sense of time was now only from each iteration of the photograph). Lastly I elected to create the Droste effect for the photo-in-photo 3 times as then the illusion was quite apparent but didn’t overwhelm the self-portrait.

Droste Self-portrait (Cropped)
Droste Self-portrait (Cropped)

Although I wouldn’t strictly put this photograph or set of photographs in the genre of documentary it still included documentary elements, which is why I’ve included it as a post for my documentary course. Documentary elements could include the changing of my appearance from photograph to photograph-in-photograph. It could also raise documentary questions from photograph to photograph-in-photograph like permanence (or impermanence) of the photographic medium and what is true and untrue about this photograph or set of photographs? For example some parts are seemingly consistent from photograph to photograph-in-photograph but at the same time the photographs appear within each other. Also details like the hands alternating from side to side as the photographs become photographs in photographs. Therefore perhaps it proves that photographs are indexical to reality but at the same time can’t always be relied on as documents.

Droste Self-portrait (Uncropped)
Droste Self-portrait (Uncropped)

Incidentally I felt my self-portrait worked slightly better cropped in but I have included both the cropped and uncropped versions. The reason I felt it worked slightly better cropped in was that the viewer was able to concentrate on the illusion more and could be less distracted by other parts of the image. Also the alternating hands were more obvious in this version.

References:

Maurer, D. (1979) Seven Twists I-VI. In. A Modern Eye. (2016). Black + White Photography, (191), pp.40-43.

Study Hangout (30/7/2017)

Today I attended a study hangout with some of my fellow students to discuss our respective progression on the course and ideas about documentary. It has been around the 6th time I’ve attended a study hangout and I have found each one useful and rewarding. The first few I got to know my fellow students on the course and learn how to use the features of the Google Hangouts environment. Once we got through the technicalities of the hangouts the discussions quickly became a lot more in depth with questions like ethics of documentary genre and authenticity of the documentary genre being raised.

Topics discussed in this hangout were typically quite in depth and included Bryn discussing how the presentation of images in spaces other than the conventional (and for documentary at least ethically questionable) ‘white cube’ might be implemented. Bryn suggested a kind of real-time presentation where the work was interactively changed. I envisaged the body of images being on a smartphone for example where there was an update of the image by the author to the work which in turn changed on the smartphones of those people viewing the body of work.

Also concerning authorship of images, Michael another of the regular attendees at the hangouts, was planning on exploring issues of authorship of images when the photographer may not have much, if any intention of using their work in the context it was eventually displayed in.

Finally we discussed the use of advertising in modern society and how prevalent it is and how potentially invasive it can be. Pulling it back into the documentary practice we speculated how billboards for example could include typical subconscious directives and how the notion of this concept could be flipped on its head so that something totally unexpected was shown on the billboard instead.

 

For myself we conversed about how my Assignment 3 was going. Since the hangout and because of some interactions with my tutor as well I would say I’m a bit clearer on where it is heading. My plan initially was to show the story of gentrification in my local area. The theme would be examples of gentrification in Deptford, the complications would be that there is still poverty evident as well as high-rise buildings being built rapidly which don’t necessarily conform to the middle-class image. The resolution or non-resolution could be a sense of the new being mixed with the old.

I still have intentions of doing this but not necessarily in the way I had envisaged before these interactions with fellow students and tutor. For example instead of attempting to formulate a clear set plan of photographs of gentrification in Deptford, I would start photographing the area anyway and see if any potential other themes arise from the shooting experience. Then I could start to describe the process of gentrification there while implementing any new ideas I might have gathered from the practise of photographing in the area. Lastly, I liked the idea of challenging the accepted advertising billboards’ manipulative techniques and replacing them with something more constructive.

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].