‘Strange & Familiar’ – The Barbican (2016)

‘Strange & Familiar’ at The Barbican (2016)

here’s looking at us: and what do we see?

‘You take a photo and the image is there on the back of the camera or phone and you immediately want to see how it looks. You know the moment; you were there, experiencing it. But the real thrill is seeing how the camera has turned the moment into an image that can last forever’ (Parr, in Pardo & Parr (ed.s), 2016, p.12)
Sergio Larrain (1958) London. Baker Street

The Barbican (2016) show Strange and Familiar was a vision of ‘Britishness’ envisaged by 23 international photographers from the 1930’s to present day, each seeking to explore social, political and cultural aspects of British ‘identity’. Its curator, Martin Parr, is known for his affectionate yet satirical images of British life. He asks the question, ‘What is it about all these photographers that we find fascinating?’ I think it’s really interesting to understand and see that we are really a strange nation.’ (Parr in Klingelfuss, 2016). This session aims for participants to critically consider such representations of ‘Britishness’ as viewed through foreign eyes.

‘We cannot claim to have really seen anything before having photographed it’ (Zola in Sontag, 1977, p.87)
Raymond Depardon (1980) Glasgow

this session could be run in conjunction with:

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To investigate the representation of ‘culture’ and national identity? Are we merely a visual stereotype? Is Strange and Familiar really different? How might it show us something ‘new’? (or not?) Do we remain in a heterogeneous view of the (Western) world?
  • To reflect on positive / negative / stereotypical representations of ‘Britishness’ and consider the impact of these. How do we feel when the lens is trained on ‘Us’ not ‘Other’?
  • To consider the percieved ‘truth’ of such representations of icultural dentity
  • Participant Outcome: Research and identify / produce 2 truthful representations and 2 sterotypical representations of ‘Britishness’
‘The exhibition will reveal a very different take on British life than that produced by British photographers. It is both familiar and strange at the same time’ (Parr in bBC, 2016)
Gian Butturini (1969) A Calm Day

Martin Parr’s curatorial intent for Strange & Familiar is a simple one; and one that is inherent to the photographic enterprise (from a Western perspective anyway). Can these 23 foreign eyes provide us with new ways of looking at, understanding even, our own ‘British’ culture? In the age of Brexit – do we even have a unifom British identity anyway? Or, does the work shown fall back (at best) on visual tropes we have all seen before – despite thier combined focus on different areas and aspects of a so called ‘United’ Kingdom. Or (at worst) does it succumb to the voyeurism that is implicit in all imagery of ‘foreign’ lands. As John Taylor (1994) reminds us ‘By chance, the words ‘site’ and ‘sight’ in English sound the same, and thier meanings can overlap (a land is both a ‘site’ (as in a place) and a ‘sight’ (as in a view) (Taylor, 1994, p.15).

‘Be it on holiday or assignment, many of us relish the opportunity to take photos abroad – to document the architecture, the people and the rituals of the foreign lands we visit. That alien feeling of being somewhere unfamiliar breeds an excitement to get behind the camera and shoot. (Life Framer, 2016)
Robert Frank (1951) London

Consider the work from London / Wales included by Robert Frank for example, if we merely change the ‘site/sight’ from the USA to the UK – are we presented with a similaly (if not stylistically) darkened view of cultural identity? Might we say that Frank’s work in the UK is slightly more tame? Or, the work of Tina Barney, with her focus on the social elite, was notably introduced to her British subjects from contacts at Sotheby’s. Yet, in The Europeans her painterly tableau of these British upper classes continue to remain on the cusp of fact and myth, the staged and unstaged, and yes, certainly the familiar but strange with it. Is it really ‘British’? Or is it a subjective ressponse which is more irrespective of nationhood?

Tina Barney (2001) The Two Students

What is clear, is that the work contained in the exhibition is fluid in appropach but it is also cumulative in it intent. Like any ‘self’, it changes and evolves, and these 23 different subjective visions provide a plethora of ‘portraits’ of a British selfhood. Are they too politically motivated? Is there too much concentration on a percieved British class system? An external view, yes, but we must wonder what Google Earth /  and ‘photographers’ like Doug Rickard, Micheal Wolf and Jon Rafman might have to say?

Akihiko Okamura (1969) Day after the Battle of Bogside, Northern Ireland

presentation: Strange & Familiar (Barbican, 2016)

But not only is this exhibition a multifaceted history of Britain charted by very different sensibilities through the decades, it also charts the developing medium of photography itself, as various strands of social documentary give way to fine-art photography and colour floods in. In the show’s later rooms, places and people are increasingly given separate portrayals’ (Buck, 2016)
Bruce Gilden (2014) from Strange & Familiar exhibition

Suggested Session Outline:

‘So what do we learn about ourselves by studying the many different ways of looking at the United Kingdom? clichés have not become clichés without good reason…it makes us as a country more aware of our own diverse identity’ (Parr, in Pardo & Parr (ed.s), 2016, p.15)
  • Ask participants to conduct independent and in-depth research into the work of at least 2 of the practitoners included in the Strange and Familiar exhibition at The Barbican (2016).
  • Compare the works included in the Strange and Familiar exhibition with thier other projects / practices. Are they similar or is there anything ‘peculiarly’ British about thier approach?
  • Ask participants to read Lucy Buck (2016) ‘Martin Parr’s strange and familiar face of Britain at The Barbican (2016) in The Telegraph (1st April 2016) available here
  • Like any ‘portrait’, there is an interaction between photographer, sitter and audience Who’s view is it? Is it the photographers view? Is it an stereotypical identity? Is it a collaboration? How is it ‘read’ by its audience? What happens when we have a lens trained on us?
  • Brainstrom stereotypical representations of ‘Britishness’
  • Create 2 images of the same scene – one sterotypical, and one more subjective.
  • Critique and Review.
‘A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it – by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into a souvenir (Sontag, 1977, p.9)
Candida Höfer (1968) Liverpool XVI

‘New Topographics’ – George Eastman House (1975)

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at The George Eastman House (1975)

Visual Detachment & Political views?

By Amy Miles (16th Decemeber 2019)
‘Their stark, beautifully printed images of this mundane but oddly fascinating topography was both a reflection of the increasingly suburbanised world around them, and a reaction to the tyranny of idealised landscape photography that elevated the natural and the elemental’ (O’Hagan, 2010)
Robert Adams (1973) Mobile homes, Jefferson County, Colorado

The International Museum of Photography New Topographics (1975)  was pivotal in the development of American landscape photography. Gone were the romantic,  sublime visions of an unspoilt American frontier. Rather, the artists included in the show (Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel) projected a version of America full of tract houses and industrial estates, a more anthropological, objective view of human imprint on the American land.

‘Looking at the work, what comes to the fore is the predominant spirit of the solitary road trip as a working model. The photographs evoke Evans’ American Photographs (1938) and Frank’s The Americans (1958) as much as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and the Dennis Hopper-directed Easy Rider (1969)’ Many of the series were products of cross-country journeys, and all showed the conflict between the frontier spirit of traversing the majestic countryside and the stark reality of the pale, dank sprawl of motels, shops and houses that they encountered (Lange, 2010)

this session could be run in conjunction with:

Traditionally, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of landscape photography, might be something similar to the work of Ansel Adams – a romantized and idealic view of the American land. However these photographers didn’t follow in these footsteps at all, and started to capture what our landscapes really looked like. The curator of New Topographics, William Jenkins, aimed to show an America from a more neutral and non-biased stance, removing the photographers specific emotions or styles. Whether or not this accurately described the artists’ intentions, in retrospect we certainly have a more politically aware view of this ‘man-altered landscape’ (Rosa, 2010). Heavily influenced by the work of Ed Ruscha (strangely not included in the show) Jenkins muses;

‘the pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion … [this was[ rigorous purity, deadpan humor and a casual disregard for the importance of the images’ (Jenkins in Hershberger, 2013, p.236)
Ed Ruscha (1963) from 26 Gasoline Stations

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to consider a history of American landscape photography and a shift to a more political approach. How are photographers influenced? Is thiss political approach inherent today? Has there been a polarisation in the way we visualise the land between vernacular and gallery contexts?
  • For participants to take a critically informed personal stance to evaluate exhibitions / works and the curatorial rationale and intent.
  • To reflect on the nature of the gallery context and questions of taste, value and judgement. Is it ‘good’?
  • Participant Outcome: To critically evaluate an exhibition of thier choice, considering curatorial intent, selection of works, and reviews. Would thier own practice fit into this and why? *Participants could also be encouraged to ‘curate’ thier own exhibition / include thier own work in this and consider the curatorial rationale.
Walker Evans was also a clear influence for this new generation of photographers. His work refused to romanticise poverty, to create perhaps a more realistic (but certainly more objective) view of the American Depression.
Walker Evans (1941) from Let Us Now Priase Famous Men

However, Evans images have been debated (e.g. Whitman, 1975, Tagg, 2003, Tedford, 2017) upon whether they were taken from a detached point of view, or whether he was sgiving his subjects dignity (if not sympathy). Frank Gohike emphasises Evans influence on his practice, most importantly, the detached viewpoint, that ‘The attempt to make a photograph from which the photographer seems to be absent is a strategy whose value and power all of us I think primarily learned from [Evans]’ (Gohlke in Salvesen, 1975, p.17).

Frank Gohlke (1975) from Grain Elevators

presentation: New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (George Eastman House, 1975)

Robert Adams work is evidently based on this subjective relationship between man and the landscape. His work could be interpreted in a way that shows his emotional opinions towards how the landscape has changed and affected the environment.

Robert Adams (1983) On Signal Hill overlooking Long Beach, California

For example, Dennis (2005) critiqued this image as: ‘The tree in the foreground is not only dwarfed by the enormous sprawl of the city behind it, but also acts as a lone and pathetic reminder of what has been displaced by urban development.’ That said, there is still evidence of an emotional / visual detachment in the outcome. It is not implausible to suggest that the image posits an subjective position towards the ongoing march of man.

 

One might argue that the work of Lewis Baltz were taken from a similarly detached and clinical viewpoint, but yet that that the ongoing march of human development around him made he, himself, feel detached – expressed also visually (and subjectively).

Lewis Baltz (1974) from New Industrial Parks

Gosney (2013) posits this view, that ‘Lewis Baltz’s stark images juxtaposed the contrary ugliness inherant in industrial tracts and national parks…symbolising what many saw as problems of the modern age’ (Gosney, 2013). However, it must also be noted that Baltz’s images are paradoxically akin to social research.

New Topograhics exhibition in 1975 was not just the moment when the apparently banal became accepted as a legitimate photographic subject, but when a certain strand of theoretically driven photography began to permeate the wider contemporary art world. Looking back, one can see how these images of the “man-altered landscape” carried a political message and reflected, unconsciously or otherwise, the growing unease about how the natural landscape was being eroded by industrial development and the spread of cities’ (O’Hagan, 2010)

Suggested Session Outline:

  • Ask participants to conduct in depth research into the work of at least 2 of the practitoners included in the New Topographics exhibition
  • Do they have any similar reference points / visual or conceptual infuences? What are the commonalities? What are the differences? Why do you think William Jenkins curated them in the same show?
  • If you were the curator: Of the practitoners included in the show, which work would remain? And which would be rejected?
  • If you were the curator: How you adapt the show today? Are there any new works you would include? By whom and why?
  • Would you include your own photographic practice? Could you make work in this detatched yet politically present way? Of what, and why?
‘We are, perhaps, never more frustrated than when the photograph fails to tell us what it means or is about something other than what it is as a picture.’ (Dennis, 2005).
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Showcase Portfolio: Amy Miles

Amy Miles

Goods Inwards is an observational study of how the purpose of Industrial Estates have changed and evolved over time. The work shows characteristics of the area which may be overlooked, making the viewer notice the un-noticeable. In the context of New Topographics, Baltz is significant when he posits: ‘What I was interested in was the phenomena of the place. Not the thing itself, but the effect of it: the effect of this kind of urbanization, the effect of this kind of living, the effect of this kind of building.’ (Baltz in Campany, 2015). Goods Inwards is a progression on from the intent of New Topographics – rather than looking at the immediate effects of the industrialization, it studies the effects of societal development in terms of how the area has once thrived, and now declined – maybe much like the circle of life.

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  • Amy Miles (2019) from Goods Inwards

 

Campany, D. (2015) ‘Fast World, Slow Photography’ in The Financial Times Magazine (16th May 2015) available here

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
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Showcase Portfolio: Cicely Oreffo

Cicely Oreffo

Mindfulness aims to discover peace and contentment in frantic times. It is about being aware and present, whilst at the same time, acknowledging that ‘life only happens here – at this very moment’ (Williams and Penman, 2014, p.108). Mindfulness focuses on the mundane, exploring places and objects that provide comfort and happiness but are often overlooked. The images have a sense of melancholy and nostalgia, with a focus on ubiquitous and overlooked subjects; there is a mix of sharp and unfocused photographs, and images with bolder colours; this is to prevent a lull in the audience’s attention, as mindfulness is about maintaining awareness. As part of this project, engagement in mindfulness practices such as conscious breathing and walking meditation was important, yet another connection with not only the subject, but the world around us,

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  • Cicely Oreffo (2019) from Mindfulness

 

 

Williams, M. and Penman, D. (2014) Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World London: Piatkus

Postcards from Home

the Photogenic or the real?

‘A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it – by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into a souvenir (Sontag, 1977, p.9)
Paul Reas (1993) Flogging a Dead Horse, Constable Country, Flatford Mill

This session aims to consolidate ideas of the Picturesque and introduce ideas of the ‘image world’ / simulacra through critical analysis of vernacular tourist and postcard imagery. It encourages in depth research into Corrine Vionnet’s practice and the recycling of photogenic imagery as it ‘becomes’ the truth. It asks participants to be critical about the presumed truth of such imagery and position thier own practice accordingly.

 

‘Every day the urge goes stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of it’s likeness, it’s reproduction’ (Benjamin, 1936, p.23)
Martin Parr (1990) from Small World
‘It seems positively unnatural to travel for pleasure without taking a camera along. Photographs will offer indesputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program was carried out, that fun was had’ (Sontag, 1977, p.9)

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

Jennifer Bolande (2017) from Visible Distance/Second Sight
‘Postmodern culture is often characterised as an era of ‘hyper-representation’ in which reality itself begins to be experienced as an endless network of representations’ (Mitchell, 1995, p.16)

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To consider vernacular / stereotypical postcard representations of the land / local environment / landscape
  • To investigate the relationship between postcards and more subjective photographic practices as it applies to representations of place / landscape
  • To understand the nature of the vernalular postcard as it ‘tames’ and transforms the land into an advert
  • To introduce the idea of an ‘image world’ / simulacra
  • Participant Outcome: 1 10×8 digital print
‘It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real’ (Baudrillard, 1994, p.2)
Corrine Vionnet (2006 – 2019) from Photo Opportunities
‘Photo Opportunities tries to speak about our collective memory and the influence of image through films, advertisements, postcards, the Internet, etc. It attempts to raise questions about our motivations to make a photograph and our touristic experience. It tries to speak about our image consumption and how ubiquitous images actually are’ (Vionnet in Jones, 2013)

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)
  • Tripods
  • Flashguns if you plan to practice lighting techniques
  • 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
John Hinde (c.1965+) from The John Hinde Collection
‘Hinde hoped to create a visual rendition of happy holiday memories – seen now, the postcards seem to indicative of a breezy post-war optimism’ (smythe, 2018)

Research: The work of Corrine Vionnet

‘Famed landmarks appear to float gently in a dream-like haze of blue sky. Each construction espouses the ‘touristic gaze’, its distorted visual referent functions as a device for memory transport by funneling many experiences into one familiar locale.’ (Yale, 2018)

Preparation Work:

  • Find a number of postcards / tourist information / vernacular representations of the local environment / landscape / place
  • Ask participants to read Gregory Jones (2013) ‘Corrine Vionnet and the Democratic Snapshot’ in The Inbetween 23rd February 2013 available here
  • Ask participants to read Diane Smythe (2018) ‘Picture Postcard Perfection with the John Hinde Collection’ in The British Journal of Photography 29th August 2018 available here
  • Ask participants to read Jonas Larsen ‘The Aspirational Tourist Photographer’ in Either / And available here
  • Ask participants to watch Tony Ray Jones & Martin Parr: Only In England (2014) in National Science & Media Museum 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

Presentation Ideas: the Photogenic or the real?

‘The most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us a sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads, as an anthology of images’ (Sontag, 1977, p.3)

suggested Session Outline:

  • Show participants a number of postcards / tourist iconography of famous / local scenes. Have they visited them? Why do they recognise them?
  • Give the Presentation (above). Invite participants to compare the tousist work with its reality. What are the similarities and differences?
  • Provide participants with a list of local areas / and postcards of these (or they can think of thier own). Identify the key elements of the scene and its aesthetic. Is it authentic?
  • Identify how these might be translated in new / more realistic ways
  • Sketch out / brainstorm initial ideas
  • Location lighting induction. How does light colour / black and white / aesthetics influence the scene?
  • Shoot the image individually / in groups
  • Print / Project and critique the images with the original tourist ‘scene’ in mind /  on view and considering aspects of a subjective response / aesthetics  / audience respsonse
Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Advert (c.1940)

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.

Picturesque Perfect?

a MYTHOlogical Arcadia (or not?)

‘Does landscape photography remain encoded within the language of academic painting and the traditions of landscape art which developed during the 18th and 19th Centuries’? (Clarke, 1997, p.55)
Karen Knorr (1986) Pleasures of the Imagination: Connoisseurs

In this session, participants are encouraged to consider a historical relationship between painting and photography in the context of thier own landscape environment. They will consider ideas of the Picturesque and considerations are made as to how such visual mofifs may be culturally / visually reproduced to create a myth of the constructed land as a rural arcadia – as it is transformed into a land-scape.

Participants are encouraged to independently research the Pictorialist movement in photography and the work of Peter Henry Emerson

‘A ‘landscape’, whether cultivated or wild, is already artifice before it becomes the subject of a work of art. Even when we simply look, we are already shaping and interpreting…Landscape pictures will breed landscape pictures.’ (Andrews, 1999, p.1)
Claude Lorrain (1629-1632) Landscape with a Piping Shepherd

This Session could be run in conjunction with:

‘Whether noble, picturesque, sublime or mundane, the landscape image bears the imprint of its cultural pedigree. It is a selected and constructed text’ (Bright, 1985)
Roger Fenton (1859) Mill at Hurst Green

Aims & Outcomes:

  • To consider vernacular / stereotypical representations of the local environment / landscape
  • To investigate the relationship between painting and photography as it applies to representations of the land
  • To understand the nature of the picturesque as it applies to photographs of the land / a ‘tamed’ land
  • Participant Outcome: 1 10×8 digital print
Ingrid Pollard (1988) from Pastoral Interludes
‘The picturesque is enlisted in the definition of what the country means: it becomes a patriotic term, a touchstone of national characteristics’ (Taylor, 1994, p.25)

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)
  • Tripods
  • Flashguns if you plan to practice lighting techniques
  • 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
Uta Kogelsberger (2007) from Picturing Paradise
‘The act of naming is an act of taming. From its inception photography has been involved in investigating and detailing environments, helping culture to appropriate nature’ (Wells, 2011, p.3)

Research: Pictorialism & work of Peter Henry Emerson

Preparation Work:

  • Ask participants to read Fergus Heron (2018) ‘Built Worlds: Photography, Landscape &. Different Natures’ from Photography & Landscape / The Photographers Gallery available here
  • Ask participants to watch Jem Southam in Conversation (2014) from the onLandscape Conference / Green Room 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
Takashi Yasumura (2003) from Nature Tracing
‘It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real’ (Baudrillard, 1994, p.2)

Presentation Ideas: A mythologicAL Arcadia (or not?)

suggested Session Outline:

 

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)

 

A Walk on The Wild Side

(timed) Travels with a Camera

‘We cannot claim to have really seen anything before having photographed it’ (Zola in Sontag, 1977, p.87)
Todd Hido (2016) from Bright Black World

This session encourages participants to ‘notice’ the world around them, as well as ‘seeing’ it in individual / subjective and  photographic terms. Through a single walk / trip (with timed alarms for photographing) it encourages participants to notice the world around them, explore the role of aesthetics, framing, vantage point and depth of field, and investigate the idea of a more subjective ‘photographic’ voice as the ‘group’ walk / experience of the world is transformed / constructed into an individual and subjective vision.

Photographs substitute for direct encounter; they act as surrogates, mediating that which was seen through the camera viewfinder’ (Wells, 2011, p.6)

This session could be run in conjuction with:

Hamish Fulton (1985) Wind through the Pines

Aims & Outcomes:

  • For participants to notice the world around them in a subjective manner and explore the nature of a ‘photographic’ way of seeing and framing the world. Are you merely photographing? Are you constructing? Are captions / text important?
  • For participants to consider the ‘intent’ of thier work: What are you ‘saying’ about the world around you?
  • For participants to conduct in depth research on the work of Robert Frank and apply these ideas to thier practice
  • Participant Outcome: 5 6×4 digital prints

Research: The Work of Robert Frank

‘Robert Frank…he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world’ (Jack Kerouac in Petrusich, 2019)
‘Seeing THE AMERICANS in a college bookshop was a stunning, ground-trembling experience for me. But I realized this man’s achievement could not be mined or imitated in any way, because he had already done it, sewn it up and gone home. What I was left with was the vapors of his talent. I had to make my own kind of art’ (Ed Ruscha in Casper, 2019)

You will need:

  • A planned / dedicated walk of a local area (with printed maps)
  • A planned study visit / school trip to a designated location (with printed maps)
  • Timers (egg timers or phone alarms will suffice) for timing of when participants will make thier photographs on the ‘walk’
  • You need to decide whether participants will photograph all at the same time / in small groups / individually
  • Digital cameras for all participants (and appropriate memory cards) *This session can also be run using analogue cameras, Camera phones, Lumix cameras
  • 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
Uta Kögelsberger (2007) from Getting Lost

Preparation Work:

  • To design your walk / trip and provide maps. Walk the area yourself in preparation and note the times / any interesting features
  • Create a Google Map of your walk.
  • To identify alarm timings for participants taking photographs (either all together / in small groups / on thier own)
  • Ask participants to read Jelani Cobb (2019) ‘How Robert Frank’s Photographs Helped Define America’ in The New York Times (11th September 2019) available here
  • Ask participants to investigate the nature of the ‘road trip’ and watch the Aperture Foundation video The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (2014) available here
  • Ask participants to independently research the work of Robert Frank
  • 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 to print the work.
  • *If you are running this session off campus, make sure there is access to printers or projectors

Presentation Ideas: Travels with a Camera

Suggested Session Outline:

  • Introduce the session / walk and the importance of really looking at the world around them, considering what they are trying to say about the object / scene / person etc and consider scale, composition, angle, vantage point, depth of field, etc
  • Give the presentation Travels with a Camera (or devise your own) to introduce particpants to the idea of photographing on a journey etc.
  • Ask participants to set thier alarms to go off every 5 minutes (if you want them all to photograph from the same point) / provide individual times (if you want them to photograph at different times along the walk)
  • Walk / photograph – give examples of what you might do and again remind participants of visual variety / typology etc.
  • Make a note of location on the map every time you photograph. You might use Google Maps here
  • Upload / edit / print photographs
  • Project the Google Map on the wall (large) and pin up / scan and insert the photographs at the locaitons in with they were taken
  • Critique / discuss
  • Photograph / save the projection of the map with the images on – you could print at 12×16 for each participant.
Mads Gamdrup (2002) from Renunciation