Doug Rickard’s ‘Pictures’?

America according to doug Rickard 

By Emily Jane Scott (13th December 2019)
‘(Photography) promises a view of the world, but it gives us a flattened object in which wrecked reminders of the world are logged’ (Elkins, 2011, p.17)
Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture

Doug Rickard produced his series A New American Picture, by utilising the vast visual archive of Google Street View. He iimportantly reminds us to challenge preconceptions about what photography, or ‘photographies’ can be, especially when it comes to digital imagery. Rickard spent an extensive amount of time (2009-2011) exploring stereotypically ‘subordinate’ urban neighbourhoods and rural areas across the USA, from the comfort of his own computer desk. He would then photograph the composition on his computer screen with a digital SLR. Whilst many photographers aim for the most transparent process possible, Rickard includes blurred faces, pixelated distortion and warped perspective which reveal the digital origin of his photographs.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Perhaps Rickard’s process reflects the beginning of an age where human beings are reduced to data, constantly being observed, being monitored?

Yet, paradoxically, Rickard returns humanity to this data by picking out individual stories and adding them to the overarching and ongoing narrative of the American working class. The sense of distance provided by Rickard’s multi-layered technique adds weight to the images- reminding us of how distant we might be from these people and places; both on a geographical, cultural and socio-economic level. And so, Rickard is no more of a visual appropriator than any more ‘traditional’ photographer: he is simply photographing from within a digitally reconstructed environment, as opposed to the world outside. The images included in A New American Picture only became photographs (dare we say ‘art’?) once they were selected, framed, curated, contextualised and published by Rickard.

‘Doug Rickard… is interested in the American content and its haunting, visceral power. “I was interested in photographing America in the same context, with the same poetry and power, that has been done in the past” (in Appleyard, 2011)
Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Rickard’s work blurs the lines between technology and reality, the image and the world around us. His practice challenges our view of what photography is, and could be in this new, digital age.

Although Rickard is drawing from a collection of images which have already been ‘taken’, His practice, to me, cannot be considered to be a ‘pure’ form of artistic appropriation (despite appropriation being a completely valid way of producing powerful work, which can eloquently distil a cultural mood). The original mages within Google Street View are not, in my opinion, photographs. They were objectively, methodically collected by a vehicle-mounted camera driven down every street; they have no nature of subjective selection.

Rickard is no more a visual hunter-gatherer than any photographer. he is simply photographing from within a digitally reconstructed environment, as opposed to the world outside which is, itself, layered with constructed imagery.

Szarkowski’s (1966) discussion of photography focuses on the idea of selection. A photographer chooses what to include within a frame, and what to leave out. It is impossible for the ‘photographer’ to be truly objective, as a truly objective image is not a photograph, it is only visual data. so where does that leave Rickard, or indeed, his source material? A New American Picture only became subjective photographs once they were selected, framed, curated, contextualised. One might even liken his work to that of a ‘readymade’ sculptor; he turns something completely banal and utilitarian into a different practice merely through recontextualization. But yet paradoxically, despite its source material, we should still frame this practice in the tradition of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Paul Graham – or even Edward Hopper, as an equally visual / critical and subjective commentary on the state of thier own America.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
‘Any doubts as to the artistic – rather than ethical or conceptual – merits of this new way of working were definitively settled by Rickard’s pictures. It was William Eggleston who coined the phrase “photographing democratically” but Rickard has used Google’s indiscriminate omniscience to radically extend this enterprise – technologically, politically and aesthetically’ (Dyer, 2012)

The idea of photography as an accurate representation of the real world is mythological. Whether it be an artist’s concept, a news story, a memory, an advertisement, an illustration or investigation, all photographs feed into a false narrative of some kind. Yet, Rickards photographs are aesthetically pleasing, insightful, emotive and harrowing. The sense of distance provided by his multi-layered technique adds weight to the images, reminding one of how distant we really might be from these people and places, on geographical, cultural and socio-economic levels.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Follow Emily Jane Scott on Instagram

In Focus: Alex Prager

The constructed worlds of Alex Prager

by Teresa Williams (9th december 2019)
Alex Prager (2013) Face in the Crowd

This session encourages participants to consider the place of memory and fiction in their images and the relationship between personal memory and constructed memory or narrative. They are encouraged to conduct in depth independent research into the work of Alex Prager

 

Prager’s distinctive works cross the worlds of art, fashion, photography and film…each of her images is packed with a multitude of emotional layers and narrative possibilities. Her early photographs were predominantly shot on sets of Los Angeles, with carefully staged scenes, further heightened by hyper-styled costumes, makeup, lighting and the use of a richly saturated colour palette, lending the images a particular dramatic intensity.’ (The Photographers Gallery 2018)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

  • Places with a Past
  • Something Old Something New – post to come
  • Tell Me a Story – post to come

aims & Outcomes:

  • Participants will explore the place of memory and fiction in their images
  • They will research the work of Masumi Hayashi, Alex Prager, Sophie Calle and Trish Morrissey, and apply some of the concepts to their own work      
  • They will use old photographs as ‘aide memoirs’
  • Participant Outcome: 1 x 10 x 8 digital photograph
Alex Prager (2013) Welcome Home
‘Prager does for photography what James Ellroy did for crime fiction, inventing a neo-noir L.A. vernacular that creates a feeling of the past without the limitations of historical accuracy’ (Witt, 2019)

You will need:

  • Photo album(s) or digital photos from your childhood
  • Appropriate props / models
  • 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
  • Tripods
  • Notebooks for participants to log research and sketch ideas
  • 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
Alex Prager (2008) from Silver Lake Drive
‘Prager’s oeuvre consists of heavily staged, large format images using rich colours. Her photographs can be seen as ‘single frame narratives’ that capture enigmatic stories within the edges of the frame. Both her photographs and films are characterised by the absence of a linear narrative; each of the works recounts a bizarre, perpetual unreality’ (foam, 2019)

preparation work:

  • Preparation Brief: Locate a memory from your childhood, and see how you can endorse and elaborate it with the help of family members / friends who share your memory, as well as photo albums / digital photos which may have recorded it. It’s important to have a strong sense of place as you will need to be able to visualise it. Make a note of any dominant colours there. Draw a sketch of how you remember the place. Your imagination will be necessary if you are unable to gather enough factual detail.
  • Ask participants to prepare for the session by conducting Independent research – talking to family / friends, finding photo albums / digital photos.
  • Ask participants to watch Alan Roth (2007) Re/collecting Memory, about the highly personal work of photographer Masumi Hayashi available here: Part 1 and Part 2
  • Ask paricipants to consider the relationship between personal memory and constructed memory or narrative by:

presentation ideas: Contextualising Alex Prager

suggested Session Outline:

  • Show participants the Presentation above / a selection of images by Prager, Hayashi, Calle and Morrissey and discuss their concept / staging / construction.
  • Referring to the Preparation Work sketch, decide where to stage a photograph which represents the memory. You may wish to restrict it to to a place although preferably you will have participants to stage a performance under your direction.  Decide how the ‘actors’ will be dressed, and what expressions or gestures them should perform.  Choose and source any props required.
  • What impact does the use of colour in Hayashi’s Gila River Relocation Camp have?
  • Research the colour theories of Wassily Kandinsky and Johannes Itten.  Consider how the choice of colour in background and costumes could have particular associations with mood or emotions.
  • Arrange the shoot and complete a risk assessment. If working in groups you can be mutual participants. Shoot in RAW format to allow for exposure and light balance tweaks later.
  • All participants to show their work for critique by tutor and peers.