The focus for my work in assignment 2 was ‘Crowds’. Living in London this worked really well within the Street Photography genre. I have long been a fan of street photography in terms of aesthetics and conveying a captured moment. This project allowed me the opportunity to explore the genre in a more personal way, as well as opening my eyes to the variety of forms it can take and the practical and moral issues surrounding it. As the photographer I do feel a little uncomfortable taking candid shots of strangers in open places and I pick my subjects and context with care. I therefore read articles on the series ‘Heads’ by Philip-Lorca diCorca with great interest.
The series of 17 images were selected from 4000 shots taken over a period of 2 years. Each image was taken without the subject knowing and the final choices were then exhibited in Moma. The collection then became part of a court battle when one of the individual’s recognised his photo. The court eventually found in favour of the artist – citing advocates of free speech and the exceptions to privacy rules that art can be exempt from. The MOMA site details the case here.
Putting the controversy of the case aside, these images are notable in how individual they are as pieces of art. The ultra realism within each face, the dark background in broad daylight, and the complete openness of the individuals’ expressions. The hidden nature of the camera has allowed the photographer to create something individually candid that would be impossible to achieve if the subject were aware of the shooter.
I do feel like I’m cheating a little posting this. I have been a huge fan of The Beatles since I was 12 years old. This was in the days of disco – as a pre teenage individual I was desperately searching for inspirational stimulus – I discovered The Beatles music through a BBC rerun of their movies. And so a journey of trawling through second hand record shops began.
I also love visiting the Proud Galleries. Their Camden venue also hosts live music events in the photo exhibition room. The Kensington Gallery is smaller, but the exhibits are always inspirational.
This particular exhibition documented the the boys rehearsing and hanging out in readiness for the historical first ever satellite broadcast – a live performance of ‘All you need is love’
So are these good photographs in their own right, or is their value purely linked to their historical and contextual relevance? Its difficult to be subjective in this case, but perhaps its a question that doesn’t require a complete answer. The photographs are beautifully composed, artistically lit and they each capture a moment well with the expressions of each individual clearly portrayed. There are also clear moments of intimacy between the subjects, this is particularly noticeable in the shot with Brian Epstein looking down as Paul plays the trumpet. But fame plays a part in our perception when interpreting these images. The shots of the security guards enjoying their break in the canteen alongside the fab four, and John and George sharing a look at the tea table. The everyday is meeting the out of the ordinary. As an individual not aware of this event at the time, it is difficult to conceive the level of fame the these four individuals had achieved. What is clear is how iconic each image captured of them has become. This bares particular importance when we consider that this is before the digital age, where skills in creating the right shot pre production was so much more important.
This was a chance visit to the gallery as I had a little time to kill before meeting someone. I was very pleasantly surprised. These images were very powerful, and from a photographer I hadn’t come across before. The initial reaction was imagery that reminded me of the movie Fargo along with a very American Gothic vibe. These factors along with the ultra definition and thousand yard stares from the subjects, the pieces are very compelling.
It is interesting looking at these images in terms of the ‘Context’ focus in Part 5 of EYV. In my notes on Terry Barrett’s ‘Photography and Context’ I touched on the power of captioning an image to give it context. In this case the captioning seems to add to a multi layer of irony at the same time as emphasising the empty, emotionless, depressed aura that the naked human content appears to represent in each frame. The simple factual labelling of the geographical context of the pictures underlines the coldness of the individuals.
A response to Terry Barrett’s ‘Photographs and Context’
‘Barrett suggests that we interpret pictures according to three different types of information: information in the picture, information the surrounding the picture and information about the way the picture was made. He calls these the internal context, the external context and the original context.’ (OCA course guidance – sept 2014)
In Barratt’s essay on context he uses the example of five different uses, or applied contexts, that a single photograph taken by Robert Doisneau was subjected too. By examining how differently these five contexts result in five diverse interpretations, we can begin to understand the importance of context when approaching capturing an experience. The image in question was a couple enjoying a bottle of wine in a Paris cafe. Doisneau took many similar photos and asked permission of the couple to use the photo. It was published as part of a collection on Paris in the magazine Le Point. The photo then went on to be used in several other contexts without the photographer’s permission. These included a brochure on the evils of alcohol abuse and a french Scandal sheet with the caption ‘Prostitution in the Champs Elysees’. A further two appearances of the image were in the publication ‘Looking at Photographs – 100 pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art’. Within this context there is an essay that references the photo as depicting ‘secret venial sins of ordinary individuals’ reading the picture as ‘a potential seduction’ (Terry Barrett – Photography and Context 1985)
Reflecting on this example personally, and at a very basic level, the meaning conveyed by a single image can be changed dramatically by captioning it with different texts. In fact throughout the much of Barratt’s essay I would add that text seems to play a significant part in adding context to the images he identifies. There is an argument here that within photography the image alone should create the context for the picture, whether this is through the visual context within the frame, or through the artistic use of light and composition and palette and pov etc, or through the empathy created by the relationship between the photographer and the subject matter.
This is where the relevance of Barratt’s three forms of interpreting a picture seems more relevant, in an absence of contextual text. This refers to his three approaches to interpreting a picture: internal, external and original. The internal would relate to the information given in terms of date taken, the actual image and its title, and the photographer. The external refers to the pictures presentational environment. The original refers the the causal environment what was apparent to the photographer in relation to the physical and psychological aspects at the time of taking the picture.
An age old saying springs to mind when identifying how much context can change the meaning of a photo. This is ‘The camera never lies’. As the photographer there is also a distance that I find myself discovering over and over and this is between the actual intent at the beginning of a shoot, and the actual accidental image that is reached. The journey that an image takes after the point of publication is then down to individual’s interpretation and/or borrowed or falsely applied contexts.
A response to the documentary on the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson
Unfortunately for myself, my view of the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson and the term ‘Decisive Moment’, were based on a very limited knowledge prior to watching this film. My main exposure to his images had been the famous man jumping over a puddle, a picture that for some reason never instinctively appealed to me. There is something in the physical relationships within the frame that never sat comfortably with me aesthetically. Couple this with my inability to read between the lines when Henri described his process of taking this shot as being pure luck, this devalued my opinion of the Decisive Moment even more.
Thankfully OCA then asked me to watch this movie. Listening to Henri describe his approach and philosophy as a photographer as well as having his images put into context allowed me to re-examine his works as well as analyse my own thought processes when taking photographs.
What struck me first of all when watching Henri discuss his work was how humble he is, and what I mistook for flippancy in his suggestion that the puddle shot was ‘luck’ was just a his natural desire to underplay his talent.
I was then impressed with how simply he managed to dissect the key elements required to capture those ‘Decisive Moments’ within a frame. The phrases that made the biggest impression upon me and seem to echo my own ambitions in terms of a photographer were:
‘Just be receptive and it happens’ (Cartier-Bresson – 2001) – this sums up his monologue on the importance of looking rather just seeing. I think the image in the documentary that really underlined this was that taken in what the narrator described as a square that is usually empty, but somehow Henri managed to see so much happening there in this one moment.
‘Physical rhythm’ (Cartier-Bresson – 2001) – something so hard to define and capture – and yet to me one of the most crucial elements in creating something that suggests movement within a static medium
‘A sense of geometry’ (Cartier-Bresson – 2001) – an aspect that I do feel an intrinsic connection with when composing a shot – perhaps that is due to living in an urban environment, however i do feel a strong awareness of the geometry in nature and within the composition of a shot
‘Physical relationships’ (Cartier-Bresson – 2001) – something that is so obvious when its manufactured, but so aesthetically pleasing when it is caught by chance through ‘looking rather than seeing’.
‘Form comes first’ (Cartier-Bresson – 2001) – the overall shape naturally should be a key consideration as being what draws the eye initially to an image
‘Light is like a perfume’ (Cartier-Bresson – 2001) – I love this view. I have always though of light as one of the most crucial aspects, but this one thought coloured my approach into thinking of something that enhances rather than creates something.
A selection of work from photography graduates representing a diverse choice of genres.
One of the things that really impressed itself upon me with this exhibition is how the curators found such a diverse selection of photographers subject matters at the same time as ensuring equal matters of creativity and quality in the work. With inclusions of industrial landmarks, street photography, portraiture, created still like and ecclesiastical environments. All striking in their presentation and all creating a suggestion of a narrative that draws the viewer in. For me, the sex toys project had the edge in creativity but the portraiture project seemed to demonstrate a technical skill that was hard to match.