Communicate / Consume

Encoding & Decoding: A World of Signs

‘Semiotics is in principle, the discipline of studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used “to tell” at all’. (Eco, 1976, p.7)
René Magritte (1929) The Treachery of Images

This session introduces participants to the language of semiotics, stemming from the Greek sēma (sign) and the ways in which we might understand the photograph as a ‘code’. It draws from the ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Sanders Pierce and Roland Barthes, in considering a ‘language’ of photography / visual culture in an advertising context.

 

‘It is not the person ignorant of writing, but ignorant of photography, as somebody said,  who will be the illiterate of the future, But mustn’t the photographer who is unable to read his own pictures be no less deemed an illiterate?’ (Moholy-Nagy in Benjamin, 1931, p.294)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Braun Advert (2008)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To become familiar with the language of semiotics
  • To explore the role of text within adverts to convey / support the message
  • To consider dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings of adverts
  • Participant Outcome: 1 x A3 print advert
Sheba Advert (2008)
Semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign. A sign is everything that can be taken as significantly substituting for something else. This something else does not necessarily have to exist or actually be somewhere at the moment that the sign stands in for it. (Eco, 1976, p.7)

suggested Session Outline:

  • Give / modify the Presentation below. Concentrate on the language used by de Saussure (signifier / signified) Pierce (icon / index / symbol) and Barthes (denotation / connotation / lingusitic message / cultural paradigms). Daniel Chandler offers an excellent overview available here. Throughout:
  • Think about and compare the use of written / verbal language and visual language. What (seems to) make a photograph different from painted or illustrated representations? How might the use of text within an sign / advert ‘guide’ our interpretation of it? Are there synergies between the messages conveyed by written text and the images?
‘it is perhaps only when encountering a different language that this experience of a gap between language and the world of objects (the objects language designates) actually begins to reveal itself as “unnatural”. Suddenly, the way language names things in the world comes upon a different system’ (Bate, 2016, p.19)
Elliott Erwitt (1974) New York
  • Dog
  • Chein
  • Hund
  • Perro
  • كلب

 

 

 

 

‘The caption permits me to focus not only my gaze, but also my understanding’ (Barthes, 1977, p.39)
Tommy Hilfiger Advert (2000)
Calvin Klein Advert (1995)
Yves Saint Laurent Advert (1995)
  • Think about how these messages may reproduce dominant ideologies / cultural paradigms. Are these speciifc to shared understandings?
  • What ideaologies are promoted by the images below? Do they become ‘invisible’ through shared understandings?
  • Select an advert / image and make a large print out / projection of it. Using post it notes, participants should work in a group to identify each dennotational aspect of the image to and deconstruct what it connotes.
  • Compare Roland Barthes (1972) essay ‘The World of Wrestling‘ in Mythologies to the visual language used in The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King (1994) Walt Disney Feature Animation: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Messages are socially produced in particular circumstances and made culturally available as shared explanations of how the world works. In other words, they are ‘ideologies’, explanatory systems of belief’ (Goodwin & Whannel, 2005, p.60)
Panzani Advert (c.1970)

 

‘An Italian would barely perceive the connotation of the name, no more probably than he would the Italianicity, [it is] based on a familiarity with certain tourist stereotypes’ (Barthes, 1977, p.34)

Think About: What are the dennotative and connotative aspects of the Pazani advert Barthes discusses? Does it have any synergies with the Dolmio advert below? Does the Dolmio advert introduce any ofher ideologies (family / gender roles etc)?

‘By the word reading we mean not only the capacity to identify and decode a certain number of signs, but also the subjective capacity to put them into a creative relation between themselves and with other signs’ (Hall, 1999, p.514)
‘Understanding photography as a body of practices and aesthetic values which follows a paradigmatic structure is helpful in understanding its representational role, for it focuses our attention on how the interactions between the intentions of photographers and the uses to which thier photographs are put’ (Hall, 1999, p.80)
The Spy Who Loved Me Film Poster (1977) Lewis Gilbert
American Heroes Postage Stamp (2001)
‘Advertising forms a system of meaning… The viewer sees all advertisements as one, or rather sees their rules as applicable to one another and thus part of an interchangeable system’ (Williamson, 1978, p.13)
  • Or is it? Think about how these messages may be misconcieved. Consider dominant readings / negotiated readings / oppositional readings.
  • Revisit the previous large image / post it notes and consider how the image / advert might be understood in different ways, by whom and why.
  • Consider adverts which have attracted controversy. Evaluate some examples of The Advertising Standards Authority decisions available here
  • How would you evaluate the John Lewis (2015) Man on the Moon Christmas campaign? Why do you think it attracted oppositional readings? How do you feel about the morality of supermarkets etc offering ‘charity’ christmas campaigns? Is this practice sincere or disingenuous?
‘It’s unclear why the old man is on the moon, though he looks a lot like one of those desiccated Nazis who fled Germany after the war and built an Aryan paradise in Patagonia. Lily sends Heinrich a telescope, delivered by party balloons, with which he can spy on the child in her bedroom. How is that good?’ (Pearson, 2015)
‘As soon as a photograph leaves Eden and enters into circulation, it becomes culturally coded, transforming the image and putting it into the realm of connotation’ (Elkins, 2007, p.15)

Presentation ideas: Encoding & Decoding: A World of Signs

to follow

  • Ask participants to create an advertising (campaign) of thier own. This might be themed (e.g. Christmas) or it might be within a certain product context (e.g. a mystery scent – they might create an advert based on smell alone).
  • They should conduct a semiotic analysis of thier final consturcted image. What does it denote / connote? Why did they make the visual choices they did? Does it conform to any cultural paraadigms? What is it’s linguistic messge? How might it be (mis) read? By whom and why?
  • Print / project and critique
‘There is one lesson we can learn from photographs: images exist not to be believed, but to be interrogated’ (Grundberg, 1999, p.273)

 

Showcase Portfolio: Lydia Page-Wright

Lydia Page-Wright

Untitled Films aims to draw from – but not provide the answers to – known visual tropes from both cinema and photography and explore how an aesthetic / narrative / subject matter may (or may not) be recognisable to the viewer. Drawing from Kristeva (1966), Alfaro (1996) reminds us ‘There are always other words in a word, other texts in a text. We [should] understand texts not as self-contained systems, but as differential and historical, as they are shaped by the repetiton and structures of other textual systems’ (Alfaro, 1996, p,268). The work aims to sit on this oscillating boundary of a nagging recognition, between the literal and the obscure, the description the photograph (and accompanying text) might seem to promise, but yet the metaphor that ultimately, it always is.

Follow Lydia Page-Wright on instagram

  • Lydia Page-Wright (2019) from Untitled Films

 

Alfaro, María Jesús Martínez (1996) ‘Intertextuality: Origins and Development of the Concept’ in Atlantis (Vol. 18, No. 1/2) December 1996.

Re-Defining (dis) Ability?

Objectified objects / positive portraits

‘All photographs, be they of people with disabilities or of other subjects, contain visual rhetoric, patterns of conventions with a distinct style that cast the subject in a particular way’(Bogden, 2012, p.1)
Wirestone Advert (2010)

 

This session encourages a comparative and ethical approach to advertising campaigns / visual approaches which aim to promote disability awareness. Participants are encouraged to consider the potential for the objectification (or not) of disability, as well as the importance / function of text to potentially anchor our interpretation.

‘The body becomes the signifier of difference for disabled people’ (Hevey, 1992, p.30)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) for Walt Disney Pictures

 

‘Movies have tended to show disabled people as objects of pity or even comedy, a different breed whose condition subjects them to isolation’. (Cox, 2012)

 

 

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To investigate the ethics of the representation of disability in advertising / visual culture
  • To reflect on positive / negative / stereotypical representations
  • To visually consider the impact of these at provoking our ‘concern’ and action
  • To explore the role of text within the adverts to convey / support the message
  • Participant Outcome: 1 x A3 print advert
‘The impairment is what limits and thus defines the person. The focus here is on the failure of the individual to adapt to society as it is, and thus the impairment is regarded as the cause of disability’ (Evans, 1999, p.274)
The Spastic Society Advert (1982)

The text constitutes a parasitic message designed to connote the image, to ‘quicken it’ with second order signifieds’ (Barthes, 1977, p.25)

You will need:

  • A selection of visual adverts and representations of disability
  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops) and imaging software
  • An Introductory Brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
‘By defining that person wholly by their impairment, the charities speak for disabled people implying they cannot speak for themselves’ (Hevey, 1992, p.26)
Muscular Dystrophy Association Advert (1995)

 

‘Only disabled persons, constructed as a particular kind of people, are subject to a process of image specialisation advertising, as such their image can be constitutied as a transaction in the public sphere. Charities are advertising a product who happen to be people’ (Evans, 1999, p.279

 

 

preparation work:

  • Ask participants to read Jessica Evans (1999) ‘Feeble Monsters: Making Up Disabled People? in The Visual Culture Reader (Hall & Evans eds. 1999) available here
  • Ask participants to read BBC (2016) Disabled models and athletes outraged by Brazilian Vogue Paralympic campaign photo (26th August 2016) available here
  • Ask participants to read Tara Campbell (2019) ‘Exploring Mental Health Through Photography’ in Creative Review available here
  • Ask participants to investigate the artists interviews available though fragmentary.org available here
  • Ask participants to watch and discuss Pro Infirmis (2013) ‘Becasue Who is Perfect?’  available here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers / image editing software
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it make sure Reprographics are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work – or use A3 colour photocopiers.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors
‘The focus [on] the ability not the disability’ (Barnes & Mercer 2003, p.98)
Mencap (1990) Kevin’s Going Nowhere Advert

 

 

‘The implications of this is that for charity advertising to be successful in its aim of raising funds, it may be undermining another objective: to ensure people are afforded civil rights and seen as of equal value to others’. (Bender, 2003, p. 124)

‘Imagining disability as ordinary, as the typical rather than the atypical human experience, can promote practices of equality and inclusion that begin to fulfil the promise of a democratic order’ (Thompson, 2001, p.360)

Presentation ideas: Objectified objects / positive portraits

 

Linda Dajana Krüger (2014) from Real Pretttiness

‘Why can’t Down Syndrome people be exaggerated or wear too much makeup if they like it? You see all kinds of people expressing themselves with fashion or makeup that is more or less a costume. It’s a common habit’ (Krüger in Griffin, 2014)

 

 

 

Diane Arbus (1970-1971) from Untitled

 

‘We can stare at these portraits in a way that we couldn’t stare at these women and girls if we met them on the street. We can be fearful and curious and safe all at once. They are Other’ (Dorfman, 2009)

suggested Session Outline:

  • Ask participants what knowledge.they have about disability (both physical and non physical) Remind participants that not all disabilities are visually discernable.
  • Give the Presentation above. Invite participants to compare the adverts? What are the similarities and differences? Pay attention to the time they were made / positive or negative messages and use of text as message. Is is successful? Which adverts / images are more positive? Why?
  • Brainstorm ideas and (stress) ethical concerns about the images. *Participants might make a more ‘positive’ versison of a pre-existing advert / image / character etc.
  • individually / in groups make an advert (include text) which aims to inspire change and makes a positive representation of the individuals / issue.
  • Print / Project and critique the images with these intents / ethics / aesthetics / use of text in mind and considering how we might overcome compassion fatigue and the visual objectification of the differently abled.
Muscular Dystrophy Association Advert (1985)

 

‘They had me stand in leg braces and they told me the caption was going to be: ‘If I grow up, I want to be a fireman.’ I was 6 years old. I was told I had a normal life expectancy at that point and I did not want to be a fireman. So I was quite upset… I knew I couldn’t be a fireman. That was absurd… It felt untrue. It felt exploited’ (Mattlin, 2012)

The Wisemen Saw (or did they?)

for full session see: All I want for Christmas…

McDonalds
session overview:
  • Participants will examine / analyse a range of Christmas adverts
  • Using a selection of objects, participants will shoot thier own Christmas advert. Who is it for? What is it’s message?
  • Use Photoshop to add text / logo’s *collage could also be used here
  • Print and critique
suggested output: christmas advert (still or stop motion / moving image)
Greenpeace
Additional activity ideas:
  • A (Moving) Merry Christmas: Make a stop motion GIF (telling a story through multiple photographs of objects / quick succession photographs of a narrative). Some instructions on making GIF’s in Photoshop can be found here
  • Once Upon a Time (at Christmas); Devise a Christmas story / use christmas carol lyrics and illustrate this narrative in 6 photographs (individually or as a group) to create a narrative. Make a handmade book and add text.
THESE Sessions could be adapted from:

The 12 Days of Christmas

for full session see: All I want for Christmas…

Session overview:
  • Every day – for 12 days – participants will photograph an object / create a scene which they feel relates to a Christmas heading / captiion / song etc.
  • These should be provided in advance (with dates) and participants should concentrate on one ‘caption / quote’ for each day.
  • These can be mixed up amongst a class group / more than one participant can work on the daily ‘caption’ at one time.
  • Participants should independently research the work of Lee Friedlander – Merry Christmas from Lee Friedlander (2011) at the Janet Borden Gallery, NYC.
  • Upload daily to Instagram / Twitter / social media platform
Coca Cola (1931)
some Example Christmas captions to work from:
    1. All I Want for Christmas
    2. Tis the Season to be Jolly
    3. Silent Night
    4. We Three Kings of Orient are
    5. Down in Yon Forest
    6. The Friendly Beasts
    7. Good King Wenceslas
    8. The Holly and the Ivy
    9. i Wonder as i Wander
    10. O’ Holy Night
    11. Rockin Robin
    12. O’ Christmas Tree
suggested output: daily (clASS) Instagram / book / zine
Additional activity ideas:
  • Run a Christmas Treasure Hunt: Find and photograph a ‘present’ every day for 12 days. Who is it for?
  • Pinhole Christmas: Make a Pinhole Camera:  Expose the scene for 12 days
THESE Sessions could be adapted from:

Save the World

The aesthetics of Apathy: advertising the Environment

‘An image is drained of its force by the way it is used, where and how often it is seen’ (Sontag, 2003, p.105)
Greenpeace Advert (2014)

This session encourages a comparative approach to advertising campaigns which promote environmental awareness and concern. Specifically, participants are encouraged to consider the potential for compassion fatigue in our image saturated world, the use of aesthetics / shock tactics in these adverts, as well as the importance / function of text within the adverts to spur us to take action (or not).

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

World Wildlife Fund Advert (2010)
‘Those who design these actively campaign to awaken public consciousness over misuse of the environment and shape their communications to create and reinforce that message’ (Gold & Revill, 2004, p.3)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To investigate the aesthetics of environmental issues in advertising
  • To consider the impact of these at provoking our ‘concern’ and action
  • To reflect on the success / weakness of each of these practices considering the intent / visual approach of the adverts
  • To consider the role of text within the adverts to convey / support the message
  • Participant Outcome: 1 x A3 print advert
‘Environmentalists picture the environment as ‘suffering’ too. These are all compositions that invoke a kind of visual ‘pain’ in the viewer’ (Bate, 2009, p.119)
Greenpeace Advert (2011)

You will need:

  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops) and imaging software
  • An Introductory Brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
‘A photograph that brings news of some unexpected zone of misery cannot make a dent in public opinion unless there is an appropriate context of feeling and attitude’ (Sontag, 1977, p.17)
Greenpeace Advert (2012)

Presentation: The Aesthetics of Apathy

‘Shocking ads traditionally worked because the message became so deeply lodged in a person’s consciousness that they were eventually forced to act upon it. However, if the same message and same tactics are being used all the time, then it just becomes wallpaper to a person and makes it far easier to ignore’ (Gardner in Williams 2009)
Society for the Protection of Animals Advert (2015)

Preparation Work:

  • Ask participants to read Aimee Meade (2014) ‘Emotive Charity Advertising: Has the public had enough? in The Guardian (24th September 2014) available here
  • Ask participants to read Fiona Shields (2019) ‘Why We’re Rethinking the Images we Use for our Climate Journalism in The Guardian (18th October 2019) available here
  • Ask participants to read Matt Williams (2009) ‘Close Up: Does Shock Advertising Still Work?’ in Campaign (24th April 2009) available here
  • Ask participants to watch and evaluate ‘Rang Tan’ Iceland Advert (2018) available here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers / image editing software
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it make sure Reprographics are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work – or use A3 colour photocopiers.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors
‘If an ad is too shocking, for example, you run the risk of people deliberately avoiding what you say – they look away, change channel, turn the page. Also, if you start adding unnecessary layers of drama, people see through it, they feel they’re being manipulated (Brazier in Williams, 2009)
Animal Advert (2010)

suggested Session Outline:

  • Ask participants what environmental they have concerns about globally / locally
  • Give the Presentations above. Invite participants to compare the adverts? What are the similarities and differences? Pay attention to aesthetics and use of text as message. Is is successful? Which adverts enourage you to ‘care’ more? Why?
  • Brainstorm environmental issues and select issues that participants care about. How has this been represented visually? which aesthetic approach works best?
  • individually / in groups make an advert (include text) which aims to inspire change and encourage people to ‘care’ about the chosen environmental issue.
  • Print / Project and critique the images with these aesthetics / use of text in mind and considering how we might overcome compassion fatigue.
 ‘To aestheticize tragedy is the fastest way to anaesthetize the feelings of those who are witnessing it. Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action’ (Sischy, 1991, p.92)
Greenpeace Advert (2012)

In Conversation With: Abigail Reynolds

Abigail Reynolds

Abigail Reynolds is a multi-media artist living and working in Cornwall. At the core of her practice is an investigation of both visual imagery and language, often interrogating the relationship between the two. Her work frequently explores the subjects of time and space, the shifting of context in relation to chronology, the artists self, materiality and immateriality.  Her works develop in ever more progressive ways, transforming the past in relation to the present. During this conversation Reynolds and I discuss her projects The Universal Now, Lost Libraries of the Silk Road (2018), Lost Libraries Cabinet (2019) Teaching a Stone to Talk 1988 | 2017, and When Words are Forgotten (2018). The discussion gives an insight into how she considers her work in both its creation and its finalised state. It also sheds light on her perspectives regarding photography, language, conceptual artworks, time, representation in the visual arts and the self within a number of her artworks

‘Art is a visual language, and I use the same tools when I read it as I would in reading a poem or a play’ Abigail Reynolds
by Louis Stopforth (9th October 2019)
Abigail Reynolds (2015) Desert Seeds

LS: Your practice is often concerned with language and the written word. Is it this interest that initially drew you to photography, a visual language that can be communicated beyond dialect?

AR: Art is a visual language, and I use the same tools when I read it as I would in reading a poem or a play. I guess by dialect you mean maybe language ie an English reader can read a photo from China but not a text in Chinese … photography has become a global language but I don’t agree about dialect. There are many nuances in photography that place it in time and space. There’s the approach to subject as well as camera and lens technologies.

LS: A number of your works have been comprised of the endpapers of books, titled by the names of the books they originated from. This work immediately brought to mind the piece ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing’ by Robert Rauschenberg as it comprises of no physical trace of a ‘thing’ which we might be able to decipher. Instead the work is given its weight through the inclusion of its title. We begin to recognise the importance of this empty piece of paper, and its origins. How do you view the importance of the written word alongside artworks?

‘A title / caption / script can enrich the image or totally undermine it’

AR: The relationship between a visual work and a text is complex. A title / caption / script can enrich the image or totally undermine it. I use the title to carry part of the meaning of the work, but I only give it as much weight as other, visual decisions, such as scale. Some artists use titling very strongly to create a context for a viewer to think within, for others it’s hardly of any importance beyond having a way to list works on a consignment form. ‘An Oak Tree’ by Michael Craig Martin explains this whole mechanism with a concise and riddling brilliance.

Abigail Reynolds (1998/2017) Endpaper from Teaching a Stone to Talk

 

LS: ‘Teaching a Stone To Talk 1988 | 2017 is an endpaper that shows the imprint of objects on the papers surface from prolonged exposure to a light source (indeed other endpaper works show changes in tonal range from their aged exposure to light but none so viscerally as this one). This piece is essentially a naturally occurring photogram, an effect that has long occurred prior to photography’s ‘invention’ as a process. Do you yourself view this work as photographic? 

 

 

 

AR: I do, and I like the way it speaks about the action of light and of time very directly. It also happens to suggest a narrative of the reader, an imagination of the possible reader.

LS: In recent photographic history practitioners have explored more and more the materiality of the photograph, as well as exploring society’s preconceived notions of what photography is. During your on-going project: The Universal Now, you yourself repurpose images that had the intention of being objective-documentary images, those that supposedly hold cultural, historical and anthropological value within their intended place and condition. You then transform their physical properties, as well as their purpose. Is there a conversation about society still imbedded within the transformed work, or is it more formalist than that?

Abigail Reynolds (2009) from The Universal Now

AR: In these guide-book photos of monuments the hand of the author is usually minimised. The photos are not offered to view because of the photographer but because of what is photographed. The sense of a social document is very strong in them – like a portrait of society and what it values / what it has valued. In some works a change in camera or print technology between the two photographs is obvious. I enjoy the authority of these images and teasing this out a bit by making their time-bound condition more obvious by contrast.

LS: In your interview for Elephant titled ‘Abigail Reynolds: Cuts in Time’ you mention there being a ‘compression of time’ happening in London due to its architecture. Does this mean because of photography’s ability to only record fragments of time you are making a statement against photographs as singular artefacts within your integrated images; one image from one moment in time simply isn’t enough for representing the continuous change of a landscape?

‘I join the mass of people in feeling that nothing is stable or linear – everything is fluid, fugitive, shifting’

AR: Ah yes time is compressed in London – because you can see multiple layers of time everywhere if you look properly. This just isn’t true in Los Angeles for example. The photographs build on this pre-existing condition by compressing again. Compressing two times or images into one new surface. I understand that this can also be read as a release, but I see it as a compression. I suppose I join the mass of people in feeling that nothing is stable or linear – everything is fluid, fugitive, shifting. That goes for personal identity, city spaces, public or group identity. I like this – I mean, I am not at all afraid of this, and it’s clearly true. I like also the cyclical and repetitive – the return and the echo, as we constantly move, but also often return. Like a dance.

LS: As for the construction of these works, are the forms created by splicing images done for a particular reason – or is it an intuitive process that is informed by the images used and their significance to each other?

AR: I try to listen carefully to the qualities of the photographs both their structure and attitude to the subject, then I make cuts that are finely tuned to the particular qualities that interest me. It only really works, I think, if what I do builds on the formal qualities of what is already present. Otherwise, I am just in the way. I work on images in close up. I focus on the detail, I’m very respectful of the image.

LS: The project Lost Libraries of the Silk Road, is interesting as it tackles the issue of representation in the visual arts, in particular photography and moving image. The subject matter you are exploring is no longer visually present, and therefore impossible to record. In essence, were you documenting a void, an immaterial subject matter that pushes the invisible subjects of politics, conflict, natural disaster, and time to the forefront of the work? 

AR: Yes! Given what I just said about respect for the image, I wanted to flip the playing card and see the other side – no archive, no image even. What would I do then? What will we all do then?

LS: During the course of Lost Libraries the video is narrated by three separate voices. Is this inclusion of narration added to become another descriptor beyond the visual, relieving the camera of being the sole informant for the work? 

AR: I use three voices though to dislocate again the sense of a unified self – but to convey a disparate and fugitive self. When I didn’t have much of an image to interrogate, I found the blankness really acted as a mirror, and I turned to a much more subjective mode. The film is personal, because to be confronted by such enormous swathes of time and space heightened my awareness of how localised my sense of time and history are, how my values and assumptions are so very specific to the place and time in which I happen to be living. The word ‘timeless’ is often applied to art works as a term of praise but of course there is nothing outside time. If we are given the timeless we would not know what to do with it.

‘The word ‘timeless’ is often applied to art works as a term of praise but of course there is nothing outside time. If we are given the timeless we would not know what to do with it’

LS: Compared to previous work that would be undertaken in your studio, where you could control and deliberate on the work you produce, how was it operating as a travelling artist for the Lost Libraries project, where often moments can be fleeting and out of your control?

AR: I am as likely to be bewildered in my studio as I am on the road, funnily enough. I don’t always feel in control of it. In fact, I really enjoy moments when I don’t seem to be very much in control and feel as though I am being led, rather blindly.

LS: Alongside the film appears Lost Libraries Cabinet, which acts as a physical manifestation of an otherwise intangible film.  Is the inclusion of physicality within your work a way to give tangibility to subject?

AR: The unique aspect of visual art is that it is seen in real space and time. This makes it physical tactile, more fully present. So for me the confrontation is more direct. A film-maker recently said to me ‘you can’t understand things unless you can hear them’ – maybe it’s like that. Maybe it’s giving more voice to the form, and more form to the image. More layers, more opportunities to engage with the same thought but approached from slightly different angles.

LS: ‘When Words are Forgotten’ represents the lost literature of the libraries you visited whilst capturing the individuality of texts, represented in differing colours, shapes, and textures of acrylic and glass. The transparency of these materials reiterates how these books are physically un-attainable and appear almost more like ghosts from a bygone era, haunting our social memory. Do you think there is a comparison to be made between this body of work and photographs as recorded moments of time past?

AR: Often it is the case that while I’m making a new work, the full scope of connections with the new work and existing work is not clear to me until much later. This rather like post-rationalisation; a term used to explain that artists work intuitively, but once thoughts and feelings are resolved into a finished work, the rationale suddenly becomes clear – but only after the fact. I find this very often in making formal as well as conceptual decisions. Anyway, because of the work I am making now as opposed to at the time of ‘When Words are Forgotten’, about 18 months ago, or maybe because that work exists and is very present to me, I see the glass sheets like the skeletons of leaves or yes ghosts, some energy or structure that persists though the flesh has gone. Now I am very directly working with facsimiles of The Book of the Dead, and considering river crossing and the Daguerreotype, an early photograph on mirror. Making art is inexorably pressing forward into new terrain, which means the angle of view onto the past is altered constantly.

LS: Finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future?

AR: I am now working with the collection at The Harris – which is a museum / library / public gallery in Preston. Ways of working that interested me having made the Lost Libraries installation are my starting point. I will deeply interrogate a small selection of books and photographs, both in film, so that the surfaces can be seen up close, as detailed and sumptuous as when I hold them, and also by displaying them in a cabinet of glass – so the look of the audience is simultaneously made more complex by the distorting sheets of glass, and more direct by the film. I’m really enjoying the process. The work will be on display in The Harris from 14 February 2020.

Places with a Past

on this site: the places and spaces of joel sternfeld

‘The impulse to make a picture of an event which has already happened may seem counter-intuitive, if not impossible. Unlike a painter who may recreate a historical scene, the photographer has no such leeway’ (Albers, 2015)
Joel Sternfeld (1993) Central Park, North of the Obelisk, Behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York from On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam

This is an adaptable session which aims to introduce participants to researching the history of places and spaces and the importance of aesthetics / accompanying text / context in its photographic representation. It encourages in-depth independent research into Joel Sternfeld’s practice and its commparative positioning within wider ideas regarding different ways of photographicically representing place, space and history.

Joel Sternfeld (2001) from Walking the Highline
‘The poet-keeper of the High Line is the photographer Joel Sternfeld. He has been taking pictures of it in all seasons for the year, and he has a gift for seeing light and space and color— romantic possibility of every kind— where a less sensitive observer sees smudge and weed and ruin. He would not just like the High Line to be saved and made into a promenade; he would like the promenade as it exists now to be perpetuated, a piece of New York as it really is’ (Gopnik, 2001)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To undertake research into the history of the local / a specific area
  • To explore the relationship between image and text / caption
  • To visually experiment with the loading of narrative into single / multiple images in sequence and series
  • To understand the difference between literal and ambigous imagery (and thier consequences)
  • To consider the context of viewing such images and how this might impact on thier interpretation
  • Participant Outcome: 5 6×4 digital prints
Ori Gersht (1999-2000) A Train Journey from Cracow to Auschwitz from White Noise
‘Without their subtext, they lose their specificity. The eye passes over the photograph but cannot penetrate it. There is no mental adjustment we can make that will give it clarity, except by recourse to place, circumstance and [ori gersht’s] intention’ (Searle, 2005)

You will need:

  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • An Introductory Brief & Presentation for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • Some local examples of places with a past *and preferably some visual representations of them to critique / discuss
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector (powerpoint with text) or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
Richard Misrach (1999) Battleground Point from Desert Cantos
‘Where the document begins and where the aesthetic object begins is really hard to tell. That’s fairly obvious in my work; there doesn’t seem to be an illusion of a straight document’ (richard Misrach in Caponigro, 1998)

Research: the work of joel sternfeld

 

Preparation Work:

  • Research the history of a local / specific area *local libraries, newspapers and people living in the area can help here
  • Ask participants to read Kate Palmer Albers (2015) ‘Joel Sternfeld’s Empty Places available here
  • Ask participants to read Fiona McDonald (2014) ‘Thomas Demand: Making History – with paper’ in BBC Culture available here
  • Ask participants to watch the video On This Site by Joel Sternfeld (2014) available here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers / image editing software
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers (or projectors if you are concentrating on sequencing a narrative only – create a powerpoint and include the text with each photograph)
Catherine Yass (2013) from Decommissioned
‘Catherine Yass photographed the former car showroom and dance studios that used to stand on the JW3 site once they had been decommissioned and emptied. The resulting large-format transparencies were placed around the demolition site – on diggers, under girders, in piles of glass and rubble – and then retrieved some weeks later, after they had been damaged scratched, ripped, and transformed by colour reactions on the emulsion. The images have been placed in the new building in light boxes and are in Yass’ words “small windows into a past and interior world illuminated by imagination and memory’ (outset, 2013)

Presentation Ideas: places with a past

Suggested Session Outline:

to come

Abigail Reynolds (2015) Desert Seeds
‘Making work is a strange and erratic dance of intuition, graft, brute materiality and opportunism. I allow myself to be attracted to certain images, forms and places which then become points to work away from. For me, making work is partly aversion and partly attraction. I enjoy to play with my sense of surroundings and also materiality. I also enjoy the difficulty of sculpture and the challenge of problem solving, which is always present when making anything three dimensional’ (Abigail Reynolds in Aesthetica, 2013)

 

So Many Books, So Little Time

Storytelling, selecting & sequencing: The hand-made book

‘The camera may be thought of as comparable to the eye. The difference is that the camera is not more than an eye. It does not think. Any connection with judging, choosing, arranging, including, excluding, and snapping has to be with the photographer’ (Price, 1994, p.4)
Duane Michals (1973) The Bogeyman

 

In this session, participants will explore the sequencing of photographs to create a narrative. They will consider the ambiguity (or not) of images to create a story, as well as it’s relationship with accompanying text. They will produce a simple hand-made book to display the images.

 

 

 

‘Duane Michals has continually rebelled against and expanded the documentary and fine art traditions. At the onset, he baffled critics who knew not what to say of his work, rejecting the notion of the “decisive movement,” the supremacy of the sensational singular image, and the glorification of the perfect print. As an expressionist, rather than going out into the world to collect impressions of the eye, he looked inward to construct the images of his mind, exploring the unseeable themes of life, death, sensuality, and innocence’ (Reznik, 2014)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

  • Tell Me a Story – (narrative in the single image) post to come (Jeff Wall / Gregory Crewdson)
  • (Don’t) Stop the Frame – (panorama’s) – post to come (Sam Taylor Wood / Fred Cray)
  • On this Site – post to come (Joel Sternfeld / Paul Seawright / Tom Hunter)
  • Tell Me A Story (Again)
  • Fake News?
Jeff Wall (1998-2000) The Flooded Grave
‘Like a poem, which is made up from ‘lines that resemble sentences’ but exceeds the normal way we read sentences, the poetic quality of an image transgresses the indexical truthfulness of a representation’ (Wall & Galassi, 2007, p.337)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to visually explore the nature of constructing images and sequencing them to portray a narrative through 6 images
  • For participants to understand the difference between literal and ambigous imagery (and thier consequences)
  • For participants to explore the relationship between image and text.
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: A handmade book with 6 sequenced images
Tom Hunter (2000) The Way Home from Life and Death in Hackney

You will need:

  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using Camera phones or Lumix cameras
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • A3 / A4 card or paper *Make sure you print the photograhs at the appropriate size to fit each page
  • Scissors, Bone Folder etc
  • An Introductory Brief & Presentation for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • Some song lyrics, poems, stories *Participants can also write thier own stories e.g. remembering a dream etc
  • *If there are time constraints – you could also work in groups (with Image 1 and Image 6 being provided in pre-made books – what is the narrative in the middle? (produce 4 images to ‘complete’ the story). Here, still demonstrate how to make the book (particularly useful with younger participants)
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector (powerpoint with text) or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessments
‘The caption permits me to focus not only my gaze, but also my understanding’ (Barthes, 1977, p.39)

Preparation Work:

  • Practice making books yourself and decide which size you will print the photographs
  • Ask participants to read David Seidner (1987) ‘Intverview with Duane Micheals’ in BOMB Magazine, 1st July 1987 available here
  • Ask participants to watch the video Presenting The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings by Kaylynn Deveney (2011) available here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers / image editing software
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers (or projectors if you are concentrating on sequencing a narrative only – create a powerpoint and include the text with each photograph)
Christopher Stewart (2002) from Insecurity

Suggested Session Outline: see Teresa williams’s website here

 

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Photo + Graphy = Light + Writing

/fəʊtəˌGrɑːf/: drawing with light

Sir John Herschel phrased the term ‘photo-graphy’ in 1839 in his Royal Society paper on photography (1839),  it is based on the Greek φῶς (phos), meaning ‘light’ and γραφή (graphê), meaning ‘drawing / writing’ – together meaning ‘drawing with light’ (in Schaaf, 2013)
Pablo Picasso / Gjon Mili (1949) from Light Drawings

 

In this session participants will produce images using light painting techniques / artifical light sources in order to explore the idea of the constructed image, the dependence of the photographic process on light and time, as well as further consolidating learning of photographic exposure / shutter speeds and the representation of time and motion

 

 

 

 

‘if I should ever seriously photograph, it would be…the flux of things. I wanted then, and still do, to express the ‘thing’ as part of total flow’ (Morgan in Morgan & margolis, 1980)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Barbara Morgan (1940) Pure Energy and Neurotic Man

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to visually explore the nature of photographic seeing and constructing images using light
  • For participants to understand how exposure and shutter speeds can influence the image
  • Participant Take Away Outcome: At least 3 different light writing photographs
Matthew Murray (2012-2018) from Saddleworth

You will need:

  • Digital Camera with a manual exposure setting
  • Tripods
  • A darkened room / studio or shoot outside at dusk / night
  • A selection of movable light sources (e.g. torches, phones, glo-sticks, maglights, fairy lights, flashguns, bicycle lights etc) *if you are outside, car headlights can also illuminate a space
  • Shutter release (for self portraits etc)
  • Card readers
  • Access to computers (or laptops)
  • An introductory brief & Presentation (below) for participants to outline the ideas and provide examples
  • A booked room to critique participants work (either via a projector or via print)
  • Blue tack to pin the work
  • Costings and Risk Assessment
Man Ray (1935) Self Portrait from Space Writing

 

While the signature was of course apparent to [Man Ray], the photograph remained for many years an “abstract image” to others. The discovery of this inscription is both a revelation and a resolution. Now, seven decades after he made his own game of Hide-and-Seek, we can finally look back at Man Ray and say: “There you are!” (Carey, 2011)

preparation Work:

  • Plan at least 5 different approaches to drawing with light and make sure you have all materials. Think about;
    • Light Drawing: The light source can be seen by the camera, during a long exposure the artist uses this light source to draw, write or create a design within the frame
    • Kinetic Light Painting; The lights in the scene generally remain stationary while the camera itself is moved about during a long exposure to create color and design within the frame.
    • Light Painting; The artist uses handheld light sources to selectively illuminate parts of a scene during a long exposure photograph.
  • Ask participants to read A History of Light Painting Photography available here
  • Ask participants to think of and draw out some initial ideas for constructing images using light. There are a number of introductory videos to be found online but a good example for beginners is here
  • Ask participants if they have thier own digital cameras and cards
  • Make sure you have access to computers
  • Make sure there are enough team members to support participants (never assume thier prior knowledge)
  • Decide whether you will project the work or print it.
  • If you are printing it (6×4) make sure the Photo Lab are aware and be aware of timekeeping so they have space in the session to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to a darkened room, printers or projectors
Dean Chamberlain (1977) Two Polyesthene Bags and a Chaiselonge
‘The viewer is instantly confronted with how frequently we take for granted the light in our everyday lives, not to mention its role in traditional photography. After all, how else would one make a photograph without at least a minimal amount of available light in the environment? One look at [Chamberlains] works and it becomes clear–there are other ways. While Chamberlain paints with light through time and space, the light itself becomes the primary subject matter, shifting the focus from the subject/object to the very element through which the work (and our lives) are revealed’ (Meta Gallery, Toronto, 2008)

presentation ideas: drawing with light

‘Light used in its own right, as in light pictures, gives to photography the wonderful plasticity that paint gives to painting without loss of the unmatched reality of straight photography’ Wynn Bullock (in bullock Family 2019)

lightwriting: activity ideas

You might:
  • Draw a picture
  • Outline a person / object
  • Spin some fairy lights to create an orb
  • Do a double exposure
  • Use flash / torches to light certain aspects of an internal / external scene
  • Write a message / your name
  • Use glo-sticks to create abstractions
  • Use movement (either object or camera) to create abstractions

Suggested Session Outline: